Excerpt: The Warrior, the Healer, and the Thief

Ari eased her way through the open window. Soundless, she crouched to the floor, pleased that she was again undetected. Some folk needed to learn that if they left a window or a door open, it was just asking for a thief to come calling. Not that Ari was a thief… at least, not right now.

It was a cheap room. The bright fake Japanese wallpaper—gaudy golden pagodas and elongated cranes—was fading. The uneven floors were covered by a miss-match of rugs and pillows. Only one item in the room held any durability or worth; the large, mahogany four-poster bed with gossamer curtains draping over the sides. Ari knew for a fact that the mattress was real feathers, the kind you could just drown in.

Morning light was barely seeping through the window as Ari crawled under the silky coverlet. Not real silk, but it sure felt close. Finding a pale ankle, she flicked her tongue over the warm skin, earning her a yelp and a rather solid kick to her left shoulder. The coverlet was pulled from her, and she knew it made her black, wiry hair frizz up even more.

“Mornin’, Scarlet,” Ari drawled.

The woman’s bright red hair was a nest of pins and curls. Her rouge had smeared terribly in the night, making her red lips a jagged grimace. “Ari Sycamore Johnson Fair!” she screamed.

Ari sat up, unable to keep from laughing. Scarlet might be considered the most beautiful night woman in town, but she sure looked ugly in the morning light. “That ain’t my name, you know.”

Scarlet ran a hand through her hair, grimacing as her fingers got stuck. “Well, you don’t got a name.”

“‘sides Ari, of course!”

“Yes, besides Ari. But that’s just not enough for being woken at such an alarming hour.” Scarlet blinked at the dim sunlight before throwing a pillow at Ari. Scooting out of bed she limped towards the basin in the corner of the room. Staring at her dingy mirror, she waved a hand before her hair and the pins came flying out and settled on her dresser. In the same movement, she also summoned a discarded towel from the corner.

Scarlet liked to keep her magic secret, despite that users could definitely get more glamorous jobs than being a prostitute. Granted, when Ari asked her about it, her only reply was ‘This place is my home, Ari. The girls here are my family. I’m not going to give them up just because I can do a few parlor tricks.’

Ari could see her stiff movements as Scarlet went to work washing her face. She removed her white face powder, revealing dark circles.

Ari frowned. “Rough night?”

Scarlet groaned. “Rogers and Calhoon. Pigs, the both of them.” She stood, loosening her nightgown, letting it fall from her shoulders. She was all supple, pale skin. Her edges, shoulders to hips to small ankles, were soft and welcoming, even when she wasn’t selling her wares. Knowing Ari had been far more intimate with her, she walked around the room without shame searching for her more appropriate daytime clothes. “Could have used you last night for a little interfering! What were you doing anyway?”

Ari leaned back against the cushions, finding that she rather enjoyed the view. Granted she would never partake in Scarlet’s services. The woman was too much of a mother hen. She’d probably spend the entire time nagging and fussing over Ari. “Oh, just thievin’.”

Scarlet straightened herself, tying the drawstring of her pantaloons. “Jeanette?” she spat.

“Well, I guess you could say my business with her is done.”

Scarlet paused for a moment. “And—? Did you find what you were looking for?”

Ari looked out the window at the orange morning light. “Not yet, but I will. I know I will. No, tonight I just did some private enterprisin’.”

Scarlet was in the process of putting her hair up when her hands dropped. She whirled on Ari. “Don’ tell me… did you really-?” she gasped.

Ari lazily pulled out a pouch hidden in her shirt. “I figured, with all my hard work and dedicated service, that Jeanette might owe me some small token.”

Scarlet looked aghast, then suddenly her face split into a wide grin. Flicking her hand, the pouch soared over to her. She examined it before levitating it back to Ari. “You little bitch. Don’t know how you manage to have the lightest fingers in all of New Orleans.” She stepped over, giving Ari a soft kiss. “You’re gonna have to leave town, you know. Jeanette is practically world renown for her grudges.”

Ari grinned, licking her fingers and swiping away the errant rouge from Scarlet’s cheek. “That’s why I’m jumpin’ ship.”

Scarlet grimaced, wiping her cheek. “And where will you go?”

Ari dipped her hand into the bag, feeling the precious sapphire necklace just waiting to be pawned off for a tidy sum. “Think there’s a big country out there that ain’t had my fingers all over it yet.” She grinned. “And I hear the West calling my name.”

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