I stepped inside. Though the exterior was timeworn and in need of things like gutter and roof repair, the interior was furnished in high Louis XIV style, with plush chairs and sofas set against palatial columns and pilasters, richly carved marble-topped tables, and beautiful amber-and-gold light fixtures. I had no doubt the bedroom furniture would be ornate and enormous in true Sun King style. Huge gilt-framed mirrors and paintings of vaguely familiar mythological scenes adorned the walls.
After listening for a few moments, I began moving through the dimly lit house, one hand on a flashlight, the other on my spearhead, trying to get a mental picture of its inhabitant. The more rooms I glanced into, the less I understood. I’d seen so much ugliness in my short time in Dublin that I’d been expecting more of it, especially here in these desolate barrens, but the occupant appeared to be a wealthy, cultured person of highly sophisticated tastes and—
I mentally smacked myself in the forehead—was this where Alina’s boyfriend lived? Had she sent me straight to the address of her murderer?
Ten minutes later I found my answer in an upstairs bedroom, beyond a massive bed, in a spacious walk-in closet filled with finer clothing than even Barrons wore. Whoever, whatever the owner was, he bought only the best. I mean, the ridiculously best—the stuff you paid insane amounts for just to insure no one else in the world could wear it, too.
Tossed carelessly on the floor, beside a collection of boots and shoes that could have shod an army of Armani models, I found Alina’s Franklin Planner, her photo albums, and two packets of pictures that had been developed at one of those one-hour photo joints in the Temple Bar District. I thrust the planner and albums inside my bulky jacket but kept the plastic packs of photos in my hand.
After a quick but thorough look around both the closet and the rest of the bedroom, to make sure I wasn’t overlooking anything else of hers, I hurried back downstairs so I’d be closer to an escape if I needed one.
Then I sat down on the bottom stair, beneath the gold-and-crystal-encrusted chandelier and opened the first pack of photos.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.
These certainly were.
I’ll finally admit it: Ever since I’d heard the description of Alina’s boyfriend—older, worldly, attractive, not Irish—I’d been having a perfectly paranoid thought.
Was I following in Alina’s footsteps, exactly? Right down to the man who’d betrayed her? Had my sister been in love with Jericho Barrons? Was my mysterious host and alleged protector the one who’d killed her?
When I’d walked into this place earlier, a part of me had thought, Aha, so this is where he was going the other night. This is his real home, not the bookstore, and he’s really a Dark Fae and for some reason I can’t pick up on it any more than Alina could. How was I to know? It certainly would explain those strange flashes of attraction I’d felt toward him on a couple of occasions, if he were really a death-by-sex Fae somewhere under all that domineering authority. Maybe there were Fae that could hide it somehow. Maybe they had talismans or spells to conceal their true nature. I’d seen too many inexplicable things lately to consider anything beyond the realm of possibility.
I’d been vacillating back and forth on the issue: one day thinking there was no way Barrons was the one, the next day nearly convinced he had to have been.
Now I knew for certain. Alina’s boyfriend was most definitely not Jericho Barrons.
I’d just taken a photographic journey through a part of my sister’s life I’d never thought to see, beginning with the first day she’d arrived in Ireland, to pictures of her at Trinity, to some of her laughing with classmates in pubs, and still more of her dancing with a crowd of friends. She’d been happy here. I’d flipped through them slowly, lovingly, touching my finger to the flush of color in her cheeks, tracing the sleek line of her long blonde hair, alternately laughing and trying not to cry as I got a glimpse of a world I’d never expected to see—of Alina alive in this crazy craic and monster-filled city. God, I missed her! Seeing her like this was a kick in the stomach! Looking at them, I felt her presence so strongly it was almost as if she were standing right behind me saying, I love you, Jr. I’m here with you. You can do this. I know you can.
Then the pictures changed, about four months after she arrived in Dublin, according to the dates on the photos. In the second packet of photos there were dozens of Alina alone, taken in and around the city, and it was obvious from the way she was looking at the person behind the camera that she was already deeply in love. Much as it chafed me to admit, the man behind the lens had taken the most beautiful pictures of my sister that I’d ever seen.