I stiffened. How did it know? And what did it mean by “or more”? Had the Royal Hunters been alerted too? “So?” I shrugged, falling back on my best, last defense: bluffing.
“Our gift offers you no small protection from those who would harm you.”
“Including you?” I blurted. Though I’d been managing to hold my own in conversation with it—and believe me, with what I was feeling, it was hard enough to string together consecutive words, to say nothing of trying to make them intelligible—twice now I’d had to pull my shirt back down and I’d just caught myself unzipping my jeans.
“There is no protection against one such as I, sidhe-seer. We of the royal houses affect humans in this manner. There is nothing that can be done to prevent it.”
One day I would know that for the lie it was. But not before I’d been burned by the truth in it. “Then what good is your stupid gift?” Crossly, I hooked my bra again. My breasts were so hot and tight they hurt. I cupped one in each hand, squeezed and kneaded, but my desperate massage provided no relief.
“Our gift would allow you to defend against many who would kill you,” it said, “just not against those with the right to kill you.”
My eyes narrowed and my hands dropped to my sides where they fisted. My nails gouged half-moon crescents on my palms. “The right to kill me?” I snapped. Was that what they’d thought of my sister, the ones who’d murdered her? That they’d had the right?
It studied me. “Not that any of us would.”
Yeah, right—and piranhas were vegetarians. “What is this gift?” I demanded.
The Fae extended a gold arm cuff, etched with silver, flashing with ruby fire. “The Cuff of Cruce. It was made long ago for one of his prized human concubines. It permits a shield of sorts against many Unseelie and . . . other unsavory things.”
“What about the Seelie? Does it work against them?”
It shook its frighteningly beautiful head.
I thought a minute. “Would it keep me safe from the Royal Hunters?” I asked.
“Yes,” it replied.
“Really?” I exclaimed. I could want it for that alone! Ever since I’d heard of the devil-like Hunters, the mere thought of them made my skin crawl, as if a special fear of that caste of Unseelie beyond all others was programmed into my much preyed upon genes. “What’s the catch?” I asked. A stupid question, I knew. As if it would tell me. I couldn’t trust a thing it said. I’d not forgotten Barrons’ comment that Seelie and Unseelie royalty were nearly impossible to tell apart. Though this Prince V’lane of the Tuatha Dé Danaan claimed to be here on the Seelie Queen’s behalf, I had no proof of that, nor even that it was who and what it claimed to be.
“There is no catch,” it said.
Like I said, stupid question. “I stand with my initial position,” I informed it. “No thank you. There, that’s done. Now let’s get to the point: What do you want from me?” I yanked my shirt back down. I wanted our little job-offer interview over and done with, the sooner the better.
The air around me chilled, as if iced by the Fae’s displeasure with my attitude. “There is trouble in Faery, sidhe-seer,” it said, “and as you have seen, in your world, as well. After an eternity of confinement, some of the lower-caste Unseelie have begun escaping their prison. Despite our efforts to isolate the weakness in the fabric of our realms, we have not been able to determine how they are breaking free.”
I shrugged. “So, what do you want me to do about it?”
“Queen Aoibheal wants the Sinsar Dubh, sidhe-seer.”
I was beginning to think it might be easier to start tallying everyone I knew in Dublin that didn’t want the Sinsar Dubh. Gee, that would be nobody. “Well, what’s stopping her from getting it? Isn’t she supposed to be the most powerful of all the Fae?” I was pretty sure that was what Barrons had told me. Except for the Unseelie King, who some claimed outranked all, while others contended he was a mere figurehead, that the “children of the goddess Danu” were a matriarchal line. According to Barrons, nobody really knew anything for sure about the Unseelie King.
“We have a small difficulty. We are unable to sense our own sacred objects. It is only the rare sidhe-seer who can. We do not know where it is.” The Fae could not have seemed more affronted by its admission. How dare the world not bow and scrape at its feet? How dare the universe not conspire to arrange everything in its favor? How dare a mere human possess an ability that was beyond theirs? “Other things have gone missing, as well, that we would like to recover.”