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Meredith Gentry Series #6
A Lick of Frost

by Laurell K. Hamilton


p.1 I was sitting in an elegant conference room at the top of one of the gleaming towers that make up part of downtown Los Angeles. The room’s far wall was almost entirely of glass, so that the view was nearly agoraphobic. They’re predicting that if the big one--the big earthquake that is--hits, this section of L.A. will be eight to fifteen feet deep in glass. Anything on the streets below will be cut to pieces, crushed, or trapped underneath an avalanche of glass. Not a pretty thought, but it was a day for ugly thoughts.

p.3 I looked behind me to Doyle and Frost. They stood behind me like darkness and snow made real, and that wasn’t far from the truth. Doyle had black hair, black skin, a black designer suit; even his tie was black. Only the shirt was a rich royal blue, and that had been a sop to our lawyer. He thought black gave the wrong impression, made him seem threatening. Doyle, whose nickname was Darkness, had said, “I am the captain of the princess’s guard. I am supposed to seem threatening.” The lawyers hadn’t known what to say to that, but Doyle had worn the blue shirt. The color almost glowed against the rich, perfect black of his skin, which was so black there were purple and blue highlights to his body in the right light. His black eyes were hidden behind wraparound black-on-black sunglasses.
     Frost’s skin was as white as Doyle’s was black. As white as my own. But his--hair was uniquely his own, silver, like metal beaten into hair. It gleamed in the tasteful lighting of the conference room. Gleamed like something you could have melted down and made into jewelry. He had tied the top layer of it back with a barrette that was silver, and older than the city of Los Angeles itself. The dove-gray suit was Ferragamo, and the white of his shirt was less white than his own skin. The tie was darker than the suit, but not by much. The soft gray of his eyes was bare the to the room as he scanned the windows. Doyle was doing it, too, behind his glasses. I had bodyguards for a reason, and some who wanted me dead could fly.

p.4 The men across the table gave the guards the glances men give when they see another man whom they are almost certain could take them physically without breaking a sweat.

p.15 We stood in silence, the humans’ awkward body language and facial expressions saying that they were terribly uncomfortable with the display of mad emotion. It was a type of madness, but the three of us sidhe had seen worse. We’d seen madness that had magic to it. The kind of magic that could steal the breath from your body on a laughing whim.

p.16-17 “I would advise the doctor to have a licensed practitioner of the arts look at the watch before you simply remove it.”
     “Why?”
     “He’s worn that watch for years. It may have become part of his psyche, his mind. To simply remove it could do more harm.”
     Biggs reached for a phone.
     “Why didn’t you say something before he was led away?” Shelby asked.
     “I only now thought of it,” I said.
     “I thought of it before they left,” Doyle said.
     “Why didn’t you speak up?” Cortez asked.
     “It is not my job to protect the ambassador.”
     “It’s everyone’s job to help another human in such a state,” Shelby said, then he looked surprised, as if he’d just heard what he’d said.
     Doyle gave the smallest curl of lips. “But I am not human, and I think the ambassador is weak and without honor. Queen Andais has lodged several complaints with your government about the ambassador. She has been ignored. But even she could not have foreseen such treachery as this.”
     “Treachery of our government against yours?” Veducci asked.
     “No, King Taranis’s treachery against someone who trusted him. The ambassador saw that watch as a mark of high favor, when in fact it was a trap and a lie.”
     “You disapprove,” Nelson said.
     “Do you not also disapprove?” Doyle asked.

p.39-40 “If I find out that your clients did what they are accused of, I will do my best to punish them to the greatest extent that the law allows, but if the charges turn out to be false, and the king has tried to use the law to harm the innocent, I’ll do my best to remind the king that in this country no one is supposed to be above the law.” Veducci smiled again, but this time it wasn’t a happy smile. It was more predatory. That smile was enough; I knew who I feared the most on the other side of the table. Veducci wasn’t as ambitious as Shelby and Cortez, but he was better. He actually still believed in the law. He actually still believed that the innocent should be spard, and the guilty punished. You didn’t often see such pure faith in lawyers who had spent more than twenty years on the bar. They had to give up their belief in the law to survive as a lawyer. But somehow, Veducci had held on. He believe me, and maybe, just maybe, he was beginning to believe us.

p.41 We had adjourned to a different room. The room was smaller than the conference rooms, but then so were some single-family homes.

p.64 “Meredith,” Taranis said, “how can you insult me like this? These man attacked a lady of my court, savaged her. Yet you stand there with them...touching you, as if they are your court favorites.”
     “But Uncle, they are some of my court favorites.”
     “Meredith,” he said, and he sounded shocked, like an elderly relative who just heard you say “fuck” for the first time.

p.85 “We are all people of the Goddess, Uncle,” I said.
     “The Unseelie are the dark god’s children.”
     “There is no dark god among us,” I said. “We are not Christians to people our underworld with terrors. We are children of the earth and sky. We are nature itself. There is no evil in us, only differences.”
     “They have filled your head with lies,” he said.
     “Truth is truth, whether in sunlight or darkest night. You cannot deny the truth forever, Uncle.”

p.108 “The nice young woman who fixed up my arm says I have to ride with them to the hospital,” Biggs said. “My assistant will take you to a room where you can rest and gather yourselves before you have to leave.”
     “Thank you, Mr. Biggs,” I said. “I am sorry that the hospitality of faerie was not up to its usual standards.”
     He laughed. “That is the most polite way I have ever heard anyone apologize for such a fucking mess.”

p.112-113 Abe was on his stomach, trying to talk to all the pretty nurses. He was in pain, but he was still who and what he’d always been. He had once been the god Accasbel, the physical embodiment of the cup of intoxication. It could make you a queen. It could inspire poetry, bravery, or madness. So the legends said. he’d opened the first pub in Ireland, and was the original party boy. If he hadn’t been wincing every so often, I might have said he was having a good time. Instead, he might just be putting on a brave face. Or he might be enjoying the attention. I still didn’t understand Abe well enough to guess.

p.142 “Tell me first if Hugh gave reasons for his change of heart.”
     “He spoke of swans with golden chains, and there is a green faerie dog in the Seelie Court once more,” Frost said.
     “My mother tells me the Cu Sith had stopped the king from beating a servant,” Usna said.
     “Apparently, some of the nobles have taken the dog’s disfavor as a sign against Taranis,” Doyle said.
     “Also, he went buggers, mad as a March fucking hare,” Abe said.
     “Well, there is that,” Doyle said.

p.145 Aisling looked at Doyle for a long moment. “That was a very decent thing for you to do, Doyle.”
     “You sound surprised,” I said.
     He looked at me. “Doyle has been the queen’s Darkness for a very long time, Princess. I am beginning to realize that some of his finer emotions may have been buried under the queen’s orders.”
     “That is the most polite way I’ve ever heard anyone say that we thought you were a heartless bastard, Doyle,” Abe said.
     Aisling’s eyes crinkled at the edges. I think he was smiling. “I would not have put it quite that way.”
     Doyle smiled. “I think many of us will find that under the princess’s care we are more ourselves than we have been in a very long time.”
     They all looked at me, and the weight of that look made me want to squirm. I fought it off and sat there trying to be the princess they thought I was. But there were moments, like now, when I felt that I could not possibly be everything they needed. No one could meet so many needs.

p.167-168 “But first I will take out my anger and frustration at your Crystall. Know that every cut is a cut I would make on your lily-white skin if I didn’t need your body whole.” She crawled onto the bed and reached for Crystall. A knife had appeared in her hand, either by magic or it had been tucked into the sheets.
     Frost got to the mirror fist and cleared it with a touch. We were left staring at our own images. My eyes were a little too wide, my skin pale.
     “Crap,” Rhys said.
     That about summed it up.

p.192-193 “Where did you put your gun?” Frost asked.
     “It’s in the drawer of the bedside table.”
     “You took it off as soon as you entered this room, didn’t you?”
     “Yes,” I said.
     He went to the closet and hung the jacket on a hanger. he started unbuttoning his shirt with his back still to me. “I do not understand why you would do that.”
     “One, a gun is not truly comfortable. Two, if I had needed my gun in this bedroom, it would mean that all of you were dead. If that happened, Frost, one gun in my hands would not save me.”

p.202 He came to his knees and put his hands on my arms, and stared down into my face. “I will love you always. When this hair is white, I will still love you. When the smooth softness of youth is replaced by the delicate softness of age, I will still want to touch your skin. When your face is full of the lines of every smile you have ever smiled, of every surprise I have seen flash through your eyes, when every ear you have ever cried has left its mark upon your face, I will treasure you all the more, because I was there to see it all. I will share your life with you, Meredith, and I will love you until the last breath leaves your body or mine.”
     He leaned down and kissed me, and this time I kissed him back. This time I melted into his arms, his body, because I could do nothing else.

p.223-224 “Kitto,” I said, and he looked at me. “Do you feel you have no choice when I ask you to do something?”
     “What you ask of me is pleasant. You are the best master I have ever had.”
     It wasn’t quite the answer I’d wanted. I looked at Rhys, trying to convey with my eyes “help me figure out how to ask this question.”
     Rhys answered it himself. “You aren’t going to break a lifetime of habit with a few months of safety, Merry.”
     He was right, but I didn’t like the fact that Kitto felt that he had little choice in his new life. “You are sidhe, Kitto,” I said.
     “But I am also goblin,” he said, as if that settled it. Maybe it did.
     “Why would you volunteer to be with Merry tonight with Ash and Holly?”
     “No one else here truly understands what they are capable of. I must be there to see that if harm happens it is not Merry that it happens to.”
     “You mean you’ll take the abuse so she doesn’t have to,” Rhys said.
     Kitto nodded.
     I sat up and hugged him. “I don’t want you to be hurt either.”
     He leaned into the hug. “And that is why I would take the hurt willingly.”

p.227-229 “You’re not paying attention,” Rhys said.
     I blinked up at him where he lay beside me. I must have looked surprised, because he laughed. “Your body was enjoying being touched, but your mind was a thousand miles from this bed.” The humor faded. “Has it happened already? Do Doyle and Frost get all of you now?”
     It took me a moment to understand what he meant. “No, it’s not like that.”
     “She’s thinking of politics and power,” Kitto said from where his head lay on my hip and thigh.
     Rhys looked at the other man. “In the middle of foreplay she’s thinking about politics? Oh, that’s even worse.”
     “She often touches me and thinks at the same time. It seems to clear her mind.”
     Rhys looked down at me from where he was propped up on his elbow. “Did all of that touching simply clear your head?”
     It was an insult to not have been paying attention. “I was enjoying it, Rhys, honestly. But my mind is racing a thousand miles an hour. I can’t seem to make it still.” I looked down my body to Kitto. Do I truly use you simply to clear my mind?”
     “I cannot be king for you, we all know that. I am content to have a place in your life, Merry. I wait upon you, and do tasks that most of your noble-born lords deem beneath them. I can be your lady-in-waiting, and no one else could do that for you.”
     “We have several sidhe women now,” Rhys said. “If Merry wanted more ladies-in-waiting, she could have them.”
     “We do not trust them alone with our princess after only a few weeks out of Cel’s service,” Kitto said.
     Rhys’s face darkened. “No, we don’t. Not yet.”
     “I love that no one can do these things for Merry but me,” Kitto said.
     I stroked his curls. “Really?” I asked.
     He smiled at me and it filled his eyes with something more than just happiness. He had a place in my life. He belonged. It is not merely happiness we all seek. We seek some place where we belong. For the lucky few, we find it in childhood with our own families. But for most of us we spend our adult lives seeking that place or person or organization that makes us feel that we are important, that we matter, and that without us something would go undone and undoable. We all need to feel that we are irreplaceable.
     “You do not touch anyone else but me to simply clear your head. You come to my room when you need to hide from the demands that the others put upon you. You come to me when you want to think. You touch me. I touch you. Sometimes there is sex, but often there is just the holding. He snuggled his cheek against my thigh. “No one has ever held me for comfort before. I find that I like it, very much.”

p.246 He finally rolled off, slowly. I lay where I was, too limp to move yet. He lay on his back, still breathing heavily. He spoke, in a voice still harsh from exertion. “The way you react to roughness urges a man on, Merry, even when I didn’t think I’d like it.”
     “You were amazing,” I whispered, my own voice a little rough from the screaming.
     He smiled at me. “You really don’t have any idea how good you are at this, do you?”
     “I’m good, or so I’m told.”
     He shook his head. “No, Merry, no joke, you are amazing in bed, and on the floor, and on a sturdy table.”
     I laughed.

p.248 The constitution of our country says that all men are created equal, but it’s a lie. I’ll never be able to make a jump shot like Magic Johnson, or drive a car like Mario Andretti, or paint like Picasso. We are not created equal in talent. But the place where we are the least equal is the heart. You can work at a talent, take lessons, but love, love either works or it doesn’t. You love someone or you don’t. You can’t change it. You can’t undo it.

p.248-249 I was a faerie princess, but there were no faerie godmothers. There were only mothers and grandmothers, and there was no magic wand to wave over a person’s heart and make it better. The fairy tales lied. Rhys new that. I knew that. The man who was breathing at my back as he began to fall deeper into sleep knew that.
     Fucking Brothers Grimm.

p.268 The world exploded, if you could call light, color, music, and the perfume of flowers an explosion. I had no other word for what happened. It was like standing at ground zero on the first day that life walked on the planet, but it was also like standing in the most beautiful meadow in the world on a lovely spring day with the gentlest of breezes blowing. It was a perfect moment, and a moment of incredible violence, as if we were all gently torn apart and put together again in the blink of an eye.

p.294 He stopped, frowning again. He looked like he was thinking and it hurt. He wasn’t a stupid man. I think it was just another symptom of his madness.