Moonlight silvered the room, painting the bed in a hundred shades of grey, white, and black. The two men in the bed were deeply asleep. So deeply that when I'd crawled out from between them, they'd barely stirred. My skin glowed white with the kiss of moonlight. The pure bloodred of my hair looked black. I'd pulled on a silk robe, because it was chilly. People can talk about sunny California, but in the wee hours of the night, when dawn is but a distant dream, it's still chilly. The night that fell like a soft blessing through my window was a December night. If I'd been home in Illinois, there would have been the smell of snow, crisp enough, almost, to melt along the tongue. Cold enough to sear the lungs. So cold it was like breathing icy fire. That was the way air was supposed to taste in early December. The breeze crawling through the window at my back held the dry tang of eucalyptus and the distant smell of the sea. Salt, water, and something else, that indefinable scent that says ocean, not lake, nothing usable, nothing drinkable. You can die of thirst on the shores of an ocean.
For three years I'd stood on the shores of this particular ocean and died a little bit every day. Not literally -- I'd have survived -- but mere survival can get pretty lonely. I'd been born Princess Meredith NicEssus, a member of the high court of faerie. I was a real-life faerie princess, the only one ever born on American soil. When I vanished from sight about three years ago, the media had gone crazy. Sightings of the missing Elven American Princess had rivaled Elvis sightings. I'd been spotted all around the world. In reality I'd been in Los Angeles the entire time. I'd hidden myself, been just plain Meredith Gentry, Merry to my friends. Just another human with fey ancestry working for the Grey Detective Agency, where we specialized in supernatural problems, magical solutions.
Legend says that a fey exiled from faerie will wither and fade, die. That's both true and untrue. I have enough human blood in my background that being surrounded by metal and technology doesn't bother me. Some of the lesser fey would literally wither and die in a man-made city. But most fey can manage in a city; they may not be happy, but they can survive. But part of them does wither, that part that knows that not all the butterflies you see are actually butterflies. That part that has seen the night sky filled with a rushing of wings like a hurricane wind, wings of flesh and scale to make humans whisper of dragons and demons; that part that has seen the sidhe ride by on horses made of starlight and dreams. That part begins to die.
I hadn't been exiled; I'd fled, because I couldn't survive the assassination attempts. I just didn't have the magic or the political clout to protect myself. I'd saved my life but lost something else. I'd lost the touch of faerie. I'd lost my home.
Now, leaning on my windowsill with the smell of the Pacific Ocean on the air, I looked down at the two men and knew I was home. They were both high-court sidhe, Unseelie sidhe, part of that darkling throng that I might someday rule if I could stay ahead of the assassins. Rhys lay on his stomach, one hand hanging off the bed, the other lost under his pillow. Even in repose that one visible arm was muscled. His hair was a shining fall of white curls caressing his bare shoulders, trailing down the strong line of his back. The right side of his face was pressed to the pillow, and so I couldn't see the scars where his eye had been taken. His cupid-bow mouth was turned upward, half smiling in his sleep. He was boyishly handsome and would be forever.
Nicca lay curled on his side. Awake, his face was handsome, bordering on pretty; asleep, he had the face of an angelic child. Innocent he looked, fragile. Even his body was softer, less muscled. His hands were still rough from sword practice, and there was muscle under the velvet smoothness of his skin, but he was soft compared to the other guards, more courtier than mercenary. The face did, and did not, match the body. He was just over six feet, most of it long, long legs; his slender waist and long, graceful arms balanced all that length. Most of Nicca was shades of brown. His skin was the color of pale milk chocolate, and the hair that fell in a straight fall to his knees was a rich, dark true brown. Not brunette, but the color of fresh turned leaves that had lain a long, long time on the forest floor until when stirred they were a rich, moist brown, something you could plunge your hands into and come away wet and smelling of new life.