High Voltage

Page 22

Within the confines of those protected streets, patrolled by the New Guardians and, I suspected, warded by the queen of the Fae herself, affording humans a safe haven where they might do more than merely survive, they could live, I forgot about my many responsibilities for a few hours.

I tapped a foot along with street musicians. I stopped in pubs and danced with patrons. I threw darts with a hen party, intentionally missing a lot and gushing over the bride’s picture of her dress, acutely aware my future would afford few occasions for beautiful dresses and never a wedding gown. I sipped a Guinness and grabbed a bite to eat at my favorite fish house.

Before leaving the seemingly spelled haven I stared across the street, between passing, boisterous partiers, through the glass pane of a restaurant, watching a family celebrate their daughter’s birthday with a chocolate layer cake, my mouth watering. Chocolate is one of very few foods I have an emotional reaction to.

I wondered what it would be like to have that kind of life. I couldn’t fathom it. I’m wired differently. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. I’d be incessantly scanning my environment, knowing someone was out there, in need, and I was eating cake. Situational awareness is instinctive for me. I can’t override it.

Back in my apartment I leaned against the wall in the foyer, stretched my legs long and crossed them at the ankles, watching the beast eat the bodies I’d hauled up four flights of stairs because the elevator in my building was on the blink again and, since no one actually lived here, I’d have to figure out how to fix it myself. I’d dragged the deeply exhausted creature out into the foyer on my comforter to feed him there. No blood, no gristle, no guts in my bed is an unbreakable rule.

The beast roused the moment he smelled the bodies, making quick work of one before moving to the next.

I stopped watching and stared out the bank of tall windows, mulling the day’s events.

When at last the beast rolled back onto the comforter, which was now bloody and meant I would have to do my version of shopping again, since no amount of bleach ever gets all the bloodstains out, I tugged him back to my bed and cleaned up the mess that remained on the foyer floor, then sanitized the kitchen of the remains of Shazam’s feast, thinking about chocolate cake the entire time.

* * *


Later, I stood in my bedroom with the slumbering beast and stripped, inspecting my clothes. The back of my jacket was destroyed and the butt of my jeans worn so thin I’d split them if I wore them again, so I tossed both in the trash.

I don’t shower multiple times a day unless I’m covered with blood that doesn’t come off with my clothing, but sometimes I feel the need to rinse a more intangible filth from my body.

After I dried my hair, I inspected myself in the mirror. The blackness of my skin was static with a small exception: a single obsidian vein trellised the left side of my neck and disappeared beneath my curls.

“Well, damn,” I muttered as I pulled a long-sleeved, close-fitting black shirt over my head. I tugged on the same nylon glove that had served as protection from my lethal touch earlier while pondering what to do about my neck. I couldn’t think of any reason someone might touch that six-inch expanse of my skin and I despise turtlenecks, they make me feel like I’m choking. Still, I had no guarantee that—Bloody hell, Rae always flung her arms around my neck.

I considered the thinness of the fabric of my glove, a silky, nearly transparent nylon, then rummaged in the vanity drawer, retrieved a roll of Duck Tape—don’t ask why I have it in my bathroom, my life is strange—and taped the side of my neck, deciding as thick as my hair was, it would protect anyone who touched my head.

I tugged on a pair of faded sweatpants and draped a well-worn quilt over the enormous sleeping beast. After a moment’s deliberation, I shrugged and curled up on the small amount of available mattress to catch a few hours of sleep, sword at my side.

* * *


I dreamed of being helpless, in a cage, and knew, even in the dreaming, the sensation of being paralyzed, about to be raped by those despicable trolls had triggered a difficult memory I keep locked in one of my highest security vaults.

I dreamed I really did pick up Rae at the abbey, and the lovely child exploded in my arms. Little girls are meant to be cherished, protected, and raised into powerful young women. Something inside me died with her, and my heart turned to a dark, ugly bit of useless stone.

I dreamed I stood at Bridget’s grave, weeping blood while black shadows rose from the earth. Then something was behind me and it was going to starve me worse than I’d ever starved in my cage, and whatever the thing was, it wanted me to say its name over and over. But I didn’t know its name.

I dreamed of the night, years ago, when Mac came to the abbey, insisting she hadn’t meant to stab the sidhe-seer who’d attacked her but the spear was in her hand, and the woman lunged and they’d met in lethal fashion. When she moved through the cluster of women and hugged me, I could feel her, smell the scent of shampoo on her hair. Life is an unavoidable accumulation of transgressions. None of us are exempt. Let them go and work harder to make miracles, she whispered against my ear, kissed my hair and vanished.

I dreamed my left forearm sprouted darkly beautiful obsidian thorns, so many it became a black-studded opera glove, lethal to the touch. Then it spread, consuming me, and I became lethal to touch. Isolated by my own skin, never again to be held or hugged or permitted any physical contact at all.

I dreamed the beast in my bed licked my shoulder, the nape of my neck. That might have been real. I didn’t feel teeth so I didn’t worry about it.

I dreamed Ryodan was bending over me, etching symbols on my forehead, my cheeks, my chest, murmuring, Ground zero, woman. Let it go, let it go. See only beauty. Know only joy.

Then I dreamed the infinite, dazzling nightscape I’d traveled when I embraced the power inside me.

Nebula-stained, nova-kissed, I drifted, eyes wide with awe and wonder, among the stars.

A dark divine intervention, you are a shining light

KAT SIPPED HER TEA as she waited for the others to join her in the parlor.

The Pheasant Room was one of her favorites at the abbey, furnished with lovely century-old black and cream velvet sofas, white ottomans embroidered with black Celtic knot patterns, gleaming black side tables, and curio cabinets of zebra ebony. Faded gray and ivory Persian rugs covered the floors. Burgundy pillows and throws dotted the chairs.

But it was the south wall of floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto the meditation garden that made the expansive room one of her favorites.

The room had drawn its name from the silk wall covering of tan and gray pheasants on an ivory background that stretched from wainscoting to acanthus-embellished crown molding. In Rowena’s day the heavy, dark, dusty drapes had been eternally drawn, protecting (or hiding as she’d hidden everything of value) their cherished heritage from the sun and prying eyes.

No more. Both the sun and the lovely, illuminating rays of the moon would, by God, shine in this abbey, if Kat herself had to shred every bloody drape in the place. There would be no darkness, no secrets within these walls.

Well, perhaps a few.

Sean had found a man who could do a paternity test once the child was born. How he’d located him, she had no idea. Those with medical training of any kind were in high demand and short supply.

Kat had been heavy with child at the time. You think I’ve been unfaithful, she’d said. She had. Not willingly, but she had.

Have you? he countered. We were taking precautions.

Indeed, they were, unready to bring a child into an uncertain world.

Do you love me? she asked quietly.

Och, and you know I do. Whatever, wherever, I am, it’s you, always and only.

Then how could it matter, if I pledge my fidelity to you for the rest of our lives?

Are you willing to, Kat?


He’d been an Unseelie prince by then, wings forming on that dark, beautiful back she so adored running her hands down.

He’d been half mad at times, from pain, tortured by fear that the twisted magic of the Unseelie had selected him because he, like all the Black Irish O’Bannions, was deeply, irrevocably flawed.

Still, she’d have chosen him. Her childhood confidant, her lover, her soul mate.

Jealousy, a twisted emotion she’d never felt in her sweet Sean, had thundered so violently in his heart, it terrified her. This wasn’t her best friend, the man she knew nearly as well as she knew herself.

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