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A Stroke of Midnight (Merry Gentry #4)(3)

By:Laurell K. Hamilton

I tried for half-truth. “There are some among the nobility that see my human and lesser fey blood as inferior. But there are always racists, Mr. . . .”
“O’Connel,” he said.
“Mr. O’Connel,” I said.
“Do you believe that it is racism then?”
Madeline tried to stop me, but I answered because I wanted to know how much he knew. “If not racism then what, Mr. O’Connel? They don’t want some mongrel half-breed on their throne.” Now if he pushed it, he’d look like a racist. Reporters from the Chicago Tribune don’t want to look like racists.
“That’s an ugly accusation,” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “it is.”
Madeline stepped in. “We need to move on. Next question.” She pointed to someone else, a little too eagerly, but that was all right. We needed to change topics. Of course, there were other topics that were almost as bad.“Is it true that a magic spell made the policeman shoot at you, Princess Meredith?” This from a man in the front row who looked vaguely familiar in the way that on-air personalities often do.
The sidhe do not lie. We make a sort of national sport out of almost lying. We can lie. But if we do, then we are foresworn. Once upon a time you were kicked out of faerie for that. The answer to the question was yes, but I didn’t want to answer it. So I tried not to. “Let’s drop the ‘princess,’ guys. I’ve been working as a detective in L.A. for three years. I’m not used to the title anymore.”
I wanted to avoid having anyone ask who had done the spell. It had been part of the attempted palace coup. We were so not sharing that a sidhe noble had caused one of the police helping to guard me to try to kill me.
Madeline picked up her cue perfectly, calling on a new reporter with a new question. “This is quite a display of sidhe muscle, Prince—Meredith.” The woman smiled when she left off the “princess.” I was hoping they would like that. And I didn’t need the title to know who I was. “Is the extra muscle because you fear for your safety?”
“Yes,” I replied, and Madeline moved us on.
It was a different reporter, but he repeated the dreaded question. “Was it a spell that caused the policeman to shoot at you, Meredith?”
I drew breath, not even sure what I was going to say, when I felt Doyle move up beside me. He leaned over the microphone like a black statue carved all of one piece—black designer suit, black high-collared dress shirt, shoes, even his tie, of the same unrelieved blackness. “May I take this question, Princess Meredith?” The silver earrings that traced the curve of his ear all the way up to its point flashed in the lights. Contrary to all the faerie wannabes with their cartilage implants, the pointy ears marked him as not pure high court, as something less, something mixed like me. His black hair was ankle-length, and he could have hidden his “deformity,” but he almost never did. His hair was pulled back in its usual braid. The diamond stud in his earlobe glittered next to my face.
Most of his weapons were as monochrome as the rest of him, so it was hard to spot the knives and guns, darkness on darkness. He had been the Queen’s Darkness, her assassin, for more than a thousand years. Now he was mine.
I fought to keep my face as blank as his, and not let the relief show. “Be my guest,” I said.
He leaned down to the microphone in front of me. “The attempt on the princess’s life yesterday is still under investigation. My apologies, but some details are not ready to be discussed publicly.” His deep voice resonated over the mike. I saw some of the female reporters shiver, and it wasn’t fear. I’d never realized he had a good voice for a microphone. I think he, like Frost, had never been on mike before, but unlike Frost, it didn’t bother him. Very little did. He was Darkness, and the dark isn’t afraid of us; we’re afraid of it. 
“What can you tell us about the assassination attempt?” another reporter asked.
I wasn’t sure if the question was directed at Doyle or me. I couldn’t see his eyes through his wraparound black-on-black sunglasses, but I swear I felt him look at me. I leaned into the mike. “Not much, I’m afraid. As Doyle says, it’s an ongoing investigation.”
“Do you know who was behind it?”
Doyle leaned into the mike again. “I am sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but if you insist on asking questions that we are not free to answer for fear of hindering our internal investigation, then this press conference is over.”
On one hand, it was neatly done; on the other hand, he’d said a bad word—internal.
“So it was sidhe magic that bespelled the policeman,” a woman yelled.
Shit, I thought.
Doyle had caused it, he tried to clean it up. “By ‘internal’ I meant that it involves Princess Meredith, the potential heir to Queen Andais’s throne. It does not get much more internal than that. Especially not for those of us who belong to the princess.” He was deliberately trying to distract them into asking about my sex life with my guard. A much safer subject.
Madeline cooperated by picking one of the tabloid reporters for the next question. If anyone would fall for sex over internal politics, it was the tabloids.
They swallowed the bait. “What do you mean, you belong to the princess?”
Doyle leaned in closer to the mike, close enough that his shoulder brushed against mine. It was very subtle and very deliberate. It would probably have been more eye-catching if Frost and I hadn’t played kissy-face first, but Doyle knew how to play to the press. You had to start slow and give yourself someplace to go. He’d only started playing to the media in the last few weeks, but as with everything, he learned quickly and did it very well. “We would give our life for her.”
“The Secret Service are sworn to give their life for the president but they don’t belong to the president.” The reporter emphasized the word belong.
Doyle leaned closer to the mike, forcing him to put one arm against the back of my chair, so I was framed in the curve of his body. The cameras exploded so that I was blind again. I allowed myself to lean in against Doyle, partly for the picture, and partly because I liked it.
“Perhaps I misspoke,” Doyle said, with all my Christmas brightness framed against his blackness.
“Are you having sex with the princess?” a female reporter asked.
“Yes,” he said simply.
They actually almost sighed as a group in eagerness. Another woman said, “Frost, are you sleeping with the princess?”
Doyle stepped back and let Frost come up to the mike again, though I would have preferred keeping him away from it. He was brave and he came and bent over the mike, bent over me. But Frost wouldn’t play for the cameras. His face was arrogant, and perfect, and showed nothing, even though his grey eyes were bare to the camera’s glare. He always said he thought it was beneath us to play to the media. But I knew now that it wasn’t arrogance that made him not play, it was fear. A phobia, if you will, of cameras and reporters and crowds. He leaned over stiffly, and said, “Yes.”
This shouldn’t have been news to any of them. Publicly I’d returned to faerie to seek a husband. The sidhe don’t breed much, so the royals get to marry only if they get pregnant first. The queen and I had explained this at another press conference, when I first visited home. But she’d kept the guards away from the mikes, and there was something about the guards admitting it, on mike, that excited the media. Almost as if it was dirtier because they were saying it.“Are the two of you having sex with the princess at the same time?”
“No.” Frost fought not to frown. We were lucky the reporter hadn’t asked if they slept together with me. Because that we did. The fey sleep in big puppy piles. It’s not always about sex; sometimes it’s about safety and comfort.
Frost stepped back to the wall, stiff and unhappy. The reporters were yelling even more sexual questions at him. Madeline helped us out. “I think our Killing Frost is a little shy at the mike, boys and girls. Let’s pick on someone else.”
So they did.
They yelled out names and questions to the men. One or two of the guards onstage had never been paraded in front of the media at all. I wasn’t certain that Adair or Hawthorne had ever seen a television or a movie. They were in full-plate mail, though Adair’s looked like it was formed of gold and copper, and Hawthorne’s was a rich crimson, a color no metal had ever been. Adair’s was metal; Hawthorne’s just looked like metal, though I couldn’t say what it was made out of. Something magical. They had both chosen to keep their helmets on. Adair, I believe, because the queen had shorn his hair as a punishment for trying to refuse my bed. Hawthorne’s hair still fell in thick black-green waves to his ankles. I had no idea why he kept his helmet on. They must have been roasting in front of this many electric lights, but having decided to wear the helmets, they’d wear them until they fainted. Well, Adair would. I didn’t know even that much about Hawthorne. They knew what a camera was because the queen was fond of her Polaroid, but beyond that and indoor plumbing, technology was a stranger to them. I wondered how they felt about being thrown to the lions. Their faces would show nothing. They were the Queen’s Ravens, they knew how to hide what they felt.