Wicked Lovely Page 11

Might as well get it over with.

"You know I'll find her, Mother. One of these girls will take the staff in hand, and your cold won't fill her."

Beira sat down her glass and looked up at him. "Really?"

I hate this part. Keenan leaned down and put a hand on either side of her chair. "One day I'll have the full strength of the King of Summer, just as Father did. Your reign will end. No more growing cold. No more unchecked power." He lowered his voice, hoping to hide the trembling. "Then we'll see who's truly stronger."

She sat there for a moment, silent and still. Then she put one cold hand on his chest and stood, pushing him ever so slightly. Ice formed in a web growing outward from her hand, crawling over him until he ached so fiercely that he couldn't have moved if the Wild Hunt itself were bearing down on him.

"What a charming speech. It gets more entertaining every time—like one those TV shows." She kissed both of his cheeks, leaving behind a frostbitten trace of her lips, letting her cold seep under his skin, reminding him that she— not me, not yet —had all the power. "That's one of the lovely things about our little arrangement—if I had to deal with a real king, I'd miss our games."

Keenan didn't answer—couldn't. If he were gone, would another fill his place?

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Would a new king, an unbound king, come into power? She'd taunted him with that— If you want to protect them, end it. Let a real king reign. But would another king ascend with full power if he failed? He had no way of knowing. He swayed on his feet, hating her, hating the whole situation.

Then Beira leaned in and whispered, so her icy breath blew against his lips, "I'm sure you'll find your little queen. Perhaps you already have. Maybe it was Siobhan or that Eliza from a few centuries back. Now she was a sweet girl, Eliza. Would've made a lovely queen, don't you think?"

Keenan shivered, his body starting to shut down from the cold. He tried to push the cold back, push it out.

I am the Summer King. She cannot do this.

He swallowed, concentrating on staying upright.

"Imagine, all this time, all these centuries, if she were right there in the bevy of girls too weak to risk it. Too timid to pick up the staff and find out."

Several fox-maidens came into the room. "His room is ready, mistress."

"The poor dear is tired. And he was so unpleasant to his mummy." She sighed, as if it had truly wounded her.

With one finger under his chin, she tilted his head back. "To bed without dinner again. One of these times, you'll be able to stay awake" — she kissed him on the chin—"maybe."

Then everything went dark as the fox-maidens carried him off to the room Beira kept for him.


These Subterraneans have Controversies, Doubts, Disputes, Feuds, and Siding of Parties.

— The Secret Commonwealth by Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang (1893)

Donia knew Beira approached when the wind shifted, bringing a wave of biting cold over the cottage.

As if it would be anyone else.

No one visited, despite the location of Donia's cottage— outside the iron-laden city, in one of the few wooded areas in reach of Huntsdale. When Keenan had chosen Huntsdale, they'd all followed him and settled into their homes to wait. When she picked the cottage, she thought— hoped —the fey could have their revelries among those trees, but they didn't. They wouldn't. No one got too close to her, as if Keenan still had a claim. Not even the representatives of the other fey courts came near her: only the heads of the Summer and Winter Courts dared approach.

Donia opened her door and stepped back. No sense pretending I don't know she's here.

Beira blew through the doorway, posing like some old vampy actress on the threshold. After air kissing and artificial pleasantries, she stretched out on the sofa, crossing her ankles, dangling her dainty feet off the edge. The femme fatale image was ruined only by the crude staff she held lightly in her hand. "I was just thinking about you, darling."

"I'm sure." The staff wasn't any danger to her— not now — but Donia walked away. She leaned against the stone wall by the hearth. Warmth seeped into her skin, not enough to assuage the cold that slithered over her, but better than sitting near the source of that awful chill.

The cold never bothered Beira; she was of it and could thus control it. Donia carried it inside her, but not in comfort, not without yearning for warmth. Beira didn't seek warmth; she reveled in the cold, wearing it like a cloud of icy perfume—especially when it made others suffer.

"My baby stopped in this evening," Beira said in her usual deceptively casual voice.

"I figured he would." Donia tried to keep her voice even, but despite decades of practice the edge of concern slipped out. She folded her arms over her chest, embarrassed that she still worried about Keenan.

Beira smiled at Donia's reaction and let the pause grow uncomfortably long. Then, still smiling, she stretched out her free hand as if a glass would materialize in it. It didn't. With a long-suffering sigh, she looked around. "Still no servants?"


"Really, sweets. You simply must get a few. The wood-sprites are an obedient sort. Can't stand a brownie, though." She made an unpleasant face. "Terribly independent lot. I could lend you a few of my sprites, just to help out."

"And spy on me?"

"Well, of course, but that's really a minor detail." She fluttered her hand airily. "The place is…squalid, truly. It's worse than the last one. That other little city…or was that another of my son's discarded lovers? It's so hard to remember."

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