I blinked. The White Room had changed. It was no longer a completely blank, featureless room. Someone had redecorated, or, like everything else in the world, it had been treated to a magical upgrade.
Ornate white moldings crowned the walls, melting into a lavishly transomed ceiling from which a dozen chandeliers hung, glittering like ice in the sunlight. The walls were wainscoted from floor to ceiling with ornately embellished panels. The floor was glossy white marble. The mirrors, however, were exactly the same, hanging without visible means of support, some twirling lazily within elaborate frames, others motionless, in thin, welded chain-link borders. A few of the looking glasses were black as night, some milky, others swirling with unnerving shadows.
They’d once again been shuffled.
I really hated this room.
When Ryodan appeared beside me, I said crossly, “I am not going back into the White Mansion. Or the hall. I don’t care what your reasons are.”
“Barrons texted. He wanted us off site quickly so we’d stop drawing attention to it.”
“Barrons!” I exclaimed. “Where is he?”
“We’re going to him now.”
I inhaled deeply, girding myself. I was all in, wherever he was, but I had unpleasant memories of this place. Going through a mirror and getting lost for years. Coming out chased by the Crimson Hag and killing Ryodan and Barrons. More recently, going in to save Mac, returning to an entirely different Dublin and a deeply angry Dancer. I’d lost weeks I hadn’t gotten to spend with him and, bloody hell, if I’d known our time together was going to be so short—well, the truth was I’d still have gone in, because it was necessary and that’s what I do. Still, I’d lost so much time in my life.
“We won’t be losing time now,” Ryodan said. “We’re using a different stack of Silvers that bypass the White Mansion completely.” When he pushed into the third mirror from the left, a Silver I’d never entered before, I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and plunged in behind him.
After a long, twisting, unpleasant stretch of myself through whatever the Silvers are made of, I stumbled out—I swear the mirrors do that on purpose to you, to keep you off balance—into the heart of Barrons Books & Baubles.
I just stood there a moment, glowing quietly, Harry Potter reunited with Hogwarts. I was in my magical place again where I’d once felt, so long ago—for the first time ever—that I might just belong somewhere. The place holds a sacred, mystical ambience for me. I love BB&B. Love, love, love it. It smells of high adventure bound in leather casings, crammed on shelves waiting to be freed, of Mac’s peaches and cream candles, of Barrons’s fine furnishings and wool rugs, and the spice of my kind of danger. The sounds of this store are music to my soul, the tinkling of the front doorbell, which I intended to bang at least once while I was here, the soft hiss of the gas fire in an enameled hearth, the quiet hum of the fridge behind Mac’s counter.
Mac. I couldn’t wait to talk to her. I had so much to tell her, so much to ask.
I turned slowly, drinking it all in, the elegant furnishings, the way the sun slanted through the leaded glass windows, my beloved, belled door, the strings of colored lights draping the bookcases, the stockings hung on the mantel, the tall, decorated Christmas tree in the corner—Wait, what? Had we lost time after all? It wasn’t December!
“Why the bloody hell do you have a Christmas tree up, Barrons?” Ryodan growled behind me.
I spun and caught my breath, smiling. Jericho Barrons is one of the few constants in my world. Other things might change, but Barrons never does. He’s impervious, immutable, a giant, obdurate stone of a man that not even water can carve. Like Ryodan.
His nostrils flared and a tiny muscle worked in his jaw. “I don’t. That was Mac’s idea. At least it’s not pink this time.”
A flash of movement caught my eye on a tall bookcase behind him. “Uh, Barrons, why is there a lemur in your store?”
His face could not have gone darker. “Mac’s idea, too.”
“What are you feeding him?” Was he feeding him? The little guy looked awfully lean to me.
“If I could catch the furry fuck, I’d throw him out the bloody window. He’s been shitting everywhere. You have black flames on your face, Dani. What has Ryodan been doing to you? He knows better than to tattoo the face when there’s body left.”
He shot Ryodan a questioning look then, and something passed between them I didn’t understand. Ryodan jerked his head once, Barrons nodded. They were having an utterly private conversation.
Years ago I’d have ignored them. I didn’t this time. I wondered if I could push in, like I had at Elyreum. I stared into Ryodan’s eyes, letting mine shift out of focus, and thought about the tattoo he’d inked at the base of my spine. About his blood and mine intermingled and the dangerous power of such spells, the inadvertent connections they forged. I emptied my brain of thought, expanded my senses and—wham!
—don’t bloody have any idea. Think she’s turning into a Hunter.
Shock and a deep undertow of sorrow. Christ, of all the things you guessed, that was never one of them. What are you doing here? She didn’t call IISS, or I’d have known. You aren’t supposed to be here.
How did you get back?
I told you, no bloody clue. One moment I was there, the next I was—
“Stop that!” They both snarled at once.
I staggered from the force with which they’d ejected me from their thoughts.
You were only in his head, not mine. Barrons shot me a dark look. I felt you in his head and you heard me there so don’t get all cocky about it.
I arched a brow, feeling pretty cocky anyway. I’d pushed into Ryodan’s impenetrable head. Damn.
Aloud, I said, “Where are we and how did you know we were in the lot?”
“I glanced out the window.”
Stymied, I was headed for the door to accomplish two objectives: bang that bell and see where we were, when Barrons thundered, “Don’t open it!”
I cut him a startled look and went to the window instead. I stared, blinked, stared again. BB&B was resting in the middle of fluffy white clouds, with a narrow view through them to the empty lots below. It was sunny up here, gloomy below. I pressed my cheek to the window and thought, Holy Romulan cloaking device, the store was invisible from the outside! “Good grief, we’re in the movie Up. What did you do? How did you float BB&B?” If I’d walked out the door, I’d have plunged. “Don’t you dare toss that poor little lemur out,” I added worriedly.
“I didn’t float it. Mac did.”
I glanced around, dying to see her. This was turning out to be a banner day. Ryodan, Barrons, and Mac; my lions, tigers, and bears had returned. “Where is she?” I asked eagerly.
“That’s what we need to discuss,” Barrons said grimly.
* * *
The Fae had never had any intention of accepting Mac as their new queen, Barrons told us as we gathered in the rear seating area of the bookstore on Mac’s favorite Chesterfield sofa.
Infuriated by the discovery that their past queen, who’d forcibly removed them from the human realm long ago, had begun her existence as a human, compounded by the discovery that their trusted Seelie prince, V’lane, was actually an Unseelie prince, the Light Court had gone hardcore purist. Only a Seelie would be permitted to lead in the future, only a Seelie would become the next royalty. Thus committed, they’d put a high price on Jayne’s head, determined to kill him so the next prince born would be one of their own.
“There are now two Light Court princes that are full-blooded Fae,” Barrons told us. “They conceal their presence from you.”
“One,” I corrected. “I killed one last night.”
Barrons arched a brow. “You ignored Mac’s decree.”
“We had no choice. You left and never sent word. We had no idea if you were even still alive,” I said flatly.
“No thanks to the Fae. They demanded she come to court, rolled out the bloody red carpet. For a few days they played nice, feigning willingness to accept her. Gratitude that she’d repaired the world and destroyed the Unseelie. But their ancient powers were being reinvigorated by the Song. After four days in Faery, meeting with every caste, giving Mac no time to try to learn how to access the power the queen passed to her, the attacks began. Forty-two attacks on her life in twelve hours,” he growled, dark eyes flashing.
“They came after her even though she has the spear and you at her side?” I said incredulously. “Are they nuts?”
“Stealth attacks in large numbers, trying to separate us. They were willing to die to see one of them take her place. We needed time. A queen who can’t use her power is no queen at all. We returned to Dublin, I stacked Silvers, and took her to a chamber I know in the White Mansion; the first room the Unseelie King built for his concubine, long before the White Mansion came to be. A chamber where time moves so slowly it doesn’t even crawl. A day in our world is decades there. Best guess, she’s been sitting in that room for nearly a century.”
“And you? How long have you been sitting here?” Ryodan demanded.