Not to mention money.
I hadn’t checked my bank account since I’d been home, but I was fairly certain four months of rent, plus the overdue utility bills and my shiny new fisticuff bling, meant the five grand I’d earned for bringing in Alexandre Peyton would be almost gone. If you think your life doesn’t have a price, you’re wrong. Almost losing mine didn’t even pay for the cost of living in a city like New York for six months. It was a sad statement on my existence.
I didn’t exactly make a consistent income from the Tribunal. Keaty paid me biweekly, but since I’d been gone for three months, I understood why those checks hadn’t kept coming.
I trotted down the steps of Keaty’s brownstone, heading east towards the park. Ah, the glamorous life of a vampire hunter. I guess the plus side of it was I didn’t have to worry about buying groceries.
I ensured the safety on my gun was off before entering the park. It was still early in the evening—couples and families continued to wander around the better-lit paths—but I planned on taking a more direct route, and one never knows what can be found in the darker woods of Central Park after nightfall.
I emerged no worse for the wear on East 83rd about twenty minutes later. I was grateful but a little disappointed by my uneventful walk. I was wound up, and I wasn’t sure if I needed a good lay or a good fight to get my head right.
As I moved northeast through the nighttime street of New York, I thought about the last day and a half. I’d woken up in bed with Sig, made love to Desmond, made out with Lucas and beat up—then kissed—Holden.
It was a little too much for me to deal with. I felt dirty just taking a mental inventory.
I used to think I was a one-man woman. Then, after a particularly disastrous blind date orchestrated by Mercedes with one of her fellow cops, I almost accepted being a no-man woman. A few months ago that had to be reassessed when Fate forced me to become a two-man woman. But there was no effing way I could be a four-man woman.
Even metaphysics couldn’t keep that from being whorey.
Before I knew it I had arrived outside of a small brick building in a row of pathetic-looking small brick buildings. The garbage had been collected recently, so the lingering smell in the air was that of sweat and hot concrete.
Hot town, summer in the city.
“Can I help you, miss?”
It took me a moment to process the question because of the man asking it. He stood about three and a half feet tall, wearing all black, with a thicket of dark red hair. He was broad and had the semi-flattened nose of a boxer, which was incongruous with the explosion of freckles over his entire face. That same face told me he was all business, but his voice was what surprised me the most.
When this tiny, spritely man spoke, he had the voice of a chain-smoking, three-hundred-pound African-American blues singer. It was deep, hoarse and commanding.
I squinted at him, trying to tell whether his appearance was a masking charm for his true form. I didn’t have the gift of magic-sight, sadly.
“Fae?” I questioned out loud, as if that would narrow things down.
Asking someone if they were fae wasn’t an insult, but it was about as useful as asking a person if they were human. The fae were so varied and abundant I doubted anyone knew the full extent of their kind.
I’d only ever met a full-blooded fae in Calliope’s realm. As a half-fairy/half-god, her fairy side was considered fae. No one would ever use the word out loud to describe her, as she would take it as a grave insult, considering her other half was—after all—a god. Fairies were counted as the highest level of the fae—magical, beautiful and immortal. The lowest levels of the fae were creatures like trolls or gnomes, but I’d never seen or heard mention of such things, so perhaps they weren’t even real. I had met an ogre once.
The man who owned my choice gun store was mid-level half-fae, a land-bound merman with allure capabilities similar to a siren, which explained why his shitty-looking shop did such good business. And why I kept going back. Not to mention being the reason he never asked me what I wanted silver bullets for. Keeping things within the paranormal community had its benefits.
The guy in front of me looked, for all the world, like a leprechaun. But, standing in front of an Irish pub, with all that red hair? Wouldn’t that be too clichéd?
“Maybe,” he half-answered my query. “What’s it to you, Blondie?” The deep voice was incredibly off-putting.
I fumbled in my front pocket and held the card out to show him. He looked from the card, to me, then back. He grumbled something under his breath which sounded Gaelic, then stepped away from the door. He thrust the card back into my hand as I passed, but didn’t say another word to me.
“What the hell was that?” I asked myself once inside.
“That was Fagan.” I was startled by the arrival of a large human man standing in the interior entrance of the pub.
This man was the exact opposite of Fagan. He was six feet tall and almost as broad as the doorframe. He had silver-gray hair, slicked back into a short ponytail, and his face showed signs of a hard and violent life. One scar bisected his cheek in an ugly, pale, six-inch gash. He looked to be about fifty but had one of those faces that could be ten years older or younger than it actually was.
“Fagan is a brownie. A hob.” At first I thought the man might be tossing out insults, until I realized he was telling me what type of fae Fagan was. “They make the best doormen. Reliable, persistent, and I literally pay him in milk and honey.” He chuckled.
“Guess that means if I follow him home later he won’t take me to a pot of gold?”
“No. But he would take you to a great dim sum place. Dynamite pot stickers.” He moved his bulk out of the door to let me in. The room was poorly lit and sparsely populated. It looked like every other Irish, English or Scottish pub I’d ever seen. There were scarred wood tables, Guinness paraphernalia, and various football trophies and scarves adorning the walls. It felt warm inside and smelled of good ale and the best whiskey.
There were enough hushed conversations taking place I couldn’t focus on any one specific line of dialogue, and it came as a relief to not feel like I was intruding.
“Who gave you the card?” the big man asked. “I’ve never seen you before, so someone must have sent you to us,” he explained, to soften his original, abrupt question.
I was still holding the card in my hand where Fagan had placed it.
“Keats,” I said.
“Ah, the famous Mr. Keats. Did he consider himself above whatever problem you brought him?” The man smirked, and I kept my face impassive, but I was insulted on Keaty’s behalf. We were partners, after all. “Poltergeist, is it? Or a dream demon, perhaps?”
“I’m looking for Jameson,” I replied.
The condescending look disappeared from his face, and he fixed me with a hard, assessing stare.
“Well, you’ve found him.” I had assumed as much, based on the authoritative manner he had adopted from the offset. “And who might you be, little lady?”
Keaty had said I should tell them my name, so I figured I might as well start there. “I’m Secret McQueen,” I announced, building my slight frame up as tall as I could. I’m not much to look at, size-wise, but big surprises come in little packages.
Silence fell over the room like a sudden onset of fog. Behind the bar someone dropped a glass and the sound echoed outwards in a crystalline ripple. Every pair of eyes in the room fixed on me, and I tried not to let it make me nervous, but I was itching to go for my gun.
The silence held for longer than was comfortable. I guess my reputation extended beyond the vampire community.
The large man, now confirmed to be Jameson, cleared his throat, and on cue the patrons of the bar resumed their normal activities.
“My apologies, Miss McQueen—”
“Secret, please.” I loathed the formality of Miss McQueen, and those who commonly used it were not the type of people I liked to correct, so whenever I had the opportunity to avoid the title, I did.
“Secret.” He smiled. “What brings you to Bramley?”
“I need help with something and was hoping you or one of your associates might have some information.”
He indicated a table in the back of the room, where two other patrons were already seated. He was giving us a little privacy to further discuss my situation.
I took a chair with its back against the wall so I could see the room and the entrance. Any assassin worth their salt knows you never leave your back exposed.
Jameson took the chair across from mine, clearly trusting that no one in the room meant him harm. I wish I could have felt so sure in any room. Beside Jameson was a young, somber-looking Japanese girl. I would have liked to call her pretty, with her straight black hair and flawless complexion, but her face was so rigid and tense it was difficult to judge her real level of beauty.
Beside me but out of reach was a man who appeared to be about my same age. He was of the ethnic minority I’d only ever seen in New York, which was the unique blending of Latino and African-American. He had strong features—pillowy, full lips and a jaw that looked carved out of marble. Beneath the white T-shirt he wore it was obvious he was well built and had the kind of large biceps that made me want to know what a hug from him would feel like.
His skin was a soft, honeyed brown, and his black hair had been cut so close to his scalp it was impossible to tell if it had once been curly. His eyes weren’t brown, but rather an unexpected shade of gray, and his gaze was locked on my forehead. He looked as serious as the Japanese girl, but on him the expression was less practiced. Though his build and appearance would pigeonhole him as a thug, I suspected he was naturally prone to a cheerful disposition. His eyes gave him away, because they were too warm and lacked the deadened glaze of a true killer.
I liked to think mine still had a little glimmer of life to them too.
“This is Noriko.” Jameson indicated the girl, who nodded tightly, never lowering her gaze. “And that’s Nolan.”