Rae nibbled her lower lip and thought. Then scrubbed at her nose and laughed. “It tickles my nose. Just good.”
Pollen, Kat thought. Many of the tiny Fae, banished from their own court, lived tucked inside human blossoms, made homes in fragrant, herb-drenched thickets and nests in piney glades. Lately, some of the sidhe-seers had taken to building diminutive wooden houses for them, painted bright colors. She’d half expected the earthy Spyrssidhe to protest the humanlike structures, but the other day she’d watched a couple—they mated for life—battle a surprised, hostile sparrow at their door, protecting their new abode.
“Come, love, your bath is ready.”
“Not tonight. Only on hair-washing nights.” Rae’s hair was so thick and curly, it was a chore to wash. They only did it every third night, and then bubbles in her bath were her reward for the time she had to sit while Kat detangled her hair.
“Mommy,” Rae said, “my back itches. I can’t reach it.”
Smiling, Kat held out her arms, and when Rae stepped into them, snuggling to her chest, she tugged her daughter’s shirt off over her head.
“It itches bad.”
“Turn around and let me see it, pumpkin,” Kat said.
“I’m not a pumpkin. Today I’m a dragonfly.”
“Well, then, little miss dragonfly, turn—”
But Rae had already turned and bent forward. “Mommy,” she huffed, “itch!”
“Did you lay on something today?”
“I always lay on things.”
“Like what? Rocks? Something sharp?”
“Just things. Grass and stuff.”
“But there might have been rocks in the grass.”
“Don’t ’member any. Itch.”
Kat raised a hand that trembled only slightly and scratched her daughter’s beautiful, smooth skin that was so much like Sean’s, fair yet with the slightest sun it turned golden.
There were two identically sized, round, pink blemishes.
One on each shoulder.
Raise a little hell, raise a little hell, raise a little hell
I WAKE UP GRUMPY AND discombobulated most of the time, unless I’m under attack. Then I wake up sleek, cool, and lethal. Lack of pressure turns me into a high velocity Ping-Pong ball that bounces off anything it encounters. Adversity molds my finest shape.
Today was a disturbing anomaly. I woke feeling bright, focused, alert. More well-rested than I could recall being in years.
Something was definitely wrong.
I snatched my sword, vaulted from bed, and spun in a tight circle, seeking intruders. There were none. I was alone in my bedroom and the beast was gone.
I forfeited a split second of situational awareness to seething about that, then resumed analyzing my inexplicably fine mood. There was no other explanation for it; there had to be a threat somewhere in my flat.
I set to clearing every room, closet, and cubby.
I headed back to my room to search it a second time, and as I crossed the threshold, I felt it. I would have noticed it the first time but high alert focuses me like a laser on potential intruders, not innocuous doorways.
I glanced down, squinting, peering in a sideways I’m-not-really-looking fashion. Wards can be tricky to see. Especially good ones, and this was exquisite: A slate so dark it was nearly indistinguishable from the black marble threshold into which it was carved, the ward had seven distinct layers of design, painstakingly embedded atop each other, plus the softly shimmering hint of two more layers I couldn’t make out. The more intently I studied them, the more elusive they became, shifting into indistinct designs.
Oh, yes, damn fine wards. Protected by a spell of obscurity to prevent them from being duplicated; the mark of a true artisan. It took blood, sweat, and time to work such a spell into cold marble, plus skill I don’t possess.
I moved to the windows. Located the same wards at each sill.
The beast had draped his version of a well-worn quilt around me before he’d left.
I recognized the elaborate symbols and runes. They’re etched at thresholds of Barrons Books & Baubles and there isn’t a Faery in all existence that can cross them. Possibly not even Mac, unless he wove it with an exception for her, which would have required her blood as well.
Did that mean my cruelly starved visitor was Jericho Barrons? And, if so, where did he go and why? What did he think, my flat was a convenient Stop N Go where he could pop in unannounced, get fed, then go tearing off without a word, thinking to appease me with the gift of a few wards?
Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for them. I’m incapable of working such formidable magic myself. Their presence made Sanctuary infinitely more valuable to me. I now had a flat with a room that was safe from the sifting Fae who could simply appear smack in the middle of any of my flats, if they felt so inclined.
But I didn’t want wards. I’d survived just fine without them for two years. I wanted answers.
I wanted my beast back.
I wanted to no longer be the only supercar revving my engine in Dublin. I wanted the entire primal fleet of growling, high-performance Lambos and Ferraris and big, black, badass military Humvees making thunder in the streets of my city.
Besides, I’d pretty much convinced myself the beast was Ryodan. Not from a wealth of empirical data, but an unshakable gut feeling. I’d thought he’d stay. I’d wake up and find him here. We’d catch up. Get mad at each other. It’d be like old times.
My bright, alert, true-north-pointing mood took a steep nosedive south. Fuming, I stalked into the bathroom, muttering beneath my breath. I’d lived two long years without a single glimpse of the Nine and when I finally got one of them back, he’d snuck off while I was sleeping. After everything I’d done for him.
I’m rarely—okay, never—a houseguest, but if I was, I’d offer both a hello and a goodbye. Especially if my host had saved my life.
The Nine drive me batshit crazy.
Still, the beast might be floating around Dublin somewhere.
After brushing my teeth and scraping my tangled hair back into a messy ponytail—not about to brush it, time was of the essence—I tugged on black combat pants and stuffed the many zippered pockets and pouches with weapons, then tucked my Glock in my waistband. I fastened a belt around my waist that became three different weapons and hooked a choker at my neck that became a fourth. Slid on a cuff that concealed razors.
I pulled on a long-sleeved shirt and boots, gloved up, Duck-Taped my neck, slid my sword over my back, and headed for the kitchen to gulp down protein and fat while scanning my text messages.
As I hurried for the door I called out to Shazam, telling him to catch up with me ASAP, that I loved and missed him and would enormously appreciate his extraordinarily acute sense of smell that was so vastly superior to mine, and would he please join me on an adventure today? His recent, long absences were really worrying me.
Then, with thunder in my step that held belligerence I didn’t bother to conceal, I exploded into the fog-kissed Dublin morning, woman on a mission.
I prowled the streets, scanning my surroundings up, down, and sideways, sniffing the air, listening intently, while tallying my priorities for the day.
Rainey had texted while I was sleeping, letting me know she’d found a home, not only for Sara Brady and her siblings but two other orphaned families. No children were placed until I inspected their new homes myself. I won’t save innocents only to lose them to another’s corruption.
In my teens, I’d have also prepped a Dani Daily about recent events, but Dublin had a paper again and, these days, I merely jotted notes, snapped photos, and left the info outside their offices down by the O’Connell Post Office. They’d proven reliable about printing the things I considered important so I stuck to my gracious noncompete. I didn’t get a byline but at least the news got out there.
Also on my list was book shopping. Since my bookstore of choice, with its kickass motto—You want it, we’ve got it, and if we don’t, we’ll find it—was MIA, I was going to have to patronize Bane’s Bibliotech & Bagels (seriously—copy much? Get your own original thought) with its concrete floors, stark fluorescent lights, dog-eared, smelly, secondhand, overpriced books, and even more overpriced café.
The euro still ruled, second to brute-force and black-market racketeering. Dublin had quickly relapsed into that elaborate conspiracy of pretending meaningless pieces of paper were worth something, which worked for me. I’d pilfered a pile of currency I found stashed in a storage room deep in Chester’s. One of ten storage rooms, crammed with currency from too many countries to count, much of it intriguingly ancient.