Darkfever, p.15
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       Darkfever, p.15

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
 
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  My thought bounced back to V’lane. What if the Fae was lying and was actually an Unseelie, working to free more of his brethren to prey upon my world? And if it was telling the truth, why did the Seelie Queen want the book containing “the deadliest of all magic”? What did Aoibheal plan to do with it, and how had this highly sought-after book gotten lost in the first place?

  Who could I trust? Where could I turn?

  Had Alina known any of what I was learning? Had she been to McCabe’s and Mallucé’s? What had happened to her when she’d first arrived in Dublin all those months ago? Whatever it was—when it had begun—she’d found it exciting. Had she met a man who’d dragged her into this dark underworld, as I had? Had she met a Fae who seduced her into it? He’s been lying to me all along, she’d said. He’s one of them. By “them” had she meant “Fae”? “Oh God,” I whispered, stunned by the thought. Had Alina thought she was in love with a Fae? Had it wooed her, used her? Had she been an OOP-detector, too? And a Null, like me?

  Was I unwittingly following the same steps she’d taken, down the same path to the same eventual destination—death?

  I mentally tallied everyone that was looking for the Sinsar Dubh: There was Barrons, McCabe, Mallucé, V’lane, and according to V’lane, the Seelie Queen, and from the presence of the Unseelie watchdogs at McCabe’s and Mallucé’s, at least one big, bad Unseelie that might or might not be called the Lord Master. Why? What were all these, er . . . people, for lack of a better word, after? Did they all want it for the same reason? And if so, what was that reason?

  Page 55

 

  We can’t let them have it, Alina had said of the Sinsar Dubh. “Gee, sis, could you have been a little more specific?” I muttered. “Who shouldn’t get it?” Even if by some fluke of fate I found the darn thing, not only would I probably not be able to touch it, according to Barrons, I wouldn’t have any idea what to do with it.

  I sighed. I had nothing but questions and nobody to ask. I was thick in the middle of people who guarded secrets and pursued hidden agendas as naturally as they lived and breathed and—probably—killed. Just look at the “men” I’d met in the past week: McCabe, Mallucé, V’lane, Barrons. Not a normal one among them. Not a safe one in the bunch. A lamb in a city of wolves, Barrons had called me shortly after we’d met. Which one will take you down, I wonder?

  Secrets. Everyone had secrets. Alina had taken hers to the grave. I had no doubt that trying to ask V’lane questions when I saw the Fae again—I wasn’t stupid enough to think it was done with me—would be an exercise in futility. The alleged prince might answer me, but I was only an OOP-detector, not a lie detector. And Barrons was no better. As Fiona’s little dispute with him revealed, he was keeping secrets, too, and I was somehow in even more danger than I already knew.

  That was a cheerful thought. As of this morning I’d pretty much figured out that any time I walked out the door I was taking my life in my own hands, but apparently I was in danger while I was here, too.

  God, I was homesick! I missed my life. I missed The Brickyard. I missed Saturday night closes with my bartending buddies. I missed our obligatory three A. M. Huddle House stop for pancakes, where we’d try to unwind enough to sleep before dawn and, in the summer, plan what lake to meet at later that day.

  We’ll be seeing Roark O’Bannion tomorrow, Ms. Lane, Barrons had told me through my locked and barricaded door when he’d climbed four flights to chew my head off. He’s the third big player on the field. Among other things, he owns O’Bannion’s, a posh bar in downtown Dublin. It’s Old World with wealthy clientele. As you seem to have a problem dressing yourself, Fiona will fetch you appropriate attire. Do not leave the bookstore again without me, Ms. Lane.

  It was three in the morning before I slept, and when I did, it was with the closet door wide open, and every single light in the bedroom and adjoining bathroom ablaze.

  FIFTEEN

  Roark “Rocky” O’Bannion had been born Irish Catholic, dirt-poor, and with genes that would give him the strength, stamina, and body of a prizefighter before his eighteenth birthday.

  With his looks, some would call him Black Irish, but it wasn’t Spanish or Melungeon blood in his veins, it was an unspoken-of Saudi ancestor that had bequeathed something fierce, dark, and ruthless to the O’Bannion line.

  Born in a city controlled by two feuding Irish crime families—the Hallorans and O’Kierneys—Roark O’Bannion fought his way to the top in the ring, but it wasn’t enough for the ambitious champ; he hungered for more. One night, when Rocky was twenty-eight years old, the Halloran and O’Kierney linchpins, every son, grandson, and pregnant woman in their families were killed. Twenty-seven people died that night, gunned down, blown up, poisoned, knifed, or strangled. The city had never seen anything like it. A group of flawlessly choreographed killers had closed in all over the city, at restaurants, homes, hotels, and clubs, and struck simultaneously.

  Horrific, most said. Bloody brilliant, some said. Good riddance, nearly all said, including the cops. The very next day, when a suddenly wealthy Rocky O’Bannion, champion boxer and many a young boy’s idol, retired from the ring to take over control of various businesses in and around Dublin previously run by the Hallorans and O’Kierneys, he was hailed by the working-class poor—whose hope and bank accounts were as tiny as their TV’s and dreams were big—as a hero, despite the fresh and obvious blood on his hands, and the rough pack of ex-boxers and thugs he brought with him.

  That he was a “damned fine-looking man” didn’t hurt any. Rocky was considered quite the charmer and ladies’ man, but one with a fine point of honor that endeared him to his faithful; he didn’t sleep with other men’s wives. Ever. The man who had no respect for life, limb, or law, respected the sacrament of marriage.

  Did I mention he was Irish Catholic? A joke around the city was that the young O’Bannion had missed school the day the priest had given the sermon about the Ten Commandments, and on makeup day little Rocky only got the short list: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife—but everything else is up for grabs.

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  Despite the colorful background Barrons had given me on our soon-to-be third host—and unsuspecting victim, as I was coming to think of them—I would still find myself unprepared for the dichotomies that were Rocky O’Bannion.

  “Uh, Barrons,” I said. “I really don’t think stealing from this guy is a very good idea. ” I’d seen my share of mafia movies. You didn’t march up to the Godfather and rip him off—and expect to survive for very long afterward, anyway. I already had too many scary things after me.

  “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it, Ms. Lane,” he replied.

  I glanced over at him. My life was so surreal. Tonight Barrons had selected a 1975 Lamborghini Countach, one of only three “Wolf” Countachs ever made, from his absurd collection.

  “I think the expression is cross that bridge, Barrons, not torch it. What do you want—every freak, vampire, Fae, and mafia don in the city hunting me down? How many different ways do you think I can do my hair? I refuse to be a redhead. I draw the line there. As much as I like color, I have no desire to paint my head orange. ”

  He laughed. Unguarded humor was such a rare expression to see on that chiseled, urbane face that I blinked, staring.

  “Funny, Ms. Lane,” he said. Then he added, “Would you like to drive?”

  “Huh?” I gaped. What was wrong with him? Ever since I’d come down at shortly after eleven, wearing Fiona’s disturbing dress—when I’d first slipped it over my head I’d waited a few seconds to see if it was laced with some awful poison that would make me itch my skin off—he’d been acting like this, and I just didn’t get it. He seemed . . . well . . . playful, for lack of a better word. In high spirits. Almost drunk, though with a clear head. If he were any other man, I might have suspected him of substance abuse, of being coked up or something. But Barrons was too much a puri
st for that; his drugs were money, power, and control.

  Still, he was so electrically alive tonight that the air around him seemed to crackle and hiss.

  “Just kidding,” he said.

  And that was out of character, too. Jericho Barrons didn’t indulge in humor. “That wasn’t nice. I’ve dreamed of driving a C-c—Lamborghini. ”

  “Can’t say Countach, Ms. Lane?” With his unplaceable accent, Kuhn-tah came out sounding even more foreign.

  “Can,” I said irritably. “Won’t. Mom taught me better. ”

  He slanted me a sideways look. “And why is that, Ms. Lane?”

  “Cussing in any language is still cussing,” I said primly. I knew what Countach meant. My dad was the one that got me addicted to fast cars. I’d been a little girl of seven when he’d begun dragging me from one Exotic Car Show to the next, in lieu of a son to share his passion with. Over the years we’d developed a deep bond over our love of all things fast and shiny. The Italian Countach was the near equivalent of “holy fucking cow” in English, which was exactly how I felt every time I saw one, but that was still no reason to say it out loud. If I managed to hold on to nothing else in the midst of the insanity my life had become, at least I could maintain my dignity and decorum.

  “You seem to know your cars, Ms. Lane,” Barrons murmured.

  “Some,” I said modestly. It was the only thing modest about me at the moment. We’d just begun crossing the first of two sets of railroad tracks and my bosom jiggled in—or rather mostly out—of my revealing dress like it was made of molded Jell-O. Okay, so sometimes I could maintain my dignity and decorum. At other times, it seemed half of Dublin was going to see my breasts up close and personal; although I did derive some comfort from the thought that when I’d done my impromptu strip for the death-by-sex Fae yesterday, I was pretty certain no one else had seen me, thanks to the glamour it had been throwing.

  We were about to hit the second set of tracks, so I folded my arms in an attempt to hold myself still. As we crossed them, I could feel the weight of Barrons’ gaze on my bosom, the heat of it, and I knew without even looking that he had that raw, hungry look on his face again. I refused to glance his way, and we rode for several miles in silence, with him using up entirely too much room in the car, and a weird tension eating up what little space there was between us.

  “Seen the new Gallardo Spyder?” I blurted finally.

  “No,” he said instantly. “Why don’t you tell me about it, Ms. Lane?” The playful edge in his voice was gone; it was guttural, tight.

  I pretended not to notice and began waxing poetical about the V-10 with its razor-sharp lines and 512 horses that, although it couldn’t beat the Porsche 911 turbo in a zero-to-sixty speed test, it still packed a flashy, muscular punch, and before I knew it, we were pulling up in front of O’Bannion’s and waiting while valets cleared space for us between a Maybach sedan and a limo. They were human, not Rhino-boys, which made for a nice change.

  Page 57

 

  I confess I left fingerprints on the Maybach. I had to pet it as I walked by, if only to be able to tell Dad I’d touched one. If I’d been living another life, one where Alina hadn’t been killed and I wasn’t currently up to my neck in nightmares, I would have rung him up on my cell phone right then and there and described the twin-turbo, V-12, 57S touring sedan “for those who want to drive their own Maybach,” right down to the interior trim done in black piano-lacquer finish that gleamed in exquisite contrast to an abundance of creamy leather. He would have excitedly demanded more details—and couldn’t I go to the nearest drugstore and buy a disposable camera or ten?

  But Alina had been killed, my parents were still off the deep end, and calling Dad right now would have served no purpose. I knew, because I’d called home earlier, after I’d finished getting dressed. Ten-forty-five Dublin time was still early evening in Georgia. I’d sat on the edge of my borrowed bed, staring down at stockings that were hooked to an embarrassment of a garter belt, spiky high heels, and the egg-size blood-red ruby nestled between my breasts, and wondered what I was becoming.

  Dad had been drunk when he’d answered. I’d not heard him drunk in years. Six and a half, to be exact. Not since his brother had died on the way to his own wedding, leaving his bride-to-be a pregnant widow and my dad standing at the altar, best man to a dead man. I’d hung up as soon as I’d heard Dad’s deeply slurred voice, unable to deal with it. I needed a rock—not to have to be one for someone else.

  “Wits about you, Ms. Lane,” Barrons cautioned, close to my ear, jerking me from the dark place I’d been about to get lost in. “You’ll need them here. ” With his left arm around my waist, his right hand on my shoulder, fingers lightly brushing the swell of my breast, he steered me toward the entrance, locking gazes with any man brave or stupid enough to let his gaze dip below my eyes, holding it until the man looked away. He could not have more clearly branded me his possession.

  As soon as we entered the bar, I understood. That was what the women were here: beautiful, impeccably waxed, coifed and groomed, softly laughing, brightly dazzling possessions. Trophies. They weren’t people in and of themselves, but reflections upon their men. As tightly guarded as they were lavishly cosseted, they sparkled and shined like glittering diamonds, showing the world what successes their husbands were, what giants among men.

  Rainbow Mac would have been as out of place here as a porcupine in a petting zoo. I straightened my spine, held my head high, and pretended that two-thirds of my supple young body wasn’t exposed by the short, sleek black dress with the bare back and plunging neckline.

  Barrons was known here. As we passed, nods were exchanged and greetings were murmured, and all was soft and lovely at O’Bannion’s, if you were careful not to notice the steel every man in the room was packing.

  I leaned close to whisper my next question up at Barrons’ ear; even with heels on, he was a head taller than me. “Do you have a gun on you somewhere?” I really hoped he did.

  His lips quirked, brushing my hair when he replied, “A gun would only get you killed faster in a place like this, Ms. Lane. Don’t worry, I don’t plan to piss anyone off. ” He nodded to a short, cigar-chomping, enormously fat man with a beautiful woman on each mammoth arm. “Not yet, anyway,” he murmured after we’d passed.

  We took a booth in back where he ordered dinner and drinks for both of us.

  “How do you know I like my steak medium-well?” I demanded. “Or that I wanted a Caesar salad? You didn’t even ask. ”

  “Look around and learn, Ms. Lane. There’s not a waiter in here that will take an order from a woman. At O’Bannion’s, you eat what is chosen for you, whether you like it or not. Welcome to a time gone by, Ms. Lane, when men provided and women accepted. And if they didn’t like it, they pretended they did. ”

  Wow. And I’d thought the Deep South was bad. Fortunately, I liked my steak anywhere from rare to medium-well, could eat just about any kind of salad, and was thrilled to have someone else springing for an expensive meal, so I made short work of it. All I’d eaten today was two bowls of cereal, and I was starved. When I finished, I saw Barrons’ plate was still nearly full and raised a brow.

  He pushed it toward me. “I ate earlier,” he said.

  “So why’d you order, then?” I asked as daintily as I could around a bite of rare filet mignon.

  “You don’t go to an O’Bannion business and not spend money,” Barrons said.

  Page 58

  “Sounds like he’s got a lot of stupid rules,” I muttered.

  Just then a barrel of a man with big-knuckled hands, a flattened nose, and cauliflowered ears approached. “Good to see you again, Mr. Barrons. Mr. O’Bannion invites you and your companion to drop by the back and say hello. ”

  It wasn’t really an invitation and no one pretended it was. Barrons rose immediately, collected me, tucked me into his body again, and steered me along behind the bat
tered ex-boxer as if, without guidance, I might blindly bounce off walls, a short-circuited Stepford Wife.

  I was going to be really glad to get out of this place.

  “By the back” meant another building quite some distance behind the pub. We got there underground, following O’Bannion’s man through the kitchens, down a long flight of stairs, and into a well-lit, damp stone tunnel. As we hurried past openings to more tunnels that were either blocked up with stone and concrete or sealed by heavily padlocked steel doors, Barrons murmured close to my ear, “In some parts of Dublin, there’s another city beneath the city. ”

  “Creepy,” I muttered, as we ascended another long flight of stairs.

  I guess I was expecting something out of a movie: a pack of dissolute, heavy-jowled men crammed into a smoke-filled room, gathered around a table, wearing sweat-stained shirts and gun holsters, chewing cigars and playing high-stakes poker, with centerfolds of naked women tacked to the walls.

  What I got was a dozen or so well-dressed men talking quietly in a spacious, handsomely appointed room of mahogany and leather, and the only woman on the walls here was the Madonna and Child. But the Madonna wasn’t alone; the august room was virtually wallpapered with religious icons. Interspersed with built-in bookcases graced by a collection of Bibles that I suspected might make even the Pope covetous, hung crucifixes of silver, gold, wood, and even one of those glow-in-the-dark plastic ones. Behind a stately desk hung a series of twelve paintings depicting Christ’s last moments. Over the fireplace was a reproduction of The Last Supper. At the far end of the room were two prayer shrines covered with brightly flickering candles, flanking a larger shrine that held an elaborate antique reliquary containing heavens only knew what—perhaps the tooth or heel bone of some obscure saint. A powerfully built, dark-haired man stood before the ancient religious chasses, his back to us.

  I pretended to stumble at the threshold of the door. Barrons caught me. “Oops,” I said meaningfully. Though we’d not agreed on a code, I thought saying OOPs was pretty clear. I was telling him there was an Object of Power somewhere nearby. Not in this room, but close. From the sudden acid in my stomach that seemed to be boiling up through the soles of my feet, I suspected whatever it was lay directly beneath us, in Barrons’ “city beneath the city. ”

 
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