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Wicked Lovely, Page 2

Melissa Marr

  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.

  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? Something?”

  “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…”

  “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.

  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.


  [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. 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.

  Almost there.

  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.”

  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 he
r 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 out 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 was 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 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.

  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—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’d 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.

  “You okay?”

  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 he wouldn’t.

  How good would it feel to tell someone? To just talk about it? 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 to Rachmaninoff, and other stuff she couldn’t actually identify.

  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 stared 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 fact.

  “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.”

  “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 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 again, “Ash?”