Burned, p.13

Burned, page 13

 part  #7 of  Fever Series

 

Burned
 



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  She gathers a fall of blood-black hair from her face, twists it into a long tail then knots it at her nape before disengaging and sliding gracefully from the desk.

  I can’t help but stare at what she left behind. What hot-blooded woman wouldn’t? Lor is chained naked to a desk, legs spread, affording me a gloriously intimate view. He’s magnificent. A tall, massively muscled Viking with thick blond hair and not one spec of it on his body. Though his abdomen and thighs are crisscrossed with scars, the rest of his skin is sleek and velvety as the head of his—Stop staring!

  I drag my gaze away, force it to the princess.

  “I do not barter with humans. I command. But you have … Hmmm, you have something … What is it you have?”

  I say nothing. Reveal nothing. I’ve learned from the best. I meet and hold her gaze, expressionless.

  Time spins out. Finally she says, “The Unseelie Princes, fools that they are, think to rule this world. ” She spits on the floor. “We came to enslave this male and use it as our weapon because the dark princes are immune to our ways. Word reached us it can kill things that are difficult to kill, even our brothers. Fae magic is matriarchal. The light princesses are dead. This world is ours. ”

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  I realize if she came for Lor to eliminate her competition, rather than Dani or me, she must not know about the spear and sword. “This world belongs to us,” I say. “If you try to take it from us, it will be war. ”

  “A war you will lose. ”

  “Try me. ”

  Nude, she begins to pad a slow, predatory circle around me. I turn with her and she laughs.

  “No, you most certainly do not wish one such as we unseen behind your back. ”

  “Nor do you wish me unseen behind yours,” I purr.

  She laughs again and it’s a caress to my ears. She’s amped up her death-by-sex Fae heat. I feel it expanding around her, yet it doesn’t touch me.

  When I don’t respond, her eyes widen, her mouth shapes a perfect, lush O of surprise. The sexual energy she’s channeling pulses hotter. On the desk, Lor bucks and strains against the chains.

  I wonder if I could somehow accept the energy she’s so generously (foolishly?) throwing off, while rejecting the sexual component. As I consider it, she pads to a stop in front of me. We’re the same height. She leans in as if to kiss me.

  “Oh, what are you, you delicious thing,” she says, and wets her lips. “Not like them, not like us yet like us. You smell of …” She trails off and stops in front of me, sniffing deeply, leaning into my neck. I don’t move. I feel her snuffling at my throat. “Oh, yes, I like that smell very much but there is … something … it is most …”

  She’s definitely unaware I have the spear. I wonder if she even knows such weapons exist. She seems oddly out of the loop.

  She recoils like a cobra, drawing up to her full height, back arched away, eyes narrowing, and hisses, “Oh! You smell of them. We will not go back. It finished with us. It said so. We will never go back. ”

  She vanishes.

  “About fucking time you got rid of her. ” Lor recovers his voice with a snarl. He sounds hoarse, from hours of yelling.

  I stand, blinking at her sudden, unexpected disappearance.

  She shouldn’t have been able to sift out of the club. Then again, she shouldn’t have been able to get inside in the first place. Either Ryodan’s wards aren’t working or she’s beyond their compulsion.

  I frown, trying to decide what she thinks I smell like that drove her away so completely. There are multiple possibilities. The stain of her brothers’ rape lingering on my soul? The green goo of the Gray Woman I butchered? Perhaps she detects the sworn enemy of the Fae, my sidhe-seer sisters on my skin, in my blood. Or maybe the oily residue of the Unseelie that stalk me who—as if summoned by that last thought—swiftly begin popping, one after another, into the room with me, crushing close, giving Lor wide berth. Apparently it was the princess they were avoiding. I wish I knew why. I’d make Eau d’Unseelie Princess perfume of her flesh and spray myself with it if I thought it might work.

  She said “them,” so obviously it wasn’t the singularity of the Book she sensed inside me, and that she would not go back. Go back where? And who’d put her there to begin with?

  On the desk, Lor makes a sound of such raw sexual need that I shiver. “Mac,” he growls. “I need. Get your ass over here. ”

  Pri-ya is a hellish thing to be. It reduces you to a whimpering, broken, pathetic sex addict that will do anything for anyone at any time. I have memories I’ve interred deep. Places in my mind I’ll never visit again.

  Whimpering and broken are the key words there.

  “What do you need, Lor?” I say dryly.

  “What the fuck do you think I need? Sex. Constantly. I’ll die if I don’t have it all the time. I’m Pri-ya. ”

  “Hm. Pri-ya. ”

  “Sure as shit, the bitch made me Pri-ya. You saw her. I had an Unseelie Princess on top of me. My dick hurts so bad it’s gonna explode. I need sex. I can’t live without it. This is torture. So either get on it, or find me a hot blond babe that will. Which is any hot blond babe in the club,” he adds cheerfully.

  I like Lor. He’s aggressive, domineering, and part caveman, but he doesn’t have a cruel bone in his body, and he flat-out adores women and children. I sometimes think if the other eight weren’t around, Lor would be a very different man.

  Leave it to him to try to capitalize on the princess’s visit, use it as an excuse to spend the next few months in bed, receiving a steady stream of women whose sole purpose is to have sex with him 24/7.

  I know what Pri-ya looks like—and he’s not it. Though part of her magic somehow worked on him, the Nine are apparently impossible to turn Pri-ya. I wonder if they’re too basely sexual to begin with. Perhaps the charge they throw off cancels out her sexuality, or at least dampens the full effect of it. I decide I’ll stick close to Barrons until I figure out how to get rid of her and if there are others out there. She might not have turned Lor into a permanent slave, but a temporary one is bad enough. Deep in my sidhe-seer center, I activate an antenna of sorts to listen at all times for the gothic, dark march of the princess.

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  I move toward the door. Ryodan can unchain Lor. I’m not getting close to the man while he’s naked. He told me once he prefers a club over a woman’s head because charm wastes energy better spent fucking, and I believe him. Although I see no club in the office, there are other heavy objects.

  “Aw, c’mon, Mac,” he says, sounding aggrieved, “would it really kill you to let them think I’m Pri-ya? What have I ever done to you? Tonight was traumatic. Bitch actually made me call her ‘mistress. ’ I need some good old-fashioned fucking to ease my pain. Maybe a sexy ‘Yes, master’ or two. Or two hundred. What’s wrong with that?”

  I raise my palm and prepare to press it to the wall.

  “Seriously, honey, I promise I’ll only take a few weeks to get better. I won’t drag it out. I’m sitting on the jackpot right now. I’ll do something for you. Anything. Name it. Well, not anything. But there’s gotta be something you want. ”

  I smile and retract my hand before it touches the panel.

  Five minutes later I open the door and shake my head, tears welling in my eyes.

  “We didn’t get to him in time,” I tell Ryodan. “She’s gone but I was too late. She’d already turned him Pri-ya. Send all the blondes you can spare to take him somewhere private. Hurry. And I wouldn’t go near him if I were you. It’s not pretty. You won’t want to remember him this way. ”

  “She can turn us Pri-ya. ” Ryodan says.

  “Afraid so. ”

  There’s a bounce in my step as I rejoin Barrons. I got what I wanted tonight, after all. A favor owed from one of the Nine is worth its weight in pure Faery dust. And now I finally get to go have sex with Barrons, and from the way he’s looking at me, it’s going
to be one seriously long, hot night.

  “You’re going the wrong way,” Ryodan says behind us.

  I glance over my shoulder. “What do you mean? We’re going back to the bookstore. I did what you asked. I got rid of her. ”

  “You just told me she can turn us Pri-ya, and our wards don’t prevent her from sifting while within the walls of my club. You will remain in residence, guarding against all princesses until we resolve the situation. You’ll find ample quarters in that direction. ” He points the other way. “Perhaps you’ll do what you should have done this time, and kill her next time. ”

  My bounce vanishes “You didn’t tell me to kill her. ”

  “It was self-evident. ”

  “No, it wasn’t,” I say pissily. “I took a page from your negotiating-with-the-princes book. And you sent all the others into Faery. They’re not even here to protect. ”

  “I’m still here. ”

  I look up at Barrons, who stopped walking and is regarding me intently, eyes narrowed. He looks as if he’s about to speak, debates, folds his arms and says nothing.

  “You could stand up for me,” I grouse. “Tell him we’re going back to the store, period. ”

  He smiles faintly. “It would hardly be fair if you ‘protected’ only me. ”

  His light emphasis on the word “protected” gives him away. No idea how, but he knows I lied. And he’s amused. And he’s going to sit back and watch it play out, see how stuck I get in the sticky spiderweb I’ve begun to spin.

  Guess he really is sick of my “idiotic passivity. ”

  So am I.

  But as I learned today, it’s way the hell better than idiotic activity.

  Confined to Chester’s with no escape from my carrion stalkers, forced to contend with Ryodan on a daily basis, surrounded by monsters, inhabited by a monster, I’m afraid there’s more of it coming.

  13

  “I was ducking down to reload”

  JADA

  She needs to kill.

  Purpose is strength and hers was impeded tonight.

  No matter, when one avenue is blocked, another is revealed.

  There are two on her list in the direction she’s headed. They will be dispatched differently than her prior intended target, swiftly, with more mercy than they deserve. Though their crimes are many, unlike the Unseelie she seeks, they are human. She eliminates humans quickly.

  She takes no pleasure in the kill. There is satisfaction in seeing debts collected, ledgers balanced. There are those she will protect at any cost.

  As she turns a corner and enters a dimly lit street, her gaze lifts to the shattered streetlamp, then down to lightly misted cobblestones and back up again.

  She pauses to absorb the scene: the Unseelie blood dripping from the jagged glass that housed the light; the many pieces of unmoving Fae flesh tossed in a heap; the small pile of human parts with wilted flowers placed carefully on top; the footsteps in the scattered debris, trails of blood and smears of green that map out movements.

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  She moves closer. Someone placed the human’s picture ID on top of the flowers so he would be found and identified, bestowing the blessing of closure so those who cared might not wonder endlessly if their husband or father might one day walk in the door again.

  If not for the blossoms, she would think it an act of vengeance, not compassion.

  A killer followed by a merciful passerby?

  She closes her eyes, analyzes, assesses, processes all she saw and factors in what she has come to understand about humans and monsters in her years of war. Working methodically, logically, she re-creates the events that transpired in this street.

  She eliminates the possibility of two separate actors. This was the work of one.

  Someone killed a Fae and butchered a human by accident in the process.

  Someone killed her Fae.

  If she felt, which she doesn’t, her emotions would run the gamut from stunned to furious.

  Neither disrupts her serene features.

  Someone else adjusted her ledgers.

  She wants to know who.

  She steps closer to the pile of Unseelie flesh, notes the suckered fingers, the gray skin.

  The individual spear wounds in each small piece by which the dismembered-yet-still-alive Unseelie was granted death.

  From the shape of the wounds, she knows the killer.

  Her name is also on her list.

  She covets the weapon. Once she has acquired it, she will be unstoppable.

  She lifts her head. A Fae is moving toward her, rapidly. Powerful. Unseelie. She has been hunting this one but not to kill.

  “You wish the Unseelie Princes dead,” she says to the night. She knows the night is always listening. “I will do it for you. But you must do something for me. ”

  She finds it necessary to repeat herself three times before the princess with ice-white skin and cobalt hair appears in the damp street before her.

  “What makes you think I won’t kill you where you stand?” Imperial ice drips from the princess’s words.

  “Perhaps you could. Perhaps you couldn’t. Perhaps you could use an ally in this city whose strengths chink your weaknesses. Perhaps we both could. Not that either of us have many weaknesses. Still, there are those few. You and your brother princes are immune to one another, powerless to spell or destroy one another. I deem that a significant weakness. ”

  Starry eyes narrow as the princess takes her measure.

  Jada says, “There is the devil that can’t get the job done and won’t eat you, and the devil that can get the job done but might. We are both the latter. I agree not to eat you. ”

  The princess’s eyes narrow and she appears to be reconsidering her initial assessment. “Perhaps we can aid one another. If the price is acceptable. ”

  “You will locate a certain Unseelie for me. ” She tells her the one she seeks.

  “Even I do not approach that one,” the princess hisses.

  “Then I will not kill your brothers. ”

  “It is impossible!”

  “I said ‘locate,’ not kill. That is the price. It is non-negotiable. ”

  “How do you think to kill the princes? You are human. ”

  “I know where to obtain a weapon that kills Fae. ”

  “There is no such thing. ”

  “There is. ”

  “All Fae?”

  “Yes. ”

  “And you can get this weapon?”

  “Yes. ”

  The princess is silent a time, then finally says, “Perhaps you have useful knowledge. I will not kill you tonight. You will show me this weapon and demonstrate its power. ”

  “You will locate the one I seek first. Then you will take me there. ”

  “Locate. That is all. ”

  “Both. Or nothing. ”

  “That would be two services rendered. The weapon becomes mine. ”

  “Two princes for two services,” she says flatly.

  Ancient, cold eyes regard her. She is acutely aware of the precariousness of the moment. But one that fails to venture never gains.

  Finally the princess says, “In times of war allies are useful. ”

  “I will offer my services for your future needs. The weapon will be part of those services. ”

  “I will consider it. ” The princess vanishes.

  14

  “Tools, said I, you do not know Silence like a cancer grows”

  KAT

  My gift, if you can call it that, is an empathetic heart. I began crying the moment I was born and wept until I was five years, three months, and seventeen days old—the afternoon Rowena came to my parents’ house and began teaching me to shield myself from the constant barrage of others’ emotions.

  Page 51

  I often think I’ve learned nothing, except how to stop crying, don a mask, and pretend the wor
ld isn’t too much for me to bear.

  I know how fragile we are, how biased the war that rages on this planet where the angels are made of glass and the demons of concrete. All you have to do is drop one of us and we shatter.

  Last night I watched Sean across the dangerous expanse of a treaty table and realized our love is glass, too. I must become diamond dust to strengthen the mix.

  In the days preceding the Hoar Frost King’s defeat, Margery enlisted Ryodan’s aid to tether a dangerous, drifting fragment of Faery that was about to demolish our abbey, and the price Ryodan called due from me the night I went to pay our debt was Sean filling in as a waiter at Chester’s for a time.

  So the dominos began to fall.

  Sean can’t bear to watch people suffering any more than I, and confronted by those in need, he became their provider. It’s a strength I admire with all my heart.

  Yet it’s also the same treacherous foundation upon which both our families were built. Our fathers possessed an enormous sense of responsibility for their own. And their own came to them with problems and requests, each more difficult to address, to satisfy, than the last.

  Over time, it corrupted them. The lime of murder, the viscosity of revenge, cemented the blood in their hearts until they, too, were poured of concrete.

  I move through the dance floors of Chester’s with purpose, my shields as high as I can raise them, yet I cannot block the immense loneliness of this densely crowded place, the hunger and despair, desperation and need. So many angels, so many cracks. They don’t even require dropping, a fair jostle would do the trick.

  I have the care of two hundred seventy-one women in Dublin. The eldest, Tanty Anna, my wise, gentle, ancient advisor whose eyes seemed to stare straight into heaven, is a month dead, murdered by the Crimson Hag. Christian paid the ultimate price for our freedom that night and I’m powerless to help save him. One of my younger charges, Dani, enormously gifted and enormously impulsive, has been missing for weeks now, and I fear the worst. Margery seethes and plots daily to take the reign I would gratefully relinquish, just not to her.

  My soul mate has assumed charge of the black market and put himself in direct competition with two Unseelie Princes and a ruthless male that defies quantifying.

  Now there are new sidhe-seers in Dublin, led by a woman not even Ryodan has been able to track. I’ve never felt so inept in my life. I want to rebuild my abbey. I want to fill the walls a thousand strong again. I want the strength of concrete without the price of it.

 
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