Authors: Cyndi Goodgame
“Shh! I know why you’re out. But he’s not ready to be found.”
That upset me. “Why not?” I snipped.
“Because he’s wrapping up the winnings of what will buy your precious wedding gift so you can quit worrying about what he is doing. Human money is addictive.”
I didn’t believe him entirely.
Gambling obsessions just didn't fit with them. Pike must have seen the horror in my face because he said, “Oh Grace. You think you understand us. He will let it go as soon as he has what he needs to make you happy.” He looked at me sometimes with a certain curiosity that made me uneasy. Like he was trying to figure out how I was so different. What I didn’t know is if he was totally awed by my weirdness or sometimes afraid of it.
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” I felt sick telling him.
“You’re pale. Are you okay?” he touched my face and I jerked away.
“Thanks. Inherited the colorless skin from my parents. Hardly a secret.”
He frowned at my sarcasm and asked in a sad way, “Are you saying you’re never going to be happy?” Pike leaned on his leg and put one hand in the pocket where he stuffed what I assumed now was a wad of cash. Human money. Fey bartered, traded for goods.
“Not at all. And I don’t need anything. He just needs to not work so hard at trying.”
“On the contrary, Grace. You are just the kind of girl we work even harder for to make happy and work overtime to keep. You are worth it.”
That’s just insane. “You will keep an eye on him then?” I figured the alternative was better than the offense.
He raised the standard one eyebrow at me and said calmly, “No worries, Grace. Do you want me to keep you company till he comes through? He shouldn’t be another few minutes or so.”
I smiled acknowledging his herculean effort to placate me into submission, “Yes, Pike. I would like that.”
We sat at the table in the large room and talked about poker. Yes, poker. He told me the main rules and added to the already known suits and order they trumped the others. He was surprised and not surprised at what I knew. I’d watched several kids at lunch everyday in sophomore year play for candy on top and money under the table.
We were engrossed in the laugh hardy part of who was playing in the cafeteria right under the school’s nose when Ian finally emerged. He dead tracked his steps and watched us for a few seconds while we adjusted our eyes in the darkness. I hadn’t even realized we were sitting completely in the dark.
“Why are you up?” Ian asked stopping short.
Well! “I was coming to see you, but Pike told me to let you finish whatever it was you were doing and wait for you here.” I wouldn’t tell the secret he kept knowing it may involve me.
He wanted to protest. He wanted Pike away from me. I felt his jealousy from across the room as Pike stood, nodded to Ian in some silent “you’re welcome” that was not heartfelt, and said down to me, “another time poker princess.”
Perhaps that was a hint to Ian or even a hint to me or both. Either way, Ian narrowed his penetrating gaze letting the dark and dangerous feeling I get when he acted all predator get to me and doing screwy things to my insides. In a good way.
“You came to see me, pretty girl?” He still carried his same chasm deep voice when he was guarding something on the inside. And he hadn’t called me that since we lived in the human world.
“Yes Ian. I wanted to see you.” Was he not excited to see me? Had I not done this before? Wait, I haven’t. That’s what this was about. “I can’t sleep and wanted you near me.”
That did it. He lessened the distance between us and pulled me to him leaving behind the sudden crossroad we were headed into. I felt the same kind of wad in his pocket but shifted away from it to avoid mentioning it.
“Better,” he whispered coarsely, but tender.
“Can I walk you back to your room?” he forced the words.
Time for half truths and womanizing-ly ways. “Ian, will I have to stay in my room forever?” He started to talk and I covered his mouth. “I accept that you have night business sometimes and can handle it better if I know I get to have you before and after. Will that help you compromise on your need to keep me away at night.”
He was such a sucker for my ways. I would have him so figured out soon...and his secrets.
“Yes, Grace. That would be a good compromise, but I won’t bargain for your time. I take it freely and too much already. I just wanted you to rest.”
“Then you royally messed up when you took me in your arms and held me all night. I can’t live without it.”
This, he liked. He broadened the already there smile and kissed my ear. “That’s a screw up I take full credit for then. Shall we?” He led the way to his room.
The meeting was set, the group to make the trip arranged, and Ian was on a warpath. His giant mood swing kept him busy in the meeting room where Pike and Bane both stayed hiding their thoughts from me behind closed doors. I got the distinct feeling they were hiding and plotting while Ian lied to me saying I should rest. I just wasn’t if sure he was being all chivalrous without a reason.
I left it alone, for now.
I heard a noise in my new hiding spot to catch these supposed “girls” ogling my man. It wasn't just Ian it seems. Every guard got a walk rating it seemed. I planned to jump in and join them when he came by. It’s just the thing Caylie would have done. But I’d seen nothing all morning and now fretted at a possible danger when I remembered I had Rion hiding with me. Yes, that was a feat in itself, but he always complied to assure my safety no matter how trivial the task might be. But I didn't want a surprise visit from Kin either.
I kept my mind blocked to everything so I couldn’t go off who it might be that made the noise. Or what.
I listened on and found the same twitchy branch moving sound again ducking out of the spot I held in a backward motion toward the woods and watched for movement.
My heart stopped. It was Pike. I waited for a brief few seconds and then jumped without so much as a sound into the clearing that led toward his retreating backside. My morning plan altered, I would know where he went if this was the last thing I did. Well, maybe not to that extreme.
He dipped under branches and walked as smooth as if on concrete back at the high school. I, on the other hand, felt like I was making so much noise a mouse would be scared away from my heavy breathing when the tree limbs popped back at my arms and face. Rion was two feet behind me and allowing me my limited freedom. of course,
movements were deadly silent.
I saw Pike stop and I stilled myself as quick with Rion stepping into the back of me and then distancing to my side. He held the two vines that cornered me into my position away from my head and kept them above. Smiling upward in appreciation I sometimes wondered if he might think me unworthy of a queen, but he never said. His mind never spoke to me like Ian said it did to him.
Pike pivoted his feet in my direction and sniffed the air. Uh, oh!
I felt like I knew him well enough that if he did know I was there, he would turn up a winning smile and seek me out. However, he simply rotated his stance and continued onto his destination turning more south than the direction he was heading. I tried to get my bearing
s but the huge giants for trees whispered at my every step willing to give me away so I ducked low and stayed lost. Knowing Rion had my back wasn’t comforting since he probably was less than stealthy when it came to close quartered trees and brush everywhere we stepped. Wherever we were heading held a certain path, but it was a path made by one, not many. The deer and animal paths were distinctly different and this made the human made barely-there path harder to track through.
Eventually I realized he was headed towards the winter court and now veered off in a direction I couldn’t place until…I lost him. I stood erect searching the trees for any sign of him. He wore the deep colors of the woods like myself so he was not easily spotted.
I sensed Rion moving and looked back to see him backing off of me. What the—
“If this is a defensive position, I’m here to inform you that your life may very well be forfeit to anything I have to offer unless you comply with my demands,” he grabbed hold from behind. Pike’s undying sexiness was at play. He might very well be toying with me, but I couldn’t chance it.
Anyway, I was angry. Angry that I didn’t know he’d caught me or that he's possibly known or that Rion let him sneak up on me knowing Pike had found me out.
Pike held my hands behind my back and kept them jutted into his stomach. I wiggled them to loosen his grip though it wasn’t painful either way, then tried to discipline them to stay still since it was so close to Pike’s body. That wouldn’t ever be a good thing for either of us.
“Tickling me might be construed as flirting,” he chortled.
“Pike, let me go,” I fumed biting my lower lip to chase the boiling hot temper away. “Your very words are tantamount to the lies you give me. You know your words mean more than you ever say.”
He let my hands go and shifted me around with his hands on both my shoulder blades. “Ahh, her anger releases her plethora of big words to attempt belittling the one she so cleverly sneaked away to follow, yet gives no penance for being caught. Whatever shall I do with her?” His knee knocked into mine. This wasn’t the brittle Pike without a purpose. He had a purpose alright!
I opened my mind a little just to catch his intentions and surprise was on my side. He was full of the same desire he always held for me, but his inner thoughts surfaced around the playful attitude he held. “You aren’t mad at me?” I sounded like a child. I could have kicked myself.
“Oh Grace, I could be a thousand things for you if you’d allow me, but that doesn’t seem to be the plan in the sky. No, I’m not mad. I do however want to know what you thought you’d accomplish by following me to my place?” Pike flipped his head to me sending his hair into his eyes a bit. His hand gripped the bow on his back like it brought him comfort. Nope, not brittle at all at the moment.
Surveying that I was indeed nearing his domain, I flipped my own head at him in the same way and said, “I wanted to know where you’ve been going.”
He smiled like he knew my thoughts letting the other side of Pike peek through for a brief second and then seem to push it back away, “Let me walk you back.”
“Uh, okay,” he sort of grimaced and smiled.
“I mean, let me,”
“Let me, uh, uh—“
“It’s okay Grace. I’m not mad,” Pike really smiled now. The lazy guy grin that we girls always fall for.
“Fine.” I crossed my arms. Rion, I noticed, was back beside the tree and not too far. Traitor.
I had a hunch then. “What were you coming here for?” I asked suspiciously since I knew his mother couldn’t be held there.
Pike eyed me curiously and said, “Checking up on things. It’s part of the job description.”
Hmm! Yeah, right
. I couldn’t read his emotions as he said it. Could I block off the mood readers? I’d never thought of that. Definitely worth looking into.
“Alright, walk me back,” I conformed to meet his demands. At least the ones I could live with.
He chuckled and held his hand out to lead the way signaling to Rion to go on and he’d bring me to him.
Alone with Pike. In the woods.
“So, do you often follow men into the woods and watch them in secret?” he asked like a game show host.
I scoffed at him. “You would be the first.”
He placed a hand on his chest, “I am the privileged.”
“And you were following me just to find out my destination?”
I just gave up the ghost. “Yes, Pike. I wanted to be sure you were safe. I didn’t want to come find you dead somewhere from fighting the Nyms or some unearthly adventure to prove yourself in. If you were off looking for your mother, I feared you might throw yourself to the wolves one of these times and someone might have to,save you for a change.” Forget that I went in with absolutely no weapon or a single way to defend myself with the exception of Rion.
His look said he was part angry when I tossed my hair back to look at his face. He changed it so quick I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t still angry but he said, “You would miss me?”
How could he think that? I stopped where I was under a branch that he’d just pulled up to let me walk under and whispered harshly, “Pike, I don’t think this world could live without you. I sure can’t.” And I meant it. He’d come to me in my greatest of needs. I would be forever grateful for the times he’s saved me from myself as well as “the bad guys” in both worlds even if I didn’t always know it.
He snapped the branch he was holding onto with his great strength and pulled me into a hug. This hug was somewhere between friendly and friendlier. I stayed stiff and let him have his moment.
“Thank you Grace,” Pike whispered into my ear letting me feel his lips way too close to my skin.
“Uh, Pike while I am so glad you feel that way, I also know for a fact that this is a little too close for my comfort zone.” He was warm and huggy in all the right ways and I wanted to remain friends. I feared if I moved even an inch he’d take something the wrong way. Amidst the contact, something warmed inside of me. Pike was a good guy, devoted to the Seelie court. He was an unseen treasure to the Fey people.
He departed my hips and put space between us. Oh no!
“What?” he asked my panic stricken face.
“Your eyes!” My face stretched with the look I gave him, making my eyes go wide.
“What about them?” he licked his lips.
I could read him now, viscerally unsound emotions or not.
“Pike, taper whatever you’re feeling right now cuz’ it’s so not okay. You’ve caused something to react.”
He closed his eyes and faced away from me. He hit the side of the large oak near him and cursed. I waited for over a minute before he peeked around at me with those same eyes. They were glowing. They were saying things to me they had no business saying.
“We need to go separate or something,” I suggested not even thinking about what it might mean.
Pike pinched the bridge of his nose and uttered aloud, “No, I can control it. Just give me another minute.”
After a few more minutes of silence he offered me to sit while he shook his head back and forth. “What were my eyes doing?”
He didn’t know. “Glowing?”
His head popped up but it was a confirmation by the way he looked. His mouth fell open, his eyes bugged out. For someone so hot he was all geeked out for a second.
“What’s the big deal?” I asked.
“Um, nothing,” he shrugged in a tight, tense kind of way.
“Um nothing me. What.does.it.mean?” I gritted my teeth at being dismissed.
“Grace, not now. You need to get back. You okay enough to do that?”
“Yes.” Doesn’t he know that when a girl wants to
talk, she wants to talk
? We don’t say yes on purpose. It’s just that men think we are weak and fragile and need protecting. They don’t want to hear how we hurt or that we do, but rather that he can make it all better. His man psyche needs to know he solved all and his girl is all right with the world. Except, I was not his girl and he was not sharing either way.
I smiled hiding my inner demons for another time.
He stood taller, reached to take my arm then changed his mind and held it out like before for me to lead. Guess I wasn’t being sent off alone!
He was hiding whatever it was behind the incendiary look and I would find out. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to share with me. He was probably trying to protect me from something as was always the case I’ve learned. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, just in search of some microscopic amount of independence or trust that didn’t always end with
saving Grace again
When we returned to the court, Rion was standing on the edge of the woods. With Ian.
This was a day for excitement and mess ups galore.
Ian nodded to Pike from the distance, but I noticed kept his head down. As Pike walked further on leaving me standing rooted to the spot I’d just seen him from, Ian tilted his head sideways at him and twisted his face up seeing his eyes. I had the grave feeling Pandora’s box just flew open and spilled out. His pain turned to hot edged branding irons with two capital G’s for guilty and guilty. I saw the way his hand fisted before it started to fly. Pike jerked back and then forward before the blow sent him to the ground. I soared or galloped one step over and away to standing right beside where they now hit the ground but Rion grabbed me up in his arms and held me above them. I wrestled with his football sized arms, but knew it would be no use.
On the ground below me Ian was pounding Pike’s face with repeated blows. Pike was shouting between curses, “I didn’t mean for it to happen. It just did.” His words were separated by the blows to his lip and cheeks. "She can't help it. And," he said between blows, "it is not the same. She cares about everyone."
“Ian,” I shrieked. “Stop this.” If he heard me he didn’t flinch because his body sprawled across the top of Pike and turned him over into a choke hold with his hands behind him.
“You promised. You did it on purpose you....” I blocked out his next words for my own sake of not hearing them uttered aloud. They were words I’d never heard uttered from Ian’s mouth. They were so incredibly offensive I forced myself not to listen. He was the maddest I’d ever seen him.