"What a delight to discover how much I loved being back in the Wicked Lovely world, discovering details about beloved characters that made me want to race back for a series reread. . . I could not put it down.”—Angela Mann, Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, CA.
An excerpt of
Cold Iron Heart: A Wicked Lovely Adult Novel
By Melissa Marr
Chapter 1: Tam
Voices rose and fell in the streets of the French Quarter. A woman with hair that seemed as delicate and white as if spiders had woven it walked arm-in-arm with an elegant man with a bone topped cane. They were only humans. The inhuman ones who strolled the French Quarter were even more remarkable. Invisible to the eyes of the city’s mortals, faeries slithered and danced along the edge of the city where the water moved and the iron-laced buildings ended.
“She’s a pretty girl,” a lion-maned man purred.
The creature beside the maned faery stared at her as if Tam was ghastly. “If you like their sort.”
And Tam felt self-conscious, awkward and embarrassed. She wasn’t ugly. Plain, perhaps, maybe even a little too fit for a woman. Her hair was too red. Her eyes were too curious. Her body not soft enough. Her hands rough from working with metal or laundry. She’d earned every muscle though, taking in wash when she needed and working her art as often as she could. Nice women were able to be fashionable. Wealthy women were able to be delicate.
And the other kind of women, those who worked over near Canal Street selling favors, were allowed to be luscious. Maybe if money wasn’t scarce, she’d have voluptuous hips and breasts, but the softness of a woman required excess money for foods that were too dear for her to buy. Her curves were there in outline, but she was neither lush nor delicate.
Thelma Foy suspected she’d be forgettable if not for her hair and her mouth, which was fuller than most and noticeable because of her habit of saying the wrong thing, the audacious or dangerous thing. Other than that, she was merely Tam, a woman who wanted to find a place in the world and maybe a bit of comfort if she could. That meant, for now, pretending she didn’t hear invisible men discussing her.
“She’s perfect,” the other one said.
He was the real complication in Tam’s life. Irial—a faery whose name she’d heard the others whisper as if it were a prayer--watched her with a different kind of studiousness. And despite every bit of logic she possessed, Tam watched him back. How could she not?
He was beautiful: close-cropped hair, blue-black eyes, and Creole skin. He was wearing fine trousers and a crisp shirt. Although he had no jacket, he had completed his attire with a sharp vest. Tam thought he very might be the most handsome man in the whole of New Orleans.
He also wasn’t visible to any human but Tam.
With effort, she pulled her gaze away from him and opened the door of yet another jeweler’s shop. She needed to focus on business, not beautiful creatures. If she didn’t sell her jewelry, she’d have no food.
Inside the shop, the man, because they were always men, looked past her as if a husband or father would materialize behind her. When he saw no one, he looked Tam up and down. Proper ladies didn’t wander around in shops alone.
He took in her worn and patched dress, and he saw her lack of gloves. She watched him weigh her and decide if she was an “abandoned woman,” a woman who sold her affection. She wasn’t, and her appearance made that clear. Her hair was controlled, pinned and forced into as modest a look as she could manage. And, most tellingly, her bosom, shoulder, arms, and legs were all modestly hidden.
She was not a woman who sold her body in Storyville. But she was also not accompanied by a man. No husband. No lover. No father. Tam was poor, unaccompanied, and instantly dismissed.
“Can I help you?”
“I hope so.” She stepped further inside the shop, admiring the gleaming wood and glass display cases. They filled the space in a way that said that the wares inside were worth attention. It was not crowded. Each piece of jewelry was nestled in its own place. It was exactly the sort of space where Tam would love to see her own work. Diamonds and rubies sparkled like the stars in the clearest skies, resting on velvet displays. Lesser gems adorned other pieces.
“I have work to sell . . .” Tam pulled out the pieces she’d brought. Carefully, she untied the scarf she’d wound and tied around her jewelry. Her hands shook as she gently lowered the scarf onto that glass case, but her nerves faded a little when her pieces were spread out in front of the shop owner. She knew they were good.
“Mmmm.” He was a short man with tufts of ear hair like wisps of smoke.
Tam swallowed her fear, her instant words of desperation, and said, “They’re fine pieces.”
It was a bit bold for a woman, but she wasn’t built for simpering or false modesty. The work was equal to that in the displays. The gems weren’t as precious, but the settings were equal to that of a queen’s jewelry.
“Did you steal these?” The shop owner stared at her, his gaze taking in Tam’s sewn and re-sewn dress and her worn boots.
“No.” Her hands, calloused and stained from hours handling metals, were held at her side. The urge to defend herself vied with the hunger in her belly. She needed the sale. Calmer, she repeated, “No.”
He stared at her, assessing.
Tam wore none of her own work. Doing so was—to quote her Gran—like lipstick on a pig. Sparkling jewelry stood out, and thieves saw no reason not to steal what they assumed was already stolen.
“I made them,” she told the jeweler levelly, just as she had told the others who’d sent her away.
The jeweler continued to stare at her in silence. He didn’t laugh outright. Instead his lips pressed together like her Aunt Ethelreda had so often done. Distasteful. Unpleasant. He held his mouth as if a lemon slice was suddenly slipped under his tongue.
Tam wasn’t surprised to hear him say, “Women don’t make jewelry.”
That wasn’t true, of course. She knew several women who did metalwork, as well as one who cut and polished stones, but their work was credited to a father, brother, husband, or in one case, a son. Behind the scenes, there were others like her.
“We do create art,” Tam argued quietly, her voice far more level than her emotions but wavering slightly from the effort. “Look at these. Please. Just look at them.”
She gestured at the pieces on the worn bit of cloth that she had wrapped them in to carry them here: A ring, perfectly formed and polished with a cairngorm set levelly; a brooch, twisted vines of silver holding a polished thistle blossom; and a locket with such polish that she could see the lights glinting in it. The locket was a particularly lovely piece. She’d painstakingly etched a rose vine around it.
“They’re fine pieces.” The man looked again at the cairngorm ring. “I’ll buy that one from you, and if your father or brother wants to sell more wares, we can do business.”
This was it, the moment of decision. Tam could either walk away or accept the lie he was willing to offer to justify his willingness to buy a piece. Neither option was appealing, but there wasn’t a third choice. Women weren’t in possession of a great many choices in a man’s world—and even here in a city where a woman could be educated or own property, it was a man’s world.
“The pieces are all for sale,” Tam said, re-positioning the locket to its best angle. Each tiny thorn on the roses was impossibly there.
Selling her work was the best outcome she ever had when she tried to find her way into the jewelry business: the sale of a few pieces and a lie. What she wanted was an apprenticeship. What she found were closed doors and derision.
“Let me see them in better light,” the jeweler said.
He swooped them into his palm and walked away. At such times, she feared that he’d simply keep them. A man could say she was lying, that she was a thief, that no woman could create jewelry such as this. There was little she could do if such a thing happened. At best she could go see the other jewelers who rejected her and ask them to acknowledge seeing her work.
Behind her, the door opened and closed.
“When you enter a shop, close the door behind you, young lady,” the jeweler said without looking up.
“I thought I had.” Tam glanced to the door where the dark faery now stood. The shadows in the store seemed to stretch out to caress him, as if they couldn’t resist.
Irial smiled at her, and she had to struggle to pretend not to see him. If ever there were a man—a creature—striking enough to lure her away from her plans of spinsterdom, Irial was the one. Her gaze slid over the width of his shoulders as she forced herself to pretend to seek the phantom wind that had opened the door.
“Courage,” Irial whispered as he walked close behind her.
Tam stiffened. Faeries ought not speak to her. They were to think that she couldn’t see them.
Better a faery than a human come so close, though. Human men were anything but appealing to her. They spoke to women as if they were either daft children or dolls. They made the rules, controlled business and laws, and women had to learn to make do—or marry. It was outrageous. At least the faeries seemed to treat men and women, or the faery equivalents of them, the same.
The female ones could be as monstrous as the male ones.
Humans weren’t like that. Men acted, and women reacted. Men decided, and women coped. It was absurd. Tam had hoped it would be different in New Orleans. The city was even more vibrant than Chicago. The first legal “red light” district? Who could imagine such boldness, such audacity? It made the city seem forward-thinking, so Tam had moved.
Not to work in the sin dens, but in hopes that a city where women were educated, where they owned business, would be better for a female artist, too. She’d had such dreams.
“Would you be interested in purchasing the pieces?” Tam asked in a ladylike, gentle voice, hating the need to use such a tactic. “Few women could resist their beauty.”
“This one.” He held up the ring and quoted a lower price than the piece was worth.
“If you doubled that, I’ll give you a second piece,” she gestured at the brooch.
“Double for all three.”
Reluctantly, Tam nodded. She couldn’t afford to refuse—or to demand more. She needed money to live. Everyone did, but a woman alone had fewer options for finding it. Selling a few pieces of her jewelry here and there meant she had enough to afford rent and food. Selling these would allow her a full four months if she was careful. Three if she bought more supplies to create more pieces and try yet again with another jeweler. Creating art wasn’t reliable work, but if she sold it, she earned enough to live on for months. No other job would pay so well—at least no other job that allowed her to stay clothed.
Work in a brothel—or marrying a man—would pay better, but with men came children. Children were a whole set of demands that would end her ability to create jewelry, and worse still, they’d lead to a level of risk that she couldn’t fathom. Hiding her ability to see the fey things was hard. Hiding a child’s ability? That was a terrifying prospect.
As Tam waited for her money, she tried not to look at the faery who was studying her yet again. Shadows from the wall seemed to ooze toward him, as if they had a mind or heart. She understood the impulse. He was breath-taking, but some prickle on the back of her neck reminded her that faeries and humans never mix well.
“Here you go.” The jeweler handed her a bag.
Again, she was left hoping he was honest. Counting the money out would be insulting, and if he’d shorted her, she couldn’t expect to get money. Life was about power, and Tam had none.
If she was shorted on what he owed, there was always wash she could help one of her neighbors do. They took on a little more if she offered to help, and it let Tam make ends meet when there were no other options.
“Courage, love,” the faery whispered again.
“What about an apprenticeship?” Tam asked the jeweler hurriedly before he walked away, sounding a bit desperate now.
“For a woman?” he sounded thoroughly shocked.
“I could learn and then carry the information to home. My father’s not well enough to leave the house, you see. It would be as if you were teaching him, but—”
The jeweler reached over the glass display case and patted her hand. “Women are gifted in many ways, but in learning such a skill? I think not. I’ll take the three pieces, and you tell your father I’ll need him to come himself next time—or I’ll come to him.”
“I’ll tell him,” she said. She would speak it into the air. There wasn’t any more likely way to reach him—if he was even alive.
Money in her possession, Tam stepped out of the shop, the third one this week. There would be no fourth one. She’d sold the only thing she had to use to convince a jeweler to work with her. The sale was good enough, better than nothing, but it also meant she had to begin again and hope that in a few weeks or months she’d have better luck.
Someday, her luck would change. It had to.
She swiped at the tears on her cheeks, not quite able to stop them from falling today but not letting them run free either. The faery glared at the shop as if he was as affronted as she was.
“Fool,” Irial, who had followed her into the street, said.
Tam didn’t reply—although she agreed with him.
Chapter 2: Irial
Irial watched her leave. Tear tracks were still fresh on her skin, and every impulse in him said he needed to follow, to comfort, to touch her. There were good reasons not to, but Irial rarely felt compelled to follow reason. That was the prerogative of the High Court. The Dark Court had the opposite motivation. Passion drove those that aligned with shadows. The Dark King would rather lose himself in pleasure and impulse than logic and restraint.
“How in the name of madness am I to keep you safe if you never are where you say you are?” Gabriel slid from his steed with a rumble that had mortals looking around to see why the ground shook.
Irial gave his closest friend, guard, and all around most-trusted faery a look that would’ve sent most creatures to their knees.
The muscular Hound snorted. “Don’t give me that look. One of these days you’re going to get stabbed or burned alive or—”
“And unless it’s a regent, I’d be fine.” Irial shook his head. “Most of those bold enough to stab me aren’t kings or queens, are they?”
“Both Beira and Keenan would gladly stab you.” Gabriel folded his arms.
“But the kingling is weak, and Beira isn’t here.” Irial started to walk, stepping around the passing humans. He trailed his hand over the cheek of a woman who startled as he passed. She wasn’t Sighted, not like lovely Thelma, but she had an ancestor somewhere in her past who had been. Those who were sensitive to the fey were alluring enough that Irial made note of her. Sometimes a man had needs.
Of course, seducing the forbidden was even better. The Summer King’s faeries were not to so much as glance his way, and the Sighted . . . oh, the Sighted mortals were a particular treat.
Irial was born to tempt, and he was not one to refuse that nature.
“What are you pouting about?” Gabriel asked in a tone that said he’d really rather not know the answer.
“No one ever says no.”
“No.” Gabriel grinned. “There. Now—"
“To relations, Gabe.”
“Oh hell, no.” The Hound made a face of distaste. “Scrawny thing like you . . .”
Irial laughed. He was quite certain that scrawny was an inaccurate word—in all ways—but to a creature that shook the ground with every step, the word was quite relative. He had no interest in his best mate, of course. Who else would stand at his side and lure him from his many moods? Or toss bodies to the side when Irial’s temper led to brawls?
“She’s mortal,” Irial said quietly. He didn’t mention that she was the mortal. The one human in all the world who could change the shift of power between the faery courts. If he said that, Gabriel would want to be reasonable, and that sounded positively dreary.
“Do you have a sudden aversion to mortals?” Gabriel shoved a man in a tall hat into the street, causing traffic to erupt into chaos.
Irial raised his brows.
“He was too near you.”
“He couldn’t see me, Gabe.” Irial grinned though. His friend’s protective impulses were endearing, even when they resulted in screams and blood—perhaps more so when they did, in truth.
They stood in the French Quarter watching the mortals who’d nearly been trampled, women on the sidewalk clutching their parasol handles, and Irial couldn’t help inhaling the madness of it all. Mortal feelings weren’t sustaining as fey ones were, but he still appreciated them.
“I may want her watched,” Irial said lightly.
Gabriel hesitated. “By the Hunt?”
If not for Thelma having the Sight, Irial might say yes, but the Hunt carried terror in their wake, spilling fears and nightmares where they rode. As a Sighted mortal, Thelma would either be susceptible or immune to them.
“Maybe.” Irial looked in the direction she’d gone. “For now, send a few of the Scrimshaw Sisters her way.”
Then before the Hound could ask questions Irial was afraid to answer, Irial ordered, “Do not follow me today. Check on the arrival of Winter and Summer.”
The order spelled itself in ink on the arm of his most trusted.
“Are we expecting them?”
“Maybe.” Irial lifted the cane he liked to carry of late, carved head and jeweled eyes. It looked a lot like Lady War, and Irial carried it to spite her.
“You’re hiding things.”
“Wise man,” Irial murmured, and then he slid between the fascinating new carriages that the mortals had made. Horseless carriages. Automobiles. If not for the stink of them and the sluggish speeds, he’d own one already. Some day. The joy of eternity was that he had so many centuries to live, to learn, to fuck, and to brawl. It was good to be the Dark King.
* * *
When Irial set off in pursuit of Thelma, he knew she’d see him, blessed or cursed as she was. She saw every faery in the city—but she didn’t look at them with that pulsing in her throat. She didn’t look at them and think wicked thoughts that made a tinge of pink tint her cheeks.
She watched Irial that way, though, as if he was a delicacy she wanted to sample. Such temptation was always glorious, but it was more so with Thelma. As a Sighted mortal, she was immune to the allure that Irial had for most faeries and most mortals. She had the beautiful, irresistible ability to refuse him. That made her a challenge. A treat. He hummed happily to himself as he went to stalk his quarry.
He wouldn’t ever force a woman, but he’d dust off old skills he hadn’t needed to use in a few centuries. She was forbidden in so many ways, and she was immune to the very thing that made him alluring to fey and mortal alike. The perfect quarry. The exact enticement to lure the king of temptation.
Until the Summer and Winter courts arrived in his fair city, Thelma Foy was all his, and he intended to make the most of it.
The Dark King whistled a cheery tune as he approached the edge of the Mississippi River. Thelma came here, pulled to water as if she was part-fey. She wasn’t. She was simply an artist.
He turned, caught off-guard in a way that would make Gabriel gnash his teeth.
His solicitor was there. Saunders. For reasons of practicality, he had been given a salve that allowed the man to see the unseen. The Dark King didn’t go around passing out the Sight carelessly, but he needed the occasional human assistant. Saunders handled legal and business matters, and that meant that to protect him, Irial had given him the Sight. It was that or the poor man would end up crouched in a corner cowering from unseen attacks.
“Sire,” Saunders started.
Irial smiled at the man’s tentativeness. What was the correct term for a king when you were not of his court—or species? There weren’t guidebooks for such things.
“Did you sort out the details on the house?”
“I did, sir.” Saunders cleared his throat. “They were eager to sell once I offered the sum you authorized.”
Irial nodded. He’s made the somewhat unplanned decision to purchase the house he’d been renting in the Garden District. Even if he hadn’t admitted it to anyone outright, he liked the idea of staying here for as long as they could. He still planned to exit before things were unpleasant with the Summer Court and Winter Court, but a house purchase wouldn’t change that.
“I want to purchase a jewelry shop.” Irial pictured the moment, telling Thelma. What woman wouldn’t be charmed by such a gesture? He gave Saunders the instructions and sent him to the shop in question.
A warning voice in Irial’s mind suggested caution, but caution was tedious. Why waste time when mortals died so often and quickly?
Chapter 3: Tam
Tam was surprised that the faery wasn’t trailing after her. Of late, Irial seemed to be everywhere when she was out in the city. He wasn’t precisely a guardian angel, more of a devil that stood in sight awaiting her fall. At that thought, Tam suppressed a smile. The good sisters would be appalled to know that she was thinking of the tempter as charming. Like Eve in the Garden, Tam was faced with a temptation she knew she ought to resist, but John Milton had the right of it in Paradise Lost: the voice of temptation was luscious.
And shouldn’t it be, though? What was the difficulty in refusing temptation if it was dour and dank? Irial, the faery who followed her more and more these days, was anything but dour. Sometimes she glanced at him and imagined the sort of sins no rational woman should.
Don’t look then, she reminded herself. No good came of lingering with faeries.
Chicory coffee, magnolia blossoms, and perfumes seemed to entwine and dance in air so thick that a knife might not cut it. New Orleans on the cusp of summer was fragrant, not yet offering the pregnant air that spoke of hurricanes rolling into the city, no longer bursting into blossoms that tried to drown the next rich scent that wafted in on spring rains. It was a city in that magnificent slice of time that had begun to warm but not yet swelter.
Nature would have her way with the city and its inhabitants, but not yet.
As Tam crossed the edge of the Quarter she trailed her hand over an iron fence. New Orleans had fallen in love with wrought iron. Fences, ornaments, light posts, it was everywhere. Elegant scrolls of iron marked home after home in the city, and since faeries were allergic to the stuff, Tam was grateful for the city-wide madness for ironworks.
She could see some of the stronger fey, but most of their kind lingered at the edge of the river or out in the swamp.
He is stronger than all of them.
Even when he wasn’t near, Tam thought about her faery stalker—and despite every lifelong instinct she had, she had started to watch for him. He was the one who brought joy or terror to the faces of those unseen creatures that gathered in the green spaces in the city.
In front of her in the gentle waves of the Mississippi itself, Tam could see a kelpie lifting out of the murky water. The horse-like creature was a gleaming, glorious beast. In common words, she suspected that they were best described as “water horses.” It was as if a horse type creature had been carved of water, hooves that looked like shards of ice. Those hooves churned waters, creating white-tipped waves that rocked the boats in the Mississippi River.
“Beautiful,” she whispered. Tam didn’t speak to the fey in ways that could get her caught, but she whispered words into the air.
“Are you lost, miss?” a man asked. It wasn’t him, her guardian devil, but by the look of him he meant her trouble.
He stepped closer though, too close for safety.
Tam tried to back away, but the man grabbed her and tugged, intent on wresting her bag from her hands. In it was all the money she’d made selling her jewelry. Money was the difference between disaster and more time to try her luck again.
“No!” She tugged her bag. “Stop!”
But then, the man dropped her bag, and Tam scrambled after it. While she was on the ground, the would-be thief went sailing over the bank and splashed into the muddy Mississippi. If Tam didn’t have the Sight, she’d be stunned. She did have it, though, and she knew exactly why the man had gone flying.
Invisible to every mortal eye but her own was Tam’s own personal monster.
“Curious,” she murmured, looking around as if confused.
Her eyes met Irial’s briefly, a flicker of a moment before she pulled her gaze away from the grinning faery. She never let her gaze linger on him long, not unless his back was to her.
As she came to her feet, clutching her bag in her hand again, she whispered, “I swear I have a guardian devil sometimes.”
He laughed, and impulses she hadn’t known she possessed came surging to the surface.
“Oh . . . perhaps he tripped,” Tam whispered, pointedly staring at the ground and sliding her foot forward as if looking for a loose stone. There wasn’t one. She knew it. Irial knew it.
What he didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that she saw him. He might be acting as if he was her guardian angel, but Tam feared that his fascination with her would lead to horrible things if he found that she saw him as he watched over her.
These were truths, facts that Tam and her family had embraced to keep themselves safe: the fey couldn't lie, couldn't cross moving water, couldn't abide being Seen; they loved sweets, good whisky, and tormenting mortals. Mortals who saw them were blinded, eyes gouged out, and Tam would rather keep her eyes.
So, she couldn’t thank him for all the times it seemed like he was there when she needed him. No whispered words, no damning confessions.
But as she tucked her hands in her pockets, Tam felt a slip of metal. It was a crude ring, one she could finish but hadn’t. In her exhaustion, she’d tarnished and fire-scaled it, so the metal looked nearly black with streaks of purple. There was an odd charm to it that had stopped her from correcting it. Now, as she stood at the edge of the river, she fingered the ring.
Quickly, without looking at Irial again, Tam placed the ring on a rock. “I don’t know if you’re truly out there, angel or devil, but if you are, whatever you are, I offer this as a token of my thanks.”
Tam started to shiver slightly at her brash act.
His attention was fixed on the band of metal she’d placed as an offering to her guardian. If he knew she could see him, she wouldn’t dare do such a thing.
Surely, he’d think of her as nothing more than a fanciful mortal.
“For me?” he asked.
Irial gazed at the ring--an incomplete piece that she hadn’t even shown a jeweler--as if it were the crown jewels. And then he glanced at her. As he did, he smiled. The faery that had been merely gorgeous before seemed to be as glorious as a waterfall toppling over a cliff into the sea: too dangerous to touch, too alluring to resist.
Tam watched from the corner of her eye as he scooped the blacked ring into his hand.
“It’s beautiful,” he said, voice thick enough that Tam almost turned her head to stare directly at him.
Irial slid the ring onto his finger and held his hand out. Under the midday sun, the ring was fire-shot as if sparks had hardened into the band. Glints of red, blue, and purple appeared as the light shined on it.
“You’re a peculiar mortal,” he said in a lower voice. “And I want to know you.”
Tam’s hands folded into fists. There were rules, and they all came down to the same thing: Do not attract the attention of the fey.
What have I done?
Truth be told, she already had his attention. Now, she’d offered him a token of thanks. In that moment at the edge of the river, Tam told herself she was settling a debt; he’d rescued her purse from the thief; she owed him. But she knew that wasn’t why she’d offered the ring to Irial. She’d simply wanted him to have the metal band she’d shaped and worked with her hands. She wanted that token, a ring no less, to be on his hand. It wasn’t an urge she wanted to consider very long. The answers her mind offered frightened her already.
They stood quietly at the river, an invisible faery and Sighted mortal.
Tam wished she could ask questions. Some were more pressing than others. Why her? Why was he kind when the Dark Court was, well, dark? Would he truly steal her eyes if he knew she could See him?
But asking any of those questions would reveal her Sight, and that she knew what he was.
Tam looked out at the sky and the river for a heartbeat more, and then she turned away and returned to her home. She left him there, staring at a ring she’d made. She left him, but the awed look in his eyes haunted her every step.
Chapter 4: Niall
The boat from Amsterdam was a wretched thing. Niall had paid the outrageous fare for passage on a wooden hull ship. No steel monstrosity, this. It was a wooden vessel, one of the sort that ought to be retired by now and likely would be in the coming years. The newer steel-hulled ships were dangerous for the fey. Some could weather it, sicken but not die, and others were barely injured. Most fey, however, struggled with the mere idea of being trapped in steel vessels.
“Last passage,” one of the faeries at his side said.
They stood hip-to-hip invisible to all but the other faeries on the ship and stared at the rolls of water that seemed to stretch for eternity. Wind and water and sky, there was nothing else to see from here.
“Perhaps.” Niall reached over to grip the faery’s hand. She was one of the countless vine-bedecked Summer Girls who lived in the court, destined to spend eternity frolicking and dancing.
Niall, however, was a solitary creature for centuries, and he’d spent time in the Dark Court after that. Maybe it was his nature, or maybe it was guilt for things he’d done and enjoyed, but frolicking didn’t come easily to him.
Centuries of life in the Summer Court ought to outweigh the time he’d spent in the dark, but even the nine centuries with the new king—and time before that with this king’s father—hadn’t changed him. He was starting to think that nothing he could do would make the summerlight a fit for him.
Or perhaps, he was starting to weary of the impossible task of finding Keenan’s missing queen. Perhaps this curse was, in fact, an unbreakable one. Keenan would dream of a girl, and the Summer Court would move to a new city. Again. Niall was there to get everything in place; Keenan would arrive in a matter of days—and pursue another mortal. Niall watched, waited, and advised. But, ultimately, he was powerless.
“You seem sad.” The summer girl rested her head on his shoulder.
Niall forced his maudlin thoughts back. He had a duty to protect the faeries on this ship and to treat them in ways that led to joy—for a Summer Court faery without joy would wither like blossoms in the cold.
“Shall we go and ease my sorrows?” he suggested.
The faery girl laughed, and together they headed to his room. This was how summer kept hope alive, through joy and rejoicing, through touches and dancing. In some ways it wasn’t so very different from the Dark Court.
As they headed toward the cabin, another far-less-cheerful voice arrested him: “You’re vile.”
There, standing in the shadows of the hall was Rika, the last girl to surrender her humanity for the Summer King. Ice crept along the wall behind her, and the air grew unpleasant.
The vine-draped faery at his side shivered.
“I’ll be along in a moment,” Niall whispered and sent her on with a little push.
Once he was alone with Rika, he stared at her and asked, “Does it help to be cruel to them?”
“I was speaking to you.” Icy air accompanied her words.
“I see.” He offered her his arm despite the pain her touch would cause. Not too long ago, she was willing to risk the ice to save the Summer Court. That deserved kindness.
Rika did not take his proffered arm. “You are no gentleman, Niall.”
He didn’t argue. Lying was not a thing a faery could do. He could distract, omit, or misdirect, but he could not outright lie.
Together, they walked along the deck as the waves rocked and tossed the ship.
“I dislike the water,” he murmured after one particularly large wave tilted the ship sharply.
“I love it,” Rika noted almost conversationally. She lifted a hand, letting frost coat her skin as she released that arctic chill into the sea. Ice formed and shattered as the salty water writhed.
After a moment, she asked, “Do you even know her name? The faery you will bed?”
“I hate this world, Niall. Tell me it will get easier. Tell me I’ll get better at being inhuman. Tell me that there are reasons to endure this curse.” Her sorrow manifested in a sprinkle of snow. The curse had changed her, filled her with borrowed ice. Every day until she was freed, the Winter Girl would be in pain.
It made him want to sooth her, kiss her, offer her joy. More than that, though, her curiosity made him excited. Conversations were what he missed most from his years before the Summer Court, and they were treasures he safeguarded when he found them. The Winter Girls—whether Rika or those before or after her—were prone to asking questions, and he liked being the one they sought. He angled for it when they were still mortal.
“Sometimes, it’s better.” Niall took her hand in his, ignoring the ice that was creeping painfully over his skin. “In the end, I believe that love overcomes. I believe in peace. I believe everything will one day be in balance.”
Rika erupted into laughter. Frost coated her lips, and shards of ice clattered as they fell from her eyes. It was not precisely the reaction he’d sought, but she no longer sounded as if she might hurl herself into the sea.
They passed a few moments in companionable silence before the Winter Girl asked, “Do you think she’s here? The queen?”
“Keenan feels pulled here.” Niall shrugged. He no longer let himself hope as he once had. Perhaps the missing Summer Queen was here, but he didn’t know.
“What happens when she’s not?” Rika asked quietly. “How do you stand by and let him steal another girl’s humanity? How do you let him ruin lives? Damn women and girls to either his harem or . . .?”
“To your fate?” Niall finished. He leaned in and brushed a kiss over Rika’s icy temple. “I stand by because I know that sacrificing a few people means that we stand a chance of stopping Beira. Until Keenan’s powers are unbound, he cannot stop the Winter Queen. The world will slowly freeze and die. A few lives are changed--”
“Ruined,” she interjected.
“Challenged,” he said. “But in exchange, they become immortal. They lose humanity, but gain so much. It’s worth it. Your sacrifice is worth the eventual victory for all of humanity and faeries.”
“Spoken like one who did not pay the price,” Rika said.
They were silent.
Niall wasn’t about to admit that he understood her sacrifice all too well. He’d paid a high cost of his own to save mortals. He’d sacrificed his body to the whims of the Dark Court to rescue mortals—only to discover that they were dying already. He’d paid with his flesh, and the memory of it haunted him still.
The knowledge that he’d been betrayed by the only man he’d loved had twisted inside him in ways he didn’t share. Knowing what he’d lost, Niall couldn’t truthfully say that he’d make the sacrifices she had to risk everything to save the court, the king, and the world, but he understood her bitterness and rage all too well.
“I do understand, Rika.” He weighed his words. “I would speak to you of it if you wish. I have bled to near death for misplaced love.”
“I hate him,” she whispered. “And I hate that I will see him over and over.”
He nodded. That, Niall understood, too.
“Beira will be in the city. Keenan.” Niall stared out at the sea. “Winter and Summer will meet, and the city will suffer. We will suffer. This is simply the nature of the curse.”
“What sort of monster creates such a curse?”
Niall offered her a smile. “A faery, Rika.”
She walked away, leaving him to his mood. That was a gift she did not realize she offered: space to be himself, to not be the cheerful Summer Court advisor. Sometimes he wondered if the requirement to speak to the newly-made Winter Girls was Keenan’s way of letting Niall have moments of peace—or if was simply how Keenan coped with his own grief.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was ending the curse that had bound the Summer Court for almost nine full centuries. They were fumbling, never knowing if they had overlooked the one mortal Keenan needed to find. All they had were Keenan’s instincts. He would feel drawn somewhere, and then he’d feel drawn to someone.
And when he was wrong, Rika was the result. Another life destroyed because of the curse. Maybe this time would be different. Maybe this time, the queen would be found, and the freezing years would end. The alternative, eventually, was death for them all.
How far would you go to escape fate?
In this prequel to the international bestselling WICKED LOVELY series, the Faery Courts collide a century before the mortals in Wicked Lovely are born.
Thelma Foy, a jeweler with the Second Sight in iron-bedecked 1890s New Orleans, wasn’t expecting to be caught in a faery conflict. Tam can see through the glamours faeries wear to hide themselves from mortals, but if her secret were revealed, the fey would steal her eyes, her life, or her freedom. So, Tam doesn’t respond when they trail thorn-crusted fingertips through her hair at the French Market or when the Dark King sings along with her in the bayou.
But when the Dark King, Irial, rescues her, Tam must confront everything she thought she knew about faeries, men, and love.
Too soon, New Orleans is filling with faeries who are looking for her, and Irial is the only one who can keep her safe.
Unbeknownst to Tam, she is the prize in a centuries-old fight between Summer Court and Winter Court. To protect her, Irial must risk a war he can’t win--or surrender the first mortal woman he's loved.
"In this prequel to the Wicked Lovely Novel series, narrators Kristin James and Tim Paige--both gifted with rich, easily distinguishable voices--immerse the listener in the elegant, fascinating, deadly, and intriguing world of the Summer and Winter Faery Courts. ...James has a lilting, lush, and whispery voice that perfectly captures Thelma. Paige has an affected mien that is equally perfect for the gorgeous and hedonistic king. This listen is wicked--wickedly enjoyable." A.C.P. © AudioFile 2020
“Melissa Marr masterfully rises to challenge of writing a prequel by both expanding on the mythology of the original series while telling a story that exists wholly on its own. Fans of the series will inhale this delicious glimpse into Irial’s past.”—John McDougall, Murder by the Book, Houston TX.