The world of Faerie never disappeared: it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie's survival-but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born. Half-human, half-fae, outsiders from birth, these second-class children of Faerie spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October "Toby" Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a "normal" life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas.
The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening's dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby is forced to resume her old position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery…before the curse catches up with her.
"[O]ne of the most successful blends of mystery and fantasy I've ever read-like Raymond Chandler by way of Pamela Dean. Toby Daye has become one of my favorite heroines, and I can't wait to read more of her continuing adventures." -T. A. Pratt, author of Dead Reign
Release date: September 1, 2009
Print pages: 368
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Rosemary and Rue
December 23, 2009: fourteen years, six months later
There’s fennel for you, and columbines;
There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. . . .
You must wear your rue with a difference.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet
DECEMBER HAD COME to San Francisco in fits and starts, like a visitor who wasn’t sure he wanted to stay. The skies were blue one minute and overcast the next; tourists overheated or shivered in their prepacked wardrobes, while residents traded sweaters for tank tops and back in a single afternoon. That’s normal around here. The Bay Area exists in a state of nearly constant spring, where the color of the hills—brown with a strong chance of brushfire in the summer, green and suffering from chronic mudslides in winter—is the only real difference between the seasons.
It was half past six in the morning, and the Safeway grocery store on Mission Street—never much of a happening nightspot, no matter how you wanted to slice it—was virtually deserted. The usual rush of drunks and club kiddies had passed through several hours before, and now all we had was an assortment of early risers, grave-shift workers, and homeless people looking for a warm place to spend the tail end of the night. By silent, mutual agreement, the homeless and I ignored each other. As long as I didn’t admit I could see them, I wouldn’t need to ask them to leave, and we both got to avoid the hassle.
I’m getting good at ignoring things I don’t want to see. Call it an acquired skill. It’s definitely one I’ve been working on.
“Paper or plastic, ma’am?” I asked, not bothering to conceal the weariness in my tone. Half an hour and my shift would be over, leaving me with just enough time to get home before the sun came up.
“Plastic’s fine, honey,” said the woman occupying my lane. Running a hand through oily black curls, she gestured toward my name tag. “Is that really the name your parents gave you?”
Plastering a smile across my face, I began bagging her groceries with the automated ease that comes with long practice. “It is.” She was buying six pints of gourmet ice cream and a twelve-pack of Diet Coke. I’ve seen stranger.
No; a faerie woman and her Irish accountant husband. But that was impossible to explain, and so I simply nodded. “Got it in one. That’ll be eighteen fifty-three.”
She swiped her Visa with a grunt, barely waiting for the machine to catch up before she was grabbing her groceries and heading for the door. “You have a good night, honey.”
“You, too, ma’am,” I called. Grabbing her receipt off the register, I held it up. “You forgot your—”
Too late; she was gone. I crumpled the receipt and dropped it into my trash can, leaning against the divider separating my lane from the next. She could come in later and complain to my manager about not getting a receipt, if she felt like it. With my luck, she’d feel like it, and I’d wind up with another black mark on my record. Exactly what I didn’t need. This was my third job since I won free of the pond; the first two were abject failures, largely thanks to my limited working hours, general lack of cultural awareness, and incomplete understanding of modern technology. Who would’ve believed that it could take so much computer know-how to be the night clerk at a 7-Eleven? Not me, that’s for sure, until my inability to reboot the register got me fired. Checking groceries on the graveyard shift might not have been my last chance, but it sure felt like it. At least at Safeway, there was a manager to fix things when they broke.
My fellow employees were nowhere to be seen. Probably hiding in the stockroom again, smoking Juan’s reportedly excellent marijuana and trusting me to hold the front of the store. I didn’t mind. I didn’t take a job as a check-out girl because I wanted to make friends; I did it because I wanted to be left alone.
A flock of pixies was circling the display produce near the side door, flitting in wide circles as their sentries watched for signs of danger. Dressed in scraps of cloth and bits of discarded paper and armed with tooth-picks and sandwich-spears, they looked ready to go to war over a few grapes and an overripe pear. I braced my elbows on the conveyor belt and dropped my chin into my hands, watching them. I don’t care much for pixies as a rule. They’re pretty but savage, and they’ll attack if you provoke them. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much of a threat, considering that the average pixie is about four inches tall and weighs three ounces soaking wet. They’re like mice with wings and thumbs, except for the part where mice don’t usually come armed with knives carved from broken beer bottles and homemade spears that may have been dipped in equally homemade poisons. At the same time, I had to admire the way they’d adapted. They had an entire community thriving inside this downtown grocery store, and nobody knew about it but me.
Me, and the members of San Francisco’s fae community who chose to shop here. I’d chosen this store specifically because it was so far away from the likely haunts of the people I’d known in my other life. I hadn’t considered the fact that some of them might come looking for me.
“Is this lane open?”
The voice was gruff, familiar, and more than enough to shake me out of my reverie. I jerked back, one arm going out to the side abruptly enough to knock my chin against the conveyor. Vainly trying to recover a shred of my dignity, I forbade myself to rub it as I straightened up, pasted on a smile, and turned toward the source of the voice, replying, “Yes, sir. Just put your groceries on the belt.”
The man at the end of my lane stared at me, concern evident in his expression. “Root and branch, Toby, didn’t that hurt?”
I forced my smile to stay in place. It wasn’t easy. Through my teeth, I said, “I’ll put some ice on it later. Can I have your groceries, sir?”
The man sighed, beginning to unload his cart. “Are we still doing this? I really hoped we’d be done by now. You sure you don’t want to be done? I can wait around. You can come home with me after your shift. I’m off for the night, and Stacy would love to see you. She’d even make pancakes if I called and told her you were coming...”
I didn’t answer him, busying myself instead with running his groceries across the scanner. I’d been doing the job long enough that it didn’t require any concentration to take care of such a simple task. That was a good thing, because he didn’t take my lack of answer as a reason to shut up; he kept rambling, trying to catch my interest as I focused on ringing and bagging his groceries.
Once upon a time—not my favorite phrase by a long shot—I let myself admit that the man now standing in front of my register had a name. Mitch Brown. We were kids together in the Summerlands, the last of the fae countries, the place that exists on the other side of every mirror and beyond every unpierced veil of mist. We were both changelings, mixing human blood with stranger things; Nixie and Hob in his case, Daoine Sidhe in mine. We were about the same age, and both of us were struggling to figure out who we could be, living in a world that was nothing like the one we’d started out in. It was natural that we’d latch onto one another, and to the other changelings who came our way—Kerry, half Hob, half airhead; Julie, half Cait Sidhe, all trouble; and Stacy, weak-blooded Stacy, my best friend and his eventual wife.
“That’ll be twenty-six fifteen,” I said, looking up.
Mitch sighed, brushing colorless blond hair back from his forehead. “Toby . . .”
“Cash or charge, sir?”
Mitch paused before sighing again and pulling out his wallet. “You can’t do this forever, you know,” he said, as he handed the money across to me.
“Three eighty-five is your change,” I replied, putting it down on the divider between us. “Thank you for shopping at Safeway.”
“You have the number,” he said, taking the change and shoving it into his pocket without looking. “Call when you’re ready. Please. Call us.”
Then he was gone, walking toward the exit with broad shoulders clenched tight and grocery bags dwarfed by the size of his hands. Hobs are usually tiny people, but in Mitch’s case, his human heritage won out: he could give your average Bridge Troll a complex. Stacy’s barely five foot three. I’ve never understood how the two of them worked things out, but they must have done it somehow, because they had one kid before I vanished and four more while I was gone. I didn’t want to know that. Mitch told me, just like he insisted on telling me everything else I didn’t want to know. He was trying to pull me back into my life while all I wanted to do was run away from it.
Their eldest, Cassandra, is almost the same age as Gillian.
That thought was enough to send my mood crashing even further down. I closed out my register with quick, automatic gestures, counting out the cash drawer and locking it down before anyone else could try to get through my lane. Not that there was much to worry about—the front of the store was deserted except for me and the pixies—but I didn’t care. I needed out.
Three of my fellow employees were in the break room, settled around the coffeepot like vultures around a dying steer. They barely looked up when I came storming in, yanking my apron off over my head and throwing it over the hook with my name on it. Retail: where everybody makes fun of your name.
“Something wrong, October?” That was Pete, the night manager. He always tried to sound compassionate and caring when he was talking to his underlings; mostly, he just managed to sound bored.
“Female troubles,” I said, turning around to face him. He took an automatic step backward. “I know my shift doesn’t end for fifteen minutes, but tomorrow’s my day off, and I didn’t take a break tonight. Can I—”
“Go home. I’ll clock you out.” His gruffness barely concealed his dismay. He was clearly afraid that if I stuck around, I’d start giving him details.
It’s best not to question good fortune. I kicked off my uniform shoes and shoved them into my locker before grabbing out my coat and sneakers, pulling them roughly on, and taking off for the door without giving Pete a chance to change his mind. Three long steps past my disinterested coworkers and I was free, charging out into the freezing cold of the alley behind the store. The door slammed shut behind me, and everything was reduced to a pale, watery gray lit by the distant glow of streetlights.
The fog had rolled in since my shift started, making it impossible to see more than a few feet in any direction. I shoved my hands into my pockets, shivering. When it decides to get cold in San Francisco, it doesn’t mess around. As a little added bonus, I could feel the moisture already beading on my hair and skin. My shoes and the cuffs of my pants would be soaked through long before I made it home.
“Whee,” I muttered, and turned to start for the mouth of the alley. Once I was on the street, I could begin the long, mostly uphill walk home. If I’d stayed to the end of my shift, I would’ve taken the bus, but the encounter with Mitch had left me shaken, and the walk would do me good.
The chill dropped away as I began climbing the first hill between me and my destination, exertion providing the warmth I so desperately needed. I glanced at my watch. If the almanac at the supermarket was correct, we were about thirty-three minutes to dawn. It was enough time, if I didn’t slow down, stop, trip, or do anything but walk. The dawn destroys small enchantments, and that includes everything I’m strong enough to cast—like the illusion that allows me to pass for human. Worse, it’s incapacitating, at least temporarily. If I was in the open when the sun came up, I could find myself with a starring role in a tabloid before noon. Still, there was time, as long as nothing got in the way.
The street curved as it moved up the hill, taking me through the slowly paling morning. I kept my hands in my pockets and kept walking, trying to focus on getting home, trying not to think about Mitch going home to his family, or about much of anything else. All thinking did was make me remember what I’d already lost.
Everything was quiet, save for the distant rumble of traffic on the freeway. Shivering, I walked a little faster, heading down a side street into a neighborhood that smelled like rotten fruit and sweet decay. A black horse stood by the curb in the deepest part of the shadow, the smell of debris masking its characteristic blood-and-seaweed scent. Its eyes were red, and the look it gave me was inviting, promising wild adventures and fantastic delights if I’d just get onto its back. I waved it off with one hand, walking on. Only an idiot would trust a Kelpie this close to the water. Getting on its back with the scent of the sea in the air would be a fast, painful means of committing suicide, and I’m not a fan of pain.
The Kelpie took a few steps forward, eyes glowing. Hard as I’d been trying to deny the existence of Faerie, ignoring the threat wouldn’t make it go away. I sighed and stopped, folding my arms. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
It continued to advance.
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