Crimes of Fire
The Fae queen lithely folded into the seat Jocelyn had vacated, her gaze lingering over the shackles on my wrist. Something about her made me want to back away as far as I could. Unfortunately, I couldn’t move more than a few inches.
“Why don’t we get rid of those nasty iron cuffs?” She handed over a key.
I hesitated. “Is this a test?”
Her laughter bounced lyrically against the navy walls. “Heavens, no. I simply want you to be more comfortable during our conversation.” She flicked her hand at the cuffs. “And those are dreadful.”
This was only a ploy to gain my trust. I didn’t trust a single soul in this world, but I wouldn’t waste the opportunity to be free. I grabbed the key and wrenched the thick manacle off my other wrist then shoved the binds away. The heavy weakness lifted from my body, and the nausea dissipated. The handcuffs had made me sick.
The queen lifted her hand and, with a gust of wind, tossed them to the corner of the room. My brows rose up my forehead at her easy show of power.
She chuckled at my expression. “That’s much better, isn’t it?”
I nodded and rubbed the raw skin, moving the other delicate circlet still around my left wrist. “What about this one?”
The queen ticked her head to the side. “Unfortunately, that one must stay, but it will not adversely affect you.” She folded her hands on the table, a placating smile curling her scarlet lips. “May I call you Sloane?”
“Sure.” Did I actually have a say in the matter?
“Sloane, you have been told you are Fae, correct?” When I nodded, she continued. “I am Queen Isadora of the unseelie court, ruler of all Fae.”
“Unseelie?” Revnick called himself a seelie. “Am I an unseelie?”
“No, you’re not.”
How many types of Fae were there? “What’s the difference?”
“Fae are divided into light and dark.” She ran her hand over her blonde braid, a massive sapphire stone winking on her finger. It was probably worth millions. “Do not confuse them with good and evil, though. Light is not always good, and dark is not always evil. The distinction merely depends on the Fae themselves.
“Unseelies and seelies are both Fae born from the purest blood and magic. We have elemental magic—earth, air, fire, and water. Some are capable of manipulating more than one element. Unseelie is dark while seelie is light.”
So she was dark. That wasn’t hard to guess.
“Many other Fae creatures fall into light or dark, including pixies, fairies, brownies, shifters, and daemons.”
“Daemons!” Maybe my neighbor had been correct calling me a daemon.
The queen gave another placating smile. “Yes, daemons. They are not the monsters of hell in human Christianity. They are simply another species of dark Fae.”
I rubbed my temples as my head spun. I might as well have the handcuffs back on. “So, lots of Fae types?”
“And I rule them all.” Her chin proudly lifted while her unyielding, cold stare made me shiver. This chick had a serious superiority complex. “I am your queen as well.”
Did she want me to bow or something?
I didn’t move, though. Instead, I watched her watch me, waiting to hear her reason for the personal visit. Clearly, she wanted something.
“You, Sloane Warren, are a very special type of Fae.” Her widening smile made me think of a wolf about to swallow its prey whole. “You have power over the element of fire.”
Sickness crawled over me as the stench of smoke and burning flesh clogged my nostrils. I’d say the element had power over me because I sure as hell had no control. “What do you want?” I refused to beat around the bush. Speaking so candidly with a queen might get me punished, but I was headed for prison anyway.
Her head tilted as she regarded me, her thumb stroking the giant rock on her finger. “Well, you a smart one.”
“I’m just good at reading people.” I tightly clutched the water bottle and tried to ignore the pounding in my chest. “Someone like you wouldn’t be talking to me unless you wanted something.”
Queen Isadora scooted my file closer, flicking it open with one long fingernail. “My past has not always been pleasant, Sloane. Something tragic happened years ago, and it has not been fully rectified. The responsible party has not paid.”
Surely whoever wronged the queen of all Fae would have been executed. Off with their head. She was definitely that kind of monarch.
“Someone murdered my father and his wife, the former unseelie king and queen.” Harsh lines cut into her face like the sharp edges of a diamond. “And that perpetrator remains living, thriving even, in Fae prison, the same one you will be sent to.”
Shards of ice danced through my insides, and I shifted back in the chair. The cold metal sank through my skin. “Why can’t you kill this guy? You’re the queen. You should be able to have him executed for killing the former king and queen.”
Queen Isadora made a motion toward the mirror, summoning a petite woman who scurried in to place a small glass bottle in front of her. I choked back my squeak of surprise at seeing the tiny pointed ears poking through her raven curls.
“Thank you, Doris.” With one dismissive flick of her hand, the woman scampered away. “I can’t simply kill the culprit because this person was a minor when the murders occurred.” Her hands trembled as they twisted the cap off. “And that person is my younger half-brother, the unseelie prince.”
Ah. Maybe different rules existed for princes. “Why did he kill his own parents?”
Her gaze turned pensive as she ran her finger over the glass bottle, tapping her sharp nails on the shiny surface. “My younger brother always had a temper. This wasn’t his first violent outburst, but he’d never gone as far as to commit murder—not that I know of. I tried to warn my father and his wife of their son’s troubled mind. Even at a young age, his high level of royal unseelie power made him unstable.”
So he wasn’t just a murderer. Her brother was also unstable and powerful.
“Because of certain circumstances, his punishment is to remain in prison, but I fear he will escape and come for me.” She took a sip of the drink, a sweetness filling the air from it. “If he kills me, he will become king. I cannot allow that to happen.” Her chin lifted, and that unsettling stare—full of malice and steel—pierced mine again. Ice crystals began to permeate my bloodstream. “I want you to kill him.”
I wanted to laugh because this had to be a joke. This woman was dead serious, though. I’d seen that unhinged glint in plenty of people before. She feared her brother.
And she wanted me to kill someone even she was afraid of.
“Why me?” I motioned toward my body. “I’m not exactly strong, and I don’t even know how to use my powers.”
The queen slid my file over, pointing out the word murder. “I believe you used your magic to kill two humans a few short hours ago.”
My stomach rolled and threatened to toss out the water I’d just chugged. “That was an accident.”
“Maybe one of them, the woman.” Her head cocked to the side as she examined me, that predatory look returning. “But the man? You wanted him dead, didn’t you, Sloane?”
I did want Frank to die.
She took my lack of denial as a confession. “He deserved to die. He was a bad man. And so is my brother.”
“Why me?” I asked again. She could probably get any of her loyal subjects to assassinate the guy who killed her father.
“Because your magic is untraceable.”
I blinked. “Untraceable?”
“When magic is used, there are ways to uncover who it originated from.” She pointed to my file. “Every Fae can be found except your kind. When you use magic, there is no unique signature. After a short time—an hour or less—any trace of magic evaporates. It’s as if no one was there at all, like a ghost.”
And we have a winner.
“If my magic is untraceable, how did F.I.C. find me and so fast?” Jocelyn and Revnick showed up only minutes after I used my powers.
“The two officers happened to be in the area working another case,” she said. “How lucky.”
More like unlucky.
“They saw the fire and sensed magic in the air. When they arrived, the officers found you on the ground and put two and two together. They knew you were the one simply from the process of elimination. You were also covered in soot and smelled of fire. Plus, plenty of witnesses saw you shadowmeld.”
Well, this lady was out of her damn mind if she thought I was going to be used as some puppet to murder her psychotic brother. “No.”
She blinked. “No?”
“I won’t do it.” I tensed, fully prepared for the horrific consequences of denying her request. Would she kill me?
A laugh bubbled out of her. “Oh, Sloane, don’t refuse yet. You haven’t even heard what you’ll receive for doing this job.”
“I’ll get something?”
“Of course.” She stood and retrieved another file from a steel table in the corner, her ice blonde and blue braid shifting along her shoulder. With a swift flick of her hand, she flipped open the manila folder, and the warmth drained from my body. A picture of Jilly stared back at me.
Red began to cloud my vision, and fine tremors rippled through my muscles. “Do not threaten my sister.” My fingers curled into tight fists.
“I wouldn’t hurt this tiny human.” Queen Isadora rested her hand on her chest, offended. “I was simply offering to find the best human home for this sweet little girl—Jilly as you so fondly call her—in return for you taking care of my brother.”
The navy walls could have crashed down around me, and I still would have been locked on that picture of my sister. This woman knew exactly how to control me. One little name and I became her weapon. “Where is she? I need to see her.”
She closed the file, cutting off my view of those fearful brown eyes. “Unfortunately, that’s not an option right now. You are being held for murder, and humans are not allowed on the premises.” She rested her hand on my arm, startling me. Her touch was as sharp and cold as a winter blizzard. “Do not worry. She will be sent to a lovely family that will never harm her in any way. They will dote on her and give her all the things you know she deserves.”
I yanked my arm away. I wasn’t too keen on being touched by strangers, especially ones that could probably snap my neck without a second thought. “But only after I kill your brother, right? What happens to her in the meantime?”
“Once you agree to the terms of our deal, Jillian Forrester will immediately be placed with this family. She will remain with them while you carry out your side of the bargain. The situation will be permanent once your job is completed.”
After I commit premeditated murder.
An invisible hammer pounded on my skull at the thought of planning a murder. Jilly would be safe though, and it was no different than protecting her from any other threat. She’d grow up like a normal little girl, one who would never be ruined. She wouldn’t end up like me.
“I’ll do it.” The words tumbled out of my mouth without really considering the details. But the moment Queen Isadora said Jilly would be safe, I’d do anything she asked.
“Wonderful.” Those scarlet lips twisted into a terrifying smile.
I ignored the warning bells blaring in my head. “How am I supposed to kill him?”
“Right down to business.” She nodded. “I appreciate that.”
I’d appreciate her holding up her end of the bargain.
“You must use magic,” she said, “or a weapon imbued with your magic. It will have the same untraceable effect. No one will be able to point the death to you.”
“I don’t even know how to use these powers.” I lifted my palms in the air. I had no idea how to call on the elemental fire magic. “And how do I imbue a weapon with my magic?” That sounded a bit more difficult than simply setting something on fire.
I swallowed back the bile oozing up. I’d rather not burn someone alive. Again.
She gave a tiny, nonchalant shrug. “I have faith you will figure it out. But you will need to get close to my brother so he lets his guard down. Earning his trust will be far harder than learning your magic.”
Oh, great. This sounded like a disaster already. I wasn’t a people person.
“But understand this, Sloane.” Shadows grew across her face, and her eyes began to glow an eerie shade of electric blue. “If you fail, your sister will be taken from this loving home and returned to human social services. And you will remain in prison.”
Her threat was crystal clear. If I didn’t kill her brother, Jilly would be at the mercy of monsters again. And without me.