Wicked Lovely Page 44

She didn't pull away, although his breath burned her. "I heard the news from the faire, that she's the one."

When Evan had told her, she'd almost wept, imagining eternity in this pain, alone, watching them dance and laugh. Unless Beira kills me.

"Don…" His lips moved against her fingers, gentle even as they hurt her—just like the words he'd say if she didn't stop him.

When there were no witnesses, he'd let himself be the person he'd been before she knew he was a king—the person she fell in love with. It was why she avoided being alone with him.

"No," she said, not wanting the gentle side of him, not now. Today she needed him to be the Summer King, to set aside the person he could be without the crown. She needed him to be arrogant and assured, able to do what needed doing.

Steam rose against her hand as he exhaled, the breath of summer melting her frost. Sometimes, in secret dreams she'd never tell him, she wondered what would happen if her frost and his sun truly clashed, if they touched as they had in those few weeks before she became the Winter Girl, when he was pretending to be a mortal for her. Would she melt away? Burn up?

She shivered—excited at the thought—and felt the cold well up inside her as her emotions raged like a blizzard. If she didn't keep calm, she'd need to let that awful cold out.

"Beira was here last night. You need to know what she's doing."

He nodded, weariness on his face, as she told him almost everything—about Beira's initial visit when Aislinn was chosen, about the attack on Aislinn outside the library, about her belief that the attack was at Beira's behest, about Agatha's death, about Beira's threats, about her insistence that Aislinn not lift the staff.

Donia kept quiet about Seth's research—fearing for the mortal's safety—but beyond that, she was more honest with Keenan than she'd been in a very long time. When she stopped talking, he stared at her, silent and struggling to contain the temper he rarely freed.

She clenched her hands so tightly that icicles formed on the tips of her fingernails. Now comes the hard part.

"Let's go." He looked over at Sasha, then past the wolf to the tiny mementos handed down by the other Winter Girls. "The guards will bring your things. We can turn the study into a private chamber and—"

"Keenan," she interrupted before she could be tempted.

He'd see the logic of what needed to be done if he thought clearly; she needed to assure that he did so. She opened her hand. Icicles fell and shattered at her feet. "I'm not going anywhere."

"You can't stay here. If something happened to you" — he bowed his head, letting his forehead rest on her knee— "please, Don, come with me."

Where is the Summer King? But it wasn't the king who laid his head in her lap, pleading.

She didn't move away. It burned her, froze him, but she stayed still. "I can't come with you. It's not my place. I'm not the one you're looking for."

He looked up at her, an ugly frostbitten bruise forming where his skin had touched her knee. "I'm not strong enough to stop her, but I will be soon. Stay with me until we get this sorted out."

"And what would she do to me when I left?"

"I'll be strong soon." He was almost frightening in his insistence. His eyes darkened to that unearthly green hue she still dreamed of; if she stared long enough, she'd see flowers blooming there, a promise of what he could become once his queen freed him.

She couldn't look away.

He whispered, "Stay with me. I'll keep you safe."

"You can't." She wished he could, but it was impossible: there was no winning, not for her. "I want you to win. I always have, but I still have to try to convince Aislinn not to believe in you, that you're not worth the risk. Those are the rules. I gave my word when I lifted the staff. We both did."

He put a hand on either side of her, his fingertips burning her skin through her clothes. "Even if it means Beira wins? Even if she kills you? We can work together, find a way."

She shook her head. For all his centuries—far more than she'd ever see—he could still be so reckless. It usually infuriated her. Today she found it saddening. "If she wins, she won't kill me. It's only if you win that I'll die."

"Then why tell me? I need to win." He looked awful, pale and sickly like he'd been skewered by iron spikes. He moved farther away from her—crouched on the floor, head bowed—where they couldn't touch. He sounded as broken as he looked. "If you stop Aislinn, I lose everything. If you don't, you die. What am I to do?"

"Hope I lose," she suggested softly. No.

She stood up and walked over to him. "I'm terrified of Beira, but I truly do hope that Ash is the one. For both of your sakes."

"You'll still be a shade. That doesn't fix anything."

Where is the Summer King? She sighed as she watched him struggle between what he wanted and the inevitable. Not all dreams come true. If it'd make things easier, she'd be cruel. It wouldn't help, though.

She leaned over him, holding her hair back so it didn't fall against him. "It fixes a lot of things."


"Make me lose, Keenan. Convince her you're worth the risk" — she kissed his cheek—"because you are." It was easier to say it, knowing Beira would kill her, knowing she wouldn't spend eternity with him knowing she still loved him. I cant…

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