I’d die for him.
No, wait a minute...that’s not where this is supposed to begin.
I know that. But left to my own devices, I’d prefer to skim over the events of the next few weeks, and whisk you through those days with glossed-over details that cast me in a more flattering light.
Nobody looks good in their darkest hour. But it’s those hours that make us what we are. We stand strong, or we cower. We emerge victorious, tempered by our trials, or fractured by a permanent, damning fault line.
I never used to think about things like darkest hours and trials and fault lines.
I used to fill my days with sunning and shopping, bartending at The Brickyard (always more of a party than a job, and that was how I liked my life), and devising ways to con Mom and Dad into helping me buy a new car. At twenty-two, I was still living at home, safe in my sheltered world, lulled by the sleepy, slow-paddling fans of the Deep South into believing myself the center of it.
Then my sister, Alina, was brutally murdered while studying abroad in Dublin, and my world changed overnight. It was bad enough that I had to identify her mutilated body, and watch my once happy family shatter, but my world didn’t stop falling apart there. It didn’t stop until I’d learned that pretty much everything I’d been raised to believe about myself wasn’t true.
I discovered that my folks weren’t my real parents; my sister and I were adopted; and despite my lazy, occasionally overblown drawl, we weren’t southern at all, but descended from an ancient Celtic bloodline of sidhe-seers, people who can see the Fae—a terrifying race of otherworldly beings that have lived secretly among us for thousands of years, cloaked in illusions and lies.
Those were the easy lessons.
The hard lessons were yet to come, waiting for me in the craic-filled streets of the Temple Bar District of Dublin, where I would watch people die, and learn to kill; where I would meet Jericho Barrons, V’lane, and the Lord Master; where I would step up to the plate as a major player in a deadly game with fate of-the-world stakes.
For those of you just joining me, my name is MacKayla Lane, Mac for short. My real last name might be O’Connor, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m a sidhe-seer, one of the most powerful that’s ever lived. Not only can I see the Fae, I can hurt them and, armed with one of their most sacred Hallows—the Spear of Luin, or Destiny—I can even kill the immortal beings.
Don’t settle into your chair and relax. It’s not just my world that’s in trouble; it’s your world, too. It’s happening, right now, while you’re sitting there, munching a snack, getting ready to immerse yourself in a fictional escape. Guess what? It’s not fiction, and there’s no escape. The walls between the human world and Faery are coming down—and I hate to break it to you, but these fairies are so not Tinkerbells.
If the walls crash completely...well, you’d just better hope they don’t. If I were you, I’d turn on all my lights right now. Get out a few flashlights. Check your supply of batteries.
I came to Dublin for two things: to find out who killed my sister, and to get revenge. See how easily I can say that now? I want revenge. Revenge with a capital R. Revenge with crushed bones and a lot of blood. I want her murderer dead, preferably by my own hand. A few months here and I’ve shed years of polished southern civilities.
Shortly after I stepped off the plane from Ashford, Georgia, and planted my well-pedicured foot on Ireland’s shore, I probably would have died if I hadn’t stumbled into a bookstore owned by Jericho Barrons. Who or what he is, I have no idea. But he has knowledge that I need, and I have something he wants, and that makes us reluctant allies.
When I had no place to turn, Barrons took me in, taught me who and what I am, opened my eyes, and helped me survive. He didn’t do it nicely, but I no longer care how I survive, as long as I do.
Because it was safer than my cheap room at the inn, I moved in to his bookstore. It’s protected against most of my enemies with wards and assorted spells, and stands bastion at the edge of what I call a Dark Zone: a neighborhood that has been taken over by Shades, amorphous Unseelie that thrive in darkness and suck the life from humans.
We’ve battled monsters together. He’s saved my life twice. We’ve shared a taste of dangerous lust. He’s after theSinsar Dubh—a million-year-old book of the blackest magic imaginable, scribed by the Unseelie King himself, that holds the key to power over both the worlds of Fae and Man. I want it because it was Alina’s dying request that I find it, and I suspect it holds the key to saving our world.
He says he wants it because he collects books. Right.
V’lane is another story. He’s a Seelie prince, and a death-by-sex Fae, which you’ll be learning more about soon enough. The Fae consist of two adversarial courts with their own Royal Houses and unique castes: the Light or Seelie Court, and the Dark or Unseelie Court. Don’t let the light and dark stuff fool you. Both are deadly. However, the Seelie considered the Unseelie so deadly that they imprisoned them roughly seven hundred thousand years ago. When one Fae fears another, be afraid.
Each court has their Hallows, or sacred objects of immense power. The Seelie Hallows are the spear (which I have), the sword, the stone, and the cauldron. The Unseelie Hallows are the amulet (which I had and the Lord Master took), the box, the Sifting Silvers, and the highly sought-after Book. They all have different purposes. Some I know; others I’m not so clear on.
Like Barrons, V’lane is after the Sinsar Dubh. He’s hunting it for the Seelie Queen Aoibheal, who needs it to reinforce the walls between the realms of Fae and Man, and keep them from coming down. Like Barrons, he has saved my life. (He’s also given me some of the most intense orgasms of it.)
The Lord Master is my sister’s murderer; the one who seduced, used, and destroyed her. Not quite Fae, not quite human, he’s been opening portals between realms, bringing Unseelie—the worst of the Fae—through to our world, turning them loose, and teaching them to infiltrate our society. He wants the walls down so he can free all the Unseelie from their icy prison. He’s also after the Sinsar Dubh, although I’m not certain why. I think he may be seeking it to destroy it, so no one can ever rebuild the walls again.
That’s where I come in.
These three powerful, dangerous men need me.
Not only can I see the Fae, I can sense Fae relics and Hallows. I can feel the Sinsar Dubh out there, a dark, pulsing heart of pure evil.
I can hunt it.
I can find it.
My dad would say that makes me this season’s MVP.
Everybody wants me. So I stay alive in a world where death darkens my doorstep daily.
I’ve seen things that would make your skin crawl. I’ve done things that make my skin crawl.
But that’s not important now. What’s important is starting at the right place—let’s see...where was that?
I peel the pages of my memory backward, one at a time, squinting so I don’t have to see them too clearly. I turn back, past that whiteout where all memories vanish for a time, past that hellish Halloween, and the things Barrons did. Past the woman I killed. Past a part of V’lane piercing the meat of my tongue. Past what I did to Jayne.
I zoom down into a dark, damp, shiny street.
It’s me. Pretty in pink and gold.
I’m in Dublin. It’s nighttime. I’m walking the cobbled pavement of Temple Bar. I’m alive, vibrantly so. There’s nothing like a recent brush with death to make you feel larger than life.
There’s a sparkle in my eyes and a spring in my step. I’m wearing a killer pink dress with my favorite heels, and I’m accessorized to the hilt, in gold and rose amethyst. I’ve taken extra care with my hair and makeup. I’m on my way to meet Christian MacKeltar, a sexy, mysterious young Scotsman who knew my sister. I feel good for a change.
Well, at least for a short time I do.
Fast-forward a few moments.
Now I’m clutching my head and stumbling from the sidewalk, into the gutter. Falling to all fours. I’ve just gotten closer to the Sinsar Dubh than I’ve ever been before, and it’s having its usual effect on me. Pain. Debilitating.
I no longer look so pretty. In fact, I look positively wretched.
On my hands and knees in a puddle that smells of beer and urine, I’m iced to the bone. My hair is in a tangle, my amethyst hair clip bobs against my nose, and I’m crying. I push the hair from my face with a filthy hand and watch the tableau playing out in front of me with wide, horrified eyes.
I remember that moment. Who I was. What I wasn’t. I capture it in freeze-frame. There are so many things I would say to her.
Head up, Mac. Brace yourself. A storm is coming. Don’t you hear the thunderclap of sharp hooves on the wind? Can’t you feel the soul-numbing frost? Don’t you smell spice and blood on the breeze?
Run, I would tell her. Hide.
But I wouldn’t listen to me.
On my knees, watching that... thing...do what it’s doing, I’m in the stranglehold of a killing undertow.
Reluctantly, I merge with the memory, slip into her skin...
The pain, God, the pain! It’s going to splinter my skull!
I clutch my head with wet, stinking hands, determined to hold it together until the inevitable occurs—I pass out.
Nothing compares to the agony the Sinsar Dubh causes me. Each time I get close to it, the same thing happens. I’m immobilized by pain that escalates until I lose consciousness.
Barrons says it’s because the Dark Book and I are point and counterpoint. That it’s so evil, and I’m so good, that it repels me violently. His theory is to “dilute” me somehow, make me a little evil so I can get close to it. I don’t see how making me evil so I can get close enough to pick up an evil book is a good thing. I think I’d probably do evil things with it.
“No,” I whimper, sloshing on my knees in the puddle. “Please...no!” Not here, not now! In the past, each time I’d gotten close to the Book, Barrons had been with me, and I’d had the comfort of knowing he wouldn’t let anything too awful happen to my unconscious body. He might tote me around like a divining rod, but I could live with that. Tonight, however, I was alone. The thought of being vulnerable to anyone and anything in Dublin’s streets for even a few moments terrified me. What if I passed out for an hour? What if I fell facedown into the vile puddle I was in, and drowned in mere inches of... ugh.
I had to get out of the puddle. I would not die so pathetically.
A wintry wind howled down the street, whipping between buildings, chilling me to the bone. Old newspapers cartwheeled like dirty, sodden tumbleweeds over broken bottles and discarded wrappers and glasses. I flailed in the sewage, scraped at the pavement with my fingernails, left the tips of them broken in gaps between the cobbled stones.
Inch by inch, I clawed my way to drier ground.
It was there—straight ahead of me: the Dark Book. I could feel it, fifty yards from where I scrabbled for purchase. Maybe less. And it wasn’t just a book. Oh, no. It was nothing that simple. It pulsated darkly, charring the edges of my mind.
Why wasn’t I passing out?
Why wouldn’t this pain end?
I felt like I was dying. Saliva flooded my mouth, frothing into foam at my lips. I wanted desperately to throw up but I couldn’t. Even my stomach was locked down by pain.
Moaning, I tried to raise my head. I had to see it. I’d been close to it before, but I’d never seen it. I’d always passed out first. If I wasn’t going to lose consciousness, I had questions I wanted answered. I didn’t even know what it looked like. Who had it? What were they doing with it? Why did I keep having near brushes with it?
Shuddering, I pushed back onto my knees, shoved a hank of sour-smelling hair from my face, and looked.
The street that only moments ago had bustled with tourists, making their merry way from one open pub door to the next, was now scourged clean by the dark, arctic wind. Doors had been slammed, music silenced.
Leaving only me.
The vision before me was not at all what I’d expected.
A gunman had a huddle of people backed against the wall of a building, a family of tourists, cameras swinging around their necks. The barrel of a semiautomatic weapon gleamed in the moonlight. The father was yelling, the mother was screaming, trying to gather three small children into her arms.
“No!” I shouted. At least I think I did. I’m not sure I actually made a sound. My lungs were compressed with pain.
The gunman let loose a spray of bullets, silencing their cries. He killed the youngest last—a delicate blond girl of four or five, with wide, pleading eyes that would haunt me till the day I died. A girl I couldn’t save because I couldn’t fecking move. Paralyzed by pain-deadened limbs, I could only kneel there, screaming inside my head.
Why was this happening? Where was the Sinsar Dubh? Why couldn’t I see it?
The man turned, and I inhaled sharply.
A book was tucked beneath his arm.
A perfectly innocuous hardcover, about three hundred and fifty pages thick, no dust jacket, pale gray with red binding. The kind of well-read hardcover you might find in any used bookstore, in any city.
I gaped. Was I supposed to believe that was the million-year-old book of the blackest magic imaginable, scribed by the Unseelie King? Was this supposed to be funny? How anticlimactic. How absurd.
The gunman glanced at his weapon with a bemused expression. Then his head swiveled back toward the fallen bodies, the blood and bits of flesh and bone spattered across the brick wall.
The book dropped from beneath his arm. It seemed to fall in slow motion, changing, transforming, as it tumbled, end over end, to the damp, shiny brick. By the time it hit the cobbled pavement with a heavy whump, it was no longer a simple hardcover but a massive black tome, nearly a foot thick, engraved with runes, bound by bands of steel and intricate locks. Exactly the kind of book I’d expected: ancient and evil-looking.
I sucked in another breath.
Now the thick dark volume was changing again, becoming something new. It swirled and spun, drawing substance from wind and darkness.
In its place rose a...thing...of such...terrible essence and pitch. A darkly animate...again, I can only say thing...that existed beyond shape or name: A malformed creature sprung from some no-man’s land of shattered sanity and broken gibberings.
And it lived.
I have no words to describe it, because nothing exists in our world to compare it to. I’m glad nothing exists in our world to compare it to, because if something did exist in our world to compare it to, I’m not sure our world would exist.
I can only call it the Beast, and leave it there.
My soul shivered, as if perceiving on some visceral level that my body was not nearly enough protection for it. Not from this.
The gunman looked at it, and it looked at the gunman, and he turned his weapon on himself. I jerked at the sound of more shots. The shooter crumpled to the pavement and his weapon clattered away.
Another icy wind gusted down the street, and there was movement in my periphery.
A woman appeared from around the corner as if answering a summons, gazed blankly at the scene for several moments, then walked as if drugged straight to the fallen book (crouching beast with impossible limbs and bloodied muzzle!) that abruptly sported neither ancient locks nor bestial form but was once again masquerading as an innocent hardcover.
“Don’t touch it!” I cried, goose bumps needling my flesh at the thought.
She stooped, picked it up, tucked it beneath her arm, and turned away.
I’d like to say she walked off without a backward glance, but she didn’t. She glanced over her shoulder, straight at me, and her expression choked off what little breath inflated my lungs.
Pure evil stared out of her eyes, a cunning, bottomless malevolence that knew me, that understood things about me I didn’t, and never wanted to know. Evil that celebrated its existence every chance it got through chaos, demolition, and psychotic rage.
She smiled, an awful smile, baring hundreds of small, pointy teeth.
And I had one of those sudden epiphanies.
I remembered the last time I’d gotten close to the Sinsar Dubh and passed out, and reading the next day about the man who’d killed his entire family, then driven himself into an embankment, mere blocks from where I’d lost consciousness. Everyone interviewed had said the same thing—the man couldn’t have done it, it wasn’t him, he’d been behaving like someone possessed for the past few days. I recalled the rash of gruesome news articles lately that echoed the same sentiment, whatever the brutal crime—it wasn’t him/her; he/she would never do it. I stared at the woman who was no longer who or what she’d been when she’d turned the corner and entered this street. A woman possessed. And I understood.
It wasn’t those people committing the terrible crimes.
The Beast was inside her now, in control. And it would retain control of her until it was done using her, when it would dispose of her and move on to its next victim.
We’d been so wrong, Barrons and I!
We’d believed the Sinsar Dubh was in the possession of someone with a cogent plan who was transporting it from place to place with a purpose, someone who was either using it to accomplish certain goals or guarding it, trying to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.
But it wasn’t in the possession of anyone with a plan, cogent or otherwise, and it wasn’t being moved.
It was moving.
Passing from one set of hands to the next, transforming each of its victims into a weapon of violence and destruction. Barrons had told me that Fae relics had a tendency to take on a life and purpose of their own in time. The Dark Book was a million years old. That was a lot of time. It had certainly taken on some kind of life.
The woman disappeared around the corner, and I dropped to the pavement like a stone. Eyes closed, I gasped for shallow breaths. As she/it moved farther away, vanishing into the night where God only knew what she/it would do next, my pain began to ease.
It was the most dangerous Hallow ever created—and it was loose in our world.
Creepy thing was, until tonight, it hadn’t been aware of me.
It was now.
It had looked at me, seen me. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt it had somehow marked me, tagged me like a pigeon. I’d gazed into the abyss and the abyss had gazed back, just like Daddy always said it would: You want to know about life, Mac? It’s simple. Keep watching rainbows, baby. Keep looking at the sky. You find what you look for. If you go hunting good in the world, you’ll find it. If you go hunting evil...well, don’t.
What idiot, I brooded, as I dragged myself up onto the sidewalk, had decided to give me special powers? What fool thought I could do something about problems of such enormity? How could I not hunt evil when I was one of the few people who could see it?
Tourists were flooding back into the street. Pub doors opened. Darkness peeled back. Music began playing, and the world started up again. Laughter bounced off brick. I wondered what world they were living in. It sure wasn’t mine.
Oblivious to them all, I threw up until I dry-heaved. Then I dry-heaved until not even bile remained.
I pushed to my feet, dragged the back of my hand across my mouth, and stared at my reflection in a pub window. I was stained, I was soaked, and I smelled. My hair was a soppy mess of beer and...oh! I couldn’t bear to think about what else. You never know what you’ll find in a gutter in Dublin’s party district. I plucked the clip from my hair, scraped it back, and secured it at my nape where it couldn’t touch much of my face.
My dress was torn, I was missing two buttons down the front of it, I’d broken the heel off my right shoe, and my knees were scraped and bleeding.
“There’s a lass that gives a whole new meaning to falling-down drunk, eh?” A man sniggered as he passed by. His buddies laughed. There were a dozen of them, wearing red cummerbunds and bow ties over jeans and sweaters. A bachelor party, off to celebrate the joy of testosterone. They gave me wide berth.
They were so clueless.
Was it really only twenty minutes ago I’d been smiling at passersby? Walking through Temple Bar, feeling alive and attractive, and ready for whatever the world might decide to throw at me next? Twenty minutes ago, they’d have circled around me, flirted me up.
I took a few lopsided steps, trying to walk as if I weren’t missing three and a half inches of spike beneath my right heel. It wasn’t easy. I ached everywhere. Although the pain of the Book’s proximity continued to recede, I felt bruised from head to toe, from being held in the crushing vise of it. If tonight turned out anything like the last time I’d encountered it, my head would pound for hours and ache dully for days. My visit to Christian MacKeltar, the young Scot who’d known my sister, was going to have to wait. I looked around for my missing heel. It was nowhere to be seen. I’d loved those shoes, darn it! I’d saved for months to buy them.
I sighed inwardly and told myself to get over it. At the moment, I had bigger problems on my mind.
I hadn’t passed out.
I’d been within fifty yards of the Sinsar Dubh, and I’d stayed conscious the entire time.
Barrons was going to be so pleased. Delighted, even, although delight is a difficult expression to read on that dark, arresting face. Chiseled from savagery by a sculptor-savant, Barrons is a throwback to a lawless time, and looks as stoically primitive as he behaves.
It appeared recent events had “diluted” me, and I was now more like the Book.
On my way back to the bookstore, it began to rain. I limped miserably through it. I hate the rain. For many reasons.
One, it’s wet, cold, and nasty, and I was already wet and cold enough. Two, the sun doesn’t shine when it’s raining and I’m an unapologetic sun-worshipper. Three, it makes Dublin at night even darker than usual, and that means the monsters get bolder. Four, it makes me need an umbrella and when people carry umbrellas they have a tendency to pull them down really low and hunch behind them, especially if the rain is being blown into their faces. I’m no different. And that means you can’t see what’s coming toward you, which in a busy street usually results in people careening off one another with muttered apologies, or bit-off curses, and in Dublin means I could run smack into a Fae (their glamour doesn’t physically repel me like it does normal people) and betray myself, all of which adds up to: When it rains here, I don’t dare carry an umbrella.
Which wouldn’t be so bad except it rains here all the freaking time.
Which means I get completely soaked and that leads me to the fifth thing I hate about rain: My makeup runs and my hair becomes a mop of cowlicks.
But every cloud really does have some kind of silver lining and, after a good, hard drenching, at least I no longer smelled quite so bad.
I turned down my street. It’s not really my street. My street is four thousand miles away in the rural Deep South. It’s a sunny, lushly overgrown street, framed by waxy-leaved magnolias, brilliant azaleas, and towering oaks. My street doesn’t rain all the time.
But I can’t go home now, for fear of leading monsters back to Ashford with me, and since I need someplace to call my own, this rainy, gloomy, dreary street will have to do.
As I approached the bookstore, I scanned the façade of the old-world, four-story building carefully. Exterior spotlights mounted on the front, rear, and sides bathed the tall brick building in light. The brightly painted shingle proclaiming BARRONS BOOKS AND BAUBLES that hung perpendicular to the building, suspended over the sidewalk on an elaborate brass pole, creaked as it swung in the increasingly chilly night breeze. The sign in the old-fashioned green-tinted windows glowed soft neon: CLOSED. Amber torches in brass sconces illuminated the deep limestone archway of the bookstore’s grand, alcoved entrance. Ornate, diamond-paned cherry doors nestled between limestone columns gleamed in the light.
All was well with my “home.” The lights were on, the building protected from my deadly neighbors. I stopped and stared for a moment down the street, into the abandoned neighborhood, making sure no Shades had made inroads into my territory.
The Dark Zone at the edge of Barrons Books and Baubles is the largest one I’ve seen so far (and the largest I hope to ever see!), encompassing more than twenty city blocks, crammed to overflowing with lethal dark shadows. Two things characterize a Dark Zone: darkness and death. Creatures of night, the Shades devour everything that lives, from people, to grass, to leaves, even down to the worms in the soil, leaving behind a wasteland.
Even now, they were moving restlessly, writhing like flies stuck on tape, desperate to exchange their lifeless shadows for the fertile, well-lit neighborhoods beyond.
For the moment I was safe. The Shades can’t tolerate light, and near the bookstore, I was bathed in it. However, if I were to wander twenty feet down the street, into the gloom where the streetlamps were all out, I’d be dead.
I’m obsessed with my neighbors. They’re vampires in the truest sense of the word. I’ve seen what they do to people. They consume them, leaving only piles of clothing, jewelry, and other inanimate objects, topped by a small, dry papery husk of whatever human matter they find unpalatable. Like leaving the tail of a shrimp, I guess; part of us is too crunchy for their taste. Not even I can kill them. They have no real substance, which makes weapons useless. The only thing that works against them is light, and it doesn’t kill them, it just holds them at bay. Penned in on all sides by the lights of surrounding neighborhoods, this Dark Zone had remained roughly the same size for several months. I know; I scout its perimeter regularly.
If you’re not a sidhe-seer, you can’t even see them. The people who die in a Dark Zone never know the face of their executioner. Not that the Shades have faces. Featureless is their middle name. If you are a sidhe-seer, they’re still difficult to separate from the night, even when you know what you’re looking for. Darker than the darkness, like inky black fog, they slither and slide, creeping over buildings, oozing down drainpipes, twining around broken streetlamps. Although I’ve never gotten close enough to test my hunch and hope I never do, I think they’re cold.
They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from as small as a cat to as large as—
Surely that wasn’t the one that had cornered me in the back parlor the night Fiona, the woman who used to run the bookstore, had tried to kill me, by letting a horde of them inside while I slept! The last time I’d seen it, roughly five weeks ago, counting the month I’d lost in Faery, it had been about twenty feet long and nine feet high. It was now twice as large, a dense cloud of oily darkness stretching nearly the entire length of the deserted building adjacent to Barrons.
Did they grow from eating us? Could one get as big as a small town? Maybe hunker down on top of it and swallow it whole?
I stared. For a thing that had no face, it certainly seemed to be staring back at me. I’d flipped this thing off a time or two. Last time I’d seen it, it had shaped itself into an almost human form and shot the insult right back at me.
I wasn’t about to teach it any new tricks.
I gave myself a brisk shake, and immediately regretted it. My head hurt so badly my brain felt bruised, and I’d just jostled it from side to side against the inner walls of my skull. Though the rain had finally stopped—or rather taken one of those all too brief Dublin hiatuses—I was wet and freezing, and had better things to do than stand out here brooding over one of my many enemies. Things like eating a half a bottle of aspirin, and standing under a scalding shower. Things like clearing my head so I could ponder the ramifications of what I’d seen tonight, and finding Barrons to tell him all about it. I had no doubt he would be as astonished as I was by the Book’s method of locomotion. What dark agenda was it pursuing? Were random chaos and violence purpose enough?
As I stepped into the alcove and began digging in my purse for my keys, I heard footsteps behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and scowled.
Inspector Jayne joined me in the arched entry, dashing rain from his coat with a gloved hand. I’d passed him earlier in the street, on my way to see Christian, before my encounter with the Sinsar Dubh. He’d given me a look that had promised harassment, but I’d figured I’d had a day or two before he got around to making good on that promise.
No such luck.
Tall and burly, with brown hair neatly combed to a side part, his craggy face was set in harsh lines. Brother-in-law to the late Inspector Patty O’Duffy—the inspector who’d originally handled my sister’s murder case, and who’d had his throat cut while clutching a scrap of paper with my name on it—Jayne had recently hauled me down to the Garda station and held me all day on suspicion of murder. He’d interrogated and starved me, accused me of having had an affair with O’Duffy, then turned me out into the dark heart of Dublin, minus my Shade-repelling flashlights, to walk home by myself. I wasn’t about to forgive his callous treatment.
I’m going to be tape to your ass, he’d told me.
He’d been proving true to his word, following me, staking me out, watching my every move.
Now, he looked me up and down and gave a snort of disgust. “I’m not even going to ask.”
“Are you here to arrest me?” I said coolly. I quit trying to pretend I had a heel and leaned lopsidedly against the door. My calves and feet hurt.
“That was a yes or no question, Jayne. Try again.” He didn’t say anything and we both knew what that meant. “Then go away. The store is closed. That makes it private property right now. You’re trespassing.”
“Either we talk tonight, or I come back in the morning when you have customers. You want a homicide detective hanging around, interrogating your clientele?”
“You don’t have any right to interrogate my clientele.”
“I’m the Garda, lady. That gives me all the rights I need. I can and will make your life miserable. Try me.”
“What do you want?” I growled.
“It’s cold and wet out here.” He cupped his hands, blew on them. “How about a cup of tea?”
“How about you go screw yourself?” I flashed him a saccharine smile.
“What, my overweight, middle-aged brother-in-law was good enough for you, but I’m not?”
“I did not have sex with your brother-in-law,” I snapped.
“Then what the fuck was he doing with you?” he snapped back.
“We’ve already been through this. I told you. If you want to interrogate me again, you’re going to have to arrest me, and this time I’m not saying a word without an attorney.” I glanced over his shoulder. The Shades were moving restlessly, vigorously, as if stirred up by our discord. Our arguing seemed to be . . . exciting them. I wondered if anger or passion made us taste even better to them. I forced the macabre thought from my mind.
“Your answers were no answers at all, and you know it.”
“You don’t want the real answers.” I didn’t want the real answers. Unfortunately, I was stuck with them.
“Maybe, I do. However...difficult to believe...they might seem.”
I gave him a sharp look. Though he wore his usual determined dog-with-a-bone expression, there was a subtle new component to it that I’d missed before. It was the same component I’d glimpsed in O’Duffy’s eyes the morning he’d come to see me, the morning he’d died, a wary, maybe-my-world isn’t-quite-what-I-thought-it-was look. A sure sign that, like O’Duffy, Jayne was about to start poking into matters that were probably going to get him killed. Although O’Duffy’s method of death seemed to imply a human murderer, I had no doubt he’d been killed for what he’d been learning about the new kids in town—the Fae.
I sighed. I wanted out of my nasty, wet clothes. I wanted to wash my disgusting hair. “Let it go, will you? Just let it go. I didn’t have anything to do with O’Duffy’s murder, and I don’t have anything else to tell you.”
“Yes, you do. You know what’s going on in this city, Ms. Lane. I don’t know how or where you fit into things, but I know you do. That’s why Patty came to see you. He didn’t stop by that morning to tell you anything about your sister’s case. He came to ask you something. What was it? What had been burning such a hole in his brain all night that he couldn’t wait until Monday to talk to you, that he sent his family on to church and missed Mass? What did Patty ask you the morning he died?”
He was good. I’d give him that. But nothing more.
“Will I die, too, Ms. Lane, now that I’ve come to see you?” he said roughly. “Is that how it works? Should I have woken my children and kissed them good-bye before I left this morning? Told my wife how much I loved her?”
Stung, I said, “It’s not my fault he died!”
“Maybe you didn’t kill him, but maybe you didn’t save him, either. Did you answer his questions? Is that why he died? Or if you had, would he still be alive?”
I glared at him. “Go away.”
He reached inside his coat and withdrew a handful of folded maps from an inner pocket.
I glanced away sharply, hating everything about the moment. This was a déjà vu I never wanted to revisit.
Patty O’Duffy had brought me maps, too. That Sunday morning he’d come to see me at the bookstore, he’d illustrated in cartographic detail a graphic impossibility, a discovery I’d beat him to by nearly two weeks: Parts of Dublin were no longer being printed on the maps. They were disappearing, falling off the plats and out of human memory, as if they’d never existed. He’d discovered the Dark Zones. He’d been scouting them out, going into them, a mere dusk away from dying.
Jayne leaned closer until his nose was inches from mine. “Looked at any of these lately?”
I said nothing.
“I found a dozen of them on Patty’s desk. He’d circled certain areas. It took me a while to figure out why. The Garda have a warehouse on Lisle Street seven blocks from here. You can’t find it on a single map published in the last two years.”
“So? What’s your point? That in addition to murder, I’m part of some vast mapmaking conspiracy? What will you charge me with next, colluding to get tourists lost?”
“Funny, Ms. Lane. I took a long lunch yesterday and went to Lisle Street. I tried to take a cab, but the driver insisted there was no such address and refused to go there. I ended up having to walk. Care to hear what I saw?”
“No. But I’m pretty sure you’re going to tell me anyway,” I muttered, massaging my temples.
“The warehouse is still there, but the city around it seems to have been...forgotten. I mean, completely forgotten. The streets aren’t being cleaned. The trash isn’t being collected. The lamps are out. Sewage has backed up into the gutters. My cell phone couldn’t get a signal there. Right in the middle of the city, I couldn’t get a bloody signal!”
“Not getting what this has to do with me,” I said in my most bored voice.
He didn’t hear me, and I knew he was walking the desolate, debris-filled streets in his mind again. A Dark Zone doesn’t just look abandoned; it oozes death and decay, makes you feel slimy with it. It leaves an indelible mark on you. It will wake you up in the middle of the night, heart in your throat, terrified of the dark. I sleep with all the lights on. I carry flashlights, 24/7.
“I found cars abandoned in the middle of the streets with the doors wide open. Expensive cars. The kind that get stripped for parts before the owner can even return with petrol. Explain that,” he barked.
“Maybe Dublin’s crime rate is decreasing,” I offered, knowing it for the lie it was.
“It’s skyrocketing. Has been for months. Media’s been crucifying us over it.”
They certainly had. And after what I’d seen tonight, the local escalation in violent crime was a fact I was especially interested in. I had an idea germinating.
“There were piles of clothing outside the cars with wallets in the pockets. Some of them were stuffed with cash, just waiting to be stolen. For Christ’s sake, I found two Rolexes on the sidewalk!”
“Did you pick them up?” I asked with interest. I’d always wanted a Rolex.
“But you know what the strangest thing was, Ms. Lane? There were no people. Not a single one. As if everyone had agreed at exactly the same moment to vacate twenty-some city blocks, right in the middle of whatever they were doing, without taking a single thing, not their cars, not even their clothes. Did they all walk out naked?”
“How would I know?”
“It’s happening right here, Ms. Lane. There’s an area missing on these maps right next to your bookstore. Don’t tell me you never look down that way when you leave.”
I shrugged. “I don’t leave much.”
“I follow you. You leave all the time.”
“I’m pretty self-engrossed, Inspector. I rarely look around.” I glanced behind him, for the dozenth time. The Shades were still behaving shadily, trapped in their darkness, licking thin, dark, nasty Shade lips.
“Bullshit. I interrogated you. You’re smart and sharp, and you’re lying.”
“Okay, you explain it. What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you think of anything that might explain what you found?”
A muscle worked in his jaw. “No.”
“Then what do you expect me to tell you? That evil creatures of the night have taken over Dublin? That they’re right down there“—I flung my arm out to the right—“and they’re eating people and leaving the parts they don’t like behind? That they’ve claimed certain territories as their own, and if you’re stupid enough to walk or drive into one after dark, you’ll die?” There, that was as close to warning him as I could get.
“Don’t be a fool, Ms. Lane.”
“Ditto, Inspector,” I said sharply. “You want my advice? Stay out of places you can’t find on maps. Now go away.” I turned my back on him.
“This isn’t over,” he said tightly.
It seemed, lately, everyone was saying that to me. No, it certainly wasn’t, but I had a sinking feeling I knew how it was going to end: with one more death on my conscience to occupy my already sleepless nights. “Leave me alone, or go get a warrant.” I slid the key into the door and unlocked it. As I opened it, I glanced over my shoulder.
Jayne was standing on the sidewalk, in almost exactly the same spot I’d occupied five minutes earlier, staring down into the abandoned neighborhood, brows drawn, forehead furrowed. He didn’t know it, but the Shades were staring back, in that faceless, eyeless way they have. What would I do if he began walking down there?
I knew the answer and I hated it: I’d whip out my flashlights and follow him in. I’d make a complete and utter spectacle of myself rescuing him from something he couldn’t and wouldn’t ever be able to see. Probably get locked up in the mental ward at the local hospital as thanks for my trouble.
My headache was turning brutal. If I didn’t get aspirin soon, it was going to spike right back up to vomiting pain.
He looked at me. Although Jayne had perfected what I call cop-face—a certain imperturbable scrutiny coupled with a patient certainty that the person they’re dealing with will eventually sprout several extra assholes and turn into a complete one—I’ve gotten better at reading people.
He was scared.
“Go home, Inspector,” I said softly. “Kiss your wife, and tuck your children in. Count your blessings. Don’t go hunting for curses.”
He looked at me a long moment, as if debating the criteria of cowardice, then turned and stormed off toward Temple Bar.
I heaved a huge sigh of relief and limped into the bookstore.
Even if it hadn’t been a much-needed sanctuary, I would have loved BB&B. I’ve found my calling, and it isn’t being a sidhe-seer. It’s running a bookstore, especially one that carries the best fashion magazines, pretty pens, stationery, and journals, and has such an upscale, elegant atmosphere. It embodies all the things I always wanted to be myself: smart, classy, polished, tasteful.
The first thing that strikes you when you step inside Barrons Books and Baubles, besides the abundance of gleaming rich mahogany and beveled glass windows, is a mildly disorienting sensation of spatial anomaly, as if you’ve slid open a matchbox and found a football field tucked neatly inside.
The main room is about seventy feet long and fifty feet wide. The front half vaults straight up to the roof, four grand stories. Ornate mahogany bookcases line each level, from floor to molding. Behind elegant banisters, platform walkways permit catwalk access on the second, third, and fourth levels. Ladders slide on oiled rollers from one section to the next.
The first floor has freestanding shelves arranged in wide aisles on the left, two seating cozies, fore and aft, with an elegant, enameled gas fireplace (in front of which I spend a great deal of time trying to thaw out from Dublin’s chilly weather) and a cashier station on the right, behind which is a fridge, a small TV, and my sound dock. Beyond the rear balconies on the upper levels are more books, including the very rare ones, and some of those baubles the sign mentions, secured in locked display cabinets.
Costly rugs drape the hardwood floors. The furniture is old-world, sumptuous, and expensive, like the authentic tufted Chesterfield sofa I like to curl up on and read. The lights are antique sconces and recessed bulbs of a particular amber hue that cast everything in a warm buttery glow.
When I cross the threshold from the cold, wet, crazy streets outside and step into the bookstore I feel like I can breathe. When I open for business and begin ringing up purchases on the old-fashioned cash register that tinkles a tiny silver bell each time the drawer pops open, my life feels simple and good, and I can forget all my problems for a while.
I glanced at my watch, and kicked off my ruined shoes. It was nearly midnight. Just a few hours ago, I’d been sitting in the rear conversation area with the enigmatic owner of the bookstore, demanding to know what he was.
As usual, he hadn’t answered me.
I really don’t know why I bother. Barrons knows virtually everything about me. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere he has a little file that encompasses my entire life to date, with neatly mounted, acerbically captioned photos—see Mac sunbathe, see Mac paint her nails, see Mac almost die.
But whenever I ask him a personal question, all I get is a cryptic “Take me or leave me,” coupled with a broody reminder that he keeps saving my life. As if that should be enough to shut me up and keep me in line.
Sad fact is, it usually does.
There’s an intolerable imbalance of power between us. He’s the one holding all the trump cards while I’m barely managing to hang on to the few lousy twos and threes life deals me.
We might hunt OOPs, or Objects of Power—sacred Fae relics, like the Hallows—together, fight and kill our enemies side by side, and, recently, even try to tear each other’s clothing in a case of lust as sudden and searing as the unexpected sirocco I’d somehow glimpsed in his mind while kissing him—but we sure didn’t share personal details of our lives or schedules with each other. I had no idea where he lived, where he went when he wasn’t around, or when he might come around next. It irked me. A lot. Especially now that I knew he could find me anytime he wanted, using the brand he’d tattooed on the back of my skull—his fecking middle initial Z. Yes, it had saved my life. No, that didn’t mean I had to like it.
I peeled off my dripping jacket and hung it up. Two flashlights crashed to the floor and went rolling. I needed to find a better way to carry them. They were cumbersome in my pockets and constantly falling out. I was afraid that pretty soon I’d be known as “that crazy flashlight-carrying chick” around the parts of Dublin I frequented.
I hurried to the bathroom at the back of the store, gingerly toweled my hair, and wiped gently at my smudged makeup. There was a bottle of aspirin upstairs shouting my name. A month ago, I would have immediately fixed my face. Now, I was just happy I had good skin and glad to be out of the rain.
I stepped from the bathroom and through the set of double doors that connected the bookstore to the private residence part of the building, calling for Barrons, wondering if he was still around. I pushed open the doors and checked in all the rooms on the first floor, but he wasn’t there. There was no point in searching the second and third floors. He kept all the doors locked. The only open rooms were on the fourth floor, where I slept, and he never went up there, except once, recently, to trash my bedroom when I’d disappeared for a month.
I considered calling him on my cell phone, but my head hurt so bad that I vetoed the idea. Tomorrow was soon enough to tell him what I’d learned about the Sinsar Dubh. Knowing him, if I called him tonight and told him, he’d try to make me go back out and hunt it, and there was no way I was going anywhere but straight into a hot shower and a warm bed.
I was headed up the back stairs, when something moved in my peripheral vision. I turned, trying to pinpoint the source. It couldn’t have been a Shade; all the lights were on. I backed down a step and scanned the rooms I could see. Nothing moved. I shrugged and started back up.
It happened again.
This time I got a weird feeling, not quite a tingle of my sidhe-seer senses, more like a prelude to it. I glanced in the direction that was bothering me: Barrons’ study. After poking my head in, I’d left the door ajar. Beyond it, I could see the ornate fifteenth-century desk, and part of the tall mirror that filled the wall behind it, between bookcases.
It happened again and I gaped. The silver reflection of the mirror had just shivered.
I backed down the stairs, never taking my eyes off it. From a safe vantage in the hallway outside the room, I watched it for a few minutes, but the event didn’t reoccur.
I pushed the door open all the way and stepped into the room. It smelled like Barrons. I inhaled deeply. A trace of dark, spicy aftershave lingered in the air, and for a moment I was in the caves beneath the Burren again, where I’d almost died last week, when the vampire Mallucé had abducted me and taken me deep into the labyrinthine tunnels, to torture me to death as vengeance for a gruesome injury I’d inflicted on him not long after I’d arrived in Dublin. I was lying on the ground, beneath Barrons’ wild, electric body, ripping his shirt open, and splaying my hands over the hard, muscled abdomen tattooed black and crimson in intricate, alien designs. Smelling him all around me. Feeling like he was inside me, or I was inside him. Wondering how much more inside him I’d get if I let him inside me.
Neither of us had mentioned that night. I doubted he ever would. I sure wasn’t going to bring it up. It disturbed me on levels I didn’t pretend to understand.
I focused on the room. I’d searched his study once before. Peered into every drawer, looked in the closet, even snooped behind the books on the shelves hunting for I don’t know what, any secret I could dig up on the man. I’d found nothing. He maintains an antiseptic existence. I doubt he permits so much as a hair to lie around that might be used for DNA analysis.
I walked over to the mirror and traced my fingertips across the glass. Elegantly framed, it filled the wall from floor to ceiling, and was hard and smooth, made of nothing that could shiver.
It shivered beneath my fingertips. This time my sidhe-seer senses trumpeted alarm. Yanking my hand away, I stumbled back against the desk with a muffled cry.
The surface was now shivering in earnest.
Did Barrons know about this? I thought wildly. Of course, he did. Barrons knew everything. It was in his bookstore. But what if he didn’t? What if Barrons wasn’t as omniscient as I believed? What if he was dupable, and someone—like, oh, say, the Lord Master—had planted some kind of spelled mirror in his path, knowing his penchant for certain antiquities . . . and Barrons had bought it, and the crimson-robed leader of the Unseelie was spying on him through it, or something? How had I failed to sense it? Was it Fae or not?
Smoky runes appeared on the surface, and the perimeter of the glass darkened abruptly to cobalt, framing the mirror with a three-inch-wide border of pure black.
It was definitely Fae! The black edges were a dead giveaway. If they’d been visible earlier, I’d have known instantly what the mirror was, but the true nature of the glass had been camouflaged behind some kind of illusion that even my sidhe-seer senses hadn’t been able to penetrate. I’d been in this room half a dozen times, and never gotten the faintest tingle. Who could craft such flawless illusion?
This was no mere mirror. It was one of the glasses fashioned by the Unseelie King himself as a means of moving between the realms of Man and Fae. It was part of the Unseelie Hallow known as the Sifting Silvers, and it was in my bookstore! What was it doing here? What else might be concealed in the store from me, hiding in plain sight?
I’d seen part of this Hallow before. Nearly a dozen of the eerie silver apertures with black edges had adorned the walls of the Lord Master’s house at 1247 LaRuhe, in the Dark Zone. There’d been terrible things in them. Things I still had nightmares about. Things like . . . well, like that hideously deformed thing currently morphing into shape before my very eyes.
When I’d told Barrons about the mirrors I’d seen at the Lord Master’s house, he’d asked if they’d been “open.” If this was what he’d meant, they had been. When they were open, could the monsters inside them come out? If so, how did one “close” a Sifting Silver? Could it be as simple as breaking it? Could it be broken? Before I could glance around for something to try it with, the thing of stunted limbs and enormous teeth was gone.
I exhaled shakily. I now understood why BB&B had that strange sense of spatial distortion. I’d felt a similar thing in the Lord Master’s house, the day I’d gone into the Dark Zone and discovered my sister’s ex-boyfriend was Dublin’s Big-Bad, but I hadn’t put two and two together. These mirrors, these dimension-connecting portals, somehow affected the space around them.
Now something else was coming, moving deep in the glass, whirling silver gusts back with its inexorable stride. I retreated to a safer distance.
Dark shapes drifted over the surface of the shivering mirror. Shadows that lacked definition yet tugged at primal fears. It was one of those times when running probably would have been a really good idea, but the problem was, I didn’t have anyplace to run to. This was my sanctuary, my safe haven. If I couldn’t stay here, I couldn’t be anywhere.
It was closer now, the thing that was coming.
I stared into the mirror, down the narrow, silvery lane fading into blackness at the edges, lined with skeletal trees, cloaked in wisps of jaundiced fog, littered with monstrous creatures forming and reforming in the mist. It reeked of wasteland worse than a Dark Zone, and I somehow knew the air inside the mirror was a chilling, killing cold, physically and psychically. Only a hellish, inhuman half-life could endure in such a place.
As the dark shape glided down the nightmarish path, the shadow-demons reared back with soundless screams.
More smoky runes materialized on the shivering glass. I couldn’t tell if what was coming walked upright, or stalked on all fours. Perhaps it scuttled on dozens of claws. I strained my eyes trying to identify the shape of it, but the sickly fog concealed its attributes.
I knew only that it was huge, dark, dangerous...and almost here.
I exited the room on tiptoe, and pulled the door shut, leaving the smallest of slivers through which to peer, braced to yank it shut and run like hell.
The mirror belched an icy gust of air.
It was here!
Long black coat fluttering, Jericho Barrons stepped out of the glass.
He was covered with blood that had iced to crimson frost on his hands, face, and clothing. His skin was pale from extreme cold, and his midnight eyes blazed with an inhuman, feral light.
In his arms he carried the brutally savaged, bloody body of a young woman.
I didn’t need to feel her pulse to know that she was dead.
From the Hardcover edition.