Wicked Lovely Page 10

From behind the wet bar, a badly bruised wood-sprite asked, "Drink, sir?"

"Keenan, sweetheart, tell the girl what you want. I need to check on the roast." Beira paused, still holding the tray of cookies. "You are staying for dinner, aren't you, dear?"

"Do I have a choice?" He ignored the sprite to walk over to a print on the far wall. In it a woman with cherry-red lips stared out from the platform of a gallows. Behind her were craggy dunes that seemed to go on endlessly. He glanced over at Beira. "One of yours?"

"In the desert? Darling, really." Blushing, she looked down, giving him a coquettish smile and toying with her pearls. "Even with the lovely chill I've had growing these past few centuries, that place is still off limits. For now. But it's sweet of you to ask."

Keenan turned back to the print. The girl stared out at him, seeming desperate. He wondered if she had truly died there or was merely a model for a photographer.

"Well…you get comfortable. I'll be back in a jiff. Then you can tell me all about your new girl. You know I do look forward to these little visits." Then, humming a lullaby from his childhood—something about frozen fingers— Beira left to check on the roast.

He knew that if he followed her, there'd be a bevy of unhappy wood-sprites bustling about her restaurant-sized kitchen. Beira's cloyingly sweet act didn't include actual cooking, just the image of the sort of mother who would cook. "Drink, sir?" The sprite carried over two trays—one with milk, tea, hot cocoa, and a variety of prepackaged nutritional drinks; the other had carrot sticks, celery, apples, and other equally mundane foods. "Your mother is most insistent you have a healthy snack." The sprite glanced in the direction of the kitchen. "It's not wise to anger the mistress." He took a cup of tea and an apple. "You think?" Growing up in the Winter Court had made him far too familiar with what happened to those who angered—or even irritated—the Winter Queen. But he would do his best to anger her; that's what he'd come to do, after all.

"Almost ready," Beira announced as she returned. She sat on one of the awful chairs and patted the one nearest her. "Come. Tell me everything."

Keenan sat in the chair across from her, keeping his distance as long as he could.

"She's difficult, resisted my initial approach." He paused, thinking of the fear in Aislinn's eyes. It wasn't the response he usually elicited from mortal girls. "She didn't trust me at all."

"I see." Beira nodded, crossed her ankles, and leaned forward—the picture of an attentive parent. "And did…you know, the last girlfriend approve of her?"

Without looking away from him, Beira motioned to the sprite, who promptly brought her a glass of something clear to drink. As Beira wrapped her hand around the stem of the glass, frost crept over it until the outside of the glass was entirely coated in a thin white layer.

"Donia agreed to her."

Beira tapped her fingernails on the side of her glass. "Lovely, and how is Dawn?"

Keenan ground his teeth: Beira knew Donia's name. After over half a century as Winter Girl, Donia'd been around enough that his mother's feigned memory slip bordered on comical. "Donia is as she's been for decades, Mother. She's angry with me. She's tired. She's everything you've made her."

Beira lifted her other manicured hand to examine it idly. "What I made her? Oh, do tell."

"It's your staff, your binding, your treachery that started this game. You knew what would happen to the mortals when they took your chill. Mortals aren't made for—"

"Aah, sweetling, but you asked her to do it. You chose her, and she chose you." Beira sat back in her chair, smug now that he was angry. She held open her hand, and the staff in question drifted into her grip, a reminder of the power she wielded. "She could've joined your little coterie of Summer Girls, but she thought it was worth the risk. She thought you were worth risking the pain she's in now." She tsk edat him. "Sad, really. She was such a pretty girl, so full of life."

"She still is."

"Is she, now?" Beira lowered her voice to a stage whisper, "I hear she's getting weaker and weaker" — she paused and feigned a pout—"just sick with it. It'd be a shame if she fades."

"Donia's fine." He heard the edge in his voice, hated that she could anger him so easily. The idea of Donia becoming a shade—dying, but trapped and silent for eternity—was one that never failed to rouse his temper. Fey death was always a tragedy, for there was no afterlife for the fey. It's why she mentions it. How his father had ever put up with Beira long enough for her to conceive was beyond him. The woman was infuriating.

Beira made a purring noise, almost a growl, deep in her throat. "Let's not argue, dear. I'm sure Diane will be fine until the new girl can be convinced you're worth such a sacrifice. Why with being so ill, she might not even work against you this time. Maybe she'll encourage the new lovely to accept you instead of telling her all those awful tales of your wicked intentions?"

"Donia will do her part; I'll do mine. Nothing changes, not till I find the Summer Queen." Keenan stood up and stepped forward until he was looking down at Beira. He couldn't afford to let her browbeat him, no matter that she still held all the power, no matter that she'd sooner kill him than help him. Kings didn't grovel; kings commanded. His power might be bound—no more than a warm breath against her glacial cold—but he was still the Summer King. He still stood against her, and he couldn't let her ignore that.

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