Emma stared down at the unfolded square of paper in her hand, frowning.
"This was all there was to the message?" she asked, holding the note out to Granny.
Granny shrugged. "That's it. The kid ran off before I could get anything more out of him."
"And you didn't recognize him?"
"Nope. Never seen him around here before." Granny said, squinting in the sunlight. "What are you thinking?"
"I don't know," Emma said. "It's all very vague. One line, and nothing else. Just a place and a name."
"Could be a trap," Granny suggested. "Maybe I should come with you."
Emma shook her head. "It says to come alone."
Granny gave her an eyeroll. "Since when have you ever done what anyone says to do?"
Emma smiled. "Good point. But I have to admit, they've piqued my curiosity." She folded the paper back up. "I'll go alone, but you stay close by. If it all goes south, I can get out of there quickly."
Emma kicked the chair away from the table, spinning it around and sitting astride it, carefully studying the man across from her.
"You were looking for me?" she asked, raising a brow.
"I am." The man signaled for service, and a bottle appeared on the table. He poured them each a drink, raising his glass to her. "To your health," he said, with a tight smile.
"To yours," she echoed, tossing hers back. "You didn't bring me here drink."
"No, I didn't." The man leaned back in his chair. "I hear you're someone with a certain skill set. A skill set I may find...useful."
Emma inclined her head. "It's possible." She poured herself another drink, waiting patiently for the man to elaborate. He stared at her hard, as if trying to take her measure.
"I need someone to...infiltrate a small group of travelers. They've managed to derail an important venture I was working on, and so far, they've also managed to evade me. I need someone on the inside to apprise me of their plans."
"And you think that someone is me?"
"Perhaps." The man's steely eyes bore into her, but she met his gaze without flinching, showing only a mildly bored demeanor.
"What's in it for me?" she asked.
"You'll be well-compensated," the man said reasonably. "And you won't be in much danger. The group is hardly a threat to anyone, no matter how they posture and pretend."
"They're traveling by foot, and should be arriving at their destination sometime tomorrow. You get there ahead of them and position yourself. Once they discover you, you do what you do best," he said, gesturing at her. "Turn on the charm. Use those wiles."
"On all of them?" She raised a brow again.
"On any of them. I need information, and I need you to be my ears."
Emma poured herself another drink. "Why can't you do it?"
"I did. I had them all fooled, but they discovered my ruse and nearly derailed my plans. Luckily, I managed to salvage some of what I need. They can get me to the rest."
"And then what?"
"And then I can finish what I started. You don't need any more detail than that."
Emma inclined her head. "Clear enough. How exactly do I get you the information, once I've gleaned it?"
The man sloshed the liquid around in his glass. "Don't worry about that. I'll find you."
Emma took another swallow, then set her drink down on the table. She stood up, twirling the chair around and pushing it back under the table.
"Thank you for the drink," she said. "And good luck with your endeavor."
The man smiled, a cold smile that stopped before it reached his eyes. "There's more," he said over his shoulder. Emma paused, but didn't look back.
"There usually is," she said with a smirk.
"These people - the ones you'll be getting so cozy with. Rumor has it they know where he is." The man reached for the bottle again, and Emma's hand was suddenly there, stopping him from pouring another.
"That had better not be the drink talking."
The man glanced up at her, and his eyes narrowed.
"They know," he assured. "And they can lead you right to him, and to something that can end him for good. And if everything goes as planned, you'll be in a much more...advantageous position where he is concerned."
Emma put a booted foot up on the chair, leaning into the man's face.
"I want your guarantee," she growled. "Do what you want with the others, but he's mine."
"I have no quarrel with him. He's all yours."
"No strings attached?"
"Beyond the information you'll be supplying me? No."
Emma mulled that over for a moment. Her hands itched just thinking about getting close enough to wrap them around a throat. She pulled the chair out, sitting down again.
"Give me the details," she said. "Who are they?"
"No one of any import," the man said. "Not to you, anyway. Though I imagine you'll find at least one of them amusing."
She raised her brows. "Amusing?"
"There are three princes and a soldier. They like to think they're invincible, but they were easily fooled."
"Yet they still managed to thwart you," Emma pointed out.
The man's lips thinned. "I made a mistake. I won't be doing so again." He reached for the bottle once more. "The soldier is a mistrustful sort, he'll be on guard. The prince with the red hair is a complete non-entity. He's useless and he slows them down."
"And the other two?"
"They're close, and they're smart. The one is particularly clever. It's like he's thinking a step ahead. He knows things a little too easily. He's also the one who nearly derailed my plans." The man's mouth pulled down, tightening in anger.
"I've never met a man who was particularly clever when there's an attractive woman around," she smirked.
The man raised a brow and gave her a cold stare.
"Don't get overconfident in your charms. He's not easily fooled."
Emma raised a brow of her own. "We'll see," she said noncommittally.
The man tossed back his drink. "You need to leave immediately."
Emma stood. The man pushed a scrap of paper at her. "This is a map to their location. They'll reach the village by mid-day tomorrow. Just make sure you're in place, and your story is well-rehearsed."
Emma scooped up the paper, then reached for the bottle, tucking it under her arm.
"Just leave them to me," she said. "I haven't had fun with a prince in a good, long while." She smiled, tucking the paper into her pocket.
The man smiled back, without any warmth. "See that you don't let your amusements get in the way of the job."
"I never do."
"Good," he replied. "Now get back to your ship and set sail...Captain Swan."