Authors: Lyla Bardan
“Hey,” Kelsi said in a subdued voice from my bedroom doorway.
“Come on in.”
She sat on the edge of my bed. “So Mom says you’re taking her to see Piran’s art show tonight.”
“Yeah. Want to come too?”
She shook her head. “I’m hanging with Noelle tonight.”
I picked up the remote to the radio-controlled helicopter I’d received for my birthday from Uncle Garrett. It achieved lift-off, but within ten seconds, the helicopter lost altitude and crashed onto my desk. “Arggh, I suck at this.”
Kelsi gave a faint laugh.
I righted the toy and prepared it for takeoff again. This time, the helicopter hovered neatly above my desk. “Here’s an idea,” I told her, manipulating the remote. “Why don’t you get an apartment with Noelle? She lives downtown and goes to Roosevelt University, right?”
“Yeah, so does Tolmin.” Kelsi paused and suddenly flashed me a grin. “Hmm, maybe I could move in with him.”
I concentrated on flying the helicopter over my bed.
“Don’t give me that look.”
“Didn’t know I
giving you a look,” I shot back. The helicopter crashed again.
Kelsi stood and wrapped her arm around me. “Come on, Bay. Lighten up. I was only kidding about living with Tolmin.”
“It isn’t Tolmin. I just . . .” I let out a long breath, my sister’s touch an aching reminder. “I’m gonna miss you no matter what. Whether Mom and Dad move or not, at some point, you know I’ll be moving out for good.”
Kelsi’s big brown eyes wavered. “Yeah,” she replied softly. “I know. My famous bike-racing sister will be touring the world, right?”
She gave me a pensive smile, and I patted the top of her head.
“Oh stop,” she said, scrunching up her face. “Just because you’re a freakin’ giant.”
I grabbed my cell phone and checked the time, then shoved it in my pocket. “I better get going. Did Mom say she was ready?”
She nodded. “Say hi to Piran for me.”
Rubbing my nose, I cleared my throat, averting my gaze. “Um, will do.”
Except I had no intention of doing so. I planned to whisk Mom into the gallery, see the art works, and zip out of there. All the while avoiding Piran
Mom and I entered the art university’s gallery building and followed the signs to a circular lobby. The exhibition rooms led from the lobby like spokes on a wheel, but I guided my mother toward the center, where people milled around a cocktail bar. There we could blend in with the crowd, and hopefully, avoid detection.
She pointed to an entryway marked with Piran’s name, indicating the room containing his work. “Come on, honey.”
I steered her in another direction. “Let’s see the galleries of the other two students’ first.”
We walked into an arc-shaped room. My mother clasped her hands over her mouth. “Will you look at these blown glass pieces?”
Leaning over, I studied a collection of iridescent glass vases and bowls set on a table, some with only a wash of color, others with deep ribbons. “How are these made?”
“Molten glass is gathered from a furnace,” a voice behind me said, “then blown into a bubble, and the bubble is shaped before the glass cools.”
I glanced over my shoulder at a tall, lanky guy in a scruffy T-shirt.
He smiled. “You like my work?”
“It’s beautiful.” I had to stop myself from touching an intricate weave of glass petals.
He thumbed a touchscreen device on the display table. “There’s a short video on here that shows how glass art is created. Take a look. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to track me down.” With a grin, he handed me a photo card, then turned his attention to a well-dressed older couple. “Hello folks. I have a showing in two weeks at the Prescott Art Gallery on Fifth Avenue, where I’ll have some of these pieces available for sale.”
Okay, guess I didn’t look like a buyer of art. Not wanting to be rude and toss his photo card back onto the table, I slipped the card in the back pocket of my jeans. I’d recycle it later.
Glancing around, I found Mom standing in front of a display of old black-and-white photos hung on a wall. Lips pursed in concentration, she had her chin gripped in one hand. I snuck up beside her and mocked both her expression and gesture. Nodding slowly, I hummed, pretending to be deep in thought.
“Oh stop that,” she said with a laugh.
I gave her a quick hug. “Need more time or do you want to move onto the next gallery?”
“No, we can move on,” she replied, rubbing my shoulder, hesitant to let me go. Her dark blue eyes sparkled with warmth I hadn’t seen in weeks.
Arms linked, we exited the exhibition room and wandered among the other art patrons in the lobby. Searching the signs for the next student’s gallery, I stopped cold.
Tolmin stood by himself, head down, hands clenched by his sides.
My mother tugged on my arm. “Here’s the next gallery, honey.”
“Um, you go on in. I need to . . .”
Piran’s friend turned. I ducked my head, dipping into a slight crouch. “I need to use the restroom. Really bad. You go on without me. I’ll catch up with you.”
Without waiting for my mom’s reply, I dashed off in the opposite direction and slipped behind a horde of diva wannabes wearing slinky dresses and painfully high heels. They stared at me as if I’d come from outer space.
“Beautiful show, huh?” I said with a grin, rocking back and forth in my Converses.
Pacing the lobby, Tolmin edged closer. Damn it. If he saw me, he’d tell Piran. I needed a barrier so I could make a break for it. I shuffled along behind the women.
“So, ladies, have you seen the paintings by Piran of Sava? Wow. Breathtaking. You should really go now. Yup, right now. Right over there.”
One woman’s eyes lit up. “Haven’t seen his paintings, but I’ve seen him. Maybe he needs a muse,” she cooed. She smoothed her dress over her slim hips. “Or a model.”
“Isn’t he a bit young even for you, Adele?” asked another woman, raising an eyebrow.
“He’s at least eighteen, right?”
The women laughed.
But instead of forming my needed blockade, the women abruptly dispersed, leaving me exposed. And Tolmin stood only six feet away.
Don’t turn around. Please, don’t turn around.
Heart pounding, I snuck behind a huge Venus sculpture next to a potted tree.
“ . . . my fault,” I heard him say. “I have no idea how—”
“You are the only one who knows!” Piran’s voice blasted from a nearby entryway.
I shrank even further against the thick trunk of the potted tree. The tidal wave of blood rushing through my ears was so loud I swore Piran and Tolmin could hear it.
Should I slink off before they discovered me or hang tight and eavesdrop? If I stayed, would they sense my thoughts? How close was close enough to mind-read?
“When did you last check in with him?” Piran asked.
“One week ago. I said nothing of Bailey to your father. I promise.”
Cold snaked its way through my veins, my feet seemingly rooted to the spot.
Piran frowned. “What did you speak of?”
“The usual.” Tolmin shrugged. “He asked if I was doing my job, keeping you safe.”
My head jerked.
Keeping you safe?
Piran snorted. “Anything else?”
“He asked if you were well.” Tolmin rubbed the back of his neck. “He wanted to know how you spent your time.”
“Tolmin.” Piran’s voice held a note of warning.
“No worry. I shielded my mind.”
Piran placed his hands on his hips. “When my father asked you what I did with my time, did you think about or visualize Bailey?”
There was a pause before Tolmin cleared his throat. “Only for a heartbeat.”
Piran barked something in his native language. From the guttural sound, probably a curse. “So Father does know about Bailey.”
“I forgot how exceptional your father is at reading. He must have seen her in my mind before I could shield my thoughts. But surely, your father did not expect you to refrain from—”
“Stop.” Piran scrubbed a hand over his chin, exhaling loudly. “He arrives.”
I whipped my head around. Several college students were taking selfies by the lobby’s centerpiece. A trio of older women headed for one of the gallery spaces, their heels clacking on the tile floor. A harried-looking mom dragged her two whining kids to the lobby doors. On the other side of the lobby, two older guys in skinny jeans strolled arm-in-arm, before stopping to greet another couple with air kisses.
No one approached us.
Then the air behind Piran shimmered like heat radiating from the pavement on a hot summer day. At first I thought it was a reflection from the glass chandelier that looked like a ginormous sea anemone hanging from the ceiling, but the shimmering waves took on colors—blue, green, and gold. Human shapes flickered in the colored lights.
I hadn’t seen Fae transference since the Revealing, and based on the collective gasps in the lobby, nor had anyone else. And for good reason. Fae transference was illegal.
But totally awesome. Even the whiny kids shut up, their eyes bulging out of their heads.
Four Fae men emerged from the glittery mist. Based on their outlawed method of arrival, I expected them to be dressed in feathered capes and mesh armor. Or maybe traditional Fae leather kilts and crossbows. Certainly not dark business suits.
Piran stepped forward, as did the tallest of the Fae men, the man’s long braid draped over his shoulder. Piran bowed to his knee before him. “Greetings, Father.”
“My son.” The larger man placed his hand on Piran’s shoulder. “Your mother wishes to know how you have been.”
“She is not arriving?”
His father waved a hand as though dismissing Piran’s concern. “Indeed, although she travels by
methods.” The man heaved an overly dramatic sigh. “You know your mother. She does not wish to upset . . .” He frowned. “Others.”
“Mother is correct,” Piran said, crossing his arms.
His father raised an arched brow. “You continue to shun our traditions.”
“This is not the time or the place, Father.”
“This is exactly the time,” his father said with a huff. “You make a habit of disregarding our customs.”
Piran replied in his native tongue, and his father muttered something in return. The other Fae men joined the conversation. From their gestures and gruff voices, they weren’t discussing rainbows and kittens. Fisting his hands, Piran raised his voice over theirs. Tolmin ping-ponged between Piran and the four men, apparently trying to mediate.
I gripped the trunk of the potted tree, the rough bark scraping my skin. A warning tingle crept up my spine. Had his father banned Piran from dating humans? Is that why Piran didn’t want me to meet this father?
A tall, slender Fae woman suddenly captured my attention, her stride long and quick, like Piran’s. Waist-length jeweled hair flowed behind her. The back of her fitted moss green dress flared at the hips, leading to a train of pearlescent fabric draping to the floor.
She paused before the men, and they all bowed to the knee in unison. Piran’s father rose first, and the Fae woman nodded to him, tilting her head deferentially.
Piran stood, leaned over, and kissed her cheek. “Greetings, Mother.”
“I am most excited to see your paintings,” she said, her lilting voice soft and musical. She clasped Piran’s hand in hers. “However, your mind is not only on art, is it, my son?”
I held my breath, my stomach muscles tightening.
Piran cast a sharp glance at Tolmin, who lowered his chin again.
“We should at least meet the girl.” Piran’s father folded his arms across his wide chest. He turned toward my hiding place.
Oh shit. All this time, he’d known I was standing here?
Piran slowly angled his head. Eyes narrowed, he stared past the sculpture directly at me.
Sweat trickled down my back, and my fingernails bit into my palms. No way out of this now. Swallowing hard, I stepped into the open.
With a sigh, Piran gestured for me to come forward. My feet like lead, each step was more torturous than the last until I reached him. Taking my shaking hand in his, he drew me to his side and gently kissed my temple. “Been there long?” he murmured.
“Long enough,” I replied, staring at the ground, feeling the burn of shame in my eyes.
Piran took a deep breath and turned me to face his parents.
“Mother. Father. This is my girlfriend, Bailey Meyers.”
His father studied me, his mouth hard, eyes gray. Definitely disapproving. Hands clasped behind their backs, the other Fae men simply stared though me, their pale eyes giving me the creeps. My knees knocking, I welcomed Piran’s strong arm wrapped around my back.
“Hi,” I said to his parents, trying to focus my scattered brain and remember my manners. “So nice to meet you both.”
I began to extend my right hand, until Piran’s quick squeeze on my waist alerted me, and I dropped my hand like a stone. Phew. Huge mistake averted. The Fae didn’t shake hands.
Covering my nerves with a forced smile, I waited for his parents to say something. Acknowledge my existence. I licked my dry lips, my heart tapping out a staccato rhythm as the seconds ticked by at an agonizing crawl.
Yet Piran’s parents stood ramrod straight, their otherworldly faces as expressionless as Fae statues. The other Fae men didn’t move a muscle either. Nor did Piran or Tolmin.
Had time frozen or something?
A loud grunt from Piran’s father pierced the silence, and I jerked back, inadvertently elbowing Piran in the gut, or um, maybe lower. Piran’s not so quiet
resounded in my ears.
“She does not even know proper decorum!” Piran’s father bellowed, gesturing at me. “Boorish Americans!”
My mouth fell open.
I blinked, not knowing whether to be relieved or not.
Eyes dark, Piran’s father addressed his wife. “She lacks the common decency to curtsy. This is the girl our son adores?”
A lump formed in my throat. Curtsy? I racked my brain, but couldn’t recall curtsying as a Fae greeting. Was a curtsy standard when meeting Fae parents?
“When greeting royalty,” his mother murmured.
“Roy-royalty?” I stammered.
Piran’s father threw back his head and tossed out a bark of laughter. Piran gripped my hip, his body stiffening beside mine.
The mirth on his father’s face vanished as quickly as it erupted. “Why, son?” he demanded harshly. “Why have you not told her?”
My skin suddenly became too sensitive to be touched, and I tugged out of Piran’s embrace. Or maybe I just needed to stand by myself, without his intoxicating scent and physical presence to distract me. I turned and stared at him.
“Told me what?” I asked slowly.
“They are the King and Queen of Sava,” Piran said between clenched teeth, his nostrils flared. “The King and Queen
province in the Fae realm. Do you understand?”
The inside of my mouth felt sticky and my chest hot. I couldn’t tear away my gaze from his swirling gray eyes. “This means . . .”
“My son is Prince Piran of the Sava valley, son of Maribor.” His mother’s lilting voice floated from somewhere off in the distance. As if coming from some magical land. Not the lobby of an arts university in downtown Chicago, where students and patrons milled around gawking.
Prince Piran of the Sava valley. Did the school know? Did the other students?
The realization settled unevenly. I took a step back. He told me his father was a businessman and landowner. Why was I just finding out the truth now?