The bustling streets of Kolspace were like a wonderful super-organism ready to swallow Rehema alive. This city’s rhythm was a cacophony. The ancient labyrinthine stonewalls, which used to channel water, then later protect against enemy attacks now hustled people to and from the heart of the city.
Craig was right. She would’ve been mugged in a minute. Instead, she shared a taxi with him to his usual hotel. They could have negotiated the crowds much faster on foot, but he didn’t want to lose her in the confusion. The temperature inside the run-down taxi increased as if they’d entered a crucible. Although Rehema enjoyed the prolonged opportunity to look at the exotic vibrant-colored fabric, which the native women wore, and smell the sweet musty stench from the food vendors, she also longed for a cold shower and a breath of fresh air.
Rehema attempted to distinguish among the “tribes,” as Craig called them. Certainly, she’d blend in with her native-looking skin, but she’d been raised elsewhere. Her clothes and accent were dead giveaways.
A horrible thought suddenly sat on her head: she’d never been a foreigner before. For some stupid reason, she figured she’d returned to her gene pool and instinctively know what to do. As if her genetics would guide her.
“How long does it usually take you to trade gems?” Rehema asked, trying to mask her panic.
“Oh, the Montiers are a strange lot. Usually, they feed you and try to get you drunk before they conduct any serious business. If you can hold your liquor, then they’ll do business with you.”
“And if you can’t hold your liquor?”
“They’ll rob you.”
“I’m joking. I negotiate on behalf of different clients who have particular gem interests. The Montiers try their damnedest to get me off track, though.”
“I bet you get a lot of requests for big diamonds.”
“Nope.” Craig reached into his leather backpack and pulled out a small black velvet bag. He tossed Rehema a sparkling, lavender, oval gem.
She held the gem with both hands although it would have easily fit into one. As she stroked it with her thumbs, a cooling sensation pulsed through her. Marveling at her interaction with the gem, Rehema held it closer to the window for inspection. Purple and cyan glints sparkled in the sunlight as a sense of well-being cascaded over her. She closed her eyes, smiling.
“Good, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Rehema said dreamily. “Is this an amethyst?”
“No, it’s a peace stone. Only Montier stones cause those feelings.”
Craig laughed. “That’s the problem with Montier stones—they’re addicting as hell! I doubt if you can afford that one. Tell you what: I’ll get you another one, lower quality, but it’ll still work pretty good.”
Reluctantly, Rehema handed over the stone, giving it a final, hard rub. Her heart sank as the taxi stopped at the hotel. The monstrosity looked like a fortress—not at all as romantic as she’d hoped.
“Ah, finally for fuck’s sake.” Craig wiped the sweat from his face and blew his nose in a handkerchief. “Nah, don’t bother. It’s on me.” He waved away Rehema’s attempt to pay. “I feel chivalrous today.”
As Craig checked them in, the clerk who obviously knew him, winked and said, “A double suite today, Mr. Ford?”
“Nah, one single and my usual suite.” The clerk raised both eyebrows in surprise, but said nothing.
Rehema looked around aimlessly until she met the determined gaze of a well-dressed predator with his fine silky shirt, linen pants and sharp eyes. She couldn’t break the spell until Craig asked, “Ready?”
He’d startled her, and then saw why. “Jonathan! I didn’t expect to see you here.” Craig crossed the dull, gray, marble floor of the lobby to shake hands and kiss the other man on the cheeks.
Rehema attempted to complete her hotel check-in, but the clerk had pulled a disappearing act. She uselessly clicked her fingernails on the marble counter, longing to escape to her hotel room.
Jonathan leaned in and whispered, “Introduce us,” while looking directly at Rehema.
Craig strode three quick steps over to Rehema and touched her shoulder, causing her to jump. “Sorry. What’s your last name?”
She nervously glanced at Jonathan who seemed obviously entertained. “Jones. Why?”
He grasped her elbow and escorted her closer to Jonathan. “Jonathan Montier, Rehema Jones.” Craig hated doing “shit like this,” but since Jonathan was his main trading partner, deemed it a necessary business evil.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Jonathan said. He brought the back of her sweaty hand to his mouth and kissed it.
Wide-eyed, Rehema thought, “I don’t believe this is happening.”
Jonathan flashed her a wry smile. The thought, “Believe it,” struck her.
To Craig, he said, “Our meeting place has been changed due to circumstances beyond our control. A driver will pick you up at seven tonight.” Then he added, “Both of you.”
Having recovered a little composure, Rehema squeaked out a “thank you.”
The two men shook hands and embraced again. Then, Jonathan enclosed Rehema’s hand in both of his. “I look forward to seeing you tonight.”
Nervously, Rehema nodded and pressed a smile on her face.
Once Jonathan was out of earshot, Rehema turned to Craig and said, “I’m not going.”
“What? You’ve got to go!”
“I don’t know that guy!”
Craig rolled his eyes. “Most women in this town would kill to be invited to have dinner with him.”
“I. . . I don’t like being set up on blind dates,” Rehema added nervously.
“Look, just drink some booze. Do you have fancier outfit than that?” Craig gave her dark green T-shirt, jeans and Tevas the once over with disapproval.
“I had no reason to pack a fancier outfit than this.”
He huffed, “Don’t worry. I’ll get you something.”
“Where?” Rehema demanded.
Craig, irritated with his new matchmaking role, returned to the front desk where the clerk had miraculously reappeared. Rehema trailed behind him. “Nabu she needs a fancy outfit by six tonight.” He indicated, stabbing his thumb in Rehema’s direction behind him. Nabu nodded, sizing her up. “We’re having dinner at the Montier’s.”
This time, Nabu nodded knowingly.
“Christ, I hate mixing business with someone else’s pleasure!” Craig cursed under his breath.