I’d danced to it. A lot. I flushed.
Heart. The line currently blasting: I cast my spell of love on you, a woman from a child.
I scowled thunderously, fisting my hands. Ryodan and his damn spells. Was that what he’d done to me? Was that why I was always so bloody confused around him? Because I didn’t really love him, he’d just made me think I did? I frowned. Wait, what?
I was so not looking at him right now. I stared straight ahead.
“I like it loud,” he said as he turned the volume down. “One of my favorite songs.”
He was not allowed to have that as one of his favorite songs. It was mine. Still staring straight ahead, I gritted, “How constantly did that caveman of yours watch me?”
Teeth clenched, I spat, “?‘Magic Man.’ I dance to it. A lot. Like, naked. In front of a wall of windows. Up high where you don’t expect people or nonpeople to be lurking about on rooftops, spying on you without your knowledge or consent. How constantly?”
Ryodan was silent a long moment. Then tightly, “That fuck said nothing about you dancing.”
I glanced at him. The words had come out guttural, thick. Fangs fully distended, he was the one staring straight ahead now. Hands so tight on the wheel his knuckles were white. After a long moment he rasped, “Lor wouldn’t have stayed to watch.”
“You can’t know that.”
“I can. He may have seen you begin. But I assure you, he didn’t stay.”
I narrowed my eyes, studying him. He was employing one of my tactics, relaxing his fingers one at a time, modifying his breath, forcing himself to regain control, fangs slowly retracting. Copycat. “What makes you so sure?”
“We may walk like humans. But we are far more beast than man.”
He didn’t say anything for so long, I was on the verge of writing it off as one more question the great Ryodan would never deign to answer.
“Sex is the beast’s greatest hunger,” he said finally. “More so than blood. More even than war. It is its greatest obsession and also the thing capable of affecting it the most deeply.”
“Level four. Sex for breakfast.”
He inclined his head. “Had Lor stayed to watch, his beast would have taken control.”
“So, what? I wouldn’t have done anything with him.”
“Consent wouldn’t have mattered. You’re not as powerful as he is. As we are.”
I bristled at the reminder. I was acutely aware of it, every bloody moment of every bloody day. “You’re telling me Lor, my Lor, who is always good to me, would have—” I broke off. “I’d have used his own club against him. Lor and me, we don’t feel that way about each other.”
“Lor is beast first. We all are. Never forget that. Never underestimate it. We have our limits. We do what we must to manage those limits and minimize fallout. With the exception of Barrons, none of us permit the beast to run wild. It does things we don’t want it to do. With deadly consequences. Ergo, the moment you began to disrobe, Lor would have left. He cherishes you. Protects you. Calls you his little honey.”
“Are you telling me the Nine can’t see a woman naked without turning into a beast and assaulting them? That’s lame. What kind of superhero has that kind of problem?”
He made a sound of choked laughter. “Ah, Dani, only you would call us lame. Superheroes constantly battle an inner darkness, a hunger to cast off all chains. It took Christian Bale to give us an authentic Batman. It was about bloody time the world pulled its head out of its ass and gave us a gritty, complicated version of the Bat who could champion the things that mattered, not the bloody use of seat belts, doing your homework, and eating your fucking vegetables. Champions don’t spring from happy childhoods. They explode from tortured ones with a mile-wide dark streak they’ve learned to use for good. Superheroes aren’t perfect and they’re usually their own worst enemy. Yes, we can see women naked. It takes the addition of an extreme on top of it to cut the beast loose.”
I blinked, trying to wrap my head around his Batman insight. It wasn’t half bad. I itched to debate it, dissect details. Did he or didn’t he read comics? “Extreme, my ass. I wasn’t doing anything sexual. I was just dancing.”
“You are an extreme. And I’ve seen you dance. It’s sexual. Blatantly. Graphically. A red fucking flag to a bull. Heed the warning. Never dance naked in front of me. Unless you intend to see it through. All the way. And it’s a long, lawless way.”
“I wasn’t planning to,” I snapped. I’m entirely too visual sometimes. I had a vivid picture in my head of doing just that. Had, in fact, imagined doing precisely that while dancing to “Magic Man” in my flat over the past two years. Stunning him, dazzling him, making him lose control and vow his undying love of me. Indulged in yearnings I’d carefully boxed the moment I stalked, exhausted, from my living room floor. That was how I’d learned to vent things when sex with human men hadn’t worked. Dumped my pains, my dreams, on a private dance floor, instead of in bed with a stranger. Lived out my wildest fantasies, naked and alone. Same way I lived my life.
I still found it highly suspicious that he’d been listening to my song, and told him so.
“For fuck’s sake, Dani, it’s not your song. I like Heart. They’re two dynamic, sexy women.”
My eyebrows climbed my forehead. “You know Heart? You’ve met them?”
“They used to come into the club sometimes, back in the day. Who do you think ‘Magic Man’ is about?”
I gaped. “No way. Your eyes are silver.”
“His eyes are green, not blue. And I read a Rolling Stone interview that said it was about Mike Fisher.”
“Protecting Lor’s identity.”
“She’s a brunette.”
“Occasionally he breaks his own rule. Ann Wilson was a woman worth breaking it for. He had a thing with Joan Jett for a while, too.”
“Seriously. ‘Magic Man’ is about Lor?”
With a hint of irritation, he said, “According to him, yes. He says ‘Crazy on You’ is, too. He was hard to live with for a while. That was back when he was hanging out with the Kinks.”
“Holy Hall of Fame, Lor was immortalized in classic rock and roll!” I couldn’t keep the note of envy from my voice. Okay, envy liberally dripped from each word. But, criminy, what a tribute! I mean, sure it was only about how good he was in bed, but music lived forever!
Ryodan laughed softly. “Ah, Stardust, I’ve no doubt you’ll be immortalized in far more important ways.”
I stiffened. “Why did you call me that?” That was what my mom used to call me, a lifetime ago, during the hot minute she’d loved me.
“Seems fitting. Tell me the state of the world in a nutshell.”
He’d done it again, changed the subject so quickly I floundered a moment, trying to shift gears. “I’m sure Lor updated you,” I said tightly. He’d left for two years and I’d known nothing about him at all. But he’d been getting constant updates about me.
“I knew nothing of your life either. He was left in play to keep you alive, nothing more, and although he updated me when I got back, his mind isn’t yours. I want the Mega-brain analysis.”
I beamed. Since he put it that way. “We’re poised on the brink of our greatest war yet. If Mac fails to gain the Fae court’s loyalty, if they succeed in killing her—and they don’t need the sword to do that, locking her away in the Unseelie prison would eventually kill her, too—once they seize her power they’ll either eradicate us from the face of this planet or enslave us. If they’ve locked her in the Unseelie prison as Cruce did to Aoibheal, every moment we waste could be ushering her one step closer to death.” That was a fear that kept me awake at night: Mac in trouble, needing me and, out of blind respect for her wishes, I was doing nothing. Two years of silence had turned into an endless, gnawing worry in the pit of my stomach.
“You’ve not heard from Mac at all?” He sounded stunned.
“Not a word since you left.”
He cursed softly. “Christ, she said she’d stay in touch. What about Rainey? I know you see her. Has she heard from her daughter?”
“I stopped asking her nearly a year ago. It upset her. I suspect if she’d heard, she’d have told me.”
“Any theories on where the bookstore went?”
I offered five: “Mac and Barrons moved it for some reason. Someone else took it. The Silvers inside were changed by the Song and swallowed it up into a Fae realm. An IFP devoured it and moved on.” I couldn’t resist adding a Douglas Adams theory, “It got fundamentally fed up with being where it was.”
“The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.”
“I loved that book.”
“The airport that blew up.”
I nodded. Ryodan read books. The kind I liked.
“I think we can rule that one out.”
“I’m okay with that.”
Suddenly, it felt like old times. Light banter, easy comradery. “Examine the scene tomorrow, Robin?” I said lightly.
He cut me a look. “As if I’d wear that suit. Sherlock. BBC version.”
My eyes narrowed. “I am so not Watson.”