“I thought you said this would be a few friends having a few drinks,” Hope hissed in Rick’s ear, almost too worked up to be circumspect.
Rick laughed and tilted his head back to down the rest of his drink. He wasn’t sober enough to do either of these things well, so he half-fell into Hope’s side. She felt her folding knife dig into her ribs under her jacket and was, for the millionth or so time, grateful that she wasn’t one of the idiots that insisted on packing heavy heat everywhere.
“Darling, you should know better,” he said, and wandered off toward a table surrounded by giggling women before Hope could ask him to clarify. She should know better than what? To assume that Rick Stone was capable of throwing a half-hearted party? To believe that he’d tell her the truth?
She trailed him, hopelessly caught in his wake, not because she wanted to participate in the festivities but because she was getting paid to keep an eye on him. Every few minutes Hope glanced upward and felt a little smug about the round mirrors she’d quietly had installed up there. Without Rick’s permission, sure, but Trinity had okayed it, which was the important thing.
Trinity had nothing good to say about the party. When Hope dropped by the kitchen beforehand to see what she was cooking for the guests, Trinity laughed in her face.
“I’m cooking,” the woman glanced down at a pamphlet on the counter, “Luxury Living Catering.”
Now Hope understood why Trinity hadn’t been interested in attending in the least. This was another scene for rich, pampered people to mill around and congratulate each other.
Rick’s words drifted into her mind, unbidden. I’m trying to run a company, Lasser. Got more people than me dependent on a paycheck. The idea nagged at her.
Then Rick shouted, “Catch!” and threw an expensive-looking bottle of champagne at a man wearing a three piece suit. The man dodged it and the bottle smashed into the wall; the group cracked up in laughter and left the foamy mess to drip down the wall and bubble around the shards of glass.
Hope grit her teeth and monitored the exits with grim determination.
At 1:45 Rick stumbled into a table, bounced off it, and fell across the laps of three different women who seemed to be sitting on chairs solely for that purpose. One of them seemed stuck on giggle mode; one of them had very accurate grab-hands. One of them just patted Rick on the head and rolled her eyes (Hope assumed that woman actually knew him).
Hope made an executive decision. She stalked over, grabbed Rick by the collar, pulled him away, and dragged him out the door. She’d like to say that she did it more gracefully than that, but it would be a lie.
"Where's the fire?" Rick said, sounding remarkably coherent. He tugged away gently from Hope's grasp but followed her willingly enough.
Hope made a pointed effort not to grit her teeth. "You're drunk. Any one of those women could have done whatever she wanted to you."
Rick smirked and raised an eyebrow. "That's the point, babe."
Holding back on facial expressions that might get her fired was becoming more difficult by the second. "And I'm sure you would have a lovely time right until you got killed. Or did you forget there are some very nasty people after your blood?”
The smile faded from Rick's face, though he still looked vaguely amused. They climbed the garden steps together in silence. All the green and stone looked lovely in the moonlight and Hope couldn't help but take a second to enjoy it, though the warier parts of her mind reminded her that moonlight hid shadows and shadows hid assassins.
They reached the end of the garden and started to climb the stone spiral that led to an empty bedroom a hallway down from Rick’s. Hope held her tongue on what she really thought about that ludicrous addition. It was almost Rick, but not quite - she had no doubts that Rick would install a staircase for only himself for only those times he wanted to walk through the garden, but the stone was out of place.
Rick was the kind of man she pictured using metal or glass. And he'd probably peer over the builders' shoulders the whole time. The staircase would have a burn mark smeared across its side where Rick had insisted on trying out welding for himself. Hope suppressed a smile at the thought. It was silly, since she clearly didn't know Rick as well as she thought she did. The stairs were made of stone.
It was silly for other reasons too.