Yeats entered the lobby cursing her new stilettos. Sure, they were sexy as hell
and made her legs look a mile long but they were terrible for, say, walking. It had been a mistake to
wear them, but they’d sat at the back of her closet for weeks and she’d grabbed
them in a moment of uncharacteristic boldness brought on by the perfect spring day.
receptionist at Julien D’Aurant Public Relations, gave a low whistle as Caro
strutted past her desk. The strutting wasn’t deliberate; it was impossible to
walk any other way in the damn shoes. “What’s the occasion? Hot date tonight?
It’s sure not for any of us here.”
true,” Caro said. “I wore my mouthwatering baggy jeans and stained sweatshirt
ensemble to impress you last week.”
winced. “Forgot about that. Anyway, you clean up nice. The boss will be
rolled her eyes. Julien D’Aurant was so stereotypically French that she suspected
it had to be an act. “Why do you not dress plus comme une femme?” was a question
she’d had to dodge on multiple occasions. Her usual wardrobe of jeans and ballet
flats seemed to cause him real anguish.
of the devil,” Estelle muttered.
strolled into the lobby, his crisp, pressed, blue button-down tucked into his perfectly
creased gray dress pants. The caramel-brown belt was the exact shade of his casual
summer loafers, which he naturally wore without socks. In his hand—Estelle had told
Caro that he went for weekly manicures and she’d never been able to look at his
buffed and shiny nails again—he held his phone, regarding it as warily as he would
a snake coiled to strike.
glanced up, then back at the phone. After a moment, his head flew up in such a
comical double take that Estelle burst out laughing and Caro felt a bit insulted.
ange. This is what I mean by dressing like a woman.” He strode over and grasped
Caro by the shoulders, giving her a lingering kiss on both cheeks before
stepping back and looking her over in admiration. “Quelle différence. Dress
like this every day. You must.” His expensive Hermès cologne wafted over her.
it was nice to have her efforts appreciated, Caro suddenly had the impression
that her black pencil skirt was a little too tight and definitely too short. Time
to deflect his attention. “Good morning, Julien. What were you frowning about?”
Yes, that.” He waved the phone at her. “Emergency meeting in the boardroom in
an hour. New client.”
She didn’t particularly care, but knew enough to feign enthusiasm once in a
while. Or at least interest.
phone rang out with the opening bars of Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You.”
Instead of answering, Julien pointed a single, pampered finger at her before
murmuring “Allô?” and breaking into rapid French.
raised an eyebrow and looked over at Estelle, who shrugged and shook her short,
black, Louise Brooks bob into place. Caro caught a quick glimpse of Estelle’s wickedly
pointed fangs. How the vampire avoided slicing up her own lip was something Caro
always wondered but was afraid to ask. Friendly as she was, Estelle could bring
on the predator when she wanted. She called it her resting-death bitch face and
Caro had seen it reduce grown men to inarticulate lumps.
Caro first started working at JDPR, she’d been surprised that a vampire could be out during the
day—Estelle was the first one she’d ever met. Estelle had laughed and said
silly rumors made for amazing camouflage. “You can see us in mirrors and I put
garlic in everything,” she had said. “We’re like humans. Except for being
almost immortal and drinking blood. Minor differences.”
Estelle said, “It’s a masquerada. That’s all I know.” “Masquerada?” A
fine tension weighed
down Caro’s shoulders— her
usual reaction to masquerada, the powerful shapeshifters who took on human
don’t usually get many but why are you complaining? You were the one who pulled
the ghoul client last month. This should be a cakewalk.” Caro could not deny the
sewer-dwelling ghoul had been a nasty piece of work. The office had to be professionally
cleaned after his visit to dispose of the residue he’d left behind, and the meeting
room had both looked and smelled
like a post-plague charnel house.
shuddered and slowly teetered her way to her office, where she kicked
off the shoes with a sigh of relief. Taking one poor foot in her hand, she
gently rubbed the feeling back into her toes as she waited for her computer to
light-brown ring showed where her coffee cup should be—and wasn’t. One of the misfortunes
of working for a fey man was that items constantly went missing. Apparently
minor theft was a fey thing. Last week Julien had pilfered her lipstick. When she
first started, Caro had thought he did it as some sort of hazing prank, a test
for how much the newbie could take. Now, many discussions with Estelle later,
she realized that Julien often didn’t even notice his thieving.
for the first time, she wondered if she’d made the right decision by taking this
The supernatural arcane world was one that she had avoided for years. Now she
had deliberately placed herself in the direct heart of it. Inside the drawer of
her minimalist white acrylic desk lay evidence of her past life—a battered envelope
containing a single Washington Post newspaper clipping, the pages still crisp. Lynn
Butler’s first A1, over-the- fold story was an exclusive scoop tracing criminal
kingpin Franz Iverson to a string of illegal activities that reached right to the
Mayor’s Office and even
to the Senate.
time she looked at it, she felt a thrill that was immediately followed by deep
aches in the year-old scars that traced pale, jagged paths along her abdomen,
chest and back. The doctor had said the pain might never completely subside. It
was a miracle she wasn’t dead from the attack, he’d added. “I don’t understand
how you didn’t bleed out from those wounds. You’re one lucky woman.”
rubbed her stomach with a shaking hand. The police had never caught the men who
left her for dead and she didn’t expect them to. There was no need. She knew
exactly who had ordered the hit.
even incarceration had limited Franz Iverson’s reach, or his
need for revenge.
knife thrusts had ended her career in journalism and her life as Lynn Butler.
When she finally got enough courage to walk back into the Post’s newsroom after
her recovery, she barely managed to smile through her colleagues’ standing ovation
before limping to the bathroom and collapsing in a shaking heap. The thought of
writing another story made her hands shake uncontrollably and she had known, suddenly
and without a doubt, that the life she loved as a reporter was done.
had been a year ago. The sea of multi-colored project folders that sat in neat layers
on her desk made a knot twist in her stomach. Caro twirled her chair away to cast
her eyes over the gray accent wall in her office. A single print hung there, a
huge close-up of Banksy’s iconic protestor throwing his bouquet. Trendy and
ironic, exactly the image that Julien worked hard to maintain in an industry where
perception was everything. Caro rubbed her eyes. The job at JDPR was as far away
from investigative reporting as she could get while still staying, however
peripherally, in media. She’d left Washington in a panic to create a new life
for herself in Toronto at JDPR. She was lucky the city was big enough to hide
under a new name and new job, but with neighborhoods that gave her the homey
feel she craved. It had turned out as best it could, but sometimes she regretted
the move from hack to flack so much she felt numb.
this, she told herself sternly. Enough. You’re alive, you’re working. Just because
you’re not a reporter, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad life. It’s different. You chose
different, remember? It’s what you wanted. It’s what you needed. JDPR was definitely
not a typical PR agency. It represented only arcane clients. Humans who stumbled
across it were given such an outlandish rate list and cold welcome from Estelle
that they didn’t return.
For the most part, the company dealt in the delicate
art of keeping humans unaware of the fantastic beings who shared the world with
them. Most arcana could either pass as human, pass as odd humans, or lived as isolated
as possible from populated areas. Regardless, there were enough incidents to make
interesting days. She was grateful for that busyness at least.
tapped her fingers on the table. Julien had made it clear that she had gotten
the job at JDPR because she was part masquerada, although a latent and an extraordinarily
and determinedly ignorant one at that. Before her death, her mother had tried
to train Caro in the basics of taking on a masque, but Caro had stubbornly opposed
any arcane education. Nor was there anybody else to learn from, even if she
changed her mind.
Besides her mother, she’d never knowingly met another masquerada
and she often wondered if this avoidance was as deliberate on their side as it was
on hers. Her mother had made it crystal clear that being a half-blood was
nothing to be proud about, so she wasn’t surprised if none of them wanted to make
themselves known to a pariah. One of the things Caro did know about masquerada culture
was that it was unusually hierarchical and status-driven, like some
time-traveling medieval court.
that any of this mattered to Caro, who had always despised the fundamental
trickiness of masquerada and had done her best to ignore that entire part of her
heritage. Her mother had changed masques the same way other women changed
clothes. As a child Caro would often kiss one woman good night and wake to an
unfamiliar one in the morning. It was years before Caro even knew what her mother
truly looked like and that was
only because she had found an old photo in a shoebox.
her?” Her mother had shrugged dismissively when Caro showed her the photo of the
dark-haired, dark-eyed woman who looked like Caro herself. “That’s my natural self.
A bit of a wet blanket. I much prefer this one.” At the time she was a curvy
platinum blonde with Asian eyes and features, and so stunning that people
stopped on the street to watch her walk by.
you at least look like this when you’re with me?” Caro had asked, shaking the photo.
She’d been nine or ten. Her mother had glanced at Caro’s reflection in the
mirror with an unreadable expression, mascara wand steady in her hand.
was the day Caro decided she would never take on a masque. She would never give
in to that pathological need to be someone else—she was going to be good enough
as she was.
Caro’s boo-hoo, sad-face childhood issues turned out to be an advantage in her new
job. Although she’d rejected her arcane heritage, it meant JDPR’s clients would
trust her, Julien had explained when he’d hired her. “You have an insider’s knowledge
of the human world, without the taint of humanity,” he had said. “Our clients
don’t trust humans. Et bien sûr, protecting our clients’ confidentiality and interests
requires more layered complexity than it does for humans working with some
vulgar reality star from Atlantic City.”
had nodded, but wondered how on earth it was possible to keep decrepit ghouls and
pale creatures with fangs hidden from the public eye. Julien had stressed that upholding
the Law—the ancient agreement made by all arcana to stay secret from
humanity—was their primary task, but surely at least one damning image would go
viral. Then one did and Caro watched as it was ripped apart, ridiculed as fake,
and sent to join the ranks of fringe theories about the Bermuda Triangle and the
Illuminati. It wasn’t that hard to keep the arcane world a secret after all,
Caro reflected. What normal person would admit to believing it?