NAOMI PHELPS DID MOST OF THE TALKING WHILE FRANCES SAT THERE AND shivered. Our secretary got her hot coffee and an afghan. Her hands shook so badly that she spilled coffee on the afghan, but she got some of it down. Whether it was the warmth or the caffeine, she looked a little better.
Jeremy had called Teresa in to listen to the women. Teresa was our resident psychic. She was two inches shy of six feet, slender, with high sculpted cheekbones, long silky black hair, skin the color of pale coffee. The first time I'd seen her, I'd known she had sidhe blood in her, along with African American, and something fey that hadn't been high court. The last was what gave her the slight points to the tops of her ears. A lot of faerie wanna-bes get cartilage implants to make their ears pointy. They grow their hair down to their ankles and try to pretend to be sidhe. But no pure-blooded sidhe has ever had pointed ears. It's a mark of mixed blood, less than pure. But some bits of folklore die harder than others. To a vast majority of people if you were truly sidhe, you had to have pointed ears.
Teresa had that same delicacy of bone that Naomi did, but I'd never been tempted to hold Teresa's hand. She was one of the most powerful touch clairvoyants that I'd ever met. I spent a goodly amount of energy making sure she didn't touch me for fear that she'd learn my secrets and endanger us all. She sat in a chair to one side, dark eyes watching the two women. She hadn't offered to shake their hands. In fact she'd walked wide around them so that she didn't accidentally touch either of them. Her face betrayed nothing, but she'd felt the spell, the danger, when she walked into the room.
"I don't know how many mistresses he's had," Naomi was saying, "a dozen, two dozen, hundreds." She shrugged. "All I know for sure is that I'm the latest in a long line of them."
"Mrs. Norton," Jeremy said.
Frances turned her eyes up to him, startled, as if she hadn't expected to be asked to contribute to the story.
"Do you have any proof of all these women?"
She swallowed, and said in a voice that was almost a whisper, "Polaroids, he keeps Polaroids." She stared down into her lap, murmuring, "He calls them his trophies."
I had to ask. "Did he show these pictures to you, or did you find them?"
She looked up, and her eyes were empty-no anger, no shame, empty. "He showed them to me. He likes ... he likes to tell me about what he's done with them. What each one is good at, better at than me."
I opened my mouth, closed it, because I couldn't think of a single helpful thing to say. I was outraged for her sake, but it was Francis Norton that needed to be angry on behalf of Francis Norton. My anger might help us solve the immediate problem, but it wouldn't make her strong again. If we could take the husband out of the picture, that wouldn't heal all the damage he'd done. There was a lot more wrong with Francis than just a spell.
Naomi touched her arm, comforting her. "That's how she met me. She saw my picture, and then we just ran into each other one day. I caught her staring at me in a restaurant. He had woken her when he got home and told her what he'd done to me." It was Naomi's turn to look down into her lap, her hands lying upright and empty against her legs. "I had bruises showing." She looked up, met my eyes. "Frances came over to my table. She rolled back her sleeve and showed me her bruises. Then she just said, 'I'm his wife.' And that was how we met." She gave a shy smile at the last, the sort of smile you give when you've explained how you met your lover. A tender story to be related to others.
I gave her blank eyes, but I wondered if the bond between them was more than just the abuse and the husband. If they were lovers, it could change how the healing was done. So often in mystical things the emotions have to be taken into account. Because love and hate have different energies, you work with them differently. We'd need to know exactly what the bond between the two women was before serious healing work was begun, but not today. Today we'd listen to what they wanted to tell us.
"That was very brave of you," Teresa said. Her voice, like everything about her, was somehow soft and feminine with an underlying strength, like steel covered by silk. I'd always thought Teresa, though she'd never traveled farther south than Mexico, would have made an excellent Southern belle.
Frances's eyes flicked to her, then back to her lap, then up, and her mouth moved. It was almost a smile. That one small movement made me feel better about the woman. If she could begin to smile, begin to take pride in what strength she'd shown, then maybe she would be all right with time.
Naomi squeezed her arm and gave her smile of pride and affection. Again, I got the impression that they were very close. "It was my salvation. From the moment that I met Frances, I started trying to break away from him. I don't know how I allowed him to hurt me. I'm not like that. I mean, I've never, ever let a man abuse me." Her face showed the shame she felt, as if she should have saved herself.
Frances put her hand over the other woman's hand, giving comfort as well as getting it.
Naomi smiled at her, then turned puzzled eyes to us. "He's like a drug. Once he's touched you, you crave his touch. Not just him either. It's like he wakens you sexually, until your body aches to be touched." She looked down again. "I've never been so sexually aware of other people. It was embarrassing, and exciting, at first. Then he started to hurt me. At first it was just little things, tying me up, then... spanking." She made herself look up, forced herself to meet our eyes. Such anger, as if defying us to think the worst of her. There was a great deal of strength here. How had this man tamed her? "He made the pain part of the pleasure, but then he started doing worse things. Things that just hurt. I tried to get him to stop the kinky stuff, and that's when he started beating me for real, no pretending that it was part of sex." Her mouth trembled, eyes still defiant. "But beating me did excite him. The fact that it didn't excite me, that it scared me, he liked that, too."
"Rape fantasies," I said.
She nodded, her eyes wide as she tried to keep the tears glistening in her eyes from falling. She held herself very still, trying to hold it all inside. "Not just fantasies at the end."
"He likes to take you by force." This from the wife.
I looked at both of them and fought the urge to shake my head. I'd spent the years from sixteen to thirty in the Unseelie Court, the years of my sexual awakening, so I knew about combining pleasure with pain. But the pain was shared, and it was never done against anyone's will. If the other person didn't think pain was pleasurable, it wasn't sex. It was torture. There is a vast difference between torture and a little hard sex. But for sexual sadists, there is no difference. In the extreme forms they are incapable of sex without the violence, or at least the terror of their victim. But most sadists are capable of more normal sex. They can use that to fool you, but in the end they can't keep up a normal relationship. In the end what they truly desire must come out, and they must have it.
How was I such an expert? Like I said, I spent my sexual awakening years at the Unseelie Court. Don't get me wrong. The Seelie Court has its own brand of unusual activities, but they do share the more mainstream human view of dominance and submission. The Unseelie Court is much more welcoming of such things or maybe just more open about it. It could also be that the Queen of Air and Darkness, my aunt, the overall ruler of the court for the last thousand years, give or a take a century, is very into dominance and borders on being a sexual sadist. She has shaped the court in her image, as my uncle, the King of Light and Illusion of the Seelie Court, has shaped his court in his image. Strangely, you can scheme and lie more easily in the Seelie Court. They're into illusion. If everything looks good on the outside, then it must be good. The Unseelie Court is more honest, most of the time.
Teresa said, "Naomi, was this your first abusive relationship?"
The woman nodded. "I still don't understand how I let it set so bad."
I looked at Teresa, and she gave a very small nod. It meant that she'd listened to the answer and that the woman was telling the truth. Like I said, Teresa is one of the most powerful psychics in the country. It's not just her hands you have to watch out for. Most of the time she can tell if you're lying or not. I've had to be very careful around her these three years we've worked together.
"How did you meet him?" I asked. I didn't use his name or say Mr. Norton because both women had been very careful to say only him or he, as if there was no other man, and you would know whom they were talking about. We did.
"I answered a personal ad."
"What did the ad say?" I asked.
She shrugged. "The usual stuff, except for the end. At the end of the ad it said he was looking for a magical relationship. I don't know what it was about the ad, but after I read it, I had to meet him."
"A compulsion spell," Jeremy said.
She looked at him. "What?"
"If you're powerful enough, you can put a spell on an ad so that the ad brings to you what you truly desire, not necessarily what the ad says you want. It's the way I ran the ad that Ms. Gentry answered. Only people with magical ability would have noticed the spell on the ad, and only people with exceptional gifts would have been able to see through to the true writing underneath. The true writing listed a different phone number than the ad. I knew that anyone who called that number was capable of the job."
"I didn't know you could do that with a newspaper," Naomi said. "I mean, it's printed, and he couldn't have touched every paper." Just by knowing that not touching the paper physically made the spell harder to cast meant Naomi knew more about magic theory than I thought she did. But she was right.
"You have to be powerful enough that the ad, the words that you read into it, carry the spell. It is very difficult, and that he was capable of it lets us know the kind of skill we'll be up against."
"So the ad called me to him?" she asked.
"Maybe not you specifically," Jeremy said, "but something about you was exactly what he wanted or needed."
"Most of the women look fey," Frances said.
We all looked at her. She blinked at us. "Pointed ears. One woman had these cat-green eyes that seemed to glow out of the picture. Skin colors that no human has, like green, blue. Three of them had more... parts than a human would have, but not like it was a deformity, like it was just part of the way they looked."
I was impressed. Impressed that she'd noticed and put it together in her head. If we could save her, get her away from him, she'd make it. "What did he say about Naomi?"
"That she was part sidhe. He really got off on that, if the women were part sidhe. He called them his royal whores."
"Why fey women?" Jeremy asked.
"He never said," Frances answered.
"I think it had something to do with the ritual," Naomi said.
We all turned to her. Jeremy and I asked in unison, "What ritual?"
"The first night he took me to the apartment he's rented. The bedroom has mirrored walls and this huge circular bed. The floor was this beautiful gleaming wood with a Persian carpet under the bed. Everything seemed to glow. When I climbed up on the bed, I felt something, like I'd walked through a ghost
. I didn't know what it was that first night, but one night I slipped on the rug, and underneath was a double circle set into the wood of the floor with symbols in a band around the circle. I realized the bed was the center of the circle. I didn't recognize the symbols, but I knew enough to know it was a circle of power, a place to work magic."
"Did he ever do anything in the bed that seemed like ritual magic?" I asked.
"Nothing that I recognized. We just had sex, lots of it."
"Was there anything that was the same every time?" Jeremy asked.
She shook her head. "No."
"Was the sex always in this apartment?" Jeremy asked.
"No, sometimes we met at a hotel."
That surprised me. "Is there anything he does in the apartment inside the circle that he doesn't do anywhere else?"
She blushed bright red. "It's the only place he brings other men."
"Other men to have sex with him?" I asked.
She shook her head. "No, with me." She looked up at us, as if waiting for the cry of horror, or maybe whore. Whatever she saw reassured her. We all knew how to give good blank face when we needed it. Besides, a little group sex seemed tame after knowing that he showed pictures of his lovers to his wife, with details. That was a new one. Group sex had been around a lot longer than Polaroids.
"Was it always the same men?" Jeremy asked.
She shook her head." No, but they knew each other. I mean, it wasn't like he brought in strangers off the street." She sounded defensive, as if that would have been so much worse, and it wasn't as bad as all that.
"Were there any repeats?" Jeremy asked.
"There were three men that I saw more than once."
"Do you know their names?"
"Just their first names. Liam, Donald, and Brendan."
She seemed very sure of the names. "How many times did you see these three men?"
She wouldn't meet our eyes." I don't know. Many times."
"Five times," Jeremy asked, "six, twenty-six?"
She looked up startled. "Not twenty times, not that many."
"Then how many?" he asked.
"Maybe eight, maybe ten, but no more than that." It seemed important to her that it hadn't been more than ten. Was that the magical cutoff? More than ten times and you were worse than just eight?
"And the group sex, how many times for that?"
She blushed again. "Why do you need to know?"
"You called it a ritual, not us," Jeremy said. "So far there doesn't seem much ritual to it, but numbers can have mystical significance. The number of men inside the circle. The number of times you were inside the circle with more than one man. Believe me, Ms. Phelps, this is not how I get my jollies."
She looked down again. "I didn't mean to imply..."
"Yes, you did," Jeremy said, "but I understand why you'd be suspicious of any male, human or not." I saw the idea float over his face. "Were all the men human?"
"Donald and Liam both had pointed ears, but other than that they all seemed human."
"Were Donald and Liam circumcised?" I asked.
Her voice came out in a hurried rush, color high in her cheeks again. "Why do you need to know that?"
"Because a real male fey would be hundreds of years old, and I've never heard of a Jewish fey, so if they were fey, they wouldn't be circumcised."
She met my eyes. "Oh," she said, then she thought about the original question. "Liam was, but Donald wasn't."
"What did Donald look like?"
"Tall, muscular, like a weight lifter, blond hair to his waist."
"Was he pretty?" I asked.
She had to think about that one, too. "Handsome, not pretty, handsome."
"What color were his eyes?"
"I don't remember."
If they'd been one of the more colorful shades of eyes that the fey are capable of, she'd have remembered. Except for the pointed ears he could have been any of a dozen men at the Seelie Court. There were only three blond men at the Unseelie Court, and none of my three uncles lifted weights. They had to be more careful of their hands than that for fear they'd rip the surgical gloves they always wore. The gloves kept the poison that their hands naturally produced from rubbing off on anyone else. They'd been born cursed.
"Would you recognize this Donald if you saw him again?"
"Was there anything the same about all the men?" Jeremy asked.
"They all had long hair like he has, shoulder-length or longer."
Long hair, possible cartilage implants in the ears, Celtic names- sounded like faerie wanna-bes to me. I'd never heard of a sex cult of faerie wanna-bes, but you should never underestimate people's ability to corrupt an ideal.
"Good, Ms. Phelps," Jeremy said. "How about tattoos, symbols written on their bodies, a piece of jewelry that they all wore?"
"No to all of it."
"Did you meet only at night?"
"No, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at night."
"No special time of the month, not close to a holiday?" Jeremy asked.
She frowned at him. "I've been seeing him only a little over two months. There haven't been any holidays, but no special time."
"Did you have sex with him or others a certain number of times a week?"
She had to think about that one, but finally shook her head. "It varied."
"Did they chant or sing?" Jeremy asked.
"No," she said.
It didn't sound like much of a ritual to me. "Why did you use the term ritual, Ms. Phelps? Why didn't you say spell?"
"I don't know."
"You do know," I said. "You're not a practitioner. I don't think you'd use the term ritual without a reason. Just think for a minute. Why that word?"
She thought about it, eyes staring into space, seeing nothing, tiny frown lines between her eyebrows. She blinked and looked at me. "I heard him talking on the phone one night." She looked down, then up, defiant again, and I knew she didn't like what she was about to say. "He'd tied me to the bed, but he'd left the door open a little. I could hear him talking. He said, 'The ritual will be good tonight,' then his voice dropped too low for me to hear, then he said, 'The untrained ones give it up so easily.' She looked at me. "I wasn't a virgin when we met. I was ... experienced. Before him, I thought I was good in bed."
"What makes you think you're not?" I asked.
"He told me that I wasn't good enough at straight sex to satisfy him, that he needed the abuse to spice it up, so he wouldn't be bored." She tried to stay defiant and failed. The hurt showed in her eyes.
"Were you in love with him?" I tried to make the question gentle.
"What difference does that make?"
Frances took her hand, held it in her lap. "It's all right, Naomi. They're going to help us."
"I don't see what love has to do with any of this, she said.
"If you love him, then it will be harder to free you of his influence, that's all," I said.
She didn't seem to notice that I'd changed loved to love. She answered the question. "I thought I loved him."
"Do you still love him?" I hated having to ask, but we needed to know.
She gripped the other woman's small hand in both of hers, knuckles whitening with the strength of her grip. The tears finally slid down her face. "I don't love him, but..." she had to take a few deep breaths before she could finish, "but if I see him, and he asks for sex, I can't seem to say no. Even when it's awful and he's hurt me, the actual sex is still better than anything I've ever felt before. I can say no over the phone, but if he shows up, I let him ... I mean, I fight if he's beating me, but if it's during sex... it gets all confused."
Frances stood, moving behind the other woman's chair, spreading the afghan over both of them while she hugged her from behind. She made soothing noises, kissing the top of her head like you'd do with a child.
"Have you been hiding from him?" I asked.
She nodded. "I have, but Frances... He can find her no matter where she is."
"He follows the spell," I said.
Both women nodded as if they'd figured that much out for themselves. "But I've hidden from him. I moved out of my apartment."
"I'm surprised he didn't hunt for you," I said.
"The building is warded," she said.
I widened eyes at that. For a building to be warded, not just an apartment but the entire building, meant that the protective spells had to be put into the foundation of the building. The wards had to be poured with the concrete, riveted into place with the steel beams. It took a coven of witches, or several covens. No single practitioner could do it. It was not a cheap process. Only the most expensive high-rises or homes could boast of it.
"What do you do for a living, Ms. Phelps?" Jeremy asked, because I think that he, like me, had actually not expected the two women to be able to meet our fee. We had enough money in the bank under the agency's account and in our own accounts so we could do charity work from time to time. We didn't make a habit of it, but some cases you don't do for money but because you simply can't say no. We both thought this was going to be one of those.
"I've got a trust fund that matured last year. I have access to all of it now. Trust me, Mr. Grey, I can pay your fee."
"That's very good to know, Ms. Phelps, but truthfully I wasn't worried about it. Don't spread it around, but if someone's in deep enough trouble, we don't turn them away because they can't meet our fees."
She blushed. "I didn't mean to imply that you were... I'm sorry. She bit her lip.
"Naomi didn't mean to insult you," Frances said. "She's been rich all her life, and a lot of people have tried to take advantage of that."
"No offense taken," Jeremy said. Though I knew that there probably was some offense taken. But he was a very businesslike businessman. You didn't get mad at a client, not if you were taking the case. Or at least not until they'd done something really awful.
Teresa asked, "Has he ever tried to get your money?"
Naomi looked at her, and you could see the surprise on her face. "No, no."
"Does he know you have it?" I asked.
"Yes, he knew, but he never let me pay for anything. He said he was old-fashioned that way. He didn't care about money at all. It was one of the things I liked about him at first."
"So he's not after money," I said.
"He's not interested in money," Frances said.
I met those big blue eyes, and they didn't look scared now. She was still standing behind Naomi, still comforting her, and she seemed to gain strength from that. "What is he interested in?" I asked.
"Power," she said.
I nodded. She was right. Abuse is always about power in one way or another. "When he said the untrained ones give it up so easily, I don't, think he was talking about your sexual prowess."
Naomi was holding on to Frances's hands, pressing them to her shoulders. "Then what did he mean?"
"You're untrained in the mystic arts."
She frowned at me. "Then what was it that I gave up so easily, if it wasn't sex?"
Frances answered, "Power."
"Yes, Mrs. Norton, power."
Naomi frowned at all of us. "What do you mean, power? I don't have any power."
"Your magic, Ms. Phelps. He's been taking your magic."
She looked even more astonished, mouth open in a little "o" of surprise. "I don't know any magic. I get feelings sometimes about things, but that's not magic."
And that, of course, was why he'd been able to do it. I wondered if all the women were untrained mystics? If they were untrained, then we were going to have trouble infiltrating his little world. But if all they had to be was part fey and magically talented... well, I'd done decoy work before.