Authors: Alyxandra Harvey
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Magic, #Urban Fantasy
For (just some of) the many writers
who have inspired me without even knowing it:
Terri Windling, Charles de Lint,
Holly Black, and Mary Oliver
“I hate this town,” Jo complained. “There isn’t a single hot guy anywhere.”
“Hey,” Devin protested mildly, out of habit. We weren’t really listening; we’d heard Jo give this same speech about a hundred times, and frankly, my mint chocolate chip ice cream was more interesting. It was too hot to worry about guys. Only Jo could muster the energy to multitask a tantrum while sweating through her T-shirt and eyeing the carful of perfectly droolworthy guys currently ignoring her. Mind you, I’d seen her flirt with a photograph of Ian Somerhalder in a magazine once. A little drought wouldn’t stop her.
“I’m hot,” Devin added, wiping his forehead. “Literally.”
We were at the ice cream parlor where everyone hung out because there was nothing else to do in the bustling metropolis of Rowan, population 8,011. In winter we drove up and down Main Street, and in nicer weather we stood around the parking lot. It was October, and even though the sun had just set, the pavement was still warm and slightly soft under our shoes. I’d already eaten more ice cream during this drought than in the last ten years put together.
“You don’t count,” Jo told him. “You know what I mean,” she added, patting his shoulder comfortingly. “You’d be hot if I didn’t know you. And if I hadn’t seen you stuff eight Ping-Pong balls in your mouth when you were ten and then spit all over me when you choked.”
He just leaned back against the picnic table, his dark skin gleaming. “Halloween dance last year,” was all he said.
Jo narrowed her eyes at him. “Shut up.”
The stunning and epic failure of her costume was still talked about. I turned red just thinking about it. I’d have died on the spot if the whole gym had turned to stare at me like that.
Something I was considering doing right now, actually.
“Dishy.” Jo smoothed back her waist-length hair as a guy I didn’t recognize crossed the parking lot toward us. People staring at her never fazed Jo; she got more upset when they ignored her. I much,
preferred being ignored.
“I’d snog that.” Jo loved anything British, especially slang, which she used incessantly but incorrectly about half the time. Mostly, she used the swear words.
“Do you even know what that means?” Devin asked.
“It means kissing.”
The guy was still coming toward us as they bickered. He ignored the girls preening in his wake, and the guys snickering. His eyes were the color of moss, an eerie pale green that I could see even from several feet away. His gaze was touching me all over, like rain. He looked awed. That would have been disconcerting enough, never mind that he was wearing brown leather pants and some kind of gold-embroidered tunic. There was even a sword hanging from his belt. He looked like he belonged under torchlight, not streetlight.
And, did I mention? He totally kneeled on the dirty pavement, right at my feet.
“My lady Eloise,” he said in a voice just made for long summer nights and acoustic guitars. “Finally, you are undressed to our eyes.”
“Whoa.” I took a big step backward. “What?”
Jo was trying so hard not to laugh at the look on my face that I thought ice cream was going to come out of her nose, which would serve her right. Everyone around us turned to watch. Some of the girls even edged closer, especially Bianca. She loved nothing more than watching me squirm, all because two years ago Graham defended me when she laughed at me for getting a volleyball to the face in phys ed. She loved Graham. She hated me. Since she’d been the one to throw the volleyball, I wasn’t too fond of her either.
“Come,” he said to me with polite formality at odds with
the scars on his hands. He didn’t even glance at Jo. “We must away, before the others find you.”
I knew I was blushing that special shade of red that makes me look like a boiled beet. Nothing like being a pale, freckled girl who embarrasses easily. “Get
He got to his feet, graceful as water. His hair was dark blond, catching the light. His eyes blazed.
I took another step back. “Um, okay.”
Devin scowled at him. “What’s with the outfit?”
“Is it some sort of theater thing?” Jo asked. “Extra credit for drama? Who are you supposed to be, King Arthur?”
He didn’t glance away from me, not even for a moment. I squirmed. Everyone was still looking at us. The whispers crested, like ocean waves. “You must come with me,” he said urgently. “Please. If I have found you, the others will as well.”
I nearly snorted. “Yeah, I don’t think so.” Why do people always assume that if you’re quiet, you’re also naive? Or downright stupid?
“You are in danger.”
Devin shifted so he was standing closer to us. “Dude, not cool.”
“I’ll go with you, handsome,” Bianca purred. She was wearing a tight tank top and some kind of glitter gel on her cleavage. Jo actually bared her teeth. She was a little territorial, not just about me, but about cute guys too. Each and every one of them belonged to her. In fact, for all that she teased
Devin, she was notorious for cornering girls in the locker room if she thought they weren’t being nice enough to him.
“Let’s get out of here.” I grabbed Jo’s arm. “Devin, come on.”
The guy finally looked away from me, noticing all the curious faces looking him over. “Another time, then.”
He bowed. He actually bowed. I could feel Jo fluttering beside me—she loved that sort of quasimedieval thing. She was probably forcing herself not to curtsy back.
“Soon,” he added.
I honestly didn’t know if I should take that as a promise or a threat.
We circled the picnic table to get to Devin’s car. Jo let me have the front seat, a definite indication that I must have looked as uncomfortable as I felt. She never let me have the front; she considered it her personal territory, to be defended at all costs, like Ian Somerhalder and chocolate macaroons. The guy watched us as we drove away, looking determined.
“Cute,” she said as Devin squealed out of the lot. “But what a wanker.”
We went to Rowanwood Park the next night. There were parties every weekend since the weather refused to turn cold. There was a bonfire, but it was mostly for light. No one stood next to it; it was way too humid for that, even at night. The air was thick, that kind of sweaty moisture that chills even as it swelters.
The last thing I wanted to be doing was picking my way around tree roots in the backwoods of the park, but Jo was bored and a bored Jo was a force to be reckoned with. She dragged Devin and me out, despite the fact that I hated parties and Devin would rather be reading about elves. I’d applied an extra coat of my mom’s favorite red lipstick. It matched the red
scarf in my short hair and the red stitching on my capri jeans. It was my own personal shield; looking tough was a trick my mom taught me for when I didn’t
tough. It helped. Not being stuck at a party in the middle of nowhere would help more.
“Over there.” Devin motioned to a moss-covered log on the edge of the clearing. To get over to the log, we went around a few dancers and two girls trying to figure out how to work the keg. Devin and I exchanged a look.
“Now what?” I asked. “Are we having fun yet?”
Jo shook her head. “You two have the socializing skills of rabid dogs. Relax. Have fun.”
having fun,” Devin muttered. “Until you made me come here.”
“Yeah,” I grumbled, and popped my chewing gum for emphasis.
“Fairy warrior women with pink hair don’t exist.” Jo grinned at Devin. “No matter how many hours you spend playing video games.”
Devin pulled a bottle of pop out of his knapsack. “Just for that heresy, you go thirsty.” He handed me the ginger ale and got another one for himself, smirking at Jo.
share his drink,” she said, waggling her eyebrows in the direction of a guy I didn’t recognize. He had long dark hair, and even from the back he looked like a rock star, the kind who make girls stupid. I groaned. Jo was doomed. “Seriously. He’s clearly from out of town. No one here is remotely that yummy.”
He tossed his plastic cup aside and left the circle of firelight, between the trees.
“Oh, hell no, I am not letting him get away,” Jo said. “Cover me, I’m going in.” She adjusted her bra.
Devin winced. “I did
need to see that.”
Jo nearly plowed over two guys from our math class in her haste to follow the rock star. For a girl who dressed in long skirts, she could move like a linebacker when she wanted.
Devin sighed. “One day I’m going to have to punch someone on her behalf.”
I grinned. “It’s only fair. She threatens to kick people for you all the time.”
“Seriously, the girl needs a leash. I don’t know why people think
are dogs, juggling girls and flirting with anything in a skirt. Jo’s worse than any of us.”
“Did you just call her a dog?”
He finished his ginger ale, looking only slightly scared. “I’ll deny it if you tell her.”
I just laughed and drank my own ginger ale. Music blared out of cheap speakers attached to someone’s iPod. A girl squealed when a guy pressed a cold beer bottle to her lower back, under her shirt. There was noise from the bushes that sounded suspiciously like someone throwing up.
“Maybe the cops will bust up the party and we can go home,” I said hopefully.
“You’re so cute when you’re deluded.”
He was right. The cops never broke up these parties;
they were too hard to get to, hidden so far back in the forest. They only bothered if we spilled out into the actual park, which we never did. At least if I had to be stuck here, I was stuck with Devin. He didn’t force me into small talk, like most people. He was good with silences. He pulled a novel out of his bag, a book light clipped to its spine. I leaned against him. The fire crackled, and when the wind shifted, I caught a glimpse of the moon, hanging sideways. A dog barked in the distance.
“I’d better go check on Jo,” I said after a while. We could never convince her that chasing after strange guys was stupid, even near a crowd like tonight’s. She was so convinced that romance was enough to protect her. She’d say she was more convinced it was the foghorn she carried in her bag, ready to blast someone into deafness, but I knew better. She was a marshmallow. People just assumed she was tough. And people assumed I was a marshmallow because I didn’t say much, but I’d been raised by a woman who kept drunk bikers in line at the bar where she tended. And Devin was Devin: kind, unruffled, and uninterested in what other people thought about him.
“Want me to come with you?” he asked, getting ready to stand up.