Authors: E.J. Stevens
Arachne nodded, still chewing her hair.
“So is there any benefit to her sleeping?” I asked.
Oberon’s eyes, I’d hoped she was getting better. Please say
she was regaining her strength.
“Um, it helps a little,” she said. “And I’m trying every
healing spell I can think of, just in case.”
“Okay,” I said, rubbing a gloved hand down my face. I
wanted to talk to my friend and shake her in equal parts, but I’d have to
settle for leaving her under Arachne’s care. I sure hoped the kid knew what
she was doing. “You keep watch and continue your efforts to heal Sleeping
Beauty over there. I’ll deal with the creep who’s got his hooks into her.”
The kid stood up straight and gave a curt nod. I knew I
could trust her to do her best. I just hoped that her best was enough. I
returned her nod and turned to leave.
“Ivy?” she asked. “I’m glad you’re okay. There’ve been
sirens wailing past the shop all day. I was starting to think you might have
gotten yourself into real trouble this time.”
“Nope,” I said, holding up my hands to show my wrists. “No
cuffs or IVs. The sirens were due to all the fires that broke out along the
I felt a pang of worry for Ceff, but tamped it down. He
could take care of himself and when he tried to be a hero his elite guard would
keep him safe.
“Fires?” she squeaked.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. You
focus on Jinx.”
“B-b-but…” she stuttered.
“No buts,” I said. “Do what you can for Jinx, and if you
hear from Kaye, let me know. She and I need to have a chat.”
I wasn’t looking forward to that conversation.
by the way, I just signed up to take your life.
Yeah, that was going to go
I’d rather play grab ass with an eight-armed goblin spider,
but if I couldn’t find another way to take down the glaistig’s pet incubus,
then Jinx would be trapped inside that spell circle forever. One way or
another, Kaye and I were going to have to have that chat.
Some girls just have all the luck.
smoke stung my eyes and left an acrid taste in the back of my throat. The
flames may have been extinguished, but Harborsmouth hadn’t escaped the
morning’s fires unscathed. I clenched my fists. Someone was going to pay for
the damage to my city.
I remembered the fleeting glimpse I’d caught this morning of
a fire imp dancing in the flames by the waterfront. If it hadn’t been for the
current situation with Jinx, and the added matter of my bargain with The Green
Lady, I’d be out hunting the little bastards right now.
Too bad my hunting partner had been exiled halfway around
the planet, my best friend was stuck inside a magic hamster ball to keep from
dying, and my mentor in all things paranormal had gone missing. Oh yeah, and
when she returned, we’d have to address the small matter of me being pledged to
I blinked hard against the smoke filled air and stomped
toward Private Eye, the detective agency I ran with Jinx, and the adjacent loft
apartment we both shared. The loft was situated on the floor above our office,
but I hesitated before reaching out for the door that led to a flight of stairs
and the promise of a shower. Someone, or something, was hunched in our office
I hadn’t been into the office today, but I’d heard Jinx
clearing our schedule before walking to Kaye’s earlier today. Had that really
only been this morning? She’d sent out calls, emails, and text messages to our
clients, so who was lurking on our doorstep?
With the philosophy that it was better to be prepared than
dead, I flicked my wrist to release one of my throwing knives from its sheath
and with the other hand slid a holy water dipped stake to rest along my thigh.
I really wasn’t in the mood for vamp games or fae politics and there was no way
I’d take on a new case right now. Whoever it was needed to leave…or face the
consequences of a very grumpy wisp princess.
I stalked forward, careful to keep my weight balanced, ready
to strike or dodge as need be. Thankfully, I wouldn’t need my blades, this
Ceff sat there waiting on my doorstep, a smudge of soot on
his face. His eyes fluttered open and he waved me off.
“What…?” I gasped. “Are you okay?”
Wincing, he pulled himself upright. He wobbled, unsteady on
his feet, and I hurried forward. I reached out to steady him, but he took a
“I am uninjured, just…tired,” he said. “No need to risk a
vision. Unless, of course, you would like to join me in a shower? I seem to
have acquired an inordinate amount of filth while fulfilling your wish to
extinguish fires throughout the city.”
His dark eyes gleamed and warmth spread through me and
tightened my belly. God, Ceff was gorgeous when he smiled. The smudge of soot
did nothing to mar the chiseled features of his face. In fact, it made me want
to touch him all the more. Sharing a shower? Yeah, that sounded like a grand
idea. Too bad this was neither the place or the time.
I shook my head and took a step back, putting more distance
between us, struggling to keep my hands to myself. If I touched Ceff now, it
would be awhile before I could stop, and I didn’t just mean sex.
Coming into contact meant experiencing visions of every
significant, emotionally charged moment in the immortal kelpie king’s life.
We’d shared those visions before. It was a necessary part of our relationship,
one that had brought us surprisingly close, but it did have a downside. There
was no such thing as a quickie where Ceff and I were concerned, and right now I
didn’t have time to play in the shower. We could go horizontal when everything
else in my life stopped going sideways.
“Come on, we can talk upstairs,” I said. “And I do mean
talk. It’s been one hell of a day.”
“Of course,” he said.
Ceff waited patiently for me to lower the wards and unlock
the door before crossing our threshold and mounting the stairs to the loft. My
human blood, as well as the door ward’s custom design, allowed me to enter, but
Ceff was a pureblooded faerie. He could only enter if Jinx or I let him in. Which
The fact that my supernatural security system kept the good
guys out left a sour taste in my mouth, not unlike the acrid tang of soot that
currently coated the back of my throat. Just a few months ago, I’d have been
happy that my home was protected against the fae—every damn one of them.
Until last summer, the only faerie I’d considered a friend
was a churlish brownie who would just as soon pix you as sweep his own hearth.
It’s funny how a battle to protect the city could change so much in such a
short span of time. Since then, I’d learned that being fae didn’t necessarily
make you an enemy. Hell, we’d even allied with vamps—dusty old blood suckers.
War makes strange metaphorical bedfellows and if Kaye was right, there was
another war brewing, which was just freaking ducky.
In the past few months I’d gained some amazing fae friends
and was literally sharing my bed with a kelpie king whose ancestors ate humans
for breakfast. I’d also learned the secret of my own fae lineage—something I
was obviously still struggling with. After years of thinking of the glamoured beings
who walked the city streets as monsters, it was hard to resist the urge to stab
first and ask questions later.
And don’t get me started on demons. My city was being
vandalized by pyromaniacal hellspawn and I was wondering when Forneus would
call with an update on Jinx. Since when had my hopes hung on a demon?
Everything I’d thought I’d known was turned on its head in
such a way that even setting my door wards made me feel guilty. Mab’s bones,
this was messed up. It also didn’t go over my head that the very wards and
charms protecting my home were created by the witch that the glaistig had
ordered me to kill.
I brushed salt and herbs from my gloves and followed Ceff up
the stairs. Oh well, if I was having a crisis of conscience, I might as well
enjoy the view. Yeah, I was going to Hell, but at least I’d go happy.
eff went to
the kitchen where he started opening cupboards, pulling down packages of food,
and setting a pan on the stove. It wasn’t the first time he’d cooked for me,
but today the sight of Ceff wearing Jinx’s apron felt wrong. My roommate
usually cooked my meals. She’d made it her mission to make sure I didn’t
forget to eat, something I had a bad habit of doing, especially when I was
wrapped up in a case. I swallowed hard and dropped onto a tall stool, watching
Ceff as he found his way around the small kitchen.
“How is Jinx?” he asked.
He kept his attention on the food, which was now simmering
on the stove, giving me a chance to regain my composure. I took a deep breath,
waiting until I could speak without breaking out into big, ugly sobs. My skin
began to glow and I bit the inside of my cheek. When it came to Jinx, I could
be such a wuss.
“For the moment, she’s being kept inside a spell circle at
The Emporium,” I said. “An incubus fed on her. He’s one of the carnival fae,
and if I want to save Jinx, I have to either kill the bastard or convince him to
relinquish his hold on her.”
Ceff’s hand paused as he reached for a kitchen knife. I
could read his emotions by the tension in his shoulders and the way he worked
his jaw, but when he spoke, his voice was calm, controlled, the voice of a
“When you called for my help with the fires, you were going
to speak with The Green Lady?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
He slowly turned off the stove, and carefully set the pan
“And did she punish her subject, this incubus who attacked
your vassal?” he asked.
“Punish him?” I snorted. “Nope, she’s the one who ordered
him to make contact with Jinx in some freaking Machiavellian attempt to get my
ass down to the carnival and pay up on one of my bargains. A ploy which
worked, by the way.”
Ceff spun around so fast that my half human eyes couldn’t
follow the movement. One second he was staring at the cooling food on the
stove and the next he was facing me across the counter. His dark green eyes
bled to black and I stifled a chill. Ceff was pissed and giving off his king
of the sea vibe. Or maybe it was his, “I’m going to drown your ass and pick
your bones” vibe. Sometimes I just can’t tell the difference.
Thankfully, his anger wasn’t directed at me.
“What does The Green Lady want of you?” he asked.
He started to pace and I suddenly wished we’d splurged on a
larger apartment. Ceff may have been in his human form, but the energy coming
off him was that of a wild stallion—and yeah, he was still giving off that drag
you down and feast on your bones kind of feeling.
“Look, you sure you want to know any of this?” I asked.
“Cause I understand if you don’t want to get involved. She’s a faerie queen
and you’re a faerie king. I’m guessing that means that things could get messy
if you join team Ivy on this one.”
I wanted him by my side so bad it set my teeth on edge, but
I didn’t want anyone else I cared about getting hurt. My human mother still
couldn’t write her own name after she’d tried to help give me answers about my
real father. Jinx was on her deathbed because of me, spell circle or no spell
circle, and if the glaistig got her way, Kaye would be next. If I could save
my friends, I would. The least I could do was give Ceff the choice, no strings
“As you would say, I am all in,” he said. “Now what does
“She wants me to kill Kaye,” I said.
Just saying the words was like taking a punch to the gut.
Judging from the way Ceff’s face paled, he felt the same.
“The Green Lady, queen of the carnival fae, has asked you to
take the life of the most powerful witch on the entire eastern seaboard?” he
asked. “The same witch who came to your aid on more than one occasion, who has
fought to save this very city…the witch you call your friend?”
“Yes, the one and only,” I said.
“You agreed to such a thing?” he asked, incredulous.
“Yes, but, in my defense, I didn’t know what I was agreeing
to at the time,” I said. “And she was holding Jinx’s life as bait.”
“You owe The Green Lady a boon,” he said with a sigh. “In
all likelihood, there was not much that you could have done.” Ceff shook his
head and returned to his cooking, lighting the flame and placing the frying pan
back on the burner. “So what are the terms of this agreement, be as precise as
I chewed on my lip, thinking back to my conversation with
the glaistig. Yeah, she’d dangled Jinx’s welfare like the carrot that it was,
and I was not a happy bunny. I’d have to be more careful when it came time to
fulfill my second bargain with The Green Lady. Fool me once, shame on you—fool
me twice, shame on me. I’d learn from this and move on. Too bad learning
experiences with the fae tended to be so costly.
“She says I have to kill the witch Kaye O’Shay to fulfill
our bargain,” I said. “And just to make it worse, she said that I had to do it
or else she’ll let her incubus continue feeding and kill Jinx. I suppose
that’s her little insurance policy, in case I find a way around the bargain.”
I pounded the counter with a gloved fist. “Mab’s bloody bones, there’s got to
be some way to win this thing!” I muttered.
I felt like a
chasing its own tail. No
matter how many times I thought the problem over, I kept coming up with the
same thing. I needed The Green Lady to order her incubus to break his
connection with Jinx, but the only way to do that was to fulfill our bargain by
killing Kaye. I couldn’t bring myself to kill Kaye, which meant that my best
friend was going to die.