Authors: Tera Lynn Childs
“I’m not afraid,” she said, reaching to his face.
She was not lying. Cathair sensed no measure of fear or anger or any negative emotion within her. It awed him while, at the same time, frightened him.
Without a healthy fear of his more unscrupulous kin, she was at even greater risk.
“I am sorry.” He laid his hand over hers. “This is not your fault.”
No, it was his mother’s fault for agreeing to the alliance. It was Ultan’s fault for securing the betrothal. It was his own fault for suggesting the
betrothal in the first place.
None of that could be changed now. He must do right by his clan. Duty first and foremost.
“I must marry the Deachair princess,” he said quietly. “For the sake of my people and our future, it is a duty I cannot deny.”
Without looking, he knew that tears filled her eyes. Felt the sadness, the heartache that filled her mind. No anger, no reproach, no accusation. Just…
Which made him respect her even more.
She whispered, “I understand.”
“I should not have come to you,” he said, though the words broke his heart. “By my selfish actions I have put you in danger.”
“You haven’t,” she insisted.
“If my clan’s enemies knew of my feelings for you,” he forced himself to say, “they would use you to hurt me. I will not allow that to happen.”
“What do you mean?”
“After tonight,” he clenched his jaw, “you will not see me again.”
She was silent for long, tense moments. Their eyes met, her mossy green ones full of confusion and pain. If she had railed at him, yelled and screamed and
called him vile names, he would have understood. He would have preferred that to her silence.
Finally, she turned from him and resumed walking.
She had accepted defeat.
Cathair fell into step beside her, not saying a word until they had reached her home. The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. The end of the night.
The end of … everything.
“I feel as if I’ve been waiting half my life for you to show up,” she said, not looking at him. “And now you’re leaving.”
“I—” He wanted to reassure her, to tell her that this wasn’t what he wanted. That if he had his choice he would tell the kingdom to go to the Everdark, and
he would visit her every night and every day.
But that wasn’t practical. That wasn’t possible.
He had duties and responsibilities, and one of those was keeping Winnie safe. The only way to do that was to walk way.
“If there was anything I could do,” he said. “I—”
Her lips were on his before he could finish. He crushed her to him, cradling her head in his hand and tasting every possible inch of her. Their magics
mingled, like lightning flashing between them. He dove deeper, sought more. Wanted everything he was giving up.
And he was giving up everything. She called to him, elevated him,
him. Yet he had to walk away.
When she pulled away he let her go. Her lips were red, as were her cheeks and her eyes. Without another word, she turned and climbed over the fence around
her yard. He watched through a gap in the boards as she ascended the trellis and made it safely into her room.
Time passed, he knew not how long, and dawn broke. When he finally turned away from the fence the sun streaked high in the morning sky. He leaned his head
against the weathered wood. Walking away was the hardest thing he would ever do, but it was also the best.
He did not sense the wolf’s presence until the animal leaped through the air. The razor-sharp teeth that sank into the flesh of his neck. His last thought
was that he hoped Winnie didn’t find his body.
Winnie sat at her desk, staring blankly at the wall. She should have been exhausted, should have fallen on her bed and drifted right to sleep. Instead, she
felt more awake that she ever had.
And more adrift than she had since her mom died.
No, that wasn’t fair. Losing her mom was infinitely worse than losing the dark prince she barely knew. But when the fae realm, when her dream world had
been a way to escape the pain of grief, losing that was like losing her mom all over again. It made all the old pain raw.
Her phone started vibrating on her desk. She’d left it on silent so Maureen wouldn’t get suspicious if Mel called and Winnie didn’t answer.
Mel’s face stared back at her.
For a moment she considered letting it go to voicemail. Mel would just keep calling.
“Hey,” Winnie said.
“Omigod,” Mel cried as soon as Winnie spoke. “That last chapter. So. Good!”
Winnie closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. The fae stories were the last thing she wanted to talk about right now.
“If you don’t put this up on Wattpad,” Mel warned, “I will.”
“No!” Winnie bolted upright. “No, Mel, you can’t.”
Mel sighed dramatically. “I wouldn’t. But, omigod, you
to. They are so amazing.”
“Thanks,” Winnie answered automatically.
“Seriously, I don’t know how you come up with this stuff.”
Winnie couldn’t hold back the sob.
“Whoa, Win, are you okay?” Mel demanded.
She took a few breaths to settle herself. “Yes,” she said, her voice shaky. “I’m fine. I just…” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I don’t think I want to write
these stories anymore.”
“Are you joking?”
She wished she was. “No, I have some…” She searched for something else to say. “Other ideas. I’m going to start writing those.”
It was only half lie. She did have other ideas, but she didn’t know if she wanted to start writing them. The very thought of writing—even something she
made up—left a heavy pit in her stomach.
“Just promise me there will be another hunky prince,” Mel begged.
“There will be someone,” Winnie offered.
And she hoped that would be true in real life too.
After hanging up with Mel, Winnie changed into her soccer shorts and a t-shirt, then laced up her sneakers and jogged downstairs. She needed to burn off
some of her frustrated energy.
“I’m going for a run,” she shouted to Aunt Maureen, who was frosting yet another set of cupcakes in the kitchen.
“Be careful,” she called back. “You have your phone?”
“And my safety whistle.”
Winnie slammed the front door behind her. This would clear her mind. The run, the exercise, the adrenaline and the endorphins would help her figure things
out. She had to accept the fact that if Cathair didn’t want to see her again, there was nothing she could do about it. That didn’t mean she had to like it.
She took a left turn and headed off down the sidewalk, inserting her bright green earbuds. Couldn’t run without—
His body was limp, lifeless maybe, sprawled across the sidewalk next to the fence. Winnie sprinted to his side, kneeling down, horrified by what she saw.
His throat was shredded, like some wild animal had clawed through it. His blood, a bright, vibrant red with a pearly sheen, flooded onto the concrete.
“Cathair,” she called, desperate. “Cathair, can you hear me?”
He lay motionless.
She leaned down, listening for ... she didn’t know. A breath? A heartbeat? Anything.
She pressed her hands over his throat, as if she could hold in his life. When she applied pressure, a soft moan squeezed out of him.
“Cathair,” she leaned down, her ear next to his mouth.
She felt the faint rustle of breath and nearly sobbed with relief. He was alive.
But he wouldn’t be for long, not if she didn’t get him help. A hospital was out of the question. He wasn’t human, so how could a human doctor know how to
treat him? And he was invisible to everyone but her.
There was only one choice.
“I’ll be right back,” she promised.
She jumped to her feet and hurried back inside. For a second she worried that her aunt would freak when she saw Winnie covered in fae blood. Until she
realized Aunt Maureen couldn’t see it.
Winnie burst into the house.
“Aunt Maureen, I totally forgot,” she blurted, sounding winded as if she’d just circled the block at a run. “I have a soccer team meeting. Coach wants us
to have some informal practices before school starts.”
It wasn’t a complete lie. Coach did want informal practices, and for the team to have a meeting. Next week. But the excuse would work for now.
“It’s halfway across town, and I’m late already.”
“Take the car,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere until this order is ready to go.”
Winnie grabbed the keys from the table and ran.
She pulled around to the side of the house, turned the car so the passenger door was lined up with Cathair’s body, and hurried to drag him inside. She
struggled with the dead weight. As she hauled him up, into the seat, his shimmering blood streaked across the sidewalk, up over the edge of the car. If
anyone else could see it they would think there had been a massacre.
Maybe there had.
“What happened?” she asked, as she put the car in gear and floored it.
She retraced the route they had walked early that morning—it felt like a lifetime ago now—and headed for the edge of the forest. As she drove, she thought.
What would she do when she arrived? Should she try to carry Cathair, who had a good fifty pounds on her, through the forest to the veil? Or should she run
to the veil as fast as she could go, and hope the fae guard didn’t kill her the second she crossed over?
It was maybe safer for her to carry Cathair, but it would take longer. It was riskier for her to go it alone, but if the guards didn’t kill her they could
probably help get him back through the veil in a fraction of the time.
She glanced over at his slumped form. He couldn’t die. He couldn’t. She wouldn’t let him. His life had to come before her fears.
By the time she pulled into the dirt parking lot, she’d made her decision.
“I’ll be as fast as I can,” she told Cathair, even though he probably couldn’t hear her. “I’ll bring help.”
Winnie locked the car doors, then headed into the forest. Fear and desperation fueled her run. She leaped over exposed roots and tiny streams. This was not
the exact path they had traveled this morning, but she knew it was right. She’d run this path in her dreams.
When she started to feel the fear, she knew she was getting close.
She pushed forward, even as her muscles shook and tears pricked her eyes. She had to keep going. She was his only hope.
She couldn’t see the edge of the veil, but she could feel it. Boy did she feel it.
She tried to step forward, to push through the edge, but got stuck. Feet rooted to the ground, Winnie could only stare at the invisible wall she knew was
separating her from saving Cathair’s life.
“Come on,” she shouted at herself. “Just a couple of steps that way.”
But no matter how hard she tried, she could not make her feet move.
She couldn’t stop here, couldn’t get stuck so close to help. So close to saving him.
Her heart lurched. She felt so helpless against her fear. She beat at her chest, desperate to pound some courage into herself.
Then she felt the solid outline of the chain hanging around her neck.
“Oh please,” she begged, dragging it out from beneath her t-shirt and lifting the shiny silver whistle to her lips. “Please.”
Sucking in a lungful of air, she sent the piercing wail of the whistle into the forest night. No humans were close enough to hear her. She only hoped that
the fae inside that veil could ... and that they chose to investigate rather than ignore. Investigate rather than kill first and ask questions later.
At first she thought she’d failed, that her whistle wasn’t strong enough to penetrate the fae magic. She stood there, alone in the forest, fighting back
tears in despair.
Until she sensed a figure at her side.
She didn’t turn immediately. She let the fae study her. As they circled her, she held her breath. Counting the seconds until she could speak.
When the fae guard—a girl dressed in midnight blue, with a nasty looking sword hanging from her belt—stepped close and sniffed at her hair, Winnie knew she
needed to take a chance.
“Your prince has been attacked,” Winnie whispered. “He is bleeding to death in my car and—”
The guard’s hand snapped around Winnie’s throat. She couldn’t breathe.
“You are a seer,” the girl said.
“Yes,” Winnie choked out.
“You dare to seek out our veil?” she asked. “You are without intelligence.”
“Your prince,” Winnie repeated. “Cathair. He’s dying.”
“You shall not speak the name of a fae,” the girl spat. “You should not even—”
“Hold, Regan,” another magical voice said. “Let her speak.”
Regan released her neck. Winnie took only long enough to gather breath. “Please, you must hurry.” Her voice cracked as emotion and fear boiled through her.
“He needs help.”
The other fae, a tall, dark boy around Cathair’s age with short black hair, speared her with silver eyes. “Take us to him.”
Winnie turned and ran, back through the forest, faster than she ever had in her life, and by the time she emerged into the open of the isolated parking lot
she felt like her lungs were breathing fire.
“Here,” she said, forcing her exhausted feet to the car, relieved to see the two fae guards still at her side.
She unlocked the door and opened it, revealing Cathair’s bleeding body.
The boy leaned into the car, lifted Cathair as if he were no heavier than a baby. Then the two guards turned and went back the way they’d come.
Winnie sank to the ground, back against the car tire, and held her head in her hands. She hoped they could save him. She feared she would never see him
The sun had long since set and her tears had long since dried, when Winnie felt a presence beside her. She looked up and saw a breathtaking fae woman with
silky black and silver hair that fell to her waist, a diaphanous gown of grays and blues swirling around her and bright amber colored eyes. Cathair’s
mother. Queen Eimear.
Winnie pushed to her feet, transfixed.