Suddenly, other things about the dream come to mind. An unusual accent. An even more unusual language. Hair that was silky enough to drag my fingers through . . .
“Damn,” Noah says, studying me. “You’re makin’ me jealous, darlin’.”
Maybe it wasn’t Noah after all.
Somehow that disappoints me a little.
Noah smiles broader. “Let’s go get this lethal weapon a bag of ice before it swells,” he says. He hooks me under my chin with his knuckle, forcing me to look at him. “Next time, ask first. I’ll never lie to you, Riley.”
I’m looking at the most sincere pair of mercury eyes I’ve ever seen. I think I must be an idiot. “I’m sorry.”
Noah’s face softens. “Not as much as I am.”
I immediately know he regrets not being in the dream.
So, if not Noah, and not Eli, then who?
When we turn around, the entire WUP team is standing on the steps. Watching.
Victorian’s brooding stare feels like a ton of bricks.
“Lover’s spat?” Jake asks, grinning. “Do tell.”
“Kiss off,” I say, passing by. “I wrongly accused Miles of being in my dream. No biggie.”
Jake laughs. “Can’t trust a vampire, Ms. Poe. Don’t you know that by now? Especially one like Miles.” All the guys erupt into laughter.
“Ignore them, Riley,” Sydney calls out.
I ignore Jake’s jab, since I’m sure he’s just trying to rile me more so I’ll stay angry at Noah. Which I won’t.
In the entranceway Noah turns to me once more. “You can trust me, Riley,” he says quietly. His eyes hold mine. “I’d never do anything you wouldn’t want me to. Ever.”
Without waiting for a response or a reaction, he turns and heads into the kitchen.
Speechless, I follow.
“We’ve got to get you ready for tonight, darlin’,” Noah says, putting me at ease by changing the subject. “Jake had your and the other girls’ gowns ordered. Pretty sweet, if you ask me.” He grabs a bag of frozen peas from the freezer, turns, sits me down at the table, and covers my hand with the vegetable bag. He looks at me. “You won’t see me there tonight, but you bet your sweet ass I’ll be there. Whoever this is you’re dreaming of”—he pauses as his gaze lights on mine—“he’s dangerous, Ri. He can infiltrate your dreams, just like Valerian and Victorian Arcos. It may be just sexual now, but you don’t know what he is or what he’ll turn into. Especially if it’s one of the Fallen. Which I suspect he is.”
“What’s he want with me?” I ask. “I’m . . . nothing. I’m not an Archivist. And I damn sure don’t have a pure soul.”
Noah’s gaze weighs heavy on mine for several moments. “You really don’t know, do you?”
Slowly and bewilderedly, I shake my head.
Noah smiles and chucks my chin like a little kid. “Then you probably don’t need to know,” he says. “Wouldn’t want your ego getting, well, bigger than it already is.”
I punch him in the thigh with my other hand. “Whatever.” Still, I’m puzzled by what he means.
The others soon file in, and Darius, the only one not in the group, comes in from the library. “I think the second relic is below the Marimae House.”
We all turn and stare.
“You’re joking?” Jake asks.
“Not one bit,” Darius says. He holds a tome, and, in the pages he has opened, a map. An old map. Of Edinburgh. He points. “More than one battle between the Celts and Lowlanders occurred in the area, and more than once directly in the place of that house. Below it, some of the old catacomb passageways pass.”
“I’m going with Ms. Maspeth,” Gabriel says, crossing his arms over his chest. “If this otherbeing beckoning Riley is indeed one of the Fallen, then the relic may truly be there.”
Jake nods. “My thoughts exactly.” He turns to Lucian. “You’ll go as Ginger’s escort, as well. You’ll all take separate cars. I’ll acquire an invitation for the two of you.” He looks at me. “I believe you’ll have to give only your name at the door.”
I nod. “Okay. Sounds good.” I glance at the clock on the wall. “Five forty-five. I’m going to get ready.” I nod at Noah. “Thanks for the ice.”
Luckily there are two bathrooms on each floor. I find one and soak in the tub for at least forty minutes. My hand already feels better and the swelling has gone down. Nice thing about having tendencies, I guess. Fast healer.
I wash my hair, don’t have to shave because of that fine investment of laser hair removal, and, finally, before I’m pruney, climb from the water and wrap my hair in a towel and my body in another. I add a little something to my look that I’ve been aching to bring back—maybe because it’s how I looked when I met Eli, and I desperately want to go back to the way things were. I make my way down the corridor and to my room, and, of course, I have company at my door.
“Yes, Victorian, I’m going to be careful. Promise.” I smile at him.
He returns a grave one back. “I fear for you this time,” he answers solemnly.
“Oh, you haven’t before?” I say.
“Well, of course,” he answers. “But this . . . with the dreams . . . it’s out of my control.”
“You used to do the very same thing to me,” I accuse. “Only you never quite took it this far.”
He stares at me. “My point.”
I sigh and give a nod. “Taken.” I move to my door. “You and the others will be there,” I remind him. “Gabriel and Lucian inside, with us.”
“That gives me some comfort.”
I smile and head inside my room. “I’ll be fine, Vic. Promise. By the way, how’s Abbey doing? Jake says you’ve been checking on her?” That Victorian Arcos has found a soft spot for an almost vampire is . . . slightly astonishing. Curiously so.
“I shall hold you to that. And Abbey is . . . well. Better, anyway.” He’s silent for a moment. “Something about her strikes me, I suppose.” Silence again. “I’ll see you soon, Riley.”
Closing the door, I shake my head and gather my makeup—something I’ve really not had any use for since being in Edinburgh. Tonight, though, is different.
I’m solving a puzzle. And hopefully catching a killer.
Lying on my bed, wrapped in a sleeve of fine plastic, is a formal dark purple gown. Off the shoulder with a snug bodice and tulle skirt, and lined in silk, it’s . . . breathtaking. Nothing I would’ve found myself in had it not been for this particular event. Beside it, a box. I open it and beneath the tissue paper lies a pair of black strappy heels.
Climbing to a different spot on the bed, I sit cross-legged and apply my makeup. I’d give anything right now to have some decent tunes to put me at ease. Maybe a little Emilie Autumn, or Five Finger Death Punch. Maybe a little Paramour thrown in. Definitely some Adam Levine and Maroon Five.
Queen. Eli loved Queen.
Loved. Past tense. How I hate that word. Eli loves Queen. Better.
As I apply my base and powder, accent my brows, and brush on varying shades of smoky plum and black eye shadow, I’m pulled back to the days when I rose each morning to face a crowd of happy, excited customers getting sometimes their very first ink, or those returning for their fifth, sixth, or fifteenth. I miss the hum of the Widow, the tattoo machine, and I miss the artwork. Especially the freehand. Music blasting through Inksomnia’s kick-ass stereo system, and Nyx scurrying all over the place, hugging.
Nyx. How I miss my wacky best friend. I hope Eli’s brother, Luc, is taking good care of her.
Luc. Phin. Josie. Elise and Gilles. Eli’s family. God, they’re going to be devastated when they hear of Eli—nope, not even thinking it. Not until I know for sure. Preacher and Estelle. They love him, too. Jesus Christ. I’ve got to make sure . . .
A sob rises in my throat like a lump, and it hurts to swallow past it. Shame floods me as I recall the dream I’d just had with another. How could I? How could I have so willingly . . . forgotten? Or mistaken? How? How did I think it was Eli? It seemed so damn real. Like it was truly him. Until the eyes . . .
Seth. My brother. Preacher and Estelle. I want to hug them, smell them, hear their voices so badly, I ache for them. I know I haven’t been gone that long, but I miss them all.
I take a deep breath before the tears fill my eyes and ruin my makeup.
Pulling off the lid to the eyeliner, I stare into my mini mirror, lean close, and line one eye, ending with a small sweep upward at the corners. I connect the sweeping line to the one side with my inked angel. As I’m applying my second coat of mascara, I notice something out of the corner of my eye. My gaze slides behind me in my mirror. I turn around.
The little girl is there. Dressed in black. Skin luminescent. Eyes and hair as dark as her dress. She’s watching me. Kind of reminds me of how Eli’s sister, Josie, used to treat me. A lot of staring, no talking.
I don’t know what she wants or why she seeks me out, but she no longer frightens or wigs me out. I just let her be. Maybe she’s just curious about what I’m doing to my face. “Makeup,” I say out loud. “Most girls wear a lot of it to formal events.” I continue sweeping my lashes. “Why are you still here? At your school?”
I wait, but no answer. She’s there—I can feel her presence. But she remains silent.
“Well, I’m here if you ever want to talk. I know what they think of you,” I continue, trying something else. “Of killing that teacher by scaring him to death.” I turn and look dead at her. I smile. “You don’t look so scary to me.”
Her eyes, black orbs with no pupils, gaze at me long. She doesn’t smile, exactly. But her face sort of . . . relaxes. Or maybe I’m just seeing things.
Finished with makeup, I bend at the waist, shake my towel loose and hand-dry my hair. Jake had placed a blow-dryer in the top drawer of the chest, so I find it, plug it into the crazy-looking UK plug in the wall, and dry my hair. Done, I brush it out with a wide-tooth comb. I look at myself in the small mirror atop the chest. I stare at my newly placed hot-pink highlights. Jet-black and straight as a board is okay, but, damn, I missed my highlights. Eli always loved them. And now my hair’s grown and hangs nearly to my waist. I’ve lost the tan that I’d gained over the late summer at Da Island, when I’d gone through vamp-venom detox and my skin was back to lily white. I turn and look at the little ghost girl and grin. “Up or down?” I ask her, and although I get no real answer, I see her eyes shift to the top of my head. “Up it is.” Moving back to my bed, I gather a handful of bobby pins I’d stuffed into my bag, return to the chest and mirror, and pile my hair atop my head in a messy modern style. I have several long, straight black and pink wisps hanging about my face. Not too shabby for a made-up do. Grabbing a pair of black silk panties from the top drawer, I keep my back turned and ease them up under the towel. With the girl’s eyes steadily on me, I move back to the bed, pull the plastic off the dress, and slide the zipper down the side. With my back turned, I drop the towel, step into the dress, and pull it up, over my shoulders, and ease up the zipper. Smoothing my hand down the snug bodice and waist, I turn around and look at my ghostly audience. She’s looking at me, first at the dress, then lifts her gaze to my eyes.