Thursday, July 28, 2016
The Prodigal Returns
Zhere Ghan was at work in the dining hall, plotting strategy. He had not returned to his office for any length of time since the night of the attack. To his nose, it still stank of sheep urine. Just his imagination, he knew. Nevertheless, he’d taken to switching work stations, choosing rooms at random and moving about the manor frequently, with no set pattern. The House of Ghan was preparing for war. It never hurt to take precautions.
A harried servant opened the far door and glanced inside. His breath left him in a relieved hiss when he spotted Ghan. He bowed low. “Your son has arrived, my Lord. Shall I present him to you here, or would you prefer a different venue?”
Ghan frowned. “My son?” He shook his head and set aside his tablet. “Bring him here.” The servant bobbed even lower and withdrew.
Now what in Vishnu’s name was Tasman doing here? He was under strict orders to maintain a presence at the tigers’ club, Nirvana. Carry on as if nothing was amiss. Ghan wanted a second set of trusted eyes in Talbot’s Peak, trained on Hancock’s agents. It also reduced the risk of both himself and his heir falling victim to another assassination attempt. Ghan had his household guard; Tasman had his assistant, the lethal snow leopardess Leila. If one of them fell to Hancock’s machinations, the other would see about revenge.
It wasn’t like Tasman to disobey orders. Not without at least a phone call first. He’d better have a damned good reason for an unnecessary personal visit.
The servant returned. He bowed low, ushered the young tiger shifter into the dining hall, and backed away without ever raising his eyes to Ghan’s. The tiger adjusted his lapels and nodded respectfully. “Father.”
Ghan leaped to his feet, dumbstruck. “Ravi? What the hell are you doing here?”
“I heard about the attempt on your life. Of course I came at once.”
“Why?” For a second his professional mask slipped, and a snarl tried to curl his lips back. Ravi mastered it quickly, and returned his face to neutrality. In spite of himself, Ghan approved. A year of running the Indian branch of the business had done Ravi good. It looked like he might have learned how to curb his impulsiveness, and his often hair-trigger emotionalism. He still wasn’t Tasman, but he’d improved tremendously. “Because if we’re engaged in open warfare, then my place is here.”
“Who says we’re at war?”
Now Ravi’s lips did curve, in a bit of a knowing smirk. “Tasman. We report to each other on a regular basis, you know. He’s very thorough.”
Ghan grunted. He was indeed. “Surely he didn’t order you here. Best that one of you stays out of the line of fire.”
“Seriously? I’m supposed to sit on my tail safe in India while some mongrel dog takes a run at you? And nearly succeeded, from what I understand.” Ravi stepped further into the room. “Safety be damned. If your life is threatened, my place is at your side, as befits a dutiful son.”
“Maintains the Ghan presence in Talbot’s Peak, as I’m sure you would have ordered him. Am I correct?” He must have read the answer on Ghan’s face, because his smirk widened a little. “Leaving you with no trusted kin to guard your back. It’s Hancock behind it, am I right? There you go, then. All a wolf understands is rank. He thinks you’re an alpha with no pack to back you. If we present him with a united front, you and Tasman and I, he’s liable to roll over and show throat.”
“Not that one,” Ghan growled. “I think his brains have finally curdled. He called out the Seven on me.”
“The assassins? And you were going to leave me sitting in India while you took him on alone?” Ravi shook his head. “Sometimes you worry me, Father.”
Ghan chuckled, and relaxed. How many times had he said that to Ravi, and in the same indulgent tone of voice? His second-born might have finally achieved maturity. Leaving the table, he walked to his son and laid his hand on Ravi’s shoulder. “Perhaps you’re right. Dogs fight in packs. We should meet them in the same manner. Lull them in, then face them as tigers. They’ll never know what hit them.” He patted Ravi’s arm. “It’s good to see you, son.”
“Thank you, Father.” He glanced around. “Where’s Sergei? I would have thought he’d be hovering over you, given the circumstances.”
“Sergei … ” Ghan growled under his breath. He let go of Ravi’s arm. “Sergei has … terminated his employment.”
“He’s left you? At a time like this?”
“It’s of no import.” So he’d been telling himself. “He was on assignment for me when the attack happened. He returned in time to save me. Then he declared his debt repaid and left. We needn’t worry about him.”
“Are you sure?” Ravi said. “He’s always been a strange one. Didn’t he have ties to the Seven?”
Ghan had been pondering that as well. The timing of the sheep’s attack had been awfully coincidental. Or well-planned. “Tasman has him and his lover under surveillance. If I decide action against him is warranted, Tasman will see to it.” He smiled suddenly. “But that can wait. My son is with me again. Come to the kitchen, have tea with me. Tell me how things are at home.”
“Boring,” Ravi said. “I wanted to be where I’m needed.” They left the dining hall, Ghan with his arm around Ravi’s shoulders.