“We’ve got Gentry in the audience tonight.”
Sorcha Kavanaugh felt the hair on the back of her neck rise and her fingers curl instinctively around the iron strings of her harp.
“How many?” she asked.
“Dunno,” said Tommy, perching his lanky frame against the dressing table and beginning to tune his fiddle. “Could be just the one I saw, but it felt like more.”
Tommy Carrell didn’t sound worried but, unlike Sorcha, Tommy didn’t have any special reasons to fear the Fae.
“What did the one you saw look like?” she asked.
“Tall and pretty,” he said.
“They’re all tall and pretty,” said Sorcha.
“So they are,” said Tommy. “And it doesn’t do to be caught staring at them. They come for the music, Sorcha. You know that. We play what they ask and pay them no mind, and in return they leave us alone.”
Except, of course, when they didn’t.
Tommy was mostly right, though. When the Fae turned up at the bar, the strange immortal creatures usually sat quietly and listened, but only because it suited them to do so. Music was one of their pleasures, and there were almost none among them who could make it now.
Occasionally the Fae sent a note—and a drink—to the stage and asked to hear the old music. Sean nós. “Unaccompanied singing.”
That was the dangerous part.
“They’ll come for you.” Sorcha could hear her grandmother’s voice in her head—musical as a bell—though the woman was dead these five years. “If they hear that voice, they’ll come for you.”
She resisted the urge to peer out the green room door and search the crowd just yet. It wasn’t smart to be seen looking for them.
After her parents had been killed when she was just six, Sorcha had been sent to Gran’s with nothing but a pink suitcase and her father’s beloved fiddle.
The woman from social services, who had picked her up in a car smelling of juice boxes and Cheerios and driven her to the rambling old farmhouse in Jamaica Plain, had explained to Sorcha how lucky she was. Sorcha had family to take her in. A grandmother. Someone to love her. Unlike most kids in the system, Sorcha wouldn’t have to go into foster care and live with strangers.
But Gran was a stranger to Sorcha. Her parents had never spoken of her, never taken Sorcha to visit the peculiar house in JP, which had once sat on acres of land but was now tucked at the end of a quiet suburban street.
It was so different from the home Sorcha had shared with her parents that it felt like another planet. There was never any music in Gran’s house. No instruments, no radio, no television, and certainly no singing. Gran had confiscated Sorcha’s fiddle the day she’d arrived, hiding it away in the attic where she thought Sorcha wouldn’t find it.
But Sorcha had always been able to feel the fiddle’s presence, and whenever Gran was out, Sorcha crept up to the hot dusty space under the eaves and practiced as her father had taught her. When Sorcha was away from the house and chanced to hear some tune, she’d commit it to memory in her head and then find it again on the fiddle’s strings, as though it had always been there, waiting for her.
Gran never found out. But once, when Sorcha was twelve, Gran caught her humming while raking leaves. Sorcha hadn’t even realized she’d been doing it. The day had been crisp and still with the first bite of autumn chill in the air. Sorcha had been alone in the big yard that surrounded the house, the remnant of the farm it had once been, when she’d felt a stirring that came from deep in the ground. There was no one around to hear her, and the tune had risen up out of her throat like a spring.
The leaves had danced to it, swirling into piles around her knees, until she was encircled by a high wall of autumn gold. Faster and faster they’d spun, drawing all the fall color from the yard into a vortex, a maelstrom, with Sorcha at the center.
She hadn’t heard Gran yelling, hadn’t seen her running across the lawn, screaming at Sorcha to stop. But she’d felt the long wooden spoon when Gran struck her with it, hard across the shoulders. And she’d felt the music fall away from her and back into the earth like the death of all joy.
That’s when Gran had told her about the Good Neighbors, the Fair Folk, the Gentry. It was bad luck to call the Fae what they truly were: ancient, bored, tricksy, and cruel. The unfeeling race that had once ruled over man and made war on Sorcha’s ancestors, the Druids.
Gran said the Druids had won that war long, long ago, had freed humanity from the yoke of the Fae’s tyranny. But then the remaining free Fae had allied with the Romans and over the centuries, with malice and spite, had hunted the Druids to near extinction. A few had escaped and gone underground, while those who were able to suppress and hide their power blended in with ordinary men. It was easier for some than for others. And if it turned out to be hard for Sorcha, if she could not contain her voice, the Fae would find her, and kill her.
Just as they had her parents.
Fairy tales and nonsense. Sorcha hadn’t believed a word of it. Her parents had died in a car accident. There were no such things as fairies.
But Gran’s wooden spoon was real enough, and Sorcha learned to fear it, if not the Fair Folk.
After that Gran forbade her to sing in the choir at school, because it might attract them. There were no concerts for Sorcha either, because they liked such gatherings, and if she was foolish enough to sing along, the Beautiful People might hear her.
The other children at school thought Sorcha’s gran was some kind of Bible thumper. She wrote notes to the principal forbidding Sorcha from attending school concerts and told other parents that Sorcha couldn’t visit their homes or ride in their cars if they listened to the radio or turned on the TV.
Sorcha didn’t bother to correct their impression of Gran. It would only make her seem stranger to have it known that Gran didn’t own a Bible and never went to church. That she piled stones in strange patterns and spoke to them and whispered to the trees, when she thought Sorcha wasn’t listening.
There was another reason Sorcha didn’t tell anyone else about the Good Neighbors: doubt. If Gran was right, and Sorcha was wrong, then there really was something to fear, and she’d heard often enough that names had power. If Sorcha spoke of the Fair Folk, she might conjure them to appear, and they would take her away to fairyland, which, according to Gran, had nothing to do with laughter or winged sprites and everything to do with cruelty, torture, and death.
Sorcha tried to make Gran happy, tried to swallow the voice that rose in her when she hiked the Arborway or rowed down the Charles River, but when she was finally out of Gran’s house and away at college, she couldn’t deny the force inside her.
There was music everywhere at the university, calling to her, and there was music inside Sorcha that wanted out. She could feel it trembling at the tips of her fingers, rustling in the back of her throat. Sometimes her whole body seemed to be a sounding board for any music that happened to wash her way.
When Sorcha changed her major from English to performance, Gran cut her off without a penny. So Sorcha put herself through school. First, she transferred from her liberal arts college to a conservatory in Boston, and when she surpassed her teachers on the fiddle and the cláirseach, the Irish wire-stringed harp that had called to her the first time she’d seen it, she went abroad to seek more advanced instruction.
She’d slept on the floors of bars and played in public houses across the length and breadth of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, anywhere the old music still lived. She’d played for bed and board and lived cut off from the digital age, with no cell phone, no computer, and no GPS. She’d hiked on foot to secluded cottages where old men taught her forgotten lore—and sent her away with the same warnings as Gran: keep her voice hidden from the Fair Folk.
She hadn’t believed them, either. Not until she ran into the Fae herself, in a bar on New York’s Lower East Side. The encounter had cost her dearly, and she had been lucky to escape with her life.
Because everything Gran had said was true. The Fae were real. Sorcha was a Druid. She’d realized that the day she had escaped from Keiran. She wished that she wasn’t. She wished she were normal, because if the Fae ever found out what she was—or what she had done—she would be hunted for the rest of her life.
Now she was more careful. She tightened the three iron strings on her harp—the rest were silver and gold—so they sounded sweet in her ear, in case she needed them.
Tommy chucked her on the chin and said, “We’ll play a nice dull set to please the tourists. Three bars of ‘Danny Boy,’ and I promise you the Fae lord out there will run for the hills.”
Or three notes from the iron strings of her cláirseach. That would show him. A precious piece of knowledge, a means of defense, gleaned from one of the little old men who had tutored her. “They cannot stand the iron music,” he had told her. If only Gran had told her as much. If only Gran had told her that music could be a weapon, if only Gran had taught her how to use her power, how to defend herself against the Fae—not just how to fear them—Sorcha’s life might have been different. But Gran had taught her nothing but fear, and there was no one else who could show her how to use her gifts.
The Fae lord—or whatever his rank might be among his own kind—was seated at a table that practically kissed the stage. The Black Rose was always bustling on a Friday, but the bar was particularly crowded that night. It was the students who made the difference, Sorcha thought. The public house’s proximity to Faneuil Hall made it a favorite of tourists. The live music made it a favorite of the local Boston Irish who worked downtown. But it was the return of college kids at the end of summer that turned the taproom into a standing-room-only crush.
The crowd was thick with athletes. But even in that press of youthful, toned bodies, he stood out. She had seen him before, standing up at the back of the bar near the door.
At first she’d noticed him because he was handsome. High cheekbones, chiseled jaw, intriguing gray eyes. An instant flare of attraction. Then she’d looked closer, studied that flawless profile, and caught her breath. Too perfect to be human, he was undoubtedly Fae.
Sorcha knew now that she had probably encountered the Fae before she’d believed in them, and been oblivious to them, just as the other patrons in the Black Rose were at that moment. But once you had contact with one, once you understood what they were and the subtle differences that set them apart, you couldn’t understand how you’d failed to notice them before or how others failed to notice them now.
It was difficult to describe how to spot them to someone else, but she’d done her best to teach Tommy to look for the signs. Almost always it was their proportions that gave them away. Not their height, though they were always tall and beautiful, as Tommy had said. It was the way they were made: arms, legs, shoulders, and waist, all in perfect proportion to one another. A Vitruvian ideal. A piercing perfection that compelled attention and at the same time set your teeth on edge.
While they were all exquisite to look at, some drew the eye more than others. The only word that came close to describing what she felt when she looked at this Fae was sublime. A combination of beauty and terror. A delightful frisson of fear and arousal.
It was often that way with them, and normally she was able to put aside the inconvenient feeling of desire the Fae aroused, but not with this one.
He’d never sent Sorcha a note, made a request, or tried to speak to her, and for some reason when they had locked eyes in the past, she’d gotten the impression that his distance was intentional, cultivated, disciplined—that he was taking care not to spook her—like a hunter watching his prey.
Tonight that distance was gone.
She tried not to look at him, not to make eye contact, as she adjusted her microphone stand, tonight as ever too tall for her five-foot-two frame. His presence flustered her, made her feel like a teenager, self-conscious and aware of her own sexuality in a way that she usually wasn’t. Her dealings with the opposite sex during adulthood had always been straightforward—and uninspired. Except when she came in contact with the Fae. Their presence brought out her dormant sensuality, and that unsettled her, because she hated them.
She took a deep breath to steady herself. She had to remember what he was. Alluring, but deadly. Especially if he discovered what she was. And suddenly the iron strings on her harp seemed far too exposed. She shifted her position on her stool and used her foot to push her harp across the floor and behind her as casually as she could manage.
It wouldn’t do for one of them to see the instrument. Not with those iron strings on it. She wished she had a sweater or a scarf to drape over it. The cláirseach was still too visible, especially since the Fae was seated so near the stage.
She didn’t dare play it, of course. She’d brought it in case she needed it.
She spied Tommy’s fiddle case lying open beside his stool and reached down to pull it out of his way—and in front of her harp.
Then she looked up. The Fae was watching her. Had watched, she was certain, her every move. His gray eyes traveled down her body, a blatantly carnal assessment, then rested on the fiddle case. A moment later he looked up and their gazes locked.
She knew better than to look directly at one of them, but she did it anyway, because the second worst thing after locking eyes with them was showing fear.
The beauty of the Fae was always mesmerizing. This one had thick golden hair, cropped short. Unusual for one of the Good Neighbors. The one she had met in New York the night she’d discovered just how real the Fae were had worn his hair in long braids that danced around his elbows. The creatures were always tall and clean limbed, but this one had broader shoulders than most, while maintaining the narrow waist and slim hips of his kind.
This one was trying to blend in—unlike the Fae she’d met in New York.
Keiran had dressed like an eccentric rock star. His wardrobe had rivaled the Metropolitan Opera’s costume department in size and extravagance. He had rarely worn anything made in this century, except very expensive, very well cut jeans. More often he had donned embroidered peasant blouses in jewel-colored silks or snowy-white cotton, velvet frock coats that swirled around his knees, or Persian lamb jackets with beaver-shawl collars.
This Fae was nothing like that. He wore thoroughly modern clothing. His jeans were practical and well worn, no fake fraying or impossible to maintain indigo hue. These looked washed, in a real washer. His plaid flannel shirt was faded and buttoned over an equally washed, soft-looking tee. He might have blended in with the college students, might have looked almost cozy to snuggle up to, all warm comforting masculinity, if there hadn’t been a feral cast to his face. It gave him a thuggish aura, made him look more like one of the toughs who hung out near the South Boston docks than a preppy schoolboy.
Tommy put a hand on her shoulder, breaking the Fae’s spell. He leaned over and whispered, “‘Danny Boy’ for starters. And if he gives us any trouble, it’ll be ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ for him.”
• • •
Elada had never been so close to Sorcha Kavanaugh before. He had admired her from afar in the past, long before Miach MacCecht had identified her as a potentially powerful latent Druid.
He hadn’t told anyone about his trips to the Black Rose except Miach’s granddaughter, young Nieve. His visits to the Irish bar were . . . private. It was the music that had drawn him, the high clear woman’s voice that had floated out of the low door and stopped him in his tracks that winter day. He’d been collecting protection money from the merchants in the Haymarket, the ones who paid tribute to the Aes Sídhe, and had decided to cross through Faneuil Hall on his way home to grab a cup of coffee. The day had been cold, Christmas lights already threaded through the trees and his breath visible in the air when he’d heard her, forgotten all about the coffee, and ducked inside the Black Rose.
She’d been seated on a high stool on a low stage, her raven hair falling like a veil over her shoulders, singing without accompaniment into the microphone. She’d been wearing a vintage lace blouse, the white softened to cream with age, with a Peter Pan collar that framed her heart-shaped face, and a black wool skirt that looked soft to the touch, like old felt. He’d come to realize that was a uniform of sorts for her, soft vintage shirts from thrift stores over short pencil skirts and black tights with practical wooden clogs.
The crowd in the bar had been rapt.
They didn’t know what they were listening to, only that it was sad and beautiful and that it conjured a lost world none of them had ever known but some among them might remember in their bones. Elada’s world. The Fae Court before the fall. Not the decadence or the cruelty in it, though there was that, too, salt in the sweet of her voice, but the life and color that had been the birthright of the Fae, the vivid, blistering pageant that had once been the hallmark of his race.
Some instinct had stopped him just inside the door of the Black Rose and kept him from coming any closer to Sorcha Kavanaugh on those occasions. And every time since. She might not know what he was—few outside the Irish enclaves of South Boston and the hinterlands of the old country believed in the Aes Sídhe anymore—but most intelligent creatures instinctively feared the Fae. And he was afraid that if he alarmed her, the next time he came to the Black Rose, she would be gone.
So he had always remained at the back of the bar, near the door, in as unthreatening a manner as he could manage. It was better that way for a whole host of reasons, the most important being that he was attracted to her, and he was living with another woman at the time.
It was over with Maire now, but there were other reasons he could not act on his attraction to Sorcha Kavanaugh. Unfortunately, they were difficult to remember when he looked at her. She was pale as any Fae, and possessed the night-black hair so prized by his kind, falling in soft waves around her shoulders. Her eyes were a deep, almost black-brown. She wore dark lipstick that made him think of raspberry wine, lush and intoxicating.
And if he frightened her away now with a clumsy come-on, he and Miach might lose a powerful ally in the fight to keep the wall between worlds standing.
He tossed off his whiskey to blunt his desire and called for another even as Sorcha Kavanaugh opened her luscious mouth and began to sing. He discovered that he was jealous of the microphone, just inches from her lips, and he shifted in his chair. His task tonight was to convert her to their cause, not get her in his bed.
Fortunately she was singing a maudlin and sentimental ballad that helped to dampen his ardor. “Danny Boy” wasn’t exactly her style, though it sounded well enough coming from her. She and the fiddler followed this with another musical travesty that somehow inspired the whole house to sing along with them.
The effect was curious. He could still hear her under hundreds of ragged, drink-soaked voices. Even when she stepped away from the microphone.
Suspicion woke in him, unnerving and unwelcome.
Elada wanted Sorcha Kavanaugh the way a man wanted a woman, but Miach MacCecht, the sorcerer to whom he had bound himself two thousand years ago, with whom he had weathered the betrayal of the Druids and shared the last two millennia, wanted her for an acolyte. Miach wanted to train her as a Druid and channel her formidable power toward preserving the wall between worlds, the barrier that kept the corrupt Fae Court on another plane, in well-deserved exile.
Miach thought Sorcha Kavanaugh was a latent Druid. Tame. With no access to her power. Much as Beth Carter had been a year ago when they’d discovered her.
Miach had fixed on her, among all the possible Druids identified by the Prince Consort’s search, because she possessed that most Druidic characteristic: a passion for study. After her formal schooling she had traveled the world seeking out further instruction, different modes of thought about music. It was the hallmark of her bloodline, this thirst for knowledge.
Miach had deduced that Sorcha was a likely Druid because she studied music with single-minded focus, but he had not guessed that perhaps she had been drawn to music because she had it in her. Druid music. The kind that could fracture physical as well as magical foundations, like those that supported the wall between worlds.
Elada could hear her, one small girl, above all the other voices in the teaming room.
Sorcha Kavanaugh, Elada suspected, was not tame. There was a resonance in her beguiling voice, one that he knew—and feared. If Miach heard it, if Miach believed she could not be converted to their cause, he would kill her. And Elada was the only being on earth who could stop that from happening.
• • •
The Fae in the front row was not amused. Sorcha could tell that by the way he tossed off his whiskey and scowled. Good. Maybe if he didn’t like the music, he would leave.
But he didn’t leave. Not after the first set, and not after the second, even when they sang an encore of “Danny Boy” and Tommy joined in with his ragged tenor.
That’s when she started to get nervous.
Then she saw the Fae signal the waitress. He caught her attention with a nod of his head and held it with a spectacular smile. Sorcha was wearing cold iron, and still that expression kindled something deep inside her. Jealousy. Even though she knew that nothing good could come of being the focus of such a creature’s attention, she still wanted that attention for herself. Such was the power of the Fae.
The waitress—Becky—didn’t know what he was. She wasn’t a Druid like Sorcha. And she wasn’t a local. The Boston Irish knew well what the Fae were. But Becky was human and unawake to the danger the Fae presented. She perked up and made a beeline through the crowd, ignoring the other patrons who tried to signal her.
Sorcha watched, her stomach churning at the thought of such abject obedience. The Fae who had tried to enslave her in Manhattan had beckoned her with similar ease.
And she had come. She had followed him blindly that night, caught in the web of his seductive beauty, beguiled by a voice as musical as her own.
Sorcha felt sick watching Becky bend over the Fae’s shoulder, vibrating with pleasure as he spoke in her ear. Becky nodded at something he said, then turned and headed back toward the bar with single-minded purpose. She ignored the other patrons who put their hands in the air and waved, trying once more to attract her attention. At the bar she ordered and picked up a single drink.
Careful what you wish for.
It was a half pint of bitter. Her favorite. A local from north of Boston. The color was rich and red, and Sorcha knew even before the waitress began threading her way back through the crowd where it was headed.
“From tall, dark, and gorgeous over there,” Becky said, placing a coaster on the little table beside Sorcha and following it with the half pint.
She shouldn’t be so gratified. “Don’t talk to him again,” warned Sorcha. She knew how to handle the Fae. Becky didn’t.
“Jealous, are we?” Becky said with a twinkle in her eye.
“No.” Yes. It was disturbing to be both so powerfully repelled by and so irresistibly attracted to the Fae.
“Relax,” said Becky. “He isn’t buying me beers. Or asking me to have a drink with him after the set.” She winked and scampered back toward the bar.
“I’ll have a chat with him after this number, shall I?” asked Tommy.
It would be tempting to let Tommy be her champion, to avoid a confrontation with this Fae, but she couldn’t. Tommy had never looked one in the eye, never had to face one down, and he wasn’t armed with cold iron.
Sorcha was. “I’ll deal with him,” Sorcha said.
• • •
Elada watched her turn off her microphone at the end of the set. She had left the beer untouched. She picked up her harp. The strings glittered in the spotlights. Her instrument was small and appeared to have been built to suit her petite frame. She tucked it under her arm and approached his table.
It struck him—not for the first time—that this was a bad idea. He’d told Miach as much when the sorcerer had first handed him Sorcha Kavanaugh’s file.
“If you want to train her, then why don’t you approach her?” Elada had asked, sitting in Miach’s book-filled study looking out over Boston Harbor.
“I want to train as many of these potential Druids as I can, and I want to get to them before the Prince Consort and his followers do,” Miach had said. “I can’t contact them all.”
“No, but you’ve given me an unusually pretty one.”
Miach had laughed. “Fine. Do you want me to admit it? Helene wouldn’t like it. She won’t like me training Sorcha Kavanaugh in any case. I won’t add fuel to the fire by trying to convert the girl to our cause. The idea smacks too much of seduction.”
So Elada had agreed to do it. Miach was right: trying to recruit the girl was a form of seduction. Unfortunately it wasn’t the kind of seduction Elada had intended for Sorcha Kavanaugh. Put plainly, he would be asking her to side with the race that had tried to exterminate her own, in a war between diametrically opposed factions of the Fae, that would most likely result in her death and possibly those of her loved ones.
Sorcha Kavanaugh stopped short of his table and stood there with her harp perched against her hip. “Thank you for the beer,” she said. “But I don’t accept gifts from your kind.”
She knew what he was. That was unusual but not unheard of, especially among those with ties to the Boston Irish. And she was intelligent enough to be wary of him. He could tell by the way she clutched the harp, knuckles white against the pale wood. But she had come to speak with him anyway, which meant she had nerve and a measure of confidence. He supposed that was necessary in a performer.
“How do you know what I am?” he asked. It seemed like as good an opening as any.
“Your kind come for the music. And you tip well,” she added shrugging, as though the existence of the Fae was no matter to her. The way she gripped her harp said otherwise.
“And sometimes, perhaps, we get out of hand,” he suggested.
“College boys with a varsity letter and a sense of entitlement ‘get out of hand,’” she replied sardonically. “Your kind is in another league entirely.”
“The Fae are not always the gentlest patrons of the arts,” said Elada. “But we’re sensitive to music, and your voice moves even the dullest mortals.”
She bristled at that, and he wasn’t sure which part had so upset her. Just that she was upset, and done with him.
“Thank you for your offer, but I don’t drink with patrons of any kind.”
He reached across the table and pushed out a chair for her. “If you won’t accept a drink, then maybe you’ll accept a warning. The Fae know what you are, and they’re coming for you, Sorcha.”
Sorcha Kavanaugh knows better than to tangle with the Fae. She’s been aware of the Fair Folk, the Gentry, the Good Neighbors since she was a little girl. Her Gran used to warn her not to sing, not to play music, not to even hum, lest the Beautiful People hear her remarkable voice and spirit her away. Sorcha never believed Gran’s stories, until one of the creatures walked into a bar where she was singing and stole a year of her life. So when Elada Brightsword, the right hand of South Boston’s renegade Fae patriarch, interrupts her set at the Black Rose, Sorcha knows trouble has found her…again.
The Fae warrior has admired Sorcha from afar for months, but he’s aware of her unhappy history with the Fae, and has been waiting for the right time to approach her. Unfortunately for Elada, time has just run out. An old enemy, the malign Prince Consort, has identified Sorcha as a Druid descendent with the potential to become a stone singer, a bard with a voice that can shatter the strongest magical constructs. He will stop at nothing to enslave Sorcha and use her voice to bring down the wall between worlds, freeing the decadent, deadly Fae Court to return—and rule again.