Wicked Lovely Page 56

His grin was a slow thing, like sunrise creeping over the horizon. He altered his glamour. "Better?"

"Yeah." She stepped closer to him, not touching, but closer than she'd have believed she could get without panicking. Pretend it's Seth. She tilted her head so she was looking up at him. "Works for me."

He laughed, nervously, and glanced over his shoulder. The messenger wasn't back yet. "I'm liable to get flogged if you keep doing that. It's one thing to go for a mortal, but you" — he shook his head—"you're off limits."

She didn't move, not closing that last little gap, but not backing up, either. "Is he that cruel? To beat people?"

The guard almost choked on his laugh. "Keenan? Hell, no. But he's not the only player. The Winter Girl, Keenan's advisors, the Summer Girls" — he shuddered, lowered his voice—"the Winter Queen. You never know who's going to get pissy about what once the game's in motion."

"So what's the prize for the game?" Her heart thumped so loudly now, she felt like she'd have chest pains any minute.

Keenan and Donia weren't telling her everything; maybe he would. Donia might say she was trying to help, but she was one of the players.

The messenger was coming back, leading two of the vine-decorated faeries she'd seen in the library.

Focus. Don't panic whatever he says.

He leaned down so his tusks framed her forehead and whispered, "Control. Power. You."


What does that mean?

She mutely followed the vine-covered girl, wondering if the fey ever gave a straight answer.

Aislinn— my queen, here —followed Eliza through the crowd; they parted for her as they did for him. She was lovely, a vision come true. The Summer Girls spun like dervishes. Winter fey sulked. And the dark fey licked their lips, as if in anticipation. Others—solitary fey and the rare high court fey who mingled in the crowd—looked on, curious, but not invested in the outcome. It was as if his life, his struggle, were nothing more than a tableau for their amusement.

Eliza stepped up, bowed her head. "Your guest, Keenan."

He nodded, then pulled out a chair for Aislinn. She wasn't smiling, not happy at all. She wasn't here to accept, but to fight.

And everyone's watching.

He felt curiously ill at ease. He'd always chosen the field of battle, always set the stage, but she was here—in his club, surrounded by his people, and he hadn't a clue about how to deal with it.

She came to me. Not for the reason he'd like, though; her posture was proof enough that she was there to deny him. As strategies go, it was a good one. Even if she wasn't the queen, she was the best game he'd had in a long time. If she weren't so terrified of him, it would be a lovely start to the evening.

"Let me know when you're done staring at me." She tried to sound blasé and failed.

She turned away and flagged down one of the innumerable cubs that scampered around. "Can I get something normal that mortals drink? I don't want any of that wine I had at the faire."

The cub bowed—his mane bristling when another faery tried to step closer—and went in search of her drink, not slowing for the fey clustered around him, becoming lost in the throng of dancing faeries.

From the edge of the dance floor, Tavish and Niall watched openly, using the guards to form a barricade of sorts to keep the girls farther away. They rarely had sense about what should and shouldn't be said. Tonight they were almost impossible to deal with, believing their queen was finally among them.

"I'm done staring," he murmured, but he wasn't. He didn't think he ever would be if she dressed like that very often. She had on some sort of vinyl pants and a very old-fashioned blouse that laced up with a red velvet ribbon. If he tugged that ribbon, he was fairly certain the whole thing would come undone.

"Do you want to dance before we talk?" His arms almost ached to hold her, to dance as they had at the faire, to swirl in the fey— our fey.

"With you? Not likely." She sounded like she was laughing at him, but her bravado was forced.

"Everyone is staring." Staring at both of us. He needed to assert himself or the fey would think him weak, subservient to her. "Everyone but you."

So he dropped his glamour, letting all the sunlight he carried illuminate him, making himself shine like a beacon in the dim light of the club. It was one thing for a mortal to see a faery; it was another to sit before a fey monarch.

Aislinn's eyes widened; her breath caught on a gasp.

Leaning forward across the table, Keenan darted a hand out to grab one of her tightly clenched hands.

In a move too fast for mortal eyes to see, Aislinn yanked away—then scowled down at her hand, as if she could quell the reminder of how changed she already was.

Then the cub Aislinn had sent for refreshments was back, holding a tray of drinks; three of his pride followed him, each carrying a tray of the sugary mortal snacks the fey preferred.

With a friendliness she denied feeling for the fey, Aislinn smiled at them. "That was quick."

They stood straighter, tawny manes puffed in pleasure.

"For you we'll do anything, my lady," the eldest one answered in that gravel voice the cubs all had.

"Thank" — she caught herself before she said those uncomfortable mortal words—"I mean, it's kind of you."

Keenan smiled as he watched her. Maybe her changing attitude was a result of her own changing body; maybe it was a product of her inevitable acceptance of the fey. He didn't care, though, as long as she was smiling at their faeries.

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