tempest reborn (jane true #6) Page 21

But it was one thing to blast away an aggressive attacker, and another thing to slit open the belly of my lover and stick a stone in him. It also seemed so ridiculous. Why have a ritual that saves someone only to have the next ritual kill them?

Of course, my English major brain pointed out how deliciously sadistic that idea was, and therefore what a perfect sacrifice. But it was too perfect.

And at the end of the day, none of the syntax mattered. The fact was I wasn’t killing Anyan.

Creature? I asked. It mumbled sleepily in my mind. We’d done a number on it, asking it to apparate all three of us. In hindsight, only Ryu and Trill really needed the emergency evacuation; I should have stayed behind.

[Yes, child?] it said eventually, after it had fully roused itself.

I need your help.

[Of course.]

I told it everything. We went over the poem for an hour, our silent communion racing as our brains merged the way they had right after Anyan was taken. When I emerged from our link, I blinked in the darkness of my room.

The creature had an idea, but it wasn’t convinced so it was hiding its theory from me. I’d felt it realize something, then pull back, leaving me to wake on my own. My attempts at contacting it after that were futile, although it was still a part of me.

But for some reason I felt buoyed, as if a silent, secret part of me understood that all would work itself out. I didn’t know if the creature had just planted that feeling there, inside me, but I didn’t care. I’d take it.

I got up, showered in the tiny communal shower down the hall using the toiletries that had been left in my little room, and then got dressed. Trill’s room was my first stop, and I watched the kelpie breathe for a while. She looked horrible, of course, but she was still with us.

Then I went and found my friends. They were sitting by themselves in a corner of the cafeteria, empty now as it was about an hour before dinner. Sounds of food prep clattered from the kitchen, but otherwise silence reigned.

Iris and Caleb were there, Caleb looking much better after a rest. Ryu looked well fed and as handsome as ever. Anyan looked disheveled and adorable, and happy to see me when I went and sat down next to him. It was only then that I saw Hiral had rejoined us.

‘Hey,’ I said, giving the gwyllion a smile. ‘What’s going on?’

‘I thought I’d come back and check in,’ he mumbled. ‘The Red’s in a state after you knocked out her champion. She’ll be recovering for a few days, at least.’

‘That’s perfect,’ I said, feeling like we’d finally been dealt an ace. ‘We need to figure out a plan. A trap. We need to end this.’

Ryu and Iris nodded, but Caleb looked sad. I ignored the satyr and the implication of his expression.

‘But first, we need to do something important. Something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, but haven’t felt it was right to bring up until now.’

Everyone looked at me expectantly, waiting for my big plan.

‘What we need … is to go dancing.’

They all stared at me like I’d been drinking, until Iris laughed and clapped her hands.

Dancing it was.

Chapter Twenty-Six

We borrowed a car from one of the halfling rebels to drive the few short hours to the Scottish city of Edinburgh. Once there, we checked into a hotel on the Royal Mile.

Anyan and I had a tiny, perfect little room in the turret of the hotel. There was room only for a queen-sized bed and a bathroom that could barely fit a shower cubicle, sink, and toilet. But the view was magnificent, as was the company.

Anyan immediately pulled me into his arms, then sank both of us onto the bed.

‘We’re supposed to be getting ready,’ I giggled as his lips found my neck.

‘You’re always ready,’ his voice rumbled in my ear as his hands slipped down my pants. I hissed when his fingers found my wet heat. I gasped as he spoke again, his voice smug. ‘See?’

We were definitely going to be late meeting the others, but I didn’t care. Luckily, quickies are called quickies for a reason, so it wasn’t too long before we were doing a tango trying to clean ourselves up in the little bathroom.

‘I’ve been thinking about what you said about ending this,’ Anyan’s voice rumbled from the bedroom behind me, where he was getting dressed.

I poked my head out of the bathroom long enough to glare at him. ‘We are dancing. We are not planning anything,’ I reminded the barghest. He ignored me, as usual.

‘I’ve got an idea. A way to lure the Red here, to Edinburgh. I figure we’re all here already, after that bit with the submarine. And Edinburgh has the perfect bait…’

I sighed, hoping it wasn’t too late to cut him off now that he was officially strategizing.

‘That’s great, Anyan. I can’t wait to hear it. But for right now…’

‘For right now, we’re dancing,’ he said agreeably, coming to stand in the doorway while I washed up in the sink. He watched me sponging off, his eyes filled with an expression I couldn’t place.

‘Exactly. I’m excited, I’ve never ceilidhed before. Can I say that? Ceilidhed? I don’t know if it’s a verb or not…’

‘Jane. You’ve got to be prepared. If we’re really ending this, you’ve got to be ready…’ Anyan’s voice broke through my ruminations, and we were back at square one.

‘Please,’ I said, and I was really begging at that point. ‘Please don’t bring that up again.’

‘I have to. It’s the only way. Everything the poem said has been right so far…’

‘Yeah, but that doesn’t mean it’s right this time.’

‘We can’t let her keep attacking people. Attacking our people.’

He was throwing my words back at me, and it worked. ‘You know I know that, Anyan, but…’

‘But nothing. Come here for a second.’

I followed the barghest the short few steps back to our bed, where we sat.

‘I thought I was dead inside the White,’ he said, taking my hands in his. ‘It’s not that I ever doubted you would do everything you could. I knew you would. I knew you would turn over heaven and hell to bring me back. But I didn’t think anything could help me. When I woke up inside that thing, I thought I wouldn’t even have a body to come back to.’

‘But you did. We got you back. And…’

‘Just listen, please.’

I clammed up, looking down at our joined hands.

‘But despite everything, you brought me back. And we’ve had this extra time together.’ Anyan let go of my hand to brush back the hair from my face. Then he lifted my chin, forcing me to meet his eyes.

‘This time has meant more to me than you can ever know. I know we were busy, running around and fighting and chasing the Red. But for me it was time I thought I’d never have again. Every second has been a luxury.’

‘And we’ll have many more seconds,’ I said, trying to keep my voice steady.

‘I don’t know if we can, Jane. Because as much as I love you, I don’t know if we can live like this. If we know we can kill the Red, and we choose not to do this last ritual, every death that occurs from now on is on our heads. Can you live with that?’

I glared at him, refusing to answer.

‘I don’t think I can,’ he said gently. ‘Not if it’s Trill. Or Iris. Or Caleb. God, what if it’s you? Your dad? Everyone you care for? You’re not going to love me then, Jane. Not even you are good enough for that.’

I blinked back tears. His words had hit home. Watching Trill lie in that hospital bed, I hadn’t been able to resist thinking of all the other battered bodies that bed could have contained.

‘I don’t want to talk about this now,’ I said, my voice angry, broken with tears. ‘We’re supposed to be dancing.’

‘And we will, honey. But this isn’t something we can walk away from. I want you to think…’

‘All I can do is think about this shit, Anyan. And I hate it. Can I just have fifteen minutes to not think? Is that too much to ask?’

Anyan looked at my reddened face. I could feel the heat from where I knew my blood was pounding under my cheeks. I’d never been so angry in my life, but I wasn’t angry with him. I was angry at everything – at the world, at fate, at my life that had gotten so good and then so fucked up, all at the same time.

At the universe, with its balances that never seemed fair.

‘No,’ he said, leaning forward to kiss my forehead. ‘It’s not too much to ask. You finish getting dressed, and I’ll go tell the others you’re coming.’

‘Thank you,’ I said quietly. I waited till the door closed at his back to get up and dig out the dress I’d borrowed from Iris.

I put it on with purpose, determined to have my dance. Even if I couldn’t forget everything Anyan had just said, at least I could pretend I had.

Ceilidh dancing isn’t hard, but it’s definitely vigorous. It’s traditional dancing, kept very much alive in Scottish culture, and the venue we’d found was a regular nightclub the nights it wasn’t hosting a ceilidh.