Darkfever, p.11
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       Darkfever, p.11

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
 
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  “None of your fucking business,” Barrons said.

  “Ah, we’re in our usual fine form, aren’t we?” the man sneered.

  “‘We’ implies we came from the same gene pool, Ellis. We didn’t. ”

  “Arrogant fuck,” the man muttered to our backs.

  “I see you’ve got a lot of friends here,” I remarked dryly.

  “No one has friends in this house, Ms. Lane. There are only users and the used at Casa Blanc. ”

  “Except for me,” I said. Weird name for a weirder house.

  He gave me a cursory glance. “You’ll learn. If you live long enough. ”

  Even if I lived to be ninety, I would never become like the people in this house. The murmured acknowledgments continued as we passed through the rooms, some hungry—mostly from the women—and others damning—mostly from the men. It was an awful bunch of people. I suffered a sudden stab of homesickness, missed my mom and dad with a vengeance.

  I didn’t see anything that wasn’t human until we came to that last room, at the far end of the house on the fifth floor. We had to pass through three sets of armed security guards to get there.

  Reality check: I was at a party with armed security guards and I was wearing all black. It couldn’t be my reality. I wasn’t that kind of person. Sadly, despite the short skirt that bared my pretty tanned legs to well above midthigh, a snug, bosom-enhancing top and high heels, compared to the rest of the women at Casa Blanc, I looked fifteen. I thought I’d turned my shoulder-length dark hair into something wild and sexy, but I obviously didn’t know the meaning of those words. Nor did I understand a thing about the artful application of makeup.

  “Stop fidgeting,” Barrons said.

  I took a deep breath and held it for a three count. “Next time a little more detail on our intended destination might help. ”

  “Take a good look around, Ms. Lane, and next time you won’t need it. ”

  We stepped through a pair of enormous white doors, into a large white-upon-white room: white walls, white carpet, white glassed-in cases interspersed with white columns upon which priceless objets d’art rested. I stiffened, confronted with double double visions. Now that I knew such monsters existed, it was easier to spot them. I decided these two couldn’t be putting much effort into the glamour they were throwing or else I was getting better at penetrating it, because once I saw past their beefy blond bouncer projections, they didn’t flicker between the two, but remained Unseelie.

  “Easy,” Barrons murmured, sensing my tension. To the man seated on the absurd white thronelike chair in front of us, as if holding audience for his subjects, he said in a bored voice, “McCabe. ”

  “Barrons. ”

  I don’t generally like big-boned, hard-bodied, auburn-haired men, and I was surprised to find McCabe attractive in a rough-hewn Irish way that would never polish up no matter the wealth he managed to accumulate or the treasures with which he chose to surround himself. But the two Unseelie flanking him, left and right, weren’t attractive at all. They were huge, ugly, gray-skinned things that reminded me of rhinoceroses with their bumpy, oversized foreheads, tiny eyes, jutting underbites, and lipless gashes for mouths. Wide, squat, barrel-like bodies strained at the seams of ill-fitting white suits. Their arms and legs were stumpy and they were making a constant deep-in-the-throat snuffling sound, like pigs rooting through the mud for whatever it was pigs rooted. They weren’t scary; they were just ugly. I focused on not focusing on them. Aside from mild heartburn and a sense of increased agitation, they hardly made me feel sick at all. Of course, any Fae’s impact would now and forever be diminished in the dark shadow of the Sinsar Dubh’s.

  Page 40

 

  “What brings you to Casa Blanc?” McCabe said, adjusting the white tie on the white shirt beneath the jacket of his white suit. Why bother? I couldn’t help but think. Ties fell into the accessory category and the very definition of accessorizing was accenting or enhancing by artful arrangement of color, texture, and style. Hello—had anyone heard the word “color” in there? He might just as well have painted himself white.

  Barrons shrugged. “Nice night for a drive. ”

  “Almost a full moon, Barrons. Things can get dangerous out there. ”

  “Things can get dangerous anywhere, McCabe. ”

  McCabe laughed, showing movie-star white teeth. He looked me over. “Into something a little different, Barrons? Who’s the little girl?”

  Don’t speak, Barrons had told me on the way there, no matter what anyone says. I don’t care how pissed off you might get. Swallow it. His derisive “little girl” ringing in my ears, I bit down hard and didn’t say a word.

  “Just the latest piece of ass, McCabe. ”

  I no longer had to bite down. I was speechless.

  McCabe laughed. “She talk?”

  “Not unless I tell her to. Her mouth’s usually too full. ”

  I could feel my cheeks burning.

  McCabe laughed again. “When she grows up, pass her my way, will you?” He looked me over thoroughly, ice-blue eyes lingering on my bosom and bottom, and by the time he was done, I felt as if he’d not only seen me nude but somehow knew I had a tiny heart-shaped mole on the left cheek of my behind, and another on my right breast, just east of my nipple. His expression changed, his nostrils widened, his eyes narrowed. “On second thought,” he murmured, “don’t let her grow up too much. What would you take for her now?”

  Barrons flashed a mocking smile. “There’s a book I might be interested in. ”

  McCabe snorted, brought the tip of his index finger to his thumb, and flicked an imaginary speck of lint from his sleeve. “No bitch is that good. There are women and there’s power—and only one of those holds its value. ” His expression changed again, his lips thinned out and his eyes went chillingly empty.

  Just like that, McCabe lost interest in me, and I had the startling realization that, to him, I wasn’t even human. I was more like . . . well, a condom . . . something he’d use, then toss the soiled remains away from his person—and if we happened to be in a speeding car on the autobahn, or a jet crossing the Atlantic at the time, so what?

  Had Alina been in this world? Had she known this obsessive-compulsive man in white? I could certainly see him killing her, or killing anyone for that matter. But could I see Alina believing herself in love with a man like him? Granted, he was rich, worldly, and attractive in a brutish, powerful way. But the inspector and the two girls I’d spoken with had been absolutely certain Alina’s boyfriend wasn’t native to the Emerald Isle, and McCabe—despite his enormous pretensions—was salt-of-the-earth Irish, through and through.

  “Heard anything about it?” Barrons lost interest in me, too, and moved on to a new subject. Simply two men going about their business, with walking, talking—or rather mute—sex-on-heels nearby in case anyone wanted any, just a convenient platter of oyster on the half shell.

  “No,” McCabe said flatly. “You?”

  “No,” Barrons replied just as flatly.

  McCabe nodded. “Well, then. Leave her and go. Or just leave. ” It was obvious he couldn’t have cared less which option Barrons chose to exercise. In fact, if I’d gotten left, I wasn’t sure McCabe would even notice me again for several days.

  The King of White had dismissed us.

  TWELVE

  Glamour: illusion cast by the Fae to camouflage their true appearance. The more powerful the Fae, the more difficult it is to penetrate its disguise. The average human sees only what the Fae wants them to see, and is subtly repelled from bumping into or brushing against it by a small perimeter of spatial distortion that is part of the Fae glamour.

  And that was why the monster in the alley with mule-size genitals and leechlike sucking mouths had instantly known what I was—I’d been unable to avoid crashing into it.

  Any other person would have been repelled the instant they’d rounded the corner, a
nd stumbled clumsily, careening off nothing they could see. You know all those times you say, “Geez, I don’t know what’s wrong with me—I must have tripped over my own feet?” Think again.

  According to Barrons, McCabe had no idea his “bodyguards” were Unseelie who’d addressed each other as Ob and Yrg when they’d escorted us from the Throne Room in guttural tones Barrons and I had pretended not to hear. McCabe’s usual staff of bodyguards had disappeared three months ago and been replaced by the Rhino-boys, a type of Unseelie Barrons believed were low-to-mid-level caste thugs dispatched primarily as watchdogs for the highest-ranking Fae.

  Page 41

 

  After thinking about that for a minute and following it to the logical conclusion, I’d said, Does that mean an Unseelie is hunting for the Sinsar Dubh, too?

  It looks that way, Barrons replied. And a very powerful one, at that. I keep catching wind of someone the Unseelie call the “Lord Master,” but so far I’ve had no luck discovering who or what this Lord Master is. I told you, Ms. Lane, that you had no idea what you were getting into.

  The Unseelie were terrifying enough. I had no desire to encounter whatever they addressed as their ruler. Well, maybe now’s a real good time for me to get right back out of it, I’d said.

  Try, the look he’d given me had said. Even if I managed to close my heart and turn my back on my sister’s murder, Jericho Barrons wasn’t about to let me go.

  Sad fact was we needed each other. I could sense the Sinsar Dubh and he had all the pertinent information about it, including a few ideas about where it might be and who else was looking for it. Left to my own devices, I would never be able to find out about parties like the one at Casa Blanc and get myself invited there. Left to his own devices, Barrons would never know if the book was nearby, perhaps even in the same room with him. He could be standing right next to it, for all he knew.

  I’d gotten a good idea just how important I was to him last night. If the book was metal, I was Jericho Barrons’ own private state-of-the-art metal detector. After Ob and Yrg had returned to McCabe, Barrons had escorted me through floor after floor of the starkly decorated house. When I’d felt nothing, he’d marched me all over the manicured estate, including the outbuildings. He’d insisted we cover the grounds so thoroughly that I hadn’t gotten back to my borrowed bedroom to sleep until just before dawn. Reluctant though I was to feel something so awful again, I’d been almost disappointed when my newly discovered Spidey-sense hadn’t picked up the faintest tingle anywhere.

  Still, to me, the bottom line wasn’t about the Dark Book at all. It was about uncovering the details of my sister’s secret life. I didn’t want the creepy thing. I just wanted to know who or what had killed Alina, and I wanted him or it dead. Then I wanted to go home to my pleasantly provincial po-dunk little town in steamy southern Georgia and forget about everything that had happened to me while I was in Dublin. The Fae didn’t visit Ashford? Good. I’d marry a local boy with a jacked-up Chevy pickup truck, Toby Keith singing “Who’s Your Daddy?” on the radio, and eight proud generations of honest, hardworking Ashford ancestors decorating his family tree. Short of essential shopping trips to Atlanta, I’d never leave home again.

  But for now, working with Barrons was my only option. The people I met during our search could be people Alina had met too. And if I could somehow find and retrace the path she’d taken through this bizarre film-noir world, it should lead me straight to her killer.

  I would be seriously rethinking the wisdom of that before long.

  I picked up my pen. It was Sunday afternoon and Barrons Books and Baubles was closed for the day. I’d woken up disoriented and badly missing Mom, but when I’d called, Dad had said she was in bed and he didn’t want to wake her. She hadn’t been sleeping well, he said, even though she’d been taking something that was supposed to help her. I’d carried on an achingly one-sided conversation with him for a few minutes, but his efforts had been so painfully halfhearted that I’d given up. At a loss for what to do, I’d finally grabbed my journal and gone downstairs to the bookstore.

  Now I was sprawled on my stomach on the comfy sofa in the rear conversation area of the bookstore, notebook propped on a pillow in front of me.

  Sifting: a method of Fae locomotion, I wrote.

  I nibbled the tip of my fine-point, felt-tipped fuchsia pen and tried to figure out how to write this one down. When Barrons had explained it to me, I’d been horrified.

  You mean they can just think themselves somewhere and that’s how instantly it happens? They just want to be someplace—and then there they are?

  Barrons nodded.

  You mean I could be walking down the street and one could just pop in alongside me and grab me?

  Ah, but there you have a tremendous advantage, Ms. Lane. Grab it back and you’ll freeze it like you did the one in the alley. But do it fast, before it sifts you to someplace you really don’t want to be.

  And then what am I supposed to do? Start toting weapons around with me so I can kill them while they’re frozen? No matter how horrific the Unseelie were, the thought of carving something up while it couldn’t even move was abhorrent to me.

  I doubt you could, Barrons said. Both Seelie and Unseelie are virtually indestructible. The higher the caste, the harder they are to kill.

  Page 42

 

  Great, I said. Any ideas what I should do once I turn them into all-too-temporary statues?

  Yes, Ms. Lane, he’d replied, with that dark, sardonic smile of his. Run like hell.

  I brushed the tips of my lashes with sable mascara, and wondered what one wore to visit a vampire.

  The chic red sweater set I’d brought with me from home not only didn’t go so well with my darker hair, I was afraid it might be construed as a flirtatious invitation to color me bloodier. The dainty silver cross earrings my aunt Sue bought me for my last birthday would no doubt be considered provocative, as well. I glanced at my watch. Indecision over my outfit was making me late for my midnight appointment with Barrons. I wasn’t going to have time to dash to the church down the street and dab holy water at my wrists and behind my ears; my version of Eau de Don’tbiteme.

  I stared in the mirror. I couldn’t make myself look like the women at Casa Blanc if I wanted to, and I didn’t. I liked me. I liked my colors. I missed my hair so bad it hurt.

  Sighing, I turned my head upside down, hair-sprayed it liberally, then set the lacquer with a blast of heat from my dryer. When I tossed it back again and finger-combed it—thanks to Ms. Clairol’s Medium Hot Rods—I had a head of shoulder-length, tousled Arabian-Nights curls that framed my face seductively and made my green eyes stand out even more than they usually did. Slightly uptilted at the outer corners, with long dark lashes, my eyes were one of my best features, a brilliant shade of green, the color of new young grass at Easter. I have clear, even-toned skin that tans really well and goes with pretty much any shade. I didn’t look bad with dark hair. I just didn’t look like me. I looked older, especially with the candy-apple red I’d just glossed on my mouth, a concession to Barrons since I was sure he wasn’t going to like the outfit I’d just decided on.

  As I slipped into my clothes, I remembered how Alina and I used to make fun of vampire movies and novels, and of the whole paranormal craze in general that had been launched by the creation of one small, pale, bespectacled boy who lived beneath the stairs.

  That was before I knew there really were things out there in the night.

  “What the bloody hell do you have on, Ms. Lane?” Barrons demanded.

  What I had on was a luscious gauzy skirt of nearly every pastel hue on the color wheel that hugged my hips and kicked frothily at my ankles, a form-fitting rose sweater with silk-trimmed cap sleeves and a plunging silk-edged neckline that made much of my bust, and dainty pink high heels that laced around my ankles. The colors went stunningly with my sun-kissed skin and dark curls. I looked feminine,
soft, and sexy in a wholesome young woman way, not a Casa Blanc way. I strode briskly past rows of bookcases to where he stood waiting impatiently by the front door of the shop, and stabbed a finger in his direction. “If you treat me like one of your skanks again tonight, Barrons, you can just forget about our little arrangement. You need me as much as I need you. That makes us equal partners in my book. ”

  “Well, your book is just wrong,” he said flatly.

  “No, yours is,” I said just as flatly. “Figure out another way to explain me. I don’t care what you come up with. But if you call me your latest piece of petunia again or make uncalled-for references to my mouth and oral sex with you, you and I are through. ”

  He raised a brow. “Petunia, Ms. Lane?”

  I scowled. “Ass, Barrons. ”

  He crossed his arms and his gaze dropped to my glossy Lip-Venom red lips. “Am I to understand there are called-for references to your mouth and oral sex with me, Ms. Lane? I’d like to hear them. ”

  Eyes narrowed, I sidestepped his idiotic taunting. “Is this Mallucé guy really a vampire, Barrons?”

  He shrugged. “He claims to be. He is surrounded by people who believe he is. ” He scanned me from head to toe. “Last night you said you wanted to know what to expect so you could better select your attire. I told you we were going to visit a vampire in a Goth-den tonight. Why, then, Ms. Lane, do you look like a perky rainbow?”

  I shrugged in kind. “Take me or leave me, Barrons. ”

  He took me. As I’d known he would.

  There are a few things a hunting man can’t do without. His bloodhound is one of them.

  McCabe lived twenty minutes to the north of the city, in my idea of a modernistic nightmare.

  Mallucé lived ten minutes to the south of Dublin, entombed in garish tatters of the past. The Victorian Era, to be precise—those sixty-three years from 1837 to 1901 during which Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain and called herself Empress of India—immortalized, erroneously perhaps, by opulent, velvet-draped, sensualistic, and often cluttered home decor.

 
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