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You Slay Me

Katie MacAlister

  Katie MacAIister

  You Slay Me




  Published by New American Library, a division of

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc, 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Books. Lid, 80 Strand.

  London WC2R ORL. England

  Penguin Books Australia Ltd 250 Camberwcll Road,

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  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 AlconrAvenue,

  Toronto, Ontario. Canada M4V 3B2

  Penguin Books (NZ), enr Rosedale and Airborne Roads,

  Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

  First published by Onyx, an imprint of New American Library, A division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc

  first Printing, September 2004 10 9876543

  Copyright © Marine Arends 2004

  Excerpl from (title tk) copyright © Marine Arends, 2005

  All rights reserved


  Printed in the United States of America

  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, m any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book


  This is a work of fiction Names, characters, places and incidents, either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental


  If you purchased this book wiihoul a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property It was reported as 'unsold and destroyed" lo the publisher and neither (he author nor the publishers has received any payment for this stripped book '

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials Your support of the author's rights is appreciated


  Writing a book is never an entirely solitary endeavor, which is one reason I offer my thanks and appreciation to Patty Woodwell for casting her eagle eye over the French used in this book. I'd also like to thank the wonderful people at NAL: my witty editor, Laura Cifelli, editorial director Claire Zion, who read the book while Laura was away, and pub­lisher Kara Welsh, who gave the OK to let me try something new with this series. I would also like to thank Christine Feehan for her friendship, support, and for being the inspi­ration for a karaoke-singing demon in Newfoundland dog form.



  "No, it's Aisling."


  "Aisling. It's Irish."

  The Orly passport control man glared suspiciously at me over the top of my passport. "Your passport, it says you are American."

  I rallied, a smile when I really wanted to scream with frustration instead. "I am. My mother was Irish, hence the name Aisling."

  He transferred his glare to the passport. "A-sling."

  I tried not to sigh too obviously. I might be brand-spanking-new to the courier business, but instinctively I knew that if I showed the least sign of impatience with being grilled on the pronunciation of my name, Antoine the passport man would drag out his interrogation. I sweetened my smile, pushed down the worry that some­thing would go wrong with the job, and said very slowly, "It's pronounced ash-ling."

  "Ash-leen," Antoine said, his eyes narrowing in con­centration.

  I nodded. It was close enough.

  "Bon, we march forward," he said, flipping through my passport. "You are five feet and nine inches tall, have gray eyes, are thirty-one years of age, unmarried, and you live in Seattle, state of Washington, America. This is all correct, yes?"

  "Yes, except I think of my eyes as being a bit more hazel than gray, but the passport guy said to put gray down. Hazel sounds more exotic, don't you think?"

  Antoine cocked an eyebrow at me, briefly examining the visa that allowed me to act as a courier for Bell & Sons, before moving on to the documents for the aquamanile.

  I quickly glanced around, Uncle Damian's strictures on perimeter security echoing in my head: Security is your personal responsibility; your security is not the re­sponsibility of the police, or of the government, or any officials—your first and last line of security is yourself. Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Radiate confi­dence. Never do anything to indicate you are prey.

  Easier said than done, I mused as I eyed the large num­ber of people passing through the airport. Happily, no one was paying any attention to me or the case I held. I breathed a silent sigh of relief and raised my chin, trying to look confident and in control, not at all like a courier in charge of a six-hundred-year-old small golden statue in the shape of a dragon that was worth more than what I had made in the last ten years put together.

  Antoine's gaze flickered to the small black heavy-duty plastic case I clutched tightly in my right hand. "Do you have the Inventaire Detaille?"

  "Of course." I passed over the sheets of paper describ­ing in French the gold aquamanile. The document was stamped by the San Francisco French consulate and in­cluded an appraiser's certificate, as well as a copy of the bill of sale to Mme. Aurora Deauxville, citizen of France and resident of Paris.

  Antoine's finger tapped on the top document. "What is this ... aquamanile?"

  I shifted the case to my left hand, flexing my right fin­gers, being careful to keep the case out of sight, held be­tween me and the examination table. "An aquamanile is a form of ewer, usually made of metal, used for the ritual washing of hands by a priest or other liturgical person. They were very common in medieval times."

  Antoine's eyes widened as he stared at the black case. "It is a religious artifact you have?"

  I gave him a crooked smile. "Not really. Rumor has it that aquamaniles were sometimes used in ... er ... dark practices."

  He stared. "Dark practices?"

  I took in his raised eyebrows and smiled sympatheti­cally. "Demons," I said succinctly. "Aquamaniles such as this are said to have been used by powerful mages to raise the demon princes."

  I didn't think his eyes could open any wider, but at the word demon, they all but popped out of his head. "Demon princes?" he asked, his voice a hoarse whisper.

  I shifted the case again and leaned forward, speaking quickly, aware that a faint note of desperation had tinged my voice. "You know, Satan's big guns. The head honchos of Hell. The demon lords. Anyone can raise a demon, but it takes a special person with special powers to raise a demon lord."

  Antoine blinked.

  "Yeah, I know. I think it's a bit out there, too, but you'd be surprised what people believe. Even so, it's a fascinating subject. I've made quite a study of demons— not that I believe they really exist outside of man's imagination—and found there are whole cults revolving around the idea of demons and the power they wield over mortals. I heard there's a group in San Francisco that is trying to get a demon elected into public office. Ha ha, like anyone would notice?"

  The bunking stopped. Antoine stared at me with a blank look in his eyes. I decided my little foray into
joke land was probably pushing the Anglo-Franco boundaries. Not to mention that the minutes were ticking by at an alarming rate. "Yeah, well, I don't guarantee the useful­ness of the items; I just deliver them. So, if everything is in order, do you think I could go? I'm supposed to get this aquamanile to its owner at five, and it's already past three. This is my first job as a courier, you see, and my uncle—he's my boss—told me that if I screw up this de­livery, I'm off the payroll, and since a very stupid judge in California ordered me to pay my ex-husband alimony just because Alan, my ex, is a lazy slob who likes to hang around the beach and ogle the fake-boobed girls rather than get off his surfer ass and work for a living like the rest of us, it's kind of important that I keep this job, and to keep it means that I have to get the aquamanile to the woman who bought it from Uncle Damian."

  Antoine looked a bit stunned until I nudged the hand that held my documents; then he pursed his lips as he shot me a quelling glare. He nodded toward my case. "You will open it. I must examine the object and ensure it matches the pictures presented."

  I stifled yet another sigh of frustration as I fished the keys out of my bag before unlocking the case. Antoine's glare turned to an open mouthed look of wonder as I peeled back the protective foam padding and laid open the soft linen cloth that was wrapped around the aqua­manile. "Sacrefutur du bordel de Dieu!"

  "Yeah, it's pretty impressive, isn't it?" I looked fondly at the dragon. It was about six inches high, all coiled tail, gleaming scales, and glittering emerald eyes. It was one of the few dragons I'd ever seen depicted without wings.

  Antoine reached out to touch the golden dragon, but I quickly wrapped the linen back over it. "Sorry—look but don't touch." His nostrils flared dramatically. I hurried to sooth his ruffled feathers. "Not even the X-ray guys got to touch it. If you'll take a peek at the appraiser's valua­tion of the piece, I think you'll see why it's better not to."

  He glanced at the appraiser's sheet and swore under his breath before brandishing his stamp on my passport and the dragon's documents. "All is in order. You may continue."

  I closed up the case, locked it, and tucked the keys back into my neck pouch, giving Antoine a cheery smile as I slung the bag containing my clothing onto my shoulder. "Thanks."

  "One moment—," he said, stopping me with an up­raised hand. I held my breath, worried he was going to in­sist on something that would keep me from making my appointment with Mme. Deauxville. It would be just my luck that Antoine would decide I needed a full body search.

  I tried to look innocent and friendly and not in the least like someone who would smuggle something into the country in a convenient body cavity. "Hmm?"

  He glanced around quickly, then stepped closer to me, his voice dropping. "You are an expert in demons but you do not believe in them?"

  I shook my head, not wishing to get into a philosophical conversation while the clock was ticking. "I'm not really an expert—I've just studied a few medieval texts about them."

  "Demons are very bad."

  I shrugged and edged sideways. "Not really. Accord­ing to the texts I've read, they're actually rather stupid. I think people fear the thought of them because they don't know how to control them."

  He leaned closer, the stale odor of cigarette smoke clinging to him, making my nose wrinkle. "And you don't fear them?"

  I shook my head again, edging even farther away.

  His dark eyes lit for a moment with a deep red light, making him suddenly look a whole lot more ominous than a simple customs inspector. "You should," he said, and then turned away, gesturing the next person in line to his table.

  "Hoo, I guess there're weirdos all over the world," I mumbled to myself as I pushed my way through the crowd toward the exit, careful to keep both hands on the handle of the black case. My clothing and personal items I could afford to lose, but this job was my chance—my only chance of getting ahead since the company I worked for went belly up. If I messed this up, F d be jobless again. With no unemployment benefits left, and a beach bum to support, I had to have work, something that would allow me to live while paying Alan the huge wad of money the court decided I owed him.

  Men. Bah!

  It took me another fifteen minutes to figure out the signs in the airport concourses and find where the taxis were. Beth, Uncle Damian's secretary, said Orly had signs in English, but Beth lied—not only was there no English, but also nothing I saw written on the signs matched the handy little phrases in the French for Francophobes book I had bought to get me through the next day and a half.

  "Um... bonjour" I said to a bored-looking taxi driver who stood leaning on his car and picking at his teeth. "Parlez-vous anglais?"

  'Won," he said without stopping the teeth-picking.

  "Oh. Um. Do you know if any of the other taxi drivers parlez anglais? Knowez-vous if le taxi drivers parlez anglais?"

  He gave me a look that should have shamed me, but I was beyond being ashamed of going to France without knowing a single word of French except what I found in the guidebook. I had a job to do—I just wanted it done.

  "Look, I'm doing the best I can, OK? I want to go to the Rue ... Oh, just a sec—let me look in the book...." 1 hugged the black case to my chest with one arm while I rooted around in my bag for the French guide. "Je veux aller a la Rue Sang des Innocents."

  The taxi driver stopped picking his teeth to grimace. "That is the worst French I have ever heard, and I have heard much bad French."

  "You do speak English!" I said, slamming my guide shut. "You said you didn't! And I can't help it if what I said was wrong. That's what the book said."

  "It wasn't much wrong, but your accent.. ." He shud­dered delicately, then with a sweeping bow, opened the door to his taxi. "Very well, I will take you to the Rue Sang des Innocents, but it will cost you."

  "How much?" I asked as I slid into the backseat, still clutching my case. I had the euros Uncle Damian had given me, but I knew they were only enough to cover my hotel bill for the night, two meals, and minor incidentals like the taxi rides.

  The taxi driver tossed my bag into the other side and slid behind the wheel. "The journey will cost you thirty-six euro, but the ride will cost you more."


  He smiled at me in his rearview mirror. "By the time we arrive at the Rue Sang des Innocents, you will know how to say three things in French. With those three things, you will be able to go anywhere in Paris."

  I agreed to his terms and, since I was early for my ap­pointment with Mme. Deauxville, had him wait for me while I ran into the hotel where Beth had booked me. I checked in, dropped my bag on the bed, pulled a comb through my curls so I looked less like a crazed woman and more like a professional courier, and dashed back downstairs to where Rene and his taxi were waiting for me.

  At five minutes to five, the taxi pulled up next to a six-story cream-colored building with high arched doorways and windows graced by intricate black metal grilles.

  "Wow," I breathed as I leaned out the window to peer up at the house. "What a gorgeous building. It looks so... French!"

  Rene reached backwards through his window and opened my door. I grabbed my things and got out onto the cobblestone street, my mouth still hanging open as I stared up at the house.

  "You see that all the houses here are old mansions. It is a very exclusive neighborhood. lie Saint-Louis itself is only six blocks long and two blocks wide. And now, you will pay me exactly thirty-six euro, and recite for me please the phrases I have taught you."

  I dragged my eyes off the house and smiled as I handed Rene his money. "If someone annoys me, I say, Voulez-vous cesser de me cracker dessus pendant que vous parlez"

  "Will you stop spitting on me while you are speaking," Rene translated with a nod.

  "And if I need help with anything, I say, J'ai une grenouille dans mon bidet."

  "I have a frog in my bidet. Yes, very good. And the last one?'

  "The last I should reserve for any guy who hits on me when I don't want him to: Tu
as une tite afaire muter les plaques des egouts."

  "You have a face that would blow off the cover of a manhole. Oui, tris bon. You will do. And for your meet­ing with the important lady, bonne chance, eh?"

  "Thanks, Rene. I appreciate the lessons. You just never know when you need to tell someone there's an amphib­ian in your bidet."

  "One moment. I have something for you." He rustled around in a small brown bag for a second, then pulled out a battered card and handed it to me with the air of some­one presenting an object of great value. "I am available for hire as a driver. You pay me, I drive you around Paris, show you all of the sites you must see. You can call me on my mobile number anytime."

  "Thanks. I don't know that I'll be in Paris long enough for a chauffeur to drive me around, but if I ever need a driver, you'll be the one I call." I saluted him with the card, then tucked it away in my wallet.

  He drove off with a friendly wave and a faint puff of black exhaust. I turned back to the impressive building, squared my shoulders, and after a quick look around to make sure no one was watching me, stepped into the doorway to press the buzzer labeled deauxvelle.

  "I am confident," I muttered to myself. "I am a pro­fessional. I know exactly what I am doing. I am not at all freaked out by being in a different country where the only thing I know how to do is complain about frogs and insult people. I am cool, calm, and collected. I am... not being answered."

  I buzzed again. Nothing happened. A quick glance at my watch confirmed that I was two minutes early. Surely Mme. Deauxville was in?

  I buzzed once more, leaning on the buzzer this time. I tried putting my ear to the door, but couldn't hear any­thing. A glance at a window showed me why—the walls of the building looked to be at least three feet thick.

  "Well, hell," I swore, stepping back so I could look up at the building. I knew from- the instructions Uncle Damian had given me that Mme. Deauxville was on the second floor. The red-and-cream drapes visible through the slightly opened windows didn't move at all. Nothing moved anywhere on the second floor... or on any of the floors, for that matter. Since it was a pleasant June evening, I expected people to be arriving home, bustling around doing their evening shopping, strolling down the street, gazing upon the Seine, and so forth, but there was no movement at all in the house.