Hush of Storm & Sorrow
Ani Summerhawk bounced on her toes. The anticipation of negotiations always made her giddy. Her brother, Tai, shot her a dark look, and she struggled to wrangle her excitement. Still, she couldn’t stop the tapping of her foot as the shadowy figures of four men approached.
The warehouse serving as their meeting place was lit with overhead bulbs that cast pools of light every twenty paces or so. The rest of the space was in shadow with the bulk of the crates and boxes forming an obstacle course of sorts. If things went wrong, there were plenty of places to hide, and she’d already scoped out the quickest paths to the two exits. Her exhilaration ratcheted up a notch, and she felt as if she were vibrating out of her skin.
“If you can’t behave . . .” Tai began, speaking out the side of his mouth.
“Don’t try to police me,” Ani said through clenched teeth. “I’m not a child.”
Tai snorted, and Ani replied with an elbow to his arm. Now fifteen, she had been a part of their father’s smuggling operation since before she could walk. Father had taken her out with him on his runs and had never once expected her to stand quietly at his side during a negotiation. Then again, Tai did things a bit differently than Father had, and it was probably for the best. Maybe if Father had been more like Tai he’d still be alive.
She gritted her teeth and stilled the constant movement of her limbs, determined to try things her brother’s way. The interior of the warehouse smelled of mildew and mothballs. Mik, Tai’s first mate and best friend, had found it for them in a seedier section of the already-seedy docks of Portside. He’d stayed behind on the ship to ready it for a speedy departure. The men who stepped into the nearest cone of light were fellow Raunians, so Mik’s preparedness would likely come in handy.
“Bor,” Tai said, addressing the largest of the men. “You’re looking well.”
Ani held back a snicker. This Bor fellow resembled the creature his name sounded like. Squat and meaty, with a piggish nose and deep-set eyes, he was just about the ugliest Raunian she’d ever seen. His hair was dyed the same blue as Tai’s and Ani’s, but Bor had done his in vertical stripes, alternating with its natural black, which lent him a deranged appearance.
Unsurprisingly, he had no marriage markings tattooed on his face. Aside from his siokka, or family crest, along with his captain’s and taxpayer’s tattoos, he bore five horizontal lines on his left cheekbone. He’d served five years of hard labor. Not a man to be trifled with.
“What’s this exclusive haul you’ve brought me here to see, Summerhawk?” Bor crossed his heavy arms.
Tai leaned against a crate, which towered several handspans above his head. His pose was casual and carefree, but only to those who didn’t know him. Ani could see that beneath his cool exterior he was on alert. Bor’s reputation as a hard bargainer had been well-earned. The presence of the three large men behind him hinted at exactly how he liked to negotiate. If they were going to make any money on this deal, and leave with their lives and limbs intact, they had to be vigilant.