Wicked Lovely Page 32

She lifted her head to look at him. "Seven months?"

He cleared his throat. "Yeah. I thought if I was patient…I don't know…" He gave her a nervous smile, not at all like himself. "I hoped you might stop running away…that after all the talking and time, we…"

"I can't, I didn't…I need to deal with this faery thing and…Seven months?" She felt awful.

Seth's been waiting for me?

"Seven months." He kissed her nose, like everything was normal, like nothing had changed. Then he gently lifted her off the counter and stepped away. "And I'll keep waiting. I'm not going away, and I'm not letting them take you away."

"I don't know…didn't know." She had so many questions: What did he want? What did «waiting» mean? What did she want? None of those were things she could ask.

For the first time that she could think of, she was more comfortable thinking about faeries than anything else. "I need to deal with this—Them—right now, and…"…

"I know. I don't want you to ignore them, but just don't ignore this, either." He brushed back her hair and let his fingers linger on her cheek. "They've been stealing mortals away for centuries, but they can't have you."

"Maybe it's something else."

"I haven't found anything, anything that suggests they go away once they find a mortal they like." He pulled her into his arms, tenderly this time. "We're one up since you can see them, but if this guy really is a king, I don't think he's going to take 'no' very well."

Aislinn didn't say anything, couldn't say anything. She just stood there in Seth's arms as he gave voice to her growing fears.


Fairies seem to [be] especially fond of the chase.

— The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man by A. W Moore (1891)

By the end of the week, Aislinn was sure of two things— being with Seth had become beyond tempting, and avoiding Keenan was utterly impossible. She needed to do something about both situations.

The faery king could navigate the school just fine, but he still trailed her like a particularly devoted stalker. There would be no waiting him out, and her careful attempts at callousness and indifference were proving futile. She could barely stay upright by the end of the day, exhausted by the sheer effort of not touching him. She needed a new approach.

Faeries chase. That rule, at least, seemed unchanged. Like the lupine fey that prowled the streets, Keenan was chasing her. She might not be physically running, but it was the same thing. So—even though it terrified her—she decided to stop, let him think he could catch her.

In her childhood that was one of the hardest lessons. Grams used to take her to the park for short trips so she could practice not-running when they sniffed and chased, so she could practice making her sudden stops seem normal, uninfluenced by the faeries chasing her. She hated those lessons. Everything inside screamed run faster when they chased, but that was fear, not reason, compelling her. If she stopped running, they lost interest. So she'd stop running from Keenan, once she figured out how to make it seem somehow natural.

She tried a few tentative smiles at Keenan as they walked toward health class.

He responded without hesitation, directing such an intensely happy look at her that she stumbled.

But when he reached out to steady her, she flinched away, and a frustrated frown returned to his face.

She tried again after they left religion class. "So do you have big plans this weekend?"

The expression on his face was an odd one, somewhere between amused and surprised.

"I'd hoped to, but" — he stared at her until she felt that familiar panic and compulsion rise up—"I've been doubting that I'd have much luck."

Don't run.

Her chest hurt too much for her to offer an answer, so she just nodded and said, "Oh."

Silent then, he looked away, but he was smiling and quiet now. He waded through the crowd without another word. He still stayed too close, but the silence was a nice change. The lack of tempting warmth was incredible, like some odd calm radiated from him.

When they walked into Government, he was still smiling. "Can I join you at lunch?"

She paused. "You have every other day."

He laughed, a sound as musical as the chiming song of the lupine fey when they ran. "Yes. But you resented it every other day."

"What makes you think I won't resent it today?"

"Hope. It's what I live on…"

She bit her lip, considering: he was too easily encouraged by a few friendly remarks, but when he wasn't trying so hard she seemed able to breathe around him, felt less overwhelmed by odd compulsions.

Tentatively she said, "I still don't like you."

"Maybe you'll change your mind if you spend more time with me." He reached out like he'd touch her cheek.

She didn't flinch, but she tensed.

Neither of them moved.

"I'm not a bad person, Aislinn. I just…" He stopped and shook his head.

She knew she was walking on precarious ground, but it was the closest to honest he'd sounded and the closest to peace she'd felt since he'd started attending Bishop O.C.

She prompted, "What?"

"I just want to get to know you. Is that so strange?"

"Why? Why me?" Her heart sped as she waited for him to respond, as if he'd answer the real question. "Why not someone else?"

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