Darkfever, p.6
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       Darkfever, p.6

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
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  I opened the book and read the first footnote again. Was it possible there were people out there in the world who believed in a book of magic written a million years ago, and my sister had been killed because she’d gotten in the way of their fanatical search?

  Jericho Barrons believed it was real.

  I thought about that a minute. Then he was nuts, too, I decided with a shrug. No matter how well it had been made, any book would have begun falling apart after a few thousand years. A million-year-old book would have crumbled to dust eons ago. Besides, if nobody could read it, why would anybody want it?

  Mystified, I began reading again, working through the second stack and into the third. Half an hour later I’d found the answer to that question too, in a book about Irish myths and legends.

  According to legend, the key to deciphering the ancient language and breaking the code of the Sinsar Dubh was hidden in four mystical stones. [Four is a sacred number to the Tuatha Dé: four royal houses, four Hallows, four stones. ] In an accomplished Druid’s hands, an individual stone can be used to shed light on a small portion of the text, but only if the four are reassembled into one will the true text in its entirety be revealed.

  Great. Now we had Druids in the mix. I looked them up next.

  In pre-Christian Celtic society, a Druid presided over divine worship, legislative and judicial matters, philosophy, and education of elite youth to their order.

  That didn’t sound so bad. I kept reading. It went downhill quickly.

  Druids performed human sacrifices and ate acorns to prepare for prophecy. They believed day followed night, and held to a credo of metempsychosis in which the human soul does not die but is reborn in different forms. In ancient times it was believed Druids were privy to the secrets of the gods, including issues pertaining to the manipulation of physical matter, space, and even time. Indeed, the old Irish “Drui” means magician, wizard, diviner—

  Okay, that was it. I snapped the book shut and decided to call it a night. My credulity had been sapped. This was not my sister. None of it was. And there was only one explanation for it.

  Jericho Barrons had lied to me. And he was probably sitting in his fancy bookstore in his fancy five-thousand-dollar suit, laughing at me right now.

  He’d tossed me a red herring, and a whopper of a smelly fish at that. He’d tried to throw me off the trail of whatever it was Alina really wanted me to find with a load of tripe about some stupid mythical book of dark magic. Like any good liar worth his salt, he’d seasoned his deception with truth—whatever it was, he genuinely did want it himself, ergo the deception. Amused by my naïveté, he’d probably not even bothered to change the spelling of what she’d said very much. “Shi-sadu. ” I sounded out the syllables, wondering how it was really spelled. I was so gullible. Maybe there was only a two-or three-letter difference between what Alina had said in Gaelic and what Barrons had pretended she meant, and those few letters were the difference between an object of pure fantasy and some hard-boiled, tangible item that would enable me to shed light on her death. If, for that matter, he’d even told the truth about the word being Gaelic. I could trust nothing he’d said.

  Adding insult to injury, he’d tried to scare me with threats and chase me out of the country. And he’d bruised me too.

  I was getting madder by the minute.

  I left the library and stopped in a drugstore to pick up the few items I needed, then began walking through the busy Temple Bar District back to The Clarin House. The streets were packed with people. The pubs were brilliantly lit; doors were flung open to the temperate July evening and music spilled out onto the sidewalks. There were cute guys all over the place, and I got more than a few catcalls and whistles. A bartender, a young single woman and a music lover, this was my element. This was craic.

  I didn’t enjoy a bit of it.

  When I get mad I have imaginary conversations in my head—you know, the kind where you say that really smart thing you always wish you’d think of at the time but never do—and sometimes I get so wrapped up in my little chats that I end up oblivious to everything around me.

  That’s how I found myself outside Barrons Books and Baubles instead of The Clarin House. I didn’t mean to go there. My feet just took me where my mouth wanted to be. It was twenty past nine, but I didn’t give a rat’s petunia about Mr. Barrons’ stupid deadline.

  I stopped in front of the bookstore and snatched a quick glance to my left, toward the deserted part of the city in which I’d gotten lost the other day. Four stories of renovated brick, wood, and stone, Barrons Books and Baubles seemed to stand bastion between the good part of the city and the bad. To my right, streetlamps spilled warm amber light, and people called to each other, laughing and talking. To my left, what few streetlamps still worked shed a sickly, pale glow, and the silence was broken only by the occasional door banging on broken hinges in the wind.

  Page 21

 

  I dismissed the unpleasant neighborhood. My business was with Barrons. The open sign in the window was dark—the hours advertised on the door were noon to eight P. M. —and there were only dim lights on inside, but the expensive motorcycle was parked out front in the same place as yesterday. I couldn’t imagine Fiona straddling the macho black-and-chrome hog any more than I could picture Barrons driving the sedate upper-middle-class gray sedan. Which meant he was here, somewhere.

  I made a fist and pounded on the door. I was in a foul mood, feeling put-upon and wronged by everyone I’d encountered in Dublin. Since my arrival, few had been passably civil, none had been nice, and several had been unapologetically rude. And people said Americans were bad. I pounded again. Waited twenty seconds, pounded again. Mom says I have a redhead’s temper, but I’ve known a few redheads and I don’t think I’m nearly that bad. It’s just that when I’ve got something stuck in my craw I have to do something about it. Like coming to Dublin in the first place to get Alina’s investigation reopened.

  “Barrons, I know you’re in there. Open up,” I shouted. I repeated the pounding and shouting for several minutes. Just when I was beginning to think maybe he wasn’t there after all, a deep voice came out of the darkness on my left, marked by that untraceable accent that hinted of time spent in exotic climes. Like places with harems and opium dens.

  “Woman, you are a thousand kinds of fool. ”

  I peered into the gloom. Halfway down the block was a denser spot in the darkness that I took to be him. It was impossible to make out his shape, but that patch of darkness seemed to hold more substance, more potency than the shadows around it. It also made me shiver a little. Yes, that would be him.

  “Not so much of a fool as you think, Barrons. Not so much of a fool that I fell for your stupid story. ”

  “A lamb in a city of wolves. Which one will take you down, I wonder?”

  “Lamb, my petu—ass. You don’t scare me. ”

  “Ah yes, a thousand kinds of fool. ”

  “I know you lied to me. So what is it really, Barrons—this shi-sadu?” Though I’d not intended to emphasize the unfamiliar word, it seemed to ricochet off the surrounding buildings with the sharp retort of a gunshot. Either that or, for a weirdly suspended moment, a total hush fell over the night, like one of those untimely lulls in conversation that always happen just when you’re saying something like, Can you believe what a witch that Jane Doe is? and Jane Doe’s standing right across the suddenly silent room, and you just want to sink into the floor. “You may as well tell me, because I’m not going away until you do. ”

  He was there before I could blink. The man had lightning reflexes. It made a difference that he wasn’t where I thought he was to begin with. He detached from the shadows no more than ten feet from me and crushed me back against the door. “You bloody fool, do not speak of such things in the open night!” Crowding me back to the door, he reached past me for the lock.

  “I’ll speak of anything I—” I broke off, staring bey
ond him. The patch of darkness I’d mistaken for him had begun to move. And now there was a second spot slithering along the side of one of the buildings, a little farther down; an impossibly tall one. I glanced over to the other side of the street, to see what idiot was walking through that terrible neighborhood at night, casting the shadow.

  There was no one.

  I glanced back at the two darknesses. They were moving toward us. Quickly.

  I looked up at Barrons. He was motionless, staring down at me. He turned and looked over his shoulder where I had been staring, then back at me.

  Then he pushed open the door, shoved me inside, shut the door, and slid three dead bolts behind us.

  SIX

  You will explain,” he said roughly, shoving me deeper into the room, away from the door. He turned his back to me and began flipping light switches on the wall, one after another. Set after set of recessed lights and wall sconces came on inside the store. Outside, floodlights washed the night cold-white.

  “Explain? Explain what? You explain. Why did you lie to me? God, I just don’t get this place! Alina made it sound like Dublin was some kind of great city where everybody was so nice and everything was so pretty, but nothing is pretty and nobody is nice and I swear I’m going to do serious bodily harm to the next idiot that tells me to go home!”

  “As if you could. You might break a nail. ” The gaze he shot me over his shoulder was contemptuous.

  “You don’t know a thing about me, Barrons. ” The look I shot back was equally contemptuous. He finished with the last of the lights and turned around. I jerked a little at the sight of him beneath the blaze of illumination. I must not have looked at him very closely yesterday because he wasn’t just masculine and sexual, he was carnal in a set-your-teeth-on-edge kind of way; he was almost frightening. He looked different tonight. He seemed taller, leaner, meaner, skin tighter on his body, features more starkly chiseled—and his cheekbones had been blades yesterday in that cold, arrogant face that was such an unlikely blend of genes. “What’s your heritage, anyway?” I said irritably, backing away, putting more space between us.

  Page 22

 

  He regarded me blankly, looking startled by the personal question, and as if he lacked a frame of reference for one. He paused as if debating answering, then, after a moment, shrugged. “Basque and Celt. Pict to be precise, Ms. Lane, but I doubt you’re familiar with the distinction. ”

  I was no slouch in history. I’d taken several college courses. I was familiar with both cultures, and it explained a lot. Criminals and barbarians. Now I understood the slightly exotic slant to the dark eyes, the deep gold skin, the bad attitude. I didn’t think there could be a more primitive pairing of genes.

  I didn’t know I’d spoken my last thought aloud until he said coolly, “I’m sure there is somewhere. You will tell me what you saw out there, Ms. Lane. ”

  “I didn’t see anything,” I lied. Truth was, I couldn’t make sense of what I thought I’d seen and I was in no mood to discuss it. I was tired and I’d obviously gotten bad fish at dinner. In addition to food poisoning, I was grieving, and grief did funny things to a person’s head.

  He made a sound of impatience. “I have no patience for lies, Ms. —”

  “Quid pro quo, Barrons. ” I got a juvenile kick out of cutting him off. The look on his face spoke volumes; no one ever did. I moved to one of the little conversation areas, dropped my bag of drugstore purchases and my Juicy purse on the table, and sank down on a camel-colored leather sofa. I figured I should get comfortable because I wasn’t leaving until I’d gotten some answers, and as stubborn and tyrannical as Jericho Barrons was, we could be at this all night. I propped my pretty silver sandals on the coffee table and crossed my feet at the ankles. I would have caught heck from Mom for sitting that way, but Mom wasn’t here. “You tell me something and I’ll tell you something. But this time you’re going to have to prove what you say before I give you anything back. ”

  He was on me before my brain processed the fact that he was coming for me. It was the third time he’d pulled such a stunt and it was getting darned old. The man was either an Olympic sprinter or, because I’d never been jumped before, I just couldn’t get a grasp on how quickly it happens. His lunges were way faster than my instincts to react.

  Lips compressed, face tight with fury, he dragged me up off the couch with a hand in my hair, grabbed my throat with the other, and began walking me backward toward the wall.

  “Oh, go ahead,” I hissed. “Just kill me and get it over with. Put me out of my misery!” Missing Alina was worse than a terminal illness. At least when you were terminal you knew the pain was going to end eventually. But there was no light at the end of my tunnel. Grief was going to devour me, day into night, night into day, and although I might feel like I was dying from it, might even wish I was, I never would. I was going to have to walk around with a hole in my heart forever. I was going to hurt for my sister until the day I died. If you don’t know what I mean or you think I’m being melodramatic, then you’ve never really loved anyone.

  “You don’t mean that. ”

  “Like I said, you don’t know me. ”

  He laughed. “Look at your hands. ”

  I looked. They were both wrapped around his forearm. Beautifully manicured pink nails with frosted tips were curled like talons into his suit, trying to loosen his grip. I hadn’t even realized I’d lifted them.

  “I know people, Ms. Lane. They think they want to die, sometimes even say they want to die. But they never mean it. At the last minute they squeal like pigs and fight like hell. ” He sounded bitter, as if he knew from personal experience. I was suddenly no longer quite so sure Jericho Barrons wasn’t a murderer.

  He thrust me against the wall and held me there, a hand at my throat, his dark gaze moving restlessly over my face, my neck, the rise and fall of my breasts beneath my lace camisole. Moving majorly over my breasts. I might have snorted if oxygen had been in plentiful supply. There was no way Jericho Barrons thought I was a hottie. We couldn’t have been less each other’s type. If he was Antarctica, I was the Sahara. What was his deal? Was this some new tactic he was going to threaten me with—rape instead of murder? Or was he upping the ante to both?

  “I am going to ask you one more time, Ms. Lane, and I suggest you not trifle with me. My patience is exceedingly thin this evening. I’ve matters far more pressing than you to attend. What did you see out there?”

  I closed my eyes and considered my options. I have a pride problem. Mom says it’s my special little challenge. Since I’d initially taken such a strong defiant stance, any cooperation now would be caving. I opened my eyes. “Nothing. ”

  Page 23

 

  “What a shame,” he said. “If you saw nothing, I have no use for you. If you saw something, I do. If you saw nothing, your life means nothing. If you saw something, your life—”

  “I get the point,” I gritted. “You’re being redundant. ”

  “So? What did you see?”

  “Let go of my throat. ” I needed to win something.

  He released me and I staggered. I hadn’t realized he was holding me on my tiptoes by my neck until my heels weren’t touching the floor and suddenly needed to be. I rubbed my throat and said irritably, “Shadows, Barrons. That’s all I saw. ”

  “Describe these shadows for me. ”

  I did, and he listened intently until I’d finished, his dark gaze boring into my face. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” he demanded.

  “No. ”

  “Never?”

  I shrugged. “Not really. ” I paused, then added, “I did have a kind of weird moment in a pub the other night. ”

  “Tell me,” he commanded.

  I was still standing between him and the wall and I needed more space. Physical proximity to Barrons was disturbing, like standing next to a highly charged magnetic field. I slipped p
ast him, taking great pains not to touch him—a fact that seemed to amuse him greatly—and moved toward the sofa. I began recounting the strange dual vision I’d had, the hostile old woman, what she’d said. He asked me many questions, pressing for minute details. I wasn’t nearly as observant as Barrons, and I couldn’t answer half of what he asked. He made no attempt to hide his disgust with my failure to be more investigative with either the odd vision or the old woman. When at last he finished his interrogation, he gave a sharp laugh of disbelief. “I never thought there might be one like you out there. Unaware, untrained. Unbelievable. You have no idea what you are, do you?”

  “Crazy?” I tried to make a joke of it.

  He shook his head and began walking toward me. When I instinctively backed up, he stopped, a faint smile playing at his lips. “Do I frighten you, Ms. Lane?”

  “Hardly. I just don’t like being bruised. ”

  “Bruises heal. There are worse things in the night than I. ”

  I opened my mouth to make a smart-aleck comment, but he silenced me with a wave of his hand. “Spare me your bluster, Ms. Lane. I see through it. No, you’re not crazy. You are, however, a walking impossibility. I have no notion how you survived. I suspect you must have lived in a borough so provincial and uninteresting that you never encountered one of them. A cloistered town so utterly lacking distinction that it was never visited and never will be. ”

  I had no idea who his “them” were that had or hadn’t visited, but I couldn’t argue with the rest of it. I was pretty sure Ashford was registered with the State of Georgia under P for provincial, and I seriously doubted our annual fried chicken cook-off or Christmas walk featuring the same half-dozen stately antebellums each year distinguished my town from any other scattered throughout the Deep South. “Yeah, well,” I said defensively. I loved my hometown. “Point?”

  “You, Ms. Lane, are a sidhe-seer. ”

  “Huh?” What was a she-seer?

  “A sidhe-seer. You see the Fae. ”

  I burst out laughing.

  “This is no laughing matter,” he said roughly. “This is about life and death, you imbecile. ”

 
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