“You want to know what you mean to me, Kam?’ His lips trail down the curve of my neck.‘Every day I wonder when your human life will end, and it scares the hell out of me. ’ His words are hot on my skin. ‘You make me wish I didn’t have forever.”
“I’m not a creature of vengeance any more. I’m not just the girl whose gift is chaos. I’m the girl who endured.”
“Perhaps he’s my curse. Perhaps I’m his weakness. Together we left the world in ruins.”
“We burn bright, and we burn out. That’s what it means to be human.”
“Is she going to cry? I don’t believe I’ve ever made a faery cry before – except Derrick, and that was only while I was reading him A Christmas Carol and Scrooge stopped being a bastard; Derrick said he had something in his eye.”
“That’s what family does: They bring home with them.”
“Aithinne wasn’t hardened by war; she was humanized by it.”
“Somewhere between our hunts and our kills and our kisses, he left his mark on my bones.”
“Aithinne seems to shake herself, closing herself off the same way Kiaran does.‘Lots of things.’ She looks over at me then.‘You’re bleeding again.’ Without warning, Aithinne seizes my arm. Before I can ask her what she’s about, she swipes a finger across my arm wound and licks the blood off with a quick dart of her tongue.‘Ahh!’ I stare at her in shock.‘You licked – you just – my god, I want the last five seconds of my life back.”
“Most people would be dismayed by an attempted assassination, but Kiaran seems to regard it as either flirtation or flattery – possibly both.”
“Just hold back the sea and as many fae as you can. Aithinne and I will do the rest.’ He gives me a look.‘ Just hold back the sea, she says.’ With a shake of his head, he takes his position again, deep in concentration.”
“Kiaran left a mark on me. It’s not physical, not like Lonnrach’s. It’s as if when my memories were emptied, my mind filled with pieces of Kiaran, feelings that kept me sane in the mirrored room. He did it without realizing and I let him without realizing. God, how I wish I hadn’t.”
“What did you do?’ I whisper to Aithinne. Aithinne pushes to her feet, dusting off her clothes.‘I redirected its blast away from us so it used its weapon on itself. ’ She scans the destruction.‘Easy.’ ‘Ah, yes,’ I murmur, trying to quell the emotions that rush through me at seeing my childhood home destroyed. ‘Simple’s sibling, Easy. I don’t even want to imagine the levels of chaos that would prompt visits from their cousins Straightforward and Uncomplicated.”
“It’s so quiet out here, only ocean waves crashing around us. It’s these moments when I realise that my time with Kiaran is such a fragile thing. At any moment, my human life could end and he’d still be as unchanging as the sea.”
“Hullo!” she says to both of us serenely. “We’re here to rescue your friends, and all their limbs.” A pause, then: “Well, no. I can’t promise all their limbs, but most, surely . . .”
“What my sister is trying to say,” Kiaran interrupts, “is that we’ll bring them back alive. Mostly in one piece.” I love the way he looks at me then, with expectation, a hint of a smile. God, I missed this.”
“It’s all right if you smell bad,” Derrick says serenely. “You’re still my favorite.”
“I turn just as Aithinne leaps from a rock that juts out under the cliff. She lands with a soft thud, looking very pleased with herself. Her clothes are sopping wet, hair dripping, every inch of her covered in sand. And she doesn’t seem to mind one bit.
Aithinne makes her way across the larger beach rocks toward us, her movements graceful. “You both look miserable.”
“I’m cold and wet,” I say. “I feel wretched, and my blunderbuss is probably destroyed from the swim. No need to state the obvious.”
She glances at her brother. “And I suppose your face is just stuck that way?”
Kiaran pushes to his feet and I do the same. “What you see is the incessant, grave look of someone in possession of a sibling.”
“Ha ha.” Aithinne focuses her attention on me, tilting her head. “You know, I had a kyloe look at me exactly like that once. His hair was a similar color and everything.”
I glare at her. “You did not just compare me to a cow.”
“No, no. I compared your expression to one. Cows truly are majestic creatures, aren’t they”
“At the same time, we both remember we have an audience. Kiaran looks rather repelled by the whole exchange, and Aithinne has her head slightly tilted in unabashed interest.
Aithinne says to Kiaran, “That’s lovely. Isn’t that lovely? You didn’t greet me like that when I saved you.”
“I was unconscious,” Kiaran reminds her.
“Oh. That’s right.”
“I’m so close to crying, I don’t think I can stop myself. They’re alive. They’re alive and nothing else matters. Tears are already starting to burn my eyes, clouding my vision.
Kiaran looks at me with an expression I’ve never seen on him. It takes me a moment to realize it’s dawning horror. “Kam. Kam, don’t do that. Don’t cry. Don’t—”
Then I’m crying and he puts his arms around me in quite possibly the most awkward, stiff embrace I’ve ever had in my life. And I adore every second of it.
Aithinne speaks from behind us. “I admit to being somewhat unclear on the function of human tears,” she says. “So we’re sad about this? Should I menace someone?”
In lieu of a response, the only thing I can manage is something of a half-laugh, half-sob, because they’re alive and I haven’t felt like this in so long.
“For god’s sake, Aithinne,” Kiaran says, his voice rumbling through his chest, “put the blade away. You’re not going to stab Kam’s idiot friends.” Then, after a moment: “On second thought, the Seer really serves no purpose . . .”
“Oh, shush.” I look up at him, whisking the tears off my cheeks. “Don’t ruin this. It helps if you don’t speak.” Then I press my face back into his chest. “And if you stop responding to my hug like I’m torturing you.”
Kiaran makes some attempt to relax, but he could use lessons in hugging. He ends up with one hand shoved up in my hair and the other giving my back a there there pat, but it’s the thought that counts”
“He is the faery whose gift is death and I am the girl whose gift is chaos.”
“Gavin finally clears his throat to fill the awkward silence. “Tavish, Lorne. Will you permit me to introduce—”
The large man—Lorne—laughs, and it’s a deep rumble in his chest. “Permit me. Well, la-di-da Lord-I-Have-an-Earldom.”
“Don’t be an arsehole, Lorne,” Tavish says. “There’s a lady present, for god’s sake, man.” Then he looks at me. “I’m Tavish—uh, Mr. Gray.” He smacks his companion in the stomach, who lets out a hearty oof. “And this impolite son of a bitch is Mr. Candish.”
“If you call me Mr. Candish,” Lorne says, “I won’t bother responding.”
“Well,” Gavin says, “after that unseemly introduction . . .” He gestures to me. “This is Lady Aileana Kameron.” He turns to Kiaran, rather reluctantly. “And you’ve already seen Kiaran, who is—”
“Leaving,” Kiaran interrupts briskly. “My threshold for human tolerance is now exceeded. Send the pixie for me in the event I get to stab something.”
With that, Kiaran turns on his heel and strides out of the room. Damn him.”
“Seers? You mean there are others aside from Gavin and Catherine’s husband?”
“Two other featherbrained fools. Together, they have all the sense of a chair leg.”
My lips curve into a smile. “Am I really the only human you can stand?”
“You have a certain charm. It’s grown on me.”
I can’t help laughing. “Please, don’t strain yourself with flattery.”
“Aithinne is the Seelie Queen," I whisper. "Isn't she?... And Kiaran is the Unseelie King.”
“She glances at her brother. “And I suppose your face is just stuck that way?” Kiaran pushes to his feet and I do the same. “What you see is the incessant, grave look of someone in possession of a sibling.”
“Then we’re kissing right there in front of everyone. And nothing else seems to matter. Certainly not etiquette, or what anyone else thinks. It’s only his lips on mine, the pressure gentle. It’s only us. And I can’t stop—
Which is when Derrick arrives out of thin air and careens into my shoulder in a mess of wings and limbs. “Hellooooo! Don’t mind me, I’m just interrupting your brazen cuddle to steal the lady for a few minutes.”
Oh, damnation, not now. I’m really regretting not giving Derrick that extra five minutes. “Derrick,” I say through clenched teeth. I step back from Kiaran and try to control the pixie’s wriggling body in my hair. “Not—”
“My god.” Derrick collapses on my shoulder. “I am full of pie. I can barely even move my wings. I—” He squints over at Kiaran and smiles in delight. “Oh, hulloooooo, villainous wastrel!”
Kiaran is clearly not impressed. “You’ve a bit of pastry on your jacket.”
Derrick swipes at the morsel, snatches it, and eats it. “Was just saving a wee snack for later.” He giggles.
For god’s sake.
I look pleadingly at Kiaran. “Just . . . save that thought. Don’t go anywhere.” I’d like to resume the kissing. “I’ll be right back—”
“Kiaraaaaaaaaaan.” Derrick giggles. “Or would you prefer I keep villainous wastrel? I never asked.”
Kiaran arches an eyebrow. “I suppose that depends. Would you prefer pain in my arse?”
Derrick bursts into laughter. “Arse! Aileana. He said arse.”
“Hell,” I mutter. “Will you excuse me for a moment?”
I don’t wait for Kiaran’s response. I take Derrick with me to the lift and don’t say anything until I reach the fourth floor. “Let me just say, if someone gave you honey, I’ll—”
“No, no, no,” Derrick says, gliding off my shoulder. He now looks suspiciously lucid. “You said to save you after twenty-five minutes. So I did.”
“I said to save me if I was around Daniel and in obvious distress.” Not when I’m kissing someone in obvious delight.
“Firstly, I was the one in distress watching you kiss Kiaran because ughhhh.” Derrick wags a finger at me. “And secondly, you never said anything about distress, you said—”
“Forget what I said.” I narrow my eyes. “Are you telling me that down there was all an act?”
He grins. “I would have been perfect in the theater, wouldn’t you say?”
“Good heavens,” I murmur. At least I don’t have to deal with a drunk pixie. “Let’s just check the wards, all right”
“We’re friends,” I say firmly. “You stood up to your maniacal mother—”
“Homicidal,” Aithinne interrupts. “Why mince words?”
“—to aid me. I’m returning the favor. You’ll just have to let me help you. Such a hardship, I realize.”
“At the stomp of boots on grass, I ease my eyes open. Aithinne leans down with a grin. “You didn’t die. See? I told you it was easy.” She offers me a hand and I take it, rising unsteadily to my feet.
“I’ve been bitten by some demonic woodland creature. My legs have been shredded by razor-sharp trees. We almost died. Easy? I’m getting you a damn dictionary.”
I inspect my bleeding arm. The cut bisects five of the marks Lonnrach made, and I feel inexplicably proud of that. Good. Replace the old, bad memories with new badges. Start over.
“A dictionary,” she repeats. “Is that a type of dessert?”
For the love of—“It’s a type of book that explains the meaning of words.”
“Oh. That sounds terribly dull. I was really hoping for dessert.”
I’m hoping to end this rescue with my sanity intact.”
“Damnation, Kam.” Kiaran jerks me back up when I start to fall forward. I’m not sure I can walk. “You’re bleeding all over the place.”
My voice comes out in a croak. “I’m not happy about it either.”
“Hideous, aren’t they?” His voice startles me, and I realize I must have been quiet for a while. I notice how his jaw tightens.
I shake my head. “Not to me.” I can’t stop myself from reaching up, sliding my fingers down the four jagged scars above his brow. Finally, the single one that mars his cheek. “Your scars aren’t flaws, Galloway. They’re not imperfections. They’re stories written on your skin.”
“Stories?” It sounds like he thinks the idea is silly.
“Aye,” I say. “They tell the tale of how you survived. There’s no shame in that.”
“As a figment of my imagination, I demand you stop insulting me. - Aileana”
“A bard must know history so she does not repeat it. She tells the tales but is never part of them. She watches but remains above what she sees. She inspires passions in others and rules her own.”
“Life is subjective as far as memories are concerned. I mean, what pieces of your own life do you really remember? Some good times, some bad times definitely, but mostly you remember those times that really stand out, those times that define who you are as an individual. Now's the time my life flashes before me—flickering recollections, vacations, holidays, friendships, the moments that made a difference. Mostly I remember that weekend with Kaylee.”
“Are you in the middle of something important, or can I grab you for a few minutes.’…..’Mr. Drake, I don’t think that would be appropriate.”
“We all drink according to how thirsty we are’.”
“Leigh mentioned that you’re a vet in Winnipeg, here to take some courses to update your skills?” “Yes.” Valerie grimaced. “That was the idea, but if they don’t catch this guy in the next day or two, I’ll have to give up the courses until next semester and if that happens, I might as well head home.” “What?” Anders turned on her sharply. Valerie bit her lip, not very happy at the thought herself. She would have liked to get to know him better, but if she couldn’t do the course now, she’d have to do it next term and it wouldn’t be fair to be away from the clinic that long. Sighing at the very thought, she said, “That’s what my academic advisor said when I talked to him today. I’ve missed the first two weeks of class already. He said if I’m not back by Monday, then I might as well give it up and reapply for next term.” Anders frowned, his gaze shooting to Lucian. It was Leigh who said worriedly, “You can’t go home, Valerie. Not with him still out there.” “Actually, it’s probably better if I did,” Valerie said and pointed out, “He can’t know I’m from Winnipeg, so I’d be safe there, and Anders wouldn’t have to waste his time playing babysitter so he could help hunt for him.” Dead silence met this announcement as the others all exchanged glances. “But your courses,” Anders said finally. “You wanted to upgrade.” “And I still do, but I can’t do that if I can’t attend classes,” she pointed out reasonably. Another moment of silence passed with everyone exchanging glances she didn’t understand and then Lucian said abruptly, “Then you’ll have to attend classes.” When Valerie stared at him with surprise, he added, “Anders will accompany you.” “Oh.” She hesitated briefly and then shook her head. “I don’t think they’ll let him attend with me.” “They might,” Dani said slowly. “I’ve heard of people auditing classes. I even knew someone who audited a couple of mine. She had to get permission from the instructor, and the department chair, and I think her program counselor first though.” “Then he’ll get permission,” Lucian said as if it were the simplest thing in the world. When Anders frowned at this news, he added solemnly, “It’s that or we put her and Roxy on a plane home to Winnipeg.” For some reason, those words sounded ominous to Valerie, and certainly Anders reacted as if they were. His mouth tightened grimly, and he nodded once. It was Friday now, but apparently come Monday, she was attending class and Anders was coming with her.”
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