She always kept me waiting. Then again, I was never on time, so I figured it was a wash either way. The old diner had seen much better days than this, but it was off the beaten path. Here, no one cared to memorize faces or listen in on conversations, which suited us both just fine.
On this bitterly cold winter afternoon, I wanted to be anywhere but here. I still hurt from the beating I’d taken from Boone, but for her, I’d be anywhere she wanted me to be. She’d saved me once when I gotten blindsided by a spell not meant for me. Another time, she’d kissed me, and then, moments later, thanked me, and left my head spinning. It took three times of running into her before I finally learned her name: Amanda. By then I’d started to wonder just why Fate kept throwing her into my path of existence; it wasn’t like I had any particular fondness for museums, churches, or hell, even crowded city sidewalks where I might run into a woman with short brunette hair, a killer smile, and a body that probably was registered as a lethal weapon somewhere.
So I asked around, did some research. Curiosity was going to kill me one day, but I considered it to be a form of healthy paranoia. When you’re me, paranoia comes in handy. Plus, the notion that Bob might have known her a couple centuries ago made me really, really nervous. People that Bob knew who were still among the living, if you could call it that, tended not to be very nice people, that is, if you could still call them people.
Since I figured she was Trouble Anyway, I went looking for her. Figured I’d save her – and Fate – the bother. I found her in Paris, in Seacouver, in Torago. She had a penchant for being here yesterday, there today, another place tomorrow. So I left notes until she came calling, looking for me.
The first time, she’d been cautious, demanding to know why a wizard wanted her enough to leave messages everywhere. I told her what I knew: that clearly, Someone Out There wanted us to meet, and I’m not a believer in coincidence. She thought I might be hunting her. I thought she was crazy...and then I realized her aura wasn’t normal. She had the aura of someone far older than she looked: someone of a kind I’d only heard of in whispers on the wind, on days when I would smell the oddest stench of spent lightning and spilled blood down dark alleys.
Why Fate wanted me to know an Immortal remained a mystery for months. Amanda and I agreed to one thing: she would keep her secrets, and I would keep mine, but we’d meet for lunch every now and then when she was in town, and we’d exchange stories. Among other things, she told me where to find a medallion for a client, even offered to acquire it for me; she also gave me a few scrolls she claimed to have kept for “the last few years.” Given the age of the scrolls, and what was on them, I was inclined to believe she’d acquired them recently from some museum. I wasn’t about to ask, though, and something told me I was better off not asking. (If I asked, I might feel morally obligated to return them to their proper owner, and I rather liked having them. I had a hunch they’d be useful someday.)
In return, I told her about the latest news in Chicago. Somewhere in there I knew she pumped me for information about various things, but I couldn’t ever point to what, exactly. Sue me: I was distracted by a gorgeous, articulate, thousand-year-old thief. She was good, no: she was better at charm and seduction than any one woman had any right to be. It was small comfort to know I wasn’t the first she’d used her wiles on to get what she wanted, nor would I be the last.
Today, however, was for me. I needed information on a client, and she was the only one I knew of who could confirm my suspicions. I wasn’t about to turn down a gift horse in the mouth — rent, after all, was due in four days — but I wanted to know why my client was surrounded by a black cloud of danger. All he wanted was to know why he kept getting harassed by strangers who wanted to fight him; he thought I could put up some kind of wards to protect him. I’d told him I needed to do some research so I could make sure I had the right protection spells; he’d given me twenty-four hours to deliver.
I watched her approach on stiletto heels. The tan trench coat she wore hit mid-thigh, barely covering the black mini-dress she wore. If she was cold, she didn’t look it; ice would have melted just from the way she sashayed towards the booth where I sat, waiting and failing miserably in my effort to pretend she didn’t affect me. I still had a pulse, thank you, and I was still a guy. I took a deep breath, adjusted myself discreetly, and rose to greet her.
"Harry! Pleasure to see you as always." She took the hug I gave her and lingered a bit too long as usual while I tried yet again to forget the fact it had been a long time since I’d last gotten laid. She stepped back and slid into the booth with far more grace than I would have imagined given the length of her skirt.
Grateful for the loss of contact even as I pushed aside the desire to whimper at the loss, I managed to find my seat on the other side of the booth. "Did you find out what I needed?"
She rolled her eyes, insulted at the implication she might not have. "Yes, he’s like me. And no, he wasn’t a newbie." From the small purse she carried, she withdrew stack of bills and handed it to me. "He apologies profusely for involving you in our Game."
I took the money and quickly flipped through it. It was in hundred dollar bills. It was also three times the fee promised and would easily cover my rent for the next three months. "Amanda?" I asked carefully. "Just what kind of profuse apology did you demand from him?"
Her eyes flashed angrily. "After you’d performed the spells for the wards, he was planning on holding you hostage and keeping you as his pet wizard."
I swallowed hard. "I see. And you left him alive to talk about it?"
She glared at me, tapping one impatient hand on the table. "Yes, we had crumpets and tea. What do you think?"
"I think if I wasn’t someone you knew and liked, you would have happily taken his bribe." I could see the denial rising on her lips and spoke quickly. "Don’t lie to me, Amanda. You don’t lie well to someone who can see through you like I can." I didn’t tell her she smelled like lightning, or that the lighthearted mask she wore was paper-thin, or that she seemed more on edge than I was used to seeing, and her eyes looked as old as her true age. I didn’t need magic to know my client was dead, but something in her called to me now, called out the magic in me, planted the images of my client’s death in my head as if I’d downloaded the movie. A part of me wanted to throw up, but I rubbed my shield bracelet and the images faded.
Annoyed, Amanda blew out a breath. "Take the money; it’s yours." She put up a hand. "Don’t tell me no, I don’t wanna hear it. I’ll just be even more annoying and figure out how to pay for something you need."
Reluctantly, I pocketed the bills. "What kind of thief would that make you?"
"Darling, I’ve gotten rather respectable in my old age. I don’t steal anymore." She rose to her feet, smiling.
I stood as well."Funny how every time you’re in Chicago, something disappears."
She chuckled and kissed me on the cheek. "Take care of yourself, Harry Dresden. Don’t you worry aboutme."
"I don’t," I told her honestly. "Thanks for the help."
She smiled,then sashayed out of the diner.
I dropped a twenty on the table for the food I’d eaten while waiting for her, then followed her out the door. I had my answers about my client, and then some. I didn’t have to like what I knew, but the truth tended not to be likeable. I shrugged. At least now I didn’t have to wonder why Fate felt I needed to run into Amanda, but even as I thought that, something told me today wasn’t going to be the last time I needed her.