The Rhino-boys didn’t leave us at the door but escorted us all the way to the Porsche, and waited while we got inside. They were still standing there with their valet-buddy as we sped away. I watched them in my side-view mirror until they disappeared from sight, then heaved a huge sigh of relief. That had been singularly the most nerve-wracking experience of my life, surpassing even my encounter with the hideous Many-Mouthed-Thing. “Tell me we never have to go back there again,” I said to Barrons, blotting clammy palms on my skirt.
“But we do, Ms. Lane. We didn’t get the chance to cover the grounds. We’ll have to return in a day or two for a thorough look around.”
“There’s nothing on the grounds,” I told him.
He glanced at me. “You can’t know that. Mallucé’s estate covers hundreds of acres.”
I sighed. I had no doubt, if Barrons had his way, he’d run me over every dratted inch of it, back and forth, his own indefatigable psychic lint brush. “There’s nothing on the grounds, Barrons,” I repeated.
“Again, Ms. Lane, you can’t know that. You didn’t start sensing the photocopies of the Sinsar Dubh until I’d removed them from the vault three floors beneath the garage and brought them into the bookstore.”
I blinked. “There are three floors beneath the garage? Why on earth?”
Barrons locked his jaw, as if he regretted the admission. I could see I was going to get nothing further from him on the subject so I pressed my point instead. I was not going back to the vampire’s den; not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, not even next week. If they caught me, they’d kill me, of that I was certain. I’d not exactly been discreet.
“I don’t agree,” I said. “I think Mallucé would keep anything he valued nearby. He would want it close at hand, to pull it out and gloat over it, if nothing else.”
Barrons slanted me a sideways look. “Now you’re an expert on Mallucé?”
“Not an expert, but I think I know a thing or two,” I said defensively.
“And why is that, Ms. Rainbow?”
He was such a jackass sometimes. I shrugged it off because it was only going to make this next part even sweeter. It had almost been worth leaving my on-the-go cosmetics pack Mom had given me, my brush, my favorite pink fingernail polish, and two candy bars on a table in the vampire’s den just to see the look on Barrons’ face when I unzipped my purse, withdrew an enameled black box, held it up and waggled it at him. “Because that was where this used to be,” I said smugly. “Close at hand.”
Barrons shifted down and slammed on the brakes so hard the tires squealed and the pads smoked.
“I did good. Go ahead and say it, Barrons,” I encouraged. “I did good, didn’t I?” Not only could I sense the Sinsar Dubh, apparently I could sense all Fae Objects of Power—or OOPs for short, as I would soon be calling them—and I was darned proud of myself for how neatly I’d purloined my first.
We’d returned to the bookstore at just slightly under the speed of light, and were now seated in the rear conversation area where he was examining the spoils of my novice kill.
“Short of leaving your calling card on the table for all to see, Ms. Lane,” he said, turning the elaborate box in his hands, “which was beyond idiotic, I suppose one could say at least you didn’t get yourself killed. Yet.”
I snorted. But I suspected damned by faint praise was probably the best anyone ever got from Jericho Barrons. When we’d smoked to a stop in the middle of the road—not nearly far enough from Mallucé’s lair—and I’d confessed to having left a few personal items behind, he’d jammed the Porsche into gear again and we’d raced the moon back to the city.
“I didn’t have a choice,” I said for the umpteenth time. “I told you, I couldn’t fit it in my purse otherwise.” I glared at him but he had eyes only for the OOP, which he was trying to figure out how to open. “Next time I’ll know better and just leave it,” I said crossly. “Would that make you happier?”
He glanced up, his dark gaze dripping icy Old World hauteur. “That’s not what I meant, Ms. Lane, and you know it.”
I imitated his expression and shot it back at him. “Then don’t berate me for doing something the only way it could be done, Barrons. I couldn’t figure out a way to smuggle it out beneath my skirt, and I could hardly stuff it down my bra.”
His gaze flicked to my chest and stayed there a moment.
When he returned his attention to the box, I caught my breath and stared blankly at the top of his dark head. Barrons had just given me the most carnal, sexually charged, hungry look I’d ever seen in my life, and I was pretty sure he didn’t even know he’d done it. My breasts felt hot and flushed and my mouth was suddenly uncomfortably dry. Jericho Barrons might be only seven or eight years older than me, and he might be what most women would consider extremely attractive in a dark, forbidding way, but he and I came from different worlds; we didn’t see life the same way. Gazelles didn’t lie down with lions, at least not unbloodied and alive. After a long, puzzled moment, I shook my head, thrust the inexplicable look from my mind—there was simply no room for it in my reality—and employed a swift change of subject.