I smile. “You know, I think we look a lot alike, me and you,” I say. “Don’t you?”
The very slightest of lifts occur at the corner of her mouth, just as she gives an even slighter nod of the head.
Then, she shifts her gaze to the far side of the room. To the trunk. She moves toward it and stands there.
I look at her. “I know you’re trying to tell me something.” I study her longer. She points to the chest, but says nothing.
I ease toward her slowly and glance down at the chest. I open it. Inside, the scathe Gawan of Conwyk gave me. The box of holy water cartridges lays by its side.
Along with the Pict verse.
Then, Lily looks at me, turns her head, and points to the bed.
Where I’d laid Eli’s medallion before taking a shower.
Our gazes hold. “Do you think I can find him?” I ask her.
At first, she just stares at me with those gaping black orbs. Then, she nods and points back down, to the scathe.
“With that?” I ask her.
Again, she nods. Then, she turns and crosses the chamber and stands beside the hearth. She simply stares at me. Somehow, those black orbs beckon me. She points to the hearth.
A loud rap at the door sends her into a blurred vapor. Then gone.
“See ya,” I whisper, staring at the place she’d just pointed. I’ll talk to her again. Later. Then I turn to the door. “It’s open.”
Noah walks in, and I hear his intake of breath at the doorway. “Damn, Poe,” he says after several seconds. He walks over to me, gives me the twice-over, his gaze lingering as it goes from the hem of my gown up to the bodice. Those mercury eyes finally meet mine. “Damn. The pink is back. Good.”
I give him the twice-over, too. He’s dressed in a tailored black tux. Sun-bleached dreads are pulled back with a black leather and silver clasp. His face is marked by ridiculous beauty no man should ever possess. He had to have had the shit beat out of him before he became a vampire. Pretty boys always get beat up.
A slow smile transforms his face. I don’t know how to describe it. Part arrogant. Part predatory. Part . . . endearing.
Only if you know and love him, I guess.
I remember a time when I wanted to beat him up, too.
I meet his gaze. “Damn,” I say in return. “You clean up pretty nice, Miles. But I didn’t think you were going to the event. Only lurking outside.”
“Jake says to lurk outside, you need to look as if you belong inside,” he answers. He stretches one arm out and dusts off imaginary lint with his hand. “Not bad, if I say so myself.”
I roll my eyes. “Hold on, let me get my shoes.” I turn to the bed, pull the heels out of the box, and slip them on. I walk back to him and look up. “I’m almost as tall as you are now.”
Noah’s jaw muscles flex as he looks at me. His eyes are smoky gray. “You’re beautiful, Riley. In a gown or a sweaty pair of training pants. Either way,” he says. “Exquisite.”
Heat floods my scalp. “I think you’re making me blush,” I answer, and pat my cheeks. “Are you wearing your special hoodoo concoction that keeps your sexuality tamped down?”
Noah has a special feature. He’s so sexually potent and alluring to females—of all species—that he has to wear a charmed mixture of hoodoo herbs around his neck, or females everywhere will throw and claw their way into his pants. Sounds like something he’d love, I know, but, according to him, after a couple of centuries of it, he grew weary. I can tell you firsthand, though, when he’s not wearing the charm, he’s . . . a mess. Let’s just say that. A freaking mess.
He grins. Wide.
I shake my head. “Oh, wait one more sec.” I go to my chest, grab the feather-light sheath and strap and my silver dirk, slide it up under the skirt of my gown and attach it to my thigh. I ease the dirk into the sheath. I eye the scathe’s hiding place, in the trunk. I want to take it but Jason had said the best place for it was gripped in my hand. That’s a no-go tonight. For now, it stays. My hope soars now with the possibility of finding Eli. Even if it means delving into the Underworld. I sure as Hell will do it. In a heartbeat. “Okay, ready.” Noah, whose gaze is kinda stuck to my thigh, shakes his head and sticks out his arm for me to take, and I do. “Let’s go,” I say, and look at him sideways. “Arrogant, pervy ass.”
Noah’s laugh fills the corridor.
“Who were you talking to when I first came to your door?” he asks as we head downstairs.
We pass the darkened alcove midway down the corridor, and I see Lily in the recesses of the shadows. As we pass, I smile and give her a little wave. She literally smiles back at me. “Oh, someone who reminds me a lot of me.”
Noah’s questioning look makes me laugh out loud.
Downstairs, I have to catch my breath. Honest. I gasp. Out loud.
Imagine a room full of vampires, werewolves, and immortal druids, all in black Armani tuxedos and lovely formal gowns. Breathtaking is all I can say. I admit, I’m the . . . oddball, I guess. I’m the one with the dragon tattoos exposed and the wing on my face. Where Ginger and Sydney are stunning in their gowns, Ginger in a champagne blush and Sydney in soft plum, they have jewelry to match. I wear no jewelry. My ink, my art, is my jewelry. I don’t even have earrings.
“And it is spectacular,” whispers Noah in my ear. I squeeze his arm.
“Riley, simply gorgeous,” Jake says in front of everyone, making me want to roll my eyes and punch him for singling me out. “You’ll be in a cab alone. Gabriel and Sydney, MacLeod and Ginger, you’ll be in separate cabs. Darius, you ride with Arcos. Miles, you’re with me. We’ll arrive first. Riley,” he says, looking at me with admiration and a quick twice-over. “You will arrive last.”
I nod. “Got it.”
Outside, the night air is heavy, but not so much brine this time. That sweet, cloverlike scent rides the chilly breeze, and Peter hands me a silk wrap as I wait for my cab. “You look lovely, miss,” he says. “I would drive you myself, but—”
“Oh, that’s okay, Peter,” I say hurriedly, remembering the ride from Hell he gave us from the airport. “But thank you for the wrap. And for waiting with me.”
He grins. His nose is, as always, red. “You’re most welcome, miss.”
I watch the sun drop as we wait outside the Crescent, and the sky once more has turned varying shades of purple and gray. Soon, my cab arrives, and Peter opens the door for me. “The Marimae House, please sir,” he tells the cab driver. Then hands him twenty pounds. “This should cover it.”
“Aye,” the cabby answers. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Peter answers, and waves to me.
I wave back and we take off to New Town.
Traffic is heavy, and the cab driver takes several side roads that I’m unfamiliar with—especially once out of Old Town. I can see, though, why even though it’s called New Town, the ground itself is still as ancient as Old Town. Which is why a particular battle was fought between the painted warriors of the north and the lowlanders. By the time we arrive, I’m stunned. Marimae House is a large manor home, at least three or four hundred years old, and it has a wide, sweeping circular drive that we pull into and get in a short line of black cabs dropping off guests.
It’s precisely seven p.m. when my cab stops at the front entrance. A concierge is there to open my door and assist me out. I don’t need assisting, but I allow it anyway. The damn humming has started up in my ears again. I guess I should’ve seen a doctor by now. I ignore it as best as I can, push it aside. It dulls.
The manor home is of aged stone and five stories high. With an impressive front face, it has two fountains out front with mermen and mermaids spewing water. I can vaguely see a large garden in the back as I start up a two-flight winding staircase
The moment I enter the home, I search for signs of the WUP team. Way across the room, I spy Ginger and Lucian, standing together near an enormous and intricately carved hearth and sipping a drink. They don’t see me. I continue to scan the room. No sign of Sydney and Gabriel. No telling where they are. Probably digging up the garden, looking for the relic.
I see no sign of the others. I continue to walk through the manor. In the next room is a huge parquet dance floor, and several couples are twirling around to ancient music. Ballroom music. Never did learn to dance like that. I’m more of a dirty dancer, I guess you’d say.
“Miss, would you care to dance?”
I turn around and face . . . a very old guy. Cute, lots of white hair going every which way, but old. I smile. “Sure.”
He leads me out on the dance floor, and that’s when I catch a glimpse of Jake. He’s watching me from a table of drinks, where three women are all vying for his attention. A slight smile lifts his mouth and he gives me a slighter nod.
He then excuses himself and walks hastily from the dance hall.
“You’re very good,” the old man says to me. I look down at him. “Thank you.”
“I like your markings,” he says, and grins widely. “And your pink hair.”
I try not to laugh. “Well, thank you very much.”
We dance a few more minutes, until I notice the guy is actually getting a little winded, and we stop. “Thanks,” I say, and he ambles off. Before I can even glance at the crowd, a voice whispers at the back of my neck, close to my ear. “Don’t turn around.”
My insides seize.
“You’re an exquisite dancer,” he says, his voice silky smooth and oh, so familiar. “Walk straight ahead into the next room.”
I make my way through the crowd of charity-event goers and into the next room, as instructed. Only a few people occupy it. Chairs and settees are situated about, and I feel his hand now at the small of my back. It sends shivers down my spine. I hate that.
“Just at the far end of the room is a doorway. Go through it.”
I’m not nervous, like life-in-danger nervous. I’m . . . anxious. I want to see whoever this person is. I walk ahead, find the door, open it, and go through it. It’s another dimly lit room, rather a passageway. One small lamp hangs overhead and gives off a soft amber glow. The sound of metal clicking reaches my ear. The door is now locked. The chamber is chilled, empty. We are totally alone.