I watched him intently as he listened. Composed, aloof, his expression told me nothing. “Did you know my sister?”
He shook his head.
“You were both after this ‘exceedingly rare book’ yet never ran into each other?” I accused.
“Dublin is a city of a million-odd people inundated daily by countless commuters and besieged by a never-ending wave of tourists, Ms. Lane. The oddity would be if we had encountered each other. What did she mean by ‘you don’t even know what you are’?” His dark gaze fixed on my face as if to gauge the veracity of my answer in my eyes.
“I wondered that myself. I have no idea.”
“Hmm. This was all she left you? A message?”
“Nothing more? No note or package or anything of the sort?”
I shook my head.
“And you had no idea what she meant by the Sinsar Dubh? Your sister didn’t confide in you?”
“I used to think she did. Apparently I was wrong.” I couldn’t mask the note of bitterness in my voice.
“Who did she mean by ‘them’?”
“I thought you might be able to tell me that,” I said pointedly.
“I am not one of these ‘them,’ if that is what you’re inferring,” he said. “Many seek the Sinsar Dubh, both individuals and factions. I want it as well, but I work alone.”
“Why do you want it?”
He shrugged. “It is priceless. I am a book collector.”
“And that makes you willing to kill for it? What do you plan to do with it? Sell it to the highest bidder?”
“If you don’t approve of my methods, stay out of my way.”
“Fine. What else have you to tell me, Ms. Lane?”
“Not a thing.” I retrieved my cell phone, resaved the message, and jerked a frosty glance from him to the door, encouraging him to leave.
He laughed, a rich dark sound. “I do believe I’m being dismissed. I can’t recall the last time I was dismissed.”
I didn’t see it coming. He was nearly past me, nearly to the door, when he grabbed me and slammed me back against his body. It was like hitting a brick wall. The back of my head bounced off his chest, and my teeth clacked together from the impact.
I opened my mouth to scream, but he clamped a hand over it. He banded an arm beneath my breasts so tightly that I couldn’t inflate my lungs to breathe. His body was far more powerful beneath that fine suit than I ever would have guessed, like reinforced steel. In that instant, I understood that the open door had been nothing more than a mocking concession, a placebo he’d fed me that I’d swallowed whole. Anytime he’d wanted, he could have snapped my neck and I wouldn’t have gotten off a single scream. Or he could simply have suffocated me, as he was doing now. His strength was astonishing, immense. And he was only using a small fraction of it. I could feel the restraint in his body; he was being very, very careful with me.
He pressed his lips to my ear. “Go home, Ms. Lane. You don’t belong here. Drop it with the Gardai. Stop asking questions. Do not seek the Sinsar Dubh or you will die in Dublin.” He released enough pressure on my mouth to afford my reply, enough on my ribs to permit me breath to fuel it.
I sucked in desperately needed air. “There you go, threatening me again,” I wheezed. Better to die with a snarl than a sniffle.
His arm bit into my ribs, cutting off my air again. “Not threatening—warning. I haven’t been hunting it this long and gotten this close to let anyone get in my way and fuck things up. There are two kinds of people in this world, Ms. Lane: those who survive no matter the cost, and those who are walking victims.” He pressed his lips to the side of my neck. I felt his tongue where my pulse fluttered, tracing my vein. “You, Ms. Lane, are a victim, a lamb in a city of wolves. I’ll give you until nine P.M. tomorrow to get the bloody hell out of this country and out of my way.”
He let me go, and I crumpled to the floor, my blood starved for oxygen.
By the time I picked myself up again, he was gone.
I was hoping you could tell me something about my sister,” I asked the second-to-last instructor on my list, a Professor S. S. Ahearn. “Do you know who any of her friends were, where she spent her time?”
I’d been at this most of the day. With Alina’s e-mail schedule clutched in one hand, and a campus map in the other, I’d gone from class to class, waited outside until it was over, then cornered her teachers with my questions. Tomorrow I would do the same all over again, but tomorrow I would go after the students. Hopefully the students would yield better results. So far what I’d learned wouldn’t fill a thimble. And none of it had been good.