Ever feel like you have no idea where the day goes? Or do you sometimes have trouble remembering how you got home after a particularly stressful day? We all, at some point or another, experience blanks in our memory. We space out, forget certain details or just simply don’t remember events. But for Helene, the heroine in D.L. McDermott’s latest book Silver Skin, it’s a bit worse than that. See, she blacks out. Totally and completely. For hours at a time. And she can’t remember a thing …
Read below for a sneak peek at Silver Skin, and don’t forget to check out Cold Iron too!
Helene Whitney was losing time. Not losing track of time, but missing hours, finding whole blank spaces in her day that she could not account for.
And it terrified her.
The first incident, after a party at the university museum where she worked as the director of development, had been easy enough to explain away. The annual gala was the highlight of the fundraising year, a white-tie dinner with dancing to follow, held in the museum’s grand atrium.
It took six months to plan, an army of caterers, musicians, decorators, and florists to execute, and disrupted almost every aspect of the institution’s operations.
For Helene, it was the most important date on the calendar. Her professional life, the direction of her career, forward or back, turned on the success of this one, all-consuming night.
During the day the marble and granite halls of the museum were hushed temples to art, the quiet broken only occasionally by schoolchildren. For the gala Helene had transformed the place into a pleasure palace, awash in flowers and music, dotted with white tablecloths and gilded chairs, champagne always close at hand. She moved through this enchanted realm in a column of pale blue silk chosen to complement the party’s decor.
It was only natural, once the dessert had been served (lemon soufflé—excellent), the speeches delivered (by the director—tendentious, and by the curators—pedantic), the pledges made (miraculous—considering the speeches), that she should reward herself for a job well done with a glass of wine. Or two. She had not remembered drinking more than that. Not at the gala, anyway.
A small group of important donors and the director had moved on to a bar in the square afterward and she had gone with them. It was the kind of place the students shunned, the preserve of well-heeled academics and successful alumni, attached to an overpriced restaurant in a converted town house.
She didn’t think she had ordered a cocktail, but she couldn’t be certain. She could recall the patio where they sat, small lights twinkling in the trees, the airy country-club atmosphere, and talking to a man whose face she couldn’t remember. When she tried to picture him, the scene blurred, and she was left with only a vague sense of charisma—and then after that, nothing—until the next morning, when she’d woken up at home.
With no hangover. Her only souvenir of the evening was a bug bite—a mosquito from the late night drinks on the patio, probably, although she couldn’t find a welt—on her right shoulder that itched like mad.
At the time she’d just been grateful to wake up with a clear head. There were a thousand details to attend to the day after the event, thank-yous to write, rentals to return, invoices to pay, donors to follow up with, and though her boss, the museum’s director, treated her like a glorified social planner, she took her job seriously.
Helene wasn’t in it for the parties. She’d started out on a curatorial track, as a collections manager in the European paintings department. She’d quickly discovered that there was never enough money for the things that mattered in a museum: access for schoolchildren and the poor; conservation; exhibitions; sometimes even to keep the lights on. The curator she worked for was an able scholar, but he didn’t have the knack for bringing in money or for cultivating collectors and donors.
Helene did. And when money began to flow into her neglected department, the director, Dave Monroe, noticed. He’d plucked her out of her entry-level job, fired his existing director of development, and installed Helene. She had struggled at first to earn the respect of her colleagues, who thought her too young and inexperienced for the job, but since that time she’d run six annual galas for the museum, each one more successful than the last, and won over most of the staff.
The gala itself was a means to an end. The real thrill, Helene found, came in the days afterward, when money, art, and expertise flowed into the museum. It was the best part of her job.
But not this year. Two days after the gala, she’d looked up from her desk to realize that she had no idea what she’d been doing since ten that morning. A similar occurrence had followed the next day. Then nothing for a week. Then three days in a row she’d simply lost the hours from twelve to two.
The blackouts left her with a feeling of having been violated, a sense that hours of her life had been stolen. She was afraid to confide her fears to any of her friends or family, because no one would believe her.
Except for Beth Carter, and Beth Carter was three thousand miles away. There might be another source of help nearer by, but he was a man—no, he wasn’t a man, he was a Fae sorcerer—whom Helene dared not trust.
She was on her own.
Helene had dated a lawyer once whose firm required him to account for all of his time, his billable hours, in fifteen-minute increments. Recalling his method, she’d bought a ledger like the one he used and begun recording the minutiae of her day. There were exhibition planning meetings and docent lunches and hours spent at her desk drafting brochure copy and press releases, all written in the neat block capitals she liked to use at work.
And then nothing. Blank spaces where she had ceased to record her activities, as if someone had simply flipped a switch and turned Helene Whitney off.
She always woke up from these episodes, apart from the very first, sitting at her desk in her office or standing in one of the galleries at the museum. Safe places. So far, anyway. But she had suffered from claustrophobia since childhood and feared waking up in a confined space, such as one of the small, cramped public elevators, or the crowded storage rooms with their floor-to-ceiling shelves full of objects and their tiny, narrow aisles.
She was never certain where she had been when she’d blanked out, but the last thing she always remembered was that she was always on her own. So she tried, for as many hours of the day as she could manage, to spend time with other people—her colleagues or donors or docents—but at some point she was always left alone. And then it would happen: a yawning black hole in her day.
She was a rational woman, so she had looked for a rational explanation, an environmental or medical cause. Tests on her office and home had come up negative for mold or toxins. Her doctor had given her a complete physical and declared her healthy. She’d consulted a psychologist, discreetly, off campus, because she did not want to jeopardize her job. He’d recommended counseling for alcoholism. She hadn’t gone back.
That was when she had forced herself to face the undeniable truth: there was no rational explanation for what had been happening. Unfortunately, and much as she had tried to forget, she already knew that the world was not an entirely rational place.
Last autumn, Beth Carter, curator of Celtic antiquities at the museum, had brought more than artifacts back from her dig in Ireland. She’d brought a man back with her as well. Tall, strong, inhumanly handsome, Conn was one of the Fae. The Good Neighbors. The Fair Folk. The Tuatha Dé Danann. The People of the Mounds. The Aes Sídhe. They had many names because no one wanted to call them what they really were: ancient, immoral, tricksy, and jaded. The ancient god kings of Ireland were a mythic race apart: impossibly beautiful, long-lived, seductive, and cruel.
Her first instinct, once she acknowledged that her problem was not mundane, was to call Beth. The young archaeologist possessed some magic herself—she was descended from the Druids who had banished the Aes Sídhe. Beth would not only believe Helene, she might even be able to help.
Helene picked up the phone in her office, a space she had once loved, with its pale carpets, spare decor, and large plate-glass windows. It now felt frighteningly open and exposed. She dialed the country code for Ireland, then Beth’s number.
Her friend answered at once. Helene had been ready to spill her problems. The tale had been on the tip of her tongue. But when she opened her mouth, nothing but small talk came out. She asked Beth about the dig—an Iron Age burial mound—and Conn and the weather.
And Beth told her how much she was enjoying having a real partner—her first husband had been an archaeologist like Beth, but had made his reputation by stealing her work—and finally being seen as a major player in her field. Helene told her about the gala and the latest antics of their executive director.
Every time Helene tried to say something is happening to me and I need your help, other words came out. Later, when she tried to email Beth, she typed the same nonsense.
Something was very, very wrong. She was scared. Scared enough to turn to the man—no, the creature—she had hoped never to see again: the Fae sorcerer and criminal who lived in South Boston, who had staked his claim to Helene’s body and soul and only given it up when Beth had threatened to use her newfound Druid powers against him—Miach MacCecht.