Wicked Lovely Page 23

She thinks this girl is different.

The sax-man played another mournful song. Donia shifted again, stretching out further, enjoying her solitude, cherishing the brief illusion of belonging with humanity. She'd never be that again—human. She didn't belong to their world, never again would. It still ached when she thought of what she'd given up for Keenan. Once the next girl lifted the staff, she would become just another faery— no allegiance to any of the courts, no responsibility, no place at all where she belonged.

She still wanted that, belonging. Once she'd thought she belonged with Keenan. When she met him—before she knew what he was—he'd taken her to hear his friends' band. He'd even bought her a dress—a short little number with strands of beads hanging everywhere, swaying when she danced. And did they dance!

The band was unlike anything she'd ever heard before— three tall, thin men made love with the songs they wrenched from their horns, while a woman with a sexy torch voice crooned to the crowd, promising everything with her words and her body. There were others, a heavyset man with fingers that stroked the piano keys like he was caressing it. When they played, gods, it was like they funneled pure emotions into the instruments. Nothing had ever felt as good as listening to them play—nothing except moving across the floor in Keenan's arms. Nothing ever would.

Shaking off the longing, she closed her eyes, listening to the sax-man in front of her. His song was flat compared to the faery band in her memories, but blessedly mortal. There was no trickery in his song, no lie woven into the notes. It was flawed, and somehow lovelier for it.

She laughed aloud at the absurdity of it all: she could hear the most perfect music any day—fey with voices of unmatchable purity—but a half-talented old man playing for change in the park pleased her more.

From beside her, she heard Aislinn's voice, wary and thin, as the girl approached. "Donia?"


She was wary, far more than Donia had ever been when the Winter Girl and Summer King had played her. She'll need something to even the odds, especially if she is the one he's been seeking.

"We were walking by and saw you. Sasha's not here, so I thought…" Aislinn's voice trailed off. "Did he come back?"

"Sasha is fine. Sit with me." Donia kept her eyes closed, but turned her head to smile in Aislinn's direction. Aislinn's mortal didn't speak, but Donia heard his steady heartbeat as he stood protectively by her side.

Aislinn started, "We weren't—"

"Stay. Relax with me. We could both use it."

And it was true. After Keenan whispered his hollow words, his protests and reminders of what they'd once had, what she couldn't have, she was always out of sorts. If it'd been true winter, he'd be unable to bother her, but spring through fall he was out and about, tormenting her with his very presence. Never mind that he'd tempted her with empty promises; forget the fact that he'd stolen her mortality. Until another girl was willing to believe in him, she was trapped—watching him make them fall in love with him, knowing that the girls who chose not to risk the cold shared his bed. And they'd all refused the risk—choosing instead to be Summer Girls, refusing to lift the staff. I love —loved— him enough to risk the cold; they didn't. Yet they had him.

"Ash?" The mortal—Seth—motioned to a group of equally pierced people who'd called out to him.

"I'll be right here," Aislinn murmured to him with a weak smile. She folded her arms tightly over her chest.

"When you're ready…" He looked like he'd rather stay beside Aislinn, but she motioned him off—watching him as he passed the fountain.

Inside it young kelpies were playing. Like most of the water fey, they cared little for the other faeries in the park. They were still disquieting to Donia in a way that most of the fey no longer were, preying on mortals when given the slightest chance, drinking down their last breaths, somehow making death a sexual thing. Not even Irial's Dark Court disturbed her the way the water fey did.

Of course, Seth—like most mortals—didn't glance at them, but as he passed them they stilled, watching him with that eerie hunger they had. They could see the passion in him, feel it somehow, or they wouldn't watch him so.

Aislinn watched him too. Her breathing sped up; her cheeks flushed. Her willingness to be separated from him seemed to be a show for his benefit. She didn't speak, didn't relax.

Only a few minutes had passed when she announced, "I can't stay here."

"Still feeling weird about the attack?"

Donia felt pretty unsettled about it too, but for quite different reasons. If Beira knew Donia suspected her of violating the rules, if Keenan knew that Donia suspected that this mortal was the missing Summer Queen… caught between them yet again. Nothing was simple anymore. It hadn't been in so very long.

Beside her, Aislinn shuddered. She stared at the fountain, or perhaps past it where her mortal stood. "I guess it freaked me out a little. Seems unreal, you know? And the sort of things that come out at night…"

Donia sat up. "Things?"

It was an odd word to chose, an odd tone in her voice as Aislinn stared toward the kelpies.

Can she see them? How very unexpected that would be. There were stories of sighted mortals, but Donia'd never met one.

With a strange half-mocking tone, Aislinn said, "It's not just guys like those today. Even the pretty ones can be awful. Don't trust them just because they're pretty."

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