Darkfever, p.12
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       Darkfever, p.12

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
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Page 43

 

  Steampunk was the theme of the night at Mallucé’s: Victorian-style clothing tweaked in edgy ways, ripped, distorted, and blended with Goth, Rivet, and Punk—although I admit sometimes I have a hard time picking up the subtle details that differentiate the individual pockets of the Dark Fashion world. I think you have to live in it to get it.

  We left the Porsche with an Unseelie Rhino-boy valet at the door, whose glamour looked like unvarnished deathpunk to me. In contrast, I did indeed resemble a perky rainbow.

  Mallucé’s lair was a monstrous, rambling affair of brick and stone that was a mishmash of various types of Victorian architecture, leaning heavily toward Addams Family Goth, with an embarrassment of turrets and porticos, wrought-iron balustrades and battlements, oriel windows and transoms, and enough ornate cornices and brackets to dizzy the eye, not to mention baffle the soul.

  Four tall stories were stacked haphazardly on top of each other, cresting in a black roofline against the cobalt night sky that made no sense, but leapt whimsically from flat to dangerously steep and back again. Trees with skeletal limbs, badly in need of a trim, scraped against slate, like oaken nails on the lid of a coffin.

  The house rambled over an acre and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to learn it had upward of sixty or seventy rooms. On the top floor, strobe lights flickered beyond tall narrow windows, in tempo with raucous, driving music. On the lower floors the ambience was different: black and crimson candles were the light of choice, and the music was soft, dreamy, and voluptuous.

  Barrons had given me a good bit of background about our soon-to-be host on the way over. Mallucé had been born John Johnstone Jr. to old British money some thirty years ago. When the senior Johnstones had died in a suspicious car accident, leaving their twenty-four-year-old son sole heir to a several-hundred-million-dollar fortune, J. J. Jr. had turned his back on his father’s vast financial empire, sold off one company after the next, and liquidated all assets. He’d cast off his embarrassingly redundant name, gotten it legally changed to the singular, romantic Mallucé, dressed himself in the height of refined steampunk, and presented himself to Goth society as one of the newly undead.

  Over the years, several hundred million dollars had bought him an extensive cult of true believers and hardcore groupies, and in some quarters, the name Mallucé was nearly synonymous with Lestat.

  Barrons had never met him face-to-face but had seen him on several occasions in the trendier nightclubs. He’d made it his business to track Mallucé’s interests and acquisitions. “He goes after many of the same artifacts as I,” he told me. “Last time he tried to outbid me in an exclusive Internet auction—a wealthy recluse in London, Lucan Trevayne, disappeared and within days a large portion of his collection was up for grabs on the black market—I had a hacker standing by who took down Malluce’s entire computer network at the crucial moment. ” Dark eyes glittering, Barrons smiled, a predator relishing the memory of a cherished kill.

  But his smile faded as he continued. “Unfortunately, what I’d been hoping to find in Trevayne’s collection was no longer there. Someone had beaten me to it. At any rate, Mallucé must have learned of the Sinsar Dubh in the years preceding his father’s death. The senior Johnstone dabbled in artifacts and there was a considerable uproar in the antiquities world some time back when photocopied pages of what most believed to be mythical—indeed, a joke of an icon—debuted on the black market. I have no idea how many photocopied sets are out there, but I do know Mallucé saw the pages at some point. The undead fuck’s been getting in my way ever since. ” Barrons said “undead fuck” as if he strongly wished Mallucé dead—not believed him undead.

  “You don’t think he’s a vampire,” I said in a hushed voice, as we picked our way through room after room of stoned-looking people draped across low-backed velveteen divans, passed out on brocade chaises, and sprawled in various stages of undress on the floor. We were searching for an entrance to the sub-basement, where a dazedly compliant sloe-eyed Goth-girl had told us “the Master” would be. I tried not to notice the rhythmic thrusts, grunts, and moans as I stepped carefully over half-naked tangles.

  He laughed briefly, a hollow, humorless sound. “If he is, the one that made him should be drowned in holy water, defanged, gelded, skinned, staked, and left to blister agonizingly in the sun. ” He was silent a moment, then, “Feeling anything, Ms. Lane?”

  I didn’t think he meant embarrassment about what I’d just stepped over, so I shook my head.

  Page 44

 

  We passed half a dozen more Unseelie by the time we found the sub-basement. Mingled in with the white-skinned, pierced and chained, black-nailed, black-lipped Goth-youth, casting similar noir glamours, the Dark Fae were doing things to their unwitting victims I refused to see. Though I saw none as horrific as the Gray Man or the Many-Mouthed-Thing, I was beginning to realize that there was no such thing as an attractive Unseelie.

  “Not true,” Barrons said when I remarked upon it. “Unseelie royalty, the princes and princesses of the four houses, are every bit as inhumanly beautiful as Seelie royalty. In fact, it is virtually impossible to tell them apart. ”

  “Why are there so many Unseelie here?”

  “Morbidity is their oxygen, Ms. Lane. They breathe richly in places like this. ”

  We’d been navigating a maze of subterranean corridors for some time. Now we turned down a long dim hallway that ended in an immense, square black door belted by bands of steel. A dozen men stood guard between Mallucé and any of his too-fervent faithful, shoulders slung with ammunition, toting automatic weapons.

  A large bull of a man with a shaved head stepped into our path, blocking our way. The safety pins in his ears didn’t bother me. The ones in his eyelids did.

  “Where do you think you’re going?” he growled, fixing his rifle on Barrons with one hand, resting the heel of the other on the butt of a gun tucked into the waistband of his black leather pants.

  “Inform Mallucé that Jericho Barrons is here. ”

  “Why would the Master give a fuck?”

  “I have something he wants. ”

  “Oh yeah? Like what?”

  Barrons smiled and for the first time I saw a glint of genuine humor in his dark eyes. “Tell him to try to access any of his bank accounts. ”

  Ten minutes later the door to Mallucé’s inner sanctum burst open. The shaven-headed messenger stumbled out, his face ashen, his shirt covered with blood.

  He was followed by two Unseelie Rhino-boys who jammed guns into our sides and marched us through the doorway and into the vampire’s lair. Nausea flooded my stomach and I gripped my purse tightly with both hands so I wouldn’t inadvertently touch either of our ugly escorts.

  The chamber beyond the steel-belted door was so sumptuously decorated in velveteens, satins, gauzes, and brocades, and so busily furnished in Neo-Victorian that it was difficult at first to locate our host in the clutter. It didn’t help that his attire matched his surroundings, the very height of Romantic Goth.

  I spotted him at last. Motionless on a low-backed, richly embellished chaise scattered with gilt pillows and tasseled throws, Mallucé was wearing stiff, textured brown-and-black-striped trousers and fine-tooled Italian slippers. His eggshell linen shirt dripped lace at his wrists and throat, and blood at his jabot. He wore a brocade-and-velvet vest of amber, russet, crimson, and gold, and as I watched, he withdrew a snowy handkerchief from a pocket in the inner lining and gently dabbed blood from his chin, then licked a few remaining drops from his lips. Muscular and graceful as a cat, he was pale and smooth as a marble bust. Dead yellow eyes lent a feral cast to his sharply chiseled, too-white face. Long blond hair pulled back in an old-fashioned, amber-beaded queue emphasized his abnormally rigid pallor.

  The vampire separated sinuously from the settee and rose, holding an incongruously modern laptop. With a graceful flick of his fingers, he snapped the chrome case
shut, tossed it carelessly on a velvet-draped table, then glided to a halt in front of us.

  As he stood there in all his undead stillness, face-to-face with the carnal maleness and disturbing vitality of Jericho Barrons, I was startled to realize that, although I was deep in the belly of a vampire’s lair, surrounded by his worshipers and monster minions—if pressed to decide which of the men before me was more dangerous—it wouldn’t have been Mallucé. Eyes narrowed, I looked back and forth between them. Something nagged at me, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was a thing that I would stupidly fail to put my finger on until it was too late. Before long, I would understand that nothing had been what it seemed that night, and the reason Barrons had faced-off so coolly with the blood-sucking Master was because he’d gone in with the quiet assurance that, no matter what happened, he would walk out alive, and not because he had Mallucé by the proverbial fiscal balls.

  “What did you do with my money?” the vampire inquired, his silken voice unmatched by the steel in his strange citron eyes.

  Barrons laughed, teeth flashing white in his dark face. “Think of it as an insurance policy. I’ll return it when we’re through, Johnstone. ”

  Page 45

 

  The vampire’s lips drew back, revealing long, sharp, pointed fangs. There was still blood on them. An expression of utter, mindless rage flashed over his icy face. “The name’s Mallucé, asshole,” he hissed.

  Score one for Barrons, I thought. J. J. Jr. still hated his name. Losing control of an immense fortune didn’t seem to bother him nearly as much as merely being addressed by the name with which he’d been christened.

  Barrons flicked a contemptuous gaze over the vampire, from frothy, bloody jabot to pointy-toed, silk-trimmed leather slippers. “Mallucé asshole,” he repeated. “And here I thought your last name was ‘fashion nightmare. ’”

  Mallucé’s inhuman yellow eyes narrowed. “Do you have a death wish, human?” He’d recovered quickly, his face was blank again, his voice once more controlled, so light and melodic it was nearly a verbal caress.

  Barrons laughed again. “Might. Doubt you’ll be helping me with it, though. What do you know about the Sinsar Dubh, Jr. ?”

  Mallucé flinched, almost imperceptibly, but it was there. If I hadn’t been watching him so closely, I wouldn’t have caught it. Twice now he’d betrayed an emotion, a thing I was willing to bet he rarely did. With a glance at his guards, then to the door, he said, “Out. Except you. ” He pointed at Barrons.

  Barrons wrapped an arm around my shoulder and I instantly shivered, just as I had last night when he’d touched me. The man packed a seriously weird physical punch.

  “She stays with me,” Barrons said.

  Mallucé gave me a deprecating once-over. Slowly, very slowly, his lips curved. The smile didn’t work with those chilling, dead, animal-eyes of his. “Someone certainly took that passé Rolling Stones song to heart, didn’t they?” he murmured.

  Everyone’s a fashion critic. I knew which song he meant: “She’s a Rainbow. ” Whenever I listened to it on my iPod, I would close my eyes and spin around, pretending I was in a sun-dappled clearing, with my arms spread wide and my head thrown back, while colors of every hue sprayed from my fingertips like brilliant little airbrush guns, painting trees, birds, bees, and flowers, even the sun in the sky, glorious shades. I loved that song. When I didn’t answer him—Barrons and I might have reached an agreement about how he would and wouldn’t refer to me, but I was still under orders to keep my mouth shut—Mallucé turned to his bodyguards, who hadn’t moved an inch, and hissed, “I said out. ”

  The two Unseelie looked at each other, then one spoke in a gravelly voice, “But O Great Undead One—”

  “You’ve got to be kidding me, Jr. ,” Barrons muttered, shaking his head. “Couldn’t you come up with something a little more original?”

  “Now. ” When Mallucé bared his fangs at them, the Rhino-boy bodyguards left. But they didn’t look at all happy about it.

  THIRTEEN

  Well, that was a pure waste of time,” Barrons growled as we picked our way back through the antique furnishings and all-too-modern morals of Mallucé’s house.

  I didn’t say anything. The Unseelie Rhino-boys were right behind us, making sure we left. “The Master” was not at all happy with us.

  Once he’d dismissed his guards, Mallucé had simply pretended not to know what Barrons was talking about, acting as if he’d never heard of the Sinsar Dubh before, even though a blind man could see that not only had he, but he knew something about it that disturbed him deeply. He and Barrons had gotten into a pissing match, trading barbs and insults, and within moments, they’d completely forgotten about me.

  Ten minutes or so into their little testosterone war, one of Mallucé’s guards—one of the human ones—had been stupid enough to interrupt and I’d seen something that had convinced me J. J. Jr. was the genuine article, or at least something supernatural. The vampire had picked up the nearly seven-foot bruiser with one pale hand around his throat, raised him in the air, and flung him backward across the chamber so hard he’d slammed into a wall, slumped to the floor, and lay there, his head lolling at an impossible angle on his chest, blood leaking from his nose and ears. Then he stood there, his yellow eyes blazing unnaturally, and for a moment, I’d been afraid he was going to fall slathering on the bloody bundle and feast.

  Time to go, I’d thought, on the verge of hysteria. But Barrons had said something nasty and he and Mallucé had gotten right back into it, so I’d stood there hugging myself against the awfulest chill, tapping a foot nervously, and trying not to throw up.

  Page 46

 

  The Rhino-boys didn’t leave us at the door but escorted us all the way to the Porsche, and waited while we got inside. They were still standing there with their valet-buddy as we sped away. I watched them in my side-view mirror until they disappeared from sight, then heaved a huge sigh of relief. That had been singularly the most nerve-wracking experience of my life, surpassing even my encounter with the hideous Many-Mouthed-Thing. “Tell me we never have to go back there again,” I said to Barrons, blotting clammy palms on my skirt.

  “But we do, Ms. Lane. We didn’t get the chance to cover the grounds. We’ll have to return in a day or two for a thorough look around. ”

  “There’s nothing on the grounds,” I told him.

  He glanced at me. “You can’t know that. Mallucé’s estate covers hundreds of acres. ”

  I sighed. I had no doubt, if Barrons had his way, he’d run me over every dratted inch of it, back and forth, his own indefatigable psychic lint brush. “There’s nothing on the grounds, Barrons,” I repeated.

  “Again, Ms. Lane, you can’t know that. You didn’t start sensing the photocopies of the Sinsar Dubh until I’d removed them from the vault three floors beneath the garage and brought them into the bookstore. ”

  I blinked. “There are three floors beneath the garage? Why on earth?”

  Barrons locked his jaw, as if he regretted the admission. I could see I was going to get nothing further from him on the subject so I pressed my point instead. I was not going back to the vampire’s den; not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, not even next week. If they caught me, they’d kill me, of that I was certain. I’d not exactly been discreet.

  “I don’t agree,” I said. “I think Mallucé would keep anything he valued nearby. He would want it close at hand, to pull it out and gloat over it, if nothing else. ”

  Barrons slanted me a sideways look. “Now you’re an expert on Mallucé?”

  “Not an expert, but I think I know a thing or two,” I said defensively.

  “And why is that, Ms. Rainbow?”

  He was such a jackass sometimes. I shrugged it off because it was only going to make this next part even sweeter. It had almost been worth leaving my on-the-go cosmetics pack Mom had given me, my brush, my favorite pink
fingernail polish, and two candy bars on a table in the vampire’s den just to see the look on Barrons’ face when I unzipped my purse, withdrew an enameled black box, held it up and waggled it at him. “Because that was where this used to be,” I said smugly. “Close at hand. ”

  Barrons shifted down and slammed on the brakes so hard the tires squealed and the pads smoked.

  “I did good. Go ahead and say it, Barrons,” I encouraged. “I did good, didn’t I?” Not only could I sense the Sinsar Dubh, apparently I could sense all Fae Objects of Power—or OOPs for short, as I would soon be calling them—and I was darned proud of myself for how neatly I’d purloined my first.

  We’d returned to the bookstore at just slightly under the speed of light, and were now seated in the rear conversation area where he was examining the spoils of my novice kill.

  “Short of leaving your calling card on the table for all to see, Ms. Lane,” he said, turning the elaborate box in his hands, “which was beyond idiotic, I suppose one could say at least you didn’t get yourself killed. Yet. ”

  I snorted. But I suspected damned by faint praise was probably the best anyone ever got from Jericho Barrons. When we’d smoked to a stop in the middle of the road—not nearly far enough from Mallucé’s lair—and I’d confessed to having left a few personal items behind, he’d jammed the Porsche into gear again and we’d raced the moon back to the city.

  “I didn’t have a choice,” I said for the umpteenth time. “I told you, I couldn’t fit it in my purse otherwise. ” I glared at him but he had eyes only for the OOP, which he was trying to figure out how to open. “Next time I’ll know better and just leave it,” I said crossly. “Would that make you happier?”

  He glanced up, his dark gaze dripping icy Old World hauteur. “That’s not what I meant, Ms. Lane, and you know it. ”

  I imitated his expression and shot it back at him. “Then don’t berate me for doing something the only way it could be done, Barrons. I couldn’t figure out a way to smuggle it out beneath my skirt, and I could hardly stuff it down my bra. ”

  His gaze flicked to my chest and stayed there a moment.

  When he returned his attention to the box, I caught my breath and stared blankly at the top of his dark head. Barrons had just given me the most carnal, sexually charged, hungry look I’d ever seen in my life, and I was pretty sure he didn’t even know he’d done it. My breasts felt hot and flushed and my mouth was suddenly uncomfortably dry. Jericho Barrons might be only seven or eight years older than me, and he might be what most women would consider extremely attractive in a dark, forbidding way, but he and I came from different worlds; we didn’t see life the same way. Gazelles didn’t lie down with lions, at least not unbloodied and alive. After a long, puzzled moment, I shook my head, thrust the inexplicable look from my mind—there was simply no room for it in my reality—and employed a swift change of subject.

 
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