Authors: Tera Lynn Childs
Wandering thoughts led to the sweet lips of the girl in the window.
With a growl, he turned away from the tub and threw the damp towel at the wall. It hit the corner of an ancient portrait, sending the framed image of Dun
Carrick swinging on its hanger.
“You seem frustrated, my prince,” Tearloch taunted from the doorway. “Perhaps a meeting with your new bride would ease your concerns.”
“She is not my bride,” Cathair shot back. “She is my betrothed.”
“Same difference.” Tearloch shrugged as he entered the chamber.
Cathair crossed his arms over his chest, clenching his hands into rock hard fists to keep from arguing the point with his friend. Tearloch was too
perceptive by half. Even the slightest hint of a problem would ignite a full scale investigation.
“You are correct,” Cathair forced himself to agree. “I am as good as married.”
The dull ache at the base of his neck intensified.
On the next new moon, he would be wedded to the Deachair princess. Arianne was a beautiful fae—lush dark hair, warm brown eyes, full lips and smooth tawny
skin. Many, including Tearloch, would envy Cathair with her as his bride. He could do far worse.
But he could not manage to work up any enthusiasm.
Tearloch crossed to the fireplace, left dark on this warm evening, and lifted one of the O Cuanan ancestral swords from the display mount above the mantel.
He slid his palm around the hilt and tested the weight of the blade.
“You seem less than thrilled with the betrothal.”
Without warning, he turned and threw the sword at Cathair.
Cathair spun and caught the weapon by the hilt before it could fly past him and crash through the window beyond. In a flash, Tearloch stood before him with
the matching blade, facing off in ready stance.
“I am honored,” Cathair said as he swung the sword to block Tearloch’s predictable attack, “to secure my clan’s safety with such a simple act.”
Tearloch tilted his head and gave Cathair a skeptical look.
Cathair took advantage of his opponent’s distraction to advance, aiming the point of his sword into the hilt of the other. One flick of his wrist and he
could disarm Tearloch.
But the distraction had been a ploy and before Cathair could interlock the blades, Tearloch was vaulting over him, wrapping an arm around his neck, and
forcing him to submit. Cathair thought about continuing the fight, but his heart was not in the exercise.
Instead, he handed his weapon back to his friend.
Tearloch shook his head. “I would not win so easily if you used your magic.”
“Magic is scarce enough among our people,” Cathair returned. “I will not waste mine on frivolous sparring.”
Nor would he waste what free time he had left.
Tearloch set the swords back on their mounts. “Surely it couldn’t hurt to—“
“I have an appointment,” Cathair interrupted. “See yourself out?”
A decision made, he headed for the door, not looking back to see the expression on his friend’s face.
With the betrothal papers signed, he should now belong to Princess Arianne. He soon would. He planned to indulge in this one last selfish act before he did
his duty. He would save his clan. But first, he would say goodbye.
Leaving the castle far behind, he headed for the edge of the veil and the forest beyond.
Though slower than in owl form, with his powers returned Cathair made fast time through the woods and into the city beyond. He ran so fast he barely felt
the forest floor beneath his feet. In no time he stood on the corner, on the sidewalk facing her house. Her home.
Before last night he had never been here in his natural form, and even then he had barely noticed his surrounds on his dash for the sanctuary. It felt
strange to see things from eye level and without the sharp eyesight of his predatory
. Everything looked... softer. If possible, he felt like
he belonged even more.
He stood there, barefoot on the smooth concrete—a cold and hard surface that should have sucked the magic from his body—feeling more alive than ever.
Though he was invisible in fae form and no human eyes could see him, he still felt self-conscious about his staring.
So he moved around the house, leaping nimbly over the tall fence in the back yard and landing with a soft bounce on the grass beyond. Such a different
landing than his unmagical leap of the night before. He smiled, remembering the look in her eyes, her complete and utter shock to find a boy in her bedroom
How he wished he could share a laugh with her over the ridiculous situation. A fae prince turned owl, embarrassed to change right before her eyes.
But he knew that laugh would never come.
Wedded, to the Deachair princess.
The alliance was important to his clan. Critical even. To secure their futures with something so simple as a marriage. How could he deny them?
A movement caught his eye, a rustle of fabric in the upstairs window. She was there.
He wanted to refuse his duty, to tell his mother and her political marriage to go to the Everdark. But that was a stupid thought. No kind of relationship
between them was possible, other than the nights he spent as an owl, staring at her like some lovelorn fool. In his fae form, he was invisible to all
humans but seers. She couldn’t even
him. He could no more be with the girl in the window than he could refuse the marriage. He did not belong in
her world, and she could not live in his. Theirs was an ill-fated love.
“Love,” he laughed, cursing himself twice the fool.
How could this be love? He did not even know her name. She did not even know he existed. Well, after last night, she knew. But she did not
He had to walk away, to leave her yard and never return. He had a future wife waiting for him in the veil, a clan to rule and a realm to protect. Such
childish infatuations would lead to nothing but trouble.
He had come to see her, to be near her one last time. But it would be the last. It had to be.
And so, with a heavy but determined heart, he turned to leave.
“Hello,” she said.
“I—” Cathair stumbled for words. She stood there, before him, her hickory-brown hair falling in gentle waves over her shoulders. The thin cotton of her top
fluttering in the summer air. He could barely draw breath.
“I knew you would come back,” she said. “After last night, I knew.”
Cathair could only shake his head. This made no sense.
She shouldn’t be able to see him. And yet, she did.
Winnie stared at the boy. His presence as real as the flesh and blood boy who had fallen from her window yesterday who stood before her now.
She didn’t know why she had gone to the window, peeked out as if she needed to stay hidden. But something had called her. The moment she looked down in the
yard she knew why. Him.
had called her. His presence.
The dark prince had come back for her.
She rushed downstairs, hurried outside before he could disappear. Before he vanished again into her imagination. He was just turning to leave when she
He blinked, those bright amber eyes she knew so well, and started to back away.
“Don’t go,” she said, instinctively reaching out.
Her hand wrapped around his wrist, and she felt sparks. Actual, literal, finger-in-a-light-socket sparks. That hadn’t happened last night.
“What—” She released him.
“Who are you?” He stared at the spot where their skin had touched. Had he felt them too? He blinked once more, shook his head, and his shock seemed to
“I’m Winnie,” she told him. “Winnie Price. And I’m … just a girl.”
“Winnie.” He seemed to savor her name.
She’d never liked it much—of course it was better than Winifred, but just barely. When he said it, though, she liked it fine.
“You are no mere girl,” he continued. “Are you a seer?”
Winnie shook her head. “Not that I know of.”
A seer? She had never seen one in her dreams, but she had heard the fae talk about them. They were humans, gifted with the ability to see through the fae
magic, to see the fae themselves when they wanted to be unseen.
Could she be one? Could that explain her dreams?
She was seeing Cathair now.
“I guess I must be,” she finally said.
He stared at her, studied her. His golden gaze searing into her as if he was trying to read her mind.
“You have not asked my name,” he said. “You have not asked who—or what—I am.”
“I—“ Winnie opened her mouth, then closed it again.
Did she dare reveal how much she already knew? Could that be dangerous?
As far as she could tell, seers were highly valued, charged with protecting the fae realm from other humans. But what if she was wrong? What if he saw her
as… a risk?
Before she could decide whether to answer, he stepped closer. Closed the distance between them until only inches separated their bodies. She could feel his
heat, could feel the rustle of his breath. She had to fight the urge to lean into him.
“You already know?” he asked. “Don’t you?”
Winnie closed her eyes, weighed her options, and then answered, “Yes.”
“Who am I?”
“Cathair O Cuana,” she whispered.
She opened her eyes. “Fae.”
His amber eyes widened.
“How do you know this?” he demanded.
She had never, in all her seventeen years, told another soul about her dreams. Never let anyone else into the truth about her secret world. But Cathair was
already there. He lived in that world.
“Because I—” She took a deep breath. She knew it was a risk, letting him in on her secret, but maybe it was only fair since she already knew so many of
his. She blurted, “I dreamed it.”
He jerked back, eyes wide. “An
.” He shook his head slowly, like it didn’t quite make sense. “A dreamer.”
. Winnie let the word play through her thoughts. In all the time she had spent dreaming—and then reliving—the fae realm, she had never heard this term.
“There are tales,” Cathair said. “But never have I heard of one who was both dreamer and seer.”
An uncontrolled giggle bubbled out of her. She smacked a hand over her mouth, as the nervous giggles kept coming and coming.
He frowned. “What is the matter?”
“Nothing, I just—“ Winnie giggled and shook her head.
“Are you unwell?”
That only made her want to laugh more. For a moment, just a moment, she had wanted to believe. A dreamer? A magical fae seer? The idea of being something
more than just ordinary Winnie Price was way too attractive. Something more than the girl with one best friend and one awkward kiss, who sat in the back of
class scribbling in her composition books. More than the girl who had lost almost everyone she cared about.
To be something more than that… was too good to be true.
“This isn’t possible,” she insisted.
He scowled. “Why not?”
“Because…” She swung her arms wide. “I’m nothing special. I’m just… me.”
“I think you know that is not true,” he said, lifting a hand to her face. “You feel it.”
When his fingertips brushed her cheek, she felt those sparks again. All over her body.
“This isn’t real,” she whispered.
“It is.” He trailed the sparks across her jaw. “I know it is.”
His lips spread into a small smile. “Because no one else can see me.”
Winnie blushed. Not that anyone else was in her backyard, but the thought that she stood there, talking to someone only she could see? It was a little
ridiculous. And a little unsettling. She must be crazy.
“That doesn’t prove anything. I could be talking to myself.”
Now it was his turn to laugh. “Very well. You require proof?”
“Then I shall give you proof.”
He stepped back and held out his hand, silently asking her to take it. To trust him.
Taking his hand was no big deal. There would be sparks, she knew that, but that’s it. Well, sparks and heat. But that wasn’t too terribly out of the range
No, the thing she was afraid of, the thing that caused the little niggle of doubt at the back of her mind, that urged to run and run fast, was the
possibility that she
insane. What if he
prove that she was a seer and a dreamer. That he and his realm did exist. That magic was
Winnie thought that just might be scarier that being insane.
“Still baking?” Winnie asked, walking into a kitchen that smelled of freshly-from-the-oven cupcakes.
When her aunt turned, dusted off her hands, and said, “You know summer. The season of weddings,” without noticing the dark fae boy standing in the doorway,
it was all Winnie could do not to blurt,
Omigod, can you not
Her aunt didn’t betray a glimmer of notice that anyone but the two of
them were in the kitchen.
It wasn’t incontrovertible proof, though. Winnie flicked Cathair a glance. Just because Maureen couldn’t see him, didn’t mean he was fae. It could mean
Winnie had an imaginary friend. Insanity was still on the table.
While Winnie tried not to stare, he crossed the kitchen to where the cupcakes sat cooling on a wire rack. Cathair studied them for a moment, then picked
“No,” she gasped, as he sent the cupcake flying across the room.
“What on earth?” Maureen spun around. “Did you see that?”
Winnie made a wide-eyed gesture at Cathair. “It must have been Nessa,” she explained, still shaking her head when Maureen turned back to face her.
“That cat of yours,” her aunt said. “More trouble than she’s worth.”
“I know, she—No!”
Another cupcake went sailing.
Winnie caught it out of the air. Thankfully Maureen had been glancing the other way, probably looking for the pouf of gray fur.
“What?” Maureen asked.