Wicked Lovely Page 66

As he'd waited there in the hallway—knowing his queen lay with another, knowing that she'd die if she didn't accept him, knowing that Donia would die when Aislinn did accept him—he'd faced the ugly reality of the situation. He had to do whatever necessary to win. There wasn't time to wait. He couldn't force her, but he could use faery persuasion, offer her too much wine, threaten Seth…Aislinn would accept him. There were no other choices.

"How did it go?" Niall asked as they started up the street, the guards trailing them. "You seem better than last night."

"It—" he started, but promptly stopped himself. "I don't know. Moira was her mother."

"Ouch." Niall winced.

Keenan took a steadying breath. "But there are ways to convince her—things I don't want to do."

Niall prompted, "The things Tavish spoke of?"

Even though Mall's tone was harsh, Keenan kept his face blank. "It's business. I could bring her mortal to the loft, let the girls have him, let her see him smitten and senseless."

"It's not our way. Not the Summer Court." Niall made a signal to the guards, and they shifted directions, slowly steering him down another street.

"There will be no Summer Court if Beira kills Aislinn," Keenan said. He didn't like the options, but was the fate of all the summer fey and mortals worth the upset of one girl?

"True." Niall turned between two storefronts, cutting through a narrow alley. "I know Tavish believes it necessary to be expedient—regardless of the cost—but I've been with you as long as he has."

"You have," Keenan said slowly. He knew Niall was even more sensitive to questions of volition.

Niall's expression clouded, leaving him looking near sick. His voice was raw as he said, "Don't cross those lines, Keenan. Not if there's any way to avoid it. You've never been tolerant of that—if our king does it, why should any of the fey do otherwise?"

Niall stopped, putting his hand on Keenan's arm.

In the shadows of the alley before them, several thistle fey had cornered a wood-sprite, her back to a wall. She pleaded with them. They weren't touching her, but she was trapped—by Keenan's own guard. His rowan-men had blocked the opening to the alley, letting no one in or out.

Her skin was already striped with bleeding cuts where the dark fey's thistle-covered hands had touched her. Her tunic was all but shredded, exposing her bloody stomach.

"Is this scene for my benefit?" Keenan asked as he turned slowly to face Niall.

"It is." Niall lowered his voice, but the look on his face was brazen. He straightened his already-stiff shoulders. "I cannot sway you with the paternal influence as Tavish can, or with the Winter Girl's melancholy love."

"So, what, you stage an attack?" All the rancor Keenan had ever felt toward the atrocities of the dark fey seemed to flood him as he looked at his advisor—his friend—and then at the scene orchestrated before them.

"I had the guards find them and relocate them here. This" — Niall motioned to the three in the alley—"is what the Dark Court does. It's never been our way."

At Niall's signal, the guards between the dark faeries and sprite stepped back, leaving the sprite at their mercy.

The dark fey laughed as they caught the sprite.

The sprite's tunic was gone, leaving her topless. She shrieked and begged, "Please."

One of the fey pierced the sprite's arm, pinning her to the wall behind her, leaving her trapped and defenseless.

"We'll share," the dark faery called as he licked the sprite's bleeding wrist.

In an anguished voice, Niall asked, "Would you be able to do it? Watch them hurt the queen's mortal? Would you want your court doing that? Look at them" — he pointed at the dark fey, one of whom was licking his lips as the sprite tried to kick his legs out from under him—"is that what you'd turn our court into?"

Keenan couldn't look away from the weeping sprite, who was fighting desperately despite the odds, despite now being pinned to the wall by both arms. "It's not the same."

Using her legs, the sprite clutched a rowan-man around his middle and pulled him in front of her like a shield. The guard looked positively ill as he disentangled himself from her.

"It's not?" Niall prompted in a tone that made no secret of his disgust. "You'd do that inour court?"

Keenan let go of his temper and swung at Niall, knocking him down. Blood trickled from Niall's lip where it had grated over his teeth.

None of the guards moved or looked away from the sprite.

Another of the dark faeries said, "Feels good, doesn't it?"

The other dark fey laughed.

Keenan didn't look away from Niall, who was crouched on the ground. "I will do what I must to stop Beira. And if I must…use something other than words with Seth or Aislinn, I will make sure that it's not violent."

Although he hated even thinking it, he couldn't let his distaste for it condemn them all. Aislinn might despise him, but he could not let her turn away. In time, she'd come to understand. If not, he'd do his best to make up for it.

"It doesn't matter. Not to her. You told me about what she said after the faire, how she worried" — Niall bowed his head, showing submission in his posture even though his words were defiant—"if you force her or allow the girls to use him, you will lose. There was a time when that would not be seen as a violation. Today, it is."

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