High Voltage

Page 27

“Miss, is that you? I thought it was!” The man circled around, stopping in front of me. Plucking his cap from his head, he stood, clutching it in his hands, a warm smile creasing his ruddy face. “Nobody else with that sword. Top of the morn to you, m’dear! The missus keeps asking if I’ve seen you again. She’d like you to join us for supper of an evening.”

I retrieved his name from my mental files: Connor O’Connor. Some parents should be shot on naming day. After I’d visited them six months back, I’d approved Rainey placing eight-year-old Erin with the middle-aged couple who’d lost their children when the walls fell.

I managed to unclench my jaw but forcing a smile was out of the question. My bones were connected by too-tight rubber bands. Nodding tightly, I said, “That’d be lovely, thank you. I’ll drop by when I can. How’s Erin?”

“The wee lass is fine as can be. She still has the occasional bad dream, but they’re fewer and further between.”

“Wonderful. I knew she’d be happy with you.” I still couldn’t unclench my hand so I jerked a fist at the commotion. “What’s the plan here? How many stories?”

“At least half a dozen, I hear, but I’ve not seen the plans. The boss is below. You might ask him. I hear he’s got an eye for the ladies, and a beauty like you could dazzle him into telling you anything.” He winked at me.

His opinion and reality were clearly suffering massive disconnect. Answers from Ryodan? As if. Beauty like me? I had Duck Tape on my neck, a scowl embedded in every muscle in my body, and I hadn’t even brushed my hair.

“Well then, Miss Dani, I’ll be leaving you to your business but I’m hoping you’ll find time to drop by. You changed our lives, gave my missus her sparkle back, and when that woman’s happy, my world’s right as rain. There’ll always be a seat for you at our table, and my Maggie’s a fine cook.” Blushing, he tucked his chin down in a nod of sorts and ambled away.

An eye for the ladies?

That was pretty much all my brain retained.

If Ryodan was nodding from the top of his arrogant, womanizing staircase again, I was going to saw his head off. I had no idea why and didn’t care. I just would.

Hands fisted, jaw clenched, I sped across the lot in half-freeze-frame, adroitly navigating machinery and men, to the door in the ground that led to Chester’s-below and began my descent into Hell, to raise some of my own.

I feel stormy weather moving in (it’s raining men)

AS THE SHINY NEW steel trapdoor closed behind me on its shiny new hydraulic arm, I descended the (also-new) stairs that had replaced the clumsy ladder once welded to the wall.

As a teen I’d watched the See-You-in-Faery girls in their skintight short skirts paired with insanely high heels navigate that tricky ladder with a derisive snort, thinking, Please, wear panties!

The stairs were a definite improvement.

There used to be two sets of trapdoors and two ladders before you reached the foyer of Chester’s-below. That was no longer the case. The entry must have been the first thing Ryodan set his crew to modifying. The foyer was now a single mammoth vestibule, with a long, elegantly curved staircase framed in enough to use, but not yet finished, that ended on a black marble floor so highly polished it served as an obsidian mirror.

I clenched my hands so tightly I nearly broke my own fingers. He’d clearly admired the floors of my flat. And copied them.

New, colossal double doors soared twenty feet, made of thick matte black steel embellished with fantastical panels of wrought-iron twisted into complex designs, undoubtedly laced with wards ready to be activated at a moment’s notice. Ultramodern charcoal consoles inlaid with onyx and a dozen white leather and chrome chairs graced the perimeter of the foyer.

I stalked across the room and shoved the massive doors open with a scowl. I had to put my shoulder into it, which meant the average human would need to be let in from the other side. I stood between the parted doors for a long moment, breathing deep and slow, taking in the view.

Interior lights blazed the entire width and breadth of the many-terraced club and there was that duality again: CHESTER’S WAS LIT! competing with What else did that bastard copy of mine? I, too, had white leather and chrome chairs in my foyer, next to my charcoal console. I’d stolen them from some rich guy’s penthouse. I enjoyed decorating because I’d never gotten to do it before and I see things in structures and patterns, and decorating is a way of arranging things to achieve maximum visual happiness. If his kitchen had been remodeled with my counters and back splash, he was dead. Death might be brief for him, but temporary was enough to make me feel better.

Urban sophistication wed to industrial muscle, Chester’s was London haute couture slumming with Irish mob in the best possible way. The club was divided into countless tiered subclubs that would soon be filled to overflowing again. When the world goes to hell, people party. They need to. Who am I kidding? I need to. It spring-cleans my brain, refreshes it like a blast of detritus-removing sanitizer. The days look brighter, saner, after you’ve spent a night pretending the world hasn’t gone mad and that you’re on top of it—especially if you finish it off on top of a worthy man, too, not that I’ve had any luck finding one of those since Dancer.

Dancer. Hole in my heart that never goes away. I miss him always, especially when I’m in a location owned by a man he and I used to conspire against together endlessly.

I’d once despised Chester’s, convicted Ryodan of catering to the wrong clientele. I see the place differently now.

As an asset.

The nightclub being reopened would give people a choice. Elyreum was the only club in town packed to the gills with dangerous thrills, its appeal the lethally exotic, sexually combustive Fae with their illusion, lies, and false offers of immortality.

But Chester’s would offer an equally seductive draw: the immortal, basely sexual, mysterious, ferociously alpha Nine. And if a few Unseelie princes like Christian MacKeltar and Sean O’Bannion started hanging around again?

Chester’s would obliterate Elyreum.

I’d even let Inspector Jayne in, he’d be a significant lure. And the more humans that came to party here, the more Fae from Elyreum would come sniffing around, drawn by the banquet of mortal prey. Why was that good?

We’d have control again.

We’d know what was going on. People get drunk and tongues wag in clubs, they reveal things they shouldn’t. The disadvantage of being banned from Elyreum was the only info I’d ever been able to obtain on the current state of Faery came from people I questioned on the streets, and few were willing to tell me a bloody thing. I’d begun to suspect my picture hung in Elyreum’s bathrooms with a block-lettered caption: DO NOT TALK TO THIS BITCH OR WE’LL KILL YOU. With the exception of Jayne, I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Fae in…good grief, over a year? They were studiously avoiding me, for which I’d been grateful, given the perpetually itchy state of my sword hand.

Oh, yes, I got it now: offer to host your enemies, let them misbehave, pass no judgment. Yes, there’s a price for it, you have to watch prey get preyed upon, but—and it’s a critical but—chance favors the prepared mind; intimate knowledge of the enemy prepares. I’m all about increasing odds of success where the human race is concerned.

I saw Chester’s now as I’d never been able to see it before: a vast, complicated, ever-shifting, treacherous, necessary chessboard. The White army was definitely going to lose pawns, nothing could be done about that. But their loss might gain the Black king’s head, and checkmate the war. The moment White got distracted, trying to protect pawns, the Black army would go in for the kill and take White’s king.

I glanced down at the dance floors, to the elegant, wide, glass and chrome staircase that swept up to one of the many private, never-accessible-by-public levels of the club, where Ryodan’s glass office was located.

In spite of my pissy mood, I smiled.

Fade and Kasteo were in position at the bottom, arms folded, legs splayed wide, two handsome, towering, scarred immortal bouncers.

The Nine were home.

I basked in the simple pleasure of that fact for a moment.

Then my smile was obliterated by a scowl. They were guarding the same notorious staircase from which the notorious Ryodan used to give his notorious nod every morning.

I knew the legend. Women never refused.

Saw. Off. Head.

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