Key of Light (Key 1) - Page 31

“No, just coffee. Tell me the rest.”

“Two coffees, a crème brûlée, and two spoons. You’ll never hold out against the crème brûlée,” he said to Malory, then leaned forward to finish the tale. “The bad king’s a clever guy, and a sorcerer. He doesn’t take heat for slaying innocents, and he turns the good king’s choices and policy against him. If a mortal is fit to be queen, if three half-mortals are worthy of rank, then let the mortals prove it. Only mortals can break the spell. Until that’s done, the daughters will sleep—unharmed. If mortal women, one to represent each daughter, can find each of the three keys, then the Box of Souls will be unlocked, the daughters’ souls restored, and the kingdoms united.”

“And if they fail?”

“The most popular version, according to my granny, has the bad king setting a time limit. Three thousand years—one millennium for each daughter. If the keys aren’t found and the box unlocked within that time, he alone rules, both the god-world and the mortal.”

“I never understand why anyone wants to rule the world. Seems like one big headache to me.” She pursed her lips when the dish of crème brûlée was set between them. Flynn was right, she decided. She wasn’t going to be able to hold out against it. “What happened to the lovers?”

“A couple of versions of that, too.” He dipped his spoon in at one end of the dish while Malory dipped into the other. “My grandmother’s pick is the one that has the grieving king sentencing the lovers to death, but his wife intervened, asking for mercy. Instead of execution, banishment. They were cast out through the Curtain of Dreams, forbidden to return until they found the three mortal women who would unlock the box of souls. And so they wander the earth, gods living as mortals, in search of the triad who will release not only the souls of the daughters but their own as well.”

“Rowena and Pitte think they’re the teacher and the warrior?”

It pleased him that their conclusions meshed. “That would be my take. You’ve got a couple of weirdos on your hands, Malory. It’s a nice faerie tale. Romantic, colorful. But when people start casting themselves and others in the roles, you’re edging into psychoville.”

“You’re forgetting the money.”

“No, I’m not. The money worries me. Seventy-five thousand means it’s not a game to them, not a little role-playing entertainment. They’re serious. Either they actually believe the myth or they’re seeding the ground for a con.”

She toyed with another spoonful of the crème brûlée. “With the twenty-five thousand, I now have approximately twenty-five thousand, two hundred and five dollars, which includes the twenty I found in a jacket pocket this morning. My parents are fairly average middle-class people. They’re not rich or influential. I don’t have any rich or influential friends or lovers. I’ve got nothing worth conning.”

“Maybe they’re looking for something else, something you haven’t thought of. But back to those lovers for a minute. Do you have any poor ones?”

She sipped her coffee, measuring him over the rim. The sun had set while they’d had dinner. Now it was candlelight that flickered between them. “Not at the moment.”

“Here’s a coincidence. Neither do I.”

“I’m in the market for a key, Flynn, not a lover.”

“You’re assuming the key exists.”

“Yes, I am. If I didn’t assume that, I wouldn’t bother to look for it. And I gave my word I would.”

“I’ll help you find it.”

She set her cup down again. “Why?”

“A lot of reasons. One, I’m just a naturally curious guy, and however this thing works out, it’s an interesting story.” He skimmed a fingertip over the back of her hand, and the little thrill danced straight up her arm. “Two, my sister’s involved. Three, I’ll get to be around you. The way I figure it, you won’t be able to hold out against me any more than you could hold out against the crème brûlée.”

“Is that confidence or conceit?”

“Just fate, sweetie. Look, why don’t we go back to my place and . . . Well, hell, I wasn’t thinking about kissing you again until you gave me that snotty look. Now I’ve lost my train of thought.”

“I’m not having any trouble following that train.”

“Okay, that wasn’t my track, but I’m willing to jump on board. What I was going to say was we could go back and do some research. I can show you what I’ve got so far, which is basically nothing. I can’t dig up any data on your benefactors, at least not under the names they used to buy the Peak, or any variations of those names.”

“I’ll leave the research to you and Dana for now.” She shrugged. “I’ve got some other trails to follow.”

“Such as?”

“Logic. Goddesses. There are a couple of New Age shops in the area. I’m going to check them out. Then there’s the painting. I’m going to find out who painted that portrait, see what else he or she has done, and where those paintings might be. Who owns them, how they acquired them. I need to take another trip up to Warrior’s Peak, have another talk with Pitte and Rowena, and get another look at that painting. A better look.”

“I’ll go with you. There’s a story here, Malory. This could be a huge scam, which would make it big news and my duty to report it.”

She stiffened up. “You don’t have any proof that Rowena and Pitte aren’t legitimate—possibly loony, yes, but not crooks.”

“Easy.” He held up a hand for peace. “I’m not writing anything until I have all the facts. I can’t get all the facts until I meet all the players. I need an entrée to that house. You’re it. In exchange you get the benefit of my keen investigative skills and dogged reporter’s determination. I go with you, or I talk Dana into taking me up there.”

Tags: Nora Roberts Key Fantasy
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