Things are not okay.
In the aftermath of Amandine's latest betrayal, October "Toby" Daye's fragile self-made family is on the verge of coming apart at the seams. Jazz can't sleep, Sylvester doesn't want to see her, and worst of all, Tybalt has withdrawn from her entirely, retreating into the Court of Cats as he tries to recover from his abduction. Toby is floundering, unable to help the people she loves most heal. She needs a distraction. She needs a quest.
What she doesn't need is the abduction of her estranged human daughter, Gillian. What she doesn't need is to be accused of kidnapping her own child by her ex-boyfriend and his new wife, who seems to be harboring secrets of her own. There's no question of whether she'll take the case. The only question is whether she's emotionally prepared to survive it.
Signs of Faerie's involvement are everywhere, and it's going to take all Toby's nerve and all her allies to get her through this web of old secrets, older hatreds, and new deceits. If she can't find Gillian before time runs out, her own child will pay the price.
Two questions remain: Who in Faerie remembered Gillian existed? And what do they stand to gain?
No matter how this ends, Toby's life will never be the same.
About the Author
You can visit her at www.seananmcguire.com.
Read an Excerpt
December 22nd, 2013
Night and silence—who is here?
—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
You can say what you like about San Francisco, but one thing is eternally clear: it’s a city that could only have been built by human hands.
The fae, faced with a landscape made almost entirely of hills and dells, with very little flat, arable land between natural obstacles, would have shrugged their shoulders, waved their hands, and either turned the entire thing into a range of beautiful crystalline spires, accessible only by twisting spiral stairways, or flattened it into a perfect pastoral meadow, ready to be planted with whatever their homesteader’s hearts desired. In other words, extremes. The fae like to traffic in absolutes, not this mucky, glorious middle ground.
San Francisco is a city of hills and valleys, impossible slopes and ridiculous workarounds, with residential streets so narrow that trying to park becomes an eternal game of slow-motion chicken interspersed with wide tourist boulevards designed to present everything in the best possible light. It doesn’t help that so much of San Francisco burned down in 1906, allowing city planners to design half of the metro area according to a reasonable, sensible grid system, while the remaining slices of old San Francisco . . . weren’t. And still aren’t, and never will be, since the odds of the city burning down again are, thankfully, pretty slim.
This does make San Francisco a challenging place to do my job, since the terrain is frequently working against me. My name is October Daye. I’m a knight errant in service to the Court of Shadowed Hills and, by extension, in service to the Kingdom in the Mists. Worse, I’m a named and recognized hero of the realm. All this is a fancy way of saying that when fae problems impinge on the mortal world, it’s on me to take care of them before they accidentally reveal the existence of Faerie to the mortal world. We’ve been in hiding for a long time. “A flying hedgehog slammed into my front window” is not how we want to be discovered.
Hence my evening. Quentin, Danny, and I had been running around a residential neighborhood for more than two hours, moving as quietly as we could in an effort not to wake the neighbors. They weren’t our neighbors, thankfully. If one of us did make too much noise and wake them up, we could make an excuse about a lost dog or something and run, secure in the knowledge that we’d never see them again.
Humans are good at sleeping through ordinary night noises. Blame it on centuries of diurnal living. They tend to write off things that go bump in the night as overenthusiastic raccoons rummaging in their trash. The noises we were apt to make weren’t quite as ordinary, and humans are substantially less inclined to ignore pointy-eared strangers running around outside their kitchen windows. Especially when those strangers are waving butterfly nets over their heads like a bunch of weirdoes.
To be fair, we are a bunch of weirdoes. It’s just that we were a bunch of weirdoes on a mission, and I didn’t want that mission to involve yet another run‑in with the local police. I think they’re getting tired of my face. I know I’ve long since gotten tired of theirs. And, really, waking the neighbors was less of a concern than what would happen if we were still outside when the sun came up and burned away all our illusions. That would be when we declared ourselves officially screwed.
As if we weren’t screwed already. Because so much of San Francisco is built on impractically steep hills, many residential streets are connected by narrow alleys which serve as conduits for the stairways lain along the line of the hills. Some of the stairs are stone, some of the stairs are wood; all of the stairs are maintained by the local residents, and that means most of the stairs are death traps. No two steps are the same height, making them a constant tripping hazard, and half the wood stairways have at least one stair that’s been rotted through for a decade without anyone getting around to fixing it.
In case that wasn’t bad enough, a damp wind had blown in from the Bay, and all the stairs were slippery. The night had been an adventure, and I was not in an adventurous mood.
Danny—our designated driver for the evening, and one of my staunchest, most indestructible allies—propped his butterfly net against his shoulder and frowned. “I’m just sayin’, maybe you’d feel better if you actually learned to open up about your feelings,” he said, voice deep and gravelly enough to have come from a concrete mixer instead of from a man.
The impression wasn’t far off. Despite the illusion which made him look like a reasonably nonthreatening human man, Danny is and has always been very far from human. Like most Bridge Trolls, he stands easily seven feet tall, with skin the color and consistency of granite. He’s as difficult to injure as your average mountain, which is one of the many things that makes him such desirable backup when I’m called upon to do knight errantry in the local cities.
I heal fast, but it’s easier on my wardrobe if I have something—or someone—I can duck behind to keep myself from being hurt in the first place. That’s a very healthy attitude on my part, especially considering how often my friends and allies accuse me of having a self-destructive streak.
Unfortunately, those same friends and allies seemed to be too busy focusing on my latest set of problems to see how proactive and mature I was being. I glowered at him.
“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
“You didn’t want to talk about it in the car, either.”
“Quentin was in the car.”
Danny scowled down his nose at me. “He’s not a kid anymore. You know that better than anybody.”
“Tell me about it,” I grumbled. My squire, Quentin Sollys, had been a dandelion-haired bundle of limbs, manners, and annoying points of etiquette when he’d initially forced his way into my life—and I do mean forced. I hadn’t been looking for a squire. I hadn’t been looking for someone to take care of. I certainly hadn’t been looking for a teenage boy to eat all my groceries and complain when I was out of ice cream. I’d somehow managed to acquire all three of those things in one body, and it had turned out to be surprisingly wonderful and exactly what I’d needed.
Until I’d learned he was the Crown Prince of the Westlands, aka, “all of North America.” That had been less wonderful, since suddenly it wasn’t just my squire I was shoving merrily into danger as a learning experience, it was the future of my entire continent. Not that the knowledge had stopped me for long. What’s a squire for, if not testing for traps?
And he’d continued growing up the whole time, going from a kid whose biggest romance had been the hand-holding and kissing kind with a human girl from a local high school to full‑on dating one of the local Counts. Trying to have the sex talk with my squire was not an experience I wanted to repeat. That meant never taking another squire, and honestly, I was fine with that if it meant sparing myself the squirming indignity.
“So how about you actually talk for a change, and not go looking for excuses?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “You really think this is the time?”
“I ain’t seeing a better one.” Danny shrugged like a landslide. “I also ain’t seeing any magical flying piggies, so I guess we can take a few minutes to talk about the elephant in the room.”
“There are too many nonexistent animals in that sentence, Danny.” I dropped my hand. “We’re not looking for pigs, we’re looking for hedgehogs. Totally different.”
Specifically, we were hunting for arkan sonney, a fae creature originally found in Avalon. They aren’t supposed to exist in the mortal world. They certainly aren’t supposed to infest upscale San Francisco neighborhoods. Unfortunately, a changeling named Chelsea Ames lost control of her powers about two years ago, and “supposed to” no longer reliably applies. Chelsea’s father, Etienne, is Tuatha de Dannan, and she inherited his teleporting magic without inheriting his control, or the natural limitations that would have kept her from opening doors Oberon wanted closed.
Chelsea’s lack of limitations might have been okay, had she not come to the attention of a local Duchess with an interest in expansion. Duchess Riordan had decided to use Chelsea to rip open doors to deeper Faerie, which Oberon had sealed for a thrice-damned reason.
It wasn’t pretty, but in the end, Chelsea survived, Riordan got her just desserts, and we wound up with a minor monster problem. Because, see, open portals go both ways, and Chelsea hadn’t exactly been watching to make sure none of the local wildlife followed her through. Being fae creatures, some of our unwanted guests had proven incredibly adept at concealing themselves, and we only found out they were in the mortal world when they popped out and scared the locals.
Danny snorted. “Pigs, hedgehogs, whatever. They have wings, they shouldn’t be here, and they’re not here, which means we have time to talk.”
“Danny, this isn’t—”
“If he blames you, he needs to stop. And if he won’t stop, then maybe you need to think about whether he’s good for you. Or whether you’re good for him.”
I froze. For a terrible moment, I wasn’t looking at Danny, my friend and ally. I was looking at Tybalt, my former enemy, current lover, and best friend, as he stepped into the shadows at the corner of my bedroom and disappeared, leaving me alone. The one thing he’d promised I was never going to be again. The scent of pennyroyal and musk hung in the air, taunting me with my inability to follow him.
I blinked. The moment passed. Danny reappeared, looking concerned, and I hated him, oh, how I hated him. Not for long. More than long enough.
“No,” I said.
“I’m sorry, but yeah,” said Danny.
Being a hero of the realm means I’m constantly putting myself in the path of danger, like I want nothing more than to have my bones broken and the skin stripped from my body. Being a person means I’m never doing it alone. I have friends. I have allies. Not just Quentin and Danny, but others, like my Fetch-turned-sister, May, and her girlfriend, Jazz.
Like Tybalt, the King of Dreaming Cats. The man who’d hated me, helped me, fallen in love with me, and saved my life more times than I cared to count. The man who was supposed to marry me.
The man who could barely even look at me anymore.
Who hadn’t been able to look at me since my mother, Amandine the Liar, had decided to lock him in a cage and trap him in feline form until she was done with him. Tybalt didn’t blame me for my mother’s actions—I blamed me more than he did—but when he looked at me, he saw her, and it was breaking us both.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” I said softly.
“I know. But maybe you should.”
“I don’t think that’s for you to decide.”
Danny sighed. “Toby, this isn’t healthy. You need—”
Whatever he thought I needed was cut off by the sound of Quentin’s sudden, high-pitched yelp. I whipped around, scanning the shadows until I spotted the outline of my squire, half a block away and struggling to keep hold of his butterfly net. He’d managed to snare something the size of a small raccoon, and whatever it was, it looked like it was winning.
“Later,” I snapped, casting a quick look back to Danny before I raised my own net and ran toward Quentin, ready to join the fray.
The trouble with hunting creatures no one has seen in hundreds of years is that when figuring out how to capture or subdue them, we have to rely on the accounts of people who have long since forgotten what the beasts were actually like and have, instead, started remembering them through pleasantly rose-tinted nostalgia. According to the records in the Library of Stars, arkan sonney are sweet, playful creatures, like hedgehogs with wings longer than their bodies, capable of bestowing great fortune on people and places that please them. Supposedly, they’re also about as intelligent as the average sheep, and regularly had to be fished out of wells or freed from hunters’ traps back when they coexisted with the rest of Faerie.
The thing Quentin had snared in his net bore about as much resemblance to something sweet and innocent and bumbling as I did to a eucalyptus tree. For one thing, it was far too large, and the records hadn’t mentioned anything about arkan sonney being chalk white with blazing red eyes and enormous tusks. It looked less like an ordinary hedgehog than it did the result of some unholy hybridization of a porcupine and a wild pig, with the wings of a falcon stapled on for good measure.
It thrashed. It squealed. It gnashed its terrible teeth at Quentin, who quailed but stood fast, refusing to let go of the net and allow the creature to escape. Brave boy. That was on him, although if I’d asked, he would have said it was all because of what he’d learned from me. Quentin had always been brave. He’d just needed someone to let him show it.
The sound of my approach caught his attention. He shot me a grateful glance, still struggling to keep hold of the net. Our location meant we couldn’t shout the way we normally would have, and Tybalt’s absence meant we didn’t have a major part of our backup. We’d grown shamefully accustomed to having someone who could step through the shadows in the field with us.
I am nothing if not a skilled improvisor. I glanced frantically around. A trash can rested on a nearby curb, set out for the garbage collectors. Saying a silent apology to the sleeping homeowners, I grabbed it, dumped its contents out, and hoisted it over my head as I ran toward Quentin. Realizing my intent, he let go of the net right before I slammed the trash can down over the shrieking pig-thing.
Silence reigned. I looked up, meeting Quentin’s wide, startled eyes.
“That’s one,” I said.
His shoulders sagged. “Her Majesty said there were at least three.”
“Her name is Arden,” I said. “She’s not here. You don’t have to use her title.”
Quentin actually smirked at that, although the expression wasn’t enough to drive the weariness and worry from his eyes. “Can I be there when you tell her that?” he asked. “Better yet, can I be there when you tell my father that?”
I grimaced. Arden is the daughter of the last legitimate King in the Mists, Gilad Windermere, and as such, has been a princess all her life. The throne was always going to be waiting for her, no matter what else she chose to do . . . or what else was done to her. Thanks to the machinations of Evening Winterrose—once my supposed friend and ally, always secretly my enemy, Firstborn daughter of Oberon and Titania, and stone-cold bitch—Arden had been in hiding for most of her life and had only recently been able to claim her father’s throne. We were all still getting used to the idea that we had a queen who wasn’t regularly going to try to have me arrested or banished from the Mists.