The casino was just as gaudy as expected, though not in the same way as Baelish’s properties in King’s Landing. Crude ancient weapons were mounted high on the soaring walls, artfully distressed replica shields interspersed along with walls bearing designs representing the old clans. Jaime recognized the Burned Men, the Black Ears, the Stone Crows, and Painted Dogs. And carved into the pillars and moldings, mockingbirds flying all over the soaring lobby.
Jaime had visited Baelish brothels on many occasions. Not for himself, the idea of fucking a total stranger repelled him. Robert had once mocked him for that, but Jaime had the last laugh, when Robert had a heart attack lying on a massive pile of furs, a dark-haired, grey-eyed Northern girl riding him straight into the Stranger’s embrace. Cersei hadn’t been laughing, nor had their father. The world still thought Robert died on a hunting trip because Jaime and Sandor Clegane had hauled his wine-soaked bulk out the brothel’s back door and into the Kingswood.
Jaime’s other visits were all for Tyrion’s sake. Jaime would get a call late at night, drive to what looked like a perfectly ordinary hotel, and follow a primly-dressed older woman down the hallways to a door that revealed one of many themed rooms stinking of heavy perfume and sex. Tyrion never hit the women, never fell in love with them after one painful early mistake, in fact always demanded two or more women at a time for that very reason, but he also never wanted to leave, so Jaime had been called often to fetch him home.
The thought of Ned Stark’s daughters in one of those places made Jaime’s skin crawl. Brienne had asked him about them, as they drove through the mountains. Jaime did not tell her about the sad-eyed brunette who’d offered to fuck him for free, the woman with the tangled black hair and dirty feet who’d grabbed his cock on her way out of Tyrion’s room, or the girl no older than Arya who peeked out of an open door after Meryn Trant left the room. Jaime didn’t tell her about the rumors of human trafficking that surrounded Baelish, or the Goldcloaks who looked the other way in exchange for use of the girls. He told her that the Stark girls could have easily hidden in a brothel for days, weeks even, without seeing anything untoward or attracting attention. It was true but unlikely.
As they moved through the lobby of the casino/hotel complex, Jaime kept his ballcap pulled low over his face to avoid the many security cameras. He squeezed Brienne’s hand once, then let it go. The original plan had called for Jaime to stay well out of sight until Brienne had a chance to explain his presence, or more likely the two would never meet. Brienne’s optimism that Sansa would accept him was not a sentiment Jaime shared. And much as he was loath to leave Brienne again, especially with so much unsaid between them, his unease with the situation in King’s Landing grew with every hour that Kevan Lannister failed to return his phone calls.
Brienne was tense, her shoulders tight and her lips pursed, as she surveyed the lobby. The hotel check-in was off to the left, the better to keep gamblers from actually leaving the premises for any reason, and a short line of people waited with their luggage. Ahead the gaping maw of the casino opened, flashing lights and the chimes of the slot machines beckoning gamblers inside. Jaime saw at least three people sitting in front of the machines with their luggage beside them, a drink in one hand and the other on the machine’s handle.
Hunt’s last text had said that Hardying was still playing poker, and Sansa was feeding copper stars into a slot machine nearby. Half an hour earlier, his chips nearly gone, Hardyng had screamed at her that she was bad luck. Hunt had quickly turned his remaining petty cash into chips so he could join the game and allow the boy to win a few hands, but his funds would be nearly depleted by now. They could not afford to miss this chance to get Sansa alone, so Jaime needed to take his place at the poker table and pray to the Seven that Sansa Stark did not recognize him.
“Ready?” Jaime asked, grabbing Brienne’s attention one more time.
Brienne turned her gaze on him and smiled, but the line between her brows betrayed her worry. “Are you?”
Jaime winked at her, hoping to bolster her confidence. “Don’t worry about me. I can play the hapless rich mark, let the boy hustle me a bit.”
“Just don’t do your Ashemark accent,” Brienne cautioned, a truer smile curving her lush lips. If not for the cameras, he would kiss that smile.
“Why not? My Ashemark accent is excellent,” he said, using the distinctive cadence of the rural Westerlands. The accent was so thick it sounded like a parody of a rural accent, but it was accurate enough. Even he had trouble understanding rural Westerlanders once they started throwing their odd slang into the mix.
She rolled her eyes. “It’s the worst, he’ll see right through it. Go posh, it suits you better.”
He glanced down at himself, the crisp blue button-down and designer jeans, the expensive Tyroshi watch and fine Myrish loafers. “I don’t know what you mean,” Jaime teased, pretending to be affronted. Easy enough to channel one of his moneyed, idle cousins for a few minutes, he and Tyrion had mocked them often enough.
Brienne’s smile widened for a moment, then she schooled her features into their usual sternness. He loved that she let him see beneath her armor, let her know her warmth and softness before she started to turn away from him.
She looked back expectantly, none of the wariness of their early days clouding her expression.
“Catelyn Stark would be so proud of you.” And if she wasn’t, she’d be wrong. Most people in Brienne’s shoes would have moved on to another client and never given those girls another thought. But not Brienne. Her loyalty had no price, and no end.
Brienne’s eyes grew shiny before she blinked away her tears. “Go, before I have to kiss you.”
Jaime grinned. “Well, I am irresistible.”
Brienne groaned and shoved his shoulder. “Gods, you are annoying. Go away.”
“As my lady commands.” Jaime stepped out of her reach before she could shove him again, and headed for the casino.
He couldn’t let himself worry about the task before her, he needed to focus on his part of the plan. It had been a long time since he’d needed to hide in plain sight, but he’d never lost the knack. It helped that Sansa had not known him with a beard, and they’d only met briefly a handful of times. Hardyng wouldn’t recognize him at all. The danger was in Baelish or his security team noticing Jaime Lannister in the casino.
Keeping an eye on the gamblers around him, Jaime went to the cashier and exchanged a wad of cash for chips. Most of the other patrons had that sort of dead-eyed stare that came from hours spent mindlessly feeding coins into a machine, but a few were more alert. The security guys were obvious to Jaime, despite their efforts to blend in. Their hooded university sweatshirts concealed shoulder holsters and earpieces. Considering the relative isolation of this casino, the distance from law enforcement and the volume of money flowing through the room every day, perhaps that was necessary, but it felt like overkill. This place had secrets, and they were bound to be unpleasant.
But that wasn’t his mission, not today. Today he dumped his chips in his pocket and searched the casino floor keeping an eye out for Sansa Stark, or Alayne Stone as she was calling herself. He had a vague memory of the girl from her brief, ill-fated relationship with Joffrey, but she would be older now, and she’d dyed her hair. Jaime wondered if he’d even recognize her.
Until he did. By the Gods, the girl was the spitting image of her mother in her youth. Tywin had once tried to matchmake between Jaime and Lysa Tully, back in their boarding school days. Jaime had infuriated him by ignoring Lysa in favor of listening to her uncle’s war stories and gazing appreciatively at her older sister, who was his age and far more to his taste. But Cat barely spared him a glance, constantly on the phone complaining about her college football player boyfriend, Brandon Stark, and his endless partying. Even then Petyr Baelish had been hovering around Catelyn Tully, his unrequited crush on his babysitter creepily obvious. But that was a long time ago.
Sansa sat at a slot machine, idly feeding it coins now and then. A glass that seemed to hold soda sat before her, untouched. She barely flinched when she won a small sum, her eyes unfocused, her teeth worrying her lower lip. She wore a pale blue shirtdress with a floral pattern, a silver sandal dangling off her foot. Her long legs and slim arms were bare despite the chill outside, and a long, dark braid trailed over her shoulder. The darkness of her hair emphasized her pale complexion. He didn’t see any bruises, at least.
How long had she been inside this casino? Hunt had picked up her trail two days ago, so perhaps three or four days? And where had she been before this? Was Baelish using her to fleece rich young men or was there another plot afoot here? Jaime hoped they would be able to find out. Baelish should pay for his crimes.
Harry Hardyng’s poker table was perhaps 30 feet away from Sansa. She’d chosen a slot machine out of his line of sight, thank the Mother for small favors, but that meant his own seat at the table might draw her eye. Jaime would have to chance it. Hunt was clearly tapped out, sweaty and eyeing his competitors nervously.
Jaime ducked his head as he approached the table, standing behind a vacant chair while the hand finished. Hunt's eyes widened when he spotted Jaime, but he quickly masked his surprise and folded with a disgusted huff. He really had thought Brienne was lying, the idiot. Hunt got up and left the game grumbling about shit luck, but he was clearly relieved.
Jaime could just glimpse Sansa out of the corner of his eye. He fumbled his way through a few hands, bidding big and finding losing harder than anticipated, especially since he needed Hardyng in particular to win enough to stay at the table. Finally he saw Podrick out of the corner of his eye, walking by and striking up a conversation with Sansa. Either she’d go with him, or she’d bolt and they could follow.
“Sir, call or fold,” the dealer prompted.
Jaime looked at his cards again. Damn it, he could win this one. He folded and cautiously eyed Hardyng, making sure the boy’s attention remained on his cards. He really was a dick. He’d spent five minutes pontificating about greedy bitches and how they were only good for one thing. Either the boy was hiding a charming side or Sansa had other reasons for attaching herself to this up-jumped cretin. Inheriting money didn’t make a man noble, it only made him rich.
Jaime’s phone rang, and he fished it out of his pocket.
Kevan Lannister - Home
“No phones at the table,” the dealer admonished.
Jaime glanced at his cards. He should keep Hardyng busy a few more minutes, but he couldn’t miss this call. “Fold.” Jaime dropped his cards and pushed back from the table. He moved a few feet away before picking up.
“Where have you been?” he growled, continuing away from the table. It wouldn’t do to blow his cover now.
“Jaime, sweetling.” Not Kevan. A woman’s voice. But not Kevan’s wife, Dorna. Her voice was high and sweet. This voice was huskier, familiar from decades of chiding him to bend to his family’s will.
“Genna?” What was his aunt doing at her brother’s house? For that matter, what was Genna doing in King’s Landing? She hated the capital.
“Where are you?” she asked. “I know you’re not in Riverrun.”
“The Vale,” he admitted, moving past a pair of elderly women arguing about which machines to claim for the evening. He leaned against a pillar, keeping Hardyng in view.
Genna muttered a prayer to the Mother. “Daven said you’d run off after a woman, but I didn’t believe him.” She sighed heavily. “Any other day, Jaime, I’d be thrilled for you. But today, I need you to come home.”
A stone settled in Jaime’s stomach. He was prepared for Kevan’s stern bluster, his endless lectures about family duty. Genna putting aside her matchmaking to admit she needed him was far more worrisome. No one needed Jaime, they never had. If she did, that meant… “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
The watery breath Genna drew was answer enough.
“I can get a charter flight tonight, maybe in the morning—wait, how did he die?” Murder was absurdly common the last few years. Kevan would never be a target on his own, far too mild-mannered to attract that kind of ire, but with Tywin dead, Tyrion fled, and Cersei in jail, he was head of the Casterly Lannister empire and that was a precarious position envied by many.
“A heart attack,” she assured him. “In his office. Poor thing was slumped over some papers for close to a day before anyone found him. He’d given his staff the afternoon off yesterday, and they had an off-site meeting this morning.”
Jaime took a deep breath, the cacophony of the casino around him grating on his frayed nerves. Suddenly he missed the Quiet Isle, its simplicity and calm. He missed the cave where a man could scream and rage and still hide his weakness from the world. He missed the narrow, cozy bed he’d shared with Brienne. “They should test for poisons,” he directed his aunt.
That was why she’d called. Genna was eminently capable, far more than she ever let on to her brothers, who had tended to patronize her even as they spoiled her. But she understood that the family required a public face, and it was not that of a middle-aged socialite best known for her outrageous fashion sense.
“Of course, sweetling. Do you take me for a fool?” She paused. “Will you bring this woman who has you haring across two kingdoms to catch her?”
Jaime smiled. Even now, Genna’s interest in securing the next generation of their House continued. He didn’t truly blame her, he’d never shown an ounce of interest in a woman he could publically claim. “No, aunt. She has her own duties to tend.”
“But I will meet her?” It was less a question than an order.
“I hope so.” Jaime scratched the back of his head beneath the ballcap. He couldn’t risk taking it off, not here. Hardyng still had a healthy pile of chips in front of him along with a fresh bourbon despite the early hour, and Jaime would not take his eyes off him unless he spotted Baelish or he had word from Podrick or Brienne.
Brienne would like Genna, once she got used to her. His aunt was a force of nature, overwhelming with her easy affection, loud voice, and strong perfume, but so was Brienne. She might hail from the Stormlands, but Brienne was not the sudden destructive howl of a hurricane. She was a slow-moving storm, a steady rain that wore away all resistance so slowly he didn’t notice it until he was entirely at her mercy. It wasn’t such a bad place to be.
He could see the sympathy in her eyes even now, the gentle way she would touch and hold him. Jaime’s default, in his years with Cersei, had been to seethe silently, allowing pain and anger to build until he could loose it in violence or sex. His work had provided ample opportunity to pummel a man under the guise of training or a mission. And as for Cersei, she’d liked him best when they were tearing at each other, the fire raging between them consuming everything in its path.
Genna cut into his thoughts. “Let me know when you’ve made arrangements. There are decisions to be made about your sister’s defense as well. I’ll send you the documents to review en route.”
“Of course.” Jaime nearly hung up, but then he asked, “How are you?”
Genna did not answer immediately. “I am a Lannister alone in the world, without the walls of Casterly Rock around me. I will feel better with you here, but I will soldier on regardless. Your father would expect no less.”
She was right, Tywin Lannister had tolerated no weakness, not since his beloved wife left this world and took any softness he once possessed with her. Jaime ended the call just in time to see a neat stack of chips pushed in front of Hardyng. The boy’s luck wouldn’t last, but as long as he was occupied long enough to get Sansa Stark away, Jaime didn’t care. He hoped Hardyng pissed away every penny, though he’d rather the gold not line Baelish’s pockets.
Before he could tuck his phone back into his pocket, it vibrated with a text.
Coffee shop by the hotel gardens. Stay out of sight.
Hunt. Jaime had plans for the man, though the need to return to King’s Landing as soon as possible complicated matters. It did simplify one point, however. Sansa Stark need not know that Jaime had been involved in her rescue.
His steps quickened as he left the casino and make his way through the small indoor mall connecting the casino to the hotel complex. The monstrosity was designed to keep gamblers from ever needing to leave, its vaulted ceiling painted to resemble the sky to reinforce the illusion. A hair salon sat next to a barber shop, a clothing store, a pharmacy, and a dry cleaner. A food court filled with ethnic food vendors wafted tempting scents.
On the far side of the mall, Jaime arrived at a hotel lounge that would later offer happy hour for guests. Employees were already setting up for the coming rush, but Jaime moved through without making eye contact. The garden was at the center of the hotel, inside a glassed-in atrium. It looked strangely familiar, a sensation that intensified as he spotted Brienne’s flaxen hair at a table near the spreading branches of a rare slender weirwood tree. Sansa’s dark head was close beside her. The garden was new enough that the trees and bushes didn’t provide much cover, so Jaime turned aside and climbed a set of stairs to a balcony overlooking the garden.
Once at the top of the stairs, Jaime realized why it all looked so familiar. The garden was a triangle with the weirwood at its center, artificial streams flanked by beds of wildflowers, graceful elms and young redwoods. It was the godswood at Riverrun. Clearly Baelish’s obsession with Catelyn Stark had not dimmed over the years. He’d dallied with her sister, even married her briefly, but his fixation on Sansa told the tale of a man who’d never gotten over his youthful crush.
Jaime turned and found Hunt standing by the railing watching the group below. He hadn't had a chance in the casino to really take the man's measure. Now he did, and Jaime wasn't impressed. Nondescript brown hair and eyes, plain face, height a bit below average, clothes slightly wrinkled and ill-fitting. Jaime couldn't believe that Hunt had ever thought he had a chance in any of the seven hells with Brienne. Even without his shitty behavior to her in the past, Hunt wasn’t her type. He wasn’t really anyone’s type. The man was entirely forgettable, ideal for a private investigator but not helpful when it came to women.
Jaime reached the man and leaned against the railing beside him. “Hunt.”
Hunt nodded. “Lannister.” There was something about his expression that Jaime didn’t like. He looked like a man who might sell Sansa Stark to the highest bidder.
They both watched the trio seated at the table below. Brienne was showing Sansa photos on her phone, while Pod played with the straw in his drink. Sansa looked even more tired in sunlight, the deep, ashy brown of her hair highlighting the dark smudges under her eyes. Playing Alayne Stone, living on the run, was taking its toll on her. Perhaps Baelish’s company was as well.
Hunt shifted uneasily, scratching the patchy stubble dotting his jaw. “You think she’ll run?”
Jaime considered the girl for a moment. She was skittish to be sure, her gaze darting around the gardens, her fingers nervously picking apart the cookie in front of her. “I hope not.”
Hyle turned to look at him. “So, you and Brienne.”
Jaime didn’t bother returning his gaze. “Yeah.” He wasn’t about to share more than that, when he and Brienne hadn’t even talked about them yet. Between Sansa and his family, they’d had more pressing concerns.
Hyle turned back toward the garden. “Didn’t see that one coming. I thought you were Renly all over again.” He chuckled. “But you’re actually fucking her.”
Jaime’s grin was sharp, his voice scathing. “Lucky for me, Brienne has a high tolerance for assholes.”
“What?” Hyle’s bland face betrayed only confusion.
“She must, if she tolerates you.” It wasn’t any fun when they didn’t understand the insult. “I only tried to kill her a time or two. You conned her, made her feel like shit, and stole her panties as a trophy.”
Hyle dropped back a step, away from Jaime and out of sight of the group below. “That wasn’t me,” he stammered, all his unearned confidence gone.
“No? Then you only egged him on? Bought him a beer when he won and laughed when he told his story?” Jaime hadn’t raised his voice yet, and he wouldn’t. Tywin Lannister might have been a shit father, but he excelled at teaching his sons how to intimidate the sheep, and Hyle Hunt was most definitely a sheep.
Hunt gaped, mouth open, for so long Jaime wished he had something to toss in there. Coins, or peanuts, whatever would choke the man. “It was just a joke,” he finally said with a shrug. “I didn’t think she’d take it so hard.”
Jaime wanted so much to punch Hunt’s smug face, and three months ago he’d done just that to another asshole who’d disrespected Brienne, but he didn’t want to fuck up his hand further. “That’s bullshit and you know it.”
Hyle looked over the railing again. Now Sansa was talking on Brienne’s phone, most likely to the Blackfish, while Pod pretended to admire the foliage nearby and Brienne doctored the fresh coffee Pod had just brought her.
“At least I was here when Brienne needed someone,” Hunt muttered.
“Yes, trying desperately to get into her bed. How noble of you,” Jaime retorted.
Defiance finally flashed in Hunt’s eyes, made him raise his jaw in challenge. “At least I’m honest about what I want.”
“And what do you want, Hunt? Because you are not getting Brienne.” Even if she never let Jaime into her bed again, and he damn well hoped she would, Hunt didn’t stand a chance.
Hyle smirked. “If you think that’s your call, you don’t know her as well as you think you do.”
Jaime smirked back, then he grabbed Hunt’s hand, bending his middle finger back until the man grimaced. “She’s too courteous to send you packing, but I’m not. Don’t worry, you’ll be well paid for your time and inconvenience. I owe you for helping her find Sansa Stark, and for failing so spectacularly in wooing Brienne. And a Lannister always pays his debts. But first, you’re going to give me a name.”
The sun was already setting in the western sky when they emerged from the hotel, scurrying across the parking lot in the cold. Brienne had not dressed for cold weather, and the wind cut straight through her flannel shirt. Sansa was even colder, cloaked in Podrick’s hoodie over her thin shirtdress.
But they were out of that casino and Harry Hardyng hadn’t even come looking for Sansa, much less called her phone. She’d left it in her hotel room, in the end, after Podrick factory reset it and destroyed the SIM card. They would buy her a burner phone the first chance they had, but for now she didn’t need one.
The cars in the lot were dusted with snow, making it harder to find Jaime’s Shadowcat. Hyle was supposed to meet them there with his car, since the Shadowcat only held two people. Jaime and Pod would have to ride with Hyle, a compromise she suspected neither man would enjoy.
That impression was confirmed when she finally led them around a snow-crusted RV and found Jaime sitting on the hood of his car, his bag at his feet. Hyle was inside his rusted-out sedan with the heater running. Pod scurried over to join him. Her heart sank.
Jaime ducked his head, hiding his face from view. He’d insisted that Brienne not tell Sansa about his involvement, but she’d ignored that.
Brienne unlocked the Shadowcat. “Why don’t you get in the car? I’ll be right there,” she told the girl.
Sansa hesitated in front of Jaime, like she wanted to say something, but got into the car without a word.
Brienne sat gingerly on the cold, slippery hood beside him. “Is it helicopter time?”
Jaime pulled off his ballcap and scratched his head. “Towncar. Should be here in a few minutes. I have a charter flight to catch. If Baelish is looking, it might confuse him for awhile, if you go west and I go east.”
Brienne pressed closer to him. “Is that the only reason?”
He started to reach for her hand, and hesitated. He still feared Sansa’s reaction. The girl hadn’t been happy to hear that a Lannister was part of her rescue team, but Brienne had called the Blackfish, and that had sealed the girl’s trust in them. At least to a point. It would be easier for Sansa and Brendan Tully to accept her help if Jaime wasn’t part of the package anymore. She hated that other people didn’t see the man she did when they looked at Jaime, but her own feelings had changed slowly, she couldn’t expect others to see his virtues immediately either.
Brienne took his hand and squeezed it, already missing his touch and he wasn’t even gone yet. Two days, that was all they’d had. It seemed unfair to have only a taste and then have this snatched away from her again.
Jaime looked at her, and her heart clenched again. “My uncle died,” he said simply. “Maybe a heart attack, maybe not, but I have to go back.”
“Oh, Jaime.” She gathered him into her arms. He resisted at first, but soon surrendered, tucking his face against her neck. He and his uncle weren’t close, but it was still a blow, and one Jaime didn’t need with everything else going on.
They stayed like that long enough that Hyle honked his horn. Brienne casually flipped him off behind Jaime’s back.
“I have a confession to make,” Jaime mumbled into her neck.
Brienne pulled back, shoulders tense even as Jaime’s hands trailed over her and came to rest around her waist. “What did you do?” Knowing Jaime, he’d spent an obscene sum of money for no reason. Or this was all a ruse and Lannister goons were about to take Sansa back to King’s Landing. She hated that she couldn’t discount the possibility.
But he looked sheepish, not cold or calculating. “I met a guy at a party a couple months ago, who said he knew you. Ginger by the name of Connington.”
Brienne froze. She would be happy never to hear that name again. Even now, the thought of him made her nauseous. He wasn’t even especially attractive, red hair, bushy beard, sturdy build, but he didn’t have to look up at her, and she’d liked the sound of his laugh. At first. Before it was directed at her. “What did he say?”
Jaime shook his head. “I’d rather not repeat it. The point is, I broke his jaw. I thought you might mind, except Hunt just told me that Connington was the guy, the one from the bet.”
Brienne was going to kill Hyle. Slowly. “You broke his jaw?”
Jaime nodded, and a small smirk broke through his serious expression. “He may have cried.”
Brienne snorted a laugh. “He would. I dislocated his shoulder in training and he screamed like a little girl.” Oh, that moment had been sweet.
Jaime’s grin widened. He wasn’t perfect, his teeth were a little crooked, and he had laugh lines around his mouth, crow’s feet settling around his eyes, but she loved him, and oh wasn’t that a bitter pill to swallow right now.
“So you’re not mad at me?” he asked hopefully.
“No, of course not. Just don’t make a habit of it.”
He sighed, and pulled her close again. His car would be here soon, and Hyle would lose patience and honk again. “You need to go.”
“You gonna remember you have a phone this time? Let me know when you get Sansa and Arya settled in?” That uncertain note was back in his voice again.
“Of course. And then I’ll bring the car back,” she promised.
Jaime shook his head. “Don’t. I promised the Shadowcat to Hunt, as payment for his help. You’ll have to use the money I’ve been sending to buy yourself something with more legroom.”
Brienne rolled her eyes. “You did not promise him this damned car.”
Jaime pulled back again just enough that she could see his smile. “I did. I hope it brings him just as much luck as it did us.”
“I know.” He had the nerve to sound proud of that.
“I could just get a ride to the airport and fly back to Tarth,” she reminded him. She should. Perhaps her father would be back by then. If not, she’d have time to poke through his files without interference.
“You could,” Jaime allowed. “Or you could come see me. I have boring meetings all day and then I will probably spend most of the evenings helping Tommen with his homework. And Myrcella will be home from Dorne soon, whinging about how uncool I am not letting her stay with her boyfriend over the school break.”
Brienne smiled. He tried to make it sound awful, but mostly he just sounded terrified by the responsibility. Jaime would be fine, once he set his mind to the task. And perhaps with a bit of help. World leaders weren’t so different from spoiled children, after all.
Across the parking lot, headlights turning into the lot caught their eye. “Time’s up,” she said softly.
Jaime winced. “Not yet. Seriously, Brienne, promise me you’ll call. I can’t take another six months not knowing if you’re safe.”
Brienne brushed his messy hair out of his eyes. “I promise.” She could do that much for him.
The car moved inexorably toward them. Jaime reluctantly got to his feet. He offered her his hand and pulled her up to join him. “Be careful. The Blackfish is slippery, and he has his own agenda.”
She nodded. “I know. I won’t just leave the girls with him. They’ll want to see their brothers, for a start, and their cousin.”
“And when you’re done, you’ll come see me.” Jaime didn’t bother to make it a question this time, though neither was it a demand.
“We’ll talk.” Their plans had been upended so many times, she hesitated to promise anything.
Jaime leaned in and touched her cheek, slid his hand to nape of her neck and pulled her close. He waited a fraction of a second, then kissed her, a reminder of all she’d be missing tonight and all the nights until she saw him again. Because she would see him, if he had to cross a thousand leagues to reach her. She could see it in his eyes.
“This isn’t goodbye. I’m done saying goodbye to you,” Jaime said fiercely, picked up his bag, and turned to meet the sleek black sedan just pulling to a stop. He didn’t look back as he got into the car.
It had pulled away before Brienne could move. Her hands shook as she got into the car.
Sansa was looking at her with wide eyes. “He kissed you,” she said, half disapproving and half envious.
“He does that,” Brienne answered, simultaneously amazed it was true and upset that he was leaving. “Let’s get out of here before someone notices you’re missing.”
Sansa’s eyes widened and her gaze turned back to the brightly-lit casino looming over them.
The Shadowcat purred to life, and Brienne followed Jaime’s hired car out of the parking lot. His driver turned left, and for a moment she desperately wanted to follow. But she couldn’t. Mrs. Stark’s girls were her responsibility. She would see them safely home. Only then could she consider her next move.
Brienne turned right, Hyle and Pod following behind, and headed down the mountain toward the Bloody Gate.