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I glance between the two. I don’t need a sidhe-seer gift to know there’s deep emotion between them.

“Yes, what is an O’Bannion doing here?” I say.

“The name is Sean Fergus Jameson,” the man says in a thick Irish brogue.

“First cousin to Rocky O,” Ryodan says. “He tends to omit his surname in certain quarters.”

“Why is he here?” Kat says again, resettling slowly.

Ryodan says, “You’re looking at the three primary suppliers of goods in this city: myself, the princes, and the black market—like his fathers before him, also known as Sean O’Bannion. Seems your boy learned a trick or two working in my club, little cat. Bribed my suppliers. Got himself into the game.”

“Only because you were charging half an arm and most of a leg for a simple meal,” Sean says hotly. “We’ve women and children in our streets who’ve no way of paying such high prices. They were dying for want of milk and bread.”

“You show your true colors, O’Bannion,” Ryodan says.

“A good and honest heart?” Kat says sharply.

The look Sean gives her tells me everything: they’re lovers, and I suspect they have been for a long time. How does he think to stand his ground against this kind of competition? He’s a human among beasts.

Ryodan cuts Kat a hard, flat smile. “That’s often how it starts. Just not usually how it ends. If the two of you had been talking about any of the things you should be talking about, you’d have known.”

“You will stay out of my business,” Kat warns softly.

Ryodan leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. “Start taking care of your business and I might. Business unattended is free trade.”

“You had no right to force him to work at Chester’s,” Kat says. “The debt owed was mine, not his.”

Sean gives her a quizzical glance. “Force? What debt? My working there had nothing to do with you.”

Kat blinks and looks sharply at Ryodan. “You said the price was demanded of him, not me.”

Ryodan lifts a brow and gives her a mocking smile.

“What price?” Sean says.

“I said, precisely, Katarina, that I’d had difficulty staffing lately, my servers kept dying, and your Sean was good enough to fill in. I also told you he was free to go. Both were true. From the first. When he decided to thieve on my turf, I fired him.”

His tone makes it clear how lucky she is that he didn’t kill him. I wonder why he didn’t kill him. No one takes from Ryodan and survives … unless the cool-eyed manipulator has a long-term goal that makes him willing to suffer the poor fool’s existence as Barrons does the princes.

“You pigs talk and talk and say nothing of interest to us. Too many of you here. Not enough of us. Or slaves,” Rath says. “We demand more Unseelie at this table.”

“Find another prince and we might take it under advisement,” Ryodan says dryly. Cruce is locked down and the Crimson Hag has Christian. In other words, never going to happen.

R’jan says nothing. If any of the Seelie Princes remain, he wants no competition for the Fae throne.

Sean says, “Why is Katarina here?”

I say, “As headmistress of the sidhe-seers, she’s the front line of human defense and protection.” I don’t add: and she sits on Cruce and keeps watch so he doesn’t get out. I really hope she hasn’t confided that to him. They say every person with whom you share a secret will inevitably share it with at least one more, that it grows in exponential leaps and bounds until the entire world knows what you wish it didn’t.

Sean assesses me. “Why are you here?”

Ryodan replies, “She has her uses. Any more fucking questions, take them up with Barrons. You don’t like who sits at this table, figure out how to get rid of them. But be careful, it’s not hard to figure out how to get rid of you. Human.”

Kat snaps, “You will leave him alone.”

I glance at her but she’s trying to send a silent message with her eyes to Sean. Unfortunately, he’s now staring too fiercely at Ryodan to notice.

She exhales gustily and I echo it.

The males at this table are ruthless. The only way Sean can hope to compete in business with them is to be equally ruthless. As the princes adopted a degree of civility to optimize their survival, Sean will have to adopt a degree of barbarism to optimize his.

Leaving me to wonder the same thing I know Kat’s thinking: how much of the man she loves will remain?

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