Wicked Lovely Page 12

Donia didn't take the bait. "It's clean."

"But still so blah. No style." Beira trailed her fingers over the sandstone carvings on the rough-hewn table by the sofa. "These aren't from your time."

She picked up a bear fetish—its right paw raised, miniature claws exposed. "This was Liseli's work, right?"

Donia nodded, though an answer wasn't necessary. Beira knew exactly whose it was. It irritated Beira that Liseli still visited Donia—and Keenan. She hadn't done so in a few years, but she would again. Since she'd been freed from the burden of carrying Beira's cold, she wandered the world— often choosing desert regions where there was no chance of seeing Beira or her ilk. Every few years she showed up to remind Donia that the cold wouldn't last forever, no matter how many times it seemed as if it would.

"And those awful ragged pants you insist on wearing?"

"Rika's. We're the same size."

Rika hadn't visited in more than two decades, but she was a strange girl: more at ease with carrying the cold than with the idea of being Keenan's queen. They were different, every one of them. All that the Winter Girls had in common was a strength of will. Better that than sharing traits with the vapid Summer Girls, who followed Keenan like children.

Beira waited expectantly as Donia tried not to show her impatience.

Giving in, Donia asked, "Do you have a reason for visiting?"

"I have a reason for everything." Beira came to stand beside her; she rested her hand on the small of Donia's back.

Donia didn't bother asking Beira to move her hand; doing so would only encourage her to put it there more often in the future. "Are you going to tell me what it is?"

" Tsk, tsk, you're worse than my son. Not as temperamental, though." Beira moved closer, sliding her hand around Donia's waist, digging her fingers into Donia's hip. "You'd be so much prettier if you dressed better. Maybe do something more flattering with your hair."

Donia stepped away, ostensibly to prop open the back door, letting the growing cold out. She wished she were as «temperamental» as Keenan—but that was the nature of the Summer King. He was as volatile as summer storms, moody and unpredictable, as likely to laugh as he was to rage. But it wasn't his power that flooded her; it was Beira's cold power that had filled Donia when she'd lifted the staff so long ago. If it hadn't, if she'd been immune to the Winter Queen's chill, she would've joined Keenan, had eternity with him. But the chill that rested inside the Winter Queen's staff had filled her—consumed her until she was little more than a breathing extension of the Winter Queen's staff. Donia still wasn't sure whom she resented more: Keenan, for convincing her he loved her, or Beira, for killing that dream. If he'd truly loved her enough, wouldn't she be the one? Wouldn't she be his queen?

Donia stepped outside. The trees were reaching toward the gray sky gnarled limbs seeking the last bit of sun. Somewhere in the distance she heard the huffing of the deer that wandered through the small nature preserve that abutted her yard. Familiar sights. Comforting sounds. It should've been idyllic, but it wasn't. Nothing was peaceful when the game began.

In the shadows she saw a score of Keenan's lackeys. Rowan-men, fox-faeries, and other court soldiers—even those that looked almost mortal were still somehow strange to her after decades of their presence. They were always there, watching her, carrying word of her every move back to him. No matter that she told him innumerable times that she wanted them gone. No matter that she felt trapped by their watching and waiting.

"It's the order of things, Don. The Winter Girl is my responsibility. It's always been so. "He tried to take her hand, to wrap those now-painful fingers around hers.

She walked away. "Not anymore. I mean it,

Keenan. Get rid of them, or I will. "

He hadn't stayed to see her weep, but she knew he'd heard. Everyone had. He didn't listen, though. He'd been too used to Rika's cooperation, too used to everyone kowtowing to him. So Donia had frozen a number of the guards during the first decade. If they came too close to her, she let a thick rime cover them until they couldn't move. Most had recovered, but not all.

Keenan merely sent more. He didn't even complain. No matter how awful she was to him, he insisted on sending more of his guards to keep watch over her. And she kept lashing out, freezing them until eventually he told the next round of guards to stand in the safety of the furthest trees or perch in the boughs of the yew and oak. It was progress of a sort.

Beira stepped up to stand shoulder to shoulder with her. "They still watch. Obedient little pawns he sends to watch over you."

"They saw you arrive. Keenan will know." She didn't look at Beira, staring instead at a young rowan-man who never kept his distance as well as the others.

He winked. In the past decades he'd rarely left his post outside her house. The others rotated in and out, staying constant in number, but not in face. The rowan-man was different. Although they never spoke more than a handful of words, she almost regarded him as a friend.

"Undoubtedly. But not now" — Beira laughed, an awful sound like ravens squabbling over carrion—"poor dear's out cold."

Pretending she wasn't worried never worked; showing concern never worked, so Donia looked toward the thicket, trying to change the topic before she asked how badly it had gone for Keenan. "And where are your lackeys tonight?"

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