The Fae was unutterably beautiful.
And I wanted to fuck and fuck and fuck until I died.
I understood then. Each Fae I’d encountered so far had a “thing,” its own personal calling card. The Gray Man stole beauty. The Shades sucked life. The Many-Mouthed-Thing most likely devoured flesh.
This one was death-by-sex. Immolation by orgasm; the worst of it was that its victim would be fully aware with some distant part of her brain that she was dying, even as she begged and pleaded for the very thing that was killing her. I had a sudden, horrific vision of myself, right there in the street, naked, pathetic, writhing with insatiable need at the thing’s feet, invisible to passersby, dying like that.
I had one hope: If I could get close enough, I could freeze it and run. Steeling my will with the hellish memory of how Alina had looked the day I’d identified her body, I peeled myself from the window and stepped forward.
The Fae stepped back.
I blinked. “Huh?”
“Not retreat, human,” it said coldly. “Impatience. I know what you are, sidhe-seer. We need not play your silly game of tag.”
“Oh right,” I snapped, “but we sure were going to take the time to play your silly game of death-by-sex, weren’t we?”
It shrugged. “I would not have killed you. You have value to us.” When it smiled at me, I went blank for a heartbeat, as if the sun had come out from behind clouds to shine down only on me, but it was so hot that it charred all my wiring. “I would have given you only the pleasure of my magnificence,” it told me, “not the pain. We can do that, you know.”
I trembled at the thought—all that heat, but no ice; all that sex, but no death. The night air felt suddenly cool on the scorching skin of my breasts, frigid to the fire of my nipples. I glanced down. My shirt and bra were lying in the gutter at my feet, mixed with the daily trash and grime of the city.
Jaw set, hands shaking, I bent to retrieve my clothing. Blushing a half-dozen shades of red, I put my bra back on and pulled my shirt over my head again. I reclaimed my paper-bag purse and my iPod from the gutter as well, jammed my ball cap back on my head, but didn’t bother fishing out my hideous glasses—I didn’t want the thing looking any larger than it already did. Then, without hesitation, I stood and lunged straight for the Fae. I had to freeze it. It was my only hope. God only knew what I might do next.
Before I was able to reach it, however, it vanished. One moment it was there, the next it was gone. I was pretty sure I’d just witnessed Fae “sifting” firsthand. But where had it gone?
“Behind you, human,” it said.
I turned sharply to find it standing on the sidewalk, a dozen feet to my left, pedestrians parting around it like the Red Sea drawing back from Moses, giving it increasingly wider berth. In fact, foot traffic on the entire street seemed to be thinning substantially and, here and there, a pub door suddenly slammed closed against a distinctly un-summery chill in the July air.
“We do not have time for fool’s play, MacKayla Lane.”
I jerked. “How do you know my name?”
“We know much about you, Null,” it said. “You are one of the most powerful sidhe-seers we’ve yet encountered. And we believe you have only begun to realize your potential.”
“Who are ‘we’?” I demanded.
“Those of us who are concerned with the future of both our worlds.”
“And who would these ‘those’ be?”
“I am V’lane, prince of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, and I am here on behalf of Aoibheal, exalted High Queen of our race. She has a task for you, sidhe-seer.”
I barely resisted the urge to burst out laughing. The last thing I’d have expected to hear from any Fae was something along the lines of: Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . . “Uh, on the off chance that you’ve forgotten—not that I’m trying to remind you or anything—but aren’t the Fae more inclined to kill sidhe-seers than to assign them helpful little tasks?”
“We haven’t made examples of your kind for some time now,” it said. “As a gesture of our good will and a token of the queen’s esteem, we have a gift for you,”
“Oh no.” I shook my head. “No gifts, thank you.” I was familiar with the whole Trojan-horse-beware-of-Greeks-bearing-gifts debacle and there was no doubt in my mind that a Fae bearing gifts would certainly be worse.
“It is my understanding you have betrayed yourself to one or more of the Unseelie,” it said coolly.