"In the spellbinding When You Believe, Jessica Inclán introduced
Les Croyants des Trois, a powerful clan of telepaths and healers.
Now, the eagerly awaited Reason to Believe takes readers to the
streets of Edinburgh, and into the heart of an unforgettable hero."
Jessica gives an overview of the book:
"In the spellbinding When You Believe, Jessica Inclán introduced
It’s dark in the room, the lights off, but there is the hum of electricity in the air. He heard the call and traveled as fast as he could, the matter of the world bumpy and fraught tonight, as if the very particles of life knew that something was very wrong.
All he’d heard from the distance that separated them was a cry, a deep guttural moan that he recognized instantly. Within minutes he was on his way and now he is here, guarded, ready, slipping quietly into the room, trying to find the man who called him.
When it hits him, he knows what the electrical sound was, the hum and whir of a sortilège du foudre, a thin, whip cord lash of heat that wraps around his chest, picks him up, and throws him to the far wall, his clothes scorched, his body aching, all his limbs buzzing. His ears pound to the mad beat of current in his blood.
Even though his breath is short and uneven, he covers himself with a protection spell and tries to stand. Another flash of the spell hits him but bounces off, and in the illumination of the strand of heat and fire, he sees what he knew he would find in this dark room.
There is the man, hanging in the middle of the room, blood trickling from a wound on his head. He looks limp—from pain or exhaustion, it’s hard too tell—and his hands dangle at his sides.
He takes a deep breath, tries to hide the ache that is radiating from his bones. But it’s too late to hide anything. She laughs, softly, the familiar sound a tease, a taunt.
Where has he heard her voice before? And where is she?
He swallows, pushes the sound away, watching the man dangle in the glow of evil magic. Once again, he tries to contact him, to work into the unconscious man’s mind. But the man is empty, dark, closed off.
He can’t hear you, she thinks. Just give up on it.
And then she laughs again.
Another flash curls around the room, angling down to try to find a crack in his protection spell, but he wishes himself into matter and then appears on the other side of the room, the terrible view still there: the man, unconscious, weak, maybe ill. Maybe dying.
“Don’t fret. Really. After all, you could come with me instead,” her voice says, and he wants to weep when he recognizes her voice.
No, he thinks. How could you do this?
“How could I? you wonder. How could I not!” she replies to the ideas in his mind. “Why should I stay here with him when someone so powerful calls to me? Wants me. Needs me. A sorcier who can change the entire world.”
She keeps talking, her words as sharp as poison forks. Another flick of spell cracks against his weakening protection spell, and he feels the pulse of electric energy squeeze his heart. “I thought you loved him,” he says, staring at the man in the middle of the room. “I thought . . . You never deserved him. You deserve nothing.”
She moves into the dim glow of her own bad magic, her hair black lacquer, her eyes black diamonds.
“Come now,” she says, laughing, the sound as sickening to him as the sulfury after-smell of her magic. “Don’t be truculent.”
Another whoosh of fire passes by him, and his protection spell wavers and then rebuilds itself.
Gathering his strength, he closes his eyes. He thinks of heavy objects, iron, steel, granite, and then he opens his palms and whispers, “Détruire,” wanting her gone, destroyed, hating how she tricked the man in the room, himself, his family, all of them, all Croyant.
The room seems to bounce and sway to his magic, and he hears her scream as his power hits her. For a second—a second too long and too open—he drops his protection spell and from somewhere else, somewhere not inside the woman, he is attacked. His body is thrown up and over the other man, kicked by invisible giant feet, tossed up and down like so much trash.
As he is hit and cudgeled and broken, he feels his mind going, disappearing, leaving him. He needs to save the man, he needs to fight back, but before he can really even think these things, everything is darkness and everything is gone.
By nightfall, the man was still slumped on the corner stoop, bent over, his head sunk in his hands, his elbows dug hard into his knees. Every so often, he would look up, gaze around him blankly, and then put his head back in his hands, his dark hair in long, loose strands. Even from her flat window, Fabia Fair could feel the dark blue of the sad air around him.
She had first seen him in the morning when she walked to the corner of Thistle and Hanover, desperate for her first cup of hot, black coffee, barely taking the time to brush her long blonde hair into a thick ponytail before running out of her flat. She’d assumed he was a drunk on a bender, sitting it off on Mrs. Macatee’s immaculate front step. He didn’t know how lucky it was that the carnaptious Mrs. Macatee was in Bents in West Lothian visiting her sister Drusilla for a week. He’d have had a broom to his back end by now, Mrs. Macatee screeching, “Blootered are ye? A fine thing. A drunk on the steps in the morning? I hae it in me mind to call the authorities.”
As Fabia had passed him—having to whisk by his knees because of the tiny sidewalk—she’d quickly noted his long hair, matted and wet from the heavy morning condensation, and his strong, slender hands, the fingernails rimed with dark moons of dirt. Fabia had put out a tiny feeler from her mind to see if he were awake, but his thoughts were shut down, closed, dark as pitch.
She’d almost stopped, unused to Moyenne protecting their thoughts. Most ordinary people's minds were completely open, thinking in one long, constant stream from morning till bedtime. They hadn’t learned to find to find the silence inside them. “Sixty thousand thoughts a day,” Adalbert Baird, the Croyant Armiger, told her when she was a girl. “A full sixty thousand thoughts a day. If you listened to one person for even an hour, you’d go daft! You have to pick and choose what to listen to.”
So it was odd to find a Moyenne so still in mind, but—needing her coffee and already late for the clinic she worked at—Fabia made the decision to leave him alone. If he had enough presence of mind to block someone reading his thoughts, he’d know when someone was trying to look in. And Fabia didn’t want to call attention to herself. Not now, when she was so close to finding Caderyn Macara, who was only one thought away from her grasp.
Five years ago, Macara was the leader of Le Société Pour Intégration des Tous, the same group that Fabia’s twin brother Niall worked for now. Macara had been the major proponent of developing ties between the magical Croyant world and the ordinary world of the Moyenne. He believed that if the magic and the real were brought together, the world would be that much richer, better for everyone. Together they could heal the environment, end violent conflict, unite humanity in one, peacefully coexisting tribe. He was eloquent, impassioned, his red hair waving behind him as he spoke, his face bright, his eyes full of fire.
“Integrate. Share. Bring the cultures together,” he’d said and written, publishing article after article in the Informations du Croyant Matin. He was a featured speaker at council meetings and festivals that celebrated Moyenne life. Conservative Croyant hated him, leveling him in editorials in the Sommaire, castigating him as a hater of Croyant culture in Croyant Tous Les Jours. When Macara brought groups together to rally for Moyenne safety, he was bombarded with illegal spells that took him weeks to recover from. How Fabia had cried when she read about the spells, his twisted limbs, his memory emptied time and time again, the many times he’d lost his vision, his voice, his ability to talk.
But no matter the spell or the length of his recuperation, he had always come back to fight once again for what he believed in.
Cadeyrn Macara had once been Fabia’s hero.
But suddenly, he disappeared. No articles. No rallies. No pleas to the Croyant Council. There were rumors of burn out, of some conservative Croyant mischief or another.
“What else but a woman,” Fabia’s twin brother Niall had said, while Fabia pined.
But then Moyenne began losing their property, their money, their lives in ways that would suggest that whoever was committing the crimes knew the Moyenne better than most Croyant ever would. All evidence led to Macara. Who else understood Moyenne life so well? And as the problems escalated, the Croyant Council knew that there was another force involved, another sorcier. Quain Dalzeil, the man who wanted to change the Croyant world, the whole world, everything.
Finally at one crime scene, Croyant officials momentarily caught Macara, had him for seconds, before he whiffed away in a flare of blue smoke, taken to safety by Quain, From that point on, feeling betrayed and confused, Fabia knew what she wanted to do with her life, becoming a chasseur, a searcher, as soon as she’d graduated from Bampton Academy.
Now, she needed to stay open, mindful, alert, ready for the thought that would lead her to him and then to Quain, the man who’d challenged the magical world Les Croyants de Trois and wanted to destroy all Moyenne.
So rather than irritate or alert the drunken man on the corner stoop with her thoughts this morning, she’d walked by him, and within minutes, her steaming cup of coffee in her hands, had forgotten him.
But now it was night and cold, desperately so, the short Edinburgh summer turning into winter without bothering with autumn at all. From the window, Fabia saw the man hadn’t moved an inch, though he no longer held his head in his hands. Instead, he seemed to be looking forward, his head unmoving, his body still. He hadn’t been wearing a coat—she’d noticed that this morning—and now it must be less than 8 degrees outside, the sky full of wet chill.
Fabia turned away from the window, her hand absently on her cheek, her teeth biting softly on her bottom lip. Maybe she should call the authorities, just as Mrs. Macatee would have. At least, then, the man would be warm and someone would feed him, even if it was powdered eggs and white bread toast. If he was a drunk, he could go through the DT’s in a cell rather than on the street below as the night turned slick with frigid ocean air.
Then Fabia shook her head. Why was she worrying about one stray man? There were homeless everywhere, it seemed, men, women, and children huddled in dirty blankets, dressed only in dirty cloots, sleeping rough, pressed tightly against walls to encourage some warmth. At the Care Now clinic Fabia volunteered at three times a week, she met all the homeless, gave them vouchers for meals and baths, rang the Housing Services Programme to see if rooms were available for the night. Only after they were tended to, did she read their thoughts for stray, useful comments about Quain or Macara they might have picked up on the street unintentionally.
She pushed back the curtain again. The man sat still, unmoving, a dark stone in the fading light, a statue of sadness and despair. His bones must be frozen solid, she thought, almost feeling the ache from his long chilled legs. Cautiously, she put out another feeler, and his mind was still shut to her, like an iron wall against invaders.
“Shit.” Fabia turned from the window and grabbed her gloves, putting on her coat, pulling on her hat, and picking up her keys. It’s not like I’m good at saving any one anyway, she thought to herself.
Aye, you are, came the answer from Niall, who lived in Paris and had a habit of casting his mind out at night to see what she was doing.
Maybe I could save you, Niall, she thought back. But you’re my baby brother. Not a strange man on the sidewalk.
Baby brother! By two minutes!
Fabia laughed. That counts. And you know it, so let’s not get in a row about it again. I need to help this man.
Don’t get crabbit with me, lassie.
I’m not crabbit. You’re just driving me crazy, as usual. I’m going to help him whether you like it or not.
Niall sighed so loudly she could hear it from Paris. Well, you know you won’t sleep a minute now that you’ve got him in your sights. You can’t hear his thoughts?
No, Fabia thought, sighing. He’s closed down.
Well, go talk to him, at least.
Fine, she thought back. And then I’ll call you here to help me.
I never need an excuse to visit. But I’m watching that daft Survivor show on the telly. If you need me, wait an hour.
Fabia cut off the communication and opened her door, quickly running down the hall and stairs and then pushing out onto the street. The temperature had dropped even more than the report had predicted, Fabia’s cheeks flushed from the slick slap of cold air. Rubbing her gloved hands together, she walked toward the man, slowing as she neared him.
“Hello,” she said softly, blinking against the street light.
He stared at her—no, past her—his face expressionless. His face was smudged with dirt, a deep, dark red scratch running from temple to jaw, one eye blackened. Blood swelled the skin under his eye and hung in a painful purple moon over his cheek. As Fabia moved closer, she realized that his hair wasn’t so much matted from the wet, dank air as from dried blood. There was a clear, perfect circle of reddish, broken skin around his neck, and she noticed now that the dirt she’d seen under his nails this morning was actually blood.
Whatever had happened, he’d fought back. Whoever he’d fought with probably looked as bad as he.
“Are you all right?”
The man turned to her, tried to look up, and then took a deep breath, his mouth trying to move. He was trembling, his arms tight against his body now, his black eyes filled with fog and sadness. Again, she tried to reach for his mind, but the iron wall was still there, planted solidly.
What do you think? Fabia asked Niall without even meaning to.
All that blood, Niall thought. Maybe it’s not his. Moyenne are messy murderers.
He hardly looks capable of a right killing, Fabia thought.
True. He didn’t do his level best, there. So He might be on the lamb. Injured from the barbed wire he crawled under, Niall thought. Just call the police.
Fabia stared at the man, ignoring Niall for a moment. Maybe she couldn’t read the man’s mind, but there was something about him. Something kind even in his quiet, painful desperation.
Bloody bleeding heart, Niall thought. But just be ready to escape. Be prepared to step into the gray, okay? Hop back to your flat.
Yes, sir, Fabia thought, shaking her head. But Niall was right. It was easier to extend this kindness knowing that if the man grew strange or crazy or even dangerous, she could disappear in an instant, traveling through matter to the police station where she could report the crime she’d just escaped. The Moyenne she worked with at the clinic were always amazed that Fabia would go to flophouses and tenements and dark alleys looking for clients. What she couldn’t tell them was that she was protecting them by doing so, keeping them away from danger from which they might not be able to escape.
Fabia bent down, trying to attract his gaze. But he wouldn’t look at her, and she could feel the tension radiating from inside him.
“Hi, there,” she said. “My name’s Fabia Fair. I live at the flat just down a bit.”
He didn’t move his eyes, but he blinked, once, twice.
“Would you like to come with me?” Fabia said, crouching down further and looking into the man’s desperate, searching eyes. “How about a wee bit to eat?”
He licked his lips, breathing in, scanning the ground as if he’d dropped some change. Not drunk, Fabia thought. Schizophrenic.
Perfect, Niall thought. Go from Cadeyrn to just another crazy. Get yourself into another fankle.
Haver on, man! Would you mind a affording me some space here? she thought back. Go watch your bleeding telly.
Fabia closed her mind to her brother and moved closer to the man. He was shaking, his knees hitting together. Again, he moved his mouth, but then shook his head, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes.
Fabia watched him, trying everything she knew to get inside his mind, but there was no opening, as if the block was put there on purpose. And not by the man, who clearly was in no shape to create or even maintain a block, even if he were Croyant, magic, like her. And there was something about him, even with his quaking gaze and his long, thin, dirty body. Fabia couldn’t read his mind, but she could feel . . . kindness.
“All right,” Fabia said. “That’s it. Please, come with me.”
She stood up straight and held out her hand. The man breathed in, looking at her hand and then her face, her hand, her face, and then slowly, he lifted his dirty palm from his knee, studying his movements with surprise as if he’d never moved before. His fingers quivered, shook, and Fabia took them in her small gloved hand, feeling how cold he was even through the leather and wool.
Shit, she thought to herself, hating how Moyenne treated their castaways, knowing that in her world, the world of Les Croyants des Trois, this man would have food and a bath and a bed, no matter what was wrong with him. Adalbert Baird made sure of that, finding places for the damaged and weak—the only people who escaped his care were the ones who distained it. Like Caderyn Macara. Like Quain Dalzeil. And what will happen if Quain wins, she thought.
We’ll end up like this poor sod, Niall thought.
Shut it, Fabia thought and clutched the man’s hand more tightly.
“Come on,” she said. “Don’t be scared.”
But the man was scared. More than scared. She felt his fear in the energy coming off his body, in the sizzling whites of his distracted eyes, in his stiff, hesitant walk. Who had done this to him? What had happened?
“It’s all right,” Fabia said, her hand holding his as they walked slowly to the door of her building. “You’ll be fine.
He turned to look at her, his black eyes so dark she couldn’t see the irises. His forehead was creased with worry, his face gray with cold and hunger and fear. Despite the filth on his clothing, the blood on his head and body, and his clearly distressed mind, Fabia wanted to stop, pull him to her, and comfort him.
For the love of God, Niall thought. Soup is the better answer. Some hot water, soap maybe. But keep your flipping arms away from him.
Fabia shook her head, keeping her face free of the annoyance she felt. Because they were twins, Niall had always known how to break through her blocks. His interruptions hadn’t seemed bad when they were children, but as they grew older and there were things—and situations—Fabia would have liked to keep secret, Niall managed to find his way in and vice versa, if she were being honest. But neither of them seemed to know the way to cut it off, to separate from each other as they hadn’t at birth.
Finally, they’d made a pact to tell the other when to turn off and back on the telepathy, though Niall was the only one with hours shut off and away from her lately. Nothing much had happened to her that was worth hiding.
Like that night with that nutter Timo, Niall thought. Or that full-of-himself, so-called boyfriend Fletcher?
Niall! Let’s please not go there. Do you want me to bring up that date last week with what's-her-name? Stop gowking and go back to the show.
Fine, I’m leaving. But I’m checking in later.
When Fabia and the man reached her door, she let go of his hand to dig for her keys in her pocket.
“Here they are.” She held up the keys—the metal clacking and jingling—turned to look at him, and she gasped. Inching away slightly, he breathed fast, his chest moving up and down, his face even paler than it had been moments before, his entire body jolting with fear.
As she looked at him, Fabia knew without finding a way into his mind that he wasn’t mad. He wasn’t schizophrenic. But someone had hurt him—tortured him—to the point of madness. Someone had done something to this strong, solid, six-foot-three man and broken worse than bones.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go inside.”
The man breathed in, his breath a rough, aching sound Fabia could hear, hard, and heavy, and full of anxiety. She reached down and took his hand again, squeezing the long, frozen fingers.
“You’ll be all right,” she said. “No one will hurt you now. I promise.”
The man blinked, his mouth working again with words impossible for him to say. Then he gave her a quick nod and followed her into the building and up the stairs to her flat.
The minute the man was inside, her door locked behind them, Fabia realized how large he was and how uncomfortable he felt in his body and his mind. In the bright light of her small hallway, he wouldn’t meet her eyes, shifting back and forth on his feet. She pulled off her coat and tucked her gloves in a pocket, putting her hands on her hips.
“First thing,” she said, “is to get you out of those clothes and into the bath. I’ll do a wash while you bathe and eat. Then I can call my friend Alan about getting you a place to stay.” Alan Fyfe was her supervisor at the clinic, and he was used to Fabia’s phone calls about homeless people she spotted at the bus station on Dublin Street and in St. Andrew Square. As he spoke to her about budgetary concerns, she read his thoughts, hearing his, She picks up every bloody stray in town! each time.
But Alan always came to the rescue of those in need, and this man standing in front of her was in need, desperate need.
“I have some of my brother’s things here. A bathrobe, pajamas, some t-shirts, the hale jing bang. We’ll get you set up while I wash your clothes. Is that okay?” Fabia tried to meet his gaze but though he wouldn’t look at her, he nodded slightly.
“Okay, then. Let’s go run you a tub.” As she walked down to the bathroom, the man following slowly behind her, Fabia suddenly felt a scurry of nerves up her sternum. This, she knew, was probably taking the homeless cause a bit too far.
You think? Niall called out.
If you could see him, Fabia thought. It’s so sad. But he’s a big man.
Fabia, do you want me there? I could be there in seconds.
Looking behind her as she entered the bathroom, Fabia stared at the man. It was hard to get a good idea of what he looked like with his matted hair, bruised face, and the dirt and grime from his time on the street. But he was imposing, at least 6 foot 2 and powerfully built—his muscles tightly wrapped around his shoulders and arms. She could imagine him in his real life, moving smoothly, using his body for work or in sports, or sitting down, watching the telly, his longs legs in front of him. At this moment, though, he was simply lost, his body weak with confusion.
No, I just went mad for a second. But thanks, Niall.
Okay, Fabs. I’m here.
She turned on the light and walked over to the long, porcelain tub, the very object that convinced her to take this flat over the others she’d looked at. It wasn’t the showerhead that the bloke from America had installed when he’d lived in the flat but the long lovely tub. Fabia could almost float in it, her toes not touching the end as she sailed in perfumed water. Nothing, she had to admit—not even a long night in bed with a man—gave her as much pleasure. So even this man would feel comfortable, able to stretch out, relax, find his way back to the world in its warm, wet heat.
Crouching down, Fabia turned on the water, testing it as the tub filled. Soon the bathroom was filled with steam, the mirror filmed over. She grabbed some foaming lavender bath salt from the edge and sprinkled in a bit, and then, thinking of his sore and potentially smelly skin, dumped in the rest of the bag.
She felt the hot water one last time and then stood up, wiping her hands on her jeans.
“Okay. So I’ll leave. You can undress and then toss the clothes out for me. Take as long as you’d like,” Fabia said slowly, hoping he was listening. “The shampoo and soap are right here on this table.”
She looked up at the man, who stared at her. “Do you understand?”
He nodded slightly, or at least she thought he did. Shrugging, Fabia walked out of the bathroom, closed the door, and leaned back on it. Her heart was pounding in her chest. For a second, she had an image of something dark, as if the man’s thoughts had been cast over her like a black net. Under the net she could see nothing, feel nothing, and she knew that’s what he felt inside, right now, the net stuck on him, trapping his body and mind, everything inside his a buzz of emptiness.
Closing her eyes, she thought her way into the bathroom and saw that he was standing just as she left him, his hands dangling by his sides, his head lowered, his lower lip trembling. Fabia stood straight, opened her eyes, and breathed in deeply. This wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d thought.
Fabia knocked on the door and then stepped back in to the steamy bathroom. The man didn’t notice her, standing just as he had when she left, still and nervous.
“You know,” she began, nodding. “I have a twin brother, God bless him, and I’ve seen my share of male skin. So let me help you get undressed. Is that all right?”
Fabia! Niall almost seemed to shout.
The man’s no more than a statue, Niall, she thought back. If he’s a rapist, he’d need a bit more spark, I’d say.
Ahh, another dead one, just like your Fletcher.
Aye, and as dead as you are going to be if you don’t leave me alone, Fabia thought as she moved toward the man.
But Niall didn’t answer, and Fabia smiled at the man, reaching out for his shoulder. He flinched, stepped back, and Fabia dropped her hand.
“Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. Just let me help you into this bath.” She reached out for his arm again, but then the door swung open, and Niall was in the doorway, his blonde-white hair on end, his face ruddy from traveling through matter, his blue eyes wide and expectant. Even with his hair in disarray and even though she could see how irritated he was that she pulled him from his show on the telly, Fabia smiled, pleased to see him in the flesh instead of listening to him in her mind.
Quietly, she urged Niall. Don’t move too fast.
Niall stopped for a moment, taking off his robe and putting it on top of the hamper. Smoothing his hair, he walked slowly toward the man, looking at him up and down. “Tough day at the office, lad? You look all toozy, to be sure. But so do I, so there you have it.”
The man looked at Niall, and Fabia could see him relax, his shoulders slumping, his eyes gathering some heat and energy.
“So let’s let Fabia wash your clothes. Say I help you out a wee bit.”
That was the clue for you to leave, Fabs. Let me take care of him for now.
Fabia felt herself loathe to go for some reason, and then smiled, shaking her head.
You fancy him? That’s fine. No one I’ve fixed you up with in years has interested you, but this poor bloody sod does. What does that mean? Shall we call on the healers?
Shut it! Fabia thought, turning and leaving the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. In a long few minutes, Niall opened the door and gingerly handed her the man’s dirty sodden clothes.
Use bleach, he thought. Bug spray. Turpentine. Perhaps you should just burn them.
Fabia shook her head and grabbed the bundle from him. She’d seen worse at the clinic, clothes that didn’t even remotely look like clothes, men and women and even children covered in rags.
In the laundry room in the building basement, Fabia started the load of laundry, using just a smidge more soap than usual. As she’d put the man’s clothes into the washer, she’d seen that despite their condition, they were of good quality, nicely made. The jeans were thick, well-stitched, almost new. The shirt was a wondrous thick cotton, collar unfrayed. Whatever his life had been, it hadn’t been one on the streets. This man—whoever he was—hadn’t been homeless for long.
As she closed the washer door, she turned to find her upstairs neighbor, Liam Macmillan, standing in the doorway, his hand on his hip. Fabia sighed, shaking her head and then flicking her hair behind her shoulder. Liam had been a problem since she’d moved in. At first, she imagined that he was almost good-looking, his hair dark and curly, his brown eyes almost caramel colored, his body in fine shape from the runs he took in the evening.
Maybe for about half a week she thought she’d say yes to his immediate requests for a date, but there was something about his mouth, the way his lips were too thin, and his eyes, the way his gaze never stayed on her when they spoke at any length. And once she moved into his thoughts, well, she knew that Liam Macmillan only wanted one thing—or maybe three—and none of them involved her mind, personality, or character.
“Hey, Fabia,” he said. “A little late-night laundry?”
Fabia sighed, letting Liam’s overabundance of ego and sex drive float into her mind: She doesn’t have a date. Her lucky night. Either do I. She’s hot. Those breasts. Just the right size. Panties. She’s wearing no panties I reckon, thinking that I’d be down here. So what’s her problem that she always says no to me? She has no idea what she’s missing. How I could give it to her.
And then there were a few explicit erotic images, both with Fabia underneath him, taking in what had to be his highly exaggerated male member, enjoying every one of his moves tremendously. She shook her head, pulling away from his highly exaggerated ideas.
“Aye, my big evening. Well,” she said, moving toward the door.
Liam stood straight, blocking her exit. “How about we head to the pub for a wee one?”
“I’m working at the clinic tomorrow, Liam. Got to get some sleep.”
Fabia moved closer to the door, expecting him to move aside, but he didn’t, letting her almost hit his shoulder. She breathed in his too soapy smell and the chemical tang of his industrial strength anti-perspirant.
Do I have to come down there, too? Niall asked. For the love of God, I’ve got one man up here to look after. How many gits are there in this building?
Don’t be thick. I can take care of him myself, Fabia shot back.
Turning her mind back to Liam’s, easing past his new image of her sliding down his naked body, Fabia pressed into his mind as she’d had too before.
“You’re going to let me go upstairs, Liam,” she said aloud. “And you’re going to be glad to do it. In fact, you can’t move away from me fast enough.”
Liam immediately moved aside despite his puzzled look.
“You’re going to say goodnight,” Fabia said as she passed by him. “And you’re going to think that you need to leave me alone.”
“Goodnight, Fabia,” Liam said, his voice quavering with confusion.
“Goodnight, Liam,” Fabia said, walking up the stairs, the detergent box in her hands.
Niall was sitting in a chair in the living room, a beer in his hand.
“You need to move in with me,” he said. “The situation with the men in Edinburgh is out of control. Now they’re showing up unannounced.”
“So is he clean?” she asked, putting the detergent away in the cupboard. “Did you tend to his hair? And his face? All those cuts and bruises?”
His mouth opening slightly, Niall shrugged. “No. Bloody hell, Fabs. I got him in the tub.”
Fabia stood in front of him, her hands on her hips. Ever since they were children, this was how it worked. Together, they’d been able to finish a project. One starting, the other taking over, until the first came back to finish. They’d shared school work—until the teachers at Bampton Academy found out—and household chores, until their mother Xanthe figured out that if she gave a task to one, she was giving it to both. They’d learned magic the same way, trying out spells and charms in at night in one of their rooms, Niall starting the chant and Fabia finishing it.
Once their father Donoch came in to find the dining room curtains on fire, Fabia’s and Niall’s hands scorched from an incendie spell they’d read about in a book, neither of them knowing how to put out the flames they’d started. Their father put out the flames, repaired the curtains, and transported them both to their rooms with a wave of his hands. But because Fabia could, she listened hard as she pushed through matter and then appeared in her room and she heard Donoch’s laughter, his whispered, “Those two!”
“Fine. I’ll go wash his hair.”
Niall started to stand up, but Fabia shook her head. “I’ll be all right. I can call you if I need you, Niall. And anyway, he’s not going to harm me.”
“He’s a big man, Fabs. Powerful. Just be careful.”
Even though Niall was overly protective and bossy, she was glad he was here.
Damn straight, Niall thought, taking a sip of his beer.
“There’s a lovely piece of pie in the fridge,” Fabia said as she walked down the hall. “And maybe you can catch the last of that silly show of yours.”
Fabia walked down the hall and stopped in front of the bathroom door, knocking gently. The man inside didn’t say a word, so she opened the door slowly and stepped in. The room was clear of steam now, and the man sat hunched in the tub, lavender foam covering his body.
“I thought I’d give you a proper shampoo,” she said, approaching him as she would a wounded animal, her steps quiet on the tile floor. “There’s a lot of blood in your hair, and we might need to take a wee ride to the emergency surgery for stitches later.”
Smiling, Fabia kneeled down to the tub, trying to catch the man’s dark gaze. But he wouldn’t meet her eyes, staring down at the soapy water.
She tested the water with her hand and then turned on the tap, letting a bit more hot water run in. The blood in her body seemed to be giving life a standing ovation, thrumming and bumping in her veins. Why this dirty man was evoking this feeling, she didn’t know.
Probably because he’s in the full scuddie in your tub, Niall thought from the living room. Hey, they kicked Charlene off the atoll. they found out she was a complete liar. Can’t wait for next week.
Great, Fabia thought. Watch Sky TV for a while, all right?
She adjusted turned on a bit of cold water, adjusting the temperature, and switching the tap to the nozzle. “So I’m going to rinse your hair, okay?”
Fabia gently pushed his head back against the tub, and then man closed his eyes, more against her view of him, she thought, than the impending rinse. Slowly, she brought the water to his head, first rinsing off some of the lavender foam and then, in section, the blood. The man made a muffled groan, catching the sound in his throat before it really left his mouth. Fabia pulled the water away and pushed away a wet piece of hair to reveal three long thin cuts running from crown to forehead.
“Oh,” she said. “Well, there are the culprits. But they’re not deep. Just bleeding like scalp wounds do.”
She brought the nozzle gently back to his head, rinsing away the rest of the blood and foam, the reddish water filling the tub. The man laid quietly, his eyes still closed. Cleaner now, his hair slicked back on his head, the dirt gone, she saw that despite the bruises, he was a truly good-looking man, handsome really, his skin the color of almonds, his lips full and red.
Don’t, she warned Niall, but even as she thought the word, she knew that Niall had fallen asleep in front of the television. She’d have to shout him awake (either by thought or throat) if she needed him.
“I’m going to have to drain this water,” she said. “And then fill it up again so I can wash your hair. Do you, um . . . do you want a towel to cover yourself while I do that?”
The man opened his eyes, watching her. He blinked and then sat up, holding his knees tight and tucking his head down.
At that protective move, Fabia wanted to weep. She wanted to strangle whoever had done this to him. She hated when people inflicted their power on others, taking away strength and power and basic, flipping dignity. That’s why she wanted to hunt down Macara. That’s why she wanted to find Quain—to stop him before he turned one more person to him, creating more darkness than light. What had happened to this big man in the bathtub would happen to many, and it was wrong. It had to be stopped.
Leaning over the tub, Fabia pulled the plug and then turned the water back on, adjusting the temperature. The water drained, the tub emptying even as it filled with clean warmth. She didn’t want to look at the man, but she couldn’t help herself, especially because she knew Niall was asleep and wouldn’t read anything into her gaze. The man was not stringy and thin like many tall men, but powerful, his arms and chest tight with muscles, his thighs rounded and firm. Fabia flicked her eyes toward his middle, but she couldn’t see anything down there, his arms body folded too tight.
You are a sick girl, she thought. Sick and potentially dangerous.
Once the tub was almost full, Fabia put in the plug and grabbed the shampoo. Squeezing a large dollop into one hand, she gently pressed the man back so she could wash his hair. As he leaned back, his arms lessening their grip on his knees, she forced herself to be polite, keeping her eyes on his face. Fabia smiled, letting her fingers slip gently on his scalp, avoiding the three scratches. Without meaning to, she began to hum the song Xanthe had always sung around the house, a made-up tune of light happy notes. It was the song her mother sang when she cooked and worked in the garden. This was the song her mother sang when she bathed them and fed them and came to their minds at night when they had nightmares. All her life, Fabia had known the melody, the light up and down of notes, and realized—with her hands in this man’s hair—that it was a song about love and care.
The man moved under her hands, and she looked down. He was staring up at her with his black eyes, his lips trembling and in a quick second, Fabia pulled his wet, soapy head to her chest, letting him lean against her, pulling him tight.
For a moment, the room was still, and then she heard his cries, harsh, deep, jagged sounds that seemed to cut his throat and mouth as they made their passage into the room.
“There, there,” she said. “It’s been terrible, hasn’t it? I don’t know what you’ve been through, but it was bad. So bad. But you’re safe now. I won’t let them hurt you. I’ll make sure you’re all right.”
And then she began to hum again, her mother’s song flooding the room, covering his cries, stilling him as he pressed himself tight against her.
Fabia finished washing the man’s hair and then conditioned it, needing a comb to get through all the snarls and tangles. Wet, it hung almost to his waist, the dark strands curling even as they lay soaked on his skin. As she’d helped him out of the tub, she couldn’t help but notice he was well built all over, letting her eyes linger on him for a moment before she felt her blush burning on her face. Now, he sat safely wrapped in towels on the toilet as Fabia braided his hair.
“I never had a sister,” she said, the slick wet hair sliding between her fingers. “So my braiding is a bit below par.”
The bathroom door opened, and Niall walked in, yawning. “The beauty class over? Was it braiding tonight?”
Fabia nodded. “And now it’s your turn. A right shave. I’d do it, but I fancy he likes his throat whole.”
Niall shrugged, and Fabia felt her brother try to get into the man’s mind, searching for a thought to turn over and examine. But still, there was nothing but darkness, the man’s mind only a conglomeration of the events in the past two hours, images of cold, heat, water, voices, smells, and, yes, comfort. When Fabia looked in, all she saw was emptiness and a few fleeting sensory images, one of them her own body, a warm fragment floating in his mind.
You’ve made a good impression, Niall thought. But who did this to him?
I have no idea. But it was one of us. Croyant. This isn’t amnesia or a knock on the head or mental illness. It’s a sortilège du blanc, and a good one. “So, Niall’s going to give you a quick shave, and I’m going to fix you some soup.”
Fabia let go of the man’s long braid and moved away. As she did, he reached out for her, gently taking her wrist in his hand. She looked down at him, and his eyes were fixed on hers, scared, tense.
“Why don’t you stay with us,” Niall said, opening the medicine cabinet. “It will only take a couple minutes, and this way, he won’t imagine I’m going to attack with the double blades.” Niall looked at Fabia’s razor. “Oh! Triple blades. How high tech. I guess you need something intense for that thicket on your shins.”
She rolled her eyes and sat down on the edge of the tub, patting the man’s wrist. “I’ll stay.”
Niall brought him to the sink, the man watching Fabia as he stood before the mirror. Quickly, Niall filled the sink, lathered the man’s face, and brought the razor to the man’s throat, holding the razor just above the bright red circle there, evidence of someone trying to suck the very air from him.
Flinching, the man turned to look at Fabia, who unconsciously put her hand at her own throat..
“It’ll be fine. I promise.”
“Come on, man,” Niall coaxed. “I usually only take off a pound of flesh a day.”
Niall! Fabia thought, and in that instant, she thought the man heard her, his eyebrows raising, his mouth opening a bit, his mind trying to hold on to a thought, a memory, an idea. But then Niall had him turned to the mirror and ran the razor up the man’s stubbly face.
As her brother worked, his blue eyes intense with the activity, Fabia looked at the man. She’d seen a sortilège du blanc once, years ago. Actually, she’d only heard about it, her father coming home to tell Xanthe about a sorcier so angry with his wife, he’d taken away the memories of their marriage and life together and then left her alone in their house, a numb, thoughtless shell. The husband’s magic had been so strong, the wife didn’t recover for months, long after their marriage had been severed, long after her husband was brought before the Croyant Council and sent to the Bagne de Complet, where the prisoners had no magic, no movement, no thoughts at all.
So was this man Croyant? Had he fallen in the way of a powerful sorcier? And what had he been before someone had wiped his mind completely clean? What would he be after?
“A vision!” Niall declared, rinsing off the razor and putting it away. He dried the man’s face with the towel and then opened the medicine chest again, grabbing a bottle full of amber liquid. “I have a new calling. I will open a shop forthwith. But I need to top him off.” Niall held out the bottle. “A little leftover aftershave? From that nutter Timo?”
Fabia rolled her eyes but smiled as Niall poured a little of the fragrance on his hands and then carefully patted the man’s face.
Fabia stood up, looking at the man, who winced as the aftershave moved into his skin. Whoever or whatever he was, he was a vision, the lines of his face clean and defined and strong. He was gorgeous, his skin as smooth as his thoughts.
Just what you’ve always wanted, Niall thought. A man with no baggage. Not even a wee rucksack. No mind either, but what’s that compared to such brawn?
Fabia shook her head and grabbed the bathrobe off the hook, helping the man into it, taking away the towels as soon as he was properly covered. And even though she could only read his confusion and random, here-and-now images, she knew he felt better, calmer, his body clean and warm, his fears put into a quiet corner, at least for now.
Thank you, Niall, she thought, smiling at her twin.
For once, Niall didn’t crack a joke, his thoughts on the man’s empty memory. There’s still work to do here, you know.
I know. But he’s hungry.
So am I. That pie wasn’t near enough. Why don’t you get some carry out? A poke of chips at least.
Fabia watched the man, who again seemed to hear them, his eyes on her. What was he in his life? she wondered. He seemed the kind of man who would care for others, not the type to be cared for. He was probably married and had children, his family destroyed by his absence.
Niall caught onto her thoughts. Your Prince Charming is a mute nutter with ten children. Let’s eat.
Fabia sighed. Okay. But no carry out.
“Come have some soup,” she said to the man, taking his arm and leading him toward the kitchen. For now, even if he was a caretaker and married and without a past, Fabia knew she wanted to help him, needed to. She felt connected to him, brought into his life by his black eyes, by his wet arms reaching around her waist and pulling her tight, pulling her into his story.