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Her tears were hot against my cheek. Her hands clung to me as I began to walk down the stairs. We tore
away from each other, fingertips trembling in a last touch.
I glanced back many times to watch that small brown figure at the top of the stairs. They say not to look
back, but if you're not sure what lies ahead, what else is there but looking back?
Chapter 23
THE HOTEL HAD ALL THE CHARM OF A FRESHLY OPENED BOX OF KLEENEX.
Functional, somewhat decorative, but it was still a generic hotel with all the sameness that that implied.
We stepped through the lobby doors, Barinthus and Galen carrying my suitcases. I had the carry-on
bag. I preferred to carry my own weapons, not that I thought I'd be able to get them out in time to use
them if the gun and knife failed me, but it was good to have them close.
I'd been on the ground in St. Louis only for a few hours, and there'd already been an attempt on my life,
and Galen's. It was not a comforting trend. The trend went downhill when I saw who was waiting in the
lobby.
Barry Jenkins had beat us to the hotel. I'd made reservations in the name of Merry Gentry. It was not an
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alias I'd ever used in St. Louis. Which meant Jenkins knew it was me. Damn.
He'd make sure that the rest of the newshounds found me. And nothing I could say would help. If I
asked him to keep it quiet, he'd just enjoy it more.
Galen touched my arm gently. He'd seen Jenkins, too. He led me to the desk as if afraid of what I'd do,
because there was something in Jenkins's face as he rose from the comfortable lobby chair-something
personal. He'd hurt me if he could. Oh, I don't mean he'd shoot me or stab me, but if something he could
write could hurt me, he'd be happy to print it.
The woman behind the desk was smiling up at Barinthus. She had a good smile and had turned it up to
about 100 watts, but Barinthus was all business. I'd never seen him be other than business. He never
teased or tested the limits of the geas that the queen had placed upon him. He seemed simply to accept.
The woman's hand brushed mine as I took my key. I had a vivid glimpse of what she was thinking:
Barinthus lying on white sheets, with all that multihued hair spread around his naked body like a bed of
silk.
My fist clenched at not just the image but the strength of her lust. I could feel her body clenched tight as
my fist. She watched Barinthus with hungry eyes, and I spoke without thinking, using words to
acknowledge and break the connection with the girl.
I leaned in close, and said, "The picture you have in your mind of him nude."
She started to protest, then let her words die, eyes large, licking her lower lip. She finally just nodded.
"You're not doing him justice."
Her eyes got even bigger, and she stared at Barinthus as he stood by the elevators.
I was still picking up her emotions. It happened sometimes, like picking up random bits of television or
radio signal. But my bandwidth was narrow: lust images, mostly. Random lust images, and only from
humans- I'd never gotten a flash from any other fey. I never understood why. "Want me to ask him to
take off his coat so you can see better?"
That made her blush, and the image she'd built up in her mind crumbled under her embarrassment. Her
mind was just a series of jumbles now. I was freed from her thoughts, her emotions.
I'd been told by one of the old fertility gods at the Seelie Court that being able to see other people's lust
images was a useful tool if you were seeking priests and priestesses for your temple. People with strong
lust could be used in ceremonies, the sexual energy harnessed and magnified so that their lust could be
imparted to others. It had once been assumed that lust equated fertility. Unfortunately, not.
If lust equaled reproduction, the fey would have populated the world by now, or so the old stories go.
The desk clerk would be so disappointed to discover that Barinthus was celibate. If he'd been staying in
the hotel, I might have warned him about her. She struck me as the type who just might surprise him in his
room after hours. But Barinthus would be back at the mound by nightfall. No worries.
Jenkins was now standing by the elevators, leaning his back against the wall, smiling. He was trying to
talk to Barinthus as Galen and I walked up to them. Barinthus was ignoring him as only a deity can: with a
total disregard, as if Jenkins's voice was the buzzing of some unimportant insect. It was beyond disdain. It
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was as if, for Barinthus, the reporter truly did not exist.
This was an ability I lacked, and envied.
"Well, Meredith, fancy meeting you here." Jenkins managed to make his voice both cheerful and cruel.
I tried ignoring him as Barinthus was, but knew that if the elevator didn't come soon, I'd lose.
"Merry Gentry, couldn't you do better than that? The gentry has been a euphemism for the fey for
centuries."
Maybe he was still guessing, but I didn't think so. I had an idea. I turned to him, smiling sweetly. "Do you
really think I'd use such an obvious pseudonym if I cared a tinker's dam whether someone found out?"
Doubt crossed his face. He straightened, moving within touching distance of me. "You mean you don't
care if I print your alias?"
"Barry, I don't care what you print, but I'd say you're less than two feet away from me." I looked at the
lobby. "In fact I don't think there's anywhere in this lobby that is more than fifty feet away from me." I
turned to Galen. "Can you please have the desk clerk call the police"-I looked at Jenkins-"and tell them
I'm being harassed?"
"My pleasure," Galen said. He walked back toward the desk.
Barinthus and I stood there with my luggage.
Jenkins looked from me to Galen. "They won't do anything to me."
"We'll see, won't we?" I said.
Galen was speaking with the same desk clerk who had eyed Barinthus. Was she picturing Galen naked
now? It was good to be across the lobby and out of accidental touching range. Maybe being able to
sense people's lust at random intervals was useful for picking out priestesses for your temple, but since I
didn't have a temple, it was just irritating.
Jenkins was staring at me. "I'm so glad you're home, Meredith, so very, very glad." The words were
mild, but the tone was pure venom. His hatred of me was an almost touchable thing.
He and I watched the desk clerk use the phone. Two young men, one with a badge that said "Asst.
Manager," the other with a badge that just said his name, walked very purposefully toward us.
"I think, Barry, that you're about to get your walking papers. Enjoy waiting for the police."
"No court order is going to keep me away from you, Meredith. My hands itch when I'm near a story.
The bigger the story, the more they itch. I'm just about to scratch my skin off every time I'm near you,
Meredith. Something big is coming and it revolves around you."
"Gee, Barry, when did you become a prophet?"
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