As agreed upon, Inaris strolled through the Ironmonger’s Gate an hour past noon. Slipping her hands into her pockets she glanced behind her towards the little concealed entrance to the hidden garden. An amused smirk curved up her lips at a thought, and she looked back to the lane ahead of her.
“You’ve got to! C’mon, there is a nice one outside ‘o town,” said a man’s voice from down a side street. Several other male voices echoed in agreement with the first.
“Forget it,” said another, more familiar voice. “I told you, it’s not gonna happ–”
“Oh! Hey, look, she’s one of ’em,” interrupted the first man as Inaris came into view. “Don’t disappoint us, man. Go get ‘er. See if Jeb was tellin’ the truth.”
Inaris walked on as the conversation to her left lowered into a jumble of grumbled protests and peer-pressure. Hardly a handful of seconds passed before a single set of heavy footfalls sounded behind her.
“Excuse me, miss?”
Aware of the dozen or so eyes that watched from behind the far hedge, Inaris turned her head, casting her keen, cerulian gaze back at the man. “Wha — oh, hello, sir.”
The sell-sword rubbed at the back of his neck, glanced over at his friends, then offered Inaris an uncertain smile. “You, uhh — work at The Lady’s Mantle, don’t ya?”
“I do,” she replied, her posture shifting as she spoke. Looking him up and down she set a hand on her hip. “How can I help you?”
Clearing his throat, the man struggled to keep his eyes on her face. “Mind if, ehh . . . we go for a walk?”
Tossing her head in a futile attempt to shift her ice-blond hair out of her eyes, Inaris pivoted smoothly to head down the lane and away from the gaggle of men. “I don’t mind at all.”
Swallowing, the man took in a breath and walked a little taller as he easily matched her pace. At the base of the bronze statue he reached out to touch her arm, slowing to a stop. “We should be out of earshot now,” he said, a smirk painted over his face for the enjoyment of the onlookers. “I appreciate you doing this.”
“Think nothing of it. Consider it a little favor.” She extended a hand out to him and they shook, both of their holds lingering. Turning her head up to him she smiled coyly.
The man chuckled and took a step back as if to observe her. “A favor? Even when I’m paying you for this?”
Inaris angled her head down, peering at him through a veil of bangs. “I’m a business woman, dear Tharnon. You’re just paying me generously for my time.”
Tharnon looked at her for a long moment before approaching half a step. “Shall we go for a long walk, then?”
“You still want them to think you slept with another woman, eh?”
“They have been hounding me for the past two months of travel. I’ve had about as much as I can take,” Tharnon responded, raising a hand to brush up her forearm.
“And what would your lady back home say if she found out?” She stepped closer at his touch and lifted her hands to fix his collar.
Tharnon frowned as he searched her face. “I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
A distant ripple of conversation from their audience drifted over on a slight breeze. Rising on her toes, Inaris hid her face behind his as she whispered, “I’d bed any of your friends, but the only good men I sleep with are single ones. You approach me again and I will assume you don’t mind having me on your conscience.”
Tharnon nodded, and a smile slowly returned to his face. “You know, you’re pretty decent.”
Letting out an indignant huff, Inaris rolled her eyes. “Something new I’m trying. Don’t spread it around.” Placing a lingering kiss on his cheek she let him step back first. “If you’re any good at Fox and Geese, or Tarok stop by the inn and buy me for an hour.”
“After all you just said, you tempt me?” Tharnon responded with a tsk as he bowed politely. “I’m disappointed. Besides, Miss Jade, I could beat you at those games in a fraction of that time.”
Her eyes sparking with amusement as the sell-swords emerged from their hiding spot, Inaris flashed a grin and turned to saunter away. “We will see.”