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Chapter 37

PASCO'S DEATH MEANT THAT THE QUEEN NEEDED A NEW SPY TO SEND back to Los Angeles with me. She seemed unsure of herself with Cel's screams still echoing in the hallways. I was able to press until we settled on a guard who wasn't exactly one of her pets. Nicca is terrified of my aunt, so he'll report to her, but he also helped us after the thorns tried to drink me dry. Doyle trusts him, and I trust Doyle. The queen says that Nicca is not an inspired lover, but the packaging is nice. His father was one of the demi-fey, something with butterfly wings. His mother was one of the ladies of the court, a full-blooded sidhe. The queen had him strip his shirt off for me, to show that giant butterfly wings are tattooed across his shoulders, arms, down his back to vanish into his pants. The genetics tried to give him wings even though he was man-sized. No tattoo artist has ever done anything as lovely as the wings on Nicca's back. The queen would have had him strip completely so I could see just how far down the wing design went, but I opted to be left with a little mystery. Nicca had looked frightened the entire time. He watched Queen Andais the way a crippled sparrow watches a snake, just wondering when the first big bite is going to sink into its flesh. I got him out of her presence as soon as was polite. Doyle assures me that Nicca is fine as long as the queen is nowhere around. I'd love to know what she did to him in particular to make him so very afraid -or maybe I wouldn't. The older I get the more I realize that ignorance may not be bliss, but sometimes it beats the alternative.

We flew back to Los Angeles as soon as we could get a flight out. The police had to be called in to keep the press at bay. The pictures of Frost, Kitto, and me were already in the tabloids. I'm told the European tabloids were showing the full nude shots with nothing fuzzed out. The question everyone wanted to know the answer to was: Is Frost or Kitto the new fianc'e. I kept answering no, and one smart reporter asked if I was into polyandry. I motioned at all the beautiful men surrounding me, and said, "Wouldn't you be?" The press laughed, and loved it. Since we can't do anything else, we're playing to it. Princess Meredith is picking a new husband, or two.

Jeremy brought Uther to the airport to meet our plane. Uther used "the glare" to clear a path through the reporters. When you're thirteen feet tall, muscular, and have a double row of wicked-looking tusks coming out of your face, even reporters will clear a path. Jeremy fielded questions that, yes, the princess did work for the Grey Detective Agency. We'd already talked on the phone, because Jeremy had pretty much expected me not to come back to work. But being a detective had made me feel better than being a faerie princess ever had. Besides, I had a lot of mouths to feed. Ringo was out of the hospital and almost completely healed from the ogre's attack in the van. Roane was back from his sea vacation. He gave me a seashell, pale, white, gleaming with opalescence like a daintier, pinker version of abalone shell. It was lovely, and meant more to me than any jewel because it meant more to Roane. He bowed out as my lover without having to be told, though I've let him know that if our having sex has made him sidhe-struck, he's welcome. He seems fine; his new sealskin seems to be a cure for sidhe-sickness. I'm glad, because truth is I have enough men in my life right now.

I have at least one bodyguard with me at all times; Doyle prefers two. It's going to be twenty-four-seven, so they rotate, and mix the rotation so no watchers can ever be sure who is going to be on duty and who isn't. I'm letting Doyle handle the details-it is his job. When they're not guarding my body, they're trying to settle into the new world I've dragged them into. Rhys, of course, wanted to work for the detective agency and be a real-life detective. Jeremy didn't argue with a full-blooded sidhe warrior coming on staff. Once the word got out, it seemed like every celebrity in the area wanted a sidhe to guard their body. Business was so good and most of the time so easy-a lot of standing around and looking decorative with no real danger-that Galen and Nicca both signed on. Doyle says he doesn't guard anyone but me. Frost seems to agree. Kitto simply wants to hang around with me and would spend most of his time under my desk if I let him. He's not adapting well to his first view of the twentieth century. The poor goblin never saw a car before, or a television- and now he spends his days in a skyscraper in one of the most modern cities in the world. If he doesn't start thriving, I'll have to send him back to Kurag, which will mean the goblin king will send a replacement. Call it a hunch: I'm betting the next goblin won't be nearly so nice.

Whatever the demi-fey did to Galen, it was more than simple injury, because he's not healing in one certain area the way he should. We've had a doctor and the best magical practitioner in the city look at him. Neither one of them was very helpful. If science and magic both keep failing us, I may have to talk to Queen Niceven herself and find out what the hell they did to him. I think he's taking to guarding other bodies because to be so close to me and still not be able to have me, when everyone else can, is just too difficult for him. Me, too. All that heat, all those years of waiting, and we're still waiting.

The Grey Detective Agency is getting so much high-profile, big-bucks business that Jeremy is interviewing new people and talking about moving to bigger offices. There were some tense moments between Jeremy and the guards, because they were Unseelie and Jeremy was still holding a grudge. Galen and Rhys took him out drinking. I don't know what was said, but the next day the tension level was better. Male bonding at its best.

Alistair Norton's widow, Frances Norton, and Naomi Phelps, his ex-mistress, are doing well. They've moved in together and if they were a heterosexual couple I'd say we might be getting a wedding invitation soon. They seem happy, and no one is mourning Alistair. The police have traced some of Alistair's fellow sidhe worshipers. Two of them died mysteriously just before the police found them. I don't have much hope for the health of any of the sidhe worshipers. The queen, or Cel's toadies, or both, are tidying up the mess. The queen assured me that there was only one bottle of Branwyn's Tears missing from her private stock, so the danger to the human public is over. She gave me her oath on it, and no sidhe would go back on their oath, not even Andais. There is almost no worse insult among the sidhe than to be an oath-breaker. No one will do business with you after that. No one will bed you, let alone marry you. Andais is on shaky ground with the sidhe right now-she would not risk it. There are whispers of revolution, and I know that Cel's followers among the court are behind it. Though some have suggested that Barinthus is behind it, that he intends to make me queen whether I bear a child or not. "Barinthus Queen-maker" is what they say behind his back. I've made him promise he's not doing anything like that, but he still refuses to come to Los Angeles, saying we need at least one powerful friend to talk to the court about me. He's probably right, but I'm beginning to wonder exactly what he's saying at court without me there to say yea or nay to it.

Doyle has shared my bed, but not our bodies. Literally we have slept together, but not had sex. He says that anticipation will make it better. I don't know what he has planned, but looking into his dark eyes I know he has a plan, a purpose. When I ask about that plan, he says, "I want only to keep you safe and see you queen after your aunt." I don't believe him. Oh, I believe he wants me safe, and I believe he wants me to rule after Andais, but there is more to it than that. When I press, he smiles and shakes his head. I should know by now that when the queen's Darkness keeps secrets there is no prying them from him until he is ready to speak them. Until we are together completely, until I know exactly what he is thinking, he is still the queen's Darkness and not truly mine. It's not the lack of sex but the wealth of secrets that keeps me from owning Doyle completely. If I cannot own him body and heart, how can I trust him? The answer, simply, is I can't.

I'm back in Los Angeles working as a detective but under my real name now. I have access to sidhe lovers and could return to faerie any time I want. I have everything I wanted, but there is a tension that never quite goes away. Because I know that, as they say, the other shoe has not dropped. Cel still lives; his followers fear that I will destroy them if I gain the throne. Revolutions have begun over less. The media is always present like a circle of sharks kept at bay only by court orders. They're chasing the sex and romance angle-if only they knew how very much more there is to the story. Griffin hasn't been found. Maybe he's dead and no one told me. Though somehow, knowing my aunt, I think she'd probably box him up and send me a few favorite parts. I should be happy, and I am, but I'm not at peace. We are in the quiet before the storm, and it is going to be a hell of a storm. I will be weathering the storm in a boat made of flesh and bone, the bodies of my guards, and with every caress, every glance, I am more and more reluctant to give any of them up. I've lost enough people in my life. I'd like to try, just this once, not to lose anyone else. I'd pretty much abandoned my religion with my family, but I've set up an altar in my room, and I'm praying again. I'm praying as hard as I can, but I know better than most that while you always get an answer to your prayer, sometimes the answer isn't what you want it to be. I don't want the throne if I have to climb over the bodies of my friends and lovers to get it. I don't want anything that badly-I never did. I always thought love was more important than power, but sometimes you can't have love without the power to keep it safe. I pray for the safety of those I care about. Maybe what I'm really praying for is power, enough power to protect them. So be it. What ever it takes to keep them safe, even if that means being queen. I can't be queen while Cel lives, no matter what my aunt believes. I pray for the safety of those I care about, and what I'm really asking for is power, the throne, and my cousin's death. Because those three things must happen to give us all safety. They say, be careful what you wish for. Well, be even more cautious with your prayers. Make sure, very sure, it's what you want. You never know when a deity may give you exactly what you asked for.



Chapter 36 | A Kiss of Shadows |



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