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The urge to ask Sahil more about weredogs in general rose, but Tam quashed it quickly. He knew he wouldn’t be entirely selfish if he did ask—anything he could know at all might contribute to finalizing his plan—but he’d already embarrassed himself a little in front of Sahil, and Sahil was, he hoped, a friend. He didn’t want to get too invasive about things.
“I guess I could use a second opinion on my plan so far,” he said, and was a little dazzled by Sahil’s answering smile. “A lot of it’s pretty up in the air, but…”
He ran over it in all its vagueness: using the weredogs to confirm the location, getting information from the vampires and seeing what more they could do or what they’d offer tonight, and taking Lithway along for help on the actual rescue mission. “I’m expecting a call from a contracts lawyer Lithway got in contact with, so I’m hoping some element of whatever comes up can tie her up in business,” he admitted. “And I guess we’d need to lie low after I get him out, but I might ask the vampires about that too. They’ve probably got some pretty strong protections, and I’d be worried about who else might get hurt if I laid low elsewhere. I can’t decide that until I meet them tonight, though.”
“Probably,” Sahil agreed. “It sounds like a pretty solid plan for something where none of the key details are worked out yet.” His lips quirked in a small smile. “I guess whatever you think Lithway can help with involves that secret?”
“Probably,” Tam said, as vaguely as possible—half because he didn’t want to say more, and half because he hadn’t quite decided yet how that shape-shifting skill could fit in, if at all. “Actually, relatedly, do you know if there’s any way I could keep a secret from the vampires if they tried to compel me that’s not a geas?”
“Sorry,” Sahil said. “I don’t think anything else would work except being forced to forget it, and that’d make it pretty useless as part of a plan.” He considered, swallowing the last of his coffee. “I can’t speak too much to the plan except the dogs part, but it sounds pretty good to me. It’s a really small way to make use of us—keeps us out of the danger zone. I was expecting, like, you wanting a gang of angry dogs to make her give Ash up and withdraw the contract.”
“Do you think that’d work?”
“I mean, most people don’t want to face down a gang of angry dogs,” Sahil said. “But Lena would probably be harder to convince for something like that.”
Tam nodded. “Right. Any suggestion on how I talk to her?”
“Just keep in mind that the safety of our group is her main concern,” Sahil said. “She doesn’t want us to get a bad reputation, and she doesn’t want to lead us to be hurt. I mean, we’re still lycanthropes, though, so us getting hurt is not… easy. And… don’t mention the vampires to her.”
Not quite able to keep from raising his brows, Tam asked, “Not at all?”
“They hate each other, Tam. If the vampires are in on the plan, she’ll want to be out. If she’s in, Dupré will probably want to be out. Or they’ll ask way higher payment.” Sahil made a face. “As far as I’m concerned, make use of us both, just don’t go around telling people. They may suspect you’ve been in contact with the other from the smell, but it’s not like they’re going to confirm with each other. I suggest you just avoid mentioning it, or say that you’re looking into your options but would rather work with… whichever one you’re talking to.”
“Fair enough,” Tam said. “I guess it’s not a lie until I’ve actually decided to go with both.”
Sahil put a hand on Tam’s knee. “Exactly,” he said, squeezing encouragingly. “I don’t really care one way or another about the vampires, so I’ll just… not say anything myself. That kind of alliance is really a need-to-know basis anyway; neither group will particularly want to be known for messing around in witches’ affairs, I bet.” He patted Tam’s knee one more time, then got up. “Ready to head out? I got us lunch reservations at Hell’s Kitchen.”
Despite the tongue-in-cheek name, Hell’s Kitchen was a pretty popular, sort of hipster-chic restaurant. “Sounds great.”
The lunch they had together was tasty and quiet and Tam kept the conversation off the situation with his brother for a while—he remembered how overwhelmed he’d gotten the day before and didn’t want to put himself through that again. It felt quiet, intimate, and he was almost disappointed when, toward the end of the email, his phone rang. He didn’t recognize the name, but figured it might be the lawyer, and was proven right when she greeted him with her name (Michella Alver) and firm (Alver and Stant).
He made eye contact with Sahil, pointing to the cell and nodding toward the door. Sahil gave him a thumb’s up, so he excused himself from the table, heading outside where he could hear better. After he confirmed his identity, she launched right in. “I’m given to understand that Lithway requested services on your behalf. Please understand this is a consultation on the situation and not a declaration of intent to act until you come into the office and we discuss that specifically. I’ve read over the contract you sent, and the request he made. Your older twin brother was taken by a witch, who had promised protection in return for ownership over him on his twenty-first birthday, correct?”
“Yeah,” he said, mouth dry. “His name’s Ashton Lynes.”
“The contract’s short and simple,” she said. “There’s only a few places to look at as weak clauses. In terms of a long-term approach, it’s possible that since you’re twins, the ‘firstborn’ part may be up in the air even if your brother was technically the first arrival. I couldn’t find any immediate precedent on that situation, so it would likely be a case that would have to establish precedent. If it’s ruled that neither of you are technically firstborn, the magical hold over your brother would be removed.”
“I’m just worried about time,” he said. The anxiety was starting to settle back in again. “She’s likely to leave town tomorrow. If it’s a debate over terms, we’d be looking at a lawsuit, right? Can’t those take place years after being filed? Even if she’s supposed to suspend any work with him until it’s resolved or whatever gets declared, that wouldn’t mean much if she bails with him him through the Gate.”
“Yes,” she said, a wince in her voice. “That’s why witches like her are often so successful. In terms of a quicker resolution, the best option would be if you can prove in some way that she has violated the contract. If you find a specific breach, and tell her what the breach is, the contract itself should react—she would then have no magical hold over your brother. Otherwise, you are likely going to have to look into a legal unbinding via an official ruling.”
“And if I got him away from her without managing to undo the contract?”
“Legally, he’d still belong to her. Practically, that might not matter much if she had no way to get to him until the standard seven years of indenture was up, though she could herself bring a suit against your family for breaking the terms. Also, technically theft. I don’t know how likely she’d be to follow up on legal options herself, of course, but I cannot give you the legal advice to pursue that course of action.”
Tam asked her a few more questions that didn’t amount to much, then thanked her and said he’d call her back if he needed anything further clarified. Hanging up felt dissatisfying; he was hoping for more, though he supposed he could only take what he got.
Sahil came out a moment later, carrying both his and Tam’s bags. “I got the check,” he said. “My treat. Any luck?”
“Oh—jeez, thank you,” Tam stammered, a little awkward. “No, nothing much.” He summarized quickly.
Sahil winced and nodded. “Well… I guess if we can’t break the bond we can put the two of you on a bus and have you go live somewhere else for seven years,” he said wryly. “Ready to go meet Lena? Her class should be letting out soon.”
“Class?” Tam followed Sahil as he began to head down the sidewalk.
Class, it turned out, was skating class; Sahil led him to the #4 bus, which they rode out of the valley to a small indoor skating arena about a half hour’s ride away. Inside, the air was chill, raising the hair on Tam’s arms as he and Sahil headed around to the rink-side seats where a short, energetic-looking woman in her thirties with curly black hair and olive skin was gesturing a hoard of grade-schoolers off the rink.
“Be with you in a minute!” she called over to them, brightly.
“That’s Lena,” Sahil told Tam. “I gave her a basic rundown of who you were and why you would want help, but I’ll mostly stay out of this except to back you up, okay? So, now’s the time to think of what you want to say to her.”
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[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]