Sif accepted the champagne flute from the server and turned with everyone else to watch as Loki Laufeyson entered the ballroom on a flood of applause. His suit was sharp, she had to give him that, well-tailored to his slim form, and his collar-length jet black hair was artfully tousled, softening the sharper planes of his face.
Not that Sif cared that he was attractive. Nor did she care that he was the prince of an insignificant northern country. He was a target, and she was being paid five hundred thousand dollars to put him out of someone else's way. The irony of killing him at a gala for saving the planet made her smile.
She put her untouched champagne on a table and headed for him, twisting the stone on her ring to free the poisoned dart. One quick stab in the neck as she "lost her balance" and fell into him was all she'd need. Piece of cake.
She hadn't quite reckoned on the crowd though, so many wanted to shake his hand or take selfies with him. Nor had she reckoned on his bodyguard, who wasn't just a giant of a man, but also was looking around warily with some skill. She'd been told Laufeyson went without a bodyguard yet that man clearly was one, and despite his tux, his haircut suggested his day job was the Jotunheim military. They must know there was a contract on Loki.
So she hung back, wanting to watch for a better opportunity. Loki walked up to the podium to give his speech. She didn't listen - it was something boring about alternative energy - but she did like his voice. It was pleasant, cultured as befit a prince, fluently English but with a trace of accent from his native Jotunheim.
Letting her gaze wander, as he droned on about something the rest of the hall seemed very excited about, she spotted a shadow moving on the grand staircase to the upper level. But there was no one standing there; the movement was only between the slats of the ornate banister.
As if someone might be crouching there. But no one was supposed to be on the stairs or going to the second floor at all. Was someone else here for the same task?
She sidled to the side of the crowd to the foot of the stairs, ducked under the padded rope, and started up the carpeted stairs. As the steps curved around there was a perfect view of the podium. She reached in the high slit of her gown to the knife strapped to her inner thigh and held the blade hidden back against her fore arm.
There was someone there, putting an arrow to a sleek composite bow. Her eyes narrowed. Barton.
He was drawing and since he had a reputation that he never missed, she threw her knife first. It hit him in the side of the neck, and he fired his arrow reflexively as he grabbed at the wound, turning to see her and stare.
There was screaming down below as the arrow fell somewhere but Sif smiled tightly at him. "Mine." She ran up into the shadows of the second floor landing, glimpsing Loki's bodyguard pulling him away to safety.
Next time, Laufeyson.