Which direction she goes is the defining point: she’ll run away—or toward him—depending on her ability to be honest with herself, her hunger for life and willingness to pay any price at all to feel so damned alive. “What? Why are you smiling?” I said.
He bit my finger. “Stop fishing for compliments. I give you enough.”
“Never enough. Not when it comes to you. Do you think I used it? Do you think I brought Alina back from the dead?”
“I think neither of those questions signify. You’re alive. You’re neither insane nor psychotic. Life goes on, and in the going, reveals itself. Quit being so impatient.”
I pushed my hands into his thick dark hair. “I love how you simplify me.”
“You need it. You, Ms. Lane, are a piece of work.”
“I’ll show you work. I want this.” I leaned forward and murmured into his ear. “Right now. Exactly that way. And this and this. And I want you to keep doing it until I’m begging you to stop. But don’t stop then. Make me take it a little longer.” I wanted to feel no responsibility. No control.
“And bloody hell, woman, there you go, asking me for things again.” He stood and tossed me over his shoulder, one big hand clamped possessively on my bare ass, to take me to that place we sometimes went when I had a serious kink in my already seriously kinked chain.
“Hard life, Barrons.”
“I’ll show you hard.”
Of that I had no doubt. Every possible way.
Damn, it was good to be alive.
Much later with a voice that was raw from—well, let’s just leave it at raw—I said to him when I was fairly certain he was meditating deeply enough that he wouldn’t hear me, “I should have gone after her.”
“Dani,” he murmured.
Well, shit. He was aware after all.
“Yes, Dani,” I said.
“Analyze the odds. You know she’d have kept running.”
“But Barrons, she made it out, losing virtually zero Earth-time. Maybe I could have caught up with her, somehow. Maybe she would have gone to a safer world if I’d chased her through, with a quicker way home. Maybe she wouldn’t have had to be alone in there the whole time and she and I would have battled our way back to Dublin together.”
“Maybes are anchors you chain to your own feet. Right before you leap off the boat into the ocean.”
“I’m just saying. I think I know what I did wrong.”
“I didn’t believe in magic. I’m living in a city of it, jam-packed with dark magic, evil spells, twisted Fae, and I have absolutely no problem believing in all of them. But somehow I stopped believing in the good magic.” I prodded him in the ribs, where black and red tattoos stretched across his hard stomach and trailed down to his groin. “Like Bewitched. Or The Wizard of Oz—”
“An untrained witch and a charlatan,” he said irritably. “Did you just bloody poke me in the bloody ribs?”
“Okay, or Dumbledore, he’s the real thing. My point is you can’t believe only in Voldemort. You have to believe in Dumbledore, too.”
“Or you could just believe in me.” He caught my hand and put it exactly where he wanted it.
I smiled. I excelled at that.
Hours later I was holding my cellphone in that hand, staring at my recently created contact.
The good magic, including those possibilities that weighed in on the side of the positive, not the negative, was heavy on my mind.
Barrons was gone, back to Chester’s, where we would meet soon. I bit my still-swollen lower lip and worried it as I punched the Call button. It rang only once and she was on the line.
“Mac?” Alina said quickly. “Is that you?”
Fuck. Instant pain. How many times had I sat in my room in Dublin, dialing her damned number to listen to her recording, wishing just one more time to hear her answer? More times than I cared to count. Yet here it was. I could get addicted to this alone. Merely being able to call and hear something that sounded like my sister answering. I wondered where she was. Where Barrons had no doubt set her up, probably warding the place to keep her alive, too.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey, Jr.” She sounded happy to hear from me, but wary.
“Where are you?”
I closed my eyes, wincing. I could walk over there, bound up stairs I’d once sat on sobbing as if my soul was being hacked in two, slowly and with a chain saw. She’d open the door.
And instantly double over, puking, because even if she really was my sister, I couldn’t hug her, because I was anathema to her now.
“Want to come over?” she said hesitantly.
“So I can make you puke some more?”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Okay, the man you love,” she said flatly, “brought me some pages photocopied from the Sinsar Dubh. He said you used them to learn to manage the discomfort. I’m practicing. I don’t like puking any more than you like making me puke.”
Working with those pages had helped me only to a point. But unlike the corporeal Book—which had enjoyed tormenting me—I had no desire to hurt Alina. If she really was. And if she practiced enough with them, maybe one day I’d get that hug. If she really was. “When did Darroc give you the engagement ring?” It was bothering me, a nagging detail.
She made a soft sound that was equal parts irritation and acceptance. A so we’re going to play this stupid game? coupled with I love you, Mac, and I know you can be totally neurotic, so I’m going to humor you. “A couple of weeks before I lost time. Or whatever happened.”
“The body I buried wasn’t wearing it.”
“That makes sense,” she said pointedly, “because it wasn’t mine.”
If the Book was trying to trick me, it might have made that mistake, putting a ring on her finger that hadn’t been on her when I’d buried her, skimming my acknowledgment that they’d been in love and embellishing it with a perfectly human touch. I doggedly pursued my line of questioning. “Were you wearing the ring in the alley?”
“No. I’d taken it off that afternoon. I’d discovered some things about him. We’d had a fight. I was angry.”