Wicked Lovely Page 29

When she was beside the desk, she smiled at him.

He folded his pile of papers, effectively hiding what he'd been researching.

She tilted her head, trying to see what he was reading on the screen.

He clicked on something on the screen and flicked off the monitor. He pointed at her. "Donia, right? Ash didn't introduce us last night. You're the one who helped her?"

She nodded and held out a hand.

Instead of shaking it, he lifted it and kissed her knuckles. He has my hand. It didn't burn like Keenan's touch.

She froze, like quarry before the Hunt, and felt foolish for it. No one touches me. As if I still belonged to Keenan. Forbidden. Liseli swore it would change when the new Winter Girl took the staff, but that was hard to believe sometimes. It'd been decades since anyone had truly held her.

"I'm Seth. Thank you for what you did. If anything happened to her…" For a moment he looked fierce enough to rival Keenan's best guards. "So, thanks."

He still had her hand; she trembled as she pulled it from his grasp. He's hers , just like Keenan is now. "Is Ash here?"

"Nope. Should be on her way from school soon." He glanced past her to the clock that hung on the wall behind her,

She stood, indecisive for a moment.

"Did you need something?" He stared at her, as if he would like to ask her a different question.

She pushed her dark glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. Looking past him, where several of Keenan's girls stood listening, she smiled wryly.

"Are you Ash's…" She waved her hand in the air.

Somberly he prompted, "Ash's what?"

"Beau?" she said, and then winced. Beau. No one uses that anymore. The years sometimes blurred, the words and the clothes and the music. It rolled together. "Her boyfriend?"

"Her beau?" he repeated. He poked his tongue at a ring in his bottom lip, and then he smiled. "No, not really."

"Oh." Catching an unusual scent, Donia sniffed slightly. It can't be.

Seth stood and picked up his bag. He stepped close to her, a handsbreadth from her, as if he were trying to make her step back, asserting some sort of male dominance. That doesn't change over the years.

She stepped back—just once—but not before she caught the slightly acrid scent of recently handled verbena, not overpowering, but there. It is. In his bag. Underneath it were the slight scents of chamomile and Saint-John's-wort.

"I look out for her, you know? She's a wonderful person. Gentle. Good." He slung his bag over his shoulder and stared down at her.

"If anyone tried to hurt her" — he paused, scowled, and continued—"there's nothing I wouldn't do to keep her safe."

"Right. Glad I could help with that the other day." Distracted, she nodded. Verbena, Saint-Johns-wort, what's he doing with those? They were chief among the list of herbs thought to give a mortal faery sight.

Then he left, trailed by several of Keenan's girls. I wonder if they'll notice what he carries in his bag. She doubted it.

Once the door swung shut behind Seth and the Summer Girls, Donia sat down at the terminal and pulled up his search history: Faeries, Glamour, Herbs for Seeing, Summer King.

"Oh," she whispered. That couldn't be good.

When Keenan got to his loft on the outskirts of the city, Niall and Tavish were waiting. They lounged as if they were relaxing, but he didn't miss the assessing looks they gave him when he walked in.

"Well?" Tavish asked as he muted the television, silencing the weather report about a freak hailstorm.

Beira must have heard I spent the day with Aislinn. She often snarled over any progress he made with the mortal girls, but she couldn't—by rules of the contest—actively interfere.

"Not great." Keenan was loath to admit it, but Aislinn's resistance was wearing on him. "She doesn't react as they usually do."

Niall flopped into an overstuffed chair and grabbed a controller for one of the game systems. "Did you ask her out?"

"Already?" Keenan picked up a half-eaten slice of pizza from the box on one of the geode tables scattered around the room. He sniffed it and took a bite. Not too old. "Isn't that too soon? The last girl…"

Niall glanced up from the TV. "Mortal habits change faster than ours. Try a casual 'friends' approach."

"He doesn't want to be her friend. That's not what the girls are for," Tavish insisted in his usual stiff manner. He turned and held out a hand for the box of leftover pizza. "You need protein, not that. Why you two insist on eating mortal food is beyond me."

Because I've had to live so long among them? But Keenan didn't say it. He handed over the pizza and sat down, trying to relax. It was easier here than most places they'd lived. Tall leafy plants dominated every possible space in the loft. A number of birds flitted through the room, squawking at him and retreating to nooks in the columns that supported the high ceilings. It made the room seem open, more like being outside. "So casual's what they like now?"

"It's worth a try," Niall said, his attention still on the screen. With a muttered curse, he tilted to one side and then the other in the chair—as if that would make the onscreen image move. It was hard to believe he could speak more languages than a faery would ever need: give him a toy, and he was hopeless. "Or perhaps try aggressive— tell her you're taking her out. Some of them like that."

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