The estate at 1247 LaRuhe was exactly the same as it had been last time I saw it, extravagant, forgotten, and as out of place in the casually dilapidated, industrial neighborhood as slender Kat had looked in powerful, forbidding Kasteo’s subterranean gym.
The first time I’d come here, I was following my sister’s last clue, chiseled as she lay dying. I believed it would lead me to the Book she’d wanted me to find, and instead discovered her boyfriend, learned he was the Big Bad ushering Unseelie into our world, and was nearly killed by one of his bloodthirsty companions. Six months later, I’d visited the house again, because Darroc had taken my parents captive and I was hell-bent on freeing them.
It hadn’t gone as planned, but few of my ventures in this city had.
Today my plan was simple.
I would skirt the house and head straight for the giant stones of the dolmen to see if my Unseelie-flesh-enhanced strength was considerable enough that, with a chain or rope purloined from a nearby building, I might be able to send the whole thing crashing to the ground.
Or perhaps I’d find one of those little bobcats in a nearby warehouse I could use to push it over. I could drive anything if there was gas in it.
One less portal.
My plan was not to go inside the tall, fancy brick house with the ornate facade and the blacked-out mullioned windows that made me feel as if the bone-pale structure was a bleached skull with creepy shuttered eyes that might pop open at any moment, insanity blazing within.
As I stood at the wrought-iron gate, one hand resting between pointy posts, the dense cloud cover gusted lower, shrouding the eaves, dispatching wispy tendrils down the sides to ghost across the barren yard.
I drew my jacket closer and turned up the collar. No sun penetrated the fog, and the abandoned property abruptly seemed painted in shades of the Unseelie prison, harsh whites, gunmetal grays, and eerie blues.
This particular Dark Zone in heavy fog was not one of my better memories of Dublin.
I shook off my chill, opened the gate, and stepped briskly onto the long curved walkway. As I hurried past skeletal trees, the gate screeched shut behind me and latched with an audible clack.
One year ago I’d followed the elegant walkway straight to the door and brazenly slammed the ornate knocker against burnished wood.
I’d let myself in and rummaged around, astonished to discover signs of my sister’s presence mingled with that of an urbane, Old World man with lavish Louis XIV taste in decor and strikingly Barronsesque taste in clothing.
I’d sat on the bottom stair inside the silent, luxurious home and pored over pictures of Alina I’d taken from an upstairs bedroom. Thumbed through photos of her with her mysterious, handsome lover. I’d glimpsed my first unusual mirrors here, although I’d not understood what they were at the time.
The mirrors. I smacked myself in the forehead. Shit.
I paused a few steps from the porch, wondering if anyone had bothered to smash them, if perhaps Barrons had spelled them shut after I shoved into one six months ago, planning to step out in Georgia, only to end up lost in the Hall of All Days, where—like Dani—I had stared at billions of mirrors, wondering if I would ever be able to find my way home again.
I didn’t like the idea of anything I’d glimpsed within those hellish Silvers having access to our world. We had enough problems as it was.
I sighed. There was no way I was leaving today without closing all portals at this location.
I took a step forward. Aware I was trudging a little. There were reminders of my sister here. I didn’t want to go inside. But want and responsibility are rarely boon companions.
I took another step.
One window on the house had not been blacked out.
The stained-glass transom above the lavishly carved front door.
And somewhere inside that abandoned house, a light had just come on.
“Let’s imitate reality—insanity…”
Unseelie flesh in my blood, check.
I silently ascended the porch stairs and pressed my hand to the door.
Damn. Sidhe-seer senses, not a check.
I had no way of knowing if what was within was Fae, human, or perhaps even something else entirely. I took nothing for granted anymore. Whatever it was, it wanted light for some reason. I couldn’t envision an Unseelie flipping a switch or yanking a chain. They liked the dark. They’d lurked in it so long their eyes were well-accustomed to gloom.
I tested the knob, turning slowly.
I took a fortifying breath and nudged the door open as quietly as possible, just far enough to steal a glimpse inside the house.
Nothing. But then, I couldn’t see much from this point of view.
I listened intently. Thanks to my heightened senses, I was able to discern soft footfalls upstairs on thick carpet. One set. There was a single entity moving inside.
I waited, listening to see if more footfalls joined them.
After a solid minute of hearing the sound of only one person/Fae/whatever, I eased open the door, slipped quickly inside and closed it behind me.
I inhaled deeply, mining for clues about the intruder. I untangled various elements: mildew of an old, unoccupied house; an acrid mold from the eternal rain with no heat running in the colder months and no air when it was warmer; something sulfurous that was no doubt escaping from one of the damned mirrors; a touch of wine spilled long ago—perhaps my sister having a drink with Darroc that had ended in impassioned lovemaking and forgotten wineglasses.
I inhaled again, deeply. Sure enough. I smelled a doughnut. And coffee. The scent of yeast and something sugary was enormously enticing. I marveled that somewhere in Dublin someone was making doughnuts again. My stomach rumbled loudly. I made a mental note to find that vendor. Food had been in short supply for so long I could only give kudos to the black market if they were managing to obtain baking ingredients.
I moved quietly into the foyer, across black and white marble floors, beneath an elaborate crystal chandelier, my gaze focused tightly ahead, skirting a large round table with a dusty vase of silk flowers and pausing at the foot of an elegant, spiraling staircase.
Soft footfalls directly above.
The sound of a drawer sliding open. A muffled curse.
I couldn’t make out much. The walls and floors were of solid, hundred-year-old construction and served as sound insulation.
I cocked my head, listening, trying to fathom who might come here and search the premises. Besides me. For a moment I wondered if that was what I might find, should I ascend those curving stairs, if I’d somehow gotten trapped in a time loop, if the Sinsar Dubh was playing games with me.