The Everafter WishRachel Morgan
CITY OF WISHES
6: The Everafter Wish
CITY OF WISHES
6: THE EVERAFTER WISH
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Copyright © 2019 Rachel Morgan
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In a world of fae, vampires and shifters, Elle is human, bound to her stepmother by a slave charm. Her only hope is to wish for her freedom. But can she pay the price the Godmother demands in exchange?
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information please contact the author.
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Other Books by Rachel Morgan
About the Author
Elle stood on the quiet moonlit street outside her stepmother’s townhouse, working up the nerve to walk up the front steps and knock on the door. Without a watch or a phone, and after spending hours—which were apparently days—in an enchanted forest, followed by a well-deserved nap in the car during the drive back to Vale City, she’d begun to lose all concept of time. She had no idea how late it was, but lights illuminated the windows of Salvia’s home, and the occasional shadow moved behind the curtains, so someone was definitely home and awake.
Elle looked around at the sound of a door banging shut somewhere nearby, but it appeared she was still alone out here. She swallowed and told herself to stop being so jumpy. She’d asked Dex to wait in the next street over, wanting the reassurance of knowing she wasn’t completely alone, but not wanting the pressure of him watching as she faced her stepmother. “I have to do this on my own,” she’d told him.
“They’re just possessions,” he’d reminded her. “Are you sure you need them?”
“It’s not just that. I need this part of my life to be over. I need Salvia to know it’s over. Then we can face everything else.”
She climbed the stairs and stopped in front of the door. “I can do this,” she whispered. “I’m not a slave, and I have magic.” Adrenaline spiked in her veins at the reminder, and bright silver dust materialized on her fingers in response. Dex had promised that if human magic was anything like fae Essence, he would teach her everything he knew. But exhaustion had knocked Elle out soon after getting into Xander’s car to drive back to the city, so Dex hadn’t had time to explain a single thing yet.
Elle exhaled slowly, watching the silver glow fade from her skin. Then she lifted her hand to the door. But before she could knock, the image of Salvia looming over her in the Never Woods rose in her mind. She’d been on the ground, so helpless, and the slave charm had somehow reappeared on her leg—
It wasn’t real, she reminded herself silently, closing her eyes for a moment. It was all a trick of the Never Woods. She opened her eyes, took a deep breath, and rapped three times on the door.
Seconds ticked by.
She considered knocking again.
She considered running.
She didn’t really need to—
The door swung open, and there stood Salvia, elegant as always with her glossy red hair spilling over her shoulders in perfect waves and her face flawlessly made up. Though the slave charm was gone from Elle’s ankle, she almost flinched at the sight of her stepmother. She imagined the burn of magic on her skin. She was late returning home, so very, very late, and surely the pain would eat into her leg any second—
“Salvia,” she said before her fear could take over completely. She forced her shoulders back and held her stepmother’s gaze. “I’m here for my things.”
Salvia’s expression, initially one of annoyance—most likely because someone was unexpectedly disturbing her evening—turned instantly to rage. “Where the hell have you—”
“I’m not your slave anymore.” Elle bent quickly, lifted the bottom of her pants, and showed Salvia her bare ankle.
Salvia gaped. Then her eyes narrowed to slits. “How did you—”
“I’m here for my things.” Elle straightened. “Then I’ll be gone, and I don’t want to see you ever again.”
Salvia pulled herself a little straighter. “As if I give a damn about what you want.” She stepped back. “Get inside right now.”
“Thank you.” Elle marched past her, across the hallway, and into the living room.
“Thank you?” Salvia repeated behind her. “Thank you?” The door slammed shut. “You know you’re never leaving this house again, don’t you? I’ll put a confinement charm on these doors so strong you won’t even be able to touch the handles without getting burned.”
“I told you,” Elle said, spinning to face her stepmother, “I’m not your slave anymore.”
“And I have magic,” Elle blurted out, raising her hands as silver dust trailed across her skin. “So don’t try anything.”
For what might possibly have been the first time in Elle’s life, she watched genuine shock come over her stepmother’s face. For several moments, all Salvia could do was stare. “It isn’t possible,” she whispered eventually. Her eyes traveled across the silvery glow of Elle’s skin. Then she pressed her lips together, appearing to regain some of her composure. “Well, you always were a freak of some sort. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me.”
Hatred that had spent years simmering beneath Elle’s fear began to bubble. “I’m not a freak. There’s nothing unusual about me. This is possible for all humans. Centuries ago, everyone knew about it. Plenty of humans went on the quest I’ve just been on, and plenty of them ended up with magic.”
“Quest?” Salvia sneered. “Possible for all humans? How ridiculous. And of course you’re foolish enough to believe whoever told you this.”
“It was the Godmother.”
“Ha! Exactly. Only the foolish would believe a word out of that woman’s—”
“Oh, so just because you’ve never heard of this quest, that means it’s nonsense?” Elle took a step closer, her fear all but eclipsed now by the anger that was about to boil over. “Because you’re so knowledgable about the world and its history? You don’t know anything, Salvia. You’re narrow-minded and selfish, and you—”
“Don’t you dare speak to me like that!” Salvia shouted, and Elle flinched, expecting the burn of magic to lash across her skin at any second. Salvia advanced toward her, and Elle, with years of terror ingrained in her very bones, found herself unable to stand her ground. She backed up until she felt the wall behind her. “Do you know how easy it would be for me to burn the slave charm back into your skin?” Salvia hissed, magic crackling around her fingers as she brought her face right in front of Elle’s. “You can’t fight back. You have no idea how to use that pathetic imitation of faerie dust you’re calling magic. You’re powerless against me, Elle. I could enslave you right now, throw you into a taxi, and by morning, we’d be somewhere new. We could start over again somewhere else, and no one would know. Nobody would ever come looking for you because nobody cares.”
Every single moment that Elle had ever wanted to fight back rose up insid
e her at once. She raised her hands and shoved Salvia away. Glittering silver light erupted from her in a flash. Salvia shrieked, a heavy thud sounded from the other side of the room, and when the glow diminished, Elle saw Salvia sprawled across an upturned couch against the far wall. Elle walked toward her struggling, cursing stepmother, hands shaking at her sides. “I didn’t come here to fight you,” she said between heavy breaths, “but if you to try to touch me again—if you so much as mention the slave charm or send one speck of faerie dust in my direction—I won’t hesitate to defend myself.” Then she turned and made for the door. “I’m getting my things and then I’m leaving,” she called back. “I suggest you don’t move from that spot until I’m gone.”
With hands and legs that still shook slightly, Elle headed for the attic stairs. Her rhinestone-studded combat boots clomped all the way up. At the top, the door to the attic was open. She stepped inside and paused as she took in the moonlit space: the worn, striped rug that covered part of the floorboards, the old, creaky bed, the screen that concealed the makeshift bathroom area, the simple table and chair, and the wardrobe. Though she’d lived here for years and had been free for only a few days, it felt as if this space belonged to another lifetime.
She crossed the room, tugged the quilted bedspread off the bed, and folded it several times. Then she slid her hand between the mattress and bed base and pulled out her pocket watch necklace. As she walked toward the wardrobe, she slipped the necklace over her head. She retrieved the photo album that contained pictures of her parents and selected the few clothing items that looked the least bit like faded rags. Meanwhile, questions knocked at the back of her mind—Where would she live now? How would she buy clothes and food and basic necessities? Could she work for Cress, as she’d suggested when she asked Cress to make a potion that could mimic death?—but she did her best not to focus on them. She would confront those questions after she and Dex had spoken to his father and revealed the truth about humans and magic.
Placing her chosen items on the floor, she knelt down and leaned partway into the wardrobe as she opened the hidden compartment at the back. She stuck her hand inside and grabbed hold of the clothes she’d hidden from Salvia. They were mostly of the sparkly, scandalously short, club-appropriate variety, but there might be a few things worth keeping.
She had chosen two tops and was digging around for a third when her hand brushed a piece of paper. With a frown, she leaned further inside the cupboard and fished around until her fingers found the paper again. She pulled it out—a single sheet folded over once—and opened it. At the sight of Sienna’s handwriting, her breath caught in her throat. She sat back, cross-legged, and started reading.
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I don’t know if you’ll ever return home and see this. I hope you don’t, because at least that means you’ll never have to be near Mom again. But in case you do end up back in this attic, I just wanted to let you know my plan.
I’m getting as far away from Mom as I can, and I’m coming to look for you. I have no idea what happened or even where to begin looking, but I can’t just sit here and let Mom force me into ruining other people’s lives with these never-ending cons. So I may as well try to find you. I know she’ll go to the police and they’ll try to track me, but I asked a friend at school for help, and I’m pretty sure the charm we got hold of will work.
I hope I find you. I hope we see each other again. But even if we never do, please don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’m stronger than you think.
P.S. Mom bought a second-tier wish with all the Essence you spent years collecting. She said something about wanting to wish for it to be impossible for the prince to wish against Meredith’s first wish. Something complicated that probably doesn’t exist in any wish catalog. Anyway, I’ve stolen it. I’m not going to use it yet. If I hear that you’ve returned home, I’ll come back for you. We can use it together. I know it can’t grant your freedom, but we can wish for something else that’ll help. For now, don’t give up. One day, you’ll have your freedom.
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Elle squeezed her eyes shut as a single tear traced down her cheek. A quiet laugh escaped her. Dex had been right: Sienna was stronger than Elle gave her credit for. She had taken a wish, and she would be fine. The fact that no one had been able to track her yet meant that whatever magic her school friend found must have worked.
Elle folded the letter until it was small enough to fit into her pocket. Then she stood and picked up the few items of clothing she’d chosen. She had no idea how she would find Sienna—she didn’t want her coming near this house ever again—but somehow, she would make it happen. Maybe Cress could help her.
She stuffed her clothes somewhere amid the folds of the quilt, clutched the bundle against her chest, and held the photo album in one hand. Then she marched downstairs, past the living room, and out of her stepmother’s life. As the front door shut behind her with a satisfying bang, it seemed a weight lifted from her shoulders. A long and horrible chapter of her life had finally come to a close. She smiled, and if the folded quilt wasn’t currently blocking her view of her feet, she would have skipped down the stairs.
With newfound confidence, she walked to the end of the street, turned the corner, and aimed for Xander’s car. Reaching it, she opened the back door and dropped her belongings onto the seat. Dex twisted to face her from the front passenger seat. His bright eyes sparkled as he smiled. “I was just wondering if I should come looking for you, but I shouldn’t have worried.”
“See?” Xander said from the driver’s seat. “Told you she’s totally capable of handling her stepmother.”
As Elle squeezed in beside the quilt and pulled the door shut, Dex added, “Did everything go okay?”
“Not for Salvia,” Elle said, “but in general, yes. I’m fine. She’ll be fine—when she recovers from her shock and from being thrown across the room by magic that came out of nowhere.”
Xander snickered as he lowered the hand brake and pulled away from the curb. “Things are going to be entertaining until you can get a handle on that.”
“Entertaining,” Elle repeated. “That’s one way of putting it.”
“You’ll be fine,” Dex said. He faced forward but reached one arm back and wrapped his hand comfortingly around Elle’s lower leg.
“Yeah, I hope so,” she answered. “Especially since it’s time for me to meet your father.”
Though Elle guessed it was late, a flurry of activity and whispered conversation followed her and Dex as they strode across polished floors, through lavishly furnished rooms, and past artwork, sculptures and flower arrangements that were probably worth a fortune.
“… wasn’t kidnapped …”
“… thought he ran away?”
“Has the king been informed?”
Smartly dressed fae with tiny earpieces crossed their path, while another two strode ahead of them. Other fae—employees or guests, Elle wasn’t sure—lingered in corners before hurrying away. Elle kept her eyes pointed forward, but she felt the weight of the stares nonetheless. Dex had one hand firmly wrapped around hers, and when she glanced down, she saw her fingers faintly glowing. Had anyone else noticed? Had they realized the glow was silver and not gold? That it was coming from her and not from Dex? They were probably far more interested in the fact that their prince was holding a girl’s hand—and that he’d returned home safely—than in a few sparkles of faerie dust.
Not faerie dust, she corrected herself. Human dust? That sounded so odd. There must be another name for it.
They stopped in an antechamber furnished with a desk and several cushioned chairs. One of the security people—at least, Elle assumed they were part of security—knocked on the ornately carved wooden door on the other side of the room, while the other stood with his hands behind his back, staring resolutely past Elle.
“Do I look okay?” she whispered to Dex, peering down at herself and rubbing at a s
mudge of dirt on her jeans. She was still wearing some of the clothes Alissa had given her while she’d been hiding out in the vampire’s family home in the Beryl Eternal Night. The jeans were newer and more stylish than any Elle had owned before, and the sweater—decorated with gold buttons along the shoulders—fitted her perfectly. But she’d tumbled over the ground in this outfit while traveling through the Never Woods, and there were probably leaves and twigs and bits of dirt in places she couldn’t even see.
“You look beautiful,” Dex said.
Elle rolled her eyes and rubbed at her jeans again. “I doubt your father will think so.” She tucked the pocket watch necklace beneath her sweater while wishing she could change her combat boots for something less chunky.
“You have nothing to worry about,” Dex assured her. “Don’t be nervous.”
He wasn’t looking at her as he said that last part, and she wondered for a moment if he was talking more to himself than to her. She remembered his accidental confession about his greatest fear being his father, and now they were about to confront him and tell him something he probably didn’t want to hear.
“Hey, are you okay?” she asked.
On the other side of the door, a deep voice spoke, and the security guy opened the door. He stepped inside, but Dex remained where he was. He opened his mouth, then spluttered over something. Turning away, he coughed before taking a deep breath. Elle gave him a rueful smile as he turned back to her. “You were going to say yes?” she asked.