With two tiny words he’d erected that formal wall between us again.
“Ms. Lane, my ass,” I muttered. But he was gone.
Precisely one hour later we left by the back door, stepping into the alley between BB&B and Barrons’s garage. I loathed leaving the store with all the windows shot out but Barrons assured me no harm would come to it.
While showering I’d realized something I’d overlooked when reading the Dublin Daily earlier: Today was August third—exactly one year to the day I’d first set foot on Irish soil. So much had happened. So much had changed. It was still hard to process the existence-altering vagaries of my life. Now that I was visible again I wanted to talk to Mom about some of my problems, get swallowed in one of my daddy’s big bear hugs, but our family reunion would have to wait.
I shivered in the chilly damp air. My hair was still wet, blond streaked with crimson. The lemon oil I’d used to break down the spray paint had softened and separated the matted areas but hadn’t eradicated the scarlet stain. Just another bad hair day in Dublin.
My wet hair wasn’t the only reason I was shivering. An icy Hunter crouched in the back alley, restrained by symbols Barrons had etched on its wings and the back of its head. It was the same Hunter I’d ridden the day we tried to track the Sinsar Dubh and were deceived by the Book, scattered like frightened mice. The day the ancient Hunter, K’Vruck, had sailed alongside me, admonishing me for not flying on him and warming me with his “old friend” greeting.
I have an enormous sappy-sweet spot for the largest, most ancient Hunter whose name is synonymous with death and kiss so final it eradicates the very essence of the soul. No poodle girl here. Not even a pit bull. My chosen beast is the happy odd finality that is K’Vruck. I wondered where he was and if he might join us again in the sky tonight.
I shuddered at the thought. If so, I’d drive him away. I didn’t want him near Barrons. Ever.
He wasn’t my only problem in the skies. Now that I was visible, I wondered how long I had before I was smothered in noxious ghouls. It seemed like all I ever did was swap one complication for another.
This evening’s conveyance was a fifth the size of its gargantuan brother. I wondered why we weren’t taking one of Barrons’s cars; they’d certainly outrun anything else on the road. The Hunter’s leathery skin was the absence of all color, inkier than midnight in a dark grotto, swallowing what light hit it as if it had ducked into a cosmic bathroom and powdered itself with black-hole dust. Wings at rest by whatever charm Barrons used that could control such creatures, its body steamed like dry ice in the drizzly night.
I shivered again. Riding one of these great beasts was like stretching yourself across a glacier. And if you’re damp anywhere and touch it with bare skin, you stick like a tongue to a metal post on an icy morning. I’d gotten conned into accepting such a dare on a rare wintry morning in Georgia, waiting for the school bus with friends. “I need to grab more—”
Barrons silenced me by tossing me a bundle of clothing: gloves, a scarf, and a thick, lined bomber jacket. The man is always prepared.
The Hunter chuffed irritably in my mind, Remove his marks. They chafe.
I was startled to hear its voice in my head. Eating Unseelie flesh deadens all my sidhe-seer senses until the high wears off. I’d assumed I’d be unable to mentally communicate with it.
Not you that possesses power to hear. I possess power to be heard, it rumbled. Wipe off.
I’ll consider it, I lied, tucking my gloves into my sleeves and wrapping my scarf securely around my neck.
Its amusement tickled the inside of my head, and I suddenly knew two things: it knew I was lying and the Hunter was not restrained in any way. It was pretending.
Were you ever?
Unrestrainable. All is choice. Stop your kind from shooting at us in the skies. We are benign. The marks chafe. Remove them.
It shifted its enormous hind flanks ponderously, impatience evident.
If they do nothing, why do they chafe? I asked.
Do you like those red streaks in your hair?
A snort of laughter escaped me, and Barrons gave me a look.
Interfere with my vision. Do not trinket us. We will trinket you and you will not like it.
I had no desire to know how a Hunter might trinket a human.
“One must mount in order to ride, Ms. Lane,” Barrons said dryly.
“I think I just demonstrated my understanding of that sequence of events back in the bookstore,” I said just as dryly. “It’s talking to me. Don’t you hear it?”
Not even I communicate with that one, the Hunter murmured in my mind. There are doors. He has none.
What do you mean?
I do not clarify, expound, or elaborate. Open your puny mind. If you cannot see, you do not deserve to.
I rolled my eyes thinking it was no wonder the Unseelie king had a special fondness for these creatures. They communicated in a similar fashion.
Barrons sliced his head once to the left, dark eyes glittering, brilliant. He’d fed while out and his big body was thrumming with electric energy. I was looking forward to leaning back into him, astride the Hunter’s back.
Since I couldn’t use my sidhe-seer senses to determine if the Hunter was speaking truth, I listened to my gut instead, stepped forward and smudged my gloved hand against its icy hide, wiping the shimmering symbol from its skin.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Barrons snarled.
“It chooses to be here. It won’t harm us.”
“You know that because it told you? And you believed it?”
I knew more than that. I knew if I wiped off its symbols, it would cooperate far more fully than if I didn’t. Perhaps even tantalize me with an ancient secret of the universe or two, and I’m insatiably curious about what might be out there in the great beyond. Ever since I wandered the White Mansion, that infinite abode of endless wonders, I’ve suspected I have a bit of Gypsy in my blood. If—no, when—our problems are finally over, I plan to go exploring with Jericho Barrons. Everywhere.
This Hunter was proud, aloof, and accustomed to being utterly without authority. It didn’t comprehend the meaning of the word, had to break things down in its mind like the Unseelie king had to split himself into many skins to walk among humans. I wasn’t sure it was even alive in the sense we think of things being alive, unless blazing icy meteors or stars are alive. The symbols didn’t constrain it. They were pesky flies on its hide and offended it to its core.