Anne fought down the urge to smooth her skirt again. The light gray suit dress was a gift from Lady Maritza, and it was exquisite. Granted, Anne hadn’t put up much of a fight when Lady Maritza presented it to her last week. Just thinking how much it cost, much less the tailoring, made Anne slightly worried that IA would take a closer look at her relationship with Lady Maritza. Still, as both the Lady Maritza and Kurt stressed, it wasn’t everyday that she got to meet a princess. 

Anne contented herself with looking around the main room. Lady Maritza, as the senior diplomat for Avalon, was sitting in one of the leather chairs. Across an antique coffee table from her sat Helen Murras. Anne couldn’t remember the woman’s lengthy title, but she was the senior diplomat for the American side. Kurt and Samantha stood at Lady Maritza’s shoulder. Kurt was Lady Maritza’s security, while Samantha was acting as the older woman’s aide. Jason was in one corner of the room with Agent Privas. Jason had been assigned as the liaison between the American supernatural task force (which was always referred to as just “the task force”) and the Avalonians. The task force was providing the American portion of security, since it was unlikely the normal agencies such as DSS and Secret Service would know how to handle a supernatural attack. Two more agents Anne didn’t know were acting as security for Ms. Murras. The agents eyed Anne warily, like they weren’t sure what side she was on. Anne was assigned as the personal liaison for the princess. Anne still wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to be doing, but the princess had asked for her personally. 

“The advance team is here,” announced the agent stationed in the lobby of the Marcom Hotel. The Marcom was probably the finest hotel in the city and the building was considered a historic landmark. The Avalonian prince and princess had been given the presidential suite that took up the entire fifteenth floor. To be fair, the suite was designed not just for the designated occupants, but for their expected staffs as well. That was a good thing, because Anne had been told to expect to reside at the Marcom for the Avalonians’ stay. Her room at the Marcom was a closet compared to the rest of the suite, but at least she wouldn’t be stuck in traffic on the few off-hours she expected. It also helped that Lady Maritza helpfully made sure she was sharing the room with Kurt.

It also helped that during the Avalonians’ stay, Anne wasn’t being teamed up with her erstwhile partner. It was now an open secret in homicide that Jason was a federal agent being quietly “loaned” to the city. None of the rumors even touched that the real reason he’d been assigned was to help protect Anne from being captured by the Dark Towers and forcibly taken back to Avalon. Still, he’d been taking a lot of ribbing in the past six weeks from the other detectives. That, combined with a lot of animosity over what had happened during the Outsider Event (as it was being called by the task force), had made him bitchy and irritable. It was like working with someone constantly on her period. 

There was a sharp rap at the suite’s main entrance. Three men and an elf walked into the suite. All were dressed in suits and wore earpieces. The only thing that seemed to distinguish the three humans was hair color. After months of dealing with Erik, Anne didn’t expect Imperial Security to look so much like feds. Lady Maritza walked over and shook hands with all four of them before escorting them over to the assembled group. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Agents Barston, Sturm, and Calhoun of the Imperial Guard and Free-Elf Veritas of the Office of Special Investigations,” Lady Maritza said. If Ms. Murras had any qualms about meeting an elf, she kept her diplomat’s face as she shook the proffered hands. Each of the humans accepted Anne’s hand with the cool professionalism she’d expected. Veritas, on the other hand, almost seemed to sneer at her when they shook hands. As the elf turned to the next person, something dawned on Anne. Lady Maritza said that Veritas was from the Office of Special Investigations. That was the same outfit that sent Samantha, Erik, and Veronica to recruit Anne. She wasn’t sure, but Anne had a sneaking suspicion that Veritas wasn’t here solely to guard the prince and princess. Anne caught Samantha’s eye and the psychic nodded at Anne’s unvoiced question. 

“The prince’s party is expected to arrive here in four hours,” Agent Barston said after introductions were completed, “Agent Sturm and myself would like to go over the arrival plan once more with Ms. Murras and Agent Privas. Agent Calhoun and Free-Elf Veritas will need to speak with the Avalonian contingent and Detective Hearst about some last minute details about the princess’s visit.” 

“Anything we should be concerned about?” Agent Privas asked.

“No, it’s more clarification than anything else,” Agent Barston answered. 

“Well, if you two gentlemen will follow me into the command center, we can show you what we have,” Agent Privas said, motioning for the two Imperial Guardsmen to follow her down the hall. Ms. Murras and the rest of the feds followed the trio. As soon as they were out of the room, Samantha fixed Agent Calhoun with a hard gaze.

“You fucking traitor, Billy,” Samantha said with a cold anger.

“Good to see you too, babe,” Agent Calhoun said, equally as chilly.

“Are you going to have problems with everyone during this visit, Ms. Hart?” Lady Maritza asked. 

“Probably, but I do apologize for letting my temper get the better of me, this time,” Samantha answered in a contrite tone. She still shot daggers with her eyes when she looked over at Agent Calhoun. He ignored her and focused on Anne.

“Detective Hearst, you’ve been assigned as the princess’s personal liaison,” Agent Calhoun said.

“Yes. What exactly am I supposed to be doing?” Anne asked.

“Mainly acting as a combination aide and bodyguard,” Agent Calhoun answered, “In your off-time, Free-Elf Veritas will be helping you with your magic.” The elf just frowned at her. 

“Thanks, but I’m doing pretty well on my own,” Anne said. She didn’t bother mentioning that she’d accidentally set fire to the meditation room at the clubhouse a few days earlier. Something about Veritas made her uneasy. Besides, it had only been a little fire. 

“It’s not a request Detective,” Agent Calhoun said, “We need you to be more proficient with your magic.”

“Why?” Anne asked.

“We have a credible intelligence that someone close to the prince and princess will try to assassinate them during this trip,” Agent Calhoun said. Anne swore under her breath. Erik was right. It could never be easy.