I blinked. Hard.

"Um … awkward," I called out, confusedly darting my eyes to the door and back at the man above me. "Can a girl please have some personal space? I cannot breathe."

"Oh, how interesting. You really do have black hair."

I sighed. I already had a feeling he was going to pull something that random out of his arse, and my suspicion—not that my conclusion was ever flawed—was proved correct as soon as I felt my head feel much lighter.

Right, I dryly noticed. The fool snatched off my wig.

My God, I simply cannot believe what I am going through tonight.

"What, do you have a thing for blondes only?" My sarcasm felt a tad limp, but I threw it out there, anyway. I mean, aside from having this weird, scary-looking—yes, I will just admit it—man tower over me, I was already having a bad day. And it did not have anything to do with Vito thinking that it was all right to—

At that moment, I tensed. Shit, I did not mean to remind myself of that. I swore to myself that I would not let anything distract me from this mission; I did not need the harsh words stated this very morning to affect my performance. I did not need any of that.

I—

"I have never really considered a fetish for hair color. Perhaps, I am indifferent." He flapped my carefully coiffed wig in front of my face and amusedly scrutinized the mass of curls as if a pompous fool did not know his place. "There are other assets that are much more interesting in a woman."

Right. Like breasts and arses and …

And …

Well, certainly, a man like him wouldn't search for the next Machiavelli when he could be feeling up some mega-sized grapefruits on a skinny wretch. I could not really hate this man, however; he pretty much summed up the entire male population, and as an "uptight nun," as Aurelia calls me, I would take everything the wrong way.

And this time, I did take it the wrong way, and my nostrils were probably the things that made him back up and look at me as if I told him I had syphilis. They flared like the way my horse does when some fat village kid keeps poking him with a stick because it seems awesome. They flared because my costume was making my armpits feel itchy. They flared because I was beyond frustrated, because a bad memory of—

God. Because of one man, I was ruined—

"What is wrong?"

"Wrong?" I blinked once more. "Nothing is wrong … aside from this situation."

"… I see."

Not. He did not see, and he made that clear by leveling his gaze with at me while drinking his wine. I knew that I was never great at lying—even when I was a small child, I would never dare braving the theft of an apple, even if it was ritualistic by those around me, for the fear of cracking all too soon. I could barely save my own arse in headquarters, so it was not as if my "feminine" conventionalism could serve as a scapegoat.

Nevertheless, he did not press any further; I was strangely grateful for that, for my face must have taken on a sanguine hue. It invariably did that when I became agitated or at a wit's end, and I hated it. It made my own peers stare back in perplexity at the blotchiness that would be my face. I would look exactly like a burnt rodent.

I covered my face. It was so hot in this room. Breathing deeply, I sat up on the bed and rearranged my attire before pressing my hands against my cheeks, feeling the familiar wound that spanned from the middle of my right cheek to my clavicle. It still stung, especially with the stitches, but it was healing, and I was thankful just for that fact. I did not really care that it would scar.

What I was more concerned about was the queerness of this predicament. To put it bluntly, I was extremely surprised that I did not have to cut off any bullocks while fending off a filthy rapist. I was acknowledged as a high-class whore.

But he did not perceive me to be one, and I knew it. This man was dangerous. Something odd pulled at my stomach at the way he looked at everything and seemed to know every last detail about it. He seemed to even know me—he most likely knew that I was not the average heathen in this castle, and I cursed my luck.

If only. If only I was stuck with my target, I would not be so confused. I would not have to corner a predator that instinctively snagged a mite in disguise.

So, I did what cowards did.

"Referring back to your earlier question," I stated after a tense moment, picking at a scab on my finger, "am I still free to guess?"

"I never opposed." He played along—I was grateful for it once more, and it thoroughly confused me. "I myself have no definite answer."

"Huh. So, what? You just felt like calling up a random person?"

"Perhaps."

" … This does not really help. I asked why you called me, and you asked the same question in regards to your perspective." Huffing, I ripped off the jeweled headdress and began to comb my fingers through my hair, wincing at tugged knots and loose pieces of the wig I wore earlier. There really was no point in reaching over and rearranging my wig and ornament. The wig looked like a giant ball of cat fur on the carpet, and the decorative piece looked plain ridiculous by itself. "The fact that you look like a wronged poet, sitting over there in your chair next to the window, is not telling me anything."

Well, honestly, the sex party downstairs was not much better, anyway. And I had a feeling that Aurelia and the rest of the girls were already slitting throats and gathering information while I was being the awkward turtle that did not accomplish a single thing. Dear God, my target seriously must have gone home by now. Like, now. Like, now as in nownownow.

Damn. This shit always happened to me. How was a supposed to help the Cause if none of my missions went the right way? There would invariably be a flaw in all of the carefully devised plans, or some random thing would pop up and fuck the entire mission over. Like the time I was supposed to assassinate a courier: I could still remember the gleeful look on that fatarse's face when he saw me trip over a giant cart of horse manure. Thank God Giovanni was able to strike him down from the roof of a nearby bakery; else, scraping off the literal pile of shit from myself was simply impossible.

"Can I leave?" I complained, glaring at the stranger while scratching my stomach that obviously hated the itchy attire. The area under my breasts was also itchy, but it would be wrong on so many levels to start scratching away. "We are not even doing anything, I am bored as hell, I need a bath, my leg hurts, and … did I mention that we are not doing anything?"

To my surprise, he simply replied with: "I can draw up a bath in the next room if you would like. A masseur can also be called for shortly. As for doing nothing …"

Oh, hell no. Was this guy crazy? I backed up and gazed longingly at the door.

The inevitable came sooner than I expected.

"I—"

"Do not worry about the pricing. I will give you at least ten times the amount you charge."

No. No. For the love of—

I—"

He rose from his seat and strode over, clearly reassessing my body as if he was about to buy a new stallion. Up, down, around, over, left right, of all sides and boundaries. My skin, my hair, my teeth, my hands, my lips. The softness of my body. My eagerness.

He stopped there. "Am I rushing you?"

Yes. Sweet Jesus, yes! "I … I do not really … um … Well …"

Holy shit, he wants sex. Holy shit, I guess he does think I am a prostitute; either that or he is just taking advantage of my guise as a prostitute to get some. And the weird thing is that he is not being an arse about it.

Not that I would want to have sex, of course. That is the last thing on my mind.

But still, what in the world? "Sir, I think you misunderstand this entire situation."

"So, I was right. You are not a courtesan."

I winced. Fuck. Was my cover blown? "No, I am!" Dear Lord, how sad it was for me to want to be seen as a whore so badly. This was the opposite of what I preached: I really am going to hell for hypocrisy. "I really am … I just … er …" Think of something! "Um … I …"

"Well?"

No, no, no, no, no, no! No! God!

The clock ticked.

And ticked.

And ticked.

Until: " … Do not have my license!" I replied, chomping on my cheek as soon as the dumb words spilled out. "And I usually do not … conduct business without it."

Oh, right. He was so going to believe this. I bet naïve monks could even tell that this was all a lie without consulting the Lord.

But then again, over half of them in Roma were perverse pedophiles who had greasy scalps from all that beeswax. I bet nothing genius came out of sheer cognition. Which sadly matched my predicament because the worst always did. Always.

Like the way he looked at me. Looked at me as if I was a faulty slab of steak that talked. And pulled some weird idea out of her arse that never even existed in the past. And I hated the way he towered over me without doing the chin-tilt thing men were so fond of—he merely looked. No glare, no eye tick, no semblance of disgust or satisfaction. Just …

Looking. And standing. And moving.

And, oh, my God, was he going to take off his

"What are you doing?" What the hell? I reared back as his fingers landed on the drawstring of his breeches once more, nearly losing my balance. "WhatisthisIdonoteven—"

I panicked and landed clumsily on the bed as the shuffle of clothing continued sound. Holy shit, I was so not ready for this! So not ready! I never even

"Why are you doing this?" I croaked, biting my fingernails as the bed dipped to accommodate what felt like a knee. "I just said that I did not have my—"

A hand thudded next to the curve of my hunched back.

Oh, shit.

"Your licensure is irrelevant to my interests."