Authors: Tera Lynn Childs
Winnie rushed to the cupcakes, shoving the fae prince behind her as she placed the second flyer back on the rack. “Nessa again,” she lied. She reached
back, wrapped one hand around Cathair’s wrist, and squeezed. “She’s gone now.”
“She’d best stay out of my kitchen,” Maureen teased, “if she wants me to keep buying her kibble.”
Winnie laughed awkwardly. “I’ll make sure she’s in my room.”
She moved toward the hall, dragging Cathair behind her.
“Actually, I think I’m going to get to bed early.”
Maureen frowned. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Fine,” Winnie said, backing out of the kitchen. “Just a little tired.”
Aunt Maureen smiled. “Then I’ll see you whenever you roll out of bed in the morning.”
She had turned around, attention back on the bowl of red batter and the tray of lined cupcake tins, without another thought.
Winnie looked at Cathair, at the bright amber eyes that seemed to be smiling with an I-told-you-so kind of gleam. She just shook her head and headed for
the stairs, not acknowledging him again until they were both behind the closed door in her room.
“It was like you weren’t even there,” she said, walking over to the window.
“Fae magic is very powerful,” he said. “And the human mind… very susceptible.”
Was this really happening? As much as her brain wanted to argue the point, her heart knew he was speaking the truth. Knew it as well as she knew that this
boy before her was the owl who had visited her every month for nearly a year. She stared out at the tree, as if it might have the answer.
It had only more questions.
“Why?” she finally asked. “Why did you come see me? Why did you sit outside my window?”
He hesitated. “I wish I knew.”
Finally she turned to face him. He stood, looking so out of place in her floral and lace bedroom. His gaze lowered, like he was studying the floor beneath
him. A dark, wild creature, unsure how to act in this bright, girly space. Bare feet on beige carpet. His toes curled and uncurled, as if trying to get
used to the sensation of fiber instead of grass.
He looked out of place period, like something otherworldly. Which, she supposed, he was.
They couldn’t talk here, not where he obviously felt so uncomfortable, and where Maureen could overhear at any point. Winnie was still grappling with the
idea that Cathair and the fae realm and magic were real. She definitely wasn’t ready to try to explain it to anyone else.
“Come on,” she said, lifting the window and slinging one leg out over the sill. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What are you doing?” He hurried across the room
His hands were on her before she could step out on the small piece of roof outside her window. He pulled her towards him.
“We’re going somewhere else,” she replied with a smile.
“But what about your—“ He glanced toward the door, toward Aunt Maureen downstairs.
“She’s fine.” Winnie drew him toward the sill. “We need to talk. My aunt will think I’m losing it if I sit in my room alone mumbling to myself.”
He scowled, like he wanted to argue, but when Winnie tugged his hand harder his expression shifted. Very little space separated them. Very little, as in
none. She could practically feel her heart beating against his. He watched her, a darkly powerful look in his eyes. Eyes that darkened into a burnt amber
color as they stared.
She inhaled, the action pressing her more tightly against him.
Oh boy, was she in trouble. All she wanted to do was breathe again, and fall deeply into him.
“The uh—” She struggled to make her voice and her body work. “There’s a trellis next to the back door.” She stepped out onto the roof, away from him. “I’ve
climbed it a million times.”
Eyes lowered, she turned and crossed to the spot where the trellis rose above the roofline. She swung herself around, setting her feet carefully on the
sturdy cross-braces and wrapping her hands around the outer edges. She was on the ground in five drops.
Once her feet were firmly on the grass, she looked up, ready to explain how to avoid the broken piece just below the gutter. Before she could say a word,
Cathair leapt off the roof.
“No!” she shouted.
He landed softly on the ground, his bare feet sinking gently into the lawn.
Winnie slapped a hand over her mouth, hoping her aunt hadn’t heard. She whispered, “How did you do that?”
He grinned. “Magic.”
“Where was your magic last night?” she asked. “You fell to the ground like a dead cow.”
His brow quirked at her odd phrase, but he explained, “Magic sleeps on Midsummer’s Eve.” In the glow of the back porch light, she saw him blush. “I had
forgotten the date.”
“Well don’t scare me like that again,” she warned. “I thought you were going to pancake.”
“Flat as.” She shook her head. “I thought you were going to get hurt.”
“My safety is not a concern.” He took her hand in his. “On any day but my
and Midsummer’s Eve, I am practically immortal in your realm.”
“Practically immortal,” she repeated.
Her mind exploded at the idea.
“Only another of my kind could injure me on such a night as this,” he explained.
“Right.” She cleared her throat. “Immortal. Got it.”
As if that was totally normal.
“Where did you wish to go?” he asked, as if she weren’t reeling at the idea that the boy before her couldn’t die.
She had so many questions, about him and his people. Did he live forever? What was
? Could he change into other animals? Why was
Midsummer’s Eve special? All the questions that had plagued her waking hours, and that she could never ask in her dreams.
Right. He’d asked her a question. Where
she want to go? She wasn’t sure.
“Anywhere.” She shrugged. “Somewhere you feel comfortable. You pick.”
“I know just the place.”
When they reached the sidewalk, Cathair took Winnie’s hand.
Winnie. Short for Winifred. A name that meant
. It suited her.
Although the turmoil she made him feel was anything but peaceful, that was hardly her fault. She’d asked him why he flew to her branch each month and he
had answered truthfully. He did not know.
He marveled at the flashes of energy that sparked wherever their skin touched. He had never felt the like before and he didn’t know what it meant.
Using his magic to speed their journey, he led them in the reverse of the path he traveled each month. Along the winding and then gridded streets of her
city, into the dark forest that stood between the human settlement and the fae veil.
She was nervous. Scared perhaps. He could feel the power of her fear feeding him, feeding his magic, and he tried not to revel in the sensation.
It was the great irony of his kind that they feel better when humans feel worse.
“Are we almost there?” she asked.
Her hand tightened around his.
He pulled her closer. “You need not fear the forest.”
“I always have,” she replied.
An urge to protect her from something, anything, settled into his chest. “Did something happen to you?”
“No, nothing specific,” she said, and his tension released a little.
He kept walking, moving them ever deeper into the forest.
“When I was little,” she explained, “my Gran told me stories about terrifying beasts that live in the shadows of trees. I used to hide under my bed
thinking about them.”
The dark grew more oppressive and Cathair knew that without the benefit of magical sight, she could probably see very little. He on the other hand could
see every detail. The way the faint glow of the life around them made her hair shiny like a river, made her skin gleam like polished gold. If possible, the
forest made her even more beautiful.
“Winnie,” he said with a chuckle, partly because he liked saying her name, “your grandmother was correct.”
He felt guilty as a spike of her fear empowered him. “I am one such beast. Do you fear me?”
She did not hesitate. “No.”
Her trust washed over him. Such a positive feeling did nothing to feed his magic, but it fed his soul. To know that this girl who barely knew him would
trust him with her safety, would trust him to lead her even into a place she feared. The knowledge filled him.
Then again, she knew him better than he thought. Knew him far better than he knew her, the girl he had visited once each month for a year. She had been
dreaming his world—had been dreaming him—for far longer.
Still, she trusted. And followed.
He traced a path as familiar as his own hand, heading for what had always been his favorite place in the forest. Outside of the sanctuary and Winnie’s
backyard, it was his favorite place on earth.
“Have you always had the dreams?” he asked.
“No,” she replied. “I never used to dream at all.”
“When did you start?”
Her sadness was immediate. The boost it gave his magic was different than her fear, less powerful but softer. He wanted to sink into it.
He forced himself to keep his gaze facing forward.
“Right after my Gran died.” She sniffed quietly, not knowing that he already knew the depths of her pain. “The very next night, I dreamed about a powerful
fae queen whose husband was on trial for murder.”
“What?” she asked, then, “Oh no. Was that…? He was your father?”
Though she couldn’t see him, he nodded. “Daegus violated the
, the most sacred law of our clan.”
“I saw it.” Her voice was little more than a whisper. “I saw the trial, I saw it all.”
Then she knew. Knew his father had been stripped of his magic and sentenced to a millennium in the Everdark for the unforgivable crime of killing a human
for magical gain. It was his family’s greatest shame.
“I’m so sorry,” she breathed.
Pity, one of the least powerful human emotions, radiated from her. It tickled at his magic. He would not accept it. “Justice deserves no pity.”
His father deserved no pity.
He half expected her to pull away, to risk the dangers of the forest rather than stay at his side. He wouldn’t blame her. When his father had been
arrested, Cathair had wanted nothing more than to run as far away from him, from his clan, as possible. His mother had made him stay. Had made him attend
every moment of the trial. Had made him witness the sentencing.
But Winnie did not pull away. If anything, she leaned closer. She stayed silent, leaving him to his thoughts.
Daegus’ betrayal had been devastating. For a clan on the verge of annihilation, stripping any member of their magic was a serious act. For it to be the
queen’s husband had nearly destroyed them.
His family—he, his mother, and his younger brother—had spent five years climbing out of that pit. Five years trying to recover and move forward. It was a
testament to his mother’s strength and the strength of her rule that the entire Moraine clan had made that journey with them.
They had worked hard to return to a sense of normal. Cathair refused to let himself feel even an ounce of pity over the situation.
He shook off the painful memories as the trees around them thinned.
“Wow,” Winnie breathed, her wide eyes taking in the majesty of the forest around them.
The darkness receded and opened into a protected clearing. A blue-green circle of moonlight in an otherwise midnight black forest.
“This is the glade.” He stepped out into the moon’s glow, leaving the past behind.
The look on her face was sheer and absolute awe.
Here, in this place, with a perfect circle of trees around them and the moon shining down—deep in the forest where, at any other time, even the
of being here would send her into a panic—here, Winnie saw his magic. Not in a tangible, sparkle-and-light kind of way, but in the way that
his feet sank into the grass, the way his face turned up to the moon. The way the natural world seemed to embrace him.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, not wanting to disturb the magic with her human presence.
Had she known places like this existed within the forest, she might have ventured in ages ago. Even Gran’s stories couldn’t have kept her from seeking out
this magical glade.
. Her grandmother had been gone for years, but still she could recount the tales as if she’d heard them only yesterday. Was Cathair right? Were Gran’s
scary stories about the dark fae?
If they were, that could mean only one thing.
“Was my Gran an
Cathair studied her. “It is probable,” he finally answered. “Powers such as yours are passed down from parent to child. Though they are usually passed
through birth, not death.”
Winnie gasped. “I got the power to dream when Gran died?”
It made sense. Of course it made sense. All these years she’d attributed her dreams to her grief, but what if they were more directly connected than she
always thought? Winnie’s dad, Gran’s son, had died before Winnie could remember, and Maureen was her mother’s sister. Which meant she was the last one, the
only one in the family line to receive the power.
“Your line’s power must have been granted by a spell,” he explained. “One of your ancestor’s must have done service to a fae. An extraordinary service. To
have both the power to see
dream is unheard of.”
While Winnie considered this, tried to process all of this information, Cathair walked to the center of the glade. In an elegant movement, he sat, holding
out his hand, silently asking her to join him.
Wondering and processing could come later. For now, she wanted to experience the magic.
Winnie walked across the grass, feeling like a monster as her sneakers crushed every blade. But when he took her hand, when their skin touched, she was
lighter than air. She lifted off the grass, even though her feet still touched the ground.