The Chrome Borne by Mercedes Lackey

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And they know my soft spots.

“So what do we do?” Sam asked. A frown line was forming between his brows. Obviously he wasn’t used to the kind of the multitudinous layers of deceit the Unseleighe Court creatures used by habit.

“We let Trish handle her. If she’s after me, she’ll find a way to get Trish to bring her over here. If she’s a real kid in real trouble, she’ll act like one.” He watched the two of them, without seeming to. It looked as if the singer was warning the girl against soliciting; Trish was nodding her head so emphatically that her black hair bounced, while the child blushed under all the makeup, and hung her head. But the singer didn’t leave things there; she took the girl to a table in the corner, and got her a sandwich and a cola, standing over her and talking until the food arrived. By then, it was time for the next set, and Trish abandoned the girl for the stage.

The kid finished the food in about three seconds flat. Tannim had never seen a kid put away food so fast, and the way she cleaned up every crumb argued that it might well have been the first meal she’d had today. She lingered over the dregs of her cola until Trish was obviously wrapped up in her song. Then a look of bleak determination passed over her face, and she slid out of her seat; and without a single glance at Tannim or even in his direction, she went back to the bar.

Tannim sighed, half in relief, half in exasperation. All right, he said to himself. She’s genuine. Now what am I going to do about her?

Just as Tannim asked himself that question, the girl found a mark.

It wasn’t one of the regulars, and Julie hadn’t even bothered to try to find the jerk a table. He was holding up the bar, more than two sheets to the wind, and up until the kid cruised by, he’d been insisting that Marianne, the barkeep, turn on a nonexistent television. He jumped all over her tentative overture, so much so that it was obvious to half the bar that he’d picked her up. The guys on either side of him gave him identical looks of disgust when they saw how young the girl was, and turned their backs on the situation.

Unfortunately, Tannim wasn’t going to be able to do that. Not and be able to look himself in the mirror tomor­row. Hard to shave if you can’t do that. . . .

Well, he knew one sure-fire way to pry her away from Mr. Wonderful. And it only required a little magic. With a mental flick, he set the two tiny spells in motion. With the first, a Command spell, he cleared people to one side or the other of a line between his table and her. With the other, a simple look-at-me glamorie, he caught her eye.

At precisely the moment when she looked his way, down the open corridor of bodies, he flicked open his wallet, displaying his Gold Card, and nodded to her. Her eyes were drawn to it, as if it was a magnet to catch and hold her gaze. Only after she looked at it did she look at him. She licked her lips, smiled, and started toward him.

Tried to, rather. The drunk grabbed her arm.

“Hey!” he shouted, rather too loudly. “Wa-waitaminit, bitch! You promised me some fun!”

All eyes went to the drunk, and none of the looks were friendly. Kevin Barry’s was not the kind of pub where the word “bitch” would go unnoticed.

So much for taking care of this the easy way.

Tannim was up and out of his seat before the girl had a chance to react to the hand gripping her arm. He grasped the drunk’s wrist and applied pressure. The drunk yelped, and let go. “I think she’s changed her mind,” he said, with deceptive gentleness.

The drunk yanked his hand away, and snarled aggressively, “Yeah? And what’s a faggot artsy punk like you gonna do about it? Huh?”

His hands were balling into fists, and he swung as he spoke, telegraphing like a Western Union branch office. Tannim blocked the first blow with a little effort; the second never landed. Three patrons landed on the drunk, and “escorted” him outside. And that was all there was to the incident; Kevin Barry’s was like that. Tannim was family here, and nobody messed with family.

And nobody even looked askance at Tannim, for guiding a kid barely past training bras back to his table. It would be assumed that, like Trish, his intentions were to keep the kid out of trouble, and maybe talk some sense into her. He caught Sam’s eye as he made a show of pulling a seat out for her; the old man was anything but stupid. “I’ll be at the bar,” he said as Tannim sat down. “I can hear the band better over there.”

That was a palpable lie, since the bar was far from the stage, but the girl didn’t seem to notice. Sam vanished into the crowd, leaving Tannim alone with the girl. She looked around, nervously; tried to avoid his eyes.

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