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Chapter 5

ALISTAIR NORTON DIDN'T LOOK LIKE A MONSTER. I'D EXPECTED HIM TO be handsome, but it was still disappointing. There is something in all of us that believes deep down that evil shows on the outside, that we should be able to pick out the bad people just by looking at them, but it just doesn't work that way. I'd spent enough time at both courts to know that beautiful and good were not the same. I, if anyone, knew that beauty was perfect camouflage for the darkest of hearts, and still I wanted Alistair Norton's face to show what he was inside. I wanted some visible mark of Cain on him. But he came smiling into the restaurant, tall, broad-shouldered, face full of clean angles, so masculine it was almost painful. His lips were a little thin for my taste, face a little too masculine, eyes a very ordinary brown. The hair that was tied back in a neat ponytail was an odd shade of brown, neither light nor dark. But I had to look for imperfections because there just weren't any.

His smile was quick and softened his face to something more approachable, less model-perfect. The laugh was deep and charming. His large hands wore a silver ring with a diamond as big as my thumb, but no wedding ring. There wasn't even a telltale pale line where the ring had been removed. His skin was dark enough that there should have been a tan line. He'd never worn a ring. I always felt that any man who didn't want to wear a wedding band was probably planning to cheat. There are always exceptions, but not many.

For his part, he seemed pleased. "Your eyes glow like green jewels."

I'd left the brown contact lenses at the office. My natural eye color really did glow. I thanked him for the compliment, playing shy, looking into my drink. It wasn't shyness. I was trying to keep him from seeing the contempt in my eyes. Both human and sidhe culture abhor an adulterer. The sidhe don't worry about fornication, but once you get married, give your word that you will be faithful, then you must be faithful. No fey will tolerate an oath breaker. If your word is worthless, then so are you.

He touched my shoulder. "Such perfect white skin." When I didn't chase him away, he leaned in and placed a soft kiss on my shoulder. I stroked his face as he drew back, and that seemed to be a signal of some kind. He kissed the side of my neck, hand touching my hair. "Your hair's like red silk," he breathed against my skin. "Is it your natural color?"

I turned into him, answering him with my mouth just above his, "Yes."

He kissed, and it was gentle, a good first kiss. I hated the fact that he seemed so sincere. What was truly horrible was that he might be sincere, that at the beginning of the seduction he might mean every word. I'd met men like that before. It's as if they believe their own lies, that this time it will be true love. But it never lasts because no woman is perfect enough for them. Of course, it isn't the women who aren't perfect enough. It's the man. He tries to fill some void in himself with women or sex. If the love is true enough, the sex good enough, then this time he'll feel complete. This time he'll finally be whole. Serial womanizers are like serial killers in one respect. They both believe that next time will be perfect, that the next experience will complete them and stop this unending need. But it never does.

He whispered, "Let's get out of here."

I nodded, not trusting my voice. I'd be doing a lot of eyes-closed kissing because sometimes I could lie with my eyes, and sometimes I couldn't. It was going to be hard enough to keep the reluctance out of my body as he touched me. Expecting my eyes to show lust and love was asking too much.

His car matched the rest of him: expensive, sleek, fast. A black Jaguar with black leather seats so that it was like sliding into a pool of darkness. I put my seat belt on. He didn't. He drove fast, weaving in and out of traffic. It would have been more impressive if I hadn't been driving in L.A. for three years. Everyone drove like this out of sheer self-defense.

The house was neat and small, the smallest in the neighborhood, but it had the largest yard. There was actually enough land on either side that even a Midwesterner would say it had a good-sized yard. The house looked like a place for kids to wait for daddy to come home, while mom rushed around in her power suit trying to fix dinner after a hard day's work.

For a moment I wondered if he'd actually taken me to his home, the one he shared with Frances. If so, it was a break in his pattern, and I didn't like that. Why would he break his pattern? I knew he hadn't found the bug, and he hadn't touched my purse, which meant he didn't know about the hidden camera in it. I was saving turning it on until we got to his love nest. He couldn't know.

Ringo was posted outside the Norton house watching over Mrs. Norton. If Alistair got too violent before we could get him in jail, Ringo was on his own best judgment over whether to intercede. I didn't look around for Ringo. If he was here, I didn't want to draw attention to him.

Alistair opened the door for me, helping me out of the car. I let him because I was trying to think. I finally tried for honesty, sort of. "You sure you're not married?"

"Why do you ask?"

"This looks like a house for a family."

He laughed and drew me into the circle of his arm. "No family, just me. I just moved in."

I looked up at him. "Are you buying with an eye for the future? Munchkins and the family thing?"

He raised my hand to his lips. "With the right woman anything's possible."

Lord and Lady, but he knew just how much carrot to dangle in front of most women. Imply that you could be the woman to tame him, make him settle down. Most women love that. I knew better. Men don't settle down because of the right woman. They settle down because they are finally ready for it. Whatever woman they're dating when they get ready is the one they settle down with, not necessarily the best one or the prettiest, just the one who happened to be on hand when the time got to be right. Unromantic, but still true.

He'd moved out of his apartment. Why? Did it have something to do with Naomi Phelps leaving him abruptly? Did it make him nervous enough to move? Or had he been planning the move all along? No way to know without asking, and I couldn't ask. As Alistair Norton ushered me through the door, I fought an urge to look back, to search for Jeremy and the rest. I knew my backup was out there. I knew because I trusted them. Alistair hadn't driven fast enough to lose both vehicles. The van for the sound system and to hide Uther, and the car with Jeremy at the wheel in case they needed more maneuverability to follow Norton, or just to switch off so that he wouldn't notice the same car behind him for too long. They were out there, listening to us. I knew that, but still I would have liked to have glanced back and seen them. Just sheer insecurity on my part.

I felt the warding before the door opened. When I stepped over the threshold, power shivered over my skin. He noticed. "Do you know what you're feeling?"

I could have lied, but I didn't. I'd like to say it was a hunch that Alistair would be pleased that I was a trained mystic, but that wasn't it. I wanted him to know that I wasn't helpless. "You've got the door warded," I said. The air in the room pressed against my skin, and it was as if I couldn't breathe deep enough, like there wasn't enough air. I stepped off the tiled entryway, hoping the atmosphere would get better. It didn't. If anything the atmosphere grew heavier, like wading into deeper water. Hot, close, skin-crawling water.

I'd known he was powerful by the spells he'd laid on his wife and his mistress. But the amount of power that filled that empty living room was more than human. The only way for a human witch to get that much power was to bargain with things not human. I hadn't counted on that. None of us had.

He was talking to me, but I hadn't heard. My mind was screaming, "Leave! Leave now!" But if I did that, Alistair was still free to kill his wife and torture other women. Me leaving would keep me safe, but it wouldn't help our clients. It was one of those moments when I had to decide, was I going to earn my paycheck or not.

One thing I did know. The guys in the van needed to know what I'd found out. "The ward isn't to keep things out, is it, Alistair? Though it will keep out other powers. The ward is to keep anyone else from sensing how much power you've got in here." My voice sounded breathy as if I was having trouble breathing.

He looked at me then, and for the first time I saw something in his eyes that wasn't pleasant or smiling. For an instant the monster was there in those brown eyes. "I should have known you'd sense it," he said. "My little Merry, with her sidhe eyes, hair, and skin. If you were tall and willowy, you'd pass for sidhe."

"So I've been told," I said.

He held his hand out to me. I reached for his hand, but I had to reach through the power in the room, like pushing my hand through an invisible, skin-tingling thickness. His fingers touched mine, and a jolt of energy like static jumped between us. He laughed and wrapped his hand around mine. I forced myself not to pull back, but I couldn't make myself smile. I was having too much trouble breathing through the power. I'd lived in places so full of power, the walls groaned with it, but this power had been allowed to fill the space available like water until there was no air space left. Alistair probably thought he was a big, powerful witch to be able to call this much power, but he was a baby witch if he couldn't control it better than this. A lot of people can call power. Calling is not the measure of your strength as a practitioner. It's what you can do with the power that counts. Though as he pulled me, gently, through the brush of the hovering energy, I did wonder what he was doing with all this magic. He might be wasting a lot of it just letting it swirl around, but you don't get this much energy without having some idea of what you're doing and some plan of what to do with it.

My voice sounded strange even to me, strained, and breathy. "The living room is full of magic, Alistair. What are you going to do with all of it?" I hoped everyone in the van was getting this.

"Let me show you," he said. We were at the closed door in the left-hand wall.

"What's behind the door?" I asked. It was the only door visible from the entrance. There was an open hallway that led from the rear of the living room farther into the house, and an open entranceway into the kitchen. It was the only closed door, and if the guys had to come save me, I didn't want them wandering around. I wanted them to come straight in and get me out.

"Let's not pretend, Merry. We know why you're here, why we're both here. It's the bedroom." He opened the door, and it was the bedroom. It was red from the four-poster bed to the drapery that covered every wall to the carpet. It was like standing inside a crimson velvet box. Mirrors were set between the heavy drapes like jewels set to charm the eye. There were no windows. It was a closed box and the center of the magic that had been called to this place.

The power rolled over me like suffocating fur, warm, close, choking. I couldn't breathe, couldn't speak. My feet stopped working, but Alistair didn't seem to notice. He kept leading me, pulling me into the room, so that I stumbled, and the only thing that kept me from falling to the polished wood of the floor was his arms. He tried to lift me in his arms, but I collapsed the rest of the way to the floor so that he couldn't lift me up. I wasn't fainting. I just didn't want to be picked up because I knew where he'd take me: to the bed. And if that was the center of all this power, I didn't want to go there, not yet.

"Wait," I said, "wait. Give a girl a second to catch her breath." There was a small chest of drawers about waist high just inside the door. I used the edge of the chest of drawers to get to my feet, though Alistair was there to help, very solicitous. I set my purse on the edge of the chest, squeezing the handle twice to turn on the hidden camera. If the camera was on, it had a near perfect view of the bed.

He came up behind me, arms wrapping around me from behind, managing to pin my arms to my sides, but not hard. He meant it to be a hug. The fact that it panicked me wasn't his fault, not really. I tried to relax against his body, in the circle of his arms, but couldn't. The Power was too thick, and I couldn't relax. The best I could do was not to pull away.

He nuzzled the side of my face, lips moving down my skin. "You're not wearing any base."

"I don't need any." I turned my head just enough to encourage him to continue kissing down my face to my neck. It was all the invitation he needed to work his way lower. His lips stopped at my shoulder, but his hands slid from my arms to encircle my waist. "God, you're a tiny thing. I can reach around you with my hands."

I moved gently away from him toward the bed. My senses were dulling to the magic. I'd had years of practice at ignoring amazing amounts of power. If you're sensitive to such things and you don't want to go mad, you adapt. Magic can become like white noise, like the sounds of the city itself, only coming to your attention when you concentrate.

I stood on the bright Persian rug that surrounded the bed, just like Naomi had described it. But I couldn't force myself to walk those last few feet to the bed because I could feel the circle that lay under the rug like a great hand pushing me away. It was a circle of power, something to stand inside while you conjured, so that whatever you called wouldn't come inside and eat you, or so you could call something inside the circle and remain safely outside. I wouldn't know until I saw the runes which kind of circle it was, whether it was a shield or a prison. Even seeing the runes and the construction of the circle might not tell me. I knew sidhe witchery, but there are other kinds of power, other mystical languages to work magic with. I might not recognize any of it, and then there would be only one way to know what the circle was... by walking into it.

The real trouble was that some circles are constructed to hold fey captive, and once I was inside, I might have trouble getting back out. If they were really a bunch of fey wanna-bes, they probably wouldn't be trying to capture us, but you never know. If you love something hard enough but can never touch it or keep it, the love can curdle into a jealousy more destructive than any hate.

Alistair loosened his tie as he walked toward me, an anticipatory smile curling his lips. He was utterly arrogant, sure of himself and of me. It was so tempting to just walk out, just so I could watch that arrogance slide away. He hadn't done anything mystical yet, let alone illegal. Was I being too easy? Did he save the mystical stuff for the reluctant ones? Did I need to be more reluctant? Or more aggressive? Which would get Alistair Norton on tape doing something illegal? I was still trying to make up my mind whether to be the unwilling virgin or the eager whore when he was there in front of me, and I was out of time.

He bent down to kiss me, and I raised my head up to meet him, rising on tiptoe, hands balancing on his arms. His biceps flexed under my hands, swelling against the cloth of his jacket. I don't think he was even aware of it, just habit. He kissed like he seemed to do everything, with a practiced ease, smooth skill. His arms wrapped around my waist, pressed me to his body, lifted me off the floor. He started moving me backward toward the circle. I drew back from the kiss enough to say, "Wait, wait." But we were in it, and it stole my breath for a second until we were on the other side, inside the circle. It was like being in the eye of a storm. Inside the circle was quiet, the most restful place I'd felt in the entire house. A tightness I hadn't known was there eased from my shoulders and back.

Alistair scooped my legs up and walked us both onto the bed with his knees. When we were near the center of the bed, he laid me down and stayed on his knees, looking at me, towering over me. But I'd worked alongside Uther for three years. Six feet was nothing when you'd been having lunch with thirteen.

I don't think I looked impressed enough because he took off the tie and tossed it to the bed, fingers going to his shirt buttons. He was going to undress first. I was surprised. A control freak usually wants their victim naked first. He was out of his jacket and shirt, hands going to his belt before I could figure out what to do. Slowing him down seemed to be good.

I sat up, touching his hands. "Slow down. Let me enjoy the unveiling. You're rushing through it like you've got another date tonight." I held on to his hands, rubbing across his skin, stroking his bare arms. I concentrated on the feel of the tiny hairs on his forearms and how they slid under my touch. If I concentrated just on the physical sensations one at a time, I could make my eyes lie or at least show a genuine interest. The trick was not to think too hard about who I was touching.

"There's no one but you tonight, Merry." He drew me to my knees, then ran his hands through my hair, letting it slide through his fingers so that he held my face in his big hands. "There will be no one else for either of us after tonight, Merry."

I didn't like the sound of that, but it was the first thing he'd said that was sort of psychotic so I was doing something right. "What do you mean, Alistair? We eloping to Vegas?"

He smiled, still holding my face, staring into my eyes liked he'd memorize them. "Marriage is just a ceremony, but tonight I'll show you what it means to be truly one with a man."

I raised an eyebrow before I could help myself. Knowing my face already showed it, I said, "My, you do have a high opinion of yourself."

"It's not idle boasting, Merry." He kissed me, softly, then crawled past me to the headboard of the bed. He pressed on the wood, and a little door sprang open. A secret compartment, how nifty. He turned with a small glass bottle in his hands. It was one of those glass bottles with curves and frills to it that you're supposed to keep expensive perfume in, but no one ever does.

"Take off the dress," he said.


"It's massage oil." He held the bottle up so I could see the thick oil in the light through the ruby glass.

I smiled at him, and I tried to make it everything he wanted: sexual, flirtatious, a little cynical. "The pants first."

He grinned at me, evidently pleased. "I thought you said you wanted to go slow."

"If we're getting naked, you first."

He started to turn and set the bottle inside the compartment again. "I'll hold it for you," I said.

He stopped in midmotion, turning back to me with a heat in his eyes that was almost touchable. "Only if you put some on your breasts while I undress."

"Will it stain my dress?"

He actually seemed to think about that, face becoming thoughtful, intelligence showing through. "I'm not sure, but I'll buy you a new one if it's ruined."

"Men will promise anything in the heat of the moment," I said.

"Let me see the oil run down that pure white skin. Make them glisten for me." He handed the bottle to me, wrapping my hands around it. He kissed me again, mouth lingering on me, his tongue probing, opening my mouth so the kiss could be more. He drew back, slowly. "Please Merry, please."

He moved back, but not far, hands at his belt again. He drew the leather tongue slowly through the gold buckle, drawing out each movement while he watched me. It made me smile because he was doing what I'd asked. He was slowly unveiling himself.

The least I could do was do what he'd asked. The push-up bra left enough of my breasts bare so that I didn't have to lift anything out of the dress. I drew the stopper out of the bottle. It had one of those long g]ass rods on the end of it, to glide along your skin. I sniffed the oil. It smelled of cinnamon and vanilla. There was something familiar about the odor but I couldn't place it. The oil was nearly clear. "Aren't you supposed to warm it first?" I said.

"It reacts to your body's heat." He pulled the belt out of the last loop and tossed it between us on the bed. "Your turn."

I lifted the stopper out of the bottle. The oil clung to it in a heavy strand. I touched the end of the glass rod to the top of my breast. The Oil was already warm, body temperature. I trailed the rod across the mounds of my breasts and tiny trails of oil followed it, tracing like thick tears across my skin. The smell of cinnamon and vanilla seemed to soak into my skin like a warm rush. .

Alistair undid the snap on his pants and slowly drew down the zipper. He wore red bikini underwear, like he'd dressed to match the bedroom. The scarlet was very bright against his skin, clinging over the front of his body like a second skin. He lay down on the bed to get the pants off, gazing up at me so that I towered over him on my knees as he had towered over me earlier.

He reached up, still flat on his back, running his fingertips across the oil, spreading it over my skin. He came to his knees, hands smoothing over the tops of my breasts, fingers trying to get inside the dress and touch more, but it was too tight. Prior planning prevents embarrassing groping. He rubbed his oiled hands down his own chest, then took the bottle from me and trailed the glass stopper across my mouth like he was putting on lip gloss. It was sweet upon my lips, thick and sweet. He kissed me, both his hands still holding the bottle, so that it was just his mouth on mine. He kissed me like he was going to eat the oil off my lips. I melted into the kiss, hands stroking over his oiled chest, feeling the muscles of his stomach moving under my hands. My hand slid lower, over the front of him, finding him hard and ready. The feel of him thrilled through my body like a jolt of energy. That was when I realized that I was enjoying myself and had forgotten why I was there.

I drew back from the kiss and tried to focus, to think. I didn't want to think. I wanted to touch him and have him touch me. My breasts ached to be touched. My mouth almost burned with the need to close the distance between us. He leaned in for another kiss, and I crawled backward, falling onto my back in my rush to put distance between us.

Alistair crawled to me on knees and one hand. The other hand held the bottle. He straddled me the way a horse stands over her colt. My gaze kept sliding down his body to the hard front of him. I couldn't keep my eyes on his face. It was embarrassing, and frightening.

"Stupid," I said, "so stupid. It's in the oil. There's a spell in the oil." 1 His voice came in an almost harsh whisper. "The oil is the spell."

I didn't understand what he meant at first, but I knew I didn't want anymore of it on me. He started to open the bottle, and I sat up, taking his hands in mine, keeping the lid on the damn thing. The moment I touched his hands, I lost. We were kissing again, and I hadn't meant to. It was as if the more we kissed, the more I wanted to be kissed, like it fed on itself.

I threw myself back on the bed, hands covering my face. "No!" I knew what it was now: Branwyn's Tears, Aeval's Joy, Fergus's Sweat. It could make a human into a sidhe lover for one night. It could turn even a sidhe into a sexual slave, if that sidhe had no access to other sidhe. No fey, no matter how talented, how powerful, can rival the sidhe, so it's said. You can forget what the touch is like. You can fight not to dream of glowing flesh and eyes like molten jewels, a sweep of ankle-length hair across your body. But the desire is always there just under the surface, like an alcoholic who can never take another drink for fear that one drink will never be enough to satisfy that thirst.

I screamed, loud and long and wordless. There was another side effect of Branwyn's Tears. No glamour can stand against it. Because your concentration can't stand against it. I felt my glamour leaking away, felt my skin as if my entire body took a deep breath.

I lowered my hands slowly until I was staring up into the mirror on the ceiling. My eyes glowed like tricolor jewels. The outer edge of my irises was molten gold, within that was a circle of jade green, and last came emerald fire to chase around the pupil. Only the sidhe, or a cat, could have such eyes. My mouth was a mixture of crimsons: the remains of my lipstick, and the scarlet gleam of the lips themselves. My skin was a white so pure, it shimmered, like the most perfect of pearls. Again there was light coming out of my skin, like a candle behind a veil. The red-black of my hair fell around the shining colors like a spill of dark blood. If my hair had been pure black, I'd have looked like Snow White carved from jewels.

This wasn't just me without the glamour. It was me when my power was upon me, when magic was in the air.

"My God, you're sidhe," he whispered.

I turned those glowing eyes to Alistair. I expected fear in his eyes, but there was a kind of soft wonderment. "He said you would come if we were faithful, if we truly believed, and here you are."

"Who said I'd come?"

"A sidhe princess to feast upon." He spoke in a voice that held awe, but his hands slid under my dress, fingers curling over the band of my panties. I grabbed his wrist and slapped him with the other hand. Slapped him hard enough to leave a red imprint of my hand on his face. We had all the proof we needed to put him in jail. I didn't have to play along anymore. You can take the energy of Branwyn's Tears and turn it from sex to violence, or so they say in the Unseelie Court. I was going to try. I was really going to try.

If he'd hit me back, it might have worked, but he didn't. He collapsed his body on top of mine, pinning me to the bed. He was so low on my body that his face was level with mine. There was a moment where I looked into his eyes, and I saw the same stricken need in his eyes that I felt in mine. The Tears cut both ways. You could not use it to seduce without being seduced.

He made a small sound low in his throat and kissed me. I ate at his mouth, one hand going to the ponytail holder that held his hair back. I jerked it out, spilling his shoulder-length hair around me like a silken curtain. I plunged my hands into his hair, two fistfuls of it, held tight, while I explored his mouth.

His free hand tried to reach down the dress for my breast, but it was still too tight. He pulled at the cloth, and my body jerked with the force of it as the cloth ripped, and his hand spilled inside my bra.

The touch of his hand on my breast jerked my head back, freed my mouth from him. I was suddenly looking behind us at the mirrors on the far wall. It took me a few seconds to realize something was wrong. Part of it was distraction. Alistair was kissing my neck, working his mouth over my skin, ever lower. Part of it was someone else's magic. Someone powerful didn't want me to know they were watching. But the mirrors were blank like the eyes of the blind. I looked up at the mirror above the bed, and it was empty, too, as if Alistair and I weren't there.

Then I felt the spell like a great sucking wound, drawing my power to the surface until it spilled from the pores of my skin, and up, up into that mirrored surface. Whatever it was, it was feeding off my power like a psychic leech. It pulled the power slowly like sucking up a straw. I did the only thing I could think of. I shoved the power into the throat of the spell, force-fed my power into the magic. They hadn't expected that, and the magic shuddered. There was a figure in the mirror, but it wasn't Alistair or me. The figure was tall, slender, covered in a hooded grey cloak that hid every inch of the body. The cloak was illusion, an illusion to hide the witch at the other end of the spell. Every illusion can be stripped away.

Alistair's mouth bit gently on my breast, and my concentration shattered. I looked down at him as he drew my nipple into his mouth. It felt as if his mouth drew on a hot line that went directly from my breast to my groin. It tore a gasp from my throat, made me writhe under his touch. A small part of me hated that this man could make my body react, but the larger part of me had turned to nothing but nerve endings and engorged flesh. I was sinking deeper into Branwyn's Tears, drowning in them. Soon there'd be no thinking, just sensations. I couldn't think to draw power. All I could smell, feel, taste was cinnamon, vanilla, and sex. I took that sex, that need, and wrapped it in my mind, and shoved it into the spell. The cloak wavered, and for a second I almost saw what lay behind it, but Alistair went to his knees, blocking my view.

He pulled his underwear down his hips, his thighs, and I was suddenly staring at the hard, gleaming length of him. It took my breath away for a second, not because he was so wonderful, but just out of pure need. It was as if my body saw the cure for all this need, and the cure was lying flat against Alistair's belly. I don't know if it was the sight of him nude or the power I'd shoved into the spell, but I was feeling more myself. A throbbing, nymphomaniac self, but still it was an improvement.

I sat up. The front of the dress was torn away, my bra pulled down so that my breasts were bare. I said, "No, Alistair, no. We are not doing this."

A prickle of energy spilled over the bed, running in goose bumps on my body. Alistair looked up as if he saw something I didn't, and said, "But you said to only use small amounts. Too much could drive her mad." He listened, face intent. I heard nothing.

Whatever was in the mirror wasn't hiding from Alistair, just from me.

Alistair opened the bottle. I had time to say "No." My hand went out as if to ward off a blow. He threw the oil on me. It was like being touched by some great liquid hand. I couldn't move, couldn't do anything but scream. He poured the oil down the front of my body. It soaked through my dress, to the skin underneath. He raised the skirt, and this time I couldn't stop him. I was frozen, overwhelmed. He poured the oil over the satin of my panties, and I fell back onto the bed, my spine bowing, hands scrambling at the sheets. My skin felt like it was swelling, stretching with a desire that narrowed the world down to the need to be touched, to be held, to be had. It wouldn't have mattered who it was. The spell did not care, and neither did 1.1 opened my arms to the naked man kneeling over me. He collapsed on top of me. I could feel him tight and heavy against the satin of the panties. Even that thin piece of cloth was too much. I wanted him inside me, wanted it more than I'd ever wanted anything or anyone.

Then something floated down from the mirror. It was a tiny black speck, but it held my attention, compelled it. It got closer, and I could see that it was a small spider, hanging from a silken thread. I watched the spider float slowly to Alistair's shoulder. The spider was small and black and shiny like patent leather. My body was cooler, my head clearer. Jeremy had managed to get something through to me. I knew now that the magician on the other end of the spell had kept them all trapped outside the house.

I felt the smooth head of Alistair's penis slip around the edge of the panties, touching my swollen wetness. It made me cry out, but I could still talk, still think. Now if I couldn't get away, it really was going to be rape. "Stop it, Alistair, stop it!" I struggled to get out from under him, but he was too big, too heavy. I was trapped. He started to push inside me. I got a hand between his groin and mine. He could have penetrated me, but it seemed to distract him. He fumbled at my hand, trying to move it, so he could finish.

I screamed, "Jeremy!"

Alistair and I fought over where my hands were, and I glimpsed the mirror. It was full of grey, swirling fog. It shivered, rippling like water. It bowed out like a bubble. It was only then that I knew that the magician was sidhe. He or she was hiding themselves from me, but the mirrors, that was sidhe magic. Then Alistair won the fight and slipped the tip of himself inside me. I cried out, and it was half protest and half pleasure. My mind didn't want this, but the oil still rode my body. I screamed, "No!" but my hips twitched under him, trying to help him slide inside me. I wanted, needed him to be inside me, to feel his naked body inside of mine. Still, I screamed "No!"

Alistair flinched and pulled out of me the small distance he'd won, rising to his knees, brushing at his back. He came away with a small smear of crimson. He'd crushed the spider. Another small black spider crawled down his arm. He batted it away. Two more spiders crawled over his shoulders. He tried to touch the middle of his back and turned like a dog chasing its tail, and I saw his back. The skin had split open, and a wave of tiny black spiders poured out. They swarmed over him like black water, a moving, biting second skin. He screamed, clawing at his back, crushing some of them, but there were always more, until he was a moving mass of them. They poured into his open mouth as he shrieked, and he choked, and still he screamed.

All the mirrors were pulsing, breathing, the glass stretching out and in like something elastic and alive. I heard a man's voice in my head: "Get under the bed, now." 1 didn't argue. I rolled off the bed and crawled under it. The red sheets spilled down over the edge, hiding everything but a thin sliver of light.

There was a sound of breaking glass, like a thousand windows breaking all at once. Alistair's screams vanished under the sound of falling glass. The glass burst on the carpet like brittle hail, a tinkling, sharp sound.

Silence filled the room by degrees, as the glass settled over the room. There was a sound of splintering wood. I couldn't see it, but 1 thought it was the door. "Merry, Merry!" It was Jeremy.

Roane yelled, "Merry, dear God."

I crawled to the edge of the bed and lifted the rim of the sheet to see the floor glittering silver. I called, "I'm here. I'm here." I reached my hand out from under the bed, waving it, but unable to move farther without getting cut on the glass.

A hand gripped mine, and someone laid a suit jacket over the glass so that Roane could pull me out from under the bed. It wasn't until he was cradling me in his arms that I realized I was still covered in Branwyn's Tears, and what that might mean for us. But I'd gotten a glimpse of what lay on the bed, and it stole the words from my mouth. I think I forgot to breathe for a second or two.

Roane carried me toward the door. I stared back over his shoulder at what lay on the bed. I knew it was a man. I even knew it was Alistair Norton, but if I hadn't known what I was looking at, I'm not sure I'd have known it was human. The shape was as crimson as the sheets it lay on. The glass had turned him into so much raw meat. I couldn't see the spiders under all that blood. I knew two things, maybe three. First, the magician on the other end of the spell was sidhe; second, he or she had tried to kill me; third, if it wasn't for Jeremy getting a spell through the ward, I'd be just a smaller red lump on the blood-soaked bed. I owed Jeremy a very big favor.

Chapter 4 | A Kiss of Shadows | Chapter 6