Black Heart Page 67

We burst through the glass just ahead of the flame. I twisted out of his grasp, turning back to see Nathaniel emerge, unscathed, from inside the flame. My spell had worked. It had kept him safe.

There was a tremendous sound of impact as the flame reached the gas lines in the building, and the whole thing suddenly went up in a huge fireball.

Beezle peeked over the edge of my shirt pocket. “That’s magnificent, even for you.”

“I didn’t do that,” I said, irritated. “It’s just a coincidence that the building exploded. Someone else set a charge or a spell before we even got here.”

Beezle looked dubious. “Seems too convenient that someone else used your modus operandi. It’s almost like they knew you were going to be here.”

Nathaniel flew toward us like he was drunk, his face haggard and shocked. I met him in the air, taking his hands.

“Bendith,” he said hoarsely. “I could not . . . I could not . . .”

“I know,” I said.

Bendith was dead. Titania’s son was dead.

The sky above us turned a sickly, poison green. Clouds rolled in, swirling in a frantic circle above our heads.

“She’s coming,” I said. “The dominoes are falling.”

I felt a strange calm as I said this. The knot that had pulled so tight inside me was gone. The thing I had feared had happened. There was nothing left to do now except deal with the fallout.

“She?” Nathaniel said. He seemed numb, too wrapped in his own grief to realize what was happening.

“Titania,” I said.

The air around us crackled with tension, and then we heard it. A scream, a howl so complete in its pain that I felt it in the marrow of my bones. It started off softly, like it was far away, and then gathered in volume and intensity until I was forced to cover my ears so that they would not bleed, and still I could hear her, feel her screaming inside my brain and my heart, the grief of a mother who has lost her only child.

That grief went into the heart of me, into that place that lived every moment in fear for the life of my own son. Titania had been my enemy from the start, but I was sorry for her, more sorry than I could say. No one should have to feel pain like that.

Was this what Lucifer felt when he thought he’d lost Evangeline and his sons all those years ago? I thought with a sudden flash of insight. Or, worse, had he actually felt this way when I’d killed Baraqiel and Ramuell?

I hardly ever credited Lucifer with human feeling. God knows he had more children than could possibly be counted, and the ones I had met were pretty monstrous. But maybe that didn’t mean he loved them any less.

And just because it wasn’t in his nature to howl and rage at the sky didn’t mean that he wasn’t furious with me for killing them.

I don’t know why this had never bothered me before. Maybe it was because I was pregnant that I finally realized how it felt to be a parent, or maybe it was because Lucifer always acted like he cared about me. Everyone always talked about how obsessed he was with his bloodline, and I was part of that bloodline.

But a granddaughter several times removed couldn’t possibly hold the same rank as a child would in his heart.

J.B.’s voice broke into my reverie. “Um, maybe we should leave. Because Titania is going to be pretty upset, and like Beezle said, you’ve got a reputation for setting things on fire.”

“She’s going to blame me,” I said. It was strange how calm I felt as I said this. “Someone set me up. Someone manipulated us into coming here so that we could take the fall. Bendith was never taken by Titania’s men in the first place. Someone else’s agenda is at work here.”

J.B. tugged at my arm as the sky darkened more. “If you know you’re going to get blamed, then isn’t it better to leave the scene of the crime?”

“She’ll just chase me,” I said faintly, looking at the sky. “There’s nothing I can do to stop this.”

A showdown between Titania and me had been brewing for a while. She’d tried to kill me several times by proxy, but I didn’t think she was going to sit on her throne and try throwing a monster at me this time. She would want to feel my throat being crushed beneath her hands.

“Take Beezle,” I said, passing my gargoyle to J.B. “And get away. I’m going to try to lead her toward the lake, so nobody gets hurt.”

“Except you,” J.B. said.

“I won’t let her kill me,” I said, covering my belly with my hand. “I have too much to live for.”

Nathaniel finally seemed to come out of his shock-induced coma. “You are not going to battle the High Queen of Faerie.”

“You don’t get to decide,” I said. “The two of you are talking like I have a choice here. She’s going to think I killed Bendith. It doesn’t matter what the truth is, that I had nothing to do with it. I’m on the scene, and she hates me anyway. She’s going to hound me until I’m dead, no matter what. It’s better if we have this out now, while it’s just Titania. If I wait, she’ll raise an army against me and then I won’t have a prayer.”

Nathaniel grabbed me by the shoulders. “You don’t have a prayer now. She is an ancient thing, older even than Azazel. Even with all the depths of your power, she is stronger than you can imagine.”

“But she’s also mad with grief,” I said softly. “She won’t be thinking clearly. I will be.”

Nathaniel dropped his hands to his sides, his face shocked. “You mean to try to kill her.”

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