Wicked Enchantment(8)

By: Anya Bast

“She’s fine with it,” Aislinn said defensively. In actuality, the queen suffered Aislinn’s “hobby,” as she called it, badly.

He gave her a look of doubtfulness. “She allows you to rub elbows with down-and-out goblins, boggarts, skillywiddens, and red caps?”

“She’s very compassionate.”

He laughed.

“She can be,” Aislinn amended, “sometimes. Anyway, I don’t need to defend myself or her to you.”

“Then why are you?”

“Because you’re making me.” Her voice was a low, annoyed hiss. Gah! This man brought out the worst in her and she just couldn’t control it.

“I would never make you do anything you didn’t want to do, sweetness,” he murmured over her head, looking out over the crowd. The words seemed laden with innuendo.

“The Seelie Court is about more than just balls, clothes, and shallow gossip. We are an honorable tower. Our men and women believe in chivalry and integrity. We operate with a respectable code of ethics here.”

“Relax, Aislinn. The last thing I wanted to do was rile my tour guide.”

“I’m not your tour guide,” she snapped.

“No, you’re my dance partner and a very good one, too.” A slight note of wonder threaded his voice.

Aislinn blinked and looked around, realizing all eyes were on them. Her voice had been strained and stiff while she spoke to him, but her body hadn’t been . . . at all. In fact, she’d shamelessly melted against him and let him lead her into an intricate dance pattern that had all the ballroom admiring them.

She glared at him. “You did that on purpose.”

Unperturbed, he only shrugged a shoulder. “I can’t make you do anything some part of you doesn’t want to do.”

Annoyance flashed. She pressed her lips into a thin line to control it. “I still don’t understand why you want to come to the Rose, Gabriel. You seem to hold this court and even the queen in contempt.” She stared up at him for a long moment as if she could read his mind. “What game are you playing?”

“You caught me. I’m actually here on a top-secret mission for the Shadow King, with orders to target you. I compelled the Summer Queen to help me get closer to you and I’m using my charms as an incubus to seduce you to the Black for nefarious purposes.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m serious, Gabriel. What makes you want to be here?”

He spun and then dipped her. His mouth came down close to hers. “I’m bored, sweetness, and you’re the perfect cure.” He held her that way for a heartbeat, their lips almost touching. Around them people clapped.

He righted her and she hurried away, returning to Carina’s side to retrieve her drink. She needed that drink, lots of them. Gabriel melted back into the crowd.

“He likes you,” said Carina.

“What? Well, yes, maybe. He likes me in the way he likes all women: as possible fodder for a night in his bed.”

“No, I mean he really likes you. I can see it in his body language. Remember? That’s my magick. I can tell truth from lie when I watch someone move and Gabriel likes you a lot. I would even say, admires you.”

Aislinn’s cheeks heated. “Not possible. I’ve given him nothing to admire. I’ve been awful to him, a total shrew.”

“I don’t know.” Carina shrugged and took a sip of champagne. “I’m just telling you how I see it. He admires something about you and, while he might like them, it’s not your boobs.” She cast a pointed look at Aislinn’s cleavage, which was particularly showy tonight.

Aislinn blew out a hard breath. “No way. The only person that man likes is himself.”

UNDER a sky littered with a million chips of starlight, Gabriel made his way through Piefferburg Square to the dark half, the collar of his shirt loosened and a partly empty champagne bottle in one hand. On the Seelie side all the bright and shining roamed, along with the occasional troop passersby, those fae who belonged to neither court and simply lived as citizens of their fair resettlement area—or prison, as most regarded it.

The middle of the square, where the much-maligned and abused statue of Jules Piefferburg stood, crafted from charmed iron—giving them all an eternal fuck-you with its presence—lay in a twilight area where both the courts almost touched. Here you began to see some of the more monstrous examples of the darker side of Fae.