Cold Iron Heart: A Wicked Lovely Novel, Page 2Melissa Marr
“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?
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.
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 pla
ce; 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.