Twenty-five stories up and all I could see out the windows was blue sky. They call it the City of Angels, but if there are angels out there, they had to be flying blind.
LA is a place where people, those with and without wings, come to hide. Hide from things, hide from people, hide from themselves. I came came to hide and I succeeded, but staring out at the bright, clean air, I wanted to go home. Home where the air was almost always damp and you never had to water the grass in order for it to grow. Home, was London, England, but I couldn't go back because, if I did, they'd kill me, my relatives and their allies. Everyone wants to grow up to be a faerie princess. Trust me. It's overrated.
There was a knock on the office door. It opened before I could tell them anything. My boss, Shane Hamilton, stood framed in the doorway. He was a short man, the colour of smoke, four feet thirteen inches, an inch taller than me. He was the colour of smoke from his dark Armani suit to his button-up shirt and light silk tie. Only his shoes were black and shiny. Even his skin was a softer grey. Not from illness or age, no, he was in the prime of life, just a smidge over five hundred. There were some lines around his eyes, along the thin mouth, that made him appear mature, but he'd never be old. Without the aid of mortal blood and a pretty serious spell, Shane might live forever. Theoretically. Scientists say that in about six billion years the sun will expand and engulf the Earth. The fey can't survive that. They will die. Does six billion years count as forever? I wouldn't think so. Though it's close enough to make the rest of us envious.
I leaned my back against the windows and the beautiful blue sky. Winter days were as grey as my boss, but his colour was a cool, crisp grey, like the clouds before a spring rain.
"You look gloomy, Liv," Shane said. "What's wrong?" He closed the door behind him, making sure it shut. Privacy. He was giving us privacy. It might've been for my benefit, but somehow I didn't think so. There was a tightness around his eyes, a set to his thin, well-tailored shoulders that said I wasn't the only one in a bad mood. It can't have been because of the weather outside.
"Homesick," I said. "What's wrong, Shane?"
He gave a small smile. "Can't fool you, can I, Liv?"
"No," I said.
"Nice outfit," he said.
I knew I looked hot when Shane complimented me on my clothes. He always looked impeccable even in jeans and T-shirt, which he only wore if he absolutely had to be under cover. I'd seen Shane do a four-minute mile in Gucci loafers once, while chasing a suspect. Of course, it helped that his dexterity and speed were more than human. When I thought I might have to actually chase someone, a rare occasion, I got out the jogging shoes and left the high heels at home.
Shane put into his eyes that look like a man gives you when he's appreciating the view. It wasn't personal, but among the fey it's an insult to ignore someone who's obviously trying to be attractive, a serious slap in the face telling them that they'd failed. Apparent;ly, I hadn't failed. I'd woken up to the blue sky and dressed bright to try and cheer myself up. Royal blue suit jacket, double-breasted, silver buttons, a matching blue pleated skirt that was so short, it was only a fringe across my thighs underneath the jacket. The outfit was short enough that if I crossed my legs wrong, I'd flash the tops of my black thigh-highs. Three-inch patent leather high heels helped show off the legs. When you're as short as I am, you've got to do something to make your legs look long. Most days the heels were four inches.
My hair was a rich deep red in the reflections of mirrors. A colour more red than auburn, a colour that had black highlights instead of the usual brown that most redheads had. It was as if someone had taken dark red rubies and spun them out to make my hair. It was a very popular colour this year. Blood auburn it was called in the high court of the fey royalty. Faerie Red, Sidhe Scarlet, if you went to a good salon. It was actually my natural colour. Until it became popular this year and they finally got the shade right, I'd had to hide my true colour. I'd gone for black, because it looked more natural than human red with my skin tone. A lot of people getting the dye job made the mistake of thinking that Sidhe Scarlet complements a natural redhead's colouring. It doesn't. It's the only true red colour I know of that matches a pale, pure white skin tone. It's the red hair for someone who looks great in black, true reds, royal blues.
The only things I still had to hide were the vibrant green and gold of my eyes and the luminosity of my skin. For my eyes, I used dark brown contacts. My skin - that I had to tone down using glamour, magic. Just a steady concentration, like music in the back of your head, to never let down my guard and start to glow. Humans don't actually glow, no matter how luminous they may be. No glowing, which was why contacts covered my eyes. I also wove a spell around myself like a long familiar coat, an illusion that I was just a human with lesser fey blood in my background who had some psychic and mystical abilities that made me a really excellent detective, but nothing too special.
Shane didn't know what I was. No one at the agency knew. I was one of the weakest members of the royal court, but being sidhe means something even on the weak end of the scale. It meant that I had successfully hidden my true self, my true abilities, from a handful of the best magicians and psychics in the city. Maybe in the country. No small feat, but the kind of glamour I was best at wouldn't keep a knife from finding my back or a spell from crushing my heart. For that I needed skills that I didn't have, and that was one of the reasons I was in hiding. I couldn't fight the sidhe, not fight and live. The best I could do is hide. I trusted Shane and the others. They were my friends. What I didn't trust was what the sidhe might do to them if I were discovered, and my relatives found out my friends had known my secret. If they were truly ignorant, then the sidhe would leave them alone and only hurt me. Ignorance was definitely bliss on this one. Though I thought that some of my very good friends would see it as a type of betrayal. But if my choices were: them alive, with all their body parts intact, but angry at me, or death by torture but not angry at me, I'd take angry. I could live with their anger. I wasn't sure I could live with their deaths.
I know, I know. Why not go to the Bureau of Human and Fey Affairs and get asylum? My relatives would probably kill me when they found me, but if I went public and aired our dirty laundry for the world media, they would most definitely kill me. And they'd kill me slower. So no police, no ambassadors, just the ultimate game of hide-and-seek.
I smiled at Shane and gave him what I knew he wanted: the look that I appreciated the slender potential of his body under his perfect suit. To humans it would have looked like flirting. "Thanks, Shane, but you didn't come in here to compliment my clothes."
He walked further into the room, running manicured fingers along my desk edge. "I've got two women in my office, they want to be clients," he said.
"Want to be?" I asked.
He turned, leaning against the desk, arms crossed over his chest. Mirroring my stance at the windows, either unconsciously, or purposefully, though I didn't know why. "We don't usually do divorce work," Shane said.
I gave him wide eyes, pushing away from the windows. "Day one lecture, Shane: The Hamilton Detective Agency never, ever does divorce work."
"I know, I know," he said. He pushed away from the desk and came to stand beside me, staring out into the fog. He didn't look any happier than I felt.
I leaned back against the glass so I could see his face better. "Why are you breaking your cardinal rule, Shane?"
He shook his head without looking at me. "Come meet them, Liv. I trust your judgement. If you say we stay out of it, we'll stay out of it. But I think you'll feel the same way I do."
I touched his shoulder. "And how are you feeling, boss, other than worried?" I ran my hand down his arm, and it made him look at me.
His eyes had gone dark charcoal grey with anger. "Come meet them, Liv. If you're as angry afterward as I am, then we'll nail this bastard."
I gripped his arm. "Shane, relax. It's just a divorce case."
"What if I told you it was attempted murder?" His voice was calm. Matter of fact, it didn't match the intensity in his eyes, the vibrating tension in his arm.
I moved back from him. "Attempted murder? What are you talking about?"
"The nastiest spell that has ever walked into my office."
"The husband is trying to kill her?" I made it a question.
"Someone is, and the wife says it's the husband. The mistress agrees with the wife."
I blinked at him. "Are you saying that the wife and the mistress are in your office?"
He nodded, and even through all the outrage, he smiled.
I smiled back. "Well, that's got to be a first."
He took my hand. "It might be a first even if we did do divorce work," he said. His thumb rubbed back and forth over my knuckles. He was nervous, or he wouldn't be touching me this much. A way to reassure himself, like a touchstone. He raised my hand to his lips and planted a quick kiss on my knuckles. I think he noticed what he was doing, that his nerves were showing. He flashed me a white smile, the best caps money could buy, and turned towards the door.
"Answer one question first, Shane."
He adjusted his suit, minute movements to tug it back into place as if it needed it. "Ask away."
"Why are you scared of this?"
The smile faded until his face was solemn. "I've got a bad feeling about this one, liv. Prophecy isn't one of my gifts, but this one has a bad smell to it."
"Then pass it by. We aren't the cops. We do this for a very nice pay check, not because we've sworn to serve and protect, Shane."
"If after you meet them, you can honestly walk away from it, then we will."
"Why is my vote suddenly a presidential veto? The name on the door is Hamilton, not Gentry."
"Because Teresa's so empathetic she couldn't turn anyone away. Roane is too much the bleeding heart to turn tearful women away," He adjusted his dove grey tie, fingers smoothing over the diamond stickpin. "The others are good for grunt work, but they aren't decision makers. That leaves you."
I met his eyes, trying to read past the anger, the worry, to what was really going on inside his head. "You're not an empath, and you're not a bleeding heart, and you make dandy decisions, so why can't you make this one?"
"Because if we turn them away, they won't have anywhere else to go . If they leave this office without our help, they're both dead."
I stared at him, and finally understood. "You know we should walk away from this one, but you can't bring yourself to pass judgement on them. You can't bring yourself to condemn them to death."
He nodded, "Yes."
"What makes you think that I can do it, if you can't?"
"I'm hoping one of us is sane enough not to be this stupid."
"I won't get you all killed for the sake of strangers, Shane, so be prepared to walk away from this one." Even to me, my voice sounded hard, cold.
He smiled again. "That's my little cold-hearted bitch."
I shook my head and walked toward the door. "It's one of the reasons you love me, Shane. You count on me not to flinch."
I walked out into the hallway that led between offices, sure that I would turn these women away. Certain that I would be the wall that kept us all safe from Shane's good intentions. Goddess knows, I'd been wrong before, but seldom as wrong as I was about to be.