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Authors: Kelley Armstrong

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BOOK: Betrayals (Cainsville Book 4)
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The moonbeam passed and the scene went dark. I hurried forward, hanging on to Ricky, and found myself in an empty clearing. A sob sounded to my left. Another joined it, rising to a keening cry.

I was back at the ruined building. The dead girl had been laid out in the grass, her ripped stomach covered with a jacket. Four teenaged girls ringed her. All wore those snakeskin belts. They wept and they wailed and they gnashed their teeth, and when they did, I saw fangs, growing and retracting, as they cursed the girl’s killer in that foreign tongue.

“Why do you wait?” a voice asked, and I turned to see the youngest girl. She was small and thin, with pupils that kept contracting sideways into slits.

“Are you talking to me?” I asked.

“Who else is there? You wait and you stall and you play, and we die. They say you do not care. That we cannot expect you to care, and even if you did, you cannot help. You never can. You never do.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Do you try?”

“I’m not good with riddles. You need to be clear.”

She pointed at the dead girl. “Is that not clear enough? You stall and you play and you tell yourself this isn’t your business, and so we die.” Those strange eyes met mine. “Pick a side.”

I inhaled sharply. “You mean the fae and the Hunt. I have no idea which one—”

“We don’t care which you pick. Just choose and be done with it. The longer you stall, the more they are distracted and the more of us die. Fae are being murdered.” She waved at the dead girl. “And where are the Cŵn Annwn?”

“I heard them. I know I heard—”

“A half-hearted attempt. They are distracted. By you. The rest of us? We do not matter. Lost girls never matter.”

“Tell me what—” I began, but she disappeared, leaving me standing in a forest, holding tight to Ricky’s hand.

Ricky and I were alone in a back room of the clubhouse as I downed my second shot of Scotch.

“So the young girls are fae,” he said. “The same type you saw when you were looking for the apartment. The same two girls even.”

“I think so.”

“And they’re associated with snakes—the belts and the hissing and the rattling and the slitted eyes. If we can pinpoint the language, that’ll help.”

He attacked the problem as rationally as if fae themselves
were
a perfectly rational phenomenon. As a child, he’d embraced his grandmother’s tales of fae and the Hunt, in some way recognizing them as stories of his past, his heritage.

“We’ll work on the language,” Ricky continued. “I’m wondering if that’s why they don’t care which side you pick—because they aren’t Welsh fae. As for the Cŵn Annwn being distracted … I honestly can’t imagine your situation would distract them so much they’d shirk their duties. I think they’re having trouble catching this guy. Which opens another avenue of investigation. Before all that, though, you need to tell Gabriel.
Loop him in. Pronto. Otherwise …”

He’ll feel slighted.

He already feels slighted.

One would think Ricky’d be happy that I was spending less time with Gabriel. But even before we knew the parts we played in our ancient drama, I would tell him Gabriel had crashed at my place and he’d only joke that the couch must be more comfortable than it seemed. I’d asked him once, point-blank, if my friendship with Gabriel bothered him.

“You were friends with him before you met me,” Ricky had said.

“I wouldn’t exactly say friends …”

“You were. And I won’t interfere with that, because that’s how this all goes to shit, Liv. Arawn and Gwynn and Matilda. When they make Matilda choose, everything goes wrong, for all of them, and we aren’t going to do that. It is what it is. I understand that.”

“It is what it is? What does that mean?”

He’d shrugged and changed the subject.

I checked my watch. “It’s late.”

“It’s not even midnight. You know he’s up, Liv.”

“It can wait.” I got to my feet. “We’re supposed to be at the club tonight to socialize, and it’ll look bad if we’re hanging out back here.”

He opened his mouth, and I knew he was going to push me to call Gabriel, so I picked up the pace and was out the door before he could say another word.

CHAPTER TWO

T
he choice the fae girl mentioned was one I’d been putting off because, as I’d told her, I had absolutely no idea which side I would choose. Until six months ago, I would have laughed my ass off at the very thought of such a choice, so obviously straight out of a fairy tale. Which it was, quite literally.

I was the living embodiment of Matilda of the Hunt. Matilda of the Night. Mallt-y-nos. In Welsh myth, Matilda was a noble-woman who refused to give up her love of the hunt, even for her bridegroom, and so was cursed to ride with the Cŵn Annwn—the Wild Hunt—forever.

In reality, Matilda was a
dynes hysbys
—a cunning woman or witch—born with blood from both the Huntsmen and Tylwyth Teg, the Welsh fae. The two kingdoms shared the girl, who’d grown up friends with the princes of both, Arawn and Gwynn ap Nudd. To avoid conflict, the young men had agreed not to court her. Arawn kept his word. Gwynn did not. In the fallout, the two made a deal. If Matilda went to Arawn on her wedding day, she’d be his, and the world of the fae closed to her forever. If she stayed with Gwynn, the world of the Hunt would close instead. Of course, neither told Matilda about the pact.

The night before her wedding, Matilda left for one last hunt with her old friend, Arawn. As she saw the gates to the fae world close, she raced back, only to be consumed by the fiery abyss. Unable to save her, both young men blamed themselves and each other, and their worlds had been at odds ever since.

The story doesn’t end there. There was no end, no satisfactory conclusion. So the cycle keeps repeating. New players are born to take over the roles—not reincarnations, but humans from the proper bloodline and with memories of those distant ancestors. Whichever side possesses Matilda will win the battle for survival. Each has its champion: Arawn and Gwynn, who are supposed to woo her to their side. Ricky is Arawn. And Gwynn in this particular round? That would be Gabriel.

So that’s the story, and the direction our lives are supposed to take. The champions do battle for the hand of the maiden, and the winning side takes all, gaining the most precious gift for the fae: the power to survive in the modern world.

A nice story … for someone else.

We’ve decided we don’t particularly like our roles. Gabriel isn’t the jealous and treacherous Gwynn. Ricky isn’t the reckless and impetuous Arawn. And I’m sure as hell not the hapless and helpless Matilda.

We’ve told the Cŵn Annwn and Tylwyth Teg to back the hell off or they’re going to make enemies of all three of us. That’s how we can stand against them: by sticking together as the original three could not.

The two sides haven’t abandoned their hopes. They can’t, because their continued existence depends on my eventual choice. As civilization consumes nature and pollutes the elements, the fae lose the natural energy they need to survive. Having a Matilda cleanses their land. But I don’t have enough mojo to go around—hence the need to choose. The Tylwyth Teg
and Cŵn Annwn had given me half a year to come to terms with both my role and my powers. I had two months left. Then the battle was set to begin.

Except now someone was trying to change the timetable.

Ricky and I were heading out to spend the night in my Cainsville apartment. We left the clubhouse at one. I was on the back of Ricky’s bike, enjoying the buzz from three shots of Scotch and the vibrations from the Harley’s motor, my fingers slipping around Ricky and up his thighs, his chuckle rippling through me.

He pointed to the countryside whipping past and then at the road ahead. Asking if I wanted to pull over or keep going. I tapped his leg, which meant it was up to him. He gunned the bike and then moved my hand further down his thigh. In other words, if I was okay with not stopping for sex right away, he’d take a little more of what I’d started.

I smiled, my hand sliding to his crotch, rubbing as he accelerated—

He hit the brakes so fast I lurched, and his hand moved to my leg, steadying me and squeezing in apology. Then I saw what he had—a dark car with its lights off, almost hidden in a tree-shrouded drive.

Ricky would have noticed if it’d been here when we drove in. He was the son of a biker gang leader. He was also a member of that gang. The future leader of that gang. He did not miss anything so near his clubhouse. Sure enough, as we drew near, the car pitched forward. Then lights flashed … and Ricky relaxed.

I had to smile at that. In his world, if someone was lying in wait on an empty country road, he
hoped
it was the police.

He pulled to the shoulder and I hopped off the bike, removing my helmet as he did the same. He put up the kickstand and had his ID waiting before the cops even got out of the car.

They were plainclothes officers, which suggested detectives, as did the unmarked car. I reached into my pocket, fingers hitting buttons on my phone.

The senior partner took Ricky’s ID without a word. He examined it and then said, “Had anything to drink tonight,
Richard
?” twisting the name, suggesting he knew full well that wasn’t what Ricky went by.

“A beer at eight when we arrived at the clubhouse. Another at about eleven-thirty. I don’t think I finished that one, but you’re welcome to test me.”

Ricky was right about the drinks. His father, Don, had strict rules about drinking and driving, mainly because it gave the cops one more reason to hassle them. Ricky kept further under his limit, even if it meant resorting to tricks like exchanging a half bottle of beer for a fresh one so the guys wouldn’t rib him.

“And you?” The officer shone his flashlight full in my face.

Ricky tensed, but he only said, “She’s a passenger, so her blood alcohol doesn’t matter. Yes, she’s been drinking. Three shots of Scotch since about eleven-thirty, which puts her over the legal limit.”

“That’s dangerous, on the back of a bike.”

“She hangs on tight.”

I managed not to crack a smile at that and said, “I’m nowhere near the level for public intoxication.”

“We’ll call an officer to drive you home. We’re going to need to speak to your ‘date’ down at the station.”

“She’s my girlfriend, not my hookup,” Ricky said. “As for leaving …” He glanced at me and I stepped forward, my hand extended.

“Olivia Taylor-Jones. I work for Gabriel Walsh, legal representative for Mr. Gallagher.”

“Did you say Taylor …?”

“Yes.
That
Olivia Taylor-Jones. Formerly Eden Larsen. You mentioned questioning. May I ask what it is in regards to?”

The detective pulled himself up to his full height, which fell below mine. I’m only five-eight, but my boots added extra inches.

“Are you a lawyer?” he asked.

“No,” his heretofore-silent younger partner said. “She’s a private investigator who works for Walsh. She has a master’s degree from Yale. English major, I think. But she got her PI license recently.”

The lead gave him a look, and the younger one mumbled, “It was in the papers.”

“He’s correct,” I said. “Unless you have a warrant to arrest Ricky, any questioning you need to do can be done at our office … after Mr. Walsh arrives.”

“We don’t need—”

“Gabriel?” I said, lifting my phone from my pocket and hitting the speaker button. “Did you get all that?”

“Yes.” His deep voice sounded across the line, the clink of keys telling me he was on his way even before he said, “I’ll meet you there.”

CHAPTER THREE

W
hen we arrived, Gabriel was already at the office. He hassled the senior partner—Detective Amos—about the pull-over and the middle-of-the-night questioning. Setting the tone, much as Ricky had. The biker was a reasonable guy; his lawyer was the asshole. That wasn’t an act, either.

Gabriel is one of the best defense attorneys in Chicago. One of the most infamous, too—blackmail, intimidation, and extortion were just a few tricks in his bag. A lawyer is supposed to represent his client to the best of his ability, and Gabriel really can, because he doesn’t worry about pesky obstacles like ethics and conscience.

If you put them side by side, and asked which was the biker, most people would guess Gabriel. Yes, he’s about six-four and built like a linebacker. But it’s more than that. Gabriel is that moment before a storm when everything seems preternaturally calm but you can feel the electricity in the air, and know you’ll get no exact warning when danger and destruction comes. Ricky is as warm and calm as a summer’s day, and while there can be storms, you’ll get plenty of warning, and it’ll be a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder, passing quickly, the sun blazing bright again.

Only when Gabriel decided he’d suitably reprimanded Amos for his missteps did he usher us all into the meeting room.

As soon as we took our seats, Amos slapped down a photo of Ricky in a bar. Someone sat across from him—me. I recognized the sleeve of my jacket. Amos laid out three more photos. One was of Ricky getting off his bike. One was of him leaving a lecture hall. The last was of him sitting under a tree with me again, my back to the camera.

“It seems someone has my client under surveillance,” Gabriel said. “I presume this is your work?”

“No, it’s his.”

The detective laid down another photo. I took one look at the man in the photo and inhaled involuntarily, catching a sharp look from Gabriel and a confused one from Ricky.

“You know this man, Miss Larsen?” Amos asked.

“It’s Taylor-Jones,” Gabriel rumbled. “And Ms. is preferred. Olivia is not the subject of this interview, so please do not question her.”

“But …” I began. “That’s Matt, isn’t it? The barista down the road?”

Another glimmer of confusion from Ricky. Gabriel, though, understood in a heartbeat. Yes, there was a barista named Matt at our regular coffee shop. Yes, like this guy, he was around thirty, light-haired, and bearded. But I’d only made the comment to cover my initial reaction. Gabriel smoothly went on to say that yes, this man resembled our barista but he didn’t think it was. Perhaps Detective Amos could confirm that?

BOOK: Betrayals (Cainsville Book 4)
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