Wicked Lovely Page 42

He smiled that earthshaking smile, and her words caught in her throat.

She shivered, but she didn't back down.

"Swear it in front of all these witnesses." She gestured at the waiting crowd. They were mostly faeries, but a few humans stood by watching, not knowing what the spectacle was about, but watching all the same.

The faeries—those invisible and those wearing glamours—gasped and murmured.

"She's a clever one…"

"…getting a king's vow without knowing what he is, who he is."

"Will he?"

"She'll make a wonderful queen."

Then Keenan raised his voice so everyone could hear him, "In front of all before us, I give you my vow of honor, Aislinn: anything you ask of me that I can offer is yours." He dropped to one knee and added, "And from this day forward, your wishes shall be as my own as often as I am able."

The faeries' murmurs rose, tumbling together, like discordant songs, "What if she's not the one? How could he be so foolish…? But the Eolas said…"

Still kneeling, Keenan bowed his head to her, hand outstretched. His eyes twinkled dangerously as he looked up and asked, "Will you dance with me now? Just take my hand, Aislinn."

All she had to do was dance with him—join the faery revelry for this one night—and she could ask him to leave her alone. It was a small price for such a reward. He'd never even have to know she knew what he was, never know about the Sight.

"I will." She slipped her hand into his, almost giddy with relief. Soon it would all be over.

The throng cheered and laughed, raising such a din that she laughed too. Maybe they weren't cheering for the same reason, but it didn't matter: they echoed her rejoicing.

One of the smiling girls with vines around her arms held out plastic cups filled with the sweet golden drink that most everyone seemed to be drinking. "A drink to celebrate."

Aislinn took one and sipped. It was amazing, a heady mix of things that shouldn't have a flavor—bottled sunlight and spun sugar, lazy afternoons and melting sunsets, hot breezes and dangerous promises. She downed it all.

Keenan took the cup from her hand. "May I have my dance?"

She licked the last taste from her lips— like warm candy —and smiled. She was strangely unsteady on her feet. "With pleasure."

Then he led her through the crowd, spinning her in dances old and new, from a stylized waltz to modern moves without any choreography at all.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that something was wrong, but as he twirled her through the dance, she couldn't remember what. They laughed, and drank, and danced until Aislinn no longer cared why she'd been worried.

Finally she put her hand on Keenan's wrist and gasped, "Enough. I need to stop."

He scooped her up in his arms and—holding her aloft— he sat back on a tall chair carved with sunbursts and vines. "Never stop. Only pause."

Where did the chair come from? All around them, faeries danced and laughed.

I should go. The humans had all gone home. Even the bone girls— Scrimshaw Sisters —danced. Groups of Summer Girls spun by, swirling far too fast to ever be mistaken for humans.

"I need another drink." Sitting on his lap, Aislinn leaned her head on Keenan's shoulder, breathing hard. The more she tried to make sense of her flashes of unease, the less clear they were.

"More summer wine!" Keenan called, laughing as several young lion-boys tumbled over themselves to bring tall goblets to them as she sat in his lap. "My lady wants wine, and wine she shall have."

She took hold of one of the etched goblets, spinning it in her hand. Delicate scrollwork traced the surface, surrounding an image of a dancing couple under a bright sun. The colors in the wine spiraled and shifted like a tiny sunrise burned inside the cup. "Where'd the plastic cups go?"

He kissed her hair and laughed. "Beautiful things for a beautiful lady."

"Whatever." She shrugged and took another long drink.

With an arm securely around her waist and a hand between her shoulder blades, Keenan dipped her backward. "Once more around the faire?"

Her hair fell onto the dew-damp grass as she looked up at him—the faery king who held her in his arms—and wondered that she was having so much fun.

He swung her back up and whispered, "Dance with me, Aislinn, my love."

Her legs ached; her head spun. She hadn't had so much fun since… ever. "Definitely."

On every side, faeries laughed—dancing in ways that were graceful, wild, and sometimes shocking. Earlier they'd seemed sedate, like couples in old black-and-white movies, but as the night wore on, it had changed. When only the fey remained.

Keenan swung her up into his embrace and kissed her neck. "I could spend eternity doing this."

"No" — she pushed him away—"no kissing, no…"

Then they were moving again. The world spun by, a blur of strange faces lost in a cloud of music. The sawdust-covered paths of the carnival were hidden under shadows; the lights of the rides were darkened.

But dawn was coming, light spilling out over the sky. How long have we danced?

"I need to sit down. Seriously."

"Whatever my lady wants." Keenan lifted her into his arms again. His doing so had stopped seeming strange several drinks ago.

One of the men with skin like bark spread out a blanket by the water. Another brought over a picnic basket. "Good morrow, Keenan. My lady."

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