Wicked Lovely Page 9

Aislinn held in the sigh of relief that Leslie wasn't going to try to pursue the faery. Life was already complicated enough.

"I wanted to see if you're coming to the party." Leslie grinned—somewhat viciously—at Seth. "Both of you."

"No." Seth didn't elaborate. He tolerated Leslie, but tolerate was the best he could do. Most of the girls who went to Bishop O.C. weren't people he willingly hung with.

"Something better going on?" Leslie asked in a conspiratorial voice.

"Always. I only go to those fiascos if she insists." Seth gestured toward Aislinn. "You ready?"

"Five minutes," Aislinn murmured, and then felt guilty immediately: it wasn't like they were on a date or anything.

She didn't want to make Seth wait, but she didn't want to leave a friend alone with a faery strong enough to touch iron. She certainly wasn't leaving a friend alone with one wearing a human guise that would make even the shyest girls pant. And Leslie definitely wasn't shy.

Aislinn glanced back at Seth. "If you want to head out, I can go with Leslie…"

"No." He gave her a briefly irritated look before he wandered away to look at the flash on the walls.

"So what are you doing?" Leslie asked.

"What?" Aislinn looked back at Leslie, who was grinning. "Oh, nothing really. He's just walking me home."

"Hmm." Leslie tapped her fingernails on the glass case, oblivious to the piercer's glares as she did so. Aislinn knocked Leslie's hand off the case. "What?"

"And that's better than a party?" Leslie linked an arm around Aislinn and whispered, "When are you going to give the poor thing a break, Ash? It's sad, really, how you string him along."

"I don't…we're friends. He'd say something if he" — she lowered her voice and glanced back at Seth—"you know."

"He's talking, girl. You're just too thick to hear it."

"He's just flirty. Even if he meant it, I don't want a one-nighter, especially with him."

Leslie shook her head and sighed melodramatically. "You need to live a little, girl. There's nothing wrong with a little quick love if they're good. I hear he's good."

Aislinn didn't want to think about that, about him with other girls. She knew Seth went out; even if she didn't see the girls, she was sure they were there. Better to be just friends than one of his throwaway girls. She didn't want to talk about Seth, so she asked Leslie, "Who's going tonight?"

Trying to keep unpleasant thoughts at bay, Aislinn half listened to Leslie go on about the party. Rianne's cousin had invited some of the guys from his frat.

Glad we're skipping it, Seth would hate that crowd.

When Leslie's brother walked in, Seth came back over and put his arm around Aislinn's shoulder, almost territorially, while they talked.

Leslie mouthed, "Deaf."

Aislinn leaned on Seth, ignoring Leslie, her brother's comments about scoring some X, the faery in the back room, all of it. When Seth was beside her, she could keep it together. Why would she be stupid enough to risk what they had, to risk him, for a fling?


"When you will be King of Summer she will be your queen. Of this your mother, Queen Beira, has full knowledge, and it is her wish to keep you away from [her], so that her own reign may be prolonged."

— Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend by Donald Alexander Mackenzie (1917)

On the outskirts of Huntsdale in a gorgeous Victorian estate that no realtor could sell—or remember to show— Keenan hesitated, hand lifted. He paused, watching silent figures in the thorn-heavy garden move as fluidly as the shadows that danced under the icy trees. The frost never melted in this yard, never would, but the mortals passing on the street saw only the shadows. They looked away, if they dared look at all. No one—mortal or fey—stepped on Beira's frigid lawn without her consent. It was anything but inviting.

Behind him, cars drove by on the street, tires grinding the frozen slush into a dirty gray mess, but the sound was muted by the almost tangible chill that rested like a pall over Beira's home. It hurt to breathe.

Welcome home.

Of course, it'd never felt like home, but then again, Beira had never felt like a mother. Inside her domain the air itself made him ache, sapped the little strength he had. He tried to resist it, but until he came into his full power, she could send him to his knees. And she did—every single visit.

Maybe Aislinn will be the one. Maybe she'll make it different.

Keenan braced himself and knocked.

Beira flung open the door. In her free hand she held a tray of steaming chocolate cookies aloft. She leaned forward and kissed the air near his face. "Cookies, darling?"

She looked as she had for the past half century or so when he stopped in for these damnable meetings: a mockery of a mortal epitome of motherhood, she was clad in a modest floral dress, frilly apron, and single strand of pearls. Her hair was twisted up in what she called a "chignon."

She waggled the tray a little. "They're fresh. Just for you."

"No." Ignoring her, he walked into the room.

She'd redecorated again—some modern nightmare, complete with a sleek silver table; stiff, awkwardly shaped black chairs; and framed black-and-white prints of murders, hangings, and a few torture scenes. The walls alternated between stark white and flat black with large geometric patterns in the opposite color. Selected images on the hanging prints—a dress, lips, bleeding wounds—were hand painted red. Those splashes of luridness were the only true color in the room. It fit her far better than the costume she insisted on wearing when he visited.

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