“I’m strong, Ms. Lane. Would you like to feel my muscles?” He showed his teeth but it wasn’t really a smile and we both knew it. Two weeks ago it would have intimidated me.
“I don’t care how strong you are. Mallucé is superstrong. He’s a vampire.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. His followers seem to think he’s dead.”
“Oh, happy day,” I said fervently. “One down.” Only a thousand or so to go, in my estimation, though I was afraid I might be way off, as in seriously underestimating.
“Don’t celebrate yet, Ms. Lane. Don’t believe anything dead until you’ve burned it, poked around in its ashes, and then waited a day or two to see if anything rises from them.”
“You’re kidding. Some things are that hard to kill?”
“Some things, Ms. Lane,” he said, beginning the second coat of my manicure, “are impossible to kill. However, I’m not certain Mallucé was one of them. It remains to be seen.”
I fired my next question at him. “Why do the Shades let you walk in the Dark Zone, Barrons?”
He painted my entire index finger pink. Then had the nerve to glare up at me, as if I’d done it.
“Darn it, Barrons, they were looking good until you did that!” I yanked my hand away. “Dampen one of those cotton balls with this.” I thrust a bottle of polish remover at him.
He took it, with a hard look. “You spy on me, Ms. Lane?”
“Serendipity, Barrons. I just happened to be glancing out the window when you happened to be doing something nefarious, which only makes me wonder how many nefarious things you’re doing when I’m not glancing out the window. Where’s the Maybach?”
An instant smile curved his lips; the quick, possessive smile of a man with a new toy. “O’Bannion didn’t need it anymore. The police don’t even see the—what did you call it—Dark Zone? It would have sat there forever. What a waste.”
“Oh, you are just cold,” I breathed. “That man wasn’t even dead a day.”
“Spoils of war, Ms. Lane.”
“Couldn’t you have at least moved those piles while you were at it?”
He shrugged. “You quit seeing them after a while.”
I hoped not. It would mean a part of me was as dead as him. “What kind of deal do you have with the Shades, Barrons?”
I expected evasion, even a counterquestion, but I wasn’t prepared for the one he lashed back at me with. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d encountered V’lane, Ms. Lane?” he said silkily.
I jerked. “How did you know?”
“V’lane told me.”
“How do you know V’lane?” I demanded indignantly.
“I know everything, Ms. Lane,” he said.
“Oh really?” I said, saccharine-sweet. “Then who and what is the Lord Master? Answer me that.” Not Fae, for sure. But he hadn’t seemed . . . altogether human, either.
“Your sister’s boyfriend,” he said flatly, “and knowing that, just what should I make of you?” When I stared at him blankly, he said, “I found the photos in your jacket.”
I nearly smacked myself in the forehead. The pictures! I’d forgotten all about the things I’d looted from the Lord Master’s residence. “Where did you put the other things that were in my jacket?” I asked. I couldn’t recall having seen either the two albums or the Franklin Planner in my bedroom. I needed to go over her calendar with a fine-tooth comb. There could be all kinds of valuable information in there: names, addresses, dates.
“There wasn’t anything else in your jacket.”
“There was too,” I protested.
He shook his head.
“Are you sure?”
I searched his face. Was he telling me the truth? Had they fallen out while I’d been fighting? Or had he taken them for some reason? With a sinking feeling, I realized I might just have to go back to 1247 LaRuhe again to be certain. “I didn’t know he was my sister’s boyfriend, Barrons,” I defended. “She didn’t, either. Remember her message? She said he’d been lying to her all along. That he was one of them and she never knew it until then. He tricked and betrayed her,” I said bitterly. “There, I answered your question. Now you answer mine. Why do the Shades let you walk in the Dark Zone?”
He didn’t say anything for a long time, just glossed my nails a topcoat and touched up my cuticles in silence. He was better than most nail technicians; the man was a perfectionist. I’d just about given up hope of him answering when he said, “We all have our . . . gifts, Ms. Lane. You are a Null. I am . . . other things. What I am not—is your enemy. Nor am I in league with the Shades. You’re just going to have to trust me on that.”