Divine Misdemeanors (Page 15)

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Chapter Fourty-three

Patterson wasn't home or at work or anywhere that the police looked for him. He'd packed up and simply vanished. But a whole human man was easier to find in L.A. than a demi-fey smaller than a Barbie doll. They finally put their pictures up on the news as persons of interest who might have information on the killings. They were afraid of what the fey community might do if the news got out that they were our suspected killers. I had mixed feelings because saving the taxpayers the cost of a trial had its appeal.

That night I dreamed about the last murder scene. But it was Royal suspended from the top of the arch, his body limp in death, and then he'd opened his eyes, but they'd been clouded like the eyes of the dead. I woke covered in sick sweat, calling his name.

Rhys and Galen had tried to pet me back to sleep, but I couldn't go back to sleep until they woke Royal up and brought him to me. I had to see him alive before I could go back to sleep.

I woke up sandwiched between Rhys and Galen, with Royal on the pillow by my head curled up and looking somewhere between a child's daydream and a very grown-up fantasy.

He woke with a lazy smile and said, “Good morning, Princess.”

“Sorry I woke you last night.”

“That you care enough about me to worry so is not a bad thing.”

“It's too early to be talking,” Galen mumbled into his pillow and then snuggled lower in the bed so he could hide his eyes against my shoulder.

Rhys just rolled over and threw an arm across my waist and part of Galen. I could feel that Rhys was awake, but if he wanted to pretend he could.

Royal and I lowered our voices and he moved down the pillow so he could snuggle against the side of my face and whisper into my ear. “The other demi-fey are jealous,” he said.

“Of the sex?” I whispered.

He traced his hand along the curve of my ear the way a bigger lover might caress a shoulder. “That, but to be able to grow in size is a rare gift among us. None here in this house can do it except for me. They are wondering if a night with you would do the same for them.”

“What do you think?” I asked.

“I don't know if I want to share you with them, but I am like all new lovers, jealous and infatuated. We've even been approached by some demi-fey who are not ours. They want to know if 'tis true that I've gained such a power.”

Rhys raised his head, done with pretense. “What did you tell them?”

Royal sat up next to my face, wrapping his arms around his knees. “That it was true, but they didn't believe me until I showed them.”

“So you can do it at will,” Rhys said.

He nodded happily.

“What do you think would happen if we went down to the Fael and you changed in front of everybody?”

“Merry would be pestered silly by other demi-fey wanting to be big.”

I looked at Rhys, and Galen raised his head. “No, Rhys, no.”

“It's been two days and the police still have no clue where they are,” Rhys said.

“You are not going to make Merry into bait for these monsters.”

“I think that's up to Merry,” Rhys said.

Galen turned his unhappy face from him to me. “Don't do it.”

“I think Bittersweet wouldn't be able to resist,” I said.

“That's exactly what I'm afraid of,” he said.

“We'd have to run it by Detective Tate,” Rhys said.

Galen propped himself up on both elbows and looked down at all of us. “You woke up screaming, Merry. That's just from seeing their victims. Do you really want to put yourself out there as a potential victim for them?”

In truth, no, but out loud I said, “I know I don't want to go to another murder scene, especially if I could flush them out into the open.”

“No,” Galen said.

“We'll discuss it with Lucy,” I said.

He went up on his knees and even nude and lovely he was so angry that it wasn't sexy. “Does my vote not count at all here?”

“What kind of ruler would I be if I kept myself safe and let more of the fey die?”

“You gave up the damned crown for love; well, don't do this for the same reason. I love you, we love you, and this human has some of the most powerful enchanted items that the oldest among us have seen in centuries. We don't know what he's capable of, Merry. Don't do this. Don't risk yourself and our babies.”

“The police may not even let me play bait. They seem worried I'll get hurt just by the media.”

“And if the police say no, you'll still go down to the Fael and have Royal show off, won't you?”

I didn't say anything. Rhys looked at me, not Galen. Royal just sat there as if waiting to see what the sidhe would decide as his kind had done for centuries.

Galen got out of bed and picked his clothes up from the floor where they'd been dropped last night. He was as mad as I'd ever seen him. “How can you do this? How can you risk everything like this?”

“Do you really want to see another murder?” I asked.

“No, but I'll survive it. I'm not sure I'd survive seeing your body in the morgue.”

“Get out,” I said.


“Get out.”

“You can't unman her before a battle,” Rhys said.

“What the hell does that mean?” Galen asked.

“It means that's she's scared and doesn't want to do this, but that she'll do it for the same reason we picked up a weapon and ran toward the fighting and not away from it.”

“But we're her bodyguards. We're supposed to run toward the problem. She's who we're supposed to guard. Doesn't part of that job mean keeping her from taking risks?”

Rhys sat up, pulling the sheet into his lap and a little off me. “Sometimes, but in the old days we rode into battle beside our leaders. They led from the front, not the rear. The only failure for a king's guard was not dying at their side, or them dying before we did.”

“I don't want Merry to die at all.”

“Neither do I, and I'll bet my life that I can keep that from happening.”

“This is insane. You can't, Merry, you can't.”

I shook my head. “I hope I don't have to but you having hysterics doesn't make me feel any better about it.”

“Good, because you shouldn't feel better about it. You shouldn't do it at all.”

“Just go, Galen, just go,” I said.

He went, his clothes still bundled in his arms, nude and beautiful from the back as he walked out the door and slammed it behind him.

“I'm scared,” I said.

“I'd be worried if you weren't,” Rhys said.

“That's not comforting,” I said.

“Being the leader isn't about comfort, Merry. You know that better than any leader we've had since we landed in this country.”

Royal was just suddenly big enough to hold me. He wrapped his arms around me, his wings flicking out behind him, fanning the red-and-black underwing as the moth would to scare a predator away. “Tell me not to show off my new power and I will hide it away.”

“No, Royal, we want them to know.”

He pressed his face to mine and looked at Rhys. “Is it really that dangerous?”

“It could be,” he said.

“My vote with the green knight won't change your mind, will it?”

“No,” I said.

“Then I'll do what you want, my princess, but you must promise that nothing will happen to you.”

I shook my head, my hands tracing up his back to the strange stiff delicateness of his wings. “I am a royal of faerie. I can't make a promise I know I can't keep without being foresworn.”

“We'll talk to Doyle and the rest,” Rhys said. “Maybe they'll have a safer plan.”

I agreed. Royal held me, but in the end no one had a better plan.

Chapter Fourty-four

On wednesday we went to the Fael and had Royal show off his new talent. A hurried towel thrown his way by Alice the barista and he was covered enough for human law. The flock of demi-fey in the tea shop had been beside themselves fluttering around him, and when he told how it had happened they came to me. I was covered in little hands, little bodies, all wanting to touch me, to swing from my hair, and crawl on my clothing. I had to drag one little female out from my blouse where she'd nestled between my breasts.

I had a moment of claustrophobia; so many little bodies. Doyle, Rhys, and the rest helped me step out of them, and we went home with the trap baited. I was never anywhere, not even in the house, without at least four guards with me. I was protected, but what we hadn't thought about was that I had friends in L.A., people I cared about, and we hadn't protected all of them.

I was getting ready for bed. Doyle was watching me brush my teeth, which I thought was a little too much caution, but since we didn't know everything that Steve Patterson's magical items could do I didn't argue, though never having a minute to myself was getting old and it had only been three days.

My cell phone rang in the bedroom. I called, “Can someone get that?”

Frost came with my phone, holding it out to me. The ID said it was Julian. I picked up and said, “Hey, Julian, can't get enough of me at work?”

“This isn't your friend.” It was a man's voice, but I didn't recognize it.

“Who is this?” I asked. I had one of those moments where you know something bad is about to happen, but there's nothing you can do because the mistake was made days ago.

“You know who it is, Princess.”

“Steve, right?”

“See, I knew you'd know.”

The men had gone very still listening.

“Do I ask how you got Julian's phone?”

“You know that, too,” he said, and his voice was too controlled. Not cold, but it lacked fear, or excitement. I didn't like that he had no affect on the phone.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“That's better. He's with us. Humans are so much easier to take with my magic than the fey.”

“Let me talk to Julian.”

“No,” he said.

“Then I think he's dead, and if he's dead you have nothing to bargain with.”

“Maybe I just don't want to let you talk to him.”

“Maybe, but if I don't talk to him then he's dead. Something went wrong with your plan to kidnap him and he's already dead.” My own voice sounded matter-of-fact and not excited or scared either. Maybe after a while so much happens that you just don't have enough energy to get excited at the beginning of the emergency. Maybe that's what was wrong with Patterson too.

I heard a sound on the other end that I wasn't sure of, and then Julian's voice, “Merry, don't come. They're going to …” I knew the next sound, flesh hitting flesh. I'd heard enough to remember.

“I've gagged him again. I promise you that I won't kill him if you come and make Bittersweet big like your Royal.”

“I can't guarantee that the magic will work for every demi-fey,” I said.

“She's part brownie. She has the genetics inside her for being bigger, and both her father and her brother can do it. She can be whatever she wants to be.” Now there was emotion in his voice. This he wanted to believe. This was his lie to himself, that there was a way to be with his lady love in a real way that wouldn't kill her. He needed to believe that, just as I needed to believe that he wouldn't kill Julian.

“I can try, but Julian goes free whether it works or not.”

“Agreed,” he said, and his voice was back to no affect. I was almost certain he was lying. “Come alone,” he said.

“I can't do that. You know that.”

“You've seen Bittersweet's work. She's very creative, Princess.” There was another sound that I wasn't certain of, and then a sound from a man. It wasn't a scream, but it wasn't a good sound either.

I heard the higher-pitched voice of a woman. “Scream for me, human, scream for me!”

Julian's voice came thick and low with effort. I knew the sound of strain in his voice as he fought not to scream. “No.” He said it calmly and clearly.

Steve's voice rose. “No, Bitter. If you kill him, she won't make you big.”

Her voice was a high-pitched whine now. “I'll just cut this part off. He won't miss it.”

“If you hurt him too badly there won't be anything to save,” I said, and it was my voice's turn to be emotional. Fuck.

“Bitter, you want to be big, don't you?”

“Yes.” And her voice was already changing. “Oh, God, what have I done? Where are we? What's happening? Steve, what's happening?”

“You need to come tonight. No police or he dies. No guards or he dies.”

“They won't let me come without guards. I'm pregnant with their children. They won't let me come alone.” We'd already had that talk days ago, and Galen had won this one point. If the bad guys called and wanted me to meet them alone I wouldn't do it.

Bittersweet was crying, and from the sound of it she was on his shoulder near his ear as she sobbed. At least this side of her personality wouldn't hurt Julian. In fact, I raised my voice and said, “Bittersweet, it's Princess Meredith. Do you remember me?”

“Princess Meredith,” she said and her small voice was closer to the phone, “why are you on the phone with Steve?”

“He wants me to make you bigger.”

“Yes, like you did for Royal,” she said and her voice was calming as she talked more.

“He says if I don't do it he'll kill my friend.”

“He just wants us to be able to love each other.”

“I know, but he says that you'll torture my friend if I don't do it.”

“Oh, I could never …” and then she saw something and started to make little screams. “Blood, blood on me, what did I do? What's happening?” Her voice got farther away and Steve was back on the phone.

“I need you to meet us tonight, Princess.”

“She needs help, Steve.”

“I know what she needs,” he said, and again there was emotion in his voice.

“Let Julian go.”

“You should have guarded your friends and lovers better, Meredith.”

I started to say that Julian wasn't my lover but Doyle touched my arm and shook his head. I trusted his judgment and said, “Believe me, Steve, I know we screwed up.”

“Meet us tonight. You can bring two guards, but if I sense that they're casting spells then I will shoot your lover in the head. He's human; he won't heal.”

“I know he's human,” I said.

“With all the talent in your bed, why take a human?” he asked.

I thought that wasn't an idle question for Steve. “He's my friend.”

“Do you love him?”

I hesitated because I wasn't sure which answer would keep Julian safest.

Doyle nodded.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then come with just two guards and it can't be the Darkness or the Killing Frost. If I see either of them I'll just shoot him.”

“Okay, I won't have them with me as my guards. Now where do I meet you?”

He gave me an address. I wrote it down on the paper that Frost brought from the bedside, and repeated it to him so there wouldn't be a mistake. Lives have been lost over a transposed number more than once.

“Be here at eight. By eight-thirty we'll assume you're not coming and I'll let Bitter do what she wants to him.” He lowered his voice and whispered, “You saw the last bodies. She's getting better at killing. She enjoys it now. She's picked her illustration and it's not from a child's book.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It's a textbook, a medical textbook image. Don't be late.” The phone went dead in my hand.

“Did you hear that last part?” I asked.

They had.

“Fuck, I didn't think Julian was in danger. Why him?”

“That day you snuggled up to him on the street they must have been watching,” Rhys said.

“There were police wizards at the scene. Rhys, he might have been working his own crime scene.”

“Makes sense.”

“And if they were watching the house they know he stayed over and didn't leave until morning,” Doyle said.

“He's been living with another man for more than five years. Why wouldn't they assume he was sleeping with one of you?”

“Because Steve Patterson is heterosexual and he'll think girl before he thinks boy because of it,” Rhys said.

“A medical textbook. She's going to butcher him.”

Rhys leaned in the doorway as Frost and Doyle looked at each other. “The question is, are they already at this address or will they move Julian to the meeting spot?” Rhys said.

“Do we tell Lucy? Do we tell the police?” I asked.

The men exchanged a look. Doyle said, “If we don't bring the police in we can simply kill them. They don't want me at your side, that's fine. I am the Darkness. They won't see me until it's too late.”

“If we just plan to kill them, it's easier,” Rhys said, “simpler.”

“What gives Julian the best chance to get out of this alive and whole?” I asked.

They exchanged a look among them again. “No police,” Doyle said.

Rhys nodded. “No police.”

Frost hugged me, and whispered it into my hair. “No police.”

And just like that the plan changed again. We wouldn't call the police. We'd just kill them. I should have been human enough to be bothered by that, but I kept hearing Julian's voice over the phone and her voice asking him to scream for her. I kept seeing their victims. I remembered my dream with Royal dead in it. I thought about what they planned on doing to Julian and might be doing to him right this minute. I didn't feel bad as we planned how to find the address, scout it undetected, and decide how best to save Julian. If we could take them alive, we would, but we only had one priority: Julian as unhurt as possible, and the only dead: Steve and Bittersweet. Beyond that it was all fair game.

Rhys was right. It was much simpler.

Chapter Fourty-five

The address was a house in the hills. It was a nice house, or had been before the bank got it and the housing market crashed. Apparently our serial killers were squatting in the house. I wondered what they'd do if the estate agent brought prospective buyers around unexpectedly. Probably best that that didn't happen.

Sholto came back to L.A. He was the Lord of That Which Passes Between. The tree line and the yard of the house was a between place, just like where the beach met the ocean, or where a cultivated field abutted a wild place. He could bring more than a dozen soldiers to the edge of the yard itself. But that was as close as he could get. Doyle had been in charge of scouting the area and had found the house thick with magical wards. They might be crazed serial killers but they knew their magical wards. It was a mix of human and fey magic, as good as any he'd seen in years, which was high praise.

It meant we would have to be inside the wards and just trust that either we wouldn't need Sholto and his backup, or that we could stall until they smashed through the walls. He was going to bring the Red Caps because the magical wards wouldn't stop them. They'd just avoid the windows and doors, which were the most heavily warded, and make new doors in the walls themselves where there were no wards. Demi-fey were strong, but they didn't think about that kind of brute force any more than humans did. It was an edge for us, but we needed more.

Frost was coming with Sholto and the Red Caps. Doyle would go in ahead with Cathbodua and Usna, who were the other two guards about whom he actually said, “They hide almost as well as I do. I would trust them to do this.” Again, high praise.

The question was, who would go in as my two overt guards? Barinthus asked to go. “I have failed you, Merry. I have been arrogant and unhelpful, but for this I am ideal. I can take more damage than even most of the sidhe. I have used diplomacy for centuries but it's not because I lack skill with any weapon.” Doyle had backed him on that.

Barinthus had added, “And I am proof against most magic no matter what it is.”

I'd studied his face, not sure if he was just bragging again.

“I am the sea made into flesh, Merry. You cannot set the sea on fire. You cannot drain it dry. You cannot even poison all of it. You can hit it, but the blow does you no good. Being by the ocean has given me back much of my power. Let me do this for you. Let me prove that I was worthy to be Essus's friend, and that I am yours.”

In the end both Doyle and Frost agreed that he was a good choice and so he was one.

“The other one has to be me,” Rhys said. “I'm third in charge and almost as good with weapons as the two big guys here, better with an axe. And I'm almost back to my old power level. I can kill fey with a touch of my hand; you've seen me do it.”

“Have you tried doing it when faerie wasn't touching either you or the victim?” I asked.

We'd all had to think about that. In the end he'd gone out into the yard in a section that hadn't become fey and found an insect. He made sure the demi-fey were okay with him doing it, and then he touched it and told it to die. It rolled over on its back, twitched once, and died.

“Now if only I got back my healing powers, too,” he said.

Doyle had agreed, but for this night's work death was better. By six that night we had our plan in place, and enough people to make it work. That was why kings and queens needed hundreds of people. Sometimes you needed soldiers.

Sholto would give us a little time and then he would take everyone out to the yard and the wall and he'd lead them to the edge of the other yard miles away. I knew he could do it, and then we'd have all the help we needed, but there would be a few minutes when it would be up to the handful of us who were going to be there first. Barinthus and Rhys as my guards, and Doyle, Usna, and Cathbodua, who had the best chance of going undetected into the house.

Some of our demi-fey mingled with the local insects on the edge of the property in the bank of wildflowers near the house. They were supposed to let us know if Bittersweet went too bitter too early and started to cut Julian up. It was the best we could do.

Doyle, Cathbodua, and Usna went in one of the cars before we did. Doyle wrapped me in his arms and I put my head against his chest so that I could hear the slow, deep beat of his heart. I breathed in his scent as if I would memorize it.

He raised my face so he could kiss me. There were a thousand things I wanted to say, but in the end, I said the most important one. “I love you.”

“And I you, my Merry.”

“Don't get killed,” I said.

“Nor you.”

We kissed again, declared our love again, and that was it. The first of the people I cared about the most left to try to get past some of the most powerful magical wards they'd seen in centuries outside of faerie itself. If they could get inside before we arrived, they would take our bad guys and rescue Julian, but if they thought it would set off alarms before they could save Julian they would wait. Barinthus would accidentally on purpose set off all their wards like a false alarm, and Doyle, Cathbodua, and Usna would breach the wards at the same time. When they reset their wards we'd have extra people inside. That was the plan.

I had to kiss too many people good-bye when it was our turn to leave. Too many “I love you's” and too many “don't die on me's.” Galen was wordless as he held me and kissed me good-bye. He would come with Sholto and the others, and he would fight this battle. Once they had kidnapped Julian he hadn't even argued, and he hadn't once said, “I told you so.” For that I loved him more than his willingness to shed blood to save Julian. We'd all do what we had to do to save our friend, but most of the men wouldn't have been able to resist an “I told you so.”

Rhys drove, and Barinthus had the backseat to himself. I had the shotgun seat though no real shotgun. I was carrying my Lady Smith because they'd told us not to bring the police, or more than two guards; they hadn't said not to bring weapons, so we were all loaded for Dragon.

I was also wearing a folding knife in a thigh sheath under my summer skirt, not because I thought I'd use it to cut someone, but because cold steel cuts through most glamour. If I'd had less human or brownie blood in me, I might not have been able to bear the knife next to my skin, but I wasn't just one thing. I was the sum of my parts. I kept thinking calm thoughts as Rhys drove up into the hills. I hoped that what little dinner I'd eaten wasn't something my new baby-rich body didn't like. I didn't want to throw up all over the bad guys, or then again, maybe I did. It would certainly be distracting.

In a pinch I could fake morning sickness. I held the thought in reserve, and prayed to Goddess and Consort that Julian wasn't hurt badly and that we would get out safe, and none of us would get hurt. That was my prayer as we drove into the growing dusk.

There was no smell of roses to accompany the prayer.