To Neil Gleichman, who taught me the importance of finishing strong. I hope I have.
Tamani pressed his forehead against the chilly windowpane, fighting back a wave of exhaustion. Sleep wasn’t an option, not while the only thing between him and an angry Winter faerie was a thin line of table salt.
Tonight, he was
The old word was one he normally wore with pride. It marked him as Laurel’s guardian, her protector. But it had a richer meaning, one that went beyond the more traditional
Now he played prison warden too.
He looked over at his captive. Yuki’s chair sat on the scuffed linoleum in the middle of a circle of white, granular salt. She slept, her cheek resting on her knees, hands cuffed loosely behind her. She looked uncomfortable. Beaten.
“I would have given up everything for you.” Her words were hushed but clear.
Tamani felt Shar stiffen at the sound of her voice, breaking the thick silence.
“I was ready. That’s why I stopped you before you brought me inside.” Yuki looked up and unfolded her legs, stretching as best she could under the circumstances. “But you knew that, didn’t you?”
Tamani held his tongue. He
He hoped he wasn’t deceiving himself about that. She posed a threat; he shouldn’t have felt any guilt about lying to her in the first place, much less now that he knew she’d been lying too. The power Winter faeries had over plants also made it possible for them to sense plant life at a distance, so from the instant Yuki had met Tamani, she had known him for a faerie. Known Laurel, too. The Winter had played them all.
So why did he still wonder whether he’d done the right thing?
“We could have been so good together, Tam,” Yuki continued, her voice as silky as her rumpled silver dress, but with a malicious edge that made Tamani shiver. “Laurel’s not going to leave him for you. She may be a faerie on the outside, but inside she’s all human. David or no David, she belongs
Avoiding his captain’s eyes, Tamani turned back to the window and peered out into the darkness, pretending to look at… something. Anything. A sentry’s life was full of viciousness, and Tamani and Shar had both seen each other take extreme measures to protect their homeland. But always against an obvious threat, a violent attacker: a
“You and me, Tam, we’re the same,” Yuki continued. “We’re being used by people who don’t care what we want or what makes us happy. We don’t belong with them; we belong together.”
Reluctantly, Tamani glanced at her again. He was surprised to see that she wasn’t looking at him as she spoke — she was staring past him, out the window, as if at some bright future she still imagined possible. Tamani knew better.
“There isn’t a door in this world that can be closed to us, Tam. If you vouched for me, we could even go peacefully to Avalon. We could stay there together and live in the palace.”
“How do you know about the palace?” Tamani asked reflexively, knowing even as he did that he was snapping at her bait. A barely audible sigh came from Shar, and Tamani wondered if it was directed at Yuki’s stupidity or his own.
“Or we could stay here,” she continued calmly, as though Tamani hadn’t said anything. “Anywhere we wanted to go, anything we wanted to do, we could. Between your power over animals and mine over plants, the world would be ours. You know, the pairing of a Spring and Winter would work really well. Our talents complement each other perfectly.”
Tamani wondered if she understood just how right she was — or how little it tempted him.
“I would have loved you forever,” she whispered, bowing her head. Her dark, lustrous hair fell forwards, veiling her face, and she sniffled quietly. Was she crying, or stifling a laugh?
Tamani started when a knock sounded at the door. Before he could take a step, Shar moved silently to the peephole.
Knife in his fist, Tamani tensed — ready. Was it Klea? That’s what everything was for — the circle, Yuki in cuffs — an elaborate trap to snare the scheming Autumn faerie who
And might not.
If only they could know for sure.
Until they did, Tamani had to assume they were a threat — a lethal one.
But with a shimmer of a grimace, Shar pulled the door open and Laurel entered the room, Chelsea close behind.
“Laurel” was all Tamani managed to say, his fingers falling from the knife. Even after loving Laurel for as long as he could remember, and lately becoming something… something
She had changed out of her dark-blue formal dress — the one she’d worn when he’d held her in his arms over a year ago at the Samhain festival, when he’d kissed her so passionately. It seemed far away.
Laurel wasn’t looking at him now; she only had eyes for Yuki.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Tamani whispered.
Laurel arched one eyebrow in response. “I wanted to see for myself.”
Tamani clenched his teeth. In truth, he
“I thought you were going after David,” Tamani said to Chelsea, who was still in her deep-red dress. She’d ditched her heels somewhere, so the bottom of the dress pooled at her feet like blood.
“I couldn’t find him,” Chelsea said, her lip quivering almost imperceptibly. She looked at Laurel, who was still studying their silent prisoner.
“Yuki?” Laurel said tentatively. “Are you OK?”
Yuki looked up, glaring at Laurel with steel and fury. “Do I look OK to you? I’ve been abducted! I’m handcuffed to a metal chair! How would
The Winter faerie’s venomous tone seemed to hit Laurel like a breaking wave and she took a step backwards. “I came to check on you.” Laurel glanced at Tamani, but Tamani wasn’t sure what she wanted. Encouragement?