‘Mm.’ He turned and pointed a finger at her. ‘And Belphegor?’
‘If she escaped by catching a rope from a passing zeppelin, then she must have gone up by the roof.’
He nodded. ‘And now a crucial point, little mouse. I’m not asking for the names of any people, but if you don’t tell me what group you are working for, I shall be reluctantly forced to . . . Oh, really, why soften things? I won’t be reluctant about it at all.’ His smile cut like a knife.
Irene was fairly sure that she could invoke the Language against him before he reached her, or simply slam the safe door into him, but fairly sure wasn’t enough. She tried to recall Dominic’s dossier, as he’d provided a list of the better-known secret societies.
‘The Cathedral of Reason. Sir,’ she said reluctantly, letting it be drawn out of her. That had been one of the more neutral groups, more concerned with general scientific progress than slaughtering horrific fiends and dangers to humanity. Or being dangers to humanity.
He nodded as if she had confirmed a hypothesis. ‘Very good. Now, little mouse, I have a bargain for you. Or rather, for your masters. We both want the manuscript, but we’ll get it faster by working together. A copy could be arranged. A deal can be made. Do you agree?’
What Irene truly wanted to say was that she didn’t like being called little mouse. It wasn’t even as if she was that small. She was five foot nine, which was a perfectly good height for a woman in most worlds. Fair Folk or not, this man was an arrogant, insulting, offensive boor, and if she could she would personally make him run a marathon ahead of an oncoming locomotive.
What she said was, ‘Yes, sir.’ She dropped her eyes submissively. Fair Folk were so accustomed to falling into attitudes and high drama themselves that they half expected it from humans, and were always gratified to find their expectations borne out. They thought of everything in terms of stories, with themselves as the main character. They played roles – no, they lived roles, and they saw the world around them in terms of the mental movie in which they were starring. He wanted her to be a meek little agent. Very well, she’d play the part for him, and use it to get the job done, and try to ignore the burning throb of anger and incipient ulcers.
He smiled at her. This time it was more of a seductive smile than an angry thin-lipped snarl. It was warm enough that she could nearly have smiled back, if she hadn’t known how much of a mask it was. It was inviting, somehow suggesting darkness and candlelight and closeness, a catch in the breath, a warm hand in hers, a pressure against her body . . .
‘Good girl. Wait a moment.’ He walked across to the desk, and began throwing drawers open, rifling through them to find paper, pen and ink. ‘Where did he keep it – ah, yes.’ He dropped a sheet of paper on the dried blood, opened a bottle of purple ink, dipped a quill in it, and scrawled a quick note. ‘There. We’re having a ball at the Embassy tomorrow. Here’s a private invitation for you. Bring a friend. Bring a lover, even. Find me there and tell me what your masters say to my little proposition. And remember . . .’
He let the sentence hang in the air. Obligingly, Irene said, ‘Yes, sir?’
‘Remember that I would make a better master for you than the Cathedral of Reason.’ There was a glow about him, an aura of presence, as if the light that fell on him came from somewhere else, somewhere more beautiful, more special. His eyes were pure gold, reassuring, enchanting, all-encompassing. Even the slit cat-pupils now seemed more natural than human eyes ever could. He stepped forward to lay his hands on her shoulders, drawing her close against him. ‘I will be everything to you, little one. I will protect and shield you. You will be my adored one, my own special love, my sweet, my pet, my beauty, my heart’s delight.’
He smelled of spice and honey. She could feel the coldness of his hands through his torn gloves and the fabric of her clothing.
‘Say that you’ll be mine,’ he murmured, his lips close to hers.
The markings across Irene’s back burst into sudden agony, and she pulled away harshly, gasping for breath. He took a step towards her, but she raised her hand, and he paused.
‘I belong,’ to the Library, ‘to the Cathedral of Reason,’ she spat. ‘Seducing me so I’ll betray my masters will not convince them to form an alliance.’
‘Oh well.’ He raised his fingers to his lips and blew her a kiss. ‘I felt like trying. I’ll see you tomorrow, little mouse. Don’t forget. Or I’ll come and find you.’
He turned on his heel and strode across to the safe, scooping up the papers and visiting card. She could see the care that he took not to touch the cold metal. ‘Merely our private correspondence, my dear,’ he tossed over his shoulder. ‘About library books. Nothing to concern you.’
Irene bit her tongue hard enough to hurt, trying to keep her face inquisitively bland. He could have used the word ‘library’ just in passing. He didn’t necessarily suspect her. Or he might have been talking in order to keep her attention on him, rather than on anything else . . .
Paranoia gibbered at the back of her mind. Some Fae did know about the Library. The powerful ones. Was this particular Fae that powerful?
The door slammed behind him.
She had nearly given way. He’d been more than she expected, in every sense. If it hadn’t been for her bindings to the Library, she might not have been able to resist in time. And what then? The thought literally made her shiver. There had been other cases of Librarians who had been lost to chaos. The stories weren’t reassuring. The undocumented cases even more so. And there was the one horror story that every Librarian knew, about the man who’d turned traitor to the Library and sold it out. He had never been caught and was still out there –