Page 27

He started when he caught me looking directly at him.

“Yes, I can see you. Listen, can you tell us where the trophy room is?”

His shoulders swung around, the movement painfully slow. He’d clearly died of old age and never left his house. Nor had he embraced a younger body. Or even an older body that moved at normal speeds.

“You can see me?” he asked.

“Yes, yes. And I’d love to talk to you about that, but if the owner of the house catches me in here, he’ll turn me into a walking nightmare. I just need someone to direct me to the trophy room.” The old man’s face closed down and I realized how this must’ve looked and sounded to someone who used to inhabit these walls. I put my hands up. “I won’t be stealing anything. I’m just trying to find a spirit who might be trapped here.”

“You mean that lovely young woman with the dark”—he lifted his hand to his head before making a waterfall gesture—“dark, dark raven hair?”

My mouth dropped open. “When did—” I gritted my teeth. He wouldn’t know how much time had passed. “Do you see her often?”

His brow furrowed. “No. Not often. A couple times, I think. She reminds me of the woman who lived here once. She was a lovely creature. Like gently rolling waves on a—”

“Yes, yes. Sure, sure.” I hopped from foot to foot, impatience gnawing on my guts. “She’s trapped in spirit form in this plane. Do you know anything about that?”

“Is that right? Well that’s sad. I stay here because I like it here. It’s comfortable. I see the comings and goings, the busy bustle. I watch from my window—”

“Yes, yes. Okay.” He didn’t know anything. Even if she’d spoken to him directly, he probably wouldn’t have retained any information. His fixation was on the house. “The trophy room. Where is the trophy room?”

His directions took forever, because he kept forgetting how space and time worked. How this house had changed while he’d been squatting there. He’d been here for a long time, and it showed. He room-hopped without even knowing he was doing it.

The trophy room was on the second floor, the same floor as Valens’s private quarters. It would make more sense to hit up the west sitting room first, then continue on to the stairs, so we took that route, racing across the shit brown rug to the dining room and then flitting through the hallway that could be seen from the front door.

“He says they have two maids who come in the morning,” I whispered to Bria, out of breath. “One butler, who keeps a room upstairs—that’s why the alarm isn’t set—and an on-call cook. Just the butler is here right now. He thinks. But he might not know what right now actually means anymore. He might not even be talking about inhabitants from this century.”

My breath caught in my throat as we arrived at a large entryway to a gorgeous sitting room with enormous bay windows facing the sparkling ocean. The deep blue sky reached down and grazed the dark blue of the sea, the color so similar to Kieran’s eyes that a strange pang unfurled in my gut. The sun highlighted the red-orange of the Golden Gate Bridge, and little dots of white—sailboats—drifted along the waters of the bay.

“This is…” I didn’t have words for the beauty on display. How lucky to be born into a house like this. To see this every day as a birth right.

“This is a goddamned shit show. What is up with that fireplace? It’s stuffed with wood.” Bria shook her head angrily as she took off to the right corner of the room.

Again, she wasn’t wrong. It sounded like a nonsensical complaint, but she was right. The entire fireplace was stacked with wood, from the bottom to the top, left to right. It looked as if someone had stacked it for later use, except they’d chosen to store it in the place they would use it. So weird.

“The view, though,” I said, grimacing at the gaudy mirror above the marble fireplace, the mauve walls, and the cream and glass furniture, which I hadn’t noticed at first glance. “Okay fine, in this instance, their decorating skills could use a little work.”

“Not in this one instance, trust me. Now hurry up, we need to get out of here.”

With a last glance out the window, my heart sinking at the thought that I’d never find a prince who’d build me a dream house like this one, I let my eyes drift closed and felt around the room for a spirit trap. The Line materialized almost immediately and a tiny breeze flowed along my skin. Nothing obstructed it, however. Nothing buzzed, calling my attention.

“It’s clear,” I said, letting my eyes drift open. “Kieran’s mother obviously thought this room was special because of the view.”

Bria nodded, doing her own sweep. “I agree. Next. And move faster. We only have a half hour before we should mosey.”

“Why a half hour?”

“That’s when the meeting ends. Then Valens will have to drive home. We’ve got time, but not that much time, get it?”

I swallowed my fear and picked up the pace, crossing to the wide hallway and nearly jogging toward the stairs.

“That ghost was right—there’s one person in an upstairs room,” Bria said quietly, grabbing the white banister and swinging around to the steps.

“Can people hide their souls from you?”

“I didn’t think so until I met you. You do it occasionally.” I frowned in confusion. I didn’t have the foggiest as to when or how. “I’m learning lots of new things lately. I’m not sure if I hate it or love it.”

At the top of the stairs, a wood-paneled double door stood open. I stepped in—and immediately backpedaled. “What in the holy fuck?”

Bria stepped around me, once again veering to the right to start her inspection. “Come on.”

“I thought they were trophies, as in…awards.” I swallowed the acid rising in my throat.

Though the room was beautiful, with high, wood-paneled ceilings, rows of bookshelves laden with books, and rustic wooden floors, the items in the room were god-awful. Stuffed elephant feet balanced the pool table, the sides of which were made out of ivory. A unicorn head hung on the wall, its golden horn gleaming in the mood lighting. A stuffed phoenix perched on a wooden stick, its days of rebirth stolen. A skin of some kind stretched across the floor.

“Hunting these magical animals is illegal,” I said, a strange and uncomfortable feeling washing over me. “They’re endangered.”

“He’s above the law.”

“No one is above the law.” I clenched and unclenched my hands, my ire rising. “Kieran really did yank down the freak show to stop me from participating. If he cared about the animals, he wouldn’t live here.”

Bria glanced up as she moved locations. “He does that in every city he visits.”

“But…” I spread out my hands, indicating the room at large.

“This isn’t his.” Bria paused at a desk made out of colorful dragon scales. “Valens is known for his hunting. Of people, of animals. No one gets away.” She paused. “Literally, I guess, right? The magical animals end up in this room, and the people end up in spirit traps. Man, that guy is fucked up.”

I clenched my jaw. Acid bit the back of my throat. “I want to help Kieran. Help him take on—”

Bria made a shushing gesture. “Best to stay on light topics, like what a dick Valens is,” she said quietly. “I’d hate to find out my intel on this place is wrong, and there is actually surveillance besides an old butler and a few cameras on the expensive cars. Come on, search. We haven’t got all day.”

I let out a breath, trying to regain my focus. A dragon head with glittering golden scales stared at me from the wall, making it difficult.

I drifted into the middle of the room, careful not to touch anything. Before I even closed my eyes, a very slight buzz permeated my body, followed by a surge of adrenaline. A spirit trap in this room. “Bingo,” I whispered, following the feeling to the back of the room. There, sitting on the middle shelf, sat a little gold box with a tiny lock fastening the cover.

“Bria,” I said in excitement, nearly reaching for it. “I found it!”

20

Alexis

She hurried over, her footsteps light despite her haste. Her shoulder bumped mine as she surveyed the box.

“The spirit trap…thing is on that?” she asked, pushing up on tiptoes to get a peek at the top.

“Yeah.”

“It’s too small for a selkie skin.” For the first time I could remember, sadness dragged down Bria’s expression. She turned away. “Besides, it wouldn’t make sense to keep a skin in a fairy box.”

“What do you mean, a fairy box?” I pushed in closer. Intricate words and designs were etched into the gold. Spells, maybe.

“It’s a box to trap fairies,” she said. “You can make them yourself, or buy one that’s already set up. They aren’t foolproof, though, and the rate of failure if you do it yourself is high.” She moved to the other side of the room. “It looks like he did it himself.”

“But…” I let what she said sink in. “Killing a fairy is murder.”

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