Stealing the Wolf Prince is copyright © 2015 Elle Clouse
Kiera turned the ivory crank on the side of the massive oak bookshelf. The mechanism within propelled the shelf along a track in the floor, opening an aisle between the bookcases for her. She pulled her notes out of her apron pocket, verified that she had accessed the correct aisle of the law section, and edged sideways down the temporary corridor. Her lantern only illuminated a few feet before all was lost to shadow. The old tomes were dust-covered and occasionally misfiled, but she found what she was looking for without having to traverse the entire aisle.
She had selected a book of local history she hoped would shed light on the archaic laws that still prohibited the study of magic by the masses. Hopefully, it might hold the key to instigating some changes in current restrictions on magic practice. Kiera focused on the printed letters on the book cover as she emerged from the aisle.
When she looked up to see a man standing in front of her, she nearly dropped the book. “Good gods!” she cried. One hand went to her heart as if it might jump out of her chest. “You shouldn’t sneak up on me like that, Brogan. You know I hate it.”
Brogan’s smirk was that of a man who had accomplished something phenomenal. “It’s hard to resist when you make it so easy to do so, dear cousin.”
Kiera took a deep breath to calm herself and resisted the urge to hit him. “Have a nice trip back?”
He waved her polite conversation away and motioned to a small troupe of people standing at the massive library’s rear entrance. “It’s time to celebrate, Kiera. I’m back with money in my pocket.”
Kiera recognized all of Brogan’s companions. Friends, he called them. Wastrels, she privately thought. She fixed him with a hard glare.
He tried to distract her with a dashing smile, which might have worked if she wasn’t his cousin and didn’t know all his tricks. “You don’t have to be holed up here all night every night, you know. Phelan likes your company a lot…”
“I happen to like the library,” Kiera said, knowing where the conversation was headed. “And this is the only time I can get in here without constantly getting interrupted or harassed. Besides, we have creditors to pay. You shouldn’t be wasting any money at the bar or gambling with your friends. Where will they be when you’re penniless again?”
Brogan grimaced, but Kiera knew she was right. His friends disappeared as soon as the coin ran out, but old habits died hard. He had been raised by a man who had squandered everything as soon as he had earned it and had passed his vices on to Brogan. She glanced back at the tall, gangly Phelan, who was watching both of them—especially Kiera—with great interest. She didn’t care that her wild, red locks were tied under a bandana and her smock was covered in dust. This was her domain, and she wasn’t going to feel self-conscious about her state of dress just because of him.
The two women beside Phelan didn’t seem impressed with the library at all and resembled deer ready to bolt at the slightest sound. Erann was looking at her surroundings with disgust, and the ever-bubbly Brigid somehow managed to bounce even though she was standing still.
Brogan waved a hand to encompass the shelves and their stacks of books. “What about all this? There’s no benefit in staying up until the wee hours of the morning in this dusty old library.”
“I’m on a mission. All people should have the right to study magic, not just the select nobility.” Kiera waved a finger at him.
“Yes, yes, yes.” Brogan rolled his eyes. “I know; we’ve been over this. If you get caught, you’ll get thrown in jail faster than we would from any of our cons.”
She scowled. “But you said we wouldn’t have to do this for very long, and here it is years later. I’m still stuck in a dark library while you’re out spending what earnings we make before we can save any of it! Before the rent is paid!”
Brogan cringed. “Now, there’s no need for that…”
“Yes, there is.” She lowered her voice so the others couldn’t hear her. “You’ve made promises, both to me and to the creditors. Neither of us have seen a cent. All I can do is berate you, but I’m sure the debt collectors can extract more than just a bruised ego.”
Brogan flinched at that last reminder.
“When is the last con, Brogan? Or am I going to have to start looking up distant relatives to take me in?”
Brogan frowned. “I don’t know,” he mumbled so quietly Kiera almost didn’t hear. “If we find the right mark…”
Now it was Kiera’s turn to roll her eyes. That was a phrase she’d heard before.
“We should go for someone higher up than these merchants.” His eyes lit up. “Someone like royalty.”
“What? Going after royalty is too dangerous. You can fool a crooked merchant out of some money, sure, but if you get the wrong family against you, it’s all over.”
“But why not hit one of the outlying kingdoms? On the borderlands or the outskirts?” Brogan started to pace, smoothing a hand over his chin stubble. “One that doesn’t have ties to the inner royal families in the empire. One that has a lot of wealth but is still small.”
Kiera forced herself to remain perfectly still. There was only one such kingdom, and she hoped he wouldn’t remember its name.
“Cearbhall?” Brogan smiled. “That’s what it was called, that little place where you grew up. Cearbhall would be perfect for an endeavor like that.” Brogan’s gaze grew unfocused as he stared past her into the darkness of the library. He seemed to have forgotten that Kiera was in the room.
She gave a loud ahem to get his attention again.
“Right, Cearbhall.” He clapped his hands together. “You know what to do.”
Kiera folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t want you to go there and swindle those people out of anything. They are good people, and they don’t deserve a visit from you.”
A crooked smile tilted his lips. “Well, seeing as I’m the only one able to support this little twisted family we have here, I don’t see that you have much of a choice. I want a plan by tomorrow night. Have fun.”
“Are you scheming again?” Erann shouted from the door. She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring in their direction, tapping her foot impatiently against the floor. “We haven’t even spent the profit from Lord Dubhan’s folly, and you’re already planning another job?”
“Come on, Mr. Fletcher, let’s go celebrate.” Brigid waved Kiera and Brogan both toward the exit.
“Kiera?” Brogan held out a hand.
Kiera shook her head. “You go ahead. I have some more work to do here.”
“Suit yourself.” He spun on his feet and sauntered back toward his friends. “I’m feeling lucky. Anyone up for a game of Twenty-one at Hit the Deck?” He draped an arm over Brigid and Erann’s shoulders and steered them out of the library. Phelan lingered only a moment, then left as well.
Reluctantly, Kiera headed down the aisle to put back the book she had just retrieved. Her private research would have to be put on hold for now in favor of finding information about the royal family of Cearbhall. She was pretty sure she remembered some of the histories, but she would need help to fill in the blanks. It was going to be another long night of research, notes, and black tea.
Stealing the Wolf Prince is copyright © 2015 Elle Clouse