Wicked Lovely Page 34

"Donia, darling," Beira gushed, coming to her feet with such grace that it looked like she'd been pulled upright with invisible strings. "I was beginning to wonder if I should send Agatha after you."

The hag in question grinned, exposing gaps where a number of her teeth should've been.

"Beira. How very…" Donia couldn't find a word that wouldn't be a lie. Unexpected? Pleasant? No, neither of those. "What can I do for you?"

"Such a good question, that one." Beira tapped her chin with one finger.

"Now, if only my son had the good manners to ask that" — Beira frowned petulantly—"but he doesn't."

Across the yard, at the edge of the trees, several guards saluted. The rowan-man waved.

"Do you know what that boy did?"

Donia didn't answer; it wasn't really a question. Just like Keenan. It'd be a relief not to be stuck between them.

"He went to the girls school. Enrolled there, like a mortal. Can you imagine?" Beira began pacing, the staccato rhythm of her steps cracking like falling sleet on the battered porch. "He's spent the week with her, trailing behind her like that dog of yours."

"Wolf. Sasha is a wolf."

"Wolf, dog, coyote, whatever. The point" — Beira paused, standing so still she could've been carved of ice— "the point, Donia, is that he's found an in. Do you understand what that means? He is making progress; you are not. You're failing me."

Agatha cackled.

Beira turned, slowly, deliberately. She crooked a finger. "Come here."

Not yet realizing her error, Agatha stepped onto the porch with her grin still in place.

"Is it amusing then that my son could win? That he could undo everything I've built?" Beira put one finger under Agatha's chin, her long manicured fingernail cutting into the hag's skin. A line of blood trickled down her throat. "I don't find it the least bit funny, Aggie dear."

"'S not what I meant, my Queen." Agatha's eyes widened. She glanced at Donia, imploring.

"Aggie, Aggie, Aggie" — Beira tsk-tsked —"Donia won't help you. She couldn't even if she wanted to."

Donia looked away, staring instead at the ever-present rowan-man. He shuddered in sympathy. They'd all seen Beira's temper before, but it was still awful.

Holding the hag tightly in her embrace now, Beira put her lips to Agatha's withered mouth and blew.

All the while Agatha tried to escape, her hands pushed against Beira's shoulder, clutched at the Winter Queen's wrists. Sometimes the Winter Queen relented; sometimes she did not.

Today she did not.

Agatha fought, but it was futile: only another monarch could stand against Beira.

"Well then," Beira murmured as Agatha's body slumped forward, limp in Beira's embrace.

Agatha's spirit—a shade now—stood beside them, wringing her hands, weeping soundlessly.

Beira licked her lips. "I feel better."

She dropped Agatha's body to the ground.

Agatha's shade knelt beside her now lifeless body. Ice crystals fell from the corpse's open mouth, trailed down her sunken cheeks.

"Go on, now." Beira shooed the soundlessly weeping shade with a gesture, like she'd brush off an insect. Then she turned to Donia. "Work faster, girl. My tolerance wears thin."

Without waiting for an answer, Beira walked away—the shade of Agatha trailing behind her—leaving Donia to deal with the corpse on the porch.

Donia stared at Agatha— at the body that used to be Agatha. The ice had melted, leaving a puddle soaking the hag's hair.

That could be me. It will be me someday if I fail Beira…

"May I help?" the rowan-man stood close enough that she should've known he was there long before he spoke.

She glanced up at him. His gray-brown skin and dark-green leafy hair made him almost a shadow in the dark. If it weren't for his bright red eyes, he'd almost blend into the growing evening.

Evening? How long have I been standing here? She sighed.

He gestured to the other guards who waited back at the tree line. "We could take her with us. The soil is moist; her shell would fade quickly in the loam."

Donia swallowed the sickness that threatened to rise.

"Does Keenan know yet?" she whispered, embarrassed that she still worried over how he felt.

"Skelley already went to tell him."

Donia nodded.

Skelley? Which one is he? She tried to focus, think about the guardsmen. Better that than thinking about Agatha.

Skelley, he was one of the court guards, thin, like the Scrimshaw Sisters, gentle. He'd wept when she'd frozen the guards before. Still he stayed, taking his turns guarding her, doing as Keenan ordered.

"Do you need extra guards?" The rowan-man did not wince when he offered, although she knew he remembered the temper tantrums she'd thrown when such a thing was offered in the past. "We could at least come closer."

Frozen tears rolled down her face and landed in the puddle on the porch. I don't weep for her. Would he still offer such kindness if he knew that—that even now with Agatha at my feet, I weep for myself?

She looked away, to where the other guards stood, waiting, ready to protect her even though she'd never shown them a single reason to do so. Of course they would. Keenan wills it.


She looked up. "That's the first time you've said my name."

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