Not that I knew the question.
“Ready?” Dune asked.
“Unless you’ve changed your mind about the kissing.”
He put his hand on the doorknob.
“Fine. Now is the perfect time to go down, anyway. People will be leaving for dinner, checking in, and there’s some sort of reception in the lobby.”
“Why do you want more people instead of less people?
Shouldn’t you wait until the dead of night?”
“No.” I checked my lipstick one more time in the mirror, and caught Dune checking out my bare back. “Too much security camera action if we do it that way.”
“Why does that matter? You can change your appearance.” He picked up the key card and dropped it into his pocket.
“Right. But you can’t. If you were Poe, this would’ve been simpler.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint.” He sounded so touchy I had to grin.
“I didn’t mean it that way, and you know it.”
We took the guest elevator to the second floor and wandered down the hall until we found the staff elevator. We needed to take it to the lobby so we could enter from the back.
“I like being with you,” I said. “I like you in general. I wasn’t trying to be insensitive. I was merely speaking truth, and as previously discussed, I can show you how not disappointed I will be later. If we get through this without any incidents.”
When the elevator doors closed behind us, I gave into my urge, turned to face him, and traced one finger along his jaw line.
His expression was stoic. “If you want to avoid an incident, you should probably not touch me.”
“But that’s the kind of incident I could get into.”
“Hallie.” He grabbed my fingers and lowered our joined hands.
“Saved by the elevator,” I said as the doors opened.
The lobby was hopping. A few businessmen, a couple of families, and a trio of transvestites all gathered around the piano in the corner. The man behind it played “When the Saints Go Marching In” at a roaring clip. I shook my head in disgust.
“People feed off stereotypes in the Quarter, and we grow them like algae. When I see things like that, I wonder if it’s the irony of the locals or the idiocy of the infiltrators. Plus, it’s a little hard to cause a distraction when there’s a sing-along happening.”
“You could get on top of the piano,” he said, without missing a beat.
I laughed, a real one. Dune could pull them out of me like magic. “We can wait until it’s a little calmer.”
“Nope.” He unbuttoned his suit jacket. I glanced at his pants pocket to see if I could make out the Taser, but realized too late that it totally looked like I was checking out his assets.
“I was making sure you had your weapon,” I blurted out when he raised his eyebrows.
“I was looking for the Taser in your pants.” When he snort laughed, I closed my eyes and shook my head. “Oh hell, can we just get out of here?”
“I said no. I have an idea. Do you have the replacement crystal in your purse?”
“Go stand by the case and get ready to make a move.”
“Excuse me?” I put my hands on my hips. “Did you just try to boss me on a job I brought you on?”
“I see a way to solve the problem right now. Trust me.”
He turned and walked away, did a check of the lobby, and then stared at the largest vase of flowers.
It took me a minute to figure out what he was doing, and another ten seconds to figure out it was going to work. I took off for the display case.
Every vase in the lobby started to wobble back and forth—the ones at the entrance, on the piano, on the check-in desk, and on every table. The next wave of movement touched the vases in the niches on the walls, and on each table in the restaurant. Finally, the giant water dispenser with fresh-cut lemons and limes started to slosh its contents furiously back and forth.
And then they all crashed to the ground at once.
I switched the crystals in fifteen seconds easy, and turned back to the lobby.
The people around the piano were jumping around, trying to keep their feet out of the puddles. “Was that an earthquake? Does New Orleans have earthquakes?”
“My suitcase is soaking wet!” A woman at the check-in desk looked like she expected the trusty Olga to suck the excess water up with her mouth, while Olga ran for an armful of cloth napkins.
Dune stood smiling, as chaos reigned. Then he met my eyes.
He crossed the lobby and took my hand.
I followed him up a staircase to a couch on a landing, nerves swirling. The sounds from the lobby echoed up to us, but otherwise the quiet was heavy.
“What’s going on?” he asked, sitting down.
“You’ve worked for Chronos for five minutes, and you figure out how to do a job on the fly. I was going to cop out because of a sing-along.”
Dune’s emotions were controlled, while mine were bouncing off the inside of my chest like a rubber ball.
“Did I make you angry by going off plan?”
“You have the crystal ball, isn’t that all that matters?”
“No, I’m just … I don’t … this is my thing, not your thing. The Hourglass doesn’t steal.”
“Retrieve.” He grinned and pulled me down beside him. Close beside him. “You’re acting like doing jobs for Chronos is the only thing that defines you.”
I rubbed the skin above my sternum and wondered if I was too young for a heart attack. “It feels like it is. Like it always will. I’ll have to be the one to take it over, the one to carry it into the next generation, whether I want to or not. I’ll inherit all my parents’ choices, and more seclusion, more bodyguards, more attempts on my life. All that good stuff. I look at my life and the only thing I see in front of me is Chronos.”
“I don’t think that’s true, Hallie. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“You want to know why I think my mom is such an unfortunate human? She has the lamest ability ever.”
He took my hand away from my heart, held it.
“She’s a human clock. Ask her what time it is. She knows it to the second. It was fun when I was little, but the novelty wore off. I think she resents what I can do. The point is, she made up for her lack of ability by taking over. Having the most power. Wielding it over me. I don’t want to be her. I don’t want Chronos to define me. Ever.”
“Tell me what you want.”
“To go to Newcomb. They have an amazing dance program. And then I’d dance professionally, anywhere—it doesn’t need to be prestigious—and truthfully, I want to stay in New Orleans. There’s so much art here, and so much room to create all kinds of things. Not that I’ve seen much of it in person lately. But I know what the nightlife is like in the Quarter, and I remember all the performance art in the square.” I hadn’t set foot in it since Benny died. I could barely manage seeing the statue of Andrew Jackson along the skyline if I glimpsed it from a side street. “This city breathes, and I’m oxygen starved.”
“Then do it.”
“That’s the problem,” I said. “I can’t.”