Darkfever, p.25
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       Darkfever, p.25

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
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  “What is this, Mallucé?” Though he was behind me and I couldn’t see him, I would never mistake the voice of the Lord Master. It was rich, multitonal, and musical, like V’lane’s.

  “I thought I heard something behind the pallets,” Mallucé said. “She is a Null, Lord Master. Another one. ”

  I couldn’t help it. I had to know. “You mean Alina, don’t you? The other Null, she was Alina Lane, wasn’t she?” I accused.

  The vampire’s creepy citron eyes narrowed. He exchanged a long glance with the red-robed thing behind me.

  “What do you know about Alina Lane?” the Lord Master said softly, in that melodious voice. It was the voice of something larger than life, an archangel, perhaps—the one that fell.

  “She was my sister,” I snarled, whirling around. “And I’m going to kill the bastard that killed her. What do you know about her?”

  The crimson cowl shook with laughter. I fisted my hands at my sides to keep from whipping out my spear and lunging for the red-robed figure. Stealth, I told myself. Caution. I doubted I’d get more than one chance.

  “I told you she would come, Mallucé,” said the Lord Master. “We will use her to finish what her sister began. ” He raised his hands as if to encompass the group and addressed all the Unseelie gathered there. “When everything is in place, I will open the portal and unleash the entire Unseelie prison on this world, as I promised you. Restrain her. She comes with us. ”

  “Now, that was just stupid, Ms. Lane,” Barrons said, shaking his head, as he dropped onto the floor next to me, his long black coat fluttering. “Did you have to go and tell them who you were? They would have figured it out soon enough. ”

  I blinked, stupefied.

  I guess the Lord Master, Mallucé, and all the rest of them were just as stunned by the unexpected entrance as I was, because we all gaped at him, and then we all looked up. I just wanted to see where in the world he’d come from. I think they were checking to see if there were any others up there. He had to have been on the ceiling girders. They were thirty feet high. I didn’t see a convenient rope dangling anywhere.

  When I looked back down, the Unseelie ruler had pushed back his crimson cowl and was looking at Barrons, hard. He didn’t seem to like what he saw.

  I gasped, stunned.

  I stared in disbelief and confusion at Alina’s boyfriend, the Lord Master. The leader of the Unseelie wasn’t even Fae! Even Barrons looked a little thrown.

  The Lord Master barked a command, then he turned in a whirl of red robes. Dozens of Unseelie closed in on us instantly.

  Things got kind of crazy then, and I still have a hard time sorting them out. As his minions cut off any chance of pursuit, the prick who’d used and killed my sister and had been planning to do the same to me ordered them to take me alive, or else, and kill the other one.

  Then I was surrounded by Unseelie and I couldn’t see Barrons anymore. Somewhere in the distance, I heard chanting, and the runes in the concrete beneath my feet began to glow again.

  I closed my mind to everything but battle. I fought.

  I fought for my sister, who’d died alone in an alley. I fought for the woman the Gray Man had fed on while I’d eaten french fries, and the one he’d consumed two days ago, while I’d watched in helpless horror. I fought for the people the Many-Mouthed-Thing had killed. I fought for the dehydrated human husks blowing down the forgotten streets between Collins Street and Larkspur Lane. I might have even fought for a few of O’Bannion’s henchmen. And I fought for the twenty-two-year-old young woman who’d arrived in Dublin pretty darned sure of herself, who no longer had any idea where she’d come from or where she was going, and who’d just broken her third Iceberry Pink nail.

  Page 94

 

  The alabaster spearhead seemed to blaze with holy light in my hand as I ducked and twisted, slammed and stabbed. I could feel myself turning into something else and it felt good. At one point I caught sight of Barrons’ startled face, and I knew that if he was looking at me like that, I was truly something to see. I felt like something to see. I felt like a well-built, well-oiled machine with one purpose in life: to kill Fae. Good or bad. Take ’em all.

  And I did, one after another. Duck, slam, stab. Whirl, slam, stab. They went down fast and hard. The spear was pure poison to them, and I was getting a weird kind of high off watching them die. I have no idea how long I could have kept it up, if they’d all been Fae, but they weren’t and I screwed up.

  I’d forgotten about Mallucé.

  When he crept up behind me, I sensed him there just like a Fae—apparently my radar picked up on anything otherworldly within a certain perimeter—and I spun and stabbed him in the gut.

  I realized my error instantly, although I had no idea how to correct it. The vampire was a more serious threat to me than any of the Unseelie, even the Shades—at least I knew how to drive those life-suckers back: light. I didn’t have any idea what this life-sucker’s weakness was, or even if he had one. Barrons had talked like killing a vampire was pretty much impossible.

  For a moment, I just stood there, my weapon buried in his stomach, hoping it would do something. If it had any effect on him at all, I sure couldn’t tell. I stared stupidly into those feral yellow eyes, glowing in that white, white face. Then my wits returned and I tried to pull the spear out for another stab at him, this time in the chest—maybe Barrons was wrong, I had to try something—but the razor-sharp tip had gotten lodged in a knot of gristle or bone or something and wouldn’t yield.

  He closed his hand on my arm. It felt cold and dead. “You little bitch! Where is my stone?” the vampire hissed.

  I got it then—why he’d not brought it up before, when he’d first seen me. He was two-timing the Lord Master and couldn’t risk the Rhino-boys knowing.

  “Oh God, he doesn’t even know you had it, does he?” I exclaimed. The moment I said it, I realized my mistake. Mallucé had more to lose if the Lord Master discovered he was betraying him, than by owning up to inadvertently killing the sidhe-seer in the heat of battle. I’d just signed my own death warrant.

  I yanked frantically on the spearhead. Mallucé bared his fangs as the weapon gave and I stumbled back. Off balance, I lashed out again—but a millisecond too late. The vampire backhanded me across the face and I flew backward through the air, arms and legs folded forward like a rag doll, just as I’d seen his bodyguard do that night at the House of Goth.

  I slammed into the side of a stack of pallets that gave about as much as a brick wall. My head snapped back and pain ricocheted through my skull. I heard things in me crack.

  “Mac!” I heard Barrons shout.

  I slumped down the plastic-shrouded wall, thinking how weird it sounded, him calling me Mac. He’d only ever called me Ms. Lane. I couldn’t breathe. My chest was locked tight, and I wondered if my ribs had broken and punctured my lungs. The spear was slipping from my fingers. That arctic wind was back, chilling me body and soul, and I understood dimly that the gate was open again.

  My lids were as heavy as paperweights and I blinked slowly. My face was wet. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I was crying. I couldn’t be dying. I finally knew who’d killed my sister. I’d looked into his face. I hadn’t avenged her yet.

  Barrons swam before my eyes. “I’ll get you out of here. Hold on,” he told me in a slow-motion voice and was gone.

  I blinked again, heavily. I still couldn’t breathe and my vision was going in and out, especially in one eye. One moment it was all shadowy, then there was Barrons again. He and Mallucé were facing each other, pacing a tight circle. The vampire’s eyes glowed and his fangs were fully extended.

  As my grasp on consciousness failed, I tried to decide what on earth Barrons had just done to Mallucé that had sent the absurdly strong vampire slamming into a stack of pallets and crashing into a forklift; how I’d gotten into his arms, and just where he thought he was taking me at such breakneck spe
ed.

  To a hospital, I hoped.

  I regained consciousness several times during our flight.

  Long enough, the first time, to realize I hadn’t died, which I found dimly astonishing. The last time I’d seen Mallucé slam someone into a wall, the man had been way bigger than I, and he’d died instantly, bleeding from multiple orifices.

  Page 95

 

  I must have muttered something to that effect, because Barrons’ chest rumbled beneath my ear. “The spear did something to him, Ms. Lane. I’m not sure what or why, but it slowed him down. ”

  The next time I regained consciousness, he said, “Can you hook an arm around my neck and hold on?” The answer was yes—one. The other one wouldn’t move. It dangled limply from my shoulder.

  The man could run. We were in the sewers, I could tell by the splash of his boots and the smell. I hoped I wasn’t deluding myself with optimism, but I didn’t hear the sound of pursuit. Had we lost them? All of them?

  “They don’t know the underground like I do,” he said. “Nobody does. ”

  How weird. I was a chatterbox and didn’t even know it, reeling off question after question despite the pain I was in. Or was he reading my mind?

  “Not a mind reader, Ms. Lane,” he said. “You think all over your face sometimes. You need to work on that. ”

  “Shouldn’t I go to the hospital?” I asked muzzily when I woke up for the third time. I was back in bed, in my borrowed bedroom at Barrons Books and Baubles. I must have been out for a while. “I think things are broken. ”

  “Your left arm, two ribs, and a few fingers. You’re bruised all over. You were lucky. ” He pressed a cold compress to my cheek and I inhaled sharply with pain. “At least your cheekbone didn’t get shattered when he struck you. I was afraid it had. You look a little worse for the wear, Ms. Lane. ”

  “Hospital?” I tried again.

  “They can’t do anything for you that I haven’t already done and would only ask you questions you can’t answer. They’ll blame me if I bring you in looking like this and you won’t talk. I already set your arm and fingers,” he said. “Your ribs will heal. Your face is going to look . . . well . . . yeah. You’ll be fine in time, Ms. Lane. ”

  That sounded ominous. “Mirror?” I managed weakly.

  “Sorry,” he said. “Don’t have one handy. ”

  I tried to move my left arm, wondering when and where Barrons had added casting to his seemingly endless resume. He hadn’t. My arm was in a splint, as were several fingers on that hand. “Shouldn’t I have casts?”

  “Fingers do well with splints. The break in your arm isn’t acute and if I cast you, it will only cause your muscles to atrophy. You must recover quickly. In case you haven’t noticed, Ms. Lane, we’ve got a few problems on our hands. ”

  I peered blearily up at him through my one good eye. My right one was swollen completely shut from the contusion on my cheek. He’d called me Mac back there in the warehouse, when Mallucé had hit me. Despite my doubts about Barrons, and my worries over whatever arrangement he had going on with the Shades, he’d been there for me when it mattered. He’d come after me. He’d saved my life. He’d patched me up and tucked me into bed and I knew he would watch over me until I was whole again. Under such circumstances, it seemed absurd to continue calling me Ms. Lane and I told him so. Perhaps it was time I did better than “Barrons” myself. “You can call me Mac, er . . . Jericho. And thanks for saving me. ”

  One dark brow rose and he looked amused. “Stick with Barrons, Ms. Lane,” he said dryly. “You need rest. Sleep. ”

  My eyes fluttered closed as if he’d spoken a spell over me and I drifted into a happy place, a hallway papered with smiling pictures of my sister. I knew who her killer was now, and I was going to avenge her. I was halfway home. I wouldn’t call him Jericho if he didn’t like it. But I wanted him to call me Mac, I insisted sleepily. I was tired of being four thousand miles away from home and feeling so alone. It would be nice to be on a first-name basis with somebody here. Anybody would do, even Barrons.

  “Mac. ” He said my name and laughed. “What a name for something like you. Mac. ” He laughed again.

  I wanted to know what he meant by that, but didn’t have the strength to ask.

  Then his fingers were light as butterflies on my battered cheek and he was speaking softly, but it wasn’t in English. It sounded like one of those dead languages they use in the kind of movies I used to channel-surf through quickly—and now regret not having watched at least one or two of because I probably would have been a whole lot better prepared for all of this if I had.

  I think he kissed me then. It wasn’t like any kiss I’d ever felt before.

  And then it was dark. And I dreamed.

  TWENTY-FIVE

  No, not like that. You’re gooping it on. The first coat’s supposed to be light,” I told him. “This isn’t a cake you’re icing. It’s a fingernail. ”

  Page 96

 

  We were sitting on top of Barrons Books and Baubles in a lush rooftop conservatory I hadn’t even known was there until Fiona, who’d shown more distress over my injuries than I’d expected, had told me about it. I spent the late-afternoon hours sprawled in a chaise, pretending to be reading but not really doing much of anything. When blazing floodlights, mounted on all sides of the roof, had come on shortly before dark, illuminating the garden, I’d taken a good hard look at my ragged nails, gone down for my manicure kit, come back up, and spread my tools on a pretty glass-topped wrought-iron table above the facade of the bookstore, right under one of the brightest floodlights, and given it my best shot. But no matter how hard I’d tried, I’d not been able to paint the nails on my right hand with my splinted left arm. Then Barrons had arrived and I’d wasted no time putting him to work.

  A muscle leapt in his jaw. “Tell me again why I’m doing this, Ms. Lane?”

  “Duh,” I said. “Because my arm’s broken. ” I waved my splint at him, in case he’d forgotten.

  “I don’t think you tried hard enough,” he said. “I think you need to try again. I think if you angle your splint out like this”—he demonstrated, in the process tipping fingernail polish onto the tiled patio—“then twist your arm around like this. “He nodded. “Give it a try. I think it’ll work. ”

  I gave him a cool look. “You drag me all over the place, making me hunt for OOPs, but do I complain the whole time? No. Suck it up, Barrons. The least you can do is paint my nails while my arm’s broken. It’s not like I’m asking you to do both hands. And I’m not asking you to do my toes at all. ” Although I really could have used some help with my pedicure. A proper foot grooming was a two-handed job.

  He glowered at the prospect of having to gloss my toes a matching shimmery, gold-frosted Ice Princess Blush, which, by the way, had always seemed oxymoronish to me, like jumbo shrimp. None of the ice princesses I’d known in high school and college had been the blushing types.

  “Some guys,” I informed him loftily, “would jump at the chance to paint my toenails. ”

  Barrons bent his head over my hand, applying pale pink polish to my ring finger with exacting care. He looked big and muscular and male and silly painting my fingernails, like a Roman centurion decked out in a frilly chef’s apron. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing.

  “I’m sure they would, Ms. Lane,” he said dryly.

  He was still calling me Ms. Lane.

  After all we’d been through. As if he’d not found my map with the pink dot I’d stabbed on it, followed me into the Dark Zone, rescued, splinted, iced, bandaged, and, I think, even kissed me.

  I narrowed my eyes, studying his dark, bent head. I knew how he’d found me. Fiona had told me she’d called him right after she’d seen me go walking into the abandoned neighborhood. From her guilt-tinged distress over my injuries, however, I was pretty sure she hadn’t called him immediately after, if you know wh
at I mean.

  But that was about all I knew. I’d spent most of the three days since I’d gone to 1247 LaRuhe in a deep, drugged sleep, surfacing only long enough for Barrons to feed me something before ordering me to sleep again.

  My back and hips were bruised, various parts of me were bound and immobilized, my ribs were wrapped and it hurt to breathe, but on the brighter side of things, my eye was almost completely open again. I hadn’t been brave enough to look in a mirror yet, nor had I showered in four days, but I had other things on my mind right now, like some of those questions that had been burning holes in my gut all day.

  “Okay, Barrons, it’s time. ”

  “I am not helping you shave your legs,” he said instantly.

  “Oh please. As if I’d let you. I meant for questions. ”

  “Oh. ”

  “What are you?” I dumped the question on him like a bucket of ice water.

  “I don’t follow,” he said with one those elegant Gallic shrugs.

  “You dropped thirty feet in that warehouse. You should have broken something. You should have broken two somethings—like legs. What are you?”

  There was another of those shrugs. “A man with a rope?”

  “Ha-ha. I didn’t see one. ”

  “I can’t help that. ” The look he gave me was dry, bored, and just enough to make me doubt what I’d seen that night. After all, I had been pretty wigged out at the time. I couldn’t absolutely guarantee there hadn’t been one of those sophisticated thin cables thieves always used in movies. I tried another tactic. “You sent Mallucé flying through the air. Smashing into pallets, then a forklift. ”

  Page 97

 

  “I’m strong, Ms. Lane. Would you like to feel my muscles?” He showed his teeth but it wasn’t really a smile and we both knew it. Two weeks ago it would have intimidated me.

  “I don’t care how strong you are. Mallucé is superstrong. He’s a vampire. ”

  “Maybe. Maybe not. His followers seem to think he’s dead. ”

  “Oh, happy day,” I said fervently. “One down. ” Only a thousand or so to go, in my estimation, though I was afraid I might be way off, as in seriously underestimating.

 
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