Authors: Tera Lynn Childs
A string of curses rushed through his mind. Though his friend Peter, a human seer who guarded the sanctuary, always covered for his absence, Cathair had
known it would only be a matter of time before his mother found out. While Cathair considered how to respond to his mother’s statement—he could not very
well deny the truth, but perhaps he could spin the answer—she continued.
“Do not forgo the sanctuary again.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but could not bring himself to say the words. If he agreed, it would be a lie. If he did not, it would raise his mother’s
concerns and she might
him to the sanctuary. In the end, he managed a tilted nod that his conscience could accept as a denial and the queen
could believe to be acceptance.
Then, before either the queen or his conscience could further consider the matter, he turned and left the chamber.
At the edge of the veil, Cathair cast one final look over his shoulder. He would not be surprised to find a fae on his tail—either enemy spy or Morainian
guard. After his mother’s warning he was half certain she would send a platoon of guards to escort him. None followed, and for that he was thankful.
The queen was correct. He had not visited the sanctuary in nearly a year.
Instead he had passed every
since he first saw the girl on the bicycle, sitting on the branch outside her window. Watching. Longing.
This day would be no different.
He knew not why, but when he landed on that branch he felt more at home than in the fae realm where he belonged. He knew every crack in the bark beneath
his talons. He knew the scent and feel of the air that blew through her yard. He knew the rustle of living leaves around him like a treasured nursery
Soaring through the tree limbs, seeking the branch he called home, he felt all the stress and tension of his position—of his
His mother’s warning and the possibility of a traitor within the palace walls should have made Cathair more cautious. Should have sent him flying for the
sanctuary once more.
But as he made for the mountains he was already planning his turn at the edge where forest met foothill. One great sweep to the west, passing over the
suburban edges of the city, and he could be at her window in less than half an hour.
Eagle owls might not be the fastest birds in the sky, but he made the journey quickly enough.
He would just have to face his mother’s ire when he returned because he could no more stay away from that window than he could forgo his
Reaching the first rise of the foothills, Cathair swooped low to avoid notice by any well-sighted kin and skirted the edge of the forest toward the sea of
beige houses with gray roofs. Heading for the one that drew him back, again and again.
Cathair coasted into her yard.
The light in her bedroom was on. She was home. He could picture her bent over the desk in the corner where she spent so much time scribbling on paper. He
knew not what she wrote, but he longed to read the bits of her soul that she poured out onto the page.
As if sensing his presence, she appeared at the window.
It was a warm summer eve, and she slid the bottom half of the pane up to let in whatever breeze she could find. Her scent, a sweet mix of berries and
sugar, wafted out into his space. He inhaled—the magical aroma that much stronger because of his hunter’s sense of smell. He practically
“Oh,” she said. “Hello there.”
Cathair closed his eyes and mentally smiled. She had seen him before, had noticed the owl that made its once-monthly home on her tree.
“Back again, are you?”
, he wanted to say.
One time he had tried to respond, had forgotten his avian form. The ear-piercing screech had terrified her. She had slammed the window shut and pulled the
drapes. He hadn’t tried to speak since, but the compulsion persisted.
“I have a special treat for you,” she said. Turning away, she moved out of sight, before reappearing with something clutched in her hand. “What do you
She trailed her fist across the window sill, leaving a path of nuts and seeds along the painted wood.
Cathair hesitated but a moment. He could not resist the temptation. Not of the food—he had no taste for bird fare—but of the chance to be closer. He flew
from his perch and landed gently on the sill. She was but inches away.
“Go on,” she said, an encouraging smile on her berry-colored lips. “Try them.”
Cathair could not deny her request. He bent down, keeping his eyes on her, and grabbed a fat pecan with his beak. As he crushed the piece and swallowed,
the flavor surprised him.
From deep in his chest he felt a purr rumble, like a contented kitten.
“You like that, huh?”
Her grin made him purr even more.
“Let me see if I have more pecans in the bag.”
She moved to her desk, digging through a plastic bag of bird mix. Cathair could feel the magic of her pleasure as acutely as the magic of the fae veil. He
turned his head to fluff the feathers beneath his wing and, as he turned back, caught the last rays of the setting sun as it disappeared, a vibrant flaming
ball, into the western horizon.
Dusk was a magical time on any evening, but for some reason tonight he felt the power wash around him more than usual. Felt it … transform him. He closed
his eyes and smiled.
Winnie screamed. She dropped the bag, sending hazelnuts and sunflower seeds scattering across the carpet.
There, in her window, where seconds ago an owl had been happily munching on pecans, sat a boy.
And not just any boy. The boy from her dreams.
The fae prince.
Everything she had imagined in her dreams and fantasies.
He looked at her, golden eyes wide, and she felt the intensity of his gaze on every inch of her. Felt it like a touch. It burned her. As if the hot summer
night weren’t sweltering enough.
Winnie opened her mouth to say… something. Anything. But words fled.
She must be going insane. Had finally cracked under the pressure. Or she was sleepwalking. Maybe she was sleepwalking. Insane sleepwalking. That could
“Right?” she echoed.
“What?” he asked, then jolted as if startled by the sound of his own voice. He looked down at his body—now covered in black clothing instead of black and
brown feathers. He stared at his hands, his bare feet.
Winnie didn’t move. “You’re—”
Before she could finish, he jerked back. Only he seemed to have forgotten he was perched in a second story window, because he lost his balance and went
flailing out into the night.
Winnie dashed across the room, wrapping her hands around his forearms at the exact moment he grabbed the frame on either side of the window, holding
himself suspended between her room and a long fall to the yard below. The instant she felt his muscles flex beneath her palms, she knew she wasn’t
dreaming. There was no way her imagination could invent
For several long moments, they remained frozen. She couldn’t look away from his golden gaze, couldn’t bring herself to break free from the trance that held
them hovering in a space between reality and fantasy.
She mouthed, “How?”
He stared at her, unblinking, for what felt like forever.
“Just once,” he said, voice rough and honey sweet.
Faster than she could blink, he pulled himself upright and crushed his mouth against hers.
The world started spinning.
Winnie closed her eyes, narrowing her focus to the firm pressure of his soft lips as they moved over hers. He was both hot and cold at once. Her cheeks
burned while icy shivers tingled down her spine.
She had been fantasizing about him for too long. About kissing him. About exactly this happening. And now the prince of her dreams was in her bedroom
window, and he was
That had to explain why she leaned forward, seeking more of his lips. More of him.
Her movement broke the spell. She felt him still and then pull away.
When she opened her eyes, he was staring at her with golden eyes wide and glowing. She hadn’t noticed her hands moving from his arms to his chest.
“This should not have happened,” he said in a voice as thick and rich as warm honey.
Winnie couldn’t get her brain and mouth to connect. While her mind spun in circles—trying to reconcile how he could be
, in the flesh, in her
waking hours—her mouth hung loose. Her lips throbbed. Her heart raced and she gasped, sucking in oxygen.
He released his grip on the frame and fell into the night.
Winnie leaned out the window just in time to see him land in the backyard with a heavy thump. His eyes widened as they stared at each other across the
space between her window and the ground. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The boy she had thought only existed in her dreams, an elaborate figment of her
He closed his eyes and shook his head, as if his senses were returning. Then, quick like a rabbit, he jumped to his feet and ran.
“Wait,” she called out as he scrambled up the fence. “Wait!”
But he didn’t. He flung himself over the top, onto the sidewalk beyond, and disappeared.
Winnie stared at the spot where he’d gone over the fence for what felt like hours.
Her breathing and heart rate gradually returned to normal as she processed everything that had just happened. Owl—boy—fae. Magic.
“He’s real,” she whispered.
He was real, and he had come to her window.
Everything she had ever dreamed about him, written about him, flashed through her mind. Boring things like council meetings and royal dinners and
baths—okay, the baths
boring, not for her anyway. Thrilling things like horse races and fistfights and a crossbow assassination attempt two
years ago. Sad things and happy things. Sweet things and sexy things. They were all there in her mind and down on paper.
She thought she’d made them up.
Winnie ran to her desk and yanked open the drawer where her latest scribblings were stashed. She pulled out her most recent pages and scoured them for the
part about the lovelorn prince.
“There,” she exclaimed.
The dark prince with silver in his hair has an aching heart. He loves a girl who can never be his. Though he knows the impossibility of their love, he
cannot stop yearning for her, dreaming of her, going to her. He wishes he could change who he is so they could be together.
Winnie almost cried as she read her words.
All those years, all those pages. She thought she’d been making the stories up. Even though she shared them with Mel, they were really just for her. They
But maybe they weren’t. Maybe they came from somewhere else, somewhere ... magical. Maybe she was just a scribe, writing down the tales as they were told.
Maybe the tales weren’t as fictional as she thought.
Her obsession with the dark prince with silver in his hair had seemed like a borderline-unhealthy escape from reality. Since he first appeared in her
dreams, Winnie had been fascinated, but lately his increasing heartache had made Winnie’s heart ache in return. She woke up with tears in her eyes, wanting
to go back into her dreams to comfort him. How silly she had thought herself, caring so much about a figment of her imagination.
Now she knew he was no character.
He was real. And his heart was aching … for
Cathair had forgotten how far the fae sanctuary was from the human settlement when he had no magic to aid his travels. That was not all he had forgotten.
“Midsummer’s eve,” he muttered to himself as he finally reached the forest that spread between town and mountain. “How stupid to have forgotten.”
He had been too consumed by thoughts of her, of getting to her window no matter the risk. If he had been thinking more clearly, he would have recalled the
day. Midsummer’s eve—the one night in all the year when magic fails. When the earth and her powers sleep, restoring themselves. Much like the one day each
month he must pass as an animal to restore his own powers, Gaia recalled all magics this night in order to restore hers.
The one night when he was all but human, when he had no magic to remain in owl form or to hide his fae form from human eyes. From
Kissing her had been a mistake. What had he been thinking?
“Stupid,” he said again. “Ow!”
He needed to watch where he stepped. Without his fae magic, he might as well have been human. And a human walking barefoot through a forest was susceptible
to the pains of broken twigs and sharp pinecones.
He could relive the kiss later.
It was halfway through the night by the time he reached the entrance to the sanctuary, the narrow pass that led down into the well-guarded valley.
He had not taken two steps into the pass before a booming voice called out, “Halt! Who goes there?”
Cathair half smiled.
“Really, Peter?” he called back. “I thought you had outgrown such arcane language.”
“Cathair,” Peter said as he jumped down from a boulder that served as a guard station, “thank great Morrigan. You had me worried. Did you forget what night
Cathair feigned insult. “Certainly not.”
“Oh really?” Peter lifted his brows. “Is that why you are walking barefoot through the woods without a drop of magic to protect you?”
None other in the seer guard would dare speak to Cathair in such an impertinent manner. They all bowed and scraped to do his bidding. Peter had always
treated him as a pal. An equal. Which was half the reason Cathair called the human friend.
“Perhaps it slipped my mind.”
“Uh-huh,” Peter said, turning and leading the way into the sanctuary.