Brimstone Kiss (Delilah Street #2)

Chapter 18

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Seeing the Enchanted Cottage again when I drove home that morning reminded me of the scarred film couple who had fallen in love under the place's spell in the film named for it.

Scars were just that: evidence of past pain. They had no power to hurt again, unless we let them. Although it pained me that Ric had been brutalized as a child and still felt enough shame to hide the traces, he was healthy, well-adjusted, successful and more concerned about my past traumas than his own.

I wondered if we could really root out the truth about my phobias if we went back to Kansas. There was a lot more truth to root out here first.

Now I settled into every-day tasks. Quicksilver greeted me at the door with fevered licks at my face.

"Yes, a walk. A run, rather. Just let me change."

I freshened his water and food bowls and ran upstairs to change into terrycloth shorts and jogging top. I knew I'd need another shower when we came back and grabbed a protein bar on our way out the door.

Sunset Park 's red-dirt paths attracted joggers because of the trees. The ducks were quacking around the lake, the sun was still bearable and I felt almost as strong and sleek as Quicksilver. Even Kon Tiki, my name for the lone, Easter Island stone head on the little artificial lake's sad excuse for an island, seemed to wink at me as we raced past.

Once back at the cottage, I resolved to stop dwelling on personal discoveries for a while and concentrate on what I didn't know, and needed to, here in post-Millennium Revelation Las Vegas, where so little was what it seemed.

I felt a rising dissatisfaction with my opposite number, Lilith. Glimpsing her a couple days ago in my mirror, pert and sassy, had sharpened my fears that she was indeed dead. If so, my quest to find her. my main reason for being here in Las Vegas, was pointless.

Was my theory that I only glimpsed the dead in mirrors right?

Achilles was still a no-show there, but he was just a dog. He meant much more that that to me, of course, but maybe in the world of immortals dead dogs are only glimpsed crossing the Rainbow Bridge to disappear thereafter into a vague hereafter.

I was having trouble with the Vague Hereafter and maybe I should start dealing with it right here and now.

I showered and changed into jeans and T-shirt for the day and then went into the hall.

The mirror was tall and narrow with an elaborately carved wooden frame.

This narrow hallway kept the light to a minimum. Shadow was the mirror's natural environment.

I traced the carvings with my hands, realizing close up that it was a frame of demonic and gargoyle faces, some human, some beastly, some horned and barbed. It seemed the glaring eyes and open maws I traced yearned to trap my fingertips in their shallow three-dimensional surface of carved and polished wood.

I was glad I hadn't fetched a flashlight. Light would only emphasize the shadow creatures I sensed framing the mirror.

The mirror itself was cool and glassy. My fingertips skated over its even surface, finding only their own reflection. I did rather fear finding the Wicked Queen in it. After all, I was a latter-day Snow White, pale of skin, dark of hair.

I laid my cheek against it and saw a shadowed swath of nose and chin. Mine.

And my reflection was oddly immediate. I pulled away and flared my fingertips on the surface again, making pale spider legs. Yes, this mirror used front-surface glass too, which would be very odd for a literal fairy tale artifact.

Madrigal was right. Reflections without the sixteenth-inch of intervention of glass necessary with most mirrors felt different. For me, a silver medium, the effect joined reality with something usually unseen but deeply real.

"Lilith," I called softly. "Are you still there? I'm coming through."

I heard an echoing giggle. But that could have been vagrant pixies watching me from the mirror-frame shadows. Pixies had a rep as secretive, malicious little beings. The equivalent of magical dust mites, they were present everywhere, sucking up the detritus of our unknowing human lives.

Or did Lilith stand just out of sight and giggle at my struggles to find her? What was "just out of sight" in a mirror?

I pushed my face and body close to the blue-tinged glass. Blue like a pale topaz. I thought of Ric and made love to the mirror, opened myself to it, something I couldn't have done, or imagined doing before. I was not group home Delilah or Kansas Delilah any more. I felt more deeply, wished harder, needed more, wanted more.

I wanted inside this mirror.

So did my silver familiar. It stirred around my wrist, its usual sleeping location, and split into five cold, flowing beads as liquid as mercury. In an instant, my thumb and four fingers were ringed in silver at every joint.

I could feel my heart beating frantically as I pressed my icy, be-ringed right hand hard against unforgiving glass. My breath seemed to fog the surface with frost-white. Snow-white…

Oh, my God, did Snow himself have some key meaning for me, my life? Why hadn't I linked the nickname's significance to me and my fairy tale coloring before-?

The mirror's surface was milking over, growing opaque. Nothing was clear as I forced myself-my body, mind, spirit, will-into nothing.

For an instant I was sheathed in ice, in cold so stunning it froze my blood, thought, senses. And then… I was in a dark hall again, only it stretched as far as the frozen eye could see.

I shook myself free of the closed coldness of fear, remembered the warmth of openness, of trust, or maybe faith. I literally shook myself. And felt my mortal form reassemble, take shape and heart.

I'd been there. Now I was Here. Just what I wanted.

I walked forward, into the long dark.

Not a wizard or a psychic or a magician, I soon realized this world inside the mirror would show me what it wanted to, when it wanted to.

I moved on, feeling my arms, my thighs moving as if I was strolling in Sunset Park.

I was solid, I was mortal.

That might be a big disadvantage here, because I was also unarmed except for my uncontrollable silver familiar.

Whoosh!

Young Miss Cicereau swept into place straight ahead, right where I was walking. Into my path. I glimpsed a shadow of the Easter Island head on the island in Sunset Park. It had witnessed Rick and me finding her body there…

Here she was a tender 1940s teenager in a velvet and taffeta blue gown.

"You look so familiar now," she said, surprised. Apparently she had forgotten our earlier linkage in the mirror. Was time all helter skelter in Mirrorland? I couldn't assume it mirrored my world in any way. "You look like my daddy's girlfriend, Vida."

Her casual reference shocked me speechless.

Vida!

I didn't want to be compared to the woman Howard Hughes had made into a vampire so she could turn him in turn. Double bastard! She'd been Cicereau's mistress thirty-some years before becoming Hughes's hot ticket to immortality.

While I mused on sexual and spiritual betrayals, the girl was drifting away from me into Mirrorland's vague shadows.

"Wait! I'm not Vida."

She paused. "Of course not. I know that. You seem so nice. Not from here. Las Vegas, that is. No one from here is very nice."

"It's a gambling capital built on sin, crime and sex."

"Yeah, sure. Does my dress look all right?" She turned, as if I were a mirror she consulted.

"Lovely. I'd adore having it myself."

Absolute truth. Until now, I'd never thought of my freaky mirror as a vintage shopping mall.

"Daddy complains it's too 'old' for me." She sighed. "They are awfully puzzling and, gosh, scary, aren't they?"

"Men?" I ventured.

"Parents. My father is so antique."

Little did she know. She was seventeen going on eighty.

"What about your…boyfriend?" Lover, I figured, was not a word virginal 1940s girls tossed around like toast. Or dice.

"Krzysztof? He's so dreamy."

Bingo! She gave me the first name. Just that simple. Ask the dead girlfriend straight out. Row, row, row your boat, life is but a dream. "Christophe." Very suspicious name.

I took a deep breath. Interrogating a corpse can be tricky.

"Where did you meet Christophe?"

"Oh, in the casino. Where else would I meet anyone? Daddy doesn't allow me anywhere dangerous. He keeps me inside his own little kingdom."

"What does he look like?"

"Daddy?"

"No. Your boyfriend."

"Golly, a real dreamboat! Tall, chiseled features-"

So far, so bad, so Snow.

"-blond hair, wind-gilded skin, perfect manners."

Nope. Just the usual bronze god still desired today.

"He's European?" I guessed.

"Umhmm. Polish. A prince. But he's traveling incognito. No one must know."

And they hadn't known. No one had a prayer of knowing for almost seventy years. A corpse buried in Sunset Park was gone for good… unless a man who can dowse for the dead came along ready to impress a woman, who didn't know she was a silver medium, with a dowsing demonstration… and bingo. The dead rise. And identify themselves at long last.

"That locket," I said. "It's so sweet. Something valuable Christophe gave you?"

She lifted it away from her breastbone to examine it fondly. "Only sterling silver, but it had been his mother's. She told him the right kind of silver was more valuable than gold."

I lifted my open palm and she crossed it with a warm silver heart that seemed to throb and burn against my skin. Something pure enough, perhaps, and strong enough to make memories as well as memorabilia.

I saw ghostly portraits in the empty double-heart-shaped interior. One was of a woman in a 1500s headpiece. His mother. The other was of young man with short hair, a blond mustache and goatee, wearing a single, small hoop earring. He could pass as a rock star or actor today, but in the 1940s he would have looked like an Errol Flynn swashbuckler wannabe. No wonder Cicereau's daughter had lost her girlish heart.

The name Krzysztof was engraved on one side, and Sophie on the other.

Aha! An eastern European spelling, not French. Still, vampires must have cousins somewhere.

Both mother and son had been vampires, I realized, as I watched the engraved heart-shaped trinket weep a discreet drop of blood, perhaps an illusion performed only for my eyes.

Two women had treasured the locket, Krzysztof's mother for centuries and Cicereau's daughter for only days or weeks, perhaps, as they had in their separate generations treasured the same young man. I closed the locket and gave it back to the girl.

Cicereau's daughter had faced a pre-ordained fate.

As for Lilith…

"Did you give him a token with your name on it?" I asked.

I needed to think of her as more than "Cicereau's daughter," his mere possession.

My question startled her. She froze like a woodland fawn.

"There was no time. There is never time enough. You'll learn that too."

The young woman hid the locket in her tight fingers and turned away, vanished.

I turned to retrace my steps in the void. Walking out of the mirror meant walking into a shiny black curtain. I was back in the hallway, cold and shivering, dizzy, unable to focus. The more time I did in Mirrorland, the more my body paid.

I was sad to leave my first mirror friend with no more intimate a name than my soubriquet from the old song. "Jeanie with the light brown hair."

Still, I had what I needed most, the bone boy's name. Krzysztof. Now I only needed to find out who he'd been and for how long.

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