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He slides a glass of sparkling cider across to me. I frown at it but take a tentative sip of it anyway.
“And you can’t?” I ask, my eyebrows rising.
He shakes his head, his eyes far away. “I can, to a point. Beyond that point … they die.”
Jesus. What is this man talking about?
“Like you, I can compel people. But there is one key difference between our two abilities.”
There was a whole lot more than one key difference between our abilities. Des didn’t happen to glow every time he used them, nor did he try to dry hump the object of his glamour like the siren in me did, that horny bitch.
“Your glamour doesn’t give your target the ability to refuse orders,” he continues. “You want them to talk—they talk. You want them to dance naked in the streets, they dance naked in the streets. There is no other option.”
He slides his wine glass back and forth between his hands. “With my power,” he says, “a person can choose not to be compelled—but it will kill them. So, if they wish, they can choose to die fully clothed rather than dance naked in the streets. Or they can choose to die silent rather than spill a secret.”
I’d never realized …
“But you get everyone to talk,” I say.
The Bargainer takes a long drink of his wine before he answers. “Most people want to live.”
I let that revelation sink in. “So your subjects are choosing death rather than sharing information?”
He nods, staring at his glass.
Yikes. I can’t imagine what secret would be worth dying for.
“There’s one thing wrong with your plan,” I say. “I can’t glamour fairies.”
His eyes rise to mine. “I’m not asking you to glamour fairies.”
That gives me pause. “Then what are you asking?”
His moonlit eyes are just as mysterious as they’ve always been. Making some sort of decision, he rounds the bar and, grabbing another barstool, pulls it up close.
“Things in the Otherworld are … amiss.” His voice is softer, like he needs to gently ease the words out. “My kingdom is restless—as are the others. There have been disappearances—many, many disappearances. Soldiers vanishing without a trace. Only the women have … returned. I need to find out what’s happened to them.”
“Why don’t the women just tell you themselves?” I ask.
“They can’t.” Des’s expression is agonized.
He shakes his head. “Not quite. They are neither alive nor dead.”
I swirl my glass of sparkling cider. “I still don’t understand. What do you want me to do, Des?”
“The fae won’t talk to me.” He chooses his next words carefully. “But fae aren’t the only ones that live in the Otherworld.”
All at once I understand.
“The changelings,” I breathe. Humans snatched up by fairies and taken to the Otherworld. Most lived there as slaves.
“I need to protect my kingdom.”
I stiffen. It’s rare to get Des to talk about the other half of his life, the half where he’s not just some thuggish phantom in the night. The half where he is actually a king, one that rules over all those creatures that go bump in the night.
“So you want to take me into your world,” I say. “And you want me to glamour your slaves—”
“They’re not slaves,” he growls.
“Don’t play me for a fool, Des. Just because it’s all they’ve ever known doesn’t mean they’d choose that life if they could.”
“None of us get to choose our lives,” he says, and his eyes are a little too penetrating.
“You want me to force the truth out of the humans that live in your kingdom, even though it’s unethical, and it will probably get them worse than killed.”
“You’ve never cared about the ethics of glamour before,” he says.
“Because none of the people I’ve glamoured have been victims.” They’d all been criminals of one sort or another.
I continue. “Haven’t you ever considered that if the King of the Night, with all his tricks and promises, can’t get these people to talk, that we should leave them alone?”
“Callie,” Des says, leaning forward, “fairies are dying. Humans are dying. Something’s happening to the Otherworld, and it’s happening right under my nose.”
“What if I told you no, that I wouldn’t do this?” I say.
He studies me for several seconds, his jaw tightening. “I would make you do it, regardless.”
That’s what I thought. He’d prefer my permission, but he’d use my abilities either way.
“Then it’s no choice at all,” I say. “I’ll do it.”
And just like that, I’m back to working alongside the Bargainer.
December, eight years ago
“So, what do you do when you’re not making bargains?” I ask Des, who is sprawled out on my floor, flipping through one of my textbooks.
He has a pen in hand, and I’ve seen him scribbling stuff in the margins. I’m seriously afraid he’s drawn dicks inside my textbook, but when I take a peek, I see myself instead. He’s drawn a sliver of my face, and damn, he’s a really good artist on top of everything else.