Wicked Lovely Page 75

With a glance at Aislinn, Beira lifted her arm. A long, thin blade of ice grew from her outstretched hand. She winked at Aislinn and drove it into Keenan's chest.

He slumped forward, still blind.

Furious, Aislinn pounded both fists on the ice wall, and it melted under her touch as quickly as it had formed under Beira's.

Aislinn grabbed both of Beira's arms to stop her from stabbing Keenan again.

Then—thinking hot —Aislinn blew into Keenan's face.

Not only did her breath warm Keenan, but her skin grew hotter until Beira's arms were smoking, steam pouring off of her until the room was cloudy with it.

Keenan blinked several times; then he grabbed Beira's face in his hands. "You're right, Mother. It will never work with both of us still breathing."

"With Aislinn still holding Beira's arms, Keenan leaned closer, until his lips were almost touching Beira's mouth. Then he just breathed. Sunlight poured onto her like some viscous fluid. She struggled to turn her head and couldn't. She was held in place by Keenan's glowing hands, as she choked on sunlight. The heat burned through Beira's throat, and steam hissed from the wound in her neck.

When finally she was limp in their hands, Keenan stepped away, and Aislinn lowered Beira's body to the floor.

He stroked a finger over Aislinn's cheek and murmured, "You are far worthier than I could've asked."

Keenan stepped over his mother's empty shell. He'd once hoped that they'd not come to this place, that they'd find a way to coexist. They hadn't, but he didn't regret it.

The hags stood quietly, murmuring among themselves. They'd disobeyed Beira, but she wasn't there to discipline them.

Her face pale with shock and worry, Aislinn crouched on the soaking floor trying to rouse Seth.

One of the hags held out a length of cloth, and Aislinn mutely bound Seth's bleeding ribs. He didn't look good, but the rowan-men had arrived and already summoned healers—both fey and mortal.

Keenan went over to Donia's still motionless body. Healers wouldn't help her.

He cradled her in his arms and wept.

Donia opened her eyes to find Keenan holding her. For the first time in far too long, she was in his arms.

She had to cough before she could speak. "Beira dead?"

He smiled then, looking like every dream she'd denied having. "She is."

"Seth?" It hurt to talk, her throat raw from the jagged pieces of ice she'd swallowed and thrown back up.

"Injured, but not dead." He stroked her face, gently, as if she were something delicate and precious. Tears ran down his cheeks and dripped onto her face, melting the ice that still clung to her. "I thought I'd lost you. I thought we were too late."

"Doesn't matter. You have your queen." Despite her words, she pressed her face closer into his hand, feeling more at peace than she had in decades.

"It's not like that with us." He blew on her face, melting the last traces of Beira's ice that had clumped in her hair.

"She's keeping Seth, calls this a job" — he laughed then, a small sound, but a laugh nonetheless—"ruling beside me, but not mine. When you get well—"

One of the hags knelt beside them, interrupting him.

"My queen," she rasped. "Your staff."

The hag held out the Winter Queen's staff, the repository of Winter's weight.

Keenan's eyes widened. "No."

The hag smiled her nearly toothless smile and reiterated, "My queen. Not yours, Summer King. This one" — she gestured silently—"carries the winter's chill. It grows."

Keenan snarled at the hags, looking far from human. "You knew."

"Beira's time had passed." The hags exchanged calm looks. "She knew the terms Irial'd set, should've known what would happen if she interfered: her choice, her failure."

The same one spoke again, "Donia will be a strong queen. We waited until one survived winter's kiss. She" — the hag looked at Donia with something like awe in her eyes—"is ours now."

They all bowed, looking graceful despite their haggard bodies, and said, "We serve the Winter Queen. It is the order of things."

Donia struggled to sit up. She lifted a hand, her fingertips brushing Keenan's face. To spend eternity with Keenan—this was a fantasy she'd kept silent for decades.

He held her gaze. "No, Don…There's another way. The healers will be here and…"

"This doesn't need healing. The Winter Court is mine. I feel it; the winter fey, I feel them."

"The hags can do something…I don't care what. Stay with me, Don. Please." He held her tighter, scowling up at the hags and the lupine fey that had come into the room. Behind them, several of the hawthorn people waited.

Healers from both the Winter Court and Summer Court stepped forward. Some were tending to Seth under Aislinn's careful watch.

Briefly Donia glanced at Aislinn, and the Summer Queen stood. She, at least, understood the inevitability of what needed to happen.

"Keenan." Donia reached up to him and pulled his face closer to her. "The chill is already in me. If I fight it, it'll take longer to grow, but it won't change."

Aside from the overwhelming urge to wipe away the horror in Keenan's eyes, Donia wasn't upset. She'd expected to die today. Ruling was far from a bad trade-off.

Before it was too late, she wrapped her arms around Keenan and let herself glory in the sort of kiss they hadn't been able to share in far too long.

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