Midnight Surrender (Meat Market Series: Book 3)

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Until a few weeks ago, when my head started hurting, all it had to do was show up, speak a word, and the pain would go away. Whatever was in my head, some kind of psychic or spiritual creature that was using me to grow, was getting ready to kill me. Its genius loci. I guess you need a first name, too. Alfred Demonreach it is. Its eyes flickered brighter for a moment and it inclined its head to me within the hood. I jerked my head up, my heart suddenly speeding.

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It made little echoes of pain go through my head. Had she finally responded to my messages? Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, Monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, mistress and mentor of every wicked being in Faerie—my boss—had been ignoring me for months. At least, not until today. Which was smart. Demonreach, like practically every prison ever, was just as well suited to keeping visitors out as it was to keeping them in. If the Walker tried that play again, I could shut him down single-handed. But my head pulsed with little twinges of pain. My headaches had slowly gotten worse and worse over several years, and I had only recently discovered their cause—I had a condition that had to be taken care of before whatever was hanging out in my noggin decided to burst its way out of my skull.

There had been a town on the hillside up above the beach maybe a century before, but it had been abandoned after its residents had apparently been driven slowly bonkers by all the dark energy around the hideous things imprisoned below the island. The ruins of the town were still there, half swallowed by the forest, a corpse being slowly devoured by fungus and moss.

I sometimes wondered how long I could stay on the damned island before I was bonkers, too. There was an expensive motored yacht tied to the dock, as out of place as a Ferrari in a cattle yard, white with a lot of frosty blue chrome. The creases were too straight, the clothes too clean, the fit too perfect. Watching them move, I had no doubt they were carrying weapons, and practiced in killing. They were Sidhe, the lords of Faerie, tall and beautiful and dangerous.

Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, was wearing a tailored business suit somewhere between the color of smeared charcoal on newsprint and frozen periwinkles.

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The blouse beneath was snow-white, like her hair, which was bound up in an elaborate do that belonged in the forties. Opals flashed on her ears and at her throat, deep colors of green and blue, matching the shifting hues of her cold, flat eyes. She was pale, beautiful on a scale that beggared simple description, and I harbored a healthy and rational terror of her.

I was pretty sure that if the Winter Knight openly defied her in front of her Court, it would basically be a declaration of war, and despite what I now knew about the island, I wanted nothing of the sort with Mab. Get on the boat. Her mouth turned down into a slight frown, but it was belied by the sudden pleased light in her eyes.

Mab nodded. I swallowed, and my stomach did this little roller-coaster number on me. I would therefore do nothing. I blinked at that.

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Mab paused and looked over her shoulder. Surely you have noticed the pains growing worse. None of them got through, did they? I find it useful how the tiniest amount of distrust creates so much opportunity for miscommunication. Your friends have been trying to visit you for several weeks, but the lake ice has held unusually long this year. You cannot leave the island without being incapacitated by pain. You cannot send for help unless I allow it. Your time has all but run out, my Knight. I found myself speaking through clenched teeth.

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Why would you put me in a corner like this? Perhaps it is to protect you from yourself.

In the end, it does not matter why. All that matters is what is. I inhaled and exhaled a few times, to keep the anger from boiling out into my voice. Given what she had to manage, it was entirely possible that manipulating me and threatening me with death this way was asking politely—by the standards of Mab, anyway. She was right.

If Mab said I had three days to live, she meant it. She had neither the capability nor the need to speak any direct lies. And if that was true, which I felt depressingly confident it was, then she had me over a barrel. The question brought a pleased smile to her lips and a nod that looked suspiciously like one of approval. I pointed a finger at my temple. For your own health and safety, therefore, you will wear this instead. There was a small stone in her palm, a deep blue opal. I leaned a little closer, eyeing it.

It was set on a silver stud—an earring. At that, Mab calmly stepped onto the shore of Demonreach, until her toes were almost touching mine.

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She was several inches over six feet tall, and barely had to reach up to take my earlobe in her fingers. Just do the left one, okay?


She exhaled briefly through her nose. Then she shook her head and changed ears. There was a pinpoint of red-hot pain in my left earlobe, and then a slow pulse of lazy, almost seductive cold, like the air on an autumn night when you open the bedroom windows and sleep like a rock. I glowered and reached up to the stone with my left hand. My fingertips confirmed what my ears had reported—it felt physically cold to the touch.

She gave me a very small, very chill smile, and held up her finger.

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There was a tiny droplet of my blood upon it, scarlet against her pale skin. The consequences to yourself, should you try it, even more so. Try me, wizard. I am willing. For a second, I thought about it. She was stacking up enough leverage on me that whatever it was she wanted me to do, I was sure I was going to hate it. Mab was a serious bad guy. As cruel and as horrible as she could be, she was a guardian who protected the world from things that were even worse. Suddenly removing her from that balance of power could be worse than catastrophic.

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And admit it to yourself, at least, Dresden. What if you tried to take her down—and missed? Remember what happened to the last guy who betrayed Mab? I just exhaled and looked away from those cold, endless eyes. Then she turned and walked back onto the dock. We leave at once.