THE POLICE WOULDN'T LET ME SHOWER. THEY WOULDN'T EVEN LET ME wash my hands. Four hours after Roane carried me out of the bedroom, I was still trying to explain to the police exactly what had happened to Alistair Norton. I wasn't having much luck. No one believed my version of events. They'd all watched the tape, and they still didn't believe me. I think the only reason I hadn't been charged with Alistair's murder was that I'd been outed as Princess Meredith NicEssus. They knew and I knew that all I had to do was claim diplomatic immunity and I could walk out the door. So they were taking their time about charges.
What they didn't know was that I was almost as eager to avoid bringing in the diplomats as they were. Once I claimed diplomatic immunity, they'd contact the Board of Human-Fey Relations. They would contact the ambassador to the sidhe courts. The ambassador would contact the Queen of Air and Darkness. He'd tell her exactly where I was. Knowing my aunt, she'd tell them to keep me "safe" until her guard could arrive to bring me back home. I'd be trapped like a rabbit in a snare until someone came along to snap my neck and take me home like a prize.
I sat at the small table with a glass of water in front of me. I had a blanket that the paramedics had given me draped over the back of the chair. The blanket had been to keep me warm in case of shock and to cover the ruined front of my dress. I'd spent part of the last few hours being cold and needing the blanket, but the rest of the time it was as if my blood ran hot. I was either shivering or almost sweating, a combination of shock and Branwyn's Tears. Going from one extreme to the other had given me an amazing headache. No one would get me anything for the headache because they were all planning on getting me to the hospital soon-always soon, never now.
I'd still been glowing softly when the first police backups had arrived. I wouldn't be able to do glamour as long as the oil was in my system. So I couldn't hide. Some of the first uniforms recognized me; one of them had said, "You're Princess Meredith." The soft California night had taken a breath around us, and I knew it was only a matter of time until the Queen of Air and Darkness sent someone to investigate this latest whisper. I had to be out of town before that happened. I had at least one more night, maybe two, before my aunt's guard would arrive. I had time to sit here and answer questions. But I was getting tired of answering the same questions.
So why was I still sitting in the hard-backed chair, looking across a small table at a detective I'd never met before? First, even if I walked out of here without being charged or claiming diplomatic immunity, they would contact the politicians. They'd do it to cover their asses. Second, I wanted Detective Alvera to believe me about Branwyn's Tears and just how serious it would be if there was more of the oil out there. Probably it was a gift from whatever sidhe had set up the leech spell. The one bottle may have been all anyone outside the courts had. That was the best-case scenario. But if there was even the slightest chance that humans, with or without sidhe help, had figured out how to manufacture Branwyn's Tears and it was out on the market, then it had to be stopped.
Of course, there was another possibility. The sidhe that set Norton up in his little magic-rape scam might have been giving Branwyn's Tears to lots of others. This was probably the more likely of the two worst-case scenarios, but I couldn't tell the police that another sidhe had been involved with Alistair Norton. You do not take sidhe business to the human police, not if you want to keep all your body parts attached.
Police are good at smelling lies, or maybe, to save time, they just assume everyone is lying. Whatever the reason, Detective Alvera didn't like my story. He sat across from me, tall, dark, slender, with hands that looked too big for his narrow shoulders. His eyes were a solid brown with a fringe of dark lashes that made you notice them, or maybe that was just me tonight. Jeremy had laid a warding over me to help me control the Tears. He'd traced runes across my forehead with his finger and his power. Nothing visible to the police, but I could feel them like a cold fire if I concentrated. Without Jeremy's spell, Goddess knew what I'd have done by now. Something embarrassing and slutty. Even protected by the runes I was very aware of all the men in the room.
Alvera stared at me with lovely, distrustful eyes. I watched how the shape of his lips formed words, such a generous mouth, a kissable mouth. "Did you hear what I just said, Ms. NicEssus?"
I blinked at him and realized I hadn't. "I'm sorry, Detective. Could you repeat it?"
"I think this interrogation is coming to an end, Detective Alvera," my lawyer said. "It's obvious that my client is very tired and in shock."
My lawyer was a partner at James, Browning, and Galan. She was Galan. Usually Browning handled the Grey Detective Agency's legal affairs. I think Eileen Galan was here because Jeremy had mentioned the rape part. A woman would be more sympathetic, or at least that was the theory.
She sat beside me in her dark pinstriped skirt suit, so neat and pressed she looked like she'd just been unwrapped. Her greying blond hair was styled perfectly; her makeup was flawless. There was even a shine on her black high-heeled pumps. It was two o'clock in the morning, and Eileen looked like she'd just finished a power breakfast and was eager to greet the day.
Alvera's gaze went over me from the push-up bra shoving my breasts in plain view to my eyes, last. "She doesn't look like she's in shock to me, Counselor."
"My client was raped, Detective Alvera. Yet, she has not been taken to a hospital, or examined by a doctor. The only reason I have not demanded these things is my client's determination to answer your questions and aid you in this investigation. Frankly, I'm beginning to think my client is not capable of protecting her own interests tonight. I saw how she was brutalized on the tape. I must step in for Meredith's rights even if she doesn't want me to."
Alvera and I looked at each other across the table. He spoke the next words staring directly at me, major eye contact. "I saw the tape, too, Counselor. It looked like your client was enjoying herself most of the time. She said no, but her body kept doing yes."
If Alvera thought that I was going to crack under the pressure of his steely gaze and his insults, he just didn't know me. Even normally it wouldn't have worked, but tonight I was too numb to rise to such poor bait.
"That is insulting, not just to my client, but to women everywhere, Detective Alvera. This interview is over. I'll expect a police escort to the hospital for the rape kit."
He just looked at her with those pretty, jaded eyes. "A woman can keep saying no, stop, but if she's playing with a man's dick, you can't blame him for getting mixed messages."
I smiled, shaking my head.
"You think this is funny, Ms. NicEssus? The tape may make a case for rape, but it also shows you turning Alistair Norton into so much raw meat."
"One more time, I did not kill Alistair Norton. About the rape, you're either trying to be deliberately insulting to get me angry enough to say something indiscreet, or you're a male chauvinist asshole. If the first is true, you're wasting your time. If the second is true, you're wasting mine."
"I'm sorry that answering questions about a man you left to bleed to death in his own bed at his own house is a waste of your time."
"What kind of man has a house that his wife doesn't know about?" I asked.
"He was cheating on his wife, so he deserved to die, is that it? I know you fey have a thing about marriage and monogamy, but execution seems a bit harsh."
"My client has said repeatedly that she did not do the spell that caused the mirrors to crack."
"But she's alive, Counselor. If she didn't do the spell, then how did she know to take cover?"
"I said already that I recognized the spell, Detective Alvera."
"Why didn't Norton recognize the spell? He's got a rep as a big-time magician. He should have seen it coming, too."
"I told you that Branwyn's Tears effects humans more strongly than it effects the sidhe. He wasn't paying as much attention to his surroundings as I was."
"Where did the spiders come from?"
"I don't know." I wasn't telling him that Jeremy had done the spiders because then they'd start blaming him for the mirrors, or maybe charge us both as conspirators.
He shook his head. "Just say you did it. It was self-defense."
"The only reason I am still sitting here is because I want you, the police, to understand how dangerous this spelled oil can be. If there is more Branwyn's Tears out there, you need to find it and destroy it."
"Lust spells don't work, Ms, NicEssus. Aphrodisiacs don't work. Some magic potion that'll make a woman drop her pants for a man she doesn't want is bullshit. It doesn't exist."
"You'll wish it didn't if it gets out into the general population. Maybe Norton had the only bottle, but just in case there is more of it out there, please look for his friends."
He riffled back through the notebook that had been lying untouched on the table for a very long time. "Yeah, Liam, Donald, and Brendan, no last names. Two of them have faerie ears, all of them with long hair. Yeah, we'll be able to find them, no problem. Of course, they might be a lower priority since they aren't wanted on murder charges."
Eileen stood again. "Come on, Meredith, this interview is over, and I mean it." She looked at both of us as if we were naughty first graders, and we would not dare argue with her. I was tired, and they weren't going to believe me about Branwyn's Tears. I stood up.
Alvera stood, too. "Sit down, Meredith."
"Are we on a first name basis, Alvera? I don't know yours."
"It's Raimundo. Now sit down."
"If," I said, "if I claim diplomatic immunity, I walk out of here and it doesn't matter who's right or who's wrong." I looked at him, and thanks to Jeremy's ward, I was able to just meet his eyes. If I concentrated, I hardly noticed the line of his upper lip.
He looked at me a long time before saying, "What would keep you from claiming diplomatic immunity and walking out that door, Princess?"
"You believing me about the lust oil, Raimundo."
He smiled. "Sure, I believe you."
I shook my head. "No joy, Detective. A lie won't keep me in this room." I was bluffing, sort of. I hoped he didn't call it.
"What will?" he said.
I had an idea. I needed to prove to the police just how serious Branwyn's Tears could be. Sex with a sidhe would haunt a human forever, but a taste of it wouldn't do permanent harm. Some dreams, perhaps, or extra eagerness in the bedroom for a while, but nothing bad. You needed the joining of flesh and magic in a major intimate way to be beyond the point of safety. If we all shared the merest taste, everyone would survive.
"What if I could prove to you that the lust oil worked?"
He crossed his arms over his chest and managed to look even more cynical, which I hadn't thought possible. "I'm listening."
"You believe that no spell can make you instantly lust after some stranger, right?"
He nodded. "That's right."
"Do I have your permission to touch you, Detective?"
He smiled, his gaze roaming over the front of my dress. I hoped he was being deliberately insulting because otherwise he wasn't very bright, and I needed him to be good at his job. With a politically sensitive case like this one, Alvera was either the best they had or the worst. They either hoped for super detective to clear it all up or were offering him up as a sort of preemptive scapegoat for when the shit hit the fan. I'd hoped for super detective, but I was beginning to lean toward scapegoat. Of course, since I was lying about several things, maybe I didn't want him to be good at his job. But I wasn't lying about what he thought I was lying about. Honest.
"A minute ago I was Raimundo. Now you want permission to touch me and I'm back to detective."
"It's called a distancing technique, Detective Alvera," I said.
"And here I thought you wanted to get up close and personal, not distant."
I heard Eileen Galan draw a breath to speak and I stopped her, holding up my hand. "It's okay, Eileen, he can't be this stupid and still have made detective, so he's baiting me. I don't know what he hopes to gain from it."
The humor drained from his eyes, leaving them cold and dark, unreadable as stone. "The truth would be nice."
"You behaved yourself for hours in here. Suddenly in the last thirty minutes you've managed to insult me sexually several times, and you've been staring at my breasts. Why the change?"
Those cold eyes stared at my face for a heartbeat or two. "Being businesslike and professional wasn't getting me shit."
"I'm listed as a rape victim in the initial reports whether you believe that or not. Your conduct in the last half hour could get you on the wrong end of a sexual harassment suit."
His eyes nicked to my still silent lawyer, then back to me. "I've seen rape victims, Princess. I've taken them to the hospital, held their hands while they cried. One girl was only twelve. She was so traumatized, she couldn't speak. It took me nine days, working with a therapist, to get her to name her attackers. You don't act like a rape victim."
I shook my head. "You arrogant... man." I made the last word sound like the worst of insults. "Have you ever been raped, Raimundo?"
He blinked, but his eyes stayed neutral. "No."
"Then don't you dare presume to tell me how I'm supposed to be acting or feeling or any fucking thing. I'm not so broken up tonight. Part of it's the damn spell, but part of it, Detective, is that as rapes go this one wasn't that bad. Eileen said I'd been brutalized. Well, she's a lawyer. I can forgive her the choice of words, but she can't know what the word means. She's never seen what a man can do to a woman if he really wants to hurt her. I've seen brutal, Detective, and what happened tonight wasn't brutal, but just because I'm not bleeding my life away through tubes or my face is still recognizable under the bruises, doesn't mean it wasn't rape."
Something passed through his eyes, something I couldn't read, then his eyes were back to giving nothing away. "This wasn't your first time, was it?" His voice was soft, gentle.
I looked at the floor, afraid to meet his eyes. "Not me, Detective, not me."
"A friend," he said in that same gentle voice.
I looked up then, and the sudden show of compassion almost did me in, almost made me want to confide in him. Almost. I remembered Keelin's face a mask of blood, one eye socket crushed so that her eye had lolled out onto her cheek. If she'd had a nose, it would have been broken, but her mother was a brownie, and they don't have human noses. Three of her arms had been held at awkward angles like the broken legs of a spider. No sidhe healer would lay hands on her because she was so near death and they would not risk their own lives for a goblin-brownie half-breed. My father had carried her to a human hospital and reported the attack to the authorities. My father had been Prince of Flame and Flesh, and even his sister the Queen feared him, so he was not punished for inviting the humans in. It was on record. I could talk about it without being punished. So good to know there was something I could tell the whole truth on tonight.
"Tell me," he said, voice grown even softer.
"When we were both seventeen, my best friend Keelin Nic Brown was raped." My voice was bland and empty, as Alvera's eyes had been moments before. "They broke the bones around one of her eyes so that the eye was just lying there on her face, hanging by threads." I took a deep breath and pushed the memory away, not aware that I'd pushed it away with my hands, as if that would help, until I'd finished the movement. "I've seen people beaten, but not like that, never like that. They tried to beat her to death and very near succeeded." I had myself under control again. I wasn't going to cry. I was glad. I hated to cry. It always made me feel so weak.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Don't be sorry for me, Detective Alvera. Watching Keelin heal gave me a measuring rod for violence. If it wasn't as bad as what happened to Keelin, then it can't be that bad. It's gotten me through some very harsh things without having hysterics."
"Like tonight," he said in that same talk-the-jumper-down-from-the-ledge voice.
I nodded. "Yeah, like tonight, though I will admit that what happened to Alistair Norton was one of the worst things I've ever seen, and I've seen some bad things. I did not kill him. I'm not saying I might not have killed him if he'd completed the rape. When I recovered from the lust spell, I might have hunted him down. I don't know. But someone else took care of it for me."
"Who?" he asked.
My voice dropped to a whisper. "I wish I knew, Detective. I really wish I knew."
"Do you need to touch me to prove this lust oil of yours is real?"
"You have my permission," Alvera said.
"If I prove that the lust spell is real, you'll bring in narcotics?"
"You swear it," I said, "your word of honor."
His eyes got all serious. He seemed to understand that his word meant something to me that it might not to a human. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah, I give you my word."
I glanced at Eileen Galan and back to the one-way glass on the far wall. "Spoken before
witnesses. The Gods themselves beware of it if you break your promise."
He nodded. "Should I be expecting a lightning bolt?"
I shook my head. "No, not a lightning bolt."
He'd started to smile, but when I didn't seem to think it was funny, his smile faded. "I keep my word, Princess."
"I hope so, Detective, for all our sakes."
Eileen took me to one side, a few steps away from the detective. "What are you planning to do, Meredith?"
"Are you a practitioner of any mystic art?" I asked.
"I'm a lawyer, not a witch."
"Then just watch. It's sort of self explanatory." I drew away from her gently and walked back to Alvera. I stayed farther away than I would have normally, just close enough that I could touch him. I'd had oil on my fingers, but some of it had rubbed off. I wanted this to work so I drew my fingers across my breasts where the oil was still slick and shining. Branwyn's Tears had a long shelf life. I reached out toward Alvera's face.
He leaned back out of reach.
I raised an eyebrow at him, hand extended in midair. "You said I could touch you."
He nodded. "Sorry, habit." He moved a step closer to me but maneuvered us so that we were in full view of our audience behind the oneway glass. He visibly steeled himself not to flinch away from me. I wasn't sure if he didn't want me touching him because I was fey or because he thought I'd murdered someone by magic or because of some esoteric cop thing.
I traced my fingertips along his full mouth until they glistened like lip gloss. His eyes widened, and he looked softly stunned. I stepped away from him, and he reached toward me, then stopped himself. He folded his arms across his chest and tried to talk, then shook his head.
I went back to my chair and sat down. I crossed my legs, and the skirt was short enough that I flashed the lacy edge of the thigh-highs. Alvera noticed. He watched every move of my hands as I smoothed the skirt into place. I could see his pulse in his neck jumping under his skin. The wide eyes, the half-parted lips as he fought to control himself were very intriguing. It took more self-control than was pretty to not close the distance between us and make the first move. I was still safe behind Jeremy's runes, but it was an act of will not to go to him.
Eileen Galan was looking from one to the other of us, a puzzled expression on her face. "Did I miss something?"
Alvera just kept staring at me, arms hugging himself, as if afraid to move or even speak, for fear that any forward motion would spill him over the edge and into my arms.
I answered her. "Yes, you missed something."
"Branwyn's Tears," I said softly.
Alvera closed his eyes, his body beginning to sway slightly.
"Are you all right, Detective?" Eileen said.
He opened his eyes, and said, "Yeah, I'm..." He looked back at me. "... fine." But that last was barely audible. There was a kind of a panic on his face as if he couldn't believe what he was thinking.
I don't know how long he might have been able to stand there, but I had run out of patience tonight. I ran my fingertip over the white, glistening mounds of my breasts, and that was all it took.
He crossed the room in three strides, grabbing my forearms, lifting me to my feet. He was nearly a foot taller than I was, and he had to bend at an awkward angle, but he managed. He put those kissable lips against mine, and the first taste tore Jeremy's careful spell away. I was suddenly a throbbing, needful thing. My body still wanted to finish what had been denied it earlier. I kissed him like I was feeding off of his soft lips, my tongue seeking for something deep inside him. My oiled hands caressed his face. The more oil that touched him, the stronger the spell. He lifted me around the waist, raising me to eye level so he didn't have to bend.
I wrapped my legs around his waist, and I could feel him through the layers of cloth that separated us. My body pulsed with the contact, and I broke from the kiss, not to breathe but to cry out.
He pressed me to the tabletop, his groin grinding into me. Lying on the table he was too tall to maintain the kiss and keep our lower bodies pressed together, so he raised himself up on his arms like a push-up, keeping his body pressed into mine.
I stared up the length of his body and finally met his eyes. They held the darkness that usually doesn't come to a man's eyes until later when the clothes are gone and there's no turning back. I grabbed two handfuls of his shirt and pulled them, sending his buttons flying, baring his chest and stomach. I raised up, doing a sort of sit-up so I could lick down his chest, run my hands across the flatness of his stomach. I tried to put my hand down his pants, but his belt defeated me.
Suddenly, the room was full of uniforms and plainclothes detectives. They pulled Alvera off me, and he fought them. They had to pile on top of him, ride him to the floor in a mountain of uniforms. He was screaming, wordlessly.
I lay on the table, the skirt hiked to my waist, my body so full of blood and need that I couldn't move. I was angry, angry that they'd stopped us. I knew that was stupid. I knew I didn't want to have sex in an interrogation room in front of an entire precinct, and yet... I was still angry, still wanting.
A young uniformed cop was standing beside the table. He was trying not to stare and failing. It was easy to grab his hand, to press the Tears over the pulse point in his wrist. His blood beat against my hand, and he bent over me, kissed me before anyone noticed what was happening.
Someone said, "Jesus, Riley, don't touch her!"
Hands grabbed Riley, tore him from my lips, my hands. I reached for him, sitting up, screaming, "No!" I started off the table to go to one of them, when another detective grabbed my arms, held me sitting on the table's edge. He stared down at his hands as if he'd burned them against my bare arms. He said, softly, "Oh, my God."
Just before he bent and kissed me, he yelled, "Get some women officers in here." I learned later that this medium-build, slightly balding man with the strong hands and the muscled body was Lieutenant Peterson. They had to handcuff him before they could carry him out of the room.
I was buried under a mound of female officers until I couldn't move. A couple of the female officers had the same trouble that the men had, just as at least one of the men had had no problem not manhandling me. Nothing like being outed at work!
They got Jeremy back in to redo the warding. I calmed, eventually, but I was in no shape to talk to anyone. Jeremy assured me that he'd talk to narcotics for me, though he was pretty sure that the officers who had been in the room with me would be persuasive on the dangers of Branwyn's Tears.
Roane was waiting for me, a pair of surgical gloves on his hands so he could touch me, a jacket to throw over my head to keep people from recognizing me. The police took us out the back way. So far the media didn't seem to know that I'd finally surfaced and under what circumstances. But someone at the police station or on the ambulance would talk. They might do it for money, they might do it by accident, but the media would find out. It was only a matter of time. A race to see which hounds would find me first: the tabloids or the Queen's Guard. If I'd been well, I'd have gotten in my car and driven out of state that night or caught the first plane to anywhere. But Roane took me to his apartment because it was closer than mine. I didn't care where we went as long as there was a shower. If I didn't get my body free of the Tears or have sex soon, I was going to lose my mind. I was voting for a shower. What I didn't realize until too late was that Roane was voting for sex.