All of us have our little problems and insecurities. I’m no different. Back in high school when
I used to feel insecure about something, I would console myself with two thoughts: I’m pretty, and my parents love me. Between those two, I could survive anything.
Since then I’ve come to understand how little the former matters, and how bitterly the latter can be tested. What’s left then? Nothing about our appearance or who loves or hates us. Nothing about our brainpower—which, like beauty, is an unearned gift of genetics—nor even anything about what we say.
It’s our actions that define us. What we choose. What we resist. What we’re willing to die for.
My name is MacKayla Lane. I think. Some say my last name is really O’Connor. That’s another of my insecurities right now: who I am. Although, at the moment, I’m in no hurry to find out. What I am is disturbing enough.
I’m from Ashford, Georgia. I think. Lately I’ve realized I have some tricky memories I can’t quite sort through.
I’m in Ireland. When my sister, Alina, was found dead in a trash-filled alley on Dublin’s north side, the local police closed her case in record time, so I flew over to see what I could do about getting justice.
Okay, so maybe I’m not that pure.
What I really came over for was revenge. And now, after everything I’ve seen, I want it twice as bad.
I used to think my sister and I were just two nice southern girls who would get married in a few years, have babies, and settle down to a life of sipping sweet tea on a porch swing under the shade of waxy-blossomed magnolias, raising our children together near Mom and Dad and each other.
Then I discovered Alina and I descend not from good, wholesome southern stock but from an ancient Celtic bloodline of powerful sidhe-seers, people who can see the Fae, a terrifying race of otherworldly beings that have lived secretly among us for thousands of years, cloaked in illusions and lies. Governed loosely by a queen, and even more loosely by a Compact few support and many ignore, they have preyed on humans for millennia.
Supposedly I’m one of the most powerful sidheseers ever born. Not only can I see the Fae, I can sense their sacred relics that hold the deadliest and most powerful of their magic.
I can find them.
I can use them.
I’ve already found the mythic Spear of Luin, one of only two weapons capable of killing an immortal Fae. I’m also a Null—a person who can temporarily freeze a Fae and cancel out its power with the mere touch of my hands. It helps me kick butt when I need to, and lately, every time I turn around, I need to.
My world began falling apart with the death of my sister, and hasn’t stopped since. And it’s not just my world that’s in trouble; it’s your world, too.
The walls between Man and Faery are coming down.
I don’t know why or how. I only know they are. I know it in my sidhe-seer blood. On a dark Fae wind, I taste the metallic tang of a bloody and terrible war coming. In the distant air, I hear the thunderclap of sharp-bladed hooves as Fae stallions circle impatiently, ready to charge down on us in the ancient, forbidden Wild Hunt.
I know who killed my sister. I’ve stared into the murderous eyes of the one who seduced, used, and destroyed her. Not quite Fae, not quite human, he calls himself the Lord Master, and he’s been opening portals between realms, bringing Unseelie through to our world.
The Fae consist of two adversarial courts with their own Royal Houses and unique castes: the Light or Seelie Court, and the Dark or Unseelie Court. Don’t let the light and dark stuff deceive you: They’re both deadly. Scary thing is the Seelie considered their darker brethren, the Unseelie, so abominable that they imprisoned themthemselves a few hundred eons ago. When one Fae fears another Fae, you know you’ve got problems.
Now the Lord Master is freeing the darkest, most dangerous of our enemies, turning them loose on our world, and teaching them to infiltrate our society. When these monsters walk down our streets, you see only the “glamour” they throw: the illusion of a beautiful human woman, man, or child.
I see what they really are.
I have no doubt I would have ended up every bit as dead as my sister shortly after I arrived in Dublin, if I’d not stumbled into a bookstore owned by the enigmatic Jericho Barrons. I have no idea who or what he is, or what he’s after, but he knows more about what I am and what’s going on out there than anyone else I’ve met, and I need that knowledge.
When I had no place to turn, Jericho Barrons took me in, taught me, opened my eyes, and helped me survive. Granted, he didn’t do it nicely, but I’m no longer quite so picky about how I survive, as long as I do.
Because it was safer than my cheap room at the inn, I moved into his bookstore. It’s well protected against most of my enemies with wards and assorted nasty tricks, and stands bastion at the edge of what I call a Dark Zone: a neighborhood that has been taken over by Shades, amorphous Unseelie that thrive in darkness and feed off humans.
Barrons and I have formed an uneasy alliance based on mutual need: We both want the Sinsar Dubh—a million-year-old book of the blackest magic imaginable, allegedly scribed by the Unseelie King himself, that holds the key to power over both the worlds of Fae and Man.
I want it because it was Alina’s dying request that I find it, and I suspect it holds the key to saving our world.
He wants it because he says he collects books. Right.
Everyone else I’ve encountered is after it, too. The hunt is dangerous, the stakes enormous.
Because the Sinsar Dubh is a Fae relic, I can sense it when it’s near. Barrons can’t. But he knows where to look for it, and I don’t. So now we’re partners in crime who don’t trust each other one bit.
Nothing in my sheltered, pampered life prepared me for the past few weeks. Gone is my long blond hair, chopped short for the sake of anonymity and dyed dark. Gone are my pretty pastel outfits, replaced by drab colors that don’t show blood. I’ve learned to cuss, steal, lie, and kill. I’ve been assaulted by a death-by-sex Fae and made to strip, not once but twice, in public. I discovered that I was adopted. I nearly died.
With Barrons at my side, I’ve robbed a mobster and his henchmen and led them to their deaths. I’ve fought and killed dozens of Unseelie. I battled the vampire Mallucé in a bloody showdown with the Lord Master himself.
In one short month I’ve managed to piss off virtually every being with magical power in this city. Half of those I’ve encountered want me dead; the other half want to use me to find the deadly, coveted Sinsar Dubh.
I could run home, I suppose. Try to forget. Try to hide.
Then I think of Alina, and how she died.
Her face swims up in my mind—a face I knew as well as my own; she was more than my sister, she was my best friend—and I can almost hear her saying: Right, Junior—and risk leading a monster like Mallucé, a death-by-sex Fae, or some other Unseelie back to Ashford? Take a chance that some of the Shades might cop a ride in your luggage and devour the charming, idyllic streets of our childhood, one burnt-out streetlamp at a time? When you see the Dark Zone that used to be our home, how will you feel, Mac?
Before her voice even begins to fade, I know that I’m here until this is over.
Until either they’re dead or I am.
Alina’s death will be avenged.
You’re a difficult woman to find, Ms. Lane,” said Inspector O’Duffy as I opened the diamond-paned front door of Barrons Books and Baubles.
The stately old-world bookstore was my home away from home, whether I liked it or not, and despite the sumptuous furnishings, priceless rugs, and endless selection of top-rate reading material, I didn’t. The comfiest cage is still a cage.
He glanced at me sharply when I stepped around the door, into full view, noting my splinted arm and fingers, the stitches in my lip, and the fading purple and yellow bruises that began around my right eye and extended to the base of my jaw. Though he raised a brow, he made no comment.
The weather outside was awful, and so long as the door was open, I was too close to it. It had been raining for days, a relentless, depressing torrent that needled me with sharp wind-driven droplets even where I stood, tucked beneath the shelter of the column-flanked archway of the bookstore’s grand entry. At eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, it was so overcast and dark that the streetlamps were still on. Despite their sullen yellow glares, I could barely see the outlines of the shops across the street through the thick, soupy fog.
I backed up to let the inspector enter. Gusts of chilly air stepped in on his heels.
I closed the door and returned to the conversation area near the fire where I’d been wrapped in an afghan on the sofa, reading. My borrowed bedroom is on the top floor, but when the bookstore is closed on weekends I make the first floor, with its cozy reading nooks and enameled fireplaces, my personal parlor. My taste in reading material has become a bit eccentric of late. Acutely aware of O’Duffy on my heels, I surreptitiously toed a few of the more bizarre titles I’d been perusing beneath a handsome curio cabinet. The Wee People: Fairy Tale or Fact? was chased by Vampires for Dummies and Divine Power: A History of Holy Relics.
“Dreadful weather,” he observed, stepping to the hearth and warming his hands before the softly hissing gas flames.
I agreed with perhaps more enthusiasm than the fact warranted, but the endless deluge outside was getting to me. A few more days of this and I was going to start building an ark. I’d heard it rained a lot in Ireland, but “constantly” was a smidge more than a lot, in my book.
Transplanted against my will, a homesick, reluctant tourist, I’d made the mistake of checking the weather back home in Ashford this morning. It was a sultry, blue-skied ninety-six degrees in Georgia—just another perfect, blossom-drenched, sunny day in the Deep South. In a few hours my girlfriends would be heading up to one of our favorite lakes where they would soak up the sun, scope out datable guys, and flip through the latest fashion magazines.
Here in Dublin it was a whopping fifty degrees and so darned wet it felt like half that.
No sun. No datable guys. And my only fashion concern was making sure my clothes were baggy enough to accommodate weapons concealed beneath them. Even in the relative security of the bookstore, I was carrying two flashlights, a pair of scissors, and a lethal, foot-long spearhead, tip neatly cased in a ball of foil. I’d scattered dozens more flashlights and assorted items that might second as arsenal throughout the four-story bookstore. I’d also secreted a few crosses and bottles of holy water in various nooks. Barrons would laugh at me if he knew.
You might wonder if I’m expecting an army from Hell.
“How did you find me?” I asked the inspector. When I’d last spoken to the Garda a week ago, he’d pressed for a way to reach me. I’d given him my old address at the Clarin House where I boarded for a short time when I first arrived. I don’t know why. I guess I just don’t trust anyone. Not even the police. Over here the good guys and the bad guys all look the same. Just ask my dead sister, Alina, victim of one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen—the Lord Master—who also happens to be one of the most evil.
“I’m a detective, Ms. Lane,” O’Duffy told me with a dry smile, and I realized he had no intention of telling me. The smile vanished and his eyes narrowed with a subtle warning: Don’t lie to me, I’ll know.
I wasn’t worried. Barrons said the same thing to me once, and he has seriously preternatural senses. If Barrons didn’t see through me, O’Duffy wasn’t going to. I waited, wondering what had brought him here. He’d made it clear he considered my sister’s case unsolvable and closed. Permanently.
He moved away from the fire and dropped the satchel slung over his shoulder onto the table between us.
Maps spilled across the gleaming wood.
Though I betrayed nothing, I felt the cold blade of a chill at my spine. I could no longer see maps as I once had: innocuous travel guides for the disoriented traveler or bemused tourist. Now when I unfold one I half expect to find charred holes in it where the Dark Zones are—those chunks of our cities that have fallen off our maps, lost to the deadly Shades. It’s no longer what maps show but what they fail to show that worries me.
A week ago I’d demanded O’Duffy tell me everything he knew about the clue my sister had left at the scene of her murder, words she’d scratched into the cobbled stone of the alley as she lay dying: 1247 LaRuhe.
He’d told me they’d never been able to find any such address.
It had taken a bit of thinking outside the box, but that’s something I’m getting better at every day, although I really can’t take much credit for the improvement. It’s easy to think outside the box when life has dropped a two-ton elephant on yours. What is that box anyway but the beliefs we choose to hold about the world that make us feel safe? My box was now as flat, and about as useful, as a tissue-paper umbrella in all this rain.
O’Duffy sat down on the sofa next to me, gently, for such an overweight man. “I know what you think of me,” he said.
When I would have protested politely—good southern manners die hard, if at all—he gave me what my mother calls the “shush wave.”
“I’ve been doing this job for twenty-two years, Ms. Lane. I know what the families of closed murder cases feel when they look at me. Pain. Anger.” He gave a dry laugh. “The conviction that I must be a chuffing idiot who spends too much time in the pubs and not enough time on the job, or their loved one would be resting in vindicated peace while the perp rotted in jail.”
Rotting in jail was far too kind a fate for my sister’s murderer. Besides, I wasn’t sure any jail cell could hold him. The crimson-robed leader of the Unseelie might draw symbols on the floor, stamp his staff, and disappear through a convenient portal. Though Barrons had cautioned against assumptions, I saw no reason to doubt the Lord Master was responsible for my sister’s death.
O’Duffy paused, perhaps giving me a chance to rebut. I didn’t. He was right. I’d felt all that and more, but weighing the jelly stains on his tie and the girth overhanging his belt as circumstantial evidence, I’d convicted him of loitering overlong in bakeries and cafés, not pubs.
He selected two maps of Dublin from the table and handed them to me.
I gave him a quizzical look.
“The one on top is from last year. The one beneath it was published seven years earlier.”
I shrugged. “And?” A few weeks ago I would have been delighted for any help from the Garda I could get. Now that I knew what I knew about the Dark Zone neighboring Barrons Books and Baubles—that terrible wasteland where I’d found 1247 LaRuhe, had a violent confrontation with the Lord Master, and nearly been killed—I wanted the police to stay as far out of my life as I could keep them. I didn’t want any more deaths on my conscience. There was nothing the Garda could do to help me anyway. Only a sidhe-seer could see the monsters that had taken over the abandoned neighborhood and turned it into a death trap. The average human wouldn’t know they were in danger until they were knee-deep in dead.
“I found your 1247 LaRuhe, Ms. Lane. It’s on the map published seven years ago. Oddly enough, it’s not on the one published last year. Grand Walk, one block down from this bookstore, isn’t on the new map, either. Neither is Connelly Street, a block beyond that. I know. I went down there before I came to see you.”
Oh, God, he’d walked into the Dark Zone this morning? The day was barely bright enough to keep the Shades hunkered down wherever it was the nasty things hide! If the storm had blown in even one more dense, sky-obliterating cloud, the boldest of those life-suckers might have dared the day for a human Happy Meal. O’Duffy had just been waltzing
cheek-to-cheek with Death, and didn’t even know it!
The unsuspecting inspector waved a hand at the pile of maps. They looked well examined. One of them appeared to have been balled up in shock or perhaps angry disbelief, then re-smoothed. I was no stranger to those emotions. “In fact, Ms. Lane,” O’Duffy continued, “none of the streets I just mentioned are on any recently published map.”
I gave him my best blank look. “What are you saying, Inspector? Has the city renamed the streets in this part of Dublin? Is that why they’re not on the new maps?”
His face tightened and his gaze cut away. “Nobody renamed the streets,” he growled. “Unless they did it without notifying a single person in authority.” He looked back at me, hard. “I thought there might be something else you wanted to tell me, Ms. Lane. Something that might sound . . . a bit . . . unusual?”
I saw it then, in his eyes. Something had happened to the inspector recently that had drastically changed his paradigm. I had no idea what had shaken the hard-boiled, overworked, fact-finding detective from his pragmatic view of the world but he, too, was now thinking outside his box.
I needed him back inside his box—ASAP. Outside the box in this city was a dangerous place to be.
I thought fast. I didn’t have much to work with. “Inspector,” I said, sweetening and softening my Georgia drawl, “putting on the southern,” as we call it back home, a sort of verbal honey-butter that masks the unpalatable taste of whatever we’re slathering it on, “I know you must think me a complete idiot, coming over here and questioning your investigative techniques when anyone can see you’re the expert in the field and I don’t have an ounce of training in detecting matters, and I appreciate how patient you’ve been with me, but I no longer have any concerns about your investigation into my sister’s death. I know now that you did everything you could to solve her case. I meant to stop by and speak with you before I left, but . . . well, the truth is I was feeling a bit embarrassed about our previous encounters. I went back to the alley the other day and took a good look around, without crying and letting my emotions get away from me, and I realized that my sister didn’t leave me any clues. It was grief and anger and a whole boatload of wishful thinking on my part. Whatever was scratched into that alley had been done years ago.”
“Whatever was scratched into that alley?” O’Duffy repeated carefully, and I knew he was recalling how adamant I’d been only last week about exactly what was scratched into that alley.
“Really, I could barely make it out at all. It might have been anything.”
“Is that so, Ms. Lane?”
“Yes. And I meant to tell you it wasn’t her cosmetic bag, either. I got that mixed up, too. Mom said she gave Alina the silver one and it wasn’t quilted. Mom wanted us to be able to tell them apart. We were forever arguing over whose was what and what was whose. The fact is I was grasping at straws and I’m sorry I wasted your time. You were right when you told me I should pack up, go home, and help my family get through these difficult times.”
“I see,” he said slowly, and I was afraid he really did—right through me.
Didn’t overworked, underpaid civil servants only grease squeaky wheels? I wasn’t squeaking anymore, so why wasn’t he getting the message and holstering his oilcan? Alina’s case had been closed before I’d come over, he’d refused to reopen it, and I’d be darned if he was reopening it now. He’d get himself killed!
I abandoned the over-sweetened drawl. “Look, Inspector, what I’m saying is that I’ve given up. I’m not asking you or anyone else to continue the investigation. I know your department is overloaded. I know there are no leads. I know it’s unsolved and I accept that my sister’s case is closed.”
“How . . . suddenly mature of you, Ms. Lane.”
“A sister’s death can make a girl grow up fast.” That much was true.
“I guess that means you’ll be flying home soon, then.”
“Tomorrow,” I lied.
“I can never remember. I’ve got it written down somewhere. Upstairs.”
“Who beat you?”
I blinked, fumbling for an answer. I could hardly say I stabbed a vampire and he tried to kill me. “I fell. On the stairs.”
“Got to be careful there. Stairs can be tricky.” He looked around the room. “Which stairs?”
“They’re in the back.”
“How did you bang up your face? Hit the banister?”
“This store is called Barrons Books and Baubles. I wasn’t able to find anything in public records about an owner, dates of sale for the building, or even a business license. In fact, although this address shows on my maps, to all intents and purposes, the building doesn’t exist. So, who’s Barrons?”
“I’m the owner of this bookstore. Why?”
I jerked, stifling a gasp. Sneaky man. He was standing right behind us, the epitome of stillness, one hand on the back of the sofa, dark hair slicked back from his face, his expression arrogant and cold. No surprise there. Barronsis arrogant and cold. He’s also wealthy, strong, brilliant, and a walking enigma. Most women seem to find him drop-dead sexy, too. Thankfully I’m not most women. I don’t get off on danger. I get off on a man with strong moral fiber. The closest Barrons ever gets to fiber is walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store.
I wondered how long he’d been there. With him you never know.
The inspector stood, looking mildly rattled. He took in Barron’s size, his steel-toed boots, the hardwood floors. Jericho Barrons is a tall, powerfully built man. I knew O’Duffy was wondering how he could have failed to hear him approach. I no longer waste time wondering about that sort of thing. In fact, so long as he keeps watching my back, I’ll continue to ignore the fact that Barrons doesn’t seem to be governed by the natural laws of physics.
“I’d like to see some identification,” growled the inspector.
I fully expected Barrons to toss O’Duffy from the shop on his ear. He had no legal compulsion to comply and Barrons doesn’t suffer fools lightly. In fact, he doesn’t suffer them at all, except me, and that’s only because he needs me to help him find the Sinsar Dubh. Not that I’m a fool.
If I’ve been guilty of anything, it’s having the blithely sunny disposition of
someone who enjoyed a happy childhood, loving parents, and long summers of lazy-paddling ceiling fans and small-town drama in the Deep South which—while it’s great—doesn’t do a thing to prepare you for life beyond that.
Barrons gave the inspector a wolfish smile. “Certainly.” He removed a wallet from the inner pocket of his suit. He held it out but didn’t let go. “And yours, Inspector.”
O’Duffy’s jaw tightened but he complied.
As the men swapped identifications, I sidled closer to O’Duffy so I could peer into Barrons’ wallet.
Would wonders never cease? Just like a real person, he had a driver’s license. Hair: black. Eyes: brown. Height: 6' 3". Weight: 245. His birthday—was he kidding?—Halloween. He was thirty-one years old and his middle initial was Z. I doubted he was an organ donor.
“You’ve a box in Galway as your address, Mr. Barrons. Is that where you were born?”
I’d once asked Barrons about his lineage, he’d told me Pict and Basque. Galway was in Ireland, a few hours west of Dublin.
“You don’t sound Scottish.”
“You don’t sound Irish. Yet here you are, policing Ireland. But then the English have been trying to cram their laws down their neighbors’ throats for centuries, haven’t they, Inspector?”
O’Duffy had an eye tic. I hadn’t noticed it before. “How long have you been in Dublin?”
“A few years. You?”
“I’m the one asking the questions.”
“Only because I’m standing here letting you.”
“I can take you down to the station. Would you prefer that?”
“Try.” The one word dared the Garda to try, by fair means or foul. The accompanying smile guaranteed failure. I wondered what he’d do if the inspector attempted it. My inscrutable host seems to possess a bottomless bag of tricks.
O’Duffy held Barrons’ gaze longer than I expected him to. I wanted to tell him there was no shame in looking away. Barrons has something the rest of us don’t have. I don’t know what it is, but I feel it all the time, especially when we’re standing close. Beneath the expensive clothes, unplaceable accent, and cultured veneer, there’s something that never crawled all the way out of the swamp. It didn’t want to. It likes it there.
The inspector apparently deemed an exchange of information the wisest, or maybe just the easiest course. “I’ve been in Dublin since I was twelve. When my father died, my mother remarried an Irishman. There’s a man over at Chester’s says he knows you, Mr. Barrons. Name’s Ryodan. Ring a bell?”
“Ms. Lane, go upstairs,” Barrons said, instantly, softly.
“I’m perfectly fine here.” Who was Ryodan and what didn’t Barrons want me to know?
“Up. Stairs. Now.”
I scowled. I didn’t have to look at O’Duffy to know he was regarding me with acute interest—and pity. He was thinking Barrons was the name of the flight of stairs I’d fallen down. I hate pity. Sympathy isn’t quite as bad. Sympathy says, I know how it feels, doesn’t it just suck? Pity means they think you’re defeated.
“He doesn’t beat me,” I said irritably. “I’d kill him if he did.”
“She would. She has a temper. Stubborn, too. But we’re working on that, aren’t we, Ms. Lane?” Barrons turned his wolf smile on me, and jerked his head up toward the ceiling.
Someday I’m going to push Jericho Barrons as far as I can and see what happens. But I’m going to wait awhile, until I’m stronger. Until I’m pretty sure I’ve got a trump card.
I may have been forced into this war, but I’m learning to choose my battles.
I didn’t see Barrons for the rest of the day.
A dutiful soldier, I retreated to the ditches as ordered and hunkered down there. In those ditches, I had an epiphany. People treat you as badly as you let them treat you.
Key word there: let.
Some people are exceptions, mostly parents, best friends, and spouses, though in my bartending job at The Brickyard, I’ve seen married people do worse things to each other in public than I’d do in private to someone I couldn’t stand. Bottom line is most of the world will push you as far as you let them. Barrons might have sent me to my room, but I’m the idiot that went. What was I afraid of? That he’d hurt me, kill me? Hardly. He’d saved my life last week. He needed me. Why had I let him intimidate me?
I was disgusted with myself. I was still behaving like MacKayla Lane, part-time bartender, part-time sun-worshipper, and full-time glamour girl. My recent brush with death had made it clear that chick wasn’t going to survive over here, a statement emphatically punctuated by ten unpolished, broken fingernails. Unfortunately, by the time I had my epiphany and stormed back downstairs, Barrons and the inspector were gone.
Worsening my already foul mood, the woman who runs the bookstore and carries a major torch for Barrons had arrived. Stunning, voluptuous, in her early fifties, Fiona doesn’t like me at all. I suspect if she knew Barrons kissed me last week she’d like me even less. I was nearly unconscious when he did it, but I remember. It’s been impossible to forget.
When she looked up from the numbers she was punching in on her cell phone, I decided maybe she did know. Her eyes were venomous, her mouth a moue fanned by delicate wrinkles. With each quick, shallow inhalation, her lacy blouse trembled over her full bosom, as if she’d just dashed somewhere in a great hurry, or was suffering great distress. "What was Jericho doing here today?” she asked in a pinched tone. “It’s Sunday. He’s not supposed to be here on Sunday. I can’t imagine any reason for him to stop by.” She scanned me from head to toe, looking, I think, for signs of a recent tryst: tousled hair, perhaps a missed button on my blouse, or panties overlooked in the haste of dressing, left bunched in the leg of my jeans. I did that once. Alina saved me before Mom caught me.
I almost laughed. A tryst with Barrons? Get real.
“What are you doing here?” I countered. No more good little soldier. The bookstore was closed and neither of them should have been here, raining on my already rainy parade.
“I was on my way to the butcher when I saw Jericho stepping out,” she said tightly. “How long was he here? Where were you just now? What were the two of you doing before I came?” Jealousy so vibrantly colored her words I expected her breath to come out in little green puffs. As if conjured by the unspoken accusation that we’d been doing the dirty, a vision of Jericho Barrons naked—dark, despotic, and probably flat-out ferocious in bed—flashed through my mind.
I found it staggeringly erotic. Disturbed, I performed a hasty mental calendar count. I was ovulating. That explained it. I get indiscriminatingly horny for three days when I am: the day before, the day of, and the day after; Mother Nature’s sneaky little way of ensuring survival of the human race, I guess. I check out guys I wouldn’t normally look at, especially ones in tight jeans. I catch myself trying to decide if they’re lefties or righties. Alina used to laugh and say if you can’t tell, Junior, you don’t want to know.
Alina. God, I missed her.
“Nothing, Fiona,” I said. “I was upstairs.”
She stabbed a finger at me, her eyes dangerously bright, and I was suddenly afraid she would cry. If she cried I’d lose all backbone. I can’t stand older women crying. I see my mom in every one.
I was relieved when she snarled at me instead. “Do you think he healed your wounds because you matter to him? Do you think he cares? You mean nothing to him! You couldn’t possibly understand that man and his moods. His needs. His desires. You’re a stupid, selfish, naïve child,” she hissed. “Go home!”
“I’d love to go home,” I shot back. “Unfortunately, I don’t have that choice!”
She opened her mouth but I didn’t catch what she was saying because I’d already turned and was banging through the connecting doors to the private residence part of the store, in no mood to get dragged any further into the argument she was spoiling to have. I left her shouting something about how she didn’t have choices, either.
I went upstairs. Yesterday Barrons had told me to lose the splints. I’d told him bones didn’t heal that fast, but my arm was itching like crazy again, so I went in the bathroom adjoining my bedroom and took it off.
I gingerly wiggled my wrist then flexed my hand. My arm had obviously never been broken, probably just sprained. It felt whole, stronger than ever. I peeled off the finger splints to find they were better than fine, too. There was a faint smudge of red and black on my forearm, like a smear of ink. While I rinsed it off, I turned my face from side to side in the mirror, wishing my bruises would heal as quickly. I’d spent most of my life as an attractive blonde. Now, a badly battered girl with short black hair stared back at me.
I turned away.
While I’d convalesced, Barrons had gotten me one of those little refrigerators college kids use in dorms, and stocked me up on snacks. I popped open a soda and sprawled across the bed. I read and surfed the Net the rest of the day, trying to educate myself on all the paranormal stuff I’d spent the first twenty-two years of my life belittling and ignoring.
For a week now, I’d been waiting for the army from Hell to come. I wasn’t stupid enough to believe this little lull was anything but the calm before the storm.
Was Mallucé really dead? Though I’d stabbed the citron-eyed vampire during my aborted showdown with the Lord Master, and the last thing I’d seen before losing consciousness from the injuries he’d dished out in retaliation was Barrons slamming him into a wall, I wasn’t convinced of his demise and wouldn’t be, until I heard something from the empty-eyed worshippers that stuffed the vamp’s Goth mansion to overflowing on the south side of Dublin. In the Lord Master’s employ—while two-timing and withholding powerful relics from the Unseelie leader—Mallucé had tried to kill me in order to silence me before I could betray his dirty secret. If he was still alive, I had no doubt he’d be coming after me again, sooner rather than later.
Mallucé wasn’t the only worry on my mind. Was the Lord Master really unable to get past the ancient wards laid in blood and stone around the bookstore, as Barrons assured me? Who’d been driving the car transporting the mind-bending evil of the Sinsar Dubh past the bookstore last week? Where had it been taken? Why? What were all the Unseelie recently freed by the Lord Master doing right now? And just how responsible was I for them? Does being one of the few people who can do something about a problem make you responsible for fixing it?
It was midnight before I slept, bedroom door locked, windows buttoned up tight, lights ablaze.
The instant I opened my eyes, I knew something was wrong.