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CHAPTER 10. Sometimes they contrived to induce, by their fair and winning ways, unwary men and women to go with them.
Sometimes they contrived to induce, by their fair and winning ways, unwary men and women to go with them.
—Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland byWalterGregor(1881)
By the time she was far enough away from the fountain to feel comfortable stopping, Aislinn thought she was going to be sick. She leaned into Seth, knowing he'd wrap his arms around her again.
His lips were against her ear when he asked, "More than meets the eye?"
Seth held on to her, but he didn't say anything else.
"What would I do without you?" She closed her eyes, not wanting to see the vine-girls—or any of the other faeries—who stood watching them.
"You'll never need to find that out." He kept an arm around her shoulders as they started walking, past the place where the guys had grabbed her, past the omnipresent faeries with their crackled skin.
Being more assertive sounded good in theory, but she'd need to learn to relax a lot more if she was going to be able to talk to faeries. Donia might have rescued her once, but that didn't change what she was.
When they got to her building, Seth slipped money into her hand. "Take a taxi tomorrow."
She didn't like accepting money from him, but she couldn't ask Grams for it without making her suspicious. She tucked it into her pocket. "You want to come up?"
He lifted both eyebrows. "Pass."
Aislinn went up the stairs, hoping Grams was asleep. Right now, avoiding those too-observant eyes seemed like a good plan. She went inside and tried to walk past the living room.
"You missed dinner again." Grams didn't take her eyes off the news. "Bad things out there, Aislinn."
"I know." She paused in the doorway to the living room, but she didn't go in.
Grams sat in her bright purple lounger, feet propped up on the stone and steel coffee table. Her reading glasses hung by a chain around her neck. She might not be as young as she was in Aislinn's childhood memories, but she still looked as fierce as she had then, still thin and healthier than many women her age. Even when she spent the day at home, she was dressed for the possibility of "callers"—her long gray hair coiled up into a simple bun or contained in an intricate plait, dressing gown traded in for a sedate skirt and blouse.
Grams wasn't staid or sedate, though: she was uncommonly forward-thinking, and entirely too clever when she paid attention. "Something happen?"
It felt like a normal question, and if anyone heard, it'd sound like it too. Always careful, that's the key to surviving among them. Still, Grams' strong voice had more than a thread of worry in it.
"I'm fine, Grams. Just tired." Aislinn went in, leaned down, and kissed her. I need to tell her, just not yet. She already worried too much.
"You're wearing new steel." Grams eyed the necklace Seth had given Aislinn.
Aislinn stood there—wavering. How much do I say? Grams wouldn't understand, or approve, of Aislinn taking an active approach to finding out what they wanted. Hide and look away: that was Grams' credo.
"Aislinn?" Grams turned up the volume on the news and grabbed a piece of paper. She wrote: Have They done something? Are you hurt? and held out the paper.
With a stern look, Grams pointed at the paper.
Sighing, Aislinn took the paper and pen. Using the coffee table as a desk, she wrote: Two of them are following me.
Grams sucked in her breath, quietly gasping. She snatched the paper. I'll call the school, fill out papers to homeschool, and…
"No. Please," Aislinn whispered. She put her hand over Grams' hand. She took the pen and wrote, I'm not sure what they want, but I don't want to hide. Then she said, "Please? Let me try it this way. I'll be careful."
At first Grams stared at Aislinn, as if there were answers hidden under the skin that she could see if only she looked carefully.
Aislinn willed herself to look as reassuring as possible.
Finally Grams wrote, Stay away from them as much as you can. Remember the rules.
Aislinn nodded. She didn't often try to hide things from Grams, but she wasn't going to admit that she'd tried to follow them or tell her about Seth's research.
Grams had always insisted that avoidance was the best and only plan. Aislinn no longer thought that was a good answer—if she was honest, she'd never thought it was.
She simply said, "I'm being careful. I know what's out there."
Grams frowned and gripped Aislinn's wrist briefly. "Keep your cell phone in your pocket. I want to be able to reach you."
"And keep me updated on your schedule in case—" Her voice broke. She wrote, We'll try your way for a few days. Wait them out. No mistakes. Then she starting tearing the paper into tiny pieces. "Go on. Get something to eat. You need to keep your wits about you."
"Sure," Aislinn murmured as she gave Grams a quick squeeze.
Wait them out? Aislinn wasn't sure that was possible. If Grams knew they were court fey, Aislinn would be on lockdown. She'd bought herself a little time, but it wouldn't last. I need answers now. Hiding wasn't the answer. Neither was running.
She wanted a normal life—college, a relationship, simple things. She didn't want all of her decisions to be based on the whims of faeries. Grams had lived that way, and she wasn't happy. Aislinn's mother hadn't even had a chance to find out if she could have a normal life. Aislinn didn't want to take either of their paths. But she didn't know how to make it any different, either.
Faeries—court faeries—didn't stalk a person for no reason. Unless she found out what they wanted, found out how to undo whatever had caught their attention, she doubted they'd be going away anytime soon. And if they didn't go away, Aislinn's freedom would. That wasn't an option she liked. At all.
After grabbing a quick bite, Aislinn retreated to her room and closed the door. It wasn't a sanctuary. It didn't reflect her personality like Seth's house or Rianne's too-girly bedroom. It was just a room, a place to sleep.
Seth's feels more like home. Seth feels like home.
There were some things that mattered to her in her room, things that made her feel connected—a poetry book that was her mother's, black-and-white prints of photos from an exhibit in Pittsburgh. Grams had surprised her that day—authorized ditching school and taken her to the Carnegie Museum. It was great.
Beside those prints were some of hers that Grams had blown up for her birthday one year. One shot of the railroad yard still made her smile. She'd started taking photos to see if faeries would show up on film: since she saw them when she looked through the lens, would they show on film? They didn't, but she enjoyed the process of taking photos enough that she was glad she'd tried the experiment.
It wasn't much, though, the proof of her personality in the room. It's only glimpses. Life felt like that sometimes— like everything she revealed or did had to be preplanned. Focus. Control.
She turned out the lights, crawled into bed, and pulled out her cell.
Seth answered on the first ring. "Miss me already?"
"Maybe." She closed her eyes and stretched.
"Everything okay?" He sounded tense, but she didn't ask why. She didn't want to talk about anything bad, any worries.
"Tell me a story," she whispered. He always made the bad things seem less awful.
"What kind of story?"
"One that'll make me have good dreams."
He laughed then, low and sexy. "Better give me a rating for that dream."
"Surprise me." She bit her lip. I know better. She really needed to stop flirting with him before she crossed a line she couldn't back away from.
He didn't say anything for a minute, but she could hear him breathing.
"I'm here." His voice was soft, hesitant. "Once upon a time, there was a girl…"
"Not a princess."
"No. Definitely not. She was too smart to be a princess. Tough, too."
"Oh yeah. Stronger than anyone realized."
"Does she live happily ever after?"
"Shouldn't there be something in the middle?"
"I like to read the ending first." She waited, curled up in her bed, to hear his assurances, to believe—for a minute at least—that everything could be okay. "So did she?"
He didn't hesitate. "Yes."
Neither of them said anything for a few minutes. She heard the sounds of traffic, of his breathing. She'd fallen asleep like that before—just holding the phone while he walked home, feeling that connection to him.
Finally he said, "Did I mention how sexy she was?"
"She was so unbelievably beautiful that—" He paused and she heard the unmistakable screech as he opened his door. "And this is the part where the rating changes."
"You're at home?" She could hear him moving around, door closing, keys clanking on the counter, his jacket dropping—probably on the table. "I'll let you go then."
"What if I don't want you to?" he asked.
She heard the music as he walked toward his room, some sort of jazz. Her heart sped up, thinking of him getting stretched out on his bed too, but her voice only sounded a little off when she said, "Good night, Seth."
"So you're running again, then?" One of his boots thudded on the floor.
"I'm not running."
The other boot hit the floor. "Really?"
"Really. It's just—" She stopped; she didn't have anything that would finish that sentence and be honest.
"Maybe you should slow down, so I can catch you." He paused, waiting. He seemed to do that more and more lately, make statements that invited her to admit something dangerous to their friendship. When she didn't answer he added, "Sweet dreams, Ash."
After they hung up, Aislinn held the phone in her hand, still thinking about Seth. It would be a bad idea. A really, really bad idea…She smiled. He thinks I'm smart and sexy.
She was still smiling when she fell asleep.
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