Wicked Lovely Page 59

He knew she heard the murmurs of those who— unaware of her Sight—chose to stay invisible, who wandered even closer and brushed a hand against her hair.

"Our lady."

"The queen is here."

"Finally come to us."

They hadn't heard her doubts or desperation. They only heard that the mortal girl had sought him out; they only knew that she left with him. After the Eolas' words at the faire, they believed she was the one who would free him, rescue them. He hoped they were right.

"The Summer Girls in the library, they said" — she looked away and blushed before rushing through the rest of her words—"they sounded like they, umm, dated mortals."

It hurt, her asking that. He hadn't ever thought that when he found his queen, she'd be so uninterested in him. He ground his teeth, but he answered, "They do."

"So I could…" She paused as they approached the door.

The guard—who'd added strange metal rings to his glamour since Keenan had arrived—grinned at her. "Ash."

Bold once more, she grinned at him. "Later."

Shocked by her easy smile at the guard, Keenan turned to ask her what had transpired between them—far better that than discuss her desire to continue to have a relationship with a mortal.

They stepped outside, and he felt it: the bone-aching wave of cold.

"Beira." Hurriedly he whispered, "Please, stay near me. My mother is coming toward us."

"I thought you lived with your uncles."

"I do." He stepped in front of Aislinn, putting himself between them. "Beira is supremely unqualified to care for anyone."

"Now, now, sweetling, that's not very kind." Beira stepped out of the darkness like a nightmare he couldn't ever stop remembering.

Her glamour revealed her usual strand of pearls resting on a gray dress. It revealed the thick fur jacket she wore. It didn't reveal her snow-filled eyes or the sparkle of frost on her lips. Keenan knew Aislinn saw it, though. He knew that she saw his mothers true face. The thought didn't comfort him.

Beira let her icy breath float toward his face as she sighed and said, "I just thought I should meet the girl who's got everyone talking."

Then the Winter Queen leaned closer still and kissed him on both cheeks.

Keenan felt the bruises, the frostbite, forming where her lips had touched his skin, but he didn't speak. Fortunately, neither did Aislinn.

"Does the other girl know you're out with her?" Beira stage-whispered, pointing at Aislinn and wrinkling her nose.

He balled his hand into a fist, wishing he could let his temper reign, thinking of Beira's threats to Donia. Now, with Aislinn beside him—vulnerable still—he dared not. "I wouldn't know."

" Tsk, tsk, temper is so unattractive, don't you think?"

He didn't rise to the bait.

She clapped her hands together, sending a wave of cold toward him, and gushed, "Aren't you going to introduce us, darling?"

"No." He stayed in front of Aislinn, keeping her out of Beira's reach. "I think you need to leave."

Beira laughed, letting her chill roll through the sound, making him ache.

He tried to keep Aislinn shielded safely behind him where that icy air wouldn't touch her, but she stepped up beside him and stared at Beira disdainfully.

"Let's go." Aislinn took his hand then, not in love or affection, but in a sign of solidarity. This wasn't the anxious girl he'd been talking to at Rath. No, she looked more like a warrior, one of the old guard who forgot to smile even in moments of bliss. She was glorious.

While he stood there, fighting not to falter under the chill Beira had released, Aislinn pulled him down and kissed each of his bruised cheeks, her lips soft as balm on the painful bruises. "I can't stand a bully."

Warmth shot through his hand, burned on his cheeks.

It can't be.

Keenan looked from Aislinn to his mother. They stood facing each other like they were ready to wage a war the likes of which fey hadn't seen in millennia.

Unable to focus, Keenan stared at the Dumpster down the alley, the half-asleep man curled in a nest of frayed cloth and boxes, and listened to the sound of his advisors and guards approaching behind them.

Beira moved closer, her bone-white hand lifting toward Aislinn's cheek. "She has a familiar face."

Aislinn stepped out of Beira's reach. "No."

Beira laughed, and Aislinn felt something cold and vile sliding down her back.

Whether or not she was angry about becoming one of them no longer mattered; it had stopped mattering when Beira bruised Keenan. An instinct to protect him flared to life in her—an urge she'd felt often enough for her friends but never for a faery. Maybe it was the way he'd looked in the club, the growing sense that he was as trapped as she was.

Beiracouldn't stand against us both. Not both the Summer King and Queen. As much as she didn't like that possibility, it sounded right as she thought it.

"Until we meet again, lovelies." Beira waved and two withered hags stepped forward, flanking her much the way ladies-in-waiting did in paintings of royalty. Under their glamours, these faeries shared none of Beira's dark beauty; they simply looked like someone had sucked the life out of them, leaving empty shells, haggard and glassy-eyed.

Without glancing back, the three strolled down the alley. Shards of ice, cracked and angled like broken glass, glittered in Beira's footsteps.

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