Was she dead?
She felt like a ghost, untethered and insubstantial.
Was she floating?
Everything around her seemed blurred, faded, and unimportant. Maybe she was blurred, faded, and unimportant while the world moved around her full of color she couldn’t see, sound she couldn’t hear.
If so, death was the same as life. What difference did it make, really? Unless … unless. Could death be a kind of freedom?
But freedom from what?
Something, something scraped like tiny fingernails on the edges of her mind—a need to run, to hide. But why? Why?
What was the point of it all? What would death need to hide from? The dead could sleep, couldn’t they? Just sleep, sleep, sleep.
And yet, she felt as if she’d just woken, still groggy and vague.
She wandered. Puzzled, yes, but detached, and wondering if she’d reached heaven or hell. There was something oddly familiar about the faded colors and blurry shapes here. Colors suddenly so strong they hurt her eyes, shapes so sharp they might slice and gash.
Then they faded and blurred again, and there was comfort in that. Odd, quiet comfort.
But … she caught a scent, yes, yes, the rich and funereal scent of lilies. Blood. Lilies and blood, surely that meant death.
She should just lie down, lie down and sleep. Lie down and just go away. Surely someone would come tell her where to go next, what to do next. An angel. Or a devil.
Because the idea of either—the image that flashed in her mind that was somehow both—made her shudder, she didn’t lie down. Could the dead fear?
She paused when she came to a door, stared at it. Out or in? In or out? Did it matter?
She saw a hand reach for the knob. Was it her hand? Something was wrong with it. Blood and lilies. Something was wrong with the knob. It moved, sneaking just out of reach, right, left, up, down.
A kind of game, she thought, smiling a little. She would play.
The hand reached for the knob, drew back. Reached again, swept right, then left. Then closed around the sneaky knob. So she laughed in a sound that was thin and tinny and very, very far away.
In or out, out or in.
The door opened; she walked through.
Bright and dark was the world of the dead. Surrendering, she walked into it.
* * *
All Eve wanted in the world of things to want was to get out of the excuse for a dress and the ankle-breaking heels she was wearing. She’d done her duty after all, and considered she’d earned a big red check mark on the plus side of the Marriage Rules column by decking herself out and painting herself up for an evening of playing wife of the business god.
Who’d invented the charity winter ball anyway? she wondered. Sane people wanted to stay home in warm, comfortable clothes when February reared its ugly frozen head. Even the not-so-sane were mostly huddled up somewhere at damn near two in the morning on a bitter night, which was why she’d had no excuse not to do her marital duty.
Maybe 2061 had started off with a bang—nearly literally—in the professional sense, and murder and mayhem had followed.
But murder had taken a breather, which had provided time and space for a really nice three days of hot beaches and hotter sex on Roarke’s private island. And if that had to be followed up with a fancy ball with fancy clothes, well, it was checked off now.
But come Monday, she’d be back in the saddle, wearing boots and sensible clothes. Carrying badge and sidearm.
Not that she didn’t have the badge and weapon with her—stuffed into the silly, sparkly purse. Lieutenant Eve Dallas always had her badge and weapon.
At last she slid into the car—already cozily warm—and considered the elegant East Side hotel, its obsessively winter ballroom decor, and the crowd inside, all happily in the rear view.
Roarke leaned over, took her chin in his hand, brushing his thumb over the shallow dent as he kissed her. “Thank you.”
Here she was, Eve thought, looking into the wild blue eyes of a man conjured by the gods on a particularly generous day, and she’d mostly griped internally for the bulk of the evening.
That, she decided, violated the spirit, if not the letter, of those Marriage Rules.
“It was okay.”
He laughed, kissed her again before he slid away from the curb. “You hated nine out of every ten minutes in there.”
Humor and echoes of Ireland wound through his voice, the perfect accompaniment to that gorgeous face framed by a mane of black hair.
The gods, she decided, had opted to mix together all the best elements of warrior, poet, angel—the fallen variety to add some spice—and then deemed he’d love an unsociable, badass murder cop.
“Maybe seven and a half out of every ten. It was nice seeing Charles and Louise and the Miras. I was okay, right?”
“Flawless my ass.” She snorted that away. “Maybe you didn’t hear me tell that woman with the hair like a tower of whipped cream”—Eve demonstrated by swirling a finger over her own short, choppy brown hair—“that no, I didn’t want to chair her committee for reintegrating rehabilitated offenders into society because I was too busy tossing offenders in prison.”
“I heard you, and was grateful, when she went on to explain to you how the police were far too focused on punishment rather than reintegration, that you refrained from punching her.”
“Thought about it. You can bet your fine ass that if one of her ROs—as she called them—walked up, conked her on her whipped-cream head, and ran off with the glitters she was dripping in, she wouldn’t be lecturing me about how the law needs heart and compassion and forgiveness.”