Darkfever, p.18
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       Darkfever, p.18

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
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  Fiona arrived at eleven-fifty to open the bookstore. By mid-afternoon, the day had turned overcast, drizzly, and cold, so I flipped on the gas logs in the fireplace in the rear conversation area, curled up with some fashion magazines, and watched the customers come and go, wondering what kind of lives they had and why I couldn’t have one like that, too.

  Fiona chatted brightly with everyone but me and rang up orders until eight o’clock on the dot, when she locked up the store and left.

  Mere hours after its urbane owner had killed sixteen men, all was business as usual at Barrons Books and Baubles again, which begged the question: Who was the stone-colder killer—the overzealous ex-boxer turned mobster, or the car-collecting bookstore owner?

  The mobster was dead. The very-much-alive bookstore owner stepped in from the rain, a little later than usual but no worse for the wear, at half past nine that night. After relocking the front door, he stopped at the cash register to check on notes Fiona had left him about two special orders placed that day, then joined me, taking an armchair opposite my perch on the sofa. His blood-red silk shirt was splattered with rain and molded to his hard body like a damp second skin. Black trousers clung to his long muscular legs, and he was wearing black boots that had wicked-looking silver toes and heels. He had on that heavy silver Celtic wrist cuff again that made me think of arcane chants and ancient stone circles, complemented by a black-and-silver torque at his throat. He radiated his usual absurd amount of energy and dark, carnal heat.

  I looked him straight in the eye, and he gazed straight back at me, and neither of us said a word. He didn’t say, I’m sure you saw the cars out back, Ms. Lane and I didn’t say, You cold-blooded bastard, how could you? And he didn’t counter with, You’re alive, aren’t you? So I didn’t remind him that he’d been the one to jeopardize my life to begin with. I have no idea how long we sat there like that, but we had a complete conversation with our eyes. There was knowledge in Jericho Barrons’ gaze, a bottomless pit of it. In fact, for a moment, I imagined I saw The Tree Itself in there, smothered with delicious, shiny red apples just begging to be eaten, but it was only a reflection of flames and crimson silk on irises so dark they served as a black mirror.

  There was one thing we hadn’t covered in our wordless communiqué that I just had to know. “Did you even think twice, Barrons? Did you feel any hesitation at all?” When he didn’t answer, I pressed, “For just a few moments, did you wonder about their families? Or worry that maybe one of them was a last-minute substitute who’d never done anything worse in his life than steal some kid’s lunch in fourth grade?” If eyes were daggers, mine would have killed. These were all things I’d been thinking about throughout the long day; that somewhere out there were wives and children whose husbands and fathers were never coming home again, who would never know what had happened to them. Should I gather their personal effects—minus their ghastly remains—and ship them anonymously to the police department? I understood the grim comfort of knowing for a fact that Alina was dead, of having seen her body and laid her in the ground. If she’d simply disappeared, I’d have gone through every day of the rest of my life driven by an unquenchable, desperate hope, searching every face in every crowd, wondering if she was alive out there somewhere. Praying she wasn’t in the hands of some psycho.

  Page 67

 

  “Tomorrow,” said Barrons, “you’ll go to The National Museum. ”

  I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath, hoping for an answer that might assuage some of the guilt I’d been stewing in, until it came out in a derisive snort. Typical Barrons. Ask for an answer—get an order. “What happened to ‘You will remain here until I return, Ms. Lane?’” I mocked. “What about Mallucé and his men? Have you forgotten about that little problem?” O’Bannion might be gone, and I might have a way of protecting myself from the Fae, but there was still one very pissed-off vampire on the loose out there.

  “Mallucé was summoned away last night by someone whose orders he apparently could not, or would not, refuse. His followers expect him to be gone for several days, perhaps as long as a week,” said Barrons.

  My battered spirits lifted a little. That meant, for a few days at least, I could venture out into the city and move about almost like a normal person again, with only the Fae to worry about. I wanted to go back to Alina’s apartment and decide just how much damage I was willing to inflict on it to further my search for her journal, I wanted to buy more snacks for my room in case I got stuck up there again, and I’d been itching to pick up a cheap SoundDock for my iPod. Earbuds were fast becoming a thing of my past; I was turning into too paranoid a person to stand not being able to hear the approach of whatever might jeopardize my life next. But at least I could listen to music in my room if I had a SoundDock, and since I was saving money by not paying for a room anymore, I’d neatly justified the purchase. “Why am I going to the museum?”

  “I want you to scour it for OOPs, as you call them. I’ve long wondered if there are Fae artifacts being hidden in plain view, catalogued as something else. Now that I have you, I can test that theory. ”

  “Don’t you know what all the OOPs are, and what they look like?” I asked.

  He shook his head. “If only it were that simple. But not even the Fae themselves recall all their own relics. ” He gave a short, dark laugh. “I suspect it comes from living too long. Why bother to remember or keep track of things? Why care? You live today. You’ll live tomorrow. Humans die. The world changes. You don’t. Details, Ms. Lane,” he said, “go the way of emotions in time. ”

  I blinked. “Huh?”

  “The Fae, Ms. Lane,” he said. “They aren’t like humans. Extraordinary longevity has made them something else. You must never forget that. ”

  “Believe me,” I said, “I wasn’t about to mistake them for human. I know they’re monsters. Even the pretty ones. ”

  His eyes narrowed. “The pretty ones, Ms. Lane? I thought all the ones you’d seen so far were ugly. Is there something you’re not telling me?”

  I’d almost slipped about V’lane, a topic I had no desire to discuss with Barrons. Until I knew who I could trust—if anyone—and how far, I would keep my own counsel about some things. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” I countered coolly. How dare he poke at me for keeping secrets when he was chock-full of them? I didn’t bother trying to hide that I was trying to hide something. I just used one of his methods on him—evasion by counterquestion.

  We had another of those wordless communiqués, this time about truths and deceptions and bluffs and calling people on them, and I was getting better at reading him because I saw the very moment Barrons decided pushing me wasn’t worth giving up anything himself.

  “Try to wrap the museum up as quickly as possible,” he said. “After you’ve finished there, we’ve a list of places longer than your arm in and about Ireland to search for the remaining stones and the Sinsar Dubh. ”

  “Oh God, this is my life now, isn’t it?” I exclaimed. “You expect me to just trudge around from place to place as you select them, with my nose pressed to the ground, sniffing out OOPs for you, don’t you?”

  “Have you changed your mind about trying to find the Sinsar Dubh, Ms. Lane?”

  “Of course not. ”

  “Do you know where to look yourself?”

  I scowled. We both knew I didn’t.

  “Don’t you think the surest way to find both the Dark Book and your sister’s killer is to immerse yourself in the very world that killed her?”

  Of course I did. I’d thought of that all by myself last week. “So long as that world doesn’t kill me first,” I said. “And it certainly seems to be trying its darnedest. ”

  Page 68

 

  He smiled faintly. “I don’t think you understand, Ms. Lane. I won’t let it kill you. No matter what. ” He stood and walked across the room. As he opened the door, he shot over his shoulder, “And one d
ay you will thank me for it. ”

  Was he kidding? I was supposed to thank him for staining my hands with blood? “I don’t think so, Barrons,” I told him, but the door had already swung closed and he’d disappeared into the rainy Dublin night.

  EIGHTEEN

  Shades: perhaps my greatest enemy among the Fae, I wrote in my journal.

  Dropping my pen between the pages, I checked my watch again; still ten more minutes to go until the museum opened. I’d had bad dreams last night, and I’d been so eager to get out of the bookstore and into the sunny morning, to go do something touristy and refreshingly normal, that I hadn’t thought to check what time the museum opened. After stopping for coffee and a scone, I’d still arrived a half an hour early and was one of many people milling outside, standing in groups or waiting on benches near the domed entrance of the Museum of Archaeology and History on Kildare Street.

  I’d managed to snag a bench for myself and was making good use of my extra time by updating recent events in my notebook and summarizing what I’d learned. My obsession with finding Alina’s journal was shaping what and how I chose to write in my own: about everything, and in great detail. Hindsight was twenty-twenty and you never knew what clues someone else might be able to pick up on in your life that you were blinded to by living it. If anything happened to me, I wanted to leave behind the best possible record I could, in case someone else would take up my cause—although frankly, I couldn’t imagine anyone who would—and I hoped Alina had done the same.

  I picked up my pen.

  According to Barrons, I wrote, the Shades lack substance, which means I can neither freeze nor stab them. It appears I have no defense against this low-level caste of Unseelie.

  The irony was not lost on me. The Shades were the most base of their kind, barely sentient, yet—despite the spearhead in my purse (tip securely cased in a wad of foil) allegedly capable of killing even the most powerful shark in the Fae sea—I was still helpless against the bottom-feeders.

  Well, I was just going to have to stay off the bottom, then, and arm myself tooth and nail with what did work against them. I jotted a quick addition to a shopping list I’d been compiling: several dozen flashlights in varying sizes. I would begin carrying two or more on me at all times and scatter the rest around the bookstore, in every corner of every room, bracing for the horrifying possibility that the power might, one night, go out. Despite the bright morning sun, I shivered, just thinking about it. I’d not been able to get the Shades off my mind ever since yesterday when I’d discovered those piles of clothing collapsed around their papery remains.

  Why do they leave clothing behind? I’d asked Barrons when I’d passed him in the rear hall, late last night on my way to bed. The man was a serious night owl. At my tender age—in my defense, I’d like to point out that I’ve had a very stressful life lately—I’d been bleary-eyed and exhausted by one in the morning, yet he’d looked disgustingly energized and awake, and in high spirits again. I knew my question was hardly important in the overall scheme of things, but sometimes it’s the tiniest, insignificant details that nag at my curiosity the most.

  In the same way the Gray Man hungers for beauty that will never be his, Ms. Lane, Barrons had said, the Shades are drawn to steal that which they can never possess as well: A physical manifestation of life. So they take ours and leave behind what has no animation. Clothing is inert.

  Well, what are those papery things? I’d asked, gripped by a revolting fascination. I’m assuming they’re parts of us, but which ones?

  Morbid tonight, are we, Ms. Lane? How would I know? Barrons’ shrug was a Gallic ripple of muscle beneath crimson silk. Perhaps condensed skin, bones, teeth, toenails and such, sucked dry of life. Or perhaps our brains are unpalatable to them. Maybe they taste like frog, Ms. Lane, and Shades hate frog.

  “Ugh,” I muttered, as I scribbled the gist of our nocturnal conversation on a new page.

  While I was finishing up, there was a sudden mass exodus around me, and I glanced up at the now-open doors of the museum. Tucking my journal carefully into my purse so it didn’t hamper easy access to my spearhead, I slung my bag over my shoulder and rose, pleased to realize I was barely registering the nausea caused by such close contact with the OOP. I was determined to carry the thing with me everywhere, so I’d forced myself to sleep with it last night, hoping the more contact I had with it, the less disturbing I would find it over time. It seemed to be working.

  Page 69

 

  My mood perked up as I stepped into the grand rotunda entrance. I’ve always liked museums. I should probably pretend it’s because I’m so erudite and scholarly and love to learn, but the truth is I just love shiny, pretty things, and from what I’d heard about this place, it was packed full. I couldn’t wait to see them.

  Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to get very far.

  One day I would stop taking off my clothes in V’lane’s presence, but the cost of that resistance would be a piece of my soul.

  Today, here and now, strolling through the National Museum of Archaeology and History, dazzled and delighted by the Ór exhibit, a treasure trove of Ireland’s gold, I had no idea that pieces of one’s soul could be lost.

  Back then, I was so blind to everything that was going on around me. Back then, I was twenty-two and pretty and up until the month before, my biggest concern had been whether Revlon would discontinue my favorite Iceberry Pink nail polish, which would be a disaster of epic proportions as it would leave me without the perfect complement for the short pink silk skirt I was wearing today with a clingy pearly top, and shimmery gold sandals, flattered by just the right heel to show off my golden, toned legs. A polished pearl-drop necklace swung between my full breasts, matching earrings and a pearl bracelet at my wrist gave me just the right look of youthful glam. My Arabian Night curls were soft around my face and I was turning more than a few male heads. I notched my chin a bit higher and smiled inside. Ah, the simple pleasures in life . . .

  A few display cases down, over by the stairs, a really cute guy was checking me out. He was tall, athletically built, with short dark hair, great skin, and the dreamiest blue eyes ever. He looked to be about my age, maybe a few years older—a college student, I was willing to bet—and he was exactly the kind of guy I’d have gone out with back home. He gave me an appreciative nod and a smile, making his interest plain. Distinguish yourself, my mom had told Alina and me, in an age where girls often make themselves too available to boys, by making him work a little for your attention. He’ll think he’s won a prize when he gets it, and he’ll work that much harder to keep it. Boys turn into men and men put a premium on what’s hardest to get.

  Have I mentioned what a wise woman my mother is? My dad is still head over heels for her after thirty years, still thinks the sun rises and sets on Rainey Lane’s head, and if one day she didn’t get out of bed, neither would the morning. And neither would he. Alina and I never lacked for love, but we always knew our parents loved each other a little bit more. We found it disgusting and, at the same time, reassuring that they never stopped locking us out of the bedroom at the weirdest times of day, sometimes twice in the same day. We’d roll our eyes at each other, but in a world where the divorce rate is more alarming than oil prices, their ongoing love affair was our Rock of Gibraltar.

  I started to give the guy a demure smile, but the moment my lips began to curve, they froze. Why bother? It wasn’t as if dating was something I could schedule neatly in, right between vampires, life-sucking Fae, mobsters, and OOP-detecting. Would he come pick me up at Barrons for our date? Gee, what if my enigmatic and cold-blooded host chose that night to turn off the outside lights again?

  Bye-bye cute boy, hello pile of clothes.

  That thought iced the blood in my veins. I stepped up my pace and left the boy behind in a hurry. Continuing through the exhibit, I focused on my recently discovered raison d’être, stretching my Spidey-sense in all directions, wai
ting for a tingle.

  I got nothing.

  I moved through room after room, past artifact after relic, display after display, without getting the faintest twinge of nausea. I was, however, getting a few other twinges. Apparently the cute boy had stirred up my hormones, because I was suddenly having downright kinky thoughts about him and wondering if he had a brother. Or two. Maybe even three.

  That was so not me. I’m a one-man woman. Even in my fantasies I go for good old-fashioned steamy sex, not multi-partnered porn. A particularly graphic image of cute boy plus brothers swam up in my mind and I nearly staggered from the raw eroticism of it. I shook my head sharply, and reminded myself what I was doing here: looking for OOPs—not orgiastic, mindless sex.

  I’d nearly given up hope of encountering anything of interest when my gaze was drawn to a scrap of pink silk and lace lying on the floor a few feet away to my left, back in the direction from which I’d come.

  I couldn’t help but think how pretty it was and walked back over toward it, to see what it was.

  My cheeks flamed. Of course I’d liked it.

  Page 70

 

  It was my panties.

  I snatched them up and performed a hasty inventory of myself.

  Skirt, check. Shirt, check. Bra on, good. Thank you, God. Apart from the draft on my bare bottom, and the excruciatingly painful state of arousal I was in, I seemed to be okay. Apparently I’d gone straight to the panties, reached beneath my skirt, slipped them off, and continuing walking without even noticing. If I weren’t so enamored of pink, if I weren’t so into fashion, I might have continued blithely disrobing, thinking all kinds of happy, horny thoughts, until I’d have been strolling the museum naked. As it was, I’d been sidetracked by the vision of my own good taste lying there on the floor. I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or appalled by how shallow I was.

  “Where are you?” I snapped, stepping back into my panties and smoothing my skirt down over my hips. Though I stood in the middle of a large room full of people exclaiming over various treasures, not one person was paying me the slightest bit of attention. There was no doubt in my mind what had just brought me to such an intense, base state of sexual arousal that I’d begun subconsciously stripping.

 
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