Darkfever, p.21
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       Darkfever, p.21

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
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  Fortunately, my sidhe-seer instincts kicked in and I slammed both hands into its chest as it lifted me into the air.

  Unfortunately, it froze exactly like that, with its hand in my hair, and me dangling. Fact of some significance: I have arms of normal human length. My spear was in my purse. My purse was on the sidewalk, a foot below my feet.

  Page 78

 

  “Barrons,” I hissed desperately. “Where are you?”

  “Unbelievable,” a dry voice said above me. “Of all the potential scenarios I’d envisioned, this was not one of them. ”

  I tried to look up but aborted the painful effort and clamped both my hands to my head instead. What was he doing on the roof? For that matter, how had he gotten on the roof? I didn’t recall passing any convenient ladders. And wasn’t that building two stories high? “Hurry, it hurts!” I cried. I knew how lucky I was that he was there. If I’d gotten into this predicament by myself, I would have had to tear the hair out of my skull to escape, and frankly, I wasn’t sure that could even be done. I have really strong hair and it was holding a huge handful of it. “Come on, hurry! Get my purse! I don’t know how long it’ll stay frozen. ”

  Barrons dropped to the sidewalk in front of me with a soft thud of boots hitting stone, his long black coat billowing out around him. “You probably should have thought about that before you froze it, Ms. Lane,” he said coolly.

  Hanging as I was put me eye-to-eye with him. I transferred my grip from my scalp to the Gray Man’s immobilized arm and used all my strength to take some of the weight off my hair. “Can we talk about this after you’ve gotten me down?” I gritted.

  He crossed his arms over his chest. “You wouldn’t be having an after if I weren’t here to save you. Let’s talk about where you went wrong, shall we?”

  It wasn’t a question, but I tried to answer it anyway. “I’d rather not just now. ”

  “One: It was obvious you didn’t expect it to sift in on you and you weren’t prepared for it. Your spear was down at your side. Your purse should have been up and you should have been ready to stab the Gray Man through it. ”

  “Okay, I messed up. Can I have my purse now?”

  “Two: You let go of your weapon. Never let go of your weapon. I don’t care if you have to wear fat-clothes and strap it to your body beneath them. Never let go of your weapon. ”

  I nodded, but not really. I couldn’t move my head that much. “Got it. Had it the first time you said it. Now can I have my purse?”

  “Three: You didn’t think before you acted. Your greatest advantage in any one-on-one battle with a Fae is that it doesn’t know you’re a Null. Unfortunately, this one does now. ”

  He retrieved my purse—finally—and I reached for it with both hands but he held it beyond my grasp. I clamped my hands back on the Gray Man’s arm. I was getting a headache the size of Texas. I tried to kick him but he sidestepped it easily. Jericho Barrons had those kind of flawless reflexes that I’ve only ever seen before in professional athletes. Or animals.

  “Never freeze a Fae, Ms. Lane, unless you are absolutely, one-hundred-percent sure you can kill it before it unfreezes again. Because this one”—he tapped the rigid Unseelie coat hanger upon which I was draped—“is perfectly conscious even though it’s frozen, and the very instant it unfreezes it’s going to sift out with you. You’ll be gone before your brain even manages to process that it has unfrozen. Depending on where it takes you—you might materialize surrounded by dozens of its kind—you will be there, your spear will be here, and I won’t have any idea where to begin looking—”

  “Oh, for God’s sake, Barrons,” I exploded, kicking wildly in midair, “enough already! Will you just shut up and give me my purse?”

  Barrons glanced down at the spear, which was half-poking out of my purse, and plucked the ball of foil from the lethal tip. Then he leaned forward and got right in my face. Up close I could see how truly furious he was with me. The corners of his mouth and rims of his nostrils were white, and his dark eyes burned with anger. “Never get separated from this thing again. Do you understand me, Ms. Lane? You will eat with it, shower with it, sleep with it, fuck with it. ”

  I opened my mouth to tell him not only didn’t I have anyone I was currently doing that last thing with, I never called it that, and didn’t appreciate him calling it that, when my perspective changed abruptly. I’m not sure if the Gray Man began moving before Barrons stabbed it in the gut, or after, but something wet suddenly sprayed me, and it let go of my hair. I fell to my knees and got a face full of sidewalk.

  The Gray Man slumped next to me. I instantly backed away on my hands and knees. A deep wound in its abdomen oozed the same grayish-green stuff that I was revolted to discover was also on my shirt, my skirt, and my bare legs. The Unseelie looked from Barrons to the spearhead—half-wrapped in what used to be my favorite purse, and might still have been if not for the slime dripping all over it—its eyes blazing with disbelief, hatred, and rage.

  Page 79

 

  Though its wrath was for Barrons, it swung its head around and the last words it uttered were for me. “The Lord Master is back, you stupid bitch, and he’s going to do the same thing to you he did to the last pretty little sidhe-seer. You’ll wish you’d died at my hands. You’ll beg for death the same way she did. ”

  A few moments later, when Barrons gave me my purse back, even though I knew it was already dead, I pulled out the spear and stabbed it again anyway.

  TWENTY

  In the year since the day I got on a plane to fly to Dublin, determined to find my sister’s killer and bring him to justice, I’ve learned that you can discover just as much from what people don’t say to you, as what they do.

  It’s not enough to listen to their words. You have to mine their silences for buried ore. It’s often only in the lies we refuse to speak that any truth can be heard at all.

  Barrons disposed of the Gray Man’s body that night—I didn’t ask how. I just went back to the bookstore, took the longest, hottest shower of my life, and scrubbed my hair three times. Yes, I took the spear into the shower with me. I’d learned my lesson.

  The next day, I finished up at the museum without incident. No V’lane, no old woman, and not a single OOP in the entire place.

  For the first time since I’d been staying at the bookstore, Barrons didn’t make an appearance that night. I guessed he must have slipped out while I was upstairs, answering e-mails on my laptop. It was a Saturday, so I thought he might have a date and wondered where a man like him went on one. I couldn’t see him doing the movie-and-dinner routine. I wondered what kind of woman he went out with, then remembered the one from Casa Blanc. Out of sheer boredom, I imagined them having sex, but when the woman began looking more and more like me, I decided there were wiser ways to kill time.

  I spent the evening watching old movies by myself on a small TV that Fiona kept behind the counter in the bookstore, trying not to stare at the phone, or think too much.

  By Sunday morning, I was a wreck. Alone with too many questions and no one to talk to, I did what I’d sworn I wouldn’t do.

  I called home.

  Dad answered, as he had every time I’d called from Ireland. “Hi,” I said brightly, crossing my legs and twirling the phone cord around my finger. I was sitting on the comfy couch in the rear conversation area of the bookstore. “How’s it going?”

  We chatted halfheartedly for several minutes about the weather in Georgia and the weather in Dublin, before moving on to comparing and contrasting the food in Georgia to the food in Dublin, then he launched into a rambling diatribe that supposedly linked climates with high per-annum rainfall to dour personalities and, just when I was thinking he’d surely exhausted his run of banality and we could begin a real conversation, he started in on one of his favorite filler topics about which he’d been known to pontificate for hours: the ever-fluctuating price of gas in America and the ro
le the president was playing in our current economic woes.

  I almost burst into tears.

  Was this what we’d come to—stilted conversation between strangers? For twenty-two years this man had been my rock, my skinned-knee-kisser, my Little League coach, my fellow sports-car enthusiast, my teacher, and—although I knew I’d never been the most ambitious daughter—I hoped he counted me among his pride and joys. He’d lost a daughter and I’d lost a sister; couldn’t we manage to comfort each other somehow?

  I fidgeted with the phone cord, hoping he’d wind down but he didn’t, and finally, I could wait no longer. I wasn’t going to get anywhere with him. “Dad, can I talk to Mom?” I interrupted.

  I got his canned reply: She was sleeping and he didn’t want to disturb her because she so rarely did anything but toss and turn, despite all the medication she was on, and the doctor had said only time and rest could help her heal, and he wanted his wife back, and didn’t I want my mother? So we should both let her rest.

  “I need to talk to Mom,” I insisted.

  There was no budging him. I think I get my stubbornness from him. We both dig our heels in and sprout roots if somebody tries to push us. “Is something wrong with her that you’re not telling me?” I asked.

  He sighed and it was such a sad, deeply exhausted sound that I suddenly knew if I saw him right now, he would look like he’d aged ten years in the two weeks since I’d left. “She’s a little out of her head with grief, Mac. She blames herself for what happened to Alina and there’s no reasoning with her about it,” he said.

  “How could she possibly blame herself for Alina’s death?” I exclaimed.

  Page 80

 

  “Because she let her go to Ireland in the first place,” he said tiredly, and I could tell it was a conversation he’d had with her a dozen times but made no headway. Maybe I get my stubbornness from both sides. Mom digs in, too.

  “That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying if I decided to take a cab somewhere and the cab wrecked, it was your fault. It was my choice to take the cab. You couldn’t know something would go wrong and neither could Mom. ”

  “Unless somebody warned us in the first place,” he said in a voice so low that I nearly missed it, and then I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.

  “Huh?” I said. “What did you say? Did somebody tell you not to let Alina go to Ireland? Oh, Dad, people are always full of gloom and doom! Everybody’s a prophet in retrospect. You can’t listen to them!” Though I love Ashford, we have our share of busybodies, and I could just see some of the nosier and less-kind inhabitants of the town gossiping in the grocery store, and not quietly, when my parents went by. Saying snide things like, Well, what did they expect—sending their daughter four thousand miles away by herself, anyway?

  Right on cue, Dad said, “What kind of parents let their daughter go four thousand miles away from home by herself?”

  “All kinds of parents let their kids study abroad,” I protested. “You can’t blame yourselves. ”

  “And now you’re gone, too. Come home, Mac. Don’t you like it here? Wasn’t it good? We always thought you and your sister were happy here,” he said.

  “We were!” I exclaimed. “I was! Then Alina got killed!”

  There was a weighty silence that I spent most of wishing I’d kept my big, fat mouth shut, then he said, “Let it go, Mac. Just walk away. Let it go. ”

  “What?” I was stunned. How could he say that? “You mean, come home and let the monster who did this to Alina just get away with it? Go on walking around out there to kill someone else’s daughter next?”

  “I don’t give a grand, glorious shit about anyone else’s daughter!”

  I flinched. In my entire life, I’d never heard my father cuss. If he did so at all, he did it in private, or beneath his breath.

  “I care about mine. Alina is dead. You’re not. Your mother needs you. I need you. Get on a plane. Pack up right now and come home, Mac!”

  I swear, I prefaced it a thousand different ways in my head; from a several sentence buildup, to a five-minute explanation and apology for what I was about to ask, but none of it came out. I opened my mouth, it stayed open, and I merely managed to breathe into the phone as I thought about all the things I could or should say, including just shutting up and never asking.

  I was in sixth grade when I learned about things like brown eyes and blue eyes, about dominant and recessive genes and what kind of parents make what kind of babies and then went home that night to look really hard at my mom and dad. I’d said nothing because Alina had green eyes just like me, so we were obviously family, and I’ve always had ostrich-tendencies; if I can wedge my head far enough down into the sand that I can’t see whatever’s staring at me, then it can’t see me, either, and no matter how people try to dispute it, perception is reality. It’s what you choose to believe that makes you the person you are. Eleven years ago, I chose to be a happy daughter in a happy family. I chose to fit, to belong, to feel safe and cherished right down to my deep, strong, proud southern roots. I chose to believe DNA theory was wrong. I chose to believe teachers didn’t always know what they were talking about and scientists might never understand all there was to know about the complexities of human physiology. I’d never discussed it with anyone. I’d never had to. I knew what I thought and that was enough. I’d barely squeaked by with a D in my high-school science requirement and I’d never taken another biology course since.

  “Dad, was I adopted?” I said.

  There was a soft explosion of air on the other end of the line, as if someone had hit Jack Lane in the stomach with a baseball bat.

  Say no, Daddy, say no, Daddy, say no.

  The silence stretched.

  I squeezed my eyes shut against the burn of tears. “Please, say something. ”

  There was another long, terrible silence, punctuated by a bone-deep sigh. “Mac, I can’t leave your mother right now. She can’t be alone. She’s too heavily medicated and unstable. After you left for Dublin, she . . . well, she just . . . fell apart. The best thing you can do right now for all of us is come home. Now. Tonight. ” He paused, then said carefully, “Baby, you are our daughter in every way. ”

  Page 81

 

  “Really?” My voice was kind of squeaky in the back of my throat. “Like birth? Am I your daughter that way too, Daddy?” I opened my eyes but they wouldn’t focus properly.

  “Stop it, Mac! I don’t know where this came from! What are you doing, bringing something like this up now? Come home!”

  “It doesn’t matter where it came from. It matters where it’s going. Tell me Alina and I weren’t adopted, Daddy,” I insisted. “Tell me that. Say it! Just say those words and we can end this conversation. That’s all you need to say. Alina and I weren’t adopted. Say it. Unless you can’t. ”

  There was another of those horrid, horrid silences. Then he said, “Mac, baby, we love you. Come home. ” His deep, usually strong baritone cracked on the last word. He cleared his throat and when he spoke again he was using his in-control tax-attorney voice that conveyed years of expertise coupled with the bone-deep assurance that you could trust him to know what was best. Calm, confident, powerful, backed by six feet two inches of self-assured, strong southern man, it used to work on me. “Look, I’m booking a flight for you the second we hang up, Mac. Go pack your bags right now and get yourself to the airport. I don’t want you to do or think about anything. Don’t even check out. I’ll take care of any bills you have over the phone. Do you hear me? I’m going to call you back and tell you what flight you’re on. Pack and go. Do you hear me?”

  I stared out the window. It had begun to rain. There it was: the lie he refused to speak. If we hadn’t been adopted, Dad would have told me that without hesitation. He would have laughed and said, “Of course you weren’t adopted, you goon. ” And we would both think it was funny that I could be so stupid. But he wouldn’t sa
y it, because he couldn’t. “God, Daddy, who am I?” It was my turn for my voice to crack.

  “My daughter,” he said fiercely into the phone. “That’s who you are! Rainey and Jack Lane’s baby girl!”

  But I wasn’t, really. Not by birth. And we both knew it. And I guess some part of me had sort of known it all along.

  1. Fairies exist.

  2. Vampires are real.

  3. A mobster and fifteen of his henchmen are dead because of me.

  4. I’m adopted.

  I stared down at the journal that would soon be full, ignoring the wet splash of tears that was making the ink run on the page.

  Of the four things I’d listed, only one of them had the power to cut me off at the knees. I could wrap my brain around any weirdness, realign myself to any new reality, except for one.

  I’m adopted.

  I could deal with fairies and vampires and I could live with blood on my hands, so long as I could stand and proudly say, I’m MacKayla Lane, you know, from the Frye-Lanes in Ashford, Georgia? And I follow the same genetic recipe as everyone else in my family. We’re yellow cake with chocolate frosting, all of us, from great-grandparent down to the tiniest tot. I fit with them. I belong somewhere.

  You have no idea how important that is, how deeply reassuring, until you lose it. All my life, up until that moment, I’d had a warm, protective blanket wrapped around me, knitted of aunts and uncles, purled of first and second and third cousins, knot-tied with grandmas and grandpas and greats.

  That blanket had just dropped from my shoulders. I felt cold, lost and alone.

  O’Connor, the old woman had called me. She’d said I had their skin and eyes. She’d mentioned a name, an odd name: Patrona. Was I an O’Connor? Did I have relatives somewhere in Ireland? Why hadn’t I been kept? Why had Alina and I been given up? Where had Mom and Dad gotten us? When? And how had all my talkative, chatty, gossipy aunts, uncles, and grandparents kept such a conspiracy silent? Not one of them had ever slipped. How young had we been when we were adopted? I must have barely been born, because I had no memories of any other life, nor had Alina ever mentioned a thing. Since she was two years older than me, it stood to reason she would have been the one with anachronistic recall. Or would her memories of another life and place simply have blurred into our new life and merged seamlessly over time?

 
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