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The Iron Daughter, Page 49

Julie Kagawa

Page 49


  “That wouldn’t have been very gentlemanly. ” Ash sounded amused. “And it was advantageous for me to have them stay. There was enough glamour in that one corner to choke a dragon. Isn’t that why we’re here?”

  “Oh. ” Relief and embarrassment colored my face. “Right. It is. I just thought…never mind. I’ll shut up now. ”

  Ash looked down at me, cocking his head with a puzzled frown. “What exactly are you accusing me of, Meghan Chase?”

  “I wasn’t accusing. ” I hid my face in his shirt, mumbling through the cool fabric. “I just thought…with how easy it is to manipulate human emotions…that you, I don’t know. Might find something more interesting than me. ”

  Wow, that had come out stupid and psycho possessive. My face burned even more. I kept my head down so he wouldn’t see my crimson cheeks, and I wouldn’t have to see his reaction either.

  “Ah. ” Ash brushed my cheek with the back of his hand, catching a loose strand of hair between his fingers. “I’ve seen thousands of mortal girls,” he said softly, “more than you could ever count, from all corners of your world. To me, they’re all the same. ” His finger slid below my chin, tilting my head up. “They see only this outer shell, not who I really am, beneath. You have. You’ve seen me without the glamour and the illusions, even the ones I show my family, the farce I maintain just to survive. You’ve seen who I really am, and yet, you’re still here. ” He brushed his thumb over my skin, leaving a trail of icy heat. “You’re here, and the only dance I want is this one. ”

  My heart skipped a beat. His nearness was overwhelming, his face and lips just inches away. We stared at each other, and I could see the hunger in his eyes. I trembled in anticipation, my lips aching to touch his, but a flicker of regret crossed his face and he silently drew back, ending the moment. Sighing, I laid my head against his shirt, my entire being buzzing with thwarted hope, a heavy disappointment settling in my chest. I heard his heart thudding against my cheek, and felt him tremble, too.

  “Since we’re on the subject,” Ash murmured after a few minutes of silent dancing, as our hearts and minds composed themselves, “you never answered my question. ”

  He sounded uncharacteristically unsure. I shifted in his arms and looked up, meeting his gaze. “What question?”

  His eyes were deep gray in the dim light. Glamour shimmered around him, heavy in the air and in the dreams of those around us. For just a moment, the illusion of the human boy dancing with me wavered, revealing an unearthly faery with silver eyes, glamour pouring off of him in waves. Compared to the suddenly plain human dancers surrounding us, his beauty was almost painful.

  “Do you love him?”

  My breath caught. For the barest of seconds, I thought he meant Scott, but of course that wasn’t right. There was only one person he could mean. Almost against my will, I glanced behind me, through the swaying crowd of dancers, to where Puck stood at the edge of the light. His arms were crossed, and he was watching us with narrowed green eyes. My heart skipped a beat. I turned back, feeling Ash’s gaze on me, my mind spinning several directions at once. Tell him no, it whispered. Tell him Puck is just a friend. That you don’t feel anything for him.

  “I don’t know,” I whispered miserably.

  Ash didn’t say anything. I heard him sigh, and his arms tightened around me, pulling us closer together. We fell silent again, lost in our own thoughts. I closed my eyes, wanting time to freeze, wanting to forget about the scepter and the faery courts and make this night last forever.

  But of course, it ended much too soon.

  As the last strains of music shivered across the gym floor, Ash lowered his head, his lips grazing my ear. “We have company,” he murmured, his breath cool on my skin. I opened my eyes and looked around, peering through the heavy glamour for invisible enemies. A pair of slitted golden orbs stared at me from a table, floating in midair above the flowery centerpiece. I blinked, and Grimalkin appeared, bushy tail curled around himself, watching me. No one else in the room seemed to notice a large gray cat sitting in the middle of the table; they moved around and past him without a single glance. Puck met us at the edge of the dance floor, indicating he’d seen Grimalkin too. Casually, we walked up to the table, where Grimalkin had moved on to grooming a hind leg. He glanced up lazily as we approached.

  “Hello, Prince,” he purred, regarding Ash through half-lidded eyes. “Nice to see you are not evil…well…you know. I assume you are here for the scepter, as well?”

  “Among other things. ” Ash’s voice was cold; fury rippled below the surface, and the air around him turned chilly. I shivered. He didn’t just want the scepter; he was out for revenge.

  “Did you find anything, Grim?” I asked, hoping the other students wouldn’t notice the sudden drop in temperature. Grimalkin sneezed once and stood, waving his tail. His gold eyes were suddenly serious.

  “I think you had best see this for yourself,” he replied. Leaping off the table, he slipped through the crowds and out the door. I took one last look around the gym, at my old classmates and teachers, feeling a twinge of sadness. I’d probably never see them again. Then Puck caught my gaze with his encouraging smile, and we followed Grimalkin out the doors into the night.

  Outside, it was bitingly cold. I shivered in my thin gown, wondering if Ash’s mood could spread to the entire district. Ahead of us, Grimalkin slipped around a corner like a furry ghost, barely visible in the shadows. We followed him down the corridors, past numerous classrooms, and into the parking lot, where he stopped at the edge of the sidewalk, gazing out over the blacktop.

  “Oh, my God,” I whispered. The entire lot—pavement, cars, the old yellow bus in the distance—was covered with a fine sheeting of white powder that sparkled under the moonlight. “No way. Is that…snow?” I bent and scooped up a handful of the white drifts. Wet, cold and crumbly. It couldn’t be anything else. “What’s going on? It never snows here. ”

  “The balance is off,” Ash said grimly, gazing around the alien landscape.

  “Winter is supposed to hold the power right now, but with the scepter gone, the natural cycle is thrown off. So you get events like this. ” He gestured to the snowy parking lot. “It will only get worse, unfortunately. ”

  “We have to get the scepter back now,” I said, looking down at Grimalkin. He gazed back calmly, as if snow in Louisiana was perfectly normal. “Grim, did you and Ironhorse find anything yet?”

  The cat made a great show of licking his front paw. “Perhaps. ”

  I wondered if Ash and Puck ever felt the urge to strangle him. Apparently, I wasn’t asking the right questions. “What did you find?” Puck asked, and Grimalkin finally looked up.

  “Maybe the scepter. Maybe nothing. ” He flicked his paw several times before continuing. “But…there is a rumor on the streets of a great gathering of Iron fey in a factory in downtown San Jose. We located it, and it looks abandoned, so perhaps Virus has not gathered her army yet. ”

  “Where’s Ironhorse?” I asked.

  Ash narrowed his eyes.

  “I left him at the factory,” Grimalkin said. “He was ready to charge in, but I convinced him I would return with you and Goodfellow. He is still there, for all I know. ”

  “You left him alone?”

  “Is that not what I just said, human?” Grimalkin narrowed his eyes at me, and I gave the boys a panicked look. “I suggest you hurry,” he purred, looking out over the parking lot. “Not only is Virus gathering a great army of Iron fey, but I do not think Ironhorse will wait very long. He seemed rather eager to charge in by himself. ”

  “Let’s go,” I said, glancing at Ash and Puck. “Ash, are you all right for this?

  Will you be able to fight?”

  He regarded me solemnly and made a quick gesture with his hand. The glamour fell away, the tuxedo dissolving into mist, as the human boy disappeared and the Unseelie prince took his place, his black coat
swirling around him. I looked back at Puck and saw his tux replaced with his normal green hoodie. He gave me a once-over and grinned. “Not exactly dressed for battle, are you, Princess?”

  I looked down at my gorgeous dress, feeling a pang of regret that it would probably be ruined before the night was out. “I don’t suppose I have time to change,” I sighed.

  “No. ” Grimalkin twitched an ear. “You do not. ” He shook his head and glanced skyward. “What time is it?”

  “Um…I don’t know. ” I’d long given up wearing a watch. “Almost midnight, I think. Why?”

  He appeared to smile, which was rather eerie. “Just sit tight, human. They will be here soon. ”

  “What are you talking…” I trailed off as a cold wind whipped across the parking lot, swirling the snow into eddies, making them dance and sparkle over the drifts. The branches rattled, an unearthly wailing rising over the wind and trees. I shivered, and saw Ash close his eyes.

  “You called Them, caith sith?”

  “They owed me a favor,” Grimalkin purred, as Puck glanced nervously at the sky. “We do not have the time to locate a trod, and this is the fastest way to travel from here. Deal with it. ”

  “What’s going on?” I asked, as both Ash and Puck moved closer, tense and protective. “Who’d he call? What’s coming?”

  “The Host,” Ash murmured darkly.

  “What…” But at that moment I heard a great rushing noise, like thousands of leaves rustling in the wind. I looked up and saw a ragged cloud moving toward us at a frightening speed, blotting out the sky and stars.

  “Hang on,” Puck said, and grabbed my hand.

  The black mass rushed toward us, screaming with a hundred voices. I saw dozens of faces, eyes, open mouths, before it was upon us, and I cringed back in fear. Cold, cold fingers snatched at me, bearing me up. My feet left the ground in a rush, and I was hurtling skyward, a shriek lodging in my throat. Icy wind surrounded me, tearing at my hair and clothes, numbing me to all feeling except a small spot of warmth where Puck still held my hand. I closed my eyes, tightening my grip as the Host bore us away into the night.