Black Heart Page 66

“You’re about as much fae as I am fallen,” I said impatiently. “You know and I know that we’re more human than anything. But you’re missing the point. Why would they send the humans away?”

“It might not have had anything to do with their safety,” Beezle pointed out. “Maybe they just didn’t want anyone to notice that they’re holding Bendith there. Humans might be very malleable, but they’re also very nosy. And they have a tendency to ask questions.”

I shook my head. “Yeah, but a fae would be able to glamour a human so that they would be distracted, or forget. They wouldn’t need to remove the people altogether. And I know that somebody must live in that building, because I don’t think faeries are that fond of barbecue.”

“So what are you thinking?” J.B. asked.

“There’s something going on here besides Bendith’s kidnapping,” I said. “I can’t put my finger on it. But there are all these little things that aren’t adding up. This can’t possibly be as simple as Titania wanting her son back.”

“Wouldn’t you do anything if you thought your son was taken from you?” Beezle asked.

Yes. Yes, I would, I thought. And I would probably do it with a lot less restraint than Titania has shown.

“We will approach cautiously,” Nathaniel said. “I cannot leave my brother there. He will expect me to come for him.”

For a moment I thought Nathaniel was Gabriel, and that he was talking about Samiel. They seemed so similar in that moment that my heart ached.

“Okay,” I said. But something was nagging at me. This didn’t feel right.

Beezle snuggled into the front pocket of my flannel shirt, which flopped loosely around me. Just his eyes and horns peered out over the edge. J.B., Nathaniel and I flew to the street level, landing on the sidewalk in front of the condo.

“I do not sense the presence of any special magic,” Nathaniel said. “Only the two inside with Bendith.”

He moved toward the front door. I halted him with a tug on his sleeve.

“What if it’s not Bendith?” I asked. “What if it’s something else?”

“Madeline, I must see,” Nathaniel said. “If it is him, I cannot leave him.”

“I understand,” I said, but my entire body tingled with tension.

I didn’t know why the others weren’t as concerned as I was. Usually I was the one rushing forward, heedless of danger. But everything about this felt like a trap. We had tracked Bendith too easily. The magic used to conceal him seemed clumsy, more of a lure than an effective cover.

Nathaniel climbed the steps to the front door. I think we all expected it to be locked, but it opened when he tugged on the handle.

I shook my head from side to side. “Uh-uh. That’s an invitation. Whatever is in there wants us inside.”

“How many times have you gone into a dangerous situation because you felt you must?” Nathaniel asked. “And I have always stood at your side.”

“I know,” I said. “But this is different. There’s something larger at stake.”

“What is at stake?” Nathaniel asked, moving through the lobby and up the stairs. I followed him, with J.B. taking up the last position in line.

It was too quiet. There should have been the sounds of people moving around inside their residences, the smell of the morning’s breakfast cooking on the stove. It seemed a haunted place, and cold passed through me like a shade.

“I don’t know,” I said, frustrated. “But we shouldn’t go any farther. Once we do, all the dominoes will fall.”

As I said this, I knew it to be true. Whatever happened next would set off a chain reaction that would affect everything.

“Daharan,” I whispered. “Help me.”

There was no answer. I had felt him earlier, when I’d used my power to destroy the Cimice eggs. But now I did not feel the strand of connection between us. It was like he was hidden from me. I’d felt this way before, when Lucifer had left our world for another. Had Daharan disappeared into another dimension after he’d confronted the Agency? And why would he do that when he’d told me that he would return to me?

My sense of dread increased with each step we took up the stairs. We reached the top floor. There were two apartment doors on either side of a small landing. A window hung between them, facing the street.

Nathaniel turned automatically toward the door to the right. I was so tense I felt sick. This was wrong. But I couldn’t leave. Nathaniel had put himself in danger for my sake more times than I could count. I couldn’t leave him. And J.B. wouldn’t leave me, so we were all in this together.

It seemed that time slowed, stretched out with unbearable tension. Nathaniel reached for the doorknob, turning it under his fingers.

The door swung open. We had just a moment to see the tableau before us. Bendith was tied to a chair, the cords wrapped around his body. His mouth was gagged. His blue eyes, the exact mirror of Nathaniel’s, widened when he saw us. On either side of him were two fae I did not know, both trussed up like Bendith.

Bendith began shaking his head and trying to shout through the gag. Nathaniel started to step over the threshold.

I sensed it just an instant before it happened.

“Nathaniel, no!” I cried, grabbing his arm, pulling him back.

And then the world exploded.

16

I HAD JUST A SECOND TO THROW A PROTECTIVE SPELL over the four of us. J.B. slammed into me from behind, wrenching me away from Nathaniel. He sped toward the window with me in his arms as the blast from the explosion licked at our heels.

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