A Faerie's Secret (Creepy Hollow Book 4)Rachel Morgan
A Faerie’s Secret
By Rachel Morgan
Copyright © 2015 Rachel Morgan
Cover Photography by Regina Wamba
Cover Design by Rachel Morgan
Calla Larkenwood wants nothing more than to be a guardian, but her overprotective mother has never allowed it. When circumstances change and Calla finally gets to join a Guild, she discovers guardian trainee life isn’t all she hoped it would be.
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.
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.
Mobi Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9946679-3-9
Epub Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9946679-4-6
It’s a perfect night for a party. If only someone wasn’t about to drown.
I rise to my feet, balancing carefully on the hood of the car, and pull my right arm back until my hand is in line with my ear. I grip the throwing star between my thumb and forefinger and point my left hand at my target: the kelpie gliding through the black water toward the four girls dangling their feet off the pier.
“Not yet,” my friend Zed murmurs from somewhere behind me. “Not unless he attacks the girls. It’s illegal for you to make a move against him otherwise.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. “As if we haven’t broken the law a hundred times already.”
“Hey, the only time we’re breaking the law is when we send ourselves on pretend assignments like this one. I’m sure we haven’t done a hundred of these yet.”
“True,” I say, closing one eye to better line up my hand with my target. “But you forgot about Mom’s Law.”
“Oh. Right. We’ve definitely broken your mother’s law more than a hundred times.”
My laugh is louder than I intended, but the sound is quickly lost amidst the shouting, chatting and giggling of the dozens of teens enjoying tonight’s lakeside party.
“Concentrate, Calla,” Zed says.
“Sorry.” I ignore the firelight dancing at the edge of my vision and focus on the kelpie. He was in horse form earlier when we noticed him on the other side of the lake, but he’s in human form now. Well, almost human. If I were closer, I’d be able to see the water reeds in his hair. He moves slowly, keeping close to the bank. Only his head and neck are visible above the water. As he nears the pier, he slides beneath the water and disappears. I watch the space beneath the girls’ dangling legs, waiting for the moment the kelpie explodes from the water.
And wait some more.
The sound of boisterous laughter and breaking glass threatens to tear my attention away from the water, but I breathe slowly and keep my eyes trained on the girls’ legs. And then, so slowly that at first I think I’m imagining it, the kelpie’s head rises from the water beneath the girl closest to the bank. When his neck and shoulders are above the water’s surface, she notices him. I expect her to jerk away in surprise or start screaming, but instead she leans toward him. Is he speaking to her? Casting a spell over her? Inviting her to join him in the water? The girl nods. The kelpie extends his hand toward her. She reaches down and takes it.
I should throw my weapon now. That’s why I’m here. To stop this kelpie from dragging someone to a watery grave at the bottom of the lake. But what if that isn’t his intention? What if he isn’t tonight’s ‘bad guy’ after all? His hands are around the girl’s waist now as he helps her gently into the water. Her friends don’t seem to have a problem with it. Maybe this has happened before. Maybe he and the girl are actually friends.
“Now, Calla,” Zed says.
“But he hasn’t done anything wrong yet,” I say, my gaze still locked on the kelpie and the girl. He pulls her into an embrace, and she wraps her arms around him.
“He’s made contact. He’s revealed himself.”
“But he hasn’t hurt her or—”
“He could be seconds away from—”
“What if he loves her—”
Without warning, the kelpie plunges beneath the water, taking the girl with him. Flailing arms and kicking legs churn the water’s surface. I can’t tell human from kelpie, and the girls are screaming, and people are running onto the pier, and the kelpie is rising up—
This time I don’t hesitate. I snap my arm forward and release the throwing star. It spins through the air and embeds itself in the kelpie’s shoulder. He rears back, crying out in pain, and vanishes into the foaming water. The girl, now hysterical, swims with desperate, clumsy strokes toward the two boys waiting to pull her to safety. She scrambles onto the pier, and her friends crowd around her. The boys yell across the lake, challenging the prankster to show himself. But the ripples are already settling into an eery calm, and I’m sure the kelpie is far below the surface by now.
I do a front flip off the car’s hood and bend my knees as I land. I straighten and turn back to Zed to find out how I did. Sitting on the roof of the car, he blinks at me in disbelief. “What if he loves her? Are you kidding me?”
I cross my arms. “It could have been possible.”
“No.” Zed jumps down. “I keep telling you, Cal. When you’re on assignment, you have to assume the worst. You have to assume something is going to go wrong.”
I look away. “Maybe it would be easier if the assignments were genuine. That way I’d know for sure something bad was going to happen.”
“Maybe.” Zed swings an arm around my shoulders and pulls me casually against his side. “But we don’t exactly have access to genuine assignments.”
“I know,” I murmur, my mind focused more on his body pressed against mine than the words he’s saying. My imagination skips ahead and fills in what I wish would happen next. A more intimate embrace, his hands caressing my face, my fingers sliding through his turquoise-streaked blond hair, his lips touching—
Stop. As always, my thoughts slam up against the imaginary wall encircling my mind. The solid, impenetrable mental barrier holding in every image my dangerous imagination conjures up. I used to have to make a conscious effort to hold the wall in place at all times, but now it’s almost automatic.
“Come on,” Zed says, his arm sliding away from my shoulders. “Let’s get out of here.” He heads between the cars, pulling a short stylus from his back pocket. Arriving at the nearest tree, he raises the stylus and writes a doorway spell onto the bark. As I reach his side, the bark ripples and melts away, revealing darkness beyond. He holds his hand out to me, and I smile as I take it. I find myself wondering, not for the first time, if he ever thinks of me the way I think of him.
I focus on my mental wall and nothing else as Zed leads us through the infinite blackness of the faerie paths. After several steps, a doorway materializes up ahead. We walk out to find early evening light bathing Woodsinger Grove in a lilac glow. I’m not sure what human time zone we were just in, but it was obviously several hours ahead of my home here in the fae realm. There, the stars were blinking in an ink blue sky beside a pale slice of the moon. Here, the clusters of pink butterfly blossoms are slowly closing their petals as the sun’s light diminishes, and glow-bugs have only just begun to appear on the trees.
I reach down, pluck a blossom from the ground, and twirl it between my fingers. “So,” I say as we walk b
etween the trees toward the one that conceals my house, “since I’ve got all this vacation time now, could we start doing more assignments?”
“We could, if it wasn’t so difficult to find them.” Zed pushes his hands into his front pockets. “It’s not as though we’re linked to a Guild with Seers to inform us of anyone who needs rescuing. We’re basically just visiting all the areas of the human realm where I know there’s been fae activity and waiting for something bad to happen.”
“I know. I just thought maybe … don’t you have any Seer friends who could slip you an assignment here and there?”
“No. You know I don’t have any ties to the Guild anymore. And even if I did, there’s always the risk of a genuine trainee showing up. We wouldn’t want to get caught in the middle of that.”
“There is another option, though.” Zed glances at me with a playful smile curling his lips. “You could mention to your mom that you’ve done all this private training and would love to join a real Guild.”
“Right. And you could mention to the Guild that you’re still alive instead of letting them think you died in the Destruction.”
He shakes his head, but the smile remains. “Private training it is, then.”
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Zed stops a few paces away from my tree and removes something from his back pocket. “Your birthday present. It’s a few weeks late, but at least I didn’t completely forget like last year.” He hands me a small box. “Happy seventeenth birthday.”
I drop the butterfly blossom and smile as I take the box from him. “You didn’t need to get me anything.”
“Yeah, well, I’m making up for last year.”
With nervous anticipation fluttering like sprites in my stomach, I carefully lift the lid and push it back. Sitting on the cushioned interior, attached to a gold chain, is a delicate metal lily with a pearl at its center.
“It’s a calla lily,” Zed says. “Since, you know, that’s where your name comes from. And I picked the gold one because it matches your look. The gold hair and eyes, you know.”
“It’s beautiful,” I breathe.
“So you like it? I’m usually pretty terrible with girl gifts, but I had help with this one.”
I beam at him. “I love it.”
He grins back at me with a smile I know better than my own. A smile that has the power to turn my insides to liquid. His blue-green eyes move across my face, and I wonder, yet again, if he ever feels the way I feel. With his eyes staring into mine, I can almost imagine he does. And this gift is the most thoughtful gift he’s ever given me. It must mean something.
I take a step closer to him as blood pumps faster through my veins. I’ve never been brave enough to do this before. I’ve always respected the distance our student-instructor relationship required. But I’m seventeen now. I’m basically an adult. What reason is there for me to hold back?
The nerves in my stomach give one final lurch as I rise onto my toes and press my lips against his. My eyelids slide closed. His hands grip my shoulders—
But instead of pulling me closer, he pushes me a step back. “Whoa, Calla, hang on.” He shakes his head slowly, giving me a wary look.
Oh shoot. My eyes fall to the ground as embarrassment heats my face. “Um … I …”
“Look, it’s not that you aren’t … I mean, you’re beautiful. You’re an amazing girl. You’re just … so much younger than I am.”
I look up, managing to meet his gaze despite my humiliation. “There are only thirteen years between us.”
“Exactly. That’s a huge difference when—”
“My mother is thirty-eight years older than my father. It makes no difference to them or anyone else.”
He hesitates, then says, “Faeries live for centuries. Decades mean nothing to us. We both know that. But when you’re still growing up, thirteen years is a significant difference.”
My gaze returns to the ground. “So you still see me as a child.”
“Well … you are still a child.”
I snap the small jewelry box shut and clench my hand around it. “I’m not a—”
“I have a girlfriend,” he blurts out.
My breath catches. “What?” I whisper.
“She helped me choose your birthday present. She thought you’d really like—”
“Oh my goodness.” I stride past him with my eyes still fixed on the ground. This is utterly mortifying. Of course Zed has a girlfriend. What on earth possessed me to think kissing him was a good idea? In what realm could that possibly have ended well?
“Calla, I’m really sorry,” he calls after me. “I don’t want to hurt you, I just—”
“Good night, Zed,” I shout without looking back. I stop in front of my tree and bend to retrieve my stylus from my sock. Before Zed can say anything else, I scribble a doorway onto the bark and hurry inside.
I run upstairs and fall onto my bed. Throwing stars attached to the inside of my jacket poke into my chest. I sit up, pull them all out, toss them into my bedside drawer, and flop back onto the bed.
I’ll never be a real guardian.
I’ll never have their sparkling magical weapons.
I’ll never have their defining marks on my wrists.
And I’ll never have Zed.
Despite the fact that he just rejected me, my stupid brain imagines Zed finding a way into my house, coming into my room, and confessing that he doesn’t actually have a girlfriend. He loves me desperately, but there’s some other reason he thinks we can’t be together, so he made that story up.
My mental wall cracks, and, for a moment, I actually see him walking through the door into my bedroom.
“Ugh!” I squeeze my eyes shut and smack my fists against my forehead. I imagine the wall. I see the hole my crumbling emotional state has created. I push a brick into the hole. Another brick. And another. I fill up the tiny gaps with magical, imaginary cement.
When I open my eyes, Zed isn’t there.
A noise downstairs signals my mother’s return from work. Surprised, I adjust my position and pull my amber from my back pocket so I can check the time. The shiny, rectangular device is so thin I’m surprised I haven’t snapped it in half by sitting on it. It’s the latest of its kind; a birthday present from my parents. It’s compatible with all the latest social spells, but that isn’t why I wanted it. I wanted it for the art spell that allows me to draw and paint with my stylus or fingers and then transfer the image to canvas later on. It means I can create art whenever inspiration strikes, even if I don’t have a sketchbook with me.
I touch my thumb to the amber’s surface. Gold numbers swim into view. Just as I suspected, it’s too early for Mom to be home. Tuesdays are 6 pm days, so technically she’s still got twenty-three minutes of work left. And technicalities are something Mom pays great attention to.
I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand. Forget about Zed. Forget about secret training. Forget about how unfair it is that your brother gets to be a guardian and you don’t. I head out of my room toward the stairs, twisting a lock of golden hair around my finger. Whatever the reason for Mom’s early return from work, I’m glad it happened after I got home. She would have freaked if—
At the foot of the stairs is a man I don’t recognize. A man in a dark, hooded coat that reaches his knees. A man with a long scar marring his left cheek. A man raising a knife.
And looking directly at me.
The knife flies straight at me. I jerk to the side instinctively, and it zings past my ear. The man raises an eyebrow. “Nice reflexes,” he says. “But can you dodge this?” Red sparks sizzle through the air and strike my chest, throwing me back against the wall outside my bedroom. Momentarily stunned, I crumple onto the floor. Blinking, I look down at the singed hole in my T-shirt. If it weren’t for the protective vest I wear beneath my clothes whenever I go out with Zed, my skin wo
uld be as burned as the T-shirt.
Footsteps sound on the stairs. My heart thunders in my chest. My lungs struggle to find breath. I close my eyes, playing dead while I gather power. “You know, it’s a shame I have to get rid of you,” the man calls as he climbs the staircase. “You are exceptionally pretty. Have you been told that before?” His footsteps stop.
I crack my eyelids open and see him standing by my feet. I pull my leg back and kick his shin as hard as I can, grunting out, “Many times. Mostly by jerks like you.” I spring to my feet, throw a conjured-up splatter of paint in his face, and dash down the stairs.
His cry of pain is short and followed by a string of curse words. I reach the living room and run to the other side, hoping to make it out before the man gets downstairs. But a loud thump makes me swing around before I can open a doorway. He must have jumped from the top to the bottom in a single leap, because there he stands, his hood fallen back to reveal his smirking face.
I can’t get away, I realize suddenly. The thought is followed almost instantly by another: Why do I want to get away? I want to fight bad guys and now there’s one standing in my living room. When am I going to get another opportunity like this?
“Remember when I said I have to get rid of you?” the man says. “Unfortunately, I meant that.”
I don’t think so. Magic glitters above my palms. The sparks transform into angry, winged insects, which zoom toward the man and swarm around his head while I gather more power in my hands. I’ve only stunned someone once before, and it’s about time I tried again.
A strong gale sweeps the insects aside before I’m ready. They vanish as I duck behind a couch, a ball of magic swirling above my hands.
“You’re not what I was expecting,” the man says, sounding almost amused.
“Were you expecting to get your ass kicked?” I ask, hoping I sound more confident than I feel. “Because that’s what’s about to happen.”