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As useful as the knowledge I’d brought back was, even that wasn’t the triumph of the night. As the sun was about to set, Travis, the last of us to report back, bustled into our room all out of breath.

He’d been applying his charm around the more social districts of the city, and had learned that Frederic Darcy, the Duke himself, frequented one particular brothel. His usual woman had confessed that she wasn’t exactly satisfied with him – he paid poorly for a man of such means, it seemed, and there had been some question of his sexual prowess as well. Travis wasn’t sure to what degree she’d be willing to compromise herself – the Duke was a powerful enemy, after all, especially here in his home town – but he had learned roughly when the man tended to visit. And as it would call too much attention to his nighttime activities to show up with a full retinue, he usually came alone.

In short order we had found places where the women might linger relatively unnoticed near the brothel in question. Travis and I went in; armed with the knowledge of who else worked on the same courtesan’s floor, we soon found that one in the adjacent room was willing to let us make use of that space. Or rather, to let me sit in while she entertained Travis, the better to keep up the illusion; so long as at least a male and a female voice could be heard by any observers, none needed to know that I myself wasn’t a part of the proceedings. Or that they were deliberately taking their time to stretch things out, rather than simply enjoying a lazy evening.

It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I did find myself able to get a sense of the thoughts coming from the woman next door – she was, indeed, anticipating the Duke’s arrival, with a certain degree of resignation, so that let me know that I was at least in the right place and “listening” in the right direction. Keeping that focus as Travis began idly caressing his woman was… somewhat less easy still. But it did give me some chance to practise for the more difficult portions of the evening.

Travis had just barely got to the point of removing the woman’s top when I heard footsteps in the hall, and a rap at the next door over, and sensed the woman there suddenly growing more anxious; that, she thought, would be her caller. She schooled herself to present a properly respectful image, for even if the Duke didn’t pay nearly what he could, he did at least pay, and so long as he did, she was unwilling to risk offending him.

Getting a feel for the Duke’s mind was less easy, simply because it was full of so much chaos. Well, that and because of Travis’s own growing arousal, now being caressed by the petite woman sharing the bed with him. It wasn’t entirely out of a desire to keep up appearances that he’d chosen this route, just as it wasn’t entirely that which prompted me to loosen my breeches and let my own manhood into the open.

But even once I’d freed it of its tight confines, sifting through the Duke’s tumultuous thoughts wasn’t easy. He had plans – he needed to go to the capital, and soon. On the morrow. First light. Trellig could be trusted to handle matters in his absence – I dared not nudge him toward what those matters might be, not when focusing on him was so difficult in the first place. Trellig was a terrifying woman, but a beauty, and her ambition was a useful thing, too. She’d promised, once this entire mess had begun, that she could seat him on the throne. It was strange that she’d known what was to happen that night, but being so quick to catch the assassins had at least given him some public confidence.

I made a mental note there: the Duke himself hadn’t known what was to happen last night. He was not the ruthless foe we sought, though he was heavily implicated in matters.

I couldn’t learn anything more out of him at the moment; his thoughts turned to the present, to the woman who was servicing him. He would miss her, when he left tomorrow morning. He wanted to give her some reward for her service and silence. He’d at least leave her a few gold, no matter what Trellig said. What she was doing to him was worth more than enough for that. For a short time, at least, she let him feel… manly. Virile. Appreciated as something other than the looming authority behind the tax collectors. Wanted him for something other than his position. Even if it was a sham, even if he needed to pay her, this might be the last time he was with a woman who was willing to stroke him, to taste him, to fondle his balls and heft them on her palm, to…

I gave my head a shake, drawing back. The only way we’d learn more from the Duke tonight was by lingering long enough that he finished his activities, and by the sense of things, that could be a lengthy time indeed. Staying too close to his mind in the interim would only make it harder to keep in contact should he actually think something useful in the midst of his pleasure; already my manhood jutted out rigid from my hips, and the way the other two in the room were caressing each other only added to the ache of the other man’s desire.

I crossed over to the bed, touching Travis on the shoulder. “I know what we need to,” I murmured into his ear. “There’s no need to delay, now.”

“We certainly can’t leave in this state, though,” he murmured over the woman’s shoulders, reaching out to give my manhood a firm squeeze. “It’d be a horrible shame, to have this go to waste, now wouldn’t it?”

“Oh, that it would,” the woman said with a giggle. “Come on, then. You willing to share, white boy?”

Somewhat helplessly, and not exactly thinking that an ill fate, I let my breeches fall free. The two slid together with a great shiver on Travis’s part, face to face; she was just enough shorter than he that when he swung his legs down and sat up on the side of the bed, her muzzle was level with his. They both turned to me, then, grinning, and I let myself be drawn in between them.

The woman’s touch was nothing particularly remarkable; most of my clients did more to arouse me, even accounting for the fact that they were on heat and thus aroused me simply by breathing. A critical part of me noted that she was much too passive. If I were the one riding Travis, I’d not be content just keeping my arms around him and vaguely rocking against him; I’d rise and fall atop him, touch and knead his chest, nibble at his chin or his ears, and make plain with every breath and moan that I enjoyed his company, even if I needed to manufacture that enjoyment. if I were licking at a man, I’d not just keep stroking my tongue along the side of his manhood. I’d do more as Travis was – lapping at his balls now and then, suckling on one or the other, dragging my tongue all the way up along his shaft, drawing his crown into my mouth for some dedicated licking and suckling…

Oh, yes. He most certainly made up for her failings, by leaps and bounds.

I tried not to favour him too much with my hands. The fond touches that came so readily for him, caressing his ears, scratching behind them, squeezing and rubbing his shoulder through his lustrous pelt, felt so much more stiff and mechanical when I forced myself to give them to her more or less in kind. In the end, though I was panting over both of them, it was Travis who was spurring my pleasure along, Travis to whom I gave it in turn, Travis whose rising bliss fed back into me, and it was most definitely Travis for whom I let out a cry, arching forward, my seed pulsing out of me.

And, similarly, though it was the woman that he pumped his own seed into, it was my leg, not her face or neck, that he muffled his cries against.

Still, if not a stellar host in that sense, she’d been nicely accommodating. I “listened” next door, confirmed that the Duke was still being attended to by his hired woman, and then we dressed, left a generous tip, and departed.

“Out so soon?” Elizabeth whispered when we found her. “The Duke’s still in there, is he not?”

“And likely will be for some time, but there’s little more to learn from him right yet,” I replied. “I learned some things, though. We should go, before anything goes wrong.”

“You’re probably correct there,” she acknowledged.

We recovered the other two women and returned to our own inn. Once we’d had food and retired to our room, I went into detail – specifically about how little the Duke actually knew about matters.

“Perhaps he ought to be more suspicious of his captain’s promise to land him on the throne, but he’s not the author of her plans,” I said. “If he’s even aware that she was behind the murders, and doesn’t just think her full of initiative and well-informed, he’s surprisingly good at hiding it for a man who had no reason to think he was being observed.”

“At any rate, if he’s expecting to leave on the morrow, attempting to detain him might not have been wise,” Elizabeth mused. “Very well. You’re probably right in that there was little more to learn from him, though I would like to know what the devil he’s going to the capital for, when he made such noise about leaving it.”

“Maybe he thinks his alliance is strong enough to make a bid to claim the throne?” Helen suggested. “Especially if he sets aside his differences with the other Dukes and returns to the capital in good faith?”

“He seemed to think he might never have a chance to so much as hire a prostitute again,” I recalled. “Is he planning to marry, perhaps?”

“I’d have thought it greater news if so, but perhaps it’s part of his stratagem to keep the announcement quiet until it’s secure. But who-?” Elizabeth trailed off, her eyes going wide.

“Verna Marshall,” Nancy supplied. “Duchess Halston. Neither of them might have support on their own, but if Halston trusts the man, that would carry weight – and a child of their issue would have enough royal blood, coming as it does from both sides, to be worth considering the match.”

“Just so. He must have completed his arrangements with her – or whomever he aims to wed, if it’s not Halston – and is in a great hurry to go to the Capital and make his announcement.” Elizabeth frowned. “Still, that in and of itself won’t pose a great threat to us. Rebecca’s claim is still greater, should she step into the open. If Wafret isn’t the ruthless one to mind, we still need to find the one who is.”

“And in all likelihood,” I suggested, “she’s staying here to mind his lands in his absence.”

“Or to coordinate her schemes free of his control,” muttered Nancy.

“There’s still more to learn here, then. Until we can clearly implicate Captain Trellig, we dare not bring Rebecca into the open.”

“Should we try to find her, send word?” Travis asked.

“It’s a risk, but it may be the wisest course. Helen, you’re the best here at woodcraft, and Travis, I’m sorry, but you’re the most likely to be memorable here. The two of you can go scout about in the morning, look for the markers. Come back when you have word – conspicuous though you may be, your departure, and Jacob’s appearance, would be more so.”

“Right,” the two chorused.

“Let’s turn in, people. And hope tomorrow is as productive as today.”

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