Shadowman (Shadow, #3)
For Matt, again
You know why
Thank you so much to everyone at Kensington, especially Alicia Condon, for being the amazing editor that she is. I depend on your insight and magic. And to Jessica Faust, agent extraordinaire, you do so much and are always there. To KC Klein, Nora Needham, and Tes Hilaire, for standing by me, and, oh yeah, excellent critiques. To Brian Anderson, for his expert information on all things tactical and for demonstrating on my husband. Any mistakes are mine. To my bedrock, my friends and family, who buy my books, sometimes in quantity. To Mom, who passed them out to anyone who would take them. And to Celia, Big C, Cornelia, aka Super Beta—hugs and love for everything.
Fate is a three-faced witch named Moira. Maid, mother, and crone, Moira weaves the patterns of humankind’s life threads so that each intersection seems prescribed from the first wail of birth. So subtle is she that humankind invokes her name at moments large and small, sad and joyous, as an answer to or explanation of events—it was fate, destiny, kismet—when that is not always the case.
The irony is that Moira is one of the fae, and therefore has a far more circumscribed existence than any human being. Her scissors may be sharp, but she hasn’t yet discovered the power to set them down, as has Shadowman with his scythe.
And she is bitter because no matter how tightly she ties her knots, mortal free will can loose them again.
—TALIA KATHLEEN THORNE
The Shadowlands Treatise
Shadow throbbed, twisting and irregular, in the corners of the hospital room. Seething with welcome, the ribbons of darkness crept past the cluster of too cheerful sunflowers on the far table, through the quietly humming machines, toward the bed where Kathleen lay.
Not long now. Shadow had always been close, but soon the dark stuff would claim her.
Beyond the filmy layers, on the Other side, the knotted and craggy boughs of Twilight trees swayed. Fae whispers rose in an inarticulate hiss and tick as they drew near to the thin veil between the Shadowlands and the mortal world, looking on. Waiting in heightening anticipation.
Not long at all.
Kathleen squeezed her sister’s hand, urgency giving her the strength to make the squeeze hard. She drew deep on the oxygen at her nose and said, “Don’t let them kick you out of the room.”
Maggie’s lips went tight. Her O’Brien red hair had gone frizzy and she had more makeup under her eyes than on top. Her sister reached above the hospital bed with her free hand and switched the light off.
Shadow coursed into the void, but Maggie, as ever, was oblivious to the churn around her. “We’ve been over this,” she said. “You need to get some sleep now.”
In fact, Kathleen could barely keep her eyes open. With Shadow so close, so intent, she needed to be rested and ready for when the time came, but getting Maggie’s cooperation was too important; it was part of being ready, like the intensive care neonatal room, prepared for delivery, the on-call doctors, and the machines to warn the nurses if she declined rapidly. All the rest meant nothing without Maggie’s agreement. “You need to be there to make sure that the baby comes first.”
“I hate it when you talk like that.” Maggie looked away.
Lately Maggie couldn’t meet her gaze, which was why Kathleen needed this last assurance. Just in case. “You know it’s what I want.”
The baby’s heartbeat shush-shush-shushed rapidly over the monitor. Kathleen focused on the sound and used its promise to draw another difficult breath.
She could see Maggie’s profile: her sister’s jaw clenched, her throat working silently.
When Maggs finally spoke, her voice was rough. “And what about you, huh? You can’t think that . . . that . . . I’ll just let you . . . You’re my sister.” Maggie braced her free hand on her knee and worked for breath as well, lowering herself into the chair.
“I’ll be okay.” He’ll be waiting for me.
Maggie turned back, words tumbling in a sob-clogged accusation. “You could fight. You could try to get through this. At least you could try.”
Kathleen inhaled through the tightness in her chest to speak. “I am fighting. I am trying.” She was giving everything she had to see her daughter safely into the world. She had no illusions about what would come after. How could she with the room darkening, the Shadows reaching farther with each passing moment? But she had no fears. Not with him near. Her gaze flicked to Shadow, searching for him in the glossy layers. When she didn’t find him, she returned her attention to her sister.
Maggie frowned hard, shaking her head. Eyes blazing. “Not for yourself, you’re not.”