Excerpt of Wicked Lovely
The Summer King knelt before her. “Is this what you freely choose, to risk winter’s chill?”
She watched him—the boy she’d fallen in love with these past weeks. She’d never dreamed
he was something other than human, but now his skin glowed as if flames flickered just under the surface, so strange and beautiful she couldn’t look away. “It’s what I want.”
“You understand that if you are not the one, you’ll carry the Winter Queen’s chill until the next mortal risks this? And you agree to warn her not to trust me?” He paused, glancing at her with pain in his eyes.
“If she refuses me, you will tell the next girl and the next”—he moved closer—“and not until one accepts, will you be free of the cold.”
“I do understand.” She smiled as reassuringly as she could, and then she walked over to the hawthorn bush. The leaves brushed against her arms as she bent down and reached under it.
Her finger wrapped around the Winter Queen’s staff. It was a plain thing, worn as if countless hands had clenched the wood. It was those hands, those other girls who’d stood where she now did, she didn’t want to think about.
She stood, hopeful and afraid.
Behind her, he moved closer. The rustling of trees grew almost deafening. The brightness from his skin, his hair, intensified. Her shadow fell on the ground in front of her.
He whispered, “Please. Let her be the one. . . .”
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She held the Winter Queen’s staff—and hoped. For a moment she even believed, but then ice pierced her, filled her like shards of glass in her veins.
She screamed his name: “Keenan!”
She stumbled toward him, but he walked away, no longer glowing, no longer looking at her. Then she was alone—with only a wolf for companionship—waiting to tell the next girl what
a folly it was to love him, to trust him.
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“SEERS, or Men of the SECOND SIGHT, . . . have very terrifying Encounters with [the FAIRIES, they call Sleagh Maith, or the Good People]”
—The Secret Commonwealth by Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang (1893)
“Four-ball, side pocket.” Aislinn pushed the cue forward with a short, quick thrust; the ball dropped into the pocket with a satisfying clack.
Her playing partner, Denny, motioned toward a harder shot, a bank shot. She rolled her eyes. “What? You in a hurry?”
He pointed with the cue.
“Right.” Focus and control, that’s what it’s all about. She sank the two. He nodded once, as close as he got to praise.
Aislinn circled the table, paused, and chalked the cue. Around her the cracks of balls colliding, low laughter, even the endless stream of country and blues from the jukebox kept her grounded in the real world: the human world, the safe world. It wasn’t the only world, no matter how much Aislinn wanted it to be. But it hid the other world—the ugly one—for brief moments.
“Three, corner pocket.” She sighted down the cue. It was a good shot.
Then she felt it: warm air on her skin. A faery, its too-hot breath on her neck, sniffed her hair. His pointed chin pressed against her skin. All the focus in the world didn’t make Pointy-Face’s attention tolerable.
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She scratched: the only ball that dropped was the cue ball.
Denny took the ball in hand. “What was that?”
“Weak-assed?” She forced a smile, looking at Denny, at the table, anywhere but at the horde
coming in the door. Even when she looked away, she heard them: laughing and squealing, gnashing teeth and beating wings, a cacophony she couldn’t escape. They were out in droves now, freer somehow as evening fell, invading her space, ending any chance of the peace she’d sought.
Denny didn’t stare at her, didn’t ask hard questions. He just motioned for her to step away from the table and called out, “Gracie, play something for Ash.”
At the jukebox Grace keyed in one of the few not-country-or-blues songs: Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff.”
As the oddly comforting lyrics in that gravelly voice took off, building to the inevitable stomach-tightening rage, Aislinn smiled. If I could let go like that, let the years of aggression spill out onto the fey . . . She slid her hand over the smooth wood of the cue, watching Pointy- Face gyrate beside Grace. I’d start with him. Right here, right now. She bit her lip. Of course, everyone would think she was utterly mad if she started swinging her cue at invisible bodies, everyone but the fey.
Before the song was over, Denny had cleared the table.
“Nice.” Aislinn walked over to the wall rack and slid the cue back into an empty spot. Behind her, Pointy-Face giggled—high and shrill—and tore out a couple strands of her hair.
“Rack ’em again?” But Denny’s tone said what he didn’t: that he knew the answer before he asked. He didn’t know why, but he could read the signs.
Pointy-Face slid the strands of her hair over his face.
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Aislinn cleared her throat. “Rain check?”
“Sure.” Denny began disassembling his cue. The regulars never commented on her odd mood swings or unexplainable habits.
She walked away from the table, murmuring good-byes as she went, consciously not staring at the faeries. They moved balls out of line, bumped into people—anything to cause trouble—but they hadn’t stepped in her path tonight, not yet. At the table nearest the door, she paused. “I’m out of here.”
One of the guys straightened up from a pretty combination shot. He rubbed his goatee, stroking the gray-shot hair. “Cinderella time?”
“You know how it is—got to get home before the shoe falls off.” She lifted her foot, clad in a battered tennis shoe. “No sense tempting any princes.”
He snorted and turned back to the table.
A doe-eyed faery eased across the room; bone-thin with too many joints, she was vulgar and gorgeous all at once. Her eyes were far too large for her face, giving her a startled look. Combined with an emaciated body, those eyes made her seem vulnerable, innocent. She wasn’t.
None of them are.
The woman at the table beside Aislinn flicked a long ash into an already overflowing ashtray. “See you next weekend.”
Aislinn nodded, too tense to answer.
In a blurringly quick move, Doe-Eyes flicked a thin blue tongue out at a cloven-hoofed faery. The faery stepped back, but a trail of blood already dripped down his hollowed cheeks. Doe- Eyes giggled.
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Aislinn bit her lip, hard, and lifted a hand in a last half wave to Denny. Focus. She fought to keep her steps even, calm: everything she wasn’t feeling inside.
She stepped outside, lips firmly shut against dangerous words. She wanted to speak, to tell the fey to leave so she didn’t have to, but she couldn’t. Ever. If she did, they’d know her secret: they’d know she could see them.
The only way to survive was to keep that secret; Grams taught her that rule before she could even write her name: Keep your head down and your mouth closed. It felt wrong to have to hide, but if she even hinted at such a rebellious idea, Grams would have her in lockdown— homeschooled, no pool halls, no parties, no freedom, no Seth. She’d spent enough time in that situation during middle school.
So—rage in check—Aislinn headed downtown, toward the relative safety of iron bars and steel doors. Whether in its base form or altered into the purer form of steel, iron was poisonous to fey and thus gloriously comforting to her. Despite the faeries that walked her streets, Huntsdale was home. She’d visited Pittsburgh, walked around D.C., explored Atlanta. They were nice enough, but they were too thriving, too alive, too filled with parks and trees. Huntsdale wasn’t thriving. It hadn’t been for years. That meant the fey didn’t thrive here either.
Revelry rang from most of the alcoves and alleys she passed, but it wasn’t ever as bad as the thronging choke of faeries that cavorted on the Mall in D.C. or at the Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. She tried to comfort herself with that thought as she walked. There were less fey here—less people, too.
Less is good.
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The streets weren’t empty: people went about their business, shopping, walking, laughing. It was easier for them: they didn’t see the blue faery who had cornered several winged fey behind a dirty window; they never saw the faeries with lions’ manes racing across power lines, tumbling over one another, landing on a towering woman with angled teeth.
To be so blind . . . It was a wish Aislinn had held in secret her whole life. But wishing didn’t change what was. And even if she could somehow stop seeing the fey, a person can’t un-know the truth.
She tucked her hands in her pockets and kept walking, past the mother with her obviously exhausted children, past shop windows with frost creeping over them, past the frozen gray sludge all along the street. She shivered. The seemingly endless winter had already begun.
She’d passed the corner of Harper and Third—almost there—when they stepped out of an alley: the same two faeries who’d followed her almost every day the past two weeks. The girl had long white hair, streaming out like spirals of smoke. Her lips were blue—not lipstick blue, but corpse blue. She wore a faded brown leather skirt stitched with thick cords. Beside her was a huge white wolf that she’d alternately lean on or ride. When the other faery touched her, steam rose from her skin. She bared her teeth at him, shoved him, slapped him: he did nothing but smile.
And he was devastating when he did. He glowed faintly all the time, as if hot coals burned inside him. His collar-length hair shimmered like strands of copper that would slice her skin if Aislinn were to slide her fingers through it—not that she would. Even if he were truly human, he wouldn’t be her type—tan and too beautiful to touch, walking with an swagger that said he knew exactly how attractive he was. He moved as if he were in charge of everyone and everything, seeming taller for it. But he wasn’t really that tall—not as tall as the bone-girls by the river or the
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strange tree-bark men that roamed the city. He was almost average in size, only a head taller than she was.
Whenever he came near, she could smell wildflowers, could hear the rustle of willow branches, as if she were sitting by a pond on one of those rare summer days: a taste of midsummer in the start of the frigid fall. And she wanted to keep that taste, bask in it, roll in it until the warmth soaked into her very skin. It terrified her, the almost irresistible urge to get closer to him, to get closer to any of the fey. He terrified her.
Aislinn walked a little faster, not running, but faster. Don’t run. If she ran, they’d chase: faeries always gave chase.
She ducked inside The Comix Connexion. She felt safer among the rows of unpainted wooden bins that lined the shop. My space.
Every night she’d slipped away from them, hiding until they passed, waiting until they were out of sight. Sometimes it took a few tries, but so far it had worked.
She waited inside Comix, hoping they hadn’t seen.
Then he walked in—wearing a glamour, hiding that glow, passing for human and visible to everyone.
That’s new. And new wasn’t good, not where the fey were concerned. Faeries walked past her—past everyone—daily, invisible and impossible to hear unless they willed it. The really strong ones, those that could venture further into the city, could weave a glamour—faery manipulation—to hide in plain sight as humans. They frightened her more than the others.
This faery was even worse: he had donned a glamour between one step and the next, becoming suddenly visible, as if revealing himself didn’t matter at all.
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He stopped at the counter and talked to Eddy—leaning close in order to be heard over the music that blared from the speakers in the corners.
Eddy glanced her way, and then back at the faery. He said her name. She saw it, even though she couldn’t hear it.
The faery started walking toward her, smiling, looking for all the world like one of her wealthier classmates.
She turned away and picked up an old issue of Nightmares and Fairy Tales. She clutched it, hoping her hands weren’t shaking.
“Aislinn, right?” Faery-boy was beside her, his arm against hers, far too close. He glanced down at the comic, smiling wryly. “Is that any good?”
She stepped back and slowly looked him over. If he was trying to pass for a human she’d want to talk to, he’d failed. From the hems of his faded jeans to his heavy wool coat, he was too uptown. He’d dulled his copper hair to sandy-blond, hidden that strange rustle of summer, but even in his human glamour, he was too pretty to be real.
“Not interested.” She slid the comic back in place and walked down the next aisle, trying to keep the fear at bay, and failing.
He followed, steady and too close.
She didn’t think he’d hurt her, not here, not in public. For all their flaws, the fey seemed to be better behaved when they wore human faces. Maybe it was fear of the steel bars in human jails. It didn’t really matter why: what mattered was that it was a rule they seemed to follow.
But when Aislinn glanced at him, she still wanted to run. He was like one of the big cats in the zoo—stalking its prey from across a ravine.
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Deadgirl waited at the front of the shop, invisible, seated on her wolf’s back. She had a pensive look on her face, eyes shimmering like an oil slick—strange glints of color in a black puddle.
Don’t stare at invisible faeries, Rule #3. Aislinn glanced back down at the bin in front of her calmly, as if she’d been doing nothing more than gazing around the store.
“I’m meeting some people for coffee.” Faery-boy moved closer. “You want to come?”
“No.” She stepped sideways, putting more distance between them. She swallowed, but it didn’t help how dry her mouth was, how terrified and tempted she felt.
He followed. “Some other night.”
It wasn’t a question, not really. Aislinn shook her head. “Actually, no.”
“She already immune to your charms, Keenan?” Deadgirl called out. Her voice was lilting,
but there was a harsh edge under the words. “Smart girl.”
Aislinn didn’t reply: Deadgirl wasn’t visible. Don’t answer invisible faeries, Rule #2. He didn’t answer her, either, didn’t even glance her way. “Can I text you? E-mail?
“No.” Her voice was rough. Her mouth was dry. She swallowed. Her tongue stuck to the roof
of her mouth, making a soft clicking noise when she tried to speak. “I’m not interested at all.” But she was.
She hated herself for it, but the closer he stood to her, the more she wanted to say yes, yes, please yes to whatever he wanted. She wouldn’t, couldn’t.
He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and scrawled something on it. “Here’s mine. When you change your mind. . .”
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“I won’t.” She took it—trying not to let her fingers too near his skin, afraid the contact would somehow make it worse—and shoved it in her pocket. Passive resistance, that was what Grams would counsel. Just get through it and get away.
Eddy was watching her; Deadgirl was watching her.
Faery-boy leaned closer and whispered, “I’d really like to get to know you. . . .” He sniffed her like he really was some sort of animal, no different than the less-human-looking ones. “Really.”
And that would be Rule #1: Don’t ever attract faeries’ attention. Aislinn almost tripped trying to get away—from him and from her own inexplicable urge to give in. She did stumble in the doorway when Deadgirl whispered, “Run while you can.”
Keenan watched Aislinn leave. She didn’t really run, but she wanted to. He could feel it, her fear, like the thrumming heart of a startled animal. Mortals didn’t usually run from him, especially girls: only one had ever done so in all the years he’d played this game.
This one, though, she was afraid. Her already-pale skin blanched when he reached out to her, making her look like a wraith framed by her straight blue-black hair. Delicate. It made her seem more vulnerable, easier to approach. Or maybe that was just because she was so slight. He imagined he could tuck her head under his chin and fit her whole body in the spare fold of his coat. Perfect. She’d need some guidance on attire—replace the common clothes she seemed to prefer, add a few bits of jewelry—but that was inevitable these days. At least she had long hair.
She’d be a refreshing challenge, too, in strange control of her emotions. Most of the girls he’d picked were so fiery, so volatile. Once he’d thought that was a good indicator—Summer Queen, fiery passion. It had made sense.
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Donia interrupted his thoughts. “I don’t think she likes you.”
Donia pursed her blue lips—the only spot of color in her cold, white face.
If he studied her, he could find proof of the changes in her—the blond hair faded to the white
of a snow squall, the pallor that made her lips seem so blue—but she was still as beautiful as she had been when she’d taken over as the Winter Girl. Beautiful, but not mine, not like Aislinn will be.
“Keenan,” Donia snapped, a cloud of frigid air slipping out with her voice. “She doesn’t like you.”
“She will.” He stepped outside and shook off the glamour. Then he said the words that’d sealed so many mortal girls’ fates. “I’ve dreamed about her. She’s the one.”
And with that Aislinn’s mortality began to fade. Unless she became the Winter Girl, she was his now—for better or for worse.
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“[The Sleagh Maith, or the Good People, are] terrifyed by nothing earthly so much as by cold Iron.”
—The Secret Commonwealth by Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang (1893)
As freaked as she was by the faery approaching her, Aislinn couldn’t go home. If everything seemed calm, Grams didn’t put many restrictions on her, but if Grams suspected trouble, that leniency would vanish. Aislinn wasn’t about to risk that, not if she had a choice, so she needed to keep her panic in check.
And she was panicked, more than she’d been in years—enough that she’d actually run for a block, attracting faery followers. Several gave chase at first, until one of the lupine faeries snarled at the others and they’d dropped off—all but one female. She loped alongside Aislinn on all fours as they ran up Third Avenue. The wolf-girl’s crystalline fur chimed with an eerily appealing melody, as if it would lull the listener to trust.
Aislinn slowed, hoping to discourage her, wanting to stop that chiming song. It didn’t work.
She concentrated on the sound of her feet hitting the pavement, the cars that drove by, a stereo with too much bass, anything but that chiming song. As she rounded the corner onto Crofter, the red neon sign for the Crow’s Nest reflected on the faery’s fur, emphasizing holly-red eyes. Like the rest of downtown Huntsdale, the building that housed the grungy club showed how far the city had fallen. Facades that were presumably once attractive now bore telltale signs of age and decay. Scrubby weeds sprouted from cracked sidewalks and half-abandoned lots.
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Outside the club, near the deserted railroad yard, the people she passed were as likely as not looking to score—seeking something, anything, to numb their minds. It wasn’t an option she could indulge in, but she didn’t begrudge them their chemical refuge.
A few girls she recognized waved, but didn’t motion for her to stop. Aislinn inclined her head in greeting as she slowed to a normal walking speed.
Then one of Seth’s friends, Glenn, stepped in her path. He had so many bars in his face, she’d need to touch them to count them all.
Behind her, the wolf-girl paced, circling closer until the pungent scent of her fur was chokingly heady.
“Tell Seth his speakers came in,” Glenn started.
The wolf-girl, still on all fours, nudged Aislinn with her head.
Aislinn stumbled, clutching Glenn’s arm for balance.
He reached out when she tried to step back. “You okay?”
“I guess I just ran too fast”—she forced a smile and tried to look like she was winded from
her run—“trying to keep warm, you know?”
“Right.” The look he gave her was a familiar one: unbelieving.
As she started to walk past him, to reach the shortcut to Seth’s, the door to the Crow’s Nest
opened, letting out discordant music. The thump of the drums beat faster even than her racing heart.
Glenn cleared his throat. “Seth’s not good with you going through there”—he gestured toward the shadowy alley alongside the building—“alone. He’d be upset, you know, if you got messed up.”
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She couldn’t tell him the truth: the scary things weren’t the guys smoking in the alley, but the lupine fey growling at her feet. “It’s early.”
Glenn crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head.
“Right.” Aislinn stepped away from the mouth of the alley, away from the shortcut to the safety of Seth’s steel walls.
Glenn watched until she turned back to the street.
The wolf-girl snapped at the air behind Aislinn’s ankles until she gave in to her fear and took off jogging the rest of the way to the railroad yard.
At the edge of Seth’s lot, Aislinn stopped to compose herself. Seth was pretty together, but he still freaked sometimes when she was upset.
The wolf-girl howled as Aislinn walked the last couple yards up to the train, but it didn’t bother Aislinn as much, not here.
Seth’s train was beautiful on so many levels. How could I be upset here? The outside was decorated in murals that ran the gamut from anime to abstract; beautiful and unexpected, they faded into one another like a collage that begged the viewer to make sense of the images, to find an order behind the colorful pastiche. In one of the few warmer months, she’d sat with Seth in his odd garden studying the art and realized that the beauty wasn’t in the order, but in the unplanned harmony.
Like being with Seth.
It wasn’t just paintings that decorated the garden: sprouting like unnatural trees along the perimeter were a series of metalwork sculptures Seth had made over the past couple years. Between those sculptures—and in some cases twining around them—were flowering plants and
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shrubs. Despite the ravages of the lengthy winter months, the plants thrived under Seth’s watchful care.
Heartbeat calm now, Aislinn lifted her hand to knock.
Before she could, the door swung open, and Seth stood in the doorway, grinning. The streetlights made him look a bit intimidating, illuminating the bars in his eyebrows and the ring in his lower lip. His blue-black hair fell over his face when he moved, like tiny arrows pointing to pronounced cheekbones. “Starting to think you were going to bail on me.”
“Didn’t know you were expecting me,” she said in what she hoped was a casual voice.
He gets sexier every day.
“Not expecting, but hoping. Always hoping.” He rubbed his arms, mostly bare under the sleeves of a black T-shirt. He wasn’t bulky, but his arms—and the rest of him—had obvious definition. He lifted one eyebrow and asked, “You going to come in or stand there?”
“Anybody else in the house?”
“Just me and Boomer.”
His teakettle whistled, and he went back inside, calling out as he went, “Picked up a sub
earlier. Want half?” “Just tea.”
Aislinn already felt better; being around him made her feel more confident. Seth was the epitome of calm. When his parents had left on some mission thing and given him everything they owned, he didn’t go on a binge. Aside from buying the train cars and converting them into a trailer of sorts, he’d kept it pretty normal—hung out, partied some. He talked about college, art school, but he wasn’t in any rush.
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She stepped around the piles of books on the floor: Chaucer and Nietzsche sat beside The Prose Edda; the Kama Sutra tilted against A World History of Architecture and a Clare Dunkle novel. Seth read everything.
“Just move Boomer. He’s sluggish tonight.” He gestured toward the boa napping on one of the ergonomic chairs in the front of the train—his common room. One green and one bright orange, the chairs curved backward like the letter c. They had no arms, so you could sit with your legs up if you wanted. Beside each of them were plain wood tables with books and papers stacked on them.
Carefully she scooped up the coiled boa and moved him from the chair onto the sofa on the other side of the narrow room.
Seth came over with two china saucers. A matching cup with blue flowers sat on each of them, two-thirds full of tea. “High Mountain oolong. Just came in this morning.”
She took one—sloshing a bit over the edge—and tasted. “Good.”
He sat down across from her, holding his cup in one hand, the saucer in the other, and managing to look strangely dignified—despite his black nail polish. “So, anyone out at the Crow’s Nest?”
“Glenn stopped me. Your speakers came in.”
“Good you didn’t go inside. They got raided last night.” He scowled briefly. “Glenn didn’t tell you?”
“No, but he knew I wasn’t staying.” She tucked her feet up, pleased when Seth’s scowl faded. “So who’d they get?”
She sipped her tea and settled in for the latest rumors. Half the time she could just curl up and listen while he talked to the people who filled his house most nights. Then she could pretend—
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for a short time, at least—that the world was as it seemed to be, no more, no less. Seth gave her that: a private space to believe in the illusion of normalcy.
It wasn’t why she’d started visiting him when they met a couple years ago; that was purely a result of learning he lived in a house of steel walls. It was, however, one of the reasons she recently started having the wildly stupid thoughts about him, thoughts about giving in to his flirting, but Seth didn’t date. He had a reputation as a great one-night stand, but she wasn’t interested in that. Well, she was interested, but not if it meant losing either his friendship or access to his steel-walled haven.
She’d been staring. Again. “Sure. Just, I don’t know, tired I guess.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“About what?” She sipped the tea and hoped that he’d drop it, almost as much as she hoped
How good would it feel to tell someone? To just talk about it with someone? Grams didn’t
talk about the fey if she could avoid it. She was old, seeming more tired by the day, too tired to question what Aislinn did when she was out, too tired to ask questions about where she went after dark.
Aislinn dared another smile, carefully calm, at Seth. I could tell him. But she couldn’t, not really; it was the one rule Grams had insisted they never break.
Would he believe me?
Somewhere in the depths of the second train car, music played—another of his mixes with everything from Godsmack to the Dresden Dolls, Sugarcult and Rachmaninov, and a variety of other stuff she couldn’t identify.
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It was peaceful—until Seth stopped mid-story and set his tea on the table beside him. “Please tell me what’s going on?”
Her hand shook, spilling tea on the floor. He didn’t usually push her; it wasn’t his way. “What do you mean? There’s nothing—”
He interrupted, “Come on, Ash. You look worried lately. You’re here a lot more often, and unless it’s something about us”—he paused, staring at her with an unreadable expression—“is it?”
Avoiding eye contact, she said, “We’re fine.”
She went to the kitchen and grabbed a rag to mop up the tea.
“What then? Are you in some sort of trouble?” He reached for her as she walked past.
“I’m fine.” She dodged his outstretched hand and went to sop up the tea, staring at the floor,
trying to ignore the fact that he was watching her. “So, umm, where is everyone?”
“I told everyone I needed a few days. I wanted a chance to see you alone. Talk and stuff.”
With a sigh, he reached down and pulled the rag away from her. He tossed it toward the kitchen, where it landed on the table with a splat. “Talk to me.”
She stood up, but he caught her hand before she could walk away again.
He pulled her closer. “I’m here. I’ll be here. Whatever it is.”
“It’s nothing. Really.” She stood there, one hand in his, the other hanging uselessly at her
side. “I just need to be somewhere safe with good company.”
“Did someone hurt you?” He sounded weirder then, tense.
“No.” She bit her lip; she hadn’t thought he would ask so many questions, counted on it, in
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“Someone want to?” He pulled her down into his lap, tucking her head under his chin, holding her securely.
She didn’t resist. He’d held her every year when she came back from visiting her mom’s grave, had held her when Grams had gotten sick last year. His holding her wasn’t strange; the questions were.
“I don’t know.” She felt stupid for it, but she started crying, big dumb tears she couldn’t stop. “I don’t know what they want.”
Seth stroked her hair, running his hand down the length of it and on to her back. “But you do know who they are?”
“Sort of.” She nodded, sniffling. Bet that’s attractive. She tried to pull away.
“So, that’s a good place to start.” He wrapped one arm tighter around her and leaned over to pick a notebook and pen up off the floor. Propping the notebook on her knee, he held the pen poised over it. With a reassuring smile, he prompted, “Tell me. We’ll figure it out. Talk to some people. Check out the police blotter.”
“Sure. Find out more about them.” He gave her a reassuring look. “Ask Rabbit down at the tat shop. He hears everything. We find out who they are. Then we take care of it.”
“There’s not going to be anything in the blotter. Not on these two.” Aislinn smiled at the idea of faeries’ crimes being reported in the blotter. They’d need a whole section of the daily paper just for faery crimes, especially in the safe neighborhoods: the upscale homes were in greener areas, outside the safety of steel frames and bridges.
“So we use other routes.” He pushed her hair away from her face, wiping a tear off her cheek in the process. “Seriously, I’m a research god. Give me a clue, and I’ll find something we can
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use. Blackmail, deal, whatever. Maybe they’re wanted for something. If not, maybe they’re breaking a law. Harassment or something. That’s a crime, right? If not, there’s people Rabbit knows.”
Aislinn disentangled herself from his arms and went over to the sofa. Boomer barely stirred when she sat down next to him. Too cold. She shivered. It’s always too cold. She stroked his skin while she thought. Seth hasn’t ever told anyone about Mom or anything. He can be careful.
Seth sat back and crossed his ankles, waiting.
She stared at the worn vintage T he had on—damp from her tears now—the peeling white letters proclaimed: PIXIES. Maybe it’s a sign. She’d thought about it so often, imagined telling him.
He looked expectantly at her.
She wiped her cheeks again. “Okay.”
When she didn’t say anything else, he crooked one glittering eyebrow and prompted her
“Right.” She swallowed and said, as calmly as she could, “Faeries. Faeries are stalking me.” “Faeries?”
“Faeries.” She pulled her legs up to sit cross-legged on the sofa. Boomer lifted his head to
look at her, his tongue flicking out, and slid further onto her lap.
Seth picked up his tea and took a drink.
She’d never told anyone before. It was one of Grams’ unbreakable rules: Never know who’s
listening. Never know when They are hiding nearby.
Aislinn’s heart thudded. She could feel herself getting nauseous. What did I do? But she
wanted him to know, wanted someone to talk to.
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Aislinn took several calming breaths and added, “Two of them. They’ve been following me for a couple of weeks.”
Carefully, as if he were moving in slow motion, Seth leaned forward, sitting on the edge of his chair, almost close enough to touch. “You messing with me?”
“No.” She bit her lip and waited.
Boomer slithered closer, dragging the front of his body up over her chest. Absently she stroked his head.
Seth poked at the ring in his lip, a stalling gesture, the way some people lick their lips in tense conversations. “Like little winged people?”
“No. Like our size and terrifying.” She tried to smile, but it didn’t work. Her chest hurt, like someone had kicked her. She was breaking the rules she’d lived by, her mother had lived by, her Grams, everyone in her family for so long.
“How do you know they’re faeries?”
“Never mind.” She looked away. “Just forget—”
“Don’t do that.” His voice had a bite of frustration in it. “Talk to me.”
“And say what?”
He stared at her as he answered, “Say you’ll trust me. Say you’ll let me in for real, finally.” She didn’t answer, didn’t know what to say. Sure, she’d kept things from him, but she kept
things from everyone. That was just the way it was.
He sighed. Then he put on his glasses and held the pen poised over the notebook. “Right. Tell
me what you know. What do they look like?” “You won’t be able to see them.”
He paused again. “Why?”
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She didn’t look away this time. “They’re invisible.”
Seth didn’t answer.
For a moment they just sat there, quietly staring at each other. Her hand stilled on Boomer as
she waited, but the boa didn’t move away.
Finally Seth started writing. Then he looked up. “What else?”
“Why? Why are you doing this?”
Seth shrugged, but his voice wasn’t nonchalant when he answered, “Because I want you to
trust me? Because I want you to stop looking so haunted? Because I care about you?”
“Say you do go research. What if they . . . I don’t know, hurt you? Attack you?” She knew
how awful they could be even if he didn’t—couldn’t—get it.
“For going to the library?” He crooked his eyebrow again.
She was still trying to get her head together, to find a line between begging him to really
believe her and telling him she wasn’t serious. She pushed Boomer off her onto the sofa cushion and stood up.
“You see them hurt anyone?”
“Yes,” she started, but she stopped herself. She paced over to the window. Three faeries lingered outside, not doing anything, but undeniably there. Two of them were almost human- looking, but the third was as far from human as they got—too big and covered in dark tufts of fur, like a bear that walked upright. She looked away and shuddered. “Not these two but . . . I don’t know. Faeries grope people, trip them, pinch them. Stupid stuff usually. Sometimes it’s worse, though. A lot worse. You don’t want to get involved.”
“I do want to. Trust me, Ash. Please?” Half smiling then, he added, “And I don’t mind being groped. Perks for helping.”
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“You should. Faeries are . . .” She shook her head again. He was joking about it. “You can’t see what they look like.”
Without meaning to, she pictured Keenan. Blushing, she stammered, “Most of them are pretty horrible.”
“Not all of them, though?” Seth asked quietly, not smiling anymore.
“Most of them”—she looked back at the three faeries outside, unwilling to look at Seth when she admitted it—“but no, not all of them.”