IN this star-studded cross-genre anthology, seventeen of the greatest modern authors of fantasy, science fiction, and romance explore the borderlands of their genres with brand-new tales of ill-fated love. From zombie-infested woods in a postapocalyptic America to faery-haunted rural fields in eighteenth- century England, from the kingdoms of high fantasy to the alien world of a galaxy-spanning empire, these are stories of lovers who must struggle against the forces of magic and fate.
Award-winning, bestselling author Neil Gaiman demonstrates why he’s one of the hottest stars in literature today with “The Thing About Cassandra,” a subtle but chilling story of a man who meets an old girlfriend he had never expected to see.
International blockbuster bestselling author Diana Gabaldon sends a World War II RAF pilot through a stone circle to the time of her Outlander series in “A Leaf on the Winds of All Hallows.” Torn from all he knows, Jerry MacKenzie determinedly survives hardship and danger, intent on his goal of returning home to his wife and baby—no matter the cost.
New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher presents “Love Hurts,” in which Harry Dresden takes on one of his deadliest adversaries and in the process is forced to confront the secret desires of his own heart.
Just the smallest sampling promises unearthly delights, but look also for stories by New York Times bestselling romance authors Jo Beverley and Mary Jo Putney, and by such legends of the fantasy genre as Peter S. Beagle and Tanith Lee, as well as many other popular and beloved writers, including Marjorie M. Liu, Jacqueline Carey, Carrie Vaughn, and Robin Hobb. This exquisite anthology, crafted by the peerless editing team of George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is sure to leave you under its spell.
Discover the many realms of the heart with this extraordinary cast of acclaimed authors:
PETER S. BEAGLE
MARJORIE M. LIU
MARY JO PUTNEY
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
George R. R. Martin is an American author and screenwriter of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. He is best known for his epic A Song of Ice and Fire series.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Murphy gestured at the bodies and said, “Love hurts.”
I ducked under the crime scene tape and entered the Wrigleyville apartment. The smell of blood and death was thick. It made gallows humor inevitable.
Murphy stood there looking at me. She wasn’t offering explanations. That meant she wanted an unbiased opinion from CPD’s Special Investigations consultant—who is me, Harry Dresden. As far as I know, I am the only wizard on the planet earning a significant portion of his income working for a law enforcement agency.
I stopped and looked around, taking inventory.
Two bodies, naked, male and female, still intertwined in the act. One little pistol, illegal in Chicago, lying upon the limp fingers of the woman. Two gunshot wounds to the temples, one each. There were two overlapping fan-shaped splatters of blood, and more had soaked into the carpet. The bodies stank like hell. Some very unromantic things had happened to them after death.
I walked a little farther into the room and looked around. Somewhere in the apartment, an old vinyl was playing Queen. Freddie wondered who wanted to live forever. As I listened, the song ended and began again a few seconds later, popping and scratching nostalgically.
The walls were covered in photographs.
I don’t mean that there were a lot of pictures on the wall, like at great-grandma’s house. I mean covered in photographs. Entirely. Completely papered.
I glanced up. So was the ceiling.
I took a moment to walk slowly around, looking at pictures. All of them, every single one of them, featured the two dead people together, posed somewhere and looking deliriously happy. I walked and peered. Plenty of the pictures were near-duplicates in most details, except that the subjects wore different sets of clothing—generally cutesy matching T-shirts. Most of the sites were tourist spots within Chicago.
It was as if the couple had gone on the same vacation tour every day, over and over again, collecting the same general batch of pictures each time.
“Matching T-shirts,” I said. “Creepy.”
Murphy’s smile was unpleasant. She was a tiny, compactly muscular woman with blond hair and a button nose. I’d say that she was so cute I just wanted to put her in my pocket, but if I tried to do it, she’d break my arm. Murph knows martial arts.
She waited and said nothing.
“Another suicide pact. That’s the third one this month.” I gestured at the pictures. “Though the others weren’t quite so cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Or, ah, in medias res.” I shrugged and gestured at the obsessive photographs. “This is just crazy.”
Murphy lifted one pale eyebrow ever so slightly. “Remind me: How much do we pay you to give us advice, Sherlock?”
I grimaced. “Yeah, yeah. I know.” I was quiet for a while and then said, “What were their names?”
“Greg and Cindy Bardalacki,” Murphy said.
“Seemingly unconnected dead people, but they share similar patterns of death. Now we’re upgrading to irrational and obsessive behavior as a precursor...” I frowned. I checked several of the pictures and went over to eye the bodies. “Oh,” I said. “Oh, hell’s bells.”
Murphy arched an eyebrow.
“No wedding rings anywhere,” I said. “No wedding pictures. And...” I finally found a framed family picture, which looked to have been there for a while, among all the snapshots. Greg and Cindy were both in it, along with an older couple and a younger man.
“Jesus, Murph,” I said. “They weren’t a married couple. They were brother and sister.”
Murphy eyed the intertwined bodies. There were no signs of struggle. Clothes, champagne flutes, and an empty bubbly bottle lay scattered. “Married, no,” she said. “Couple, yes.” She was unruffled. She’d already worked that out for herself.
“Ick,” I said. “But that explains it.”
“These two. They were together—and they went insane doing it. This has the earmarks of someone tampering with their minds.”
Murphy squinted at me. “Why?”
I spread my hands. “Let’s say Greg and Cindy bump into Bad Guy X. Bad Guy X gets into their heads and makes them fall wildly in love and lust with each other. There’s nothing they can do about the feelings—which seem perfectly natural—but on some level they’re aware that what they’re doing is not what they want, and dementedly wrong besides. Their compromised conscious minds clash with their subconscious and...” I gestured at pictures. “And it escalates until they can’t handle it anymore, and bang.” I shot Murphy with my thumb and forefinger.
“If you’re right, they aren’t the deceased,” Murphy said. “They’re the victims. Big difference. Which is it?”
“Wish I could say,” I told her. “But the only evidence that could prove it one way or another is leaking out onto the floor. If we get a survivor, maybe I could take a peek and see, but barring that, we’re stuck with legwork.”
Murphy sighed and looked down. “Two suicide pacts could—technically—be a coincidence. Three of them, no way it’s natural. This feels more like something’s MO. Could it be another one of those Skavis vampires?”
“They gun for loners,” I said, shaking my head. “These deaths don’t fit their profile.”
“So. You’re telling me that we need to turn up a common denominator to link the victims? Gosh, I wish I could have thought of that on my own.”
I winced. “Yeah.” I glanced over at a couple of other SI detectives in the room, taking pictures of the bodies and documenting the walls and so on. Forensics wasn’t on site. They don’t like to waste their time on the suicides of the emotionally disturbed, regardless of how bizarre they might be. That was crap work, and as such had been dutifully passed to SI.
I lowered my voice. “If someone is playing mind games, the Council might know something. I’ll try to pick up the trail on that end. You start from here. Hopefully, I’ll earn my pay and we’ll meet in the middle.”
“Right.” Murph stared at the bodies and her eyes were haunted. She knew what it was like to be the victim of mental manipulation. I didn’t reach out to support her. She hated showing vulnerability, and I didn’t want to point out to her that I’d noticed.
Freddie reached a crescendo, which told us that love must die.
Murphy sighed and called, “For the love of God, someone turn off that damned record.”
“I’M SORRY, HARRY,” Captain Luccio said. “We don’t exactly have orbital satellites for detecting black magic.”
I waited a second to be sure that she was finished. The presence of so much magical talent on the far end of the call meant that at times the lag could stretch out between Chicago and Edinburgh, the headquarters of the White Council of Wizardry. Anastasia Luccio, Captain of the Wardens, my ex-girlfriend, had been readily forthcoming with the information the Council had on any shenanigans going on in Chicago—which was exactly nothing.
“Too bad we don’t, eh?” I asked. “Unofficially—is there anyone who might know anything?”
“The Gatekeeper, perhaps. He has a gift for sensing problem areas. But no one has seen him for weeks, which is hardly unusual. And frankly, Warden Dresden, you’re supposed to be the one giving us this kind of information.” Her voice was half teasing, half deadly serious. “What do you think is happening?”
“Three couples, apparently lovey-dovey as hell, have committed dual suicide in the past two weeks,” I told her. “The last two were brother and sister. There were some seriously irrational components to their behavior.”
“You suspect mental tampering,” she said. Her voice was hard.
Luccio had been a victim, too.
I found myself smiling somewhat bitterly at no one. She had been, among other things, mindboinked into going out with me. Which was apparently the only way anyone would date me, lately. “It seems a reasonable suspicion. I’ll let you know what I turn up.”
“Use caution,” she said. “Don’t enter any suspect situation without backup on hand. There’s too much chance that you could be compromised.”
“Compromised?” I asked. “Of the two people having this conversation, which one of them exposed the last guy rearranging people’s heads?”
“Touché,” Luccio said. “But he got away with it because we were overconfident. So use caution anyway.”
“Planning on it,” I said.
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Anastasia said, “How have you been, Harry?”
“Keeping busy,” I said. She had already apologized to me, sort of, for abruptly walking out of my personal life. She’d never intended to be there in the first place. There had been a real emotional tsunami around the events of last year, and I wasn’t the one who had gotten the most hurt by them. “You?”
“Keeping busy.” She was quiet for a moment and then said, “I know it’s over. But I’m glad for the time we had together. It made me happy. Sometimes I—”
Miss feeling that, I thought, completing the sentence. My throat felt tight. “Nothing wrong with happy.”
“No, there isn’t. When it’s real.” Her voice softened. “Be careful, Harry. Please.”
“I will,” I said.
I STARTED COMBING the supernatural world for answers and got almost nothing. The Little Folk, who could usually be relied on to provide some kind of information, had nothing for me. Their memory for detail is very short, and the deaths had happened too long ago to get me anything but conflicting gibberish.
I made several mental nighttime sweeps through the city using the scale model of Chicago in my basement, and got nothing but a headache for my trouble.
I called around the Paranet, the organization of folk with only modest magical gifts, the kind who often found themselves being preyed upon by more powerful supernatural beings. They worked together now, sharing information, communicating successful techniques, and generally overcoming their lack of raw magical muscle with mutually supportive teamwork. They didn’t have anything for me, either.
I hit McAnnally’s, a hub of the supernatural social scene, and asked a lot of questions. No one had any answers. Then I started contacting the people I knew in the scene, starting with the ones I thought most likely to provide information. I worked my way methodically down the list, crossing out names, until I got to “ask random people on the street.”
There are days when I don’t feel like much of a wizard. Or an investigator. Or a wizard investigator.
Ordinary PIs have a lot of days like that, where you look and look and look for information and find nothing. I get fewer of those days than most, on account of the whole wizard thing giving me a lot more options—but sometimes I come up goose eggs anyway.
I just hate doing it when lives may be in danger.
Four days later, all I knew was that nobody knew about any black magic happening in Chicago, and the only traces of it I did find were the miniscule amounts of residue left from black magic wrought by those without enough power to be a threat. (Warden Ramirez had coined the phrase “dim magic” to describe that kind of petty, essentially harmless malice.) There were also the usual traces of dim magic performed subconsciously from a bed of dark emotions, probably by someone who might not even know they had a gift.
In other words, goose eggs.
Fortunately, Murphy got the job done.
Sometimes hard work is way better than magic.
MURPHY’S SATURN HAD gotten a little blown up a couple of years back, sort of my fault, and what with her demotion and all, it would be a while before she’d be able to afford something besides her old Harley. For some reason, she didn’t want to take the motorcycle, so that left my car, the ever-trusty (almost always) Blue Beetle. It’s an old-school VW Bug which had seen me through one nasty scrape after another. More than once, it had been pounded badly, but always it had risen to do battle once more—if by battle one means driving somewhere at a sedate speed, without much acceleration and only middling gas mileage.
Don’t start. It’s paid for.
I stopped outside Murphy’s little white house, with its little pink rose garden, and rolled down the window on the passenger side. “Make like the Dukes of Hazzard,” I said. “Door’s stuck.”
Murphy gave me a narrow look. Then she tried the door. It opened easily. She slid into the passenger seat with a smug smile, closed the door, and didn’t say anything.
“Police work has made you cynical,” I said.
“If you want to ogle my butt, you’ll just have to work for it like everyone else, Harry.”
I snorted and put the car in gear. “Where we going?”
“Nowhere until you buckle up,” she said, putting her own seat belt on.
“It’s my car,” I said.
“It’s the law. You want to get cited? ’Cause I can do that.”
I debated whether or not it was worth it while she gave me her cop look. And produced a ball-point pen.
I buckled up.
Murphy beamed at me. “Springfield. Head for I-55.”
I grunted. “Kind of out of your jurisdiction.”
“If we were investigating something,” Murphy said. “We’re not. We’re going to the fair.”
I eyed her sidelong. “On a date?”
“Sure, if someone asks,” she said, offhand. Then she froze for a second, and added, “It’s a reasonable cover story.”
“Right,” I said. Her cheeks looked a little pink. Neither of us said anything for a little while.
I merged onto the highway, always fun in a car originally designed to rocket down the autobahn at a blistering one hundred kilometers an hour, and asked Murphy, “Springfield?”
“State fair,” she said. “That was the common denominator.”
I frowned, going over the dates in my head. “State fair only runs, what? Ten days?”
Murphy nodded. “They shut down tonight.”
“But the first couple died twelve days ago.”
“They were both volunteer staff for the fair, and they were down there on the grounds setting up.” Murphy lifted a foot to rest her heel on the edge of the passenger seat, frowning out the window. “I found skee-ball tickets and one of those chintzy stuffed animals in the second couple’s apartment. And the Bardalackis got pulled over for speeding on I-55, five minutes out of Springfield and bound for Chicago.”
“So maybe they went to the fair,” I said. “Or maybe they were just taking a road trip or something.”
Murphy shrugged. “Possibly. But if I assume that it’s a coincidence, it doesn’t get me anywhere—and we’ve got nothing. If I assume that there’s a connection, we’ve got a possible answer.”
I beamed at her. “I thought you didn’t like reading Parker.”
She eyed me. “That doesn’t mean his logic isn’t sound.”
She exhaled heavily. “It’s the best I’ve got. I just hope that if I get you into the general area, you can pick up on whatever is going on.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking of walls papered in photographs. “Me too.”
THE THING I enjoy the most about places like the state fair is the smells. You get combinations of smells at such events like none found anywhere else. Popcorn, roast nuts, and fast food predominate, and you can get anything you want to clog your arteries or burn out your stomach lining there. ...
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