Wicked Lovely Page 41

The one still holding Aislinn's hand asked Keenan, "Shall I tell you just how different she is? How special this one will be?"

Every faery there suddenly stopped talking. They were all watching openly, transfixed and gleeful, as if a horrible accident were happening in front of them.

"No." Aislinn pulled her hand free and grabbed Keenan's arm.

He didn't move.

"As special as I've dreamed?" Keenan asked the blind women, his voice carrying clearly to the faeries who pushed forward.

"There are none you will meet so rare as she." The three women all nodded, eerily in sync with one another, like three bodies with one mind.

Grinning, Keenan tossed a handful of unfamiliar bronze coins to the women, who unerringly snatched them out of the air, their hands moving in precisely the same arcs at exactly the same moment.

I need out of here. Now.

But she couldn't run. If not for the Sight, she wouldn't have reason to react so strongly: the women weren't any stranger than most carnies.

Don't expose yourself. Remember the rules.

She couldn't panic. Her heart still beat madly. Her chest felt tight, like she couldn't breathe. Hold it together. Focus. She needed to get out of there, get away from them, back to Seth. She shouldn't have come. It felt like she'd walked into a trap.

She stepped away from the women and pulled on Keenan's arm. "Let's get a drink. Come on."

He pulled her closer to him and went with her to the door, past the crowd of murmuring faeries.

"She is the one."

"Did you hear?"

"Send the message."

"Beira will be furious."

As the evening wore on, faeries he hadn't seen in years arrived at the carnival. It's a good turnout—even with the hags here to spy for Beira. Emissaries from the other fey courts came, some for the first time in centuries. They know.

"Keenan?" One of the guards from Donia's house came toward him and bowed.

Keenan shook his head. He spun Aislinn to him in a loose embrace, far from graceful, but effective nonetheless. She glimmered faintly in the dark, the sunlight of her changing body already filling her. Sometimes it was like that; the change came on so quickly that the mortal girls grew suspicious. It made sense that his queen—for surely she could be none other—would change even quicker.

Behind Aislinn's back, a rowan-man in a mortal glamour intercepted Donia's guard.

"What?" Aislinn started, staring up at Keenan, eyes wide, lips parted as if she waited for a kiss.

Too soon for that. But he did move closer to her, holding her in his arms as if they were at a ball. And we shall have one, show her the splendor of our court. As soon as she ascends to the throne.

Glancing past Aislinn's shoulder to where the rowan-man had stopped Donia's guard, Keenan said, "I don't want anything to spoil tonight. Should the world end tonight, I wouldn't want to know."

And it was true. He had his queen in his arms; after centuries of searching, she was finally in his arms. The Eolas had all but said it.

He tilted her head up and whispered, "Dance with me."

She shook her head, something very close to fear in her eyes. "There's no room, no music."

He spun her, wishing she had on proper skirts, missing the sway of silk and rustle of petticoats. "Of course there is."

No one strayed into their path. No one jostled them. Instead the crowd moved around them, parting to clear a space so he could have his first dance with her, his queen.

At the very edge of the river, he saw his summer faeries— our faeries now —fade from view, shed their glamours, and join the dance. Soon, with Aislinn beside him, he'd be able to protect them, take care of them as a true King of Summer should.

"Can you truly not hear the music?" He led her past a crowd of bog faeries, who hadn't bothered to shed their glamours, but were dancing all the same. Their luminous brown skin sparkled with light that lay trapped just under the surface, looking like long-lost cousins to the selchies. Several of the Summer Girls had begun to swirl in place, waif-thin dervishes of blurring vine and skirt and hair.

With one hand on the small of Aislinn's back and the other holding her tiny hand, he led her through the swirling crowds of invisible fey. Mouth against her ear, he singsonged, "Laughter, the roll of the water, the soft whir of traffic, the hum of insects. Can't you hear it, Aislinn? Just listen."

"I need to leave." Her hair flung across his face as he spun her away and back, closer still this time. She sounded terrified when she said, "Let go."

He stopped. "Dance with me, Aislinn. I hear enough music for both of us."

"Why?" She was still and stiff in his arms, looking around them, staring into faces hidden under mortal masks. "Tell me why. What do you want?"

"You. I've spent my life waiting for you." He paused, looking at the joy on the faces of the summer creatures, those who'd suffered under Beira's reign for so long. "Give me this dance, this night. If it's in my power, I'll give you whatever you ask in return."

"Whatever I ask?" she repeated incredulously. After all the worries, the research, the panic, he offered her an out in exchange for a simple dance.

Could it be that easy? One dance and she could leave, get out of here, away from all of them. But if there was truth in any of the stories, faeries only offered exchanges that would benefit them.

"Give me your vow." She stepped several paces back so she could look him in the eye—an impossible task from up close.

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