Burned

I'm death walking. I'm the possibility for
complete and total world destruction...

MacKayla Lane would do anything to save the home she loves. A gifted sidhe-seer,
she's already fought and defeated the deadly Sinsar Dubh-an ancient book of terrible evil-yet its hold on her has never been stronger.

When the walls that protected humans from the seductive, insatiable Fae was destroyed on Halloween, long-imprisoned immortals ravaged the planet. Now Dublin is a war zone with factions battling for control. As the city heats up and the ice left by the Hoar Frost King melts, tempers flare, passions run red-hot, and dangerous lines get crossed. Seelie and Unseelie vie for power against nine ancient immortals who have governed Dublin for millennia; a rival band of sidhe-seers invades the city, determined to claim it for their own; Mac's former protégée and best friend, Dani "Mega" O'Malley, is now her fierce enemy; and even more urgent, Highland druid Christian MacKeltar has been captured by the Crimson Hag and is being driven deeper into Unseelie madness with each passing day. The only one Mac can depend on is the powerful, dangerous immortal Jericho Barrons, but even their fiery bond is tested by betrayal.

It's a world where staying alive is a constant struggle, the line between good and evil blurs, and every alliance comes at a price. In an epic battle against dark forces, Mac must decide who she can trust, and what her survival is ultimately worth.

REVIEWS

"Moning has pulled off an impressive feat, pulling together threads from previous books that, at the time, seemed like digressions, and tying them into a larger narrative...Moning is a master of walking me up to very complicated, messy situations—especially ones involving trauma or grief—and forcing me to examine my discomfort...I love how (she) pitches a full scale apocalypse in the middle of a paranormal romance series. There is nothing mincing or episodic about her plots; you cannot be assured everything will be reset to factory settings at the end of the episode. She might just murder the world, and the world will stay murdered...The best thing you can say about any sequel is that it justifies its existence, and Burned casts a different light on Iced, in addition to being another addictive romp with characters I love. Seven books into a series, I really couldn’t ask for more."
~B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog

"Fever fans, get ready. Karen Marie Moning is back, delivering the kind of spellbinding, addictive, twisted tale we love to devour. Magic and madness, intrigue and illusion, passion and power, sexual tension and more sexual tension—this book represents everything I love about the series."
~USA Today Happily Ever After

"BURNED is Moning’s best writing to date, bar none, and by no means has her ability ever lacked before; BURNED is just so sensationally beautiful that it transcends all of her past contributions to the literary universe. Moning’s ability to spin a web of imagery so vivid that pictures, sounds and tastes dance through your mind is unmatched. Rivaled only by the masterful way in which human emotion, devastation, heartbreak, lust and yearning leap off of her pages. When you are reading a KMM book, you will be immersed completely in the world of her choosing; and in the FEVER world, you will travel to a great many exotic and terrifying realms."
~PopWrapped

"What I enjoy most about KMM’s writing is that she’s a fearless writer. There’s this innate confidence in her writing and I truly believe she can pull off anything. You just have to have faith in her. When the twists and turns hit you and the bombs drop left and right, it’s easy to just let your emotions control you. But if you’re patient enough to see how the events come together in the end, you get a visceral experience unlike anything before."
~Under the Covers Book Blog

"Some books leave you feeling like they'll never leave you. Like they'll be a part of you for as long as you live. Some books leave you feeling haunted, in the best possible way. Like they're always present somewhere in the back of your mind. Like you'll never understand all their mysteries. Never really know when/if the story ends. This is one of those books. This has always been one of those stories. It will forever be etched on your soul. And will take up permanent residence in your head. I think I know what Mac feels like, having a book making itself at home in your mind."
~The Saucy Wenches Book Club

"I loved Burned. There was laughter. There were tears. There were some serious ewwww moments. There were a few WTF?! moments...If you’re a fan of dark urban fantasy where the good guys aren’t afraid to get a little bloody, this is a series for you."
~Pure Textuality

"Burned is yet another example of how expertly Moning can pull you into her world of wonderfully complex characters that can be heroes and beasts…quite frequently at the same time. Her imagery is so vibrant that even the dark scenes still wash over you with an effortless barrage of emotions and sensations that leave you completely stunned to the core."
~Auggie Talk

"Hot, suspenseful, filled with surprises, and all my favorite Fever characters, Burned was an amazing read, with twists and turns I didn’t see coming."
~Unconventional Book Reviews

"Had anyone but KMM written it, most people would think it a flawless piece of work...I think we can all agree on one thing and that is we will all be anxiously hitting refresh on our kindle’s the day Feverborn is set to release."
~Fiction Vixen

"Moning delivers an on-the-edge-of-your-seat story with her signature finesse. Enthralling, powerful, and downright sexy, Burned is everything you’ve been aching for and more...I devoured this book with a feverous ferocity. I haven’t done that in a long time."
~Romance at Random

EXCERPT

Chapter One

“It’s easier to run. Replacing this pain with something numb”

DANI

So I’m blowing through the streets of Dublin—-after ditching Ryodan’s Humvee, giving him one less excuse to come looking for me, not that he seems to need any, other than because he likes to piss all over my day—-trying to prioritize my plans for the future.

At the top of my list is figuring out how to save Christian from the Crimson Hag, publishing a much--needed Dani Daily to let folks know the latest scoop, rescuing folks stranded by the killer ice storm, while simultaneously devising stellar new ways to irritate the owner of Chester’s.

After that are a few dozen subgoals I’m having a hard time putting in the right order, like getting in the know with the new Haven at the abbey, testing Dancer’s Papa Roach weapon, figuring out who’s stockpiling supplies and where so I can raid them, setting up new hidey--holes no one can find, and putting the big kibosh on Jo and Ryodan.

Problem is, I want to make breaking up Jo and Ryodan number one on my list, which is stupid because there’s nothing but personal satisfaction I’d gain from it, and while I’m all about personal satisfaction, I’m beginning to see a pattern: jumping on the short--term--gratification train always seems to wreck me off the rails somehow. But criminy, he doesn’t deserve her! And they’re not even in the same league, and seeing them do that campfire--cuddle thing tonight about made the top of my head pop off!

Second problem is I keep bumping into snowdrifts, which knocks me out of fast--mo and butchers my concentration. Since I’m getting nowhere fast with my sublist and it’s more important than me actually getting to any particular place fast, I drop out of freeze--frame and start trudging around ice--crusted snowdrifts.

Bugger it, I forgot how cold it was down here!

In hyperspeed I vibrate too fast to feel. Slow--mo, my breath frosts the air and my eyeballs chill like little shrimp cocktails on ice.

I scowl when I realize where I am—-Temple Bar, not too far from Barrons Books & Baubles.

I don’t walk these blocks often. I may have defeated one of the worst Unseelie of all time tonight at the abbey but the silence and desolation of what once was the heart of the boisterous, craic--filled Temple Bar District dampens my exuberance every time I encounter it.

I can’t forget how this part of the city used to be, crammed with people laughing and partying, musicians playing on the streets for tips, lamps glowing, neon colors splashed everywhere, the smell of flowers and grass and oh, feck me, the glorious scent of bangers and mash and thick Irish stew and all kinds of food I haven’t had in ages! I’d been quick enough to zip in and snatch anything I wanted from any plate. It was the most exciting, wondrous place I ever been, with adventures around every corner.

Knowing Mac was just a few blocks down and over, and if I blew in the door we’d go kill things and hang, made life pretty much perfect. Barrons Books & Baubles was my mecca, Mac and Barrons epic fellow crusaders, and the city a thrill--a--second battlefield.

I want my Dublin back.

I want this bloody ice gone.

I want the pubs open and the streets shiny with gaslights smudging the cobblestones and people living and laughing everywhere I turn. I want to whiz around on my bike, investigating stuff, and be fourteen and crack up with Dancer and idolize the girl that treated me like a sister.

People in Hell want ice water.

As I stand there a sec, getting broody--like, I feel the tip of something sharp and pointy in my back.

“Drop your sword, Dani,” Mac says behind me.

My stomach cramps and I’m instantly sick to it. What the feck, did I conjure her with the mere power of my thoughts? Do I have another sidhe--seer talent I didn’t know about, latent until now? Cripes, I hope not! I’ll never get away from Ryodan! I’m always pissed at him, which means I’m always thinking about him. As soon as I think that, I realize I got concrete proof I don’t have a new superpower, because, hey, if I did, he’d be here with me right now. I decide I’m hallucinating from lack of sleep and being forced to listen to too much Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath tonight. Which is, like, half a song of either.

There’s no way Mac’s behind me. I’d have heard her. I have superhearing. I’d have seen the lights of her MacHalo, brightening the glow cast by mine.

“Yeah, right, like I’m actually falling for this,” I mutter. Sometimes I have an overactive imagination.

The tip digs harder into my back. I go still and draw a slow inhale. I know Mac’s scent and that’s it. A dry chittering starts on the rooftops, swelling into thousands of rattlesnake tails shaking, making me even more nauseated. I don’t need to look to know what’s up there. Oh, yeah, Mac is really behind me, bizarre entourage in tow. The few times I’ve seen her lately, she’s had a flock of Unseelie ZEWs—-Zombie Eating Wraiths is what I christened the gaunt, black--robed caste that glides on air and likes roosting on top of the bookstore—-following her around like enormous, carrion crow waiting for a juicy corpse to pick clean.

Ain’t gonna be mine.

I dig out a protein bar, rip it open, and cram it in my mouth for an instant rush of energy. I never avoid battle. Tuck tail and run isn’t in my blood. Problem is, I only know two ways to fight: kill clean or kill messy—-both of which involve killing unless I’m up against that feck Ryodan who can pluck me from hyperspeed and kick my ass ten ways to Tuesday.

There’s no way I’m killing Mac. I’ll take Door Number Two, a thing I never do, and run. Only for her.

I slap up a hasty mental map of the street and get my grid locked down as perfect as I can with all this snow and ice. I slit my eyes half closed in intense concentration and freeze--frame.

Nothing happens. My feet are rooted in the exact same spot, and I’m still feeling the tip of Mac’s spear in my back.

My superpowers just disappeared in a moment of need for the third time. Un--fecking--real! What’s the commonality? Why does it keep happening?

“I said drop your fucking sword.”

I exhale gustily. Not because I feel sorry for myself. Self--pity is wasted emotion. It merely prolongs whatever trauma you suffered by keeping it alive in your head. Dude, you survived it. Move on.

But there are some things I wish had been different like, say, Ro had never taken me to the abbey after Mom died, made me her personal assassin and taught me to kill before I got around to figuring out what I thought was right and wrong, because when you do figure out what you think is right and wrong—-if it’s foursquare against the things you been doing—-you got some tricky minefields in your head to dodge. Guilt, regret—-things I almost don’t even know how to spell they’re so alien to me—-I about drown in them every time I look at Mac.

Fortunately she’s behind me at the moment, so I don’t have to think about how she looks so much like her sister, don’t get smashed upside the head by visuals of the last night I saw Alina, on her hands and knees in an alley, begging me not to let her die.

“Seriously, kid, drop it. I won’t say it again.”

“Not a kid. Dude.”

Danielle.

Gah! She knows I hate that wussy girl name! I test my freeze--framing abilities. They’re still absent. There’s no telling how long it’ll be until they come back. Five seconds. Five minutes. Maybe five hours. I got no clue why it’s happening and it’s beginning to worry the crap out of me. I turn to face her, coat back, hand on the hilt of my sword, steeling myself for a whole--body flinch, and still I jerk.

She’s different from the Mac I met a year ago. Glam girl turned sleek warrior woman. She was pretty when she came to Dublin; now she’s lean, strong, and beautiful. Once, she said I was pretty and that I’d grow up to be beautiful, too, one day. As if I give a rat’s arse about that kind of thing.

What is she thinking, pulling her spear on me, ordering me around? There’s no way she knows I’m stuck in slow--mo. No one knows it happens to me. Cripes, if word of that got out!

She stares at me, green eyes narrowed with fury. She has every right to try to kill me. A better person might even cooperate a little out of guilt and remorse. I’m not a better person. I wake up every day with a single imperative: live. By any means necessary. The only way Death will ever get his slimy bastard hands on me is over my dead body.

I wonder if she has some new sidhe--seer skill I haven’t heard about that makes her willing to hit me up like this, so cool and confident. My superspeed guarantees my victory in any battle against another sidhe--seer unless I make a mistake, and I don’t. She isn’t wearing a MacHalo, which perplexes the feck out of me. Nobody walks Dublin, dark. Not even me. Maybe the ZEWs on the rooftops are her private army now, defending her against the Shades and assorted nasties.

I frown when another thought occurs to me. Did she set me up for quid pro quo down to the dirty details?

Dark alley nearby—-check.

Me—-check.

Hungry Unseelie—-check.

I get a mental snapshot of me dying just like Alina. It’s practically glowing on Mac’s pupils.

I want to tell her revenge is a devil you don’t want to worship. In destroying your enemy you become it.

You will take the girl to an alley on the south side of the River Liffey. Unseelie will meet you there. Sometimes I still hear Ro’s voice in my head even though we burned her body and dumped the ashes in the sea. Not like a true haunt, just ghosts of memories still swimming down deep in my subconscious where I keep most of what I did for her when I lived at the abbey.

Why? I want to ask her, but she touches my forehead with something that’s wet and smells bad, and mutters words I don’t know, then I can’t talk.

I know you’re in there, I hear Ro saying, as if from a great distance. Remember the hell you endured. You’re the one I want.

I don’t know what she’s talking about. I’m right there. Looking at her. Even though it feels like from a million miles away.

Och, child, she says, I couldn’t have raised you better myself to fragment you into usable pieces. When I found you when you were five I knew God had forged the beginning of a very special weapon. Just for me.

Old bat couldn’t even keep track of my age. I was eight when she found me almost dead in a cage. Only time in my life I ever waited to die. Counting my breaths. Wondering which would be the last. There was a whole week back there I couldn’t remember, just gone. From the day Ro took me in, I began losing hours and then I’d be somewhere else and wouldn’t know how I’d gotten there. And there was usually something I didn’t like seeing. Other times I was seeing it all happen except not in control, stuck in the sidecar of the motorcycle, where I couldn’t steer or hit the gas. There was never a brake when things got weird like that. I was always just along for the ride, glued to the seat. Like the night I killed Mac’s sister. Second worst thing I ever did and I relive it in nightmares, down to the last excruciating detail. Sometimes I wondered if the crazy old bat had been able to choose to let me see the things she sent me to do, or shield me from them.

If I dwelled on that thought I’d go nuts. Hate eats the hater. Ro messed with me enough while she was alive. She’s dead now, and if I let her keep fecking with me, it’ll be my own fault and she’ll win. Even from her watery grave, she could steal hours, days, weeks of my life. Sometimes when really bad things happen, you put them in a box and never look at them again because they’ll cost you the rest of your life. Some wounds never heal. You excise the savaged flesh and become the next thing.

“Drop your sword and I’ll put down my spear,” Mac says.

“Yeah, right. Then what? You order your creepy little army of Unseelie to drag me down that alley and eat me? No, let me guess: We head back to BB&B, make hot chocolate, hang out and talk?”

“That’s the general idea. Minus the bookstore and hot chocolate. And they’re not my creepy little army.”

“Like, talk about what? Me killing your sister? And they sure look like your creepy little army to me. Go everywhere you do.” Feck, it’s good to see her. I missed seeing her. I was always scanning every room, every street, hoping to see her. Dreading it.

She flinches. “Maybe you could try not to say it that way. And I said they’re not.”

“Why shouldn’t I? It’s what happened,” I say defiantly. Fecking pointless. She’s never going to see it any other way. My fingers tighten on my sword. “I killed your sister. There it is. Fact. Dude. Never gonna change. I. Killed. Alina. You came to Dublin hunting her murderer. Here I am.” I raise a hand and wave it around just in case she’s missing the point, overlooking me somehow.

“Dani, I know you’re—-”

“You don’t know nothing about me!” I cut her off hard and fast. I hate sentences that begin with my name followed by the claim—-indubitably erroneous—-that the speaker knows something about me. Those kinds of sentences rank right up there with the ones that begin with You know what your problem is? That’s always a doozy. Talk about a trick question. Nothing worth hearing ever follows that preface. I snarl, “You hear me? I said you don’t know nothing! Now get the feck out of my way and take your creepy little groupies with you!”

“No. This ends. Here. Tonight. And I said. They’re. Not. Mine.” She cuts a look up and mutters, “They stalk me. I haven’t figured out how to get rid of them. Yet.”

Instantly I want to be on the Dublin News--Channel--X investigative team, ask probing questions, get immersed in solving a thrilling mystery with Mac, but those days are gone and about as likely to come back as dinosaurs. I look at her, and she’s giving me this totally fake I’m--not--going--to--kill--you look that’s supposed to lure me close enough to get killed. But her fingers sure are tight on the hilt of her spear. And she’s balanced real light on the balls of her feet like I am. I know that stance. It’s pre-attack. Face says one thing. Body says another. I listen to the body. Keeps me alive.

She’s wearing boots with low heels, fashionable, stupid shoes for ice. It doesn’t matter how new and improved Mac-Kayla Lane is, part of her will always be as pink and girly as the nails on the hilt of her spear.

I’m wearing sneakers.

Even slow--mo I’m faster than she’ll ever be in those boots. There’s no way Mac’ll throw her spear at me. No more than she would put it down in a show of good faith. She’s like me with my sword. We don’t let them out of our hands. Not willingly. Well, I did it tonight for a Highlander who’s mostly Unseelie Prince but I got no fecking clue why. The only unknown are those ghastly Unseelie on the rooftops—-are they or aren’t they here to kill me?

One way to find out.

I try to freeze--frame but don’t even get a chug--a--chug of the engine, my battery’s deader than dead. Feels like it’s not even in the car anymore. Got cables leading nowhere.

I lunge for her and shove her off balance.

She grabs at me but I duck under her arm and push past her. When she snatches a handful of my coat from behind, I turn my head and bite her hand. Not swing my sword or blow something up. Bite. Like a child that doesn’t have any other weapons.

“Ow! You bit me!”

“Wow, gee. See Mac’s brilliant skills of observation,” I say irritably. What am I going to do next—-pull her hair? Then she might slap me and break a nail and we’ll call each other names. The sheer humiliating wussiness of this might goad me into drawing my sword and killing her. I can’t fathom how normal folks stand this. Above us, the wraithlike ZEWs chitter louder but stay put. “Get off me, stupid,” I hiss. I try to yank free, but she’s stronger than I remember.

The second I tug my coat from her fingers she grabs a fistful of my hair and pulls.

“Ow! You pulled my hair!” It hurt. Give me swords and spears and guns any day of the week.

“Wow, gee. See Dani’s brilliant skills—-”

“Stow it! Think up your own insults, unless it’s too much work for your—-”

“—-of observation. And I did not pull your hair. I’m just trying to hold you. You’re trying to get away. You’re the one pulling your hair.”

“—-puny little brain! And of course I’m trying to get away, you fecking twit! And I’m not biting you now so let go of my hair!” I reach up, grab my hair, and we do this idiotic tug of war, then she lets go so abruptly, I crash forward onto my hands and knees.

I surge up instantly but duck again and roll fast out of the way twice, three times, when I hear the whine of her spear behind me. The ZEWs explode upward, rustling and shrieking like a flock of startled buzzards. Guess the spear slicing air freaks them out, too.

For a stupid, vulnerable instant I crouch near the ground and can’t even move, trying to process that Mac really just swung her spear at me, made an undeniable attempt to kill me, as in remove me from this planet, as in end me forever. Seems I was holding on to a crippling hope of absolution, secret even from me. The air feels colder behind me, as if a murderous rage looms there. If you think emotions don’t throw off energy, you’re wrong.

I shoot to my feet, scrubbing at my cheeks with the balls of my fists. Ice chips must’ve flown up into my eyes when I rolled, making them sting and tear.

I break into a run.

My backpack drops like a stone from my shoulders. Bugger, she missed me but she caught the straps of my bag as I ducked, and all my food is in my pack! I don’t know a single store in a fifty--mile radius with stock on the shelves. My superspeed will come back, and when it does I’ll need food ASAP. I skid to a slippery stop on ice and turn to grab it.

Mac is standing, one boot planted on my backpack, spear raised, shining alabaster. The edges are razor sharp. I can see my name written all over them.

Message is clear.

“You can’t go anywhere without food, Dani. Stop running. I just want to talk to you.”

“You’re not tricking me!” I hate it that she keeps pretending. Full frontal attack I can deal with. This sneaky crap is lower than low.

“I’m not trying to.”

She sure as feck is. She just tried to slice off my head, for cripes sake.

The ZEWs resettle on the rooftops and resume that nerve--wracking racket again.

“So, what? I’m supposed to believe you came looking for me to tell me you, like, forgive me? Just how stupid do you think I am?”

Her eyes fill with shadows and she looks sad. “Life is complicated, Dani.”

“What the feck does that mean?” I could just pop out of my skin like an overpressured grape from sheer frustration. I hate it when people throw big sweeping generalizations at you that you can’t even begin to interpret. Life is complicated so I’m going to kill you quick? Life is complicated so I’m going to torture you to death slow and talk the whole time, driving you batshit crazy in the process? Life is complicated ergo I might forgive you if you perform Herculean tasks of redemption? The options are endless. Who doesn’t know life is complicated? What I want to know is how to apply that to the nuts and bolts of my existence. Folks never tell you that part.

“Sometimes the things we think will set us free ... only make more chains. You either wear them or break them, and I ... well, I don’t want to wear them.”

“Dude, ain’t no chains here. I don’t see nothing but you and me and weapons and death, if you don’t get off my pack and walk away. Besides, even if you did say you forgive me, I’d never believe you! I’ll always be waiting for the second you decide to try to kill me. You want me dead. Admit it. Just say it. Be honest, for feck’s sake! You know you want me dead! I see it in your eyes!”

She doesn’t say anything for a couple seconds, like she’s thinking hard about what she’s going to say next, and I don’t even know I’m holding my breath waiting until she begins talking and it kind of explodes from my lungs.

“I don’t want you dead, Dani. That’s not why I came looking for you.”

“Well, why the fuck not?” I yell. “I deserve to die!”

My hand goes to my mouth like maybe I can cover up what I just said or scrape the words back inside somehow. I’m horrified. I don’t even know where those words came from. There aren’t many sins in my bible. Giving up is the greatest one of all. I just broke my own cardinal rule. Life is a gift. You fight to keep it. You never quit. Never.

Nobody wants you. Your own mother locks you in a cage, leaves and forgets you. Just die. It’ll end everyone’s misery, including your own. Maybe then she can have a life. One of you should.

I can’t believe I just said I deserve to die. Maybe I’m possessed. Maybe I got one of those sneaky, diaphanous Unseelie Grippers inside me but it’s only fecking with me sometimes (’cause I’m so super it can’t possess me all the time!), making me say things I don’t really feel and shorting out my powers. And maybe that Gripper has some kind of bizarre obsession with Ryodan. Weirder things have been happening in Dublin lately.

Mac shakes her head, giving me a totally fake compassionate look. “Oh, Dani—-”

“I’m not falling for this so just shut up! Leave me alone or I’ll kill you like I killed your sister. I swear I will. I’ll kill you and then I’ll kill everybody you care about. That’s what I do. I kill people. I kill and kill and kill. That’s who I am. That’s who she made me.” I used to daydream Barrons found me in the cage that day, instead of Ro, and imagine what I’d have turned out to be then, but he didn’t. She did. It is what it is.

I run.

She follows faster than I would have thought possible. I wonder if Barrons did something to her, maybe that thing Ryodan said he would do for me. Is she as unkillable as them now? Is that where her balls are coming from? If so, I’m seriously pissed and even more jealous.

I leap snowbanks, dash down alleys, double back around, leading her on a merry chase through Temple Bar, and still she manages to stay hot on my arse. I keep testing every couple of seconds to see if I can freeze--frame but my superpowers have taken the same vacation my conscience went on years ago.

She’s yelling stuff but I don’t listen. I hum my favorite playlist to tune out her and the racket of her creepy army.

I don’t realize my feet have taken me to Barrons Books & Baubles until it looms up in front of me, only holy place I’ve ever known: amber lights and polished wood and diamond--paned windows and endless possibilities. Deep in a limestone arch, fancy columns and sidelights and brass sconces and a stained--glass transom frame the door I used to go banging through a million miles a minute, and just above it on a shiny brass pole hangs that colorful hand--painted shingle that might as well have once said Welcome Home but never would again for me.

I love this place more than any other. Gas fireplaces and big comfy couches you can really stretch out on and magazines and books you can read and dream about all the places in the world you’re gonna see one day, and wicked--cool antique weapons and kick-ass modern ones, and killer muscle cars and cakes and presents and friends you thought you had. The hours I spent there are filed away in my storage vaults in superhigh-gloss Technicolor, brighter than any other memories. Sometimes I pull one out and relive it real slow, savoring it down to the last morsel. I love Mac. I miss her so bad. I wish—-

Wishes aren’t horses and I don’t get to ride. ’Scool. I got feet that are usually superhero grade.

The bell on the door tinkles.

A man steps out.

Strong. Brilliant. Controlled.

Predator.

Unbreakable. Feck, to be so unbreakable!

He’s everything I admire plus things I can’t even begin to put into words.

I crush on Jericho Barrons violently.

My brain almost shuts down every time I see him and that’s a lot of gray matter to stupefy.

Used to be, if I couldn’t fall asleep I’d fantasize all kinds of ways I’d impress Barrons by killing monsters or saying something really smart or saving the world, and he’d see me as a grown--up woman and I’d glow just from the expression on his face, like that time I killed the Unseelie Prince in Mac’s cell and he looked at me like he really saw who I was. Most folks don’t. They fence me in with teenage rules that don’t hold me for shit, seeing how I grew up. You can kill but don’t cuss. Break any rule necessary to save the world but don’t watch porn or even think about having sex. How do they come up with this stuff—-hold parental powwows for brainstorming diametrically opposed ethics? Then Ryodan began popping into my Barrons fantasies like he had some kind of business being there, and he’d look all, well... like ... Ryodan, and he’d laugh and do that husky groan thing he did on level four, so I terminated that happy little exercise in somnolence.

Now, I count sheep.

Lately even those buggers look like Ryodan, with clear, cold eyes and some weird kind of hypnotic hold on me.

Fecker.

I’m beginning to think I’m going to have to figure a way to kill him, permanent-like, just to get him out of my head.

“Dani.”

I shiver. He has that effect on folks, throws off some kind of charge, supersaturates the space in his vicinity. All his dudes do, but Jericho Barrons has it in spades. I play it real cool. Shove a hand in my pocket, thumb out. Cock my hip at a jaunty angle. “Barrons.”

Time was, I planned on growing up and giving him my virginity. Or V’lane. It’s a big deal to me, the divesting of it. One of the few things I got left that’s gonna be my choice: the who, the how, the when. It’s gonna be Epic with a capital E!

But the Seelie Prince V’lane turned out to be the Unseelie Prince Cruce. And Barrons is Mac’s as much as something like him is ever anyone’s, a fact that’s never going to change, and I don’t want it to.

A piece of paper flaps on the column behind his head. I get a bad feeling and take a sec to scan it.

“Gah! Are you fecking kidding me?” How the heck did they get something printed already? Even in hyperspeed, I couldn’t have gotten a rag out this fast! But there it is, waving in the air like a great big slap in my face.

The Dublin Daily

June 26, 1 AWC

your only source for credible news in and around new dublin
brought to you by WeCARE

good people of new dublin, the ice monster that was freezing our city is dead!
WeCARE was at the scene, fighting the good fight!
WeCARE will always have your back

UNLIKE

I can’t read any more. I know they’re getting ready to dis me. But my traitorous eyeballs sneak another peek and sure enough there it is!

...a certain bragging teenager that JEOPARDIZED the mission and was single--handedly responsible for getting many good, innocent people KILLED and taken CAPTIVE!

“Buh! Who is writing this drivel?” I was the hero tonight! I saved the fecking day with my winning combination of brains and skills. They even made the font size bigger on the slander about me! I know the tricks of the trade. Talk about your biased press! I feel my face getting hot and red. It pisses me off so much I’d rupture a gonad if I had one. WeCare sure as feck has them out the wazoo!

“Stop her!” Mac shouts.

I don’t stand a chance against both of them. Heck, I don’t stand a chance against Barrons by himself. He’s like Ryodan. I can’t compete on my best day.

Yet.

I fist my hands and take rapid deep breaths, clearing my head of the Wemightcarebutsureasfeckdon’ttellthetruth bullcrap. It takes me a sec to analyze possibilities and figure out how I’m getting myself out of this one. The answer is so simple it takes my breath away. I’m wired to survive on a gut level. My subconscious brought me exactly where I needed to be.

I duck past him and totally catch him off guard—-or more likely he decides not to chase me for some mysterious reason, because there’s no way I can outrun Barrons, not even in freeze--frame—-then can’t help myself and dart back and snatch the slanted scrap o’ crap from the column and wad it up ’cause I sure as heck ain’t letting it hang there, then I’m back behind the bookstore, hurrying to the first building on the left side of the Dark Zone.

Last time I was here was the night me and Christian searched the Unseelie King’s library, the night the words in the Boora Boora books crawled off the pages and stung me like fire ants, and I accidentally set the Crimson Hag free.

Christian. The Hag. Cripes, I got some cleanup work to do.

When he showed me the hidden portal in the wall that’s really a secret passageway into the ancient mirrors the Fae once used to travel between worlds, I’d committed the precise, unremarkable spot of bricks to memory. All weapons and escape routes—-good. Not even Ryodan with his stupid contract on me can track me Fae--side. I figured if the city ever got too hot for me, I could always ditch it for a while.

It’s feeling way too hot right now.

“Dani, don’t!” Mac cries.

I leap into the brick. It’s weirdly spongelike, then so am I, then I’m standing in a large, windowless, doorless room with blank white walls and a white floor and ten enormous mirrors of varying shapes and sizes suspended in the air. They hang without visible means of support, some motionless, others twirling lazily. No surprise there. Fae stuff, animate and not, rarely give a wink and sure as heck no nod to human physics. It’s why Dancer’s so fascinated by them. Some of the mirrors have intricately carved frames, while others have thin edges of welded chain--link. A few of the looking glasses within the frames are as black as night, some milky white, and others crammed with shadows you don’t want to look at hard.

It’s a good thing I know which mirror to take—-second Silver on the right plops you smack inside the infinite, a--fecking--mazing White Mansion. I been itching to explore it anyway. If they follow me through, I’ll use the labyrinthine corridors to lose them or unstopper another distraction because Rule Number One in the Mega O’Malley Handbook is and will always be: survival first, damage control second. Which is only logical. You can’t do damage control dead.

If they don’t follow me in, all I have to do is wait long enough for my superpowers to return, then come back because it’ll be a couple days, if not a couple weeks later in Dublin. When Christian and me went through last time, we lost almost a month! Time doesn’t pass the same in Fae realms. No way they’ll sit in the White Room 24/7 waiting for me. I hate losing Dublin--time that I could be using to help my city but I can’t help my city at all if I’m not alive.

Mac explodes through the wall behind me like she was shot by a cannon, slams into my back and nearly pushes me into the wrong mirror, and all I can think is what a disaster that would have been. I got no clue where the other ones go. Might be a world without air, a direct path into the Unseelie prison, or a galaxy filled with Hunters, or Shades, or gray women! I got a special hate on for the gray--folk caste of Unseelie. One of them almost killed me and forced Mac to make a promise she shouldn’t have made.

I shove her off me and she stumbles back, nearly crashing into Barrons, who just entered the room with his usual stalky animal grace.

Jericho Barrons is an unshakable, undestroyable constant. He’s the cornerstone of my universe. Or maybe together they are. I don’t know. I only know as long as the two of them and BB&B still stand, some part of me that never used to feel okay, does.

I can’t help myself—-I watch them a sec. I love watching them together. I slow--mo it to absorb every detail.

Mac draws up short to keep from slamming into Barrons, and her blond hair swings back over her shoulder, brushing his face as it does, and my hearing is so good I catch the rasp of it chafing the shadow stubble on his jaw, then one of his hands grazes her breast and his eyes narrow when he looks at what he touched in a hungry way I want a man to look at me like one day and, as they continue to recover from the near--collision, their bodies move in a graceful dance of impeccable awareness of precisely where the other is at all times that is unity, symbiosis, partnership I only dream of, wolves that chose to pack up and hunt together, soldiers who will always have each other’s backs no matter what, no sin, no transgression too great, ’cause don’t we all transgress sometimes and it fecking slays me, because once I got a little taste of what that was like, and it was heaven and they’re so beautiful standing there, the best of the best, the strongest of the strong, that they practically glow to me, on fire with all I ever wanted in my life—-a place to belong and someone to belong there with.

Together they mean to kill me and go on living, all happy, like I didn’t even mean anything. They’ll eat and have sex and adventures and I’ll be nothing but six feet under in dirt—-assuming anyone even bothers to bury me. Gone. Over. Finis. Done. Quit. Before I ever even got the chance to live.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been hap—-

I terminate that idiotic train of thought. As soon as my sidhe--seer gifts come back, I’ll get over this wimpy little emotional meltdown I’m having. Losing the superpowers that make me special plus seeing Mac up close and personal for the first time since she found out what I did is temporarily messing with my head. Key word there, temporarily.

Fourteen blows.

Hormones suck.

I wish I’d just grow the hell up in a hurry and everything would even out and start to make sense and folks would stop seeing me as a kid and I could finally—-

Bugger it all! What am I waiting for?

I close my hand on the hilt of my sword and dive headfirst into the mirror, laughing as I go. I always crack up when I leap into the unknown. It’s cotton--candy fuel, there’s a big--top -tent full of carnival magic in a good belly laugh.

Next grand adventure here I come!

The last thing I hear is Mac shouting, “Oh, God, no, Dani, not that one! We moved them! That one goes to—-”

Comments are closed.