Page 25

 Laura Thalassa

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“Not in the Otherworld, no.”
Turning back to his work, Des begins writing again. “In direct opposition to the Kingdom of Night is the Kingdom of Day. Ruled by Janus, Lord of Passages, King of Order, Truth Teller, Bringer of Light, Asshole Supreme.”
I almost miss the jab.
A surprised laugh trickles out. “Don’t like the guy?” I ask.
Des doesn’t laugh with me. “He’s the light to my dark. The good to my evil. The truth and beauty to my deception and wickedness. He is my opposite; I was made to dislike him,” he says. “Not that you should share my opinion,” he adds. “If you met him, you would probably like him. Everyone does.”
I glance over at Des as he stares at the people he’s drawn, and I notice something on his face. Envy? Regret? Longing?
Again, I feel a strange ache, this time for this man.
I place a hand on his leg, drawing Des’s attention. “Perhaps I’d like him—and perhaps not. My appreciation for truth and beauty died long ago.”
Des glances over at me, and a whisper of a smile lifts the corner of his mouth before he returns his attention to the sheet of paper.
“The Kingdom of Flora is ruled by Mara, Queen of All that Grows, and her consort king, the Green Man. She rules over all plant life.” He writes their names out on the sheet of paper.
“And lastly, there’s the Kingdom of Fauna, ruled by Karnon, Master of Animals, Lord of the Wild Heart, King of Claws and Talons. Also known in certain parts as the mad king for his reclusive tendencies and his … eccentricities.
“While you’re in my kingdom, you must follow my land’s rules. When you’re in the Kingdom of Day, you must follow theirs—even I, a king, must abide by their rules.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. “I’m not going to be in the Kingdom of Day or any others, right?” Because I don’t have enough time to learn the laws and etiquette of all the different fae kingdoms. Not if Des and I were going to visit the Otherworld tomorrow.
“You’ll be in my kingdom and mine alone, and there you have my absolute protection.”
I hear the hard edge of a ruler in his voice.
“That’s all you need to know about the Otherworld—for now.” He slides his drawing of the pyramid aside, his attention drifting back to his scattered notes.
My eyes unwillingly move back to the picture of the sleeping woman holding a baby against her breast. “So all the women come back with children?” I ask.
Desmond nods, his fingers trailing over the drawing.
“Whose children are they?” I ask. Fairies have a bad habit of taking kids that aren’t their own.
“They’ve come from these women’s wombs,” Des affirms.
Not going to ask how they figure that one out.
“And the father?” I ask.
The beginnings of a wry smile spread across the Bargainer’s lips, but then it turns into a grimace.
“Just one more mystery,” he says.
He shuffles the papers into a neat stack. “For right now, none of this matters except …” he draws a sheet of paper from the pile, “this.”
I take it from him, looking it over. A list of questions spans nearly the length of the page, each one odder than the last. “What is this?”
“Those, cherub, are the questions you’ll be asking tomorrow.”
Even after Des has set aside the case notes and I’ve tucked my sheet of questions away, he doesn’t make a move to end the evening. Instead, a spread of cheese and crackers drifts into the living room from the kitchen, a set of glasses and drinks on its heels.
I catch the Coke that floats just above my lap, while the Bargainer pops the lid on his beer, taking a healthy swig.
I give him the stink eye, remembering all over again that I can’t drink liquor alongside him, before I begin drinking my soda.
Des settles into the couch, his shirt riding up as he drapes his arms across the seatbacks.
He takes a swig of his beer, eyeing me over the rim and looking as sinful as all get out.
This doesn’t feel like the end of an evening, it feels at the beginning. It also doesn’t feel like repayment.
The whole thing is a bit too intimate for that.
“What, pray tell, is going on my little siren’s mind?” he says, his eyes moving over me.
My little siren.
“I’m not your anything,” I say.
He takes another swig of his beer, smiling around the rim.
Once he brings the drink away, he swirls the amber liquid inside its bottle. “You were once my client,” he says, “and then you were my friend, and now …” His lips curve up almost nefariously, his silver eyes glittering. “Perhaps we won’t put a label on what we are now.”
The atmosphere in the room changes, becoming heavy, almost sultry. I don’t know whether it’s his magic, or just Des’s natural magnetism, but it has me shifting in my seat.
“Why come to earth?” I ask, desperate to get the focus off of our relationship—or lack thereof, in my opinion. “Why do any of this if you’re a king?”
Some of the heat in the room dissipates. He takes another swig of his drink before answering. “Do you want the appropriate explanation, or the real one?”
“Both,” I say, kicking my shoes off, so that I can better curl up on his couch.
Des notices the action, his expression becoming almost pleased.
“The appropriate answer is that I have time for it. Laws and politics aside, my kingdom does my most important job on its own,” he says, kicking his own booted feet up onto the couch and crossing them at the ankles. “It drags the night across the Otherworld.