“That was then. Before I became the monster I am. You’d never have pledged such a troth to what I’ve become. I’m what raped you!”
“If you weaken, I’ll be strong,” I said, through tears. It was the first line of the vow we’d taken together when we were young, the day we’d run off to Paradise Point by the lighthouse, dressed up as if it were our wedding day, had our own ceremony, pledging our hearts and souls together. Too much passion burns. Tenderness fuses. We’d always been tender with each other. And that passion we shared was rich and good and strong. Until a Fae prince had shattered it with lust inflated by illusion. And made me compare. Never compare. The moment you do, you destroy what gifts you possess, and your gifts are precious. “Let me be strong for you now.”
He spun then, gave me his back, and turned to stare out at the stormy, lashing sea. “It’s too late, Kat. Far too late for that.”
I refused to believe that. “If you get lost, I’ll be your way home,” I said softly.
“Go away! I’m not the man you used to know. There’s nothing left of him and I have no bloody home.”
I shook my head as I wiped tears from my cheeks. Sean was not staying lost within his ugly, horrible place in this ugly, horrible land. Nor was he leaving alone to go God knew where. The Kat I’d once been would have quailed before such a creature, that looked so much like Cruce. The woman I’d been before Kasteo wouldn’t have been able to handle the waves of pain, misery, and self-loathing gusting from Sean’s soul, slamming into me, icy spears, piercing my heart, trying to destroy my hope.
But I’d learned, locked beneath Chester’s by Ryodan, trapped with one of the Nine. I’d learned what I needed to know in order to fix the problem I’d made by failing to heed Ryodan’s warnings in the first place. I wasn’t the woman I’d once been. And, I was angry now, too.
Ryodan had so clearly warned me that the world destroyed soul mates. I’d not only refused to listen, I’d helped the world do it. I’d been the one to divide us. And I would, by God, put us back together.
“If you despair, I’ll bring you joy,” I said, speaking the third line of our vows. “Do you hear me, Sean O’Bannion? Joy. You’re going to feel it again. You don’t believe it now but you will. We took those vows for a reason. We made them up together, carefully paring it down to what was most important to us. We did it because we knew the taint of our own blood was strong. We knew one day we might slip. We knew how much pressure they put on us to be like them. How treacherous and sly they were, how they liked to tempt, ridicule, and bully us. We vowed to never let one another fall without helping each other stand back up and find our way. You’re going to stand back up. You’re going to fight what’s been done to you. I’m going to fight it with you, with everything I’ve got. I vow that I will never again give you anything but truth. And one day you will take those vows with me again. And one day you will say that last line again. And you’ll bloody well mean it. And that’s what we’ll use to contain the darkness within you.”
“It’s not that simple, Kat,” he growled. “You have no bloody clue what kind of monster you’re dealing with.”
“You say that to the woman who was raped by one like you, and flown here by another like you. I know exactly what you are. My Sean, in trouble. But not alone. Never alone again.”
“It’s not possible. I’ve tried. Bloody hell, have I tried! I’m not Christian. I’m not that strong. He came from a line of pure hearts. I come from a corrupt bloodline.”
Christian had clan who loved him, who’d fought for him, fought alongside him. Sean had no one. His entire family was dead, and I’d let him slip away, into darkness. The thing I’d vowed never to do. When had I stopped believing in us? I knew the answer to that: When I’d begun to brick and mortar a wall of shame and lies between us. When Ryodan had warned me that we were in peril. “Argue for your limitations, you make them yours. Together, we’re going to argue for your possibilities. It’s entirely possible Rae is your child. If you still want that paternity test…” That might give me a foothold, get him turned back toward the world again. And perhaps the test would be positive for Sean, and perhaps it would be inconclusive, if she were Cruce’s. Perhaps whatever passed as Fae DNA didn’t register. And inconclusive wasn’t quite so troubling. Human hearts are funny that way. We let ourselves believe gentle lies. But it would be his choice this time, not me keeping the truth from him.
A tremor ran through his body, ruffling his wings. He said nothing for a long time, then, “What are the odds?”
“Fifty-fifty,” I told him flatly, stung by the thought he believed I might have taken other lovers. “There’s never been anyone but you and—against my will—him. You’ve never met Rae, Sean. You should. She’s lovely, with your hair and eyes. Fun-filled, good and loving. That doesn’t sound like Cruce to me. Still, she has one of two fathers: you or him, either way she has an Unseelie prince for a da. Cruce is dead.” I hoped. “You’re not. Wouldn’t you rather my daughter, and quite possibly yours, as well, grow up knowing you as her father, not him?”
He turned then and looked at me, with a glimmer of emotion in his eyes, and I inhaled sharply. Deep within, I could feel a faint, weak stirring of hope. For two long years no one had come for him. Perhaps he thought I knew where he was, what he was doing, and had chosen not to come.
“I had no idea where you were, or what had happened to you,” I said, fanning the flame of that hope. “I thought you didn’t care anymore. I thought you’d left because you despised me. I missed you, Sean. God, I missed you more than words can say.” I closed my eyes as a fresh burn of tears stung them. How many times had I imagined me and Rae walking the fields near the abbey with Sean? Being a family, no matter whose child she was. Cooking a meal of fresh-caught fish, watching the stars come out, tucking her in, making love until dawn.
“Give us one more chance, Sean,” I begged. “Please, say you’ll try.”
There is a castle on a cloud
SOME DAYS DUBLIN IS so beautiful it slays me, and this morning was one of those days, as Ryodan and I hurried down cobbled streets toward Barrons Books & Baubles.
An overnight, driving rain had left puddles as still and glassy as mirrors on the pavement, reflecting buildings and shops and sky. Everything was glistening wet, scrubbed clean, gilded by streaks of sunshine slicing through clouds. It was one of those startlingly crisp mornings, done in vivid grays and blacks and silvers, splashed with colorful flowers blooming in planters and trees dotting the curbs.
Ryodan had asked me to narrow down the time frame of the bookstore’s disappearance but I wasn’t able to give him better than a two-week window. It had been that long since I’d last passed by before discovering it gone, which meant it may have vanished two weeks before, or that same day, the day before he’d shattered my door.
We crisscrossed the lots repeatedly, searching for clues. Staring down, gazing up, poking in the few bits of debris rolling like tumbleweeds across concrete.
Aside from an impression of unnatural distortion, there wasn’t a single enlightening bit of evidence to be found. The mystery of Barrons Books & Baubles had donned the equivalent of “that woman’s” battle dress.
“I’ve got nothing,” I told Ryodan a few minutes later, when we met up where the stately, transomed front entrance had once been.
“This makes no sense,” he murmured as a text alert sounded on his phone. He removed it from his pocket, read it and frowned. Another alert went off and he grabbed my heavily sleeved and gloved arm while reading it and began tugging me across the lot toward the alley.
“What? Where are we going?” I demanded.
“You don’t have to drag me,” I growled.
“I’m not so sure about that.” He was dashing me along so quickly I barely had time to register where we were heading, but I did and dug my heels in instantly. “Oh, no, hell no! I am not losing time again.” My city needed me now, not months or years later. Shazam needed me.
He gave a sharp jerk and I went stumbling forward, plunging into the wall behind Barrons Books & Baubles, into that precise portal I’d once entered so long ago then spent endless years Silverside, trying to get back home.
I squished into the wall. Then I was the wall. Then I squirted out on the other side, into the infamous White Room, which still lacked tired starlings, where I stood, scowling ferociously at ten enormous mirrors, one of which had so nefariously dumped me into the ancient, inimical Hall of All Days a lifetime ago.