And later, Keiq was joined by Arc and Azek to walk out to the ute.
Arc circled the machine, with a few peeks underneath. "All new brake assemblies?"
"Two months ago." Ice grinned. "The springs and suspension I worked over magically, along with a few other things." He popped the hood and propped it up.
Azek whistled. "How'd you get it so clean?"
"Magic. And worked over the rings, the bearings . . . well, pretty much everything. Replaced all the wiring, belts, and hoses."
"And left the dents?" Azek was looking thoughtful again.
"Of course. Excellent theft prevention. And people tend to not get pushy on the road."
Keiq glowered. "In other words, its façade is as misleading as yours?"
"Yep." Ice dropped the hood as a few more people joined them.
A nasty snicker from Kewl.
Atlo grinned. "Putting a new outer on a wreck won't impress any of us. We're on to you. I did a bit a research, talked to people. Keiq, this unemployed grifter is just using you to wiggle his way into a rich family. Ditch him."
Ice repressed an impulse to turn him into a purple bunny.
Keiq sighed. "At, I work at IR, remember? I know his reputation with the people who matter. Ajki referred to him as his top agent. And I know what he's done, the few times anything went public. Go check out that attempt to kill Afgu before the primaries last year. Go look through Noon's recordings of the Cyborg's invasion."
"Ditch him. People I know, that I trust, know more about him than you do. Ditch him. That's an order."
Keiq looked him up and down, looked back at Ice. "And you didn't make him quack? I'm impressed by your forbearance."
"Fighting the impulse, trust me." Ice grinned. "I think I need to reinforce my horribly shaken ego with some ice cream. Care to join me?"
"Oh, good idea."
Atlo was still sputtering as they drove away.
Then they needed to compare their favorite ice cream parlors, then the one that "every says" was the best in Paris. Ice's Hilly's Creamery barely edged out the West Side Ice Palace and the Nicholas Street Freezer trailed in way last.
"See if I ever believe what 'everyone says' ever again." Ice grinned and took the scenic route back to Yveslin.
"Tomorrow I'm going back to work. Azek too." She eyed him cautiously. "Everyone takes the kids to . . . I don't know what museum they decided on . . . Tuesday's the big goodbye dinner. Wednesday everyone packs up and leaves. Arc said to bring you to the Tuesday dinner."
"I'll be there. Suit or?"
"More casual, but probably not the khaki pants." She flashed a grin. "But definitely the ute."
An extra credit kiss goodbye in the deepening twilight, then he drove home.
A free day for laundry, writing snark, and deciding to stop playing with the prospective in-laws.
So Tuesday evening he arrived early, and politely asked the butler guard to ask Mr. Aqki and Madam Zweg if they could meet him in the parlor before dinner.
Most of the older generation showed up.
Ice nodded politely to Keiq's parents. "I thought, since I am obviously wooing you're daughter, I should at a minimum set your minds to rest as to my financial position."
A stir through the family as Ice waved the parents toward a couch and pulled his comp out of his briefcase.
"A quick look at my bank and brokerage accounts, and my tax forms . . ."
Azek's brows rose and he elbowed Atlo out of the way so he could stand behind the couch to see Ice's presentation.
"Starting in Ramadan, last year when Ajki canned me at Uqqy's request. My separation pay was hefty. Then Muharram of this year after being hired by the Ad Hoc Emergency Committee . . . fired in Emre, so we can skip forward a month so you can see how I'm doing right now . . ."
"Wait!" Atlo leaned over the couch and pointed at the screen. "Where'd all the money go? And why do you have three accounts?"
"The first account is my day-to-day living expenses. Everything goes in there, and extras got to one or the other of the other two. The second is a savings account for occasional large expenses, like buying that ute. The third is my long term savings. Whenever it hits ten thousand I send it to my brokerage account. The separation pay, I sent straight to the stock broker."
Ice pulled that last month's report . . . "Which is getting quite respectable."
A faint snort from Azek.
Aqki cast an uncertain glance over the screen at Ice. "So what are you living on, right now?"
Ice switched back to his bank account. "I'm working part time for the Tall Trees Colonial Government. That's that deposit. I freelance some political analysis . . . well, snark. That's this one. The other is . . . sort of like a retainer. Between the three I'm wobbling back and forth between covering my living expenses and falling a bit short. I have sufficient in the short term savings to deal with the shortfalls."
He cleared his throat. "So, I hope that relieves you of your worries about Keiq's swain's financial situation. However much you disapprove of me otherwise."
Zweg sat back with a huff. "All that money, and you don't own a single horse?"
Ice heard Keiq laughing somewhere behind the wall of brothers and uncles. "Maybe I better start taking lessons again."
Dinner was quiet . . . with rather a lot of thoughtful glances toward Ice, and more between the three youngest brothers.
Keiq glowered suspiciously at them, and walked Ice back outside after all the after dinner conversations died.
"I've enjoyed meeting your family." Ice grinned. "And now that I've discovered we share a weakness for outrageous ice cream sundaes . . ."
She snorted. "Do you like fat women?"
"I like you. Which is a good thing, since I'm also madly in love with you."
A masculine snort from the darkness. "Much though I hate to break up the love fest—who is paying you a thousand credits a month retainer?" Arc stepped into the driveway lights.
"The One. I . . . have acted as their Agent and am under a sort of general . . . suggestion . . . that I deal with any future invasions and seriously bad politicians whenever I encounter them. Fortunately, however much I dislike a lot of Afgu's policies, they don't rise to the level of . . . being a danger to the Empire."
Arc eyed him. "Someday I'm going to twist Ajki's arm and hear all about you."