Wicked Lovely Page 67

Temper barely contained, Keenan said to his guardsmen, "Free her. Get them out of here. Now."

Looking relieved, the guards—who far outnumbered the dark fey—quickly pulled the sprite free and dispatched the still-grinning dark faeries.

The sprite wept, clinging to one of the guards who'd shed his jacket and draped it around her.

"It's not the same," Keenan insisted. He wiped Niall's blood from his knuckles and held a hand out to him.

"With all due respect, my king, it is exactly the same, and you know it as well as I." Niall accepted Keenan's hand and rose. He inclined his head toward the bloodied sprite. "That one isn't weeping over the bruises on her skin. Beira wounds them far worse, and they stay silent. She weeps in fear of what could have been. She fought to prevent what they would've done to her."

Niall wasn't saying anything Keenan hadn't already thought, but there simply weren't any other options if Aislinn continued to refuse him. She needed to agree, and he didn't know how to persuade her to do so. She wasn't interested in him romantically; her dislike of the fey was a huge obstacle. Her entanglement with her mortal was another deterrent, and now the revelation about Moira seemed certain to eliminate any sliver of a chance he might have had.

After several of his guards gently escorted the sprite away, Keenan resumed walking. Quietly he asked, "If the choice is that or her death, our death, which would you have me pick?"

"Maybe you need to ask her." Niall motioned behind them.

Keenan turned, and there she was: Aislinn, his reluctant queen.

Niall bowed; the remaining guards bowed.

Keenan held out his hand, hoping.

She ignored it, shoving her hands into the pockets of the too-large leather jacket she had on. It wasn't hers, and he knew without asking that it belonged to her mortal.

She glared at him. "I thought we were to going to take a walk and talk about things. I had to ask one of your guards to help me find you."

Keenan blinked, baffled by her unpredictability. "I hadn't understood that you were—"

"Grams wouldn't talk. She gave me money to run away. I don't suppose I could get far" — she stepped close enough to him that his breath stirred the tendrils of hair around her face—"could I? Could I get away from you by running?"

"I doubt it," he said, half wishing he could answer as she wanted him to.

"It didn't work for my mother, did it?" she whispered as she stared up at him, an unfathomable expression in her eyes. "So talk. You seemed insistent enough, threatening me."

For the first time Keenan felt like stepping backward, away from her. He didn't. Earlier, in her home, he'd felt more assured. Now, with Niall's admonishments and the sprite's shrieks fresh in his mind, with Aislinn staring at him with shadowed eyes, he had to struggle to regain his balance.

She didn t move back, but she glanced at the guards who stood—invisible still—around them. "Can they give us some space?"

"Indeed." Keenan motioned to the guards, glad to be dealing with a more familiar problem. He often found the guards' proximity stifling.

They moved away, expanding the perimeter of their protective circle.

One hand on her hip, Aislinn tilted her head and looked at Niall, who'd remained behind him. "You too, Uncle…"

After a broad smile, Niall stepped up and bowed deeply. "Niall, my lady, court advisor to our king these last nine centuries."

"Give us space, Niall," she said with that same edge in her voice, sounding quite comfortable issuing commands already.

"As you wish." Niall faded to invisible and joined the guards.

Once he was farther away, presumably unable to hear them, Aislinn narrowed her eyes and said, "Threatening me or Seth is really stupid."

"No," she snapped, cutting him off before he could offer anything in his defense—not that he had anything in his defense that she would find acceptable. "Don't f**k with me. Don't go near my Grams or Seth. That's the first thing we need to get straight if we're going to talk at all."

"Oh?" He did step back then. Aside from Donia and Beira, no one took that sort of tone with him. He might be a bound king, but he was still a king.

"Yeah." She shoved him with both hands. "You need me to get your juice back from the Winter Queen, right?"

"I do," he agreed, dragging the words out slowly.

"So if something happens to me, you're out of luck? Is that about right?" Her chin tilted up.

"It is."

"If you think threats are going to make me cooperate, you're a fool. It won't." She nodded once, as if she were reaffirming her words. "I won't let you use me as an excuse to hurt anyone I love. Got it?"

"I do," he said after clearing his throat.

She walked away then, setting a fast pace.

The guards sped up to keep up with her furious stride, as did he.

After a few tense moments, he asked, "So, what do you, ah, propose? You are the Summer Queen."

"I am," she said softly. "I believe that, but the thing is— you need me far more than I need you."

"So what do you want?" he asked cautiously. He had never met a mortal—or fey, for that matter—so far outside his expectations.

She looked wistful for a moment. "Freedom. Not to even know faeries exist. To be mortal. But none of that is a choice."

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