“Oh, we're playing nice now? Shall we have tea first? Brew up a nice pot of kiss-my-ass?”
“Touch her, and I'll freeze your testicles off and put them in a jar. Understand?”
“Ladies and Felines," he stated grandly, grasping the doorknob, "Welcome to Tir Na Nog. Land of endless winter and shitloads of snow.”
“Bravo," said Grimalkin, peering down from Cold Tom's chest. "The Winter prince and Oberon's jester agreeing on something. The world must be ending.”
“I licked my lips and whispered, "Is this where you say you'll kill me?"
One corner of his lips curled. "If you like," he murmured, a flicker of amusement finally crossing his face. "Though it's gotten far too interesting for that.”
“No, no. We can kill each other later.”
“Me? Die? Didn't they tell you, princess? I'm Robin Goodfellow.”
“Knock, knock!" he called in a high, singsong voice.
For a moment, silence. Then a thud and a crash, as if something heavy had been hurled at the door. "Go away!" snarled the voice from within.
"Ah, no. That's not how the joke goes," called Rob. "I say 'knock, knock', and you're supposed to answer with 'who's there?'"
Nope, that's still wrong." Robbie seemed unperturbed. I, however, was horrified at Ethan's language, though I knew it wasn't him. "Here," continued Rob in an amiable voice, "I'll go through the whole thing, so you'll know how to answer next time." He cleared his throat and pounded at the door again. "Knock, knock!" he bellowed. "Who's there? Puck! Puck who? Puck, who will turn you into a squealing pig and stuff you in the oven if you don't get out of our way!" And with that, he banged the door open.”
“You made me feel alive again.”
“Ash blinked. "Are you raiding the cellars now, Goodfellow?"
"Me? Stealing?" Puck flashed a devious grin and popped another fruit into his mouth. "In the house of my ancient enemy? What gave you that idea?" He plucked another fruit and tossed it to me with a wink.”
“I've always wanted the IQ of a rock. No, wait. That would be an insult to the rock.”
“There was a soft chuckle beside me, and my heart stopped.
"So this is Oberon's famous half-blood," Ash mused as I whirled around. His eyes, cold and inhuman, glimmered with amusement. Up close, he was even more beautiful, with high cheekbones and dark tousled hair falling into his eyes. My traitor hands itched, longing to run my fingers through those bangs. Horrified, I clenched them in my lap, trying to concentrate on what Ash was saying. "And to think," the prince continued, smiling, "I lost you that day in the forest and didn't even know what I was chasing."
I shrank back, eyeing Oberon and Queen Mab. They were deep in conversation and did not notice me. I didn't want to interrupt them simply because a prince of the Unseelie Court was talking to me.
Besides, I was a faery princess now. Even if I didn't quite believe it, Ash certainly did. I took a deep breath, raised my chin, and looked him straight in the eye.
"I warn you," I said, pleased that my voice didn't tremble, "that if you try anything, my father will remove your head and stick it to a plaque on his wall."
He shrugged one lean shoulder. "There are worse things." At my horrified look, he offered a faint, self-derogatory smile. "Don't worry, princess, I won't break the rules of Elysium. I have no intention of facing Mab's wrath should I embarrass her. That's not why I'm here."
"Then what do you want?"
He bowed. "A dance."
"What!" I stared at him in disbelief. "You tried to kill me!"
"Technically, I was trying to kill Puck. You just happened to be there. But yes, if I'd had the shot, I would have taken it."
"Then why the hell would you think I'd dance with you?"
"That was then." He regarded me blandly. "This is now. And it's tradition in Elysium that a son and daughter of opposite territories dance with each other, to demonstrate the goodwill between the courts."
"Well, it's a stupid tradition." I crossed my arms and glared. "And you can forget it. I am not going anywhere with you."
He raised an eyebrow. "Would you insult my monarch, Queen Mab, by refusing? She would take it very personally, and blame Oberon for the offense. And Mab can hold a grudge for a very, very long time."
Oh, damn. I was stuck.”
“Metallic trees. That's new. If you see any steel dryads, be sure to tell me so I can run away screaming.”
“He shook his head, examining the wound again. “It's not frostbitten,“ he muttered. “It'll blister, but you should be fine. You might only lose a couple fingers.“
I glanced at him sharply, but he was smirking. For a moment, I was speechless. Good God, the Ice Prince was making jokes now; the world must be ending.”
“Hi, Princess. Sorry I'm late. Traffic was a bitch." He winked at me, then shot a glance at the winter sidhe, standing in the doorway. "Hey, Shard." He waved. "Nice place you've got here. I'll have to remember it, so I can give it the special 'Puck touch'.”
“Careful, human." Grimalkin appeared on the corner of the stage, overshadowed by the dead chimera. "Do not lose your heart to a faery prince. It never ends well.”
“Stop it!" I hissed glaring at both in turn. "Stop it right now! Put your weapons up, both of you! Ash, you're in no condition to fight, and, Puck, shame on you, agreeing to duel him when he's obviously hurt. Sit down and shut up."
“I have to be on top of my game if I'm going to kill things for you, right?”
“Time to switch to decaf, princess. If you're going to shriek at every bogey that jumps out and says 'boo', you'll be exhausted before we reach the edge of the woods. -Puck”
“Ash!" I called. "What are you doing? Come on!"
"Meghan." Ash's voice despite the pain below the surface, was calm. "I hope you find your brother. If you see Puck again tell him I regret having to step out of our duel."
"Ash, no! Don't do this!"
I felt him smile. "You made me feel alive again," he murmured.
Screeching, the greemlins attacked.”
“Then I made a stupid mistake and looked up at him. His eyes met mine, and for a moment, his face was open and vulnerable in the moonlight. I caught a hint of wonder there as we stared at each other. Slowly, he leaned forward. I caught my breath, a tiny gasp escaping. He stiffened, and his expression shuttered closed, eyes going hard and frosty.
'This is getting old,' he said in a voice that matched his eyes.”
“Grimalkin yawned and licked his whiskers. 'Not dead,' he replied. 'Hardly dead. But she changed her name and appearance so many times, even the oldest fey would hardly remember her. She likes to keep a low profile, you know.' Puck frowned, knitting his bows together. 'Then how is it you remember her?' he demanded, sounding indignant. 'I am a cat,' purred Grimalkin.”
“My closet!" hissed the figure. A spiderlike hand darted out and grabbed the doorknob. "My closet! Mine!" And it slammed the door with a bang.”
“Ash pulled me back against him, brushing my hair from my neck. His mouth skimmed my shoulder, up my neck, sending butterflies swarming through my insides. "If you want to rest, then do so," he murmured against my skin. "The rain will not touch you, I promise.”
“... What do you want, Ash?"
"Your head," Ash answered softly. "On a pike. But what I want doesn't matter this time." He pointed his sword at me. "I've come for her."
I gasped as my heart and stomach began careening around my chest. He's here for me, to kill me, like he promised at Elysium.
"Over my dead body." Puck smiled, as if this was a friendly conversation on the street, but I felt muscles coiling under his skin.
"This was part of the plan." The prince raised his sword, the icy blade wreathed in mist. "I will avenge her today, and put her memory to rest." For a moment, a shadow of anguish flitted across his face, and he closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were cold and glittered with malice. "Prepare yourself."
"Stay back, princess," Puck warned, pushing me out of the way. He reached into his boot and pullet out a dagger, the curved blade clear as glass. "This might get a little rough."
"Puck, no." I clutched at his sleeve. "Don't fight him. Someone could die."
"Duels to the death tend to end that way." Puck grinned, but it was a savage thing, grim and frightening. "But I'm touched that you care. One moment, princeling," he called to Ash, who inclined his head. Taking my wrist, Puck steered me behind the fountain and bent close, his breath warm on my face.
"I have to do this, princess," he said firmly. "Ash won't let us go without a fight, and this has been coming for a long time now." For a moment, a shadow of regret flickered across his face, but then it was gone.
"So," he murmured, grinning as he tilted my chin up, "before I march off to battle, how 'bout a kiss for luck?"
I hesitated, wondering why now, of all times, he would ask for a kiss. He certainly didn't think of me in that way... did he?”
“I guess the sacrifice of my dignity is the only thing that will save us now. The things I endure for love. The Fates laugh at my torment.”
“Careful, human.” Grimalkin appeared on the corner of the stage, overshadowed by the dead chimera. “Do not lose your heart to a faery prince. It never ends well.”
“Who asked you?” I glared at him. “And why do you always pop up when you’re not wanted? You got your payment. Why are you still following me?”
“You are amusing,” purred Grimalkin.”
“Yeah, Mom, Ethan’s turned into a monster and my best friend thinks he’s a faery. How was your day?”
“That's what you promised him, Princess?" he shouted throwing up his hands. "That was your bargain? You would offer yourself to the Unseelie Court?" He turned and punched a tree, sending twigs and icicles to the ground. "Of all the stupid ideas! What is wrong with you?"
“Well, there’s a shitstorm coming, Hayden. And we’re going to be right in the middle of it.”
“If there is anything that may properly be called happiness here below, I am persuaded it is the union of two persons who love each other with perfect liberty, who are united by a secret inclination, and satisfied with each other's merits. Their hearts are full and leave no vacancy for any other passion; they enjoy perpetual tranquillity because they enjoy content.”
“Where do we find allies?"
Father Yarvi smiled. "Among our enemies, where else?”
“Finally, I'd like to thank my readers for staying with me all these years. I especially want to thank the ones who understand that the world isn't made up of happy endings, but messy, complicated, and untidy ones.”
“Sometimes, before you make any plans or resolutions, before you declare your heroic intent to persevere, you just have to cry.”
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