Authors: Shona Husk
Copyright © 2013 by Shona Husk
Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Don Sipley/Lott Reps
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For my children. You’re never too old for fairies.
Caspian trailed his finger along the wooden mirror frame. Was the piece an antique or a clever fake?
One touch was enough to confirm the mirror was old, made by hand well over a century ago. As he examined the Rococo workmanship, he caught a brief movement beyond the sky that was reflected in the glass. If he looked closer and concentrated on the shadowy movements that normal humans didn’t see, he’d be able to glimpse the fairy world of Annwyn. Now there was a surprise. Was the glass enchanted or fairy-made? Was it the mirror the fairies were looking for?
Caspian drew his hand back casually so as not to attract attention. The garage sale wasn’t the place to examine it further. He deliberated for a couple of heartbeats, then decided acquiring it would be worth the risk.
A blue fairy wren fluttered around him and then landed on top of the mirror, drawn by the magic.
“What can you tell me about the mirror?” he asked the seller. He tried to sound only vaguely interested. He glanced at his watch, making sure he still had time to investigate and haggle—although for a mirror like this he’d make time and be late to his meeting. Not that he liked showing up late.
The woman shrugged. “It was my mom’s. I thought she’d gotten rid of it years ago. But no, it was shoved in the back of her wardrobe, along with shoes she hadn’t worn for twenty years.”
Caspian’s eyebrows rose. “She didn’t like it?”
“Said it gave her the creeps.” The woman shooed the wren off the mirror.
He could understand that. Having a mirror that looked into the fairy world was bound to be unsettling. “I’ll give you four hundred even for the mirror and these iron sconces.” He grasped the metal, ignoring the jolt of pain the iron sent through his system. No wonder fairies hated the stuff. Given the uncertain situation in Annwyn at the moment, having a bit of extra iron around the house wouldn’t be a bad thing.
The woman gave him a closer look. “Who are you buying the mirror for?”
Caspian smiled. There was a touch of the fairy in the woman’s family even if they were trying to bury it. “My ex-wife’s birthday.”
It wasn’t her birthday, and he wasn’t buying it for her, but if the woman knew what the mirror was really worth—both in human and possibly fairy terms—she may not want to sell it so cheaply.
The fairy wren returned and danced along the top of the frame, hopping and turning. Their name didn’t come from their diminutive size the way most people thought; their name came from the fact that they were drawn to all things fairy.
This time, the reflection on the mirror showed a tall, thin man standing on the other side of the road. Beautiful but gaunt, fairy but not one of the Court—a Grey. Caspian blinked and glanced away. He turned a fraction, expecting to see the man still watching, but the Grey was gone.
A wren, a Grey, and a mirror with a connection to Annwyn. He should be walking away. But he’d heard of a hunt for something called the Window. According to rumor, it was a portal between the human and fairy worlds—and it was right here in Charleston. Every time he saw a mirror, Caspian checked to see if it was fairy-made. As much as he hated getting involved in fairy politics, even he knew how disastrous it could be if the Window fell into the wrong hands: a Grey’s hands.
He forced his gaze back to the woman as if he’d seen nothing to worry him. As if he’d never noticed the banished fairy. He’d learned long ago to pretend he never saw them. His gaze would drift past, but never stop. His heart, however, responded to the surge of adrenaline kicking through his system.
There was nothing more dangerous, or desperate, than a Grey. A fairy banished from Court had nothing to lose, and banishment was a slow way to die, a wasting of strength and beauty until he literally faded away. As a changeling, Caspian got to live and die like a mortal.
“Four hundred and fifty,” the woman said.
His phone beeped a reminder about his meeting. Caspian briefly considered trying to bargain her down, but he didn’t want to stand around waiting for the Grey to come back.
He nodded. “Okay.”
She smiled at her win, no doubt wishing she’d asked for more.
He hadn’t come here expecting to find anything quite so valuable, or so dangerous. Would it be ethical to sell an enchanted mirror to an unsuspecting buyer?
The skin between his shoulder blades prickled with cold despite the sunny spring day, and the little blue wren came back to dance on the furniture in the woman’s driveway. Was it heralding the return of the Grey? If so, was the Grey drawn to the woman or him or the mirror? God, he hoped it was the woman, not the mirror. He didn’t really want anything to do with a fairy, banished or otherwise. Those of the Court were just as much trouble, if not more, and infinitely more powerful. He gathered his purchases and walked back to his car, but he didn’t see the Grey again.
The drive across town was uneventful. No wrens, no Greys. Just him and the mirror and the whisper of music that came straight from the Court and made him want to pull the car over, peel back the layers of wrapping, and gaze into its surface. But the prospect of viewing the infamous Callaway House urged him on.
It was a job he’d almost turned down. After his divorce, he’d needed any extra money he could get doing valuations for insurance and estates to get back on his feet. These days, he could pick and choose. And normally he chose not to value estates because inevitably he felt like an interloper. But Callaway House was more than a bunch of antiques. With just one touch, the house would come to life again. He’d be able to see the parties, the dealmakers, and the intimate moments that went on behind closed doors in the former plantation home. Like all fairies, he had a vicious streak of curiosity that couldn’t be ignored—that was why he had a mirror connected to Annwyn in his car even though he knew better than to get mixed up in anything fairy.
The wrought-iron gates to the estate hung open, but they looked like they hadn’t closed in years. The whole house had an air of decay about it: a faded Southern belle trying to hang onto her looks and failing. It had been many decades since Callaway House had been respectable. He parked the car and took a moment to gather his thoughts and make sure that when he walked in he wasn’t immediately overwhelmed by the past.
He ran his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath. It was time to find out what was rumor and what was truth.
Lydia walked through the house, still expecting Gran to call out or appear around the corner. But the house was silent. Not even its colorful history could bring life into the empty rooms. Her chest tightened. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t let a stranger wander round and itemize everything and assign a value. While the will had clearly stated the shares and other funds were to go to her mother, everything still had to be assessed. Damn it. In Lydia’s mind Helen didn’t deserve anything; she had denied her family long ago. But Gran had obviously felt differently about her only daughter.
Lydia swiped at a tear that trickled down her cheek. The house was all that was left of Gran, of her whole family. She stood frozen in the front room. This was where she’d found Gran sitting on the sofa, glass of wine on the coffee table, TV on, not breathing.
A knock on the front door forced her back to reality. Lydia took a moment and a breath before opening the door, then braced herself for the greedy eyes and half-hidden glee at being allowed inside Callaway House.
The man on the doorstep was nothing like she’d expected. After talking to him on the phone, she’d imagined the deep voice belonged to an old man—yet he wasn’t old. He was tall—they were eye to eye even though he was down a step, with dark hair that wasn’t quite curly or straight. However it was his eyes that were stunning, the palest of greens, but not cold like ice.
“Caspian Mort,” he said as he offered his hand.
She blinked. He had a serious kind of beauty that made her want to see him smile. She clasped his hand. “Lydia Callaway.”
Callaway. The name that had haunted her all her life.
For an awkward moment they stood there. Then she took a step back. “Um, come in.”
“Thank you. I know letting a stranger in can’t be easy. I’ll try to make this as un-invasive and painless as possible.”
Lydia shut the front door. “You do this often?”
“When required. I prefer valuing for insurance, but…” he shrugged. “It’s what I do.”
For all his cool demeanor there was something going on behind his pale green eyes. His gaze flicked over her, then over the hallway. Was he imagining what had gone on in the house? Picturing the wild parties? Imagining what used to happen upstairs? “How about you show me around so I can get an idea of the scope of work?”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re just dying to dive in.” Lydia didn’t mean to sound brusque, but years of curiosity-seekers had eroded her patience. She’d spent most of her life trying to defend the family name against all the rumors of wild times in her family’s past. For generations, the Callaways had been prominent in Charelston’s social scene and state politics. Even back in the nineteenth century, the plantation house had been known as a place where the rich and famous could come to play with no repercussions.
Caspian turned to her. “You know I almost didn’t take this job?”
Lydia was taken aback. “Really. Why?”
“Because I didn’t want to be the one putting a price on a piece of history. Then I realized if I didn’t someone else would, and at least I’d get it right.”
“Modest of you.” Yet he hadn’t said it to gloat, it was just fact. There was a quiet confidence about him as if he didn’t need anyone’s approval to exist.
“Honest. I know antiques… better than I know people.” That admission drew a rueful smile from him that caused the corners of his eyes to crinkle.
He was older than she’d first thought. Over thirty. Her gaze dropped to his left hand. His ring finger was bare. Not that it mattered. He was here to do a job and nothing more.
“Let me show you around.”
She walked through the entrance without waiting for a response. But she heard his steps behind her and was aware when he paused to look at something.
“These paintings are originals.”
She turned to see him peering at the oil painting of a bridge. “Yes. Gran liked artists. She said they added to the party, and if they couldn’t pay, they’d donate a painting for the walls or a sculpture for the rooms.”
Caspian raised his eyebrows. “They’re insured?”
“Of course. My grandmother wasn’t an idiot.”
He nodded and looked at the next painting, a partially nude woman who was reading a book while lying in a bed of flowers. Obviously posed but she looked like she was about to turn the page.
“Amazing.” He touched the frame ever so delicately. “Your Gran must have known many brilliant people.”
Lydia smiled, her first real smile in a week. “She used to talk about the parties that went on in the fifties and sixties and the things they’d get up to. Sometimes some of the old girls would get together for lunch.” Those old girls had been rich men’s mistresses that had been housed here so the men could pretend to be respectable in town then come out here for a weekend of entertainment. The precariousness and lack of respectability had created friendships that had lasted a lifetime. Most of them were dead now. She turned away and opened the door to the parlor.
“When it was the mistress hotel?” he said.
“Yes. You’ve done some research?”
“Not much; call it general historical knowledge of Charleston.”
“Ah.” Well, then he probably knew that in the seventies Gran let hippies camp on the grounds and grow weed. Every so often she still found a plant in the backyard. “This was where most parties began.” She swept her hand out and tried to imagine the room full of men in suits and the women in dresses. All of them knowing that the wives were at home with the kids—and no doubt the wives knew where their husbands were too. From what she knew, Gran had been the house matron—too old to be a mistress and too in need of the money to turn her nose up at the source.
Lydia was pretty sure Gran would have sold her soul to keep Callaway House in the family. The thought made Lydia queasy. She didn’t know what she was going to do, or even if it was possible to hold on to the house. Over two hundred years of family history gone because she couldn’t afford the repairs. At least if she sold, someone would refurbish and Callaway House would go on. Maybe it would even become a tourist attraction like some of the other old places—because Charleston needed another historic house open for viewing. Or a scenic wedding location; Gran had tried that in the eighties but then decided it wasn’t worth the hassle or insurance costs. Or perhaps someone would try to market it as a haunted bed and breakfast. She wouldn’t mention the ghost to Caspian. Not yet anyway.
She walked through the parlor. The doors on the other side opened up onto the patio and backyard. In summer, the old parties used to spill outside and people would disappear into private corners of the yard. But as the years went on, men tired of their mistresses or they no longer could afford to keep them, and most of the women left. A couple had stayed on because they’d had nowhere else to go. One had been the nanny and housekeeper for years until she’d married. Her husband never suspected she’d once been the mistress of a criminal lawyer. But even that was decades ago now.
Caspian stopped in the middle of the room and looked around, turning slowly as if taking in all the details. To her everything looked dusty and neglected. Gran had let things slide as she’d gotten older, but to Lydia it was still the house she’d grown up in, a place where anything had seemed possible. What did he see?