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The Ring and the Bridle

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Kelly was of course only delighted when Eddie asked her to walk with her around the fair.

She had escaped from Regan’s house around seven that morning. Her stepmother had insisted the family spend a dinner at home together, as they had done when her husband had still been living. Even though Katharine’s charity event had run until eight o’clock and she didn’t arrive back in Orangeblossom until nine. Of course the evening had run even later between wine drinking and Rhona being asked to give a private concert with her harp. She alone had been standing in the kitchen when Kelly had quietly gone down stairs in the morning. She had laid a finger over her lips for the other woman to keep the escape a secret and Rhona had just smiled indulgently at her.

She had a distinct impression she had not been allowed to return home because Katharine had not wanted her to spend the evening with Matthew. She didn’t like the idea the grudge against the Morenos was more than just Eddie’s indiscretion but after Katharine’s drunken comment about a wedding catered by a taco truck, Kelly knew better. It was Regan alone who had urged her to disregard their stepmother’s comments after the woman had gone to bed.

“You’re a grown woman Kel, don’t listen to her. You go and marry whoever you want.” And at first Kelly had felt bolstered by the encouragement until Regan had followed up with mentioning he had invited an old boyfriend of hers to the dance.

“Oh, tell me you didn’t,” Kelly had sighed as she had rubbed her forehead.

“Jai Darzi.” Regan informed her grandly.

“Jai Darzi?” Kelly repeated with a frown. Then the memory hit her, her high school boyfriend, very handsome and gregarious, but too irresponsible to take seriously. “Oh, I…had not thought of him in years.”

She frowned, she almost felt like she had completely forgotten about him until this very moment! How strange!

“Yes well, like you he’s done with school. He’s actually become a partner in his father’s accounting firm. For the last few months he’s actually been working for me of all things. Small world, right?” Regan beamed. Kelly was too flustered to fully form the thought of why he had not told her sooner. The disconcerting feeling remained however that something was wrong in this situation.

“Yeah…” she sighed.

“Anyway, he’s dying to get back in touch with you.”
“Regan.” Kelly closed her eyes in frustration. “I am going to be there with Matthew.”

“And does that mean you’re not allowed to speak to old friends?” Regan leaned forward to pour her another glass of wine. He sat back on the couch they were both sprawled out on. “C’mon Kel, he didn’t strike me as the jealous type.”

“He’s not,” Kelly sighed. She ran her fingers down the fine silver chain to the bauble that always hung around her neck. Regan had given it to her when their mother had died and it was a comfort object. She fondled it absent mindedly, soothed by its curves and edges running beneath her fingertips.

“I just don’t want to complicate things…”

“Heh well, perhaps you would rest easier, knowing he has some interest in Eddie Moreno?” Regan prompted over his wine glass.

“What?” That fact startled Kelly.

“Oh, yes, for a week or two now,” Regan grinned. “Ha, ha, does that make you jealous?”

“Of course not!” Kelly snapped. She had not even thought of Jai in years! What surprised her was that Eddie would even know him. Had Regan introduced them at some point? She couldn’t conceive they would have met on their own. Eddie had no ties to Los Angeles as far as Kelly knew and Regan was Jai’s only tie to this area. She decided to ask no more questions about it however or she would give Regan more to tease her with.

“Doesn’t Eddie have a boyfriend?” Kelly wondered. Though he seemed to be a new addition as Matthew had mentioned meeting him only a day before.

“Seems to be that way, but you know, I doubt it’s anything serious,” Regan mused.

“She’s too young anyway, for anything serious,” Kelly frowned. When she was more sober she should probably question why someone the same age as she would be chasing after an unestablished twenty year old. At that moment she had been content to let her anxiety slide away on the taste of merlot and Regan’s laughter.

Kelly put a hand to her forehead as she recalled the conversation while at Eddie’s side. The girl seemed to be in full spirits at least even if she had apparently fought with her boyfriend the night before. She recalled Regan saying he was a “bad sort” and apparently knew him. Kelly had never seen him. She glanced at the young woman beside her. She would call Eddie pretty certainly with her dark hair, hazel eyes, and a cute little muffin top above her jeans. Nevertheless she knew the girl was shy by nature and she would not have ever imagined her circumspect personality taking on two men at once.

Kelly held her tongue. She was not looking for gossip. Though she was bemused about what exactly was going on in the girl’s personal life, it was not her business to know. She wanted to cultivate a friendship with her future sister-in-law, especially as she was so dear to Matthew. If Eddie wanted to open up to her as a confidante, she could chose to do so, Kelly would not urge her to do it. Right now she wanted nothing more than to make a good impression on the younger woman.

So instead she made small talk about the various exhibits. Kelly knew little about farming and Eddie knew a great deal. Eddie was happy to explain much about horticulture. She was most proud to show off her heifer. She had spent the early morning bathing her to prepare her for the show. She cooed over the calf like she was a pet and Kelly smiled at the tenderness she saw there.

“If she wins first or second she’ll go to a breeder for sure at the auction. Mindy’s bull won first place in his class yesterday and they share the same mother so I’m hoping…” Eddie crossed her fingers.

Kelly nodded, “I noticed though you haven’t entered any of the horse riding events. That’s too bad, they’re usually very fun.”

“Oh, do you ride?” Eddie asked.

“When I was younger, I’m afraid I don’t have the time for it anymore,” Kelly sighed.

“We could go sometime, we have three horses and Tom’s gelding besides,” Eddie mused as she began to lead Kelly out of the barn.

“But you won’t show?” Kelly asked.

“Mm, I guess the thing is, I don’t like performing in front of people. Raising stock is fine because while everyone can see the result of your hard work, you don’t have to show ‘em you doing it. I rather go for a trail ride with a friend than compete in a barrel race for a $100.” She shrugged. Kelly was again struck by Eddie’s discretion and wondered if she really did have as much excitement in her life as Regan had implied.

Perhaps Regan had been pulling her leg after all.

They sat down side by side on the fountain that marked the entrance to the old farmhouse. The roses were in full bloom and a canvas of white and red shielded them from all other eyes. Eddie reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved a bracelet. It was very pretty, Kelly thought, constructed of swirling bands and glass beads. It was costume jewelry surely though Eddie was holding it like it may shatter in her very hand.

“I want to give this to you,” Eddie told her, her eyes looking down with a blush on her cheeks. “The thing about it is, it’s supposed to flash purple when you see your true love. I thought maybe it be a little fun for you and Matt. And he can’t wear it, he get it all full of grease.”

Kelly was touched by the gesture and opened her hand to receive it. It was cool to the touch and gracefully slid around her wrist. “Where did you get such a thing?”

“Old magic shop,” Eddie shrugged. “Like a mood ring I suppose.”

“It’s lovely, I’ll always wear it,” Kelly promised. She had been worried Eddie may be jealous or resentful of her as she had been Matthew’s precious little sister all her life but she was as kind and unselfish as he was. How wonderful if they really could be friends.

For Kelly had to admit, she didn’t have any real friends right now.

They were interrupted by a staggering figure approaching them. It was a young woman with mussed red hair and a partially unbuttoned top with a smear of pink lipstick running from lip to cheek. She beamed through the wild tangle of her hair at Eddie.

“Yo, Eddie.”

“Sarah!” Eddie stood up and went to the other girl. “What happened?”

“A kegger.” She rubbed one eye and noticed Kelly sitting back in shock.

“Morning. You’re Matt’s girl aren’t you?” she asked and Kelly nodded. “I’m Sarah McAllister, party whore extraordinaire.”

Sarah!” Eddie chided. She explained to Kelly, “This is my best friend.”

“…Who probably slept outside last night,” Eddie murmured the afterthought as she looked the bedraggled outfit up and down.

“I did,” the other confirmed grandly.
“What did you do last night?”

“Stan.” She grunted and Eddie frowned.
“Better keep that from Ms. Takahashi, she won’t like it.”

Sarah waved her hand, “just keep this from my Mom all right? Say I was with you last night, oh pretty please?”

Eddie stepped back at the hands folded in a pleading gesture. She glanced at Kelly who was trying to be polite and only smiled nicely at this conversation that confused her greatly. Eddie turned to face her.

“I’m sorry Kelly. I’m going to take Sarah to have several glasses of water. I’ll see you later.”

“Oh, certainly.” Kelly smiled. She remained sitting on the fountain and didn’t stop smiling until Eddie had pushed her friend out of sight. She allowed her face to relax when she was alone and looked down at the bracelet. She had a feeling Eddie had been a little embarrassed to have her hung-over friend suddenly come staggering up after sleeping outside all night, but only a little. Eddie had been far more concerned about the other girl’s wellbeing. Kelly felt a twinge that maybe someone would care for her so.

But, as she always did when she had these sort of thoughts, she felt ungrateful and needy. Hadn’t Regan taken care of her all her life? Wouldn’t he do for her what Eddie was doing for Sarah? There was the idea she would be made to feel guilty if she had ever been so licentious with him, but that too was pushed away in horror. Matthew after all loved her too and as unconditionally as Eddie obviously loved her friend.

Yet she was tormented by the idea if he knew she had these feelings he would stop loving her. It was a deep and searing fear. And that she could not dismiss this feeling scared her even more deeply.

She wondered if the bracelet would actually do as Eddie had promised. It was a novelty, and everyone knew those mood rings were based on body heat instead of emotion. Yet the beads on her wrist remained colorless. Kelly stood and put the hand with the bracelet into her pocket.

She didn’t think about what she may have to confront if the beads remained lifeless even when looking upon her beloved.



For the dance Sarah had chosen to present herself with bright red lips and a handkerchief dress printed with cherries. It made her look even more fierce than usual and with her black stiletto heels she became a monolith of self-assured power. She had pulled up her curls into a mighty pompadour. She looked much brighter after sleeping off her hang-over.

Eddie was always far more subtle about such things. She choose a light gray, cotton dress that hung against her curves and swirled against her thighs with the help of a light petticoat. The belt accentuated her firm waist, making her shoulders and hips, the loci of her physical strength, seem larger. Her short looked longer with heels. Her lips and eyes were made brighter by soft strokes of fierce color. After all she must wear war paint upon a battlefield.

Naoise was waiting outside the barn before the dance as promised. Sarah raised her eyebrows that he was apparently not dressed, without shoes even, and had somehow managed to walk about a mile in a rainstorm given how soaked his hair, top and pants were. Eddie quickly corrected him by giving him a simple dress shirt, jeans, and boots with instructions to change in the bathroom. To distract her friend from this oddity Eddie went to find Jai Darzi. She knew he must be at his master’s beck and call.

She found him standing magnificently by the dessert table, chatting amiably to a man Eddie at first thought was Stan’s father. She realized however there were some differences in the stranger’s facial features from Mr. Ngo. Jai beamed at her when she walked up with Sarah in tow. Jai introduced the man as An Ngo.

“Good evening ladies,” the man nodded at them. Jai introduced Eddie to Mr. Ngo and Eddie introduced Sarah to them both as her best friend and coworker at Takahashi’s café.

“Oh, you work with my nephew then.” Mr. Ngo nodded. “Stan.”

“Oh, really?” Sarah was superb at conveying a lack of concern.

“Do you also work for Mr. Seele?” Eddie asked carefully.

“In that I am a partner at the same firm as Mr. Darzi.” Mr. Ngo smiled. “I have come to spend some time with my brother’s family. And if you would excuse me for the moment…”

He raised a hand in apparent greeting to his nephew, who was flanked by his two younger sisters across the room. Stan had cleaned himself up as well as Sarah had, no trace of field or dirt remained on his body. Unlike her however he blushed when their eyes met. He looked away when Sarah smirked.

Naoise reappeared and stood a few feet back from the group. Jai didn’t even try to meet his gaze, he only continued to sip from his cup, out-right ignoring his arch-nemesis. It was the first time they had seen one another since Naoise had tried to kill him. Eddie excused herself to speak to him.

“Hey, I’m sorry, can I ask you to excuse me for a few minutes?” Naoise glanced at her in confusion. She sighed, “So I can talk to Jai in private?”

The reaction was immediate as Naoise’s brow furrowed and he raised his upper lip.

“He’s one of Regan’s henchmen,” Naoise hissed. “He’s nothing but a frog!”

Jai gasped and reeled back at the insult, well within hearing range as Naoise had raised his voice above Eddie’s whisper. Sarah also looked at the couple. Eddie stepped forward with a glower.

“Yes, I know, but he’s also my friend.” She hissed back. Naoise looked very surprised. It was infinitely satisfying to see his eyes widen and look in confusion at Jai. “And didn’t you tell me you could always find me? If I need help I’ll let you know.”

Naoise scowled and turned around sharply. He didn’t leave however, even when Eddie moved to take Jai’s arm. Sarah loudly excused herself to get some punch. Eddie felt her temper smolder at the kelpie but she pushed the prince away without another word to him.

“Hey are you all right? Did he scare you that much? He can’t hurt you, you know, so long as he’s wearing that bridle,” she patted Jai’s shoulder to reassure him as they began a circuit around the hall. Jai closed his eyes and swallowed.

“Eddie, what did you think he meant when he said ‘frog’?” She blinked at his strange question.

“Oh, I thought he was being a dick, because you know, that story of the frog prince? I thought he was insulting you a little.” She shrugged. Jai exhaled and seemed to compose himself at the answer. Eddie drew her hand away. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh no, not now. Now I feel much better.” Jai sighed. He offered his arm to her and she took it. She let him lead her out into the fields.

“How have you been?” Eddie asked him.

“Worried about you. Regan keeps me updated of course but….” He shrugged. Eddie wasn’t certain if he was implying this was not enough to soothe his anxiety, or Regan was not trustworthy. It was likely a mixture of both. “I had to participate in a large project for my father’s firm and couldn’t get away sooner.”

“Heh, just to go to a dance in some Podunk town?” Eddie grinned. It faded away as he gently touched her chin.

“To see you.” He corrected with his own grin. Eddie felt her cheeks warm and was thankful when he moved his fingers away. “I’m glad to see you boss that kelpie around. Not afraid are you?”

“Ha,” Eddie gave a throaty exhale that was somewhere between a derisive laugh and snort. “He’s playing nice now, because I will give him what he wants.”

Jai frowned at the reminder. “So you really did it.”

Eddie smiled, “are you disgusted with me?”

“No. You did what you thought was best. You can stand-up to him without fear.” Jai returned her smile. “You did what I asked.”

Eddie gave a grateful sigh, a release of fear upon breath. She sat down on a boulder and invited Jai to do the same. Before them was the rolling green of the surrounding field and the only sound the babble of the creek. For a second they were the only two creatures alive.

“But…does that mean, you have a date for tonight?” It was in a teasing tone but Eddie had a feeling the prince was being earnest. She hesitated before she answered.

“Yes,” it was the final truth.

“Hm, is he the jealous type?” Teasing again but with that same pitched undertone.

“I have no idea,” Eddie confessed. Naoise had never commented on her relationship with the prince. He hadn’t seemed to dislike him as a rival but on some instinctual level. It was another example of his esoteric thinking; people were their roles and roles were people. Jai had never seemed to be more than an enemy to Naoise because he could be nothing else.

“But that doesn’t matter,” Eddie sighed. “You know I made that pact with him. We’re ‘engaged’ now I suppose and I must go through with my promise.”

She grimaced, “If I don’t…he won’t trust me anymore. And this pact has been working far better than anything else has.”

“And you can’t just leave him at home, can you?” Jai asked softly.

“No,” There was the unspoken idea Jai could be the ally instead, but Eddie would not ask him to do something that endangered him. She, in short, needed Naoise and needed him to be on her side.

“Well may I have a dance then?” Jai reached for her hand and she gave it. He kissed it softly.

“Sure,” she smiled. As he let go however she gave a small frown. “Kelly will be here with Matthew you know.”

“I know, but you can also know I have no orders to interfere with them.” Jai reassured her. Eddie smiled, but knew probably the rest of Regan’s ‘henchmen’ had no such orders. The idea brought Rhona to mind. She had a feeling however the one to ask about the selkie was Naoise.

“Jai, you don’t have a date tonight, right?” Eddie asked as they walked back inside. He tensed at the question but smiled easily.

“I suppose I forgot to get one!” He laughed. He nonchalantly poured himself a glass of punch. Sarah blinked at them both as she remained in her fortress of solitude that was far away from the sulking faerie. Eddie eagerly reinstated her friend into the conversation by taking her arm and leading her towards the prince as he continued to speak. “After all I had hoped you would be free…”

Eddie didn’t let him complete his line of thought. She pushed Sarah forward. “Sarah is also single, and I think you’ll have a great time together.”

Sarah tensed in surprise, but as he looked the prince up and down in his clean cut suit and into his handsome face, she apparently had no objections. Jai looked chagrined at the prospect, but as Eddie had thought, he was going to avoid offending her. He offered his hand to Sarah who readily took it.

“It would be my pleasure to escort you this evening.” He told Sarah and kissed her hand. She only smiled slyly, Eddie knew that while Sarah appreciated Jai’s beauty, she was far too experienced to be wooed by his charm alone. But after all, what woman would not enjoy a night with a true prince?

“But, Eddie that dance?” Jai asked as she started to move away.

Eddie beamed at Jai to reassure him she had not forgotten his request. Though hopefully Sarah would keep him distracted. Having the prince preoccupied would hopefully help achieve her aim of the night; inviting the Regan’s selkie into sabotage.

Naoise found her after she had slipped back into the crowd and had made her way to the opposite end of the hall. The stalls had been removed long ago to make for a wide and long hall, though hay bales were the offered seating. At the far end a stage had been raised below the still remaining hay loft. The music was provided by a DJ perched on the stage.

There was a tense moment between them. Eddie met Naoise’s gaze with a frown that warned him to not reprise their earlier conversation. The kelpie softly snorted and apparently tried another tactic.

“You look….different.” Was Naoise’s candid observation. Eddie repressed a sigh. Upon seeing that he elaborated, “You are always beautiful to me but now…it’s different.”

She felt her cheeks warm, she had not been expecting him to say that. Though she had no idea what he meant by “beauty” as Naoise didn’t ever seem overly concerned with outward appearances. And his observation may not have been flattery at all.

“Well, we match.” She took his arm. “You look very different in a nice shirt.”

Somehow it made him even more graceful and sleek. Though she supposed as fae he likely could wear sackcloth and still look like a million dollars. With Naoise’s haunting charm she doubted anyone even notice the frayed sleeves. From across the room she could see Jai had ditched his jacket as he joined Sarah in the first line dance of the evening.

“Okay, reconnaissance.” Eddie mused as she pulled Naoise into a corner. Once there, safely tucked away behind a few hay bales, she asked, “Is Regan here?”

“Yes, but he is outside I believe,” Naoise answered.

“Is Rhona with him?” Eddie asked. Naoise closed his eyes and raised his head. Eddie realized he was smelling for something. At last he answered, “Aye.”

“Okay. What I need is at some point to talk to her.” Eddie slammed her fist upon her other open palm.

Naoise frowned, “why?”

“The way I got this figured, Regan expects us to use force. I mean you’re not subtle at all.” Eddie explained. Naoise pursed his lips but didn’t comment on the assessment of his abilities. “But what he wouldn’t expect us to do is to just ask for it.”

“You’re going to ask her for the ring?” Naoise asked incredulously.

“Yeah! Regan never see it coming!” Eddie nodded. “But I’m also going to sweeten the deal, if she gives me the ring I’ll give her the pelt back.”

Naoise’s expression remained unimpressed.

“If she hasn’t found it on her own yet it is very well hidden,” he pointed out.

“Yeah but I asked Yusuf to find it and he’s a jinn. So he shouldn’t be so affected by fae magic, right?” Eddie countered. Naoise looked bemused at the prospect but before he could answer they were interrupted.

“Brother! And his future bride!” Dougal greeted them both. He put his arms around both of their shoulders and drew them to him in a gentle hug. Eddie shivered that his skin was as cold as the other kelpie’s, though the Via Verde ran a little warmer than Lake Santos. She looked down at his bare feet and sighed, he was dressed in his usual attire. Dougal didn’t even try to assume a human façade, he forever remained an ethereal visitor to humanity, and would never be more.

She cringed to hear herself addressed as “bride”. Dougal felt her tremble and smirked. He gently ducked her chin, a small gesture of comfort in that he felt confident in her.

“You came to the dance?” Eddie asked. She supposed she shouldn’t feel too surprised however, Dougal seemed to enjoy interacting with humans. He probably took her acquaintance as an invitation to socialize.

“Aye. By my river has walked every day, for some time now, a young man. I smell the blood of a dragon within him.” He grinned and he let them both go. Eddie frowned, she doubted that was his sole reason for coming here.

“Will Mr. MacGregor be here then?” She asked.

“Ulysses? Nay, I think he’s out for the evening so to speak. That fire spirit however,” he leaned down to peer into Eddie’s face and lowered his voice, “has another engagement, I believe.”

Eddie felt her mouth open, so he was keeping tabs on all this. She was uncertain of his motives. Was it because he saw it as protecting Naoise? Or was it just for fun? Dougal didn’t seem to be a particularly vindictive or spiteful creature. Even with an ambiguous goal, Eddie felt more inclined to trust him as he had always spoken the truth to her.

“Dougal,” Naoise prompted his attention. The other kelpie turned to him with a grin. Naoise narrowed his eyes. “That ring was by your magic. Does the selkie have it with her?”

For the first time Eddie realized this was why Naoise had said he could always find her. It was not because he had tasted her blood, but because she had tasted his, and the magic within it. His magic was the link between them. She shivered, but her troubled expression wasn’t seen by either of the fae.

“Och! Still after that are we?” He cried. Naoise gave Dougal an almost disgusted look Eddie couldn’t quite comprehend. Dougal however responded to it with a loud sigh.

“Hmmmm, well I can confirm it is outside, and the custodian is a fae of some sort,” Dougal mused as he brushed a few strands of damp hair out of his face. As he glanced back his eye caught something. “But excuse me.”

He stepped away to get two glasses of punch. Eddie exhaled, and extended her arms with the thought, he literally swims in my blood. Naoise at last noticed her perturbed look.

“Are you all right?” Eddie shook her head as Dougal approached Stan of all people.

“M’fine,” she sighed and waved it off. She glanced back at him however.

“Just now, were you angry at Dougal? About the ring?”

His mouth tensed in an uncomfortable look. He had apparently not expected her to notice.

“You should not think Dougal is so nice.” He sighed.

She blinked, “why?”

“Because he gave you that ring with ill intentions, however he may feel now.” Naoise furrowed his brow. Eddie stared at him for a few seconds, trying to fathom what he was telling her. She at last looked away and couldn’t stop the bitter expression that came over her face.

“Well, it’s the same for you, isn’t it?” she hated the truth sometimes. Naoise didn’t argue this with her. He knew it too. She briefly saw a conflicted expression on his face before he turned away. They stood in an uncomfortable silence for a few seconds, perhaps each re-assessing their desire to continue this alliance.

“Would you dance?” He offered his hand. At her confused look at the change of subject he added, “It would be a convenient way to look at everyone in the room. I suspect that familiar is wearing a human body.”

“Oh, yes.” Eddie gave her hand. The next dance was to be a square dance, and perhaps like her Naoise would be apt enough to simply follow the flow of the dance as one must with group dances. She stood across from him and wondered if, with her blood in his veins, he had gained some vulnerability. She curtseyed at the start of the dance and he followed the other men in bowing. As they turned around each other she looked across the room. Regan had appeared, tucked into a corner with Rhona at his side. The selkie watched the gale of activity around her with her usual detached expression, Regan talked to Stan’s uncle.

To her surprise she saw Stan across the way, hands linked with Dougal’s. The kelpie was grinning at him and Stan was only nodding at the words. Eddie sighed, well of all people Stan would not be the one to be snared by a faerie, she still remembered his mockery of the prince. A handsome devil was likely to have about the same amount of effect.

Sarah for her turn seemed to be enjoying her time with Jai, apparently loudly joking with him. She slapped his back when he missed a step as the dance lead from do-si-do to pairs again.

“The familiar is the stout blond man, dressed in uniform,” Naoise informed her. She followed his glance to the edge of the dance floor. It was strange, though she had never seen the police officer before, she had not thought to question his presence. Apparently the citizens he was speaking to were not questioning him either despite his badge clearly stating he was from the tri-city PD. She felt her ire rise, and how often had Regan used this little trick?

After the dance had ended Dougal walked up to them.

“Stan told me he was a friend of yours, you should have introduced us!” he teasingly scolded Eddie.

“Ah but if he knew that Naoise was your brother he may not have let you talk to him,” Eddie countered and Dougal stepped away with a whooping laugh. Eddie sighed at the puddles he left across the dance floor. That no one else had noticed or had slipped must be more enchantment.

Jai came up with Sarah in tow.

“May I have the next dance?” he asked.

“Ah, sure.” She could think of no reason to refuse even as she felt Naoise tense at her side. He wisely kept his mouth shut however.

“Ah, well, perhaps you could dance with Sarah,” Jai suggested with some amusement at Naoise’s flummoxed expression.

“Oh no”, Sarah said flat-out but didn’t complete her thought as Gwen Seele walked up in a pink chiffon dress that was far too couture for the gathering. So Katharine the Great had at last come.

“I’ll dance with you, Naoise.” Eddie glanced to find Regan in the crowd. He was still in the corner, now also speaking to Stan’s father. He made eye contact with her, smiled, and seemed to have no concern whatsoever his younger sister was inches near to a man-eater. Eddie remembered the knife, and how even now it was strapped to her thigh.

“Gwen, I…” Eddie struggle for an excuse to give that wouldn’t insult or upset the girl. Gwen tilted her head in challenge.

“Oh, let the bossy boobs have a turn on the floor.” Sarah pushed Gwen at Naoise and he passively took ahold of one of her arms.

“Hey!” Gwen snapped.

“Fantasy will be over, won’t it?” Sarah smirked at Naoise. She stepped away as Eddie stepped forward. Jai put a hand on her shoulder and whispered in her ear.

“Regan is watching. If you can’t be trusted to control Naoise in public he’ll have more reason to take him from you.” Eddie glanced back at him and when she looked forward Gwen was already pulling Naoise onto the floor. He looked back at her and she frantically tried to give him a look that indicated his life would be in danger if he harmed the girl. And that most of all, she didn’t want that confrontation. He looked away from her anxiety and kept his back turned to her. Eddie inhaled as Jai took her hand. She had not only the bridle but the knife.

So why did she feel so helpless?

Jai gently nudged her into position for the couple’s dance, one hand on her waist, her one hand trembling on his shoulder, and their two hands folded tightly together by her grip. He smiled so kindly at her, it always broke her heart to see the bow of his lips.

“Between the two of us, he’ll always have an eye on him,” he reassured her. She nodded and bowed her head as she nearly wept in realization. The only reason they were together was because of Naoise and Regan, and their endless struggle. It was why he had asked her to dance, so Naoise would have to be left alone. It was so she could be tested once again. She faltered on a turn as she realized Regan needed her and Naoise apart because they were too strong together. As Jai’s hand touched her back she knew even though the prince genuinely cared about her, his and her desires were not the same.

They could never stand together. So long as things remained the way they were they could never be together. And that could not be changed, Eddie had already made her choice. A choice she could never renege.

Eddie smiled at him as he led her in the great circle around the floor. She wanted to smile as brightly at him as he always had her. It was the smile of hope. It was the smile of a person without fear. He absorbed that gentle light, not knowing that to be the person he had asked her to be, she must stand apart from him.

The dance ended and Eddie curtsied in the same gratitude present in her partner’s bow. She had not looked at the faerie once. She had placed all of her hopes and fears upon him, and that burden was meaningless if she must watch him bear it. Jai reached for her again.

“Care to dance again?” he asked. She stepped back and shook her head.

“No, I’m sorry.” She said softly. Jai’s eyebrows raised.

“Why not, if I may ask?”

She smiled sorrowfully. “Naoise is my fiancé, I can’t ignore him the whole night.”

Jai looked surprised and then troubled by the statement. “Is that really how you feel about it? That you have an obligation to him?”

“Yes. I agreed to the engagement. It is the promise I made him.” She paused as Gwen Seele walked by in a fury. She glanced back and found Naoise standing docilely off to the side of the dance floor. He was patiently waiting for her. She turned her back on Jai to spare herself any look of disgust. She walked back to Naoise with her head held high. He was after all her choice.

“Do you want to dance again?” he asked. Eddie shook her head. She made her way towards the bales of hay and sat down.

“I want to rest.” She sighed. The weight of the dagger had suddenly become a terrible burden. Naoise sat beside her and for the first time gently rested his hand on her opposite shoulder. He did not draw her close or down, he simply held her up.

“Eddie are you…” she glanced at him and the words seemed to die on his tongue. He looked away. “Never mind.”

She sighed and took off her shoes. “These heels are killing me.”

“Ah. Leave them off. I can see no use for such things.” Naoise grunted and for the first time Eddie realized he was indeed not wearing any shoes. She laughed at the sight of his bare toes that were rapidly accumulating a puddle beneath them.

“What?” he frowned and she shook her head. What had become of the boots? The thread-worn socks she had bought him?

“I’m sorry.” She told him. He raised an eyebrow at her. “That I became so worried about leaving you alone with Gwen. But why was she angry at you? You didn’t insult her did you?”

“I didn’t enchant her.” He informed her. “I let her see how uninterested I was, and that I am not a skilled dancer.”

He shrugged, “apparently she was angry the fantasy ended.”

Eddie sighed and repressed the sudden urge to kiss his cheek or embrace him again in gratitude. With her loved ones she was naturally affectionate, but she wasn’t quite sure where this urge arose with Naoise. It was unbidden, and specious when they couldn’t trust each other. She did however let her cheek rest against his and let him hold her closer.

It was not a reward. It was a gesture of gratitude. She deluded herself into thinking it was nothing more.

Sarah put her tongue between her lips and blew against it as she watched the prince storm off the dance floor. Apparently he didn’t take rejection very well. He took no notice of her but she had intended to have some privacy by retreating to the small banquet room that had probably once been a birthing stall. She had stayed only to watch the dance end, and now she meant to mosey her way through the exit of the room to the outside for a little break.

She fumbled in her purse and sighed at the thought of Jai Darzi. Even princes were little boys apparently. She knew his boner had been for Eddie but he had been polite and gracious to Sarah and that was a rare enough quality that she liked him from the moment she met him. She would have helped him get with her best friend if she hadn’t seen his little snit. In that moment he hadn’t been much better than cantankerous Naoise.

Though Sarah couldn’t understand the attraction there either. Oh, there was the sexual tension, she supposed Eddie and Naoise had yet to have a good angry fuck. Unlike most of these sorts of situations however the sexual act would not be the finale of the relationship. Sarah sensed something running far more deeply and it confused her. It was not love. Not on Eddie’s part anyway. She envisioned their relationship as Naoise struggling to peer over a very tall wall with Eddie on the other side with her back turned to him. What Sarah didn’t know however if the wall needed to be torn down or it was what was holding them together.

She twirled the cigarette between her fingers as her eyes fell on Stan in a corner with a man Sarah suspected must be Naoise’s brother. Except this man was loud, boisterous, and fun. He oozed charm from every pore and the boy was his chosen prey of the evening. She sighed, and why must the delightful men be gay? Or bi and smitten with a member of the same sex.

“Motherfuckin’ Stan,” she chortled as she placed the cigarette in her mouth. That boy sure got around. She was proud of him. She started to sashay towards the exit when someone suddenly bolted through the door. Sarah instinctively eased back into a dark corner.

She remained there when she realized it was Gwen Seele by her pink dress and the roses in her hair. The girl was not crying but she was standing in the dark with trembling shoulders. Sarah’s eyes traveled down and she saw Gwen’s fists were clenched. So Miss Teen Priss 2014 was trying to not have an emotional break-down in front of everyone.

No, Sarah realized as Gwen lifted her head. It was to avoid her mother and older brother, wasn’t it? The fuck did she care about the rest of them? Sarah smiled as their eyes met. Gwen sucked in air between her teeth in a suppressed snarl. Sarah’s grin grew wilder and Gwen bared her teeth.

“Are you laughing at me?” Gwen hissed.

“Well, yeah,” Sarah rocked back on her heels. “Because it’s like I said isn’t it? The fantasy is over.”

Gwen tensed at the observation. God had this girl never been wrong before? Sarah shook he head in a matronly manner. “That’s what you got to learn about people like that Naoise. They look all pretty but when you get close to ‘em they’re no more special than you or me.”

“I don’t need you to lecture me!” Gwen angrily snapped. She turned on her heel to storm back out but Sarah caught her wrist. “Let go!”

“You go back out there a mess and your mom is going to eat you alive I bet.” Gwen’s gasp was confirmation enough. Wasn’t it so sickening to look into the mirror sometimes? Sarah sighed as she towed the girl along and opened the exit door. The night air was breath taking.

“Because, mine do the same to me,” Sarah frowned as Gwen landed against a cottonwood tree, her satin heels clotted with dirt and her face streaked by tears. She looked grotesque in the moonlight, her mascara was running in thick streams, her mouth was an angry pink smudge, and her foundation had been hammered away by tears and snot. It was the most real expression Sarah had seen on the girl’s face, and she couldn’t help but to cup it in one hand.

“Dance with me.” Sarah told Gwen.

“What?” Gwen blinked with thick and clotted eyelashes.

“Get your mind off things,” Sarah put her hands on Gwen’s waist. The other girl hesitantly put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder and held up the other to be taken. Sarah snorted at her.

“No, we’re not doing shitty ballroom dancing! Just!” Sarah moved Gwen’s hands to rest on her shoulder. She lifted her away from the tree. “Dancing.”

They moved, in the dark and together. Gwen sniffed as she slowly traced Sarah’s steps with her own.

“This is not…to the beat of the music,” Gwen observed as she avoided Sarah’s eyes.

“I’m not listening to that,” Sarah lifted her head and ignored the furious reel leaking from the windows. She was listening instead to the wind rustling through the leaves, the sound of her heart and Gwen’s breathing. It was slow, deliberate, and engulfing.

“Just let me lead you,” Sarah asked and Gwen consented by following her steps wherever she moved. It was all peace and comfort until they were interrupted by the sound of laughter a few minutes later. Gwen dropped her hands too late. Her older sister saw her standing near to Sarah as she crested the small ridge before the barn. Kelly’s smile didn’t fade but her eyebrows raised in question. Sarah couldn’t help but to snort gently at the other woman’s mussed hair and wrinkled skirt, or how her boyfriend was quickly buttoning up his shirt. Matthew nodded at them both as he dropped an arm over Kelly’s shoulders.

“Oh, Gwen honey are you…?” Kelly frowned as she saw Gwen’s ruined make-up.

“I’m fine.” Gwen swallowed.

“I’m taking care of her.” Sarah reassured the fretting sibling. God, was Kelly really the only one that cared that much about the youngest Seele? Matthew leaned down and whispered something in Kelly’s ear that made her smile. Sarah chuckled, whatever it was it seemed to relieve Kelly of worry at the thought of the “party whore extraordinaire” taking care of her younger sister.

“All right.” Kelly patted Gwen’s shoulder. “But try to come in about midnight, okay? Matty and I have an announcement to make.”

“Okay! You and Matty have fun then!” Sarah trilled to save Gwen further embarrassment. Matthew rolled his eyes at her but led Kelly forward in pleasure. When they had gone inside Sarah patted Gwen’s back.

“Did you see? Did you see? He proposed and she said yes!” she grinned.

“That’s not what she said,” Gwen frowned.

“What else do they have to say to the entire town? ‘We just had a good fuck by the river’?” Sarah snorted and Gwen gasped in disgust at her. Sarah raised an eyebrow at her. “Want to bet?”

“No.” Gwen raised her chin. “That seems rather uncouth to me.”

“You just know you’ll lose,” Sarah crowed. Gwen glared at her and Sarah tried to get into her good graces again. “Anyway this will surely make your mom forget all about you!”

Sarah bit her tongue at how her words sounded even without Gwen turning down the corners of her mouth. “I’m sorry, that’s not what I wanted to say—“

“It is, because it’s the truth,” Gwen sighed and put her hands on Sarah’s hips. “I’ll lead this time.”

Sarah sighed and let the girl lead her across the balmy and treacherous night. She would remember the feeling of those small hands on her hip bones for a very long time.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Gwen whispered after about an hour of silence. No, only an hour of music only they could hear.

“Because I’m human I suppose,” Sarah sighed. “And so are you.”

What else could she say to explain it? And Gwen was content with the answer and laid her head on Sarah’s shoulder as she forgot everything else. Who they were. Where they were. And what midnight would bring.

It was only as the dance began to ebb instead of flow that Eddie managed to spot an opportunity to speak to the selkie alone. It was growing close to midnight when Rhona took the stage with her harp.

The faux police officer was still making his rounds around the crowd even as it shrank in size. Parents took their children home and the elderly shuffled on their way. He smirked at Naoise every time he passed but he dared not make conversation with the woman at the kelpie’s side. To Eddie’s chagrin Jai had apparently left after the third dance, leaving the familiar to be Regan’s only set of eyes on the floor. The enchanter had appeared totally unaffected the entire evening, not even once looking his adversary in the face. Eddie knew this was not because she had proved her control over the monster at her side.

She had spent her evening in Naoise’s company. Matt was with Kelly and Eddie was not sure where Sarah had gone. She had disappeared when Gwen did. She sent her friend a text message but received no reply. She amused herself at some points with watching Dougal earnestly court Stan all evening. Stan bore his compliments and admiration graciously and listened to the faerie’s stories with polite skepticism. He wisely stayed with the crowd and didn’t let his suitor lead him astray. He lingered on however when his family went home, including his uncle.

Eddie and Naoise had behaved much like any couple, they danced when the music gave them the urge and spent time in-between in light conversation. They watched the familiar and Regan but neither one gave them much excitement. Rhona alone became the focus of Eddie’s attention. The selkie remained either totally unaware of her attention or ignored her outright. Though she passively smiled the entire evening there was never any warmth or invite in it.

Eddie was determined to approach her anyway. When she saw her chance she rose to her feet. Rhona was to play for the last dance of the evening; the only waltz. Her reel was timorous and mournful.

As Naoise took her into his arms Eddie wondered if the song that accompanied it was not of the fae woman’s own composition. It seemed to coax them both into the whirlpool of the dance with its pleading cry. Eddie wondered if her voice was so melodious due to her being fae. The raking of Rhona’s long and lovely fingers and her obscured face spoke far more than even her words had of her sorrow and rage. She stopped before her fingers opened in blood, letting the last note bleed out where she could not.

“Naoise! Distract Regan!” Eddie moved as Rhona stood to leave the stage, ignoring the applause of the crowd. The kelpie gave no confirmation save for a sudden hissing overhead. The fire sprinklers roared with life and doused the crowd with their furious gushing of water. People screamed and someone shouted for the main waterline to be found and shut off. In the drenched chaos Eddie leapt up onto the stage. She moved into Rhona’s path of retreat.

"Rhona, hhhiiiii," Eddie greeted with a large grin as she walked up to the fae. The selkie blinked her large eyes as water trickled down between them and ran down her wide lips. Eddie tried not to cringe at her own attempt at being gregarious. "I'm Edith Moreno, Matthew's sister, and, can I talk to you for a moment?"

Rhona side-eyed her but nodded. In the background people yelled for someone to find a wrench when the main spigot had been found. Eddie dared to not look for Regan, she could only trust Naoise had managed to get him involved with the struggle to shut off the sprinklers.

She hesitated on how to begin and looked at the woman before her who was not a woman at all. Rhona's profile, full and voluptuous, did suddenly recall a seal to Eddie; roly-poly and adorable. Yet Rhona's large dark eyes were not filled with mischievousness, but a sort of dull longing as she looked through her and to the world beyond. Not even being drenched in cold water seemed to rouse any true feeling in her.

"You're here about the ring." Rhona prompted when she perhaps became tired of Eddie staring at her. Eddie flinched in surprise.

"Ah, yes." She put her hands around her chest as the water from overhead gushed down to her bones. "Can I ask you to give it to me?"

Rhona looked at her in surprise. Eddie tried to rephrase the question. "Will you give it to me, please?"

"Why should I?" Rhona asked softly but with a certain harsh note that Eddie almost recoiled from.

"Well, ah…" Eddie hesitated. She realized she had not really thought this out at all.

"So you can usurp Regan's intentions?" Rhona asked and Eddie held up her hands only at this onslaught of truth. The selkie shook her head. "You do best to just hand that kelpie over to Regan."

"No! What? How can you possibly think that is better when—" Eddie stopped herself.

"Why would you interfere with an act of revenge? Naoise of Lake Santos' pride was the source of his mother's downfall.” Rhona narrowed her eyes.

"Because this isn't about Regan! If he wants to fuck about with Naoise he very well can after our agreement is over! I've told him as much!" Rhona stepped back at the force of Eddie's words. Eddie exhaled and tried to calm herself. "Please. That ring was a gift to me. It's not Regan's to have."

"You carry his blood in your veins, I can smell it." Rhona laid her hand over her bosom as Eddie felt her stomach churn. Did she have the scent of death upon her then? "I would not see another innocent woman destroyed by him."

"By my own choice!" Eddie snapped. Rhona’s lips turned sharply down.

"Would you have him kill me for this ring?"

"No! That ring…it's not worth bloodshed to me.” Eddie bowed her head. Rhona was silent for a long moment before she spoke again.

"I will say this to you Edith Moreno, give him to Regan, and free yourself of this burden. You may think you are acting in mercy but not only does Naoise of Lake Santos have no concept of it, you'll only cause more suffering if you don't."

"I'm not going to argue with you, my mind is made up." Eddie looked up and opened her hand. "Will you give me that ring?"

Rhona looked at her palm and turned away. The rain stopped. Eddie grasped her elbow in a desperate plea.

"Okay. You faeries like trades right? What if I get you your pelt back? You give me the ring then wouldn't you?"

Rhona gave her a flat and incredulous look.

"You would right?" Eddie asked again shrilly.

"No one can find it." Rhona jerked her elbow away and walked down into the flood. She waded towards her distant captor who was twirling the wrench around in his fingers, and giving Naoise an unamused look.

"I will! And we'll trade then!" Eddie insisted, certain that the selkie would be unable to resist her pelt when she had looked away with such a forlorn expression. She had looked towards the sea. It felt cruel to dangle such a prize before someone so hopeless, but at the thought of losing the ring forever her heart hardened. She wasn’t going to let Regan win!

Her eyes met Regan's as Naoise stepped back to allow Rhona to take the arm of the one who had hidden her freedom from her. Eddie wrapped her arms around herself locked eyes with her opponent. How did Rhona truly see this man? Would she betray Eddie to him, or only play her assigned part? Or could Regan see her deceit in her disgusted expression? Regan's eyebrows rose in amusement or questioning. Eddie looked away in loathing.

I feared becoming like Naoise, but is it you I resemble?
She covered her mouth until Naoise's bare feet came into view. She looked up at him, but before she could speak she felt another hand on her shoulder.

“Matt!” she gasped. Kelly stood behind him, looking radiant in a soaked dress. Her bracelet was warmly glowing lavender.

“Stay here just a second,” he asked. He fumbled with the microphone but found it apparently ruined by the rain or Naoise’s magic. He frowned and stepped up to the edge of the stage.

“Hey everyone? Could you stay just a bit longer?” He said as loudly as he could. The march outside paused and turned back towards him. Eddie at last found Sarah, curiously dry and near the also dry Gwen Seele. The younger girl’s mascara and lipstick were smeared. Eddie gave her friend a questioning glance but she only merrily shrugged. Regan drifted nearer to the stage and Dougal pulled Stan to stand up front. Matthew couldn’t contain his excitement, his grin and the tender way he held Kelly’s hand said more than even his words. The ring upon Kelly’s finger glowed red in the light of the lamps above.

“Kelly and I are engaged to be married!” The gasp from the far flung Katharine the Great and whatever Sarah said to Gwen was lost in the resounding cheers of the crowd. Matthew raised his hands to try to get some quiet for his next announcement.

“We invite you all to the engagement party.” Matthew added and at this Regan appeared on stage.

“Which I am happy to host at my own home.” He patted Matthew’s shoulder as the other man looked at him in surprise. Regan inclined his head as Kelly stepped up to him.

“Oh you don’t have to—“

“Nonsense. For you I would do anything.” Regan kissed her hand as he beamed at the crowd. “Let me be the first Seele to welcome the Morenos into our family.”

His eyes fell on the gushing Mindy and La-La. Tom was nodding in satisfaction. He ignored the glower of his stepmother and his younger sister’s crestfallen expression. Eddie would not meet his eyes when he looked back at her. He went on to announce the date as two weeks from the present. Released from her reverie Eddie walked down the stage with Naoise behind.

“Will it be a double ceremony?” Dougal greeted them first with Stan in tow. Matthew came down in time to hear it. When the kelpie saw his expression he laughed.

“Och don’t make such an angry face Big Brother! I am only teasing! I know you’d never allow it!” He laughed and Stan seemed to recoil in second hand embarrassment. Matthew shook his head and joined Kelly and Regan who were speaking to the very excited Mindy and La-La, the group bordered on one side by Katharine Seele.

“I think it’s time to go home. We’re all soaked,” Stan quietly pointed out. Gwen walked past to join her family and Sarah followed behind. Eddie wondered again if they were together but when they separated she saw no longing in her friend’s form.

“Shall I walk you home?” Dougal offered his arm. Stan hesitated and Sarah stepped up to assist him.

“Walk us both home. Both of my dates skipped out on me, let me end the evening with two handsome men on my arms,” Sarah sighed. Stan looked a little grateful and Dougal looked amused at both of his companions.

“Both?” Eddie asked softly. Sarah smirked and shook her head at her. Stan and Dougal did as asked and they walked out into the night, two of them leaving puddles in their wake.

Eddie and Naoise were left alone. Eddie looked back at him and shrugged. “I guess it’s time to be off.”

He nodded and Eddie excused herself to her family. Mindy and Katharine were already in a tense discussion about catering versus potluck. Matthew expressed a desire she wait for him to take her home before he and Kelly went on to Regan’s for an after-celebration. Eddie shook her head. She knew she needed to speak to Naoise alone.

They walked out into the night. When they had reached past all light from the barn, when only the light of the moon and stars gave any form to the landscape around them, along the banks of the creek, Naoise paused.

“Let me carry you.” He said.

“Oh that’s…not necessary,” Eddie shook her head.

“It will take much longer to walk.” He pointed out. Eddie mused over it. With Sarah gone she no longer had a ride. She looked up at Naoise’s hopeful face, and perhaps after being human for so long he wished to be something far simpler.

“All right.” Eddie carefully tied up her skirt. She made certain the dagger would remain hidden on her thigh by tying the front of it and leaving the petticoat down. It gave her room to spread her thighs, and thankfully no one save the faerie would see her. His transformation was as easy as the flow of the water and he followed it as her steed.

He moved far too quickly as a horse for her to speak. All conversation had to wait until he was no longer thundering across the countryside. For his gallop always stole her breath and made her life pool around her thighs as she clung tightly to him. She could only lay her head against his neck and watch the river wind and unwind across the fading night.

Her hands ached when he made the final leap across the back fence of the property. They felt cold and dead until life returned to the rest of her body when her feet touched the ground again. She quickly untied the knot and let the dress gather around her knees. She dropped onto the ground, legs beneath her. She only wanted to catch her breath. Naoise knelt before her.

“Are you going to take me home?” she asked softly. He had brought her to the bank of the small pond on the range that had nearly became her entrance into Faerie.

“If that is what you wish,” he said softly. “But don’t we have to discuss the selkie?”

Eddie frowned, “is something out there again? The familiar?”

“No it is not him.” Naoise frowned. He raised his head. “I am not sure what it is, it is far more developed than that imp. It is another fae probably but they are staying just far enough away that I cannot fully discern their location. If we stay near the pond however I can conjure a ward.”

“And you prefer that to the house, wouldn’t you?” Eddie smiled. He gave her a glance and she recalled that days she had made him spend in the barn. Had that been torturous for him? No wonder he had lashed out at her like he had. He said nothing however, he only closed his eyes as he worked magic Eddie could not see or discern.

The desert ass appeared at the tree line. Had this been the spirit Naoise had sensed? As it came near she noticed it had cloven hooves. It could only be Yusuf, and his transformation was as seamless as that of the kelpie to man.

“Wait, before you do so!” He quickly walked up to them, his amber eyes two bright lights in the night. The kelpie snorted but apparently paused in his weaving until the jinn came to rest near them.

“I have been unable to find a way into Regan’s home. It is well protected.” Yusuf informed Eddie when it was safe to speak. She nodded, so he had been staking out Regan’s home this night, as Dougal had told her.

“I have however been able to study the wards and charms he used,” Yusuf continued. “His greatest protection is converged on the upper floor of the home. He has something up there he wants well protected.”

“It has to be the pelt.” Eddie provided and Yusuf nodded at her.

“I came across the clurichaun Regan keeps in his wine cellar. I let him become drunk in my presence and he divulged some of his master’s skill while boasting. Namely that Regan likes to use a charm on a certain urn on the second floor. It moves about the home and always assumes a different form but its content is always the same, ashes.”

“Can you burn selkie pelts?” Eddie asked.

“In order to disguise them,” Naoise mused. “And if it didn’t before it surely now has a spell on it that will cause harm to anyone who attempts to touch that urn.”

“Yes,” Yusuf sadly nodded.

“Regan inviting us to his home is surely a trap of some sort,” Eddie sighed.

“What?” Yusuf asked.

“Regan just invited everyone to a big party there in two weeks.” Eddie felt her cheeks warm. “My brother proposed to Regan’s sister. They are to be married.”

“I am sorry I could not find out more.” The jinn crossed his legs as he leaned against a tree. “Perhaps in those two weeks we’ll find some way to get the pelt.”

“No that’s okay. You’ve given us a starting point at least. We’ll figure something out, even if we do have to jump into Regan’s trap.” Eddie patted the jinn’s hand. He smiled at her. “Don’t do anything to get yourself hurt.”

He promised he wouldn’t, and with a licking of flames that engulfed his body he excused himself from them. He shot across the night sky as a speeding star. Eddie watched in awed delight. When Yusuf’s light had faded away she looked back down to Naoise peering intently at her. She awkwardly looked away, not sure what he wanted.

“So…Kelly and Matt will be married soon…” She could think of nothing else he would want to speak about.

“Mm.” But he didn’t sound interested in their potential nuptials even as he moved to lean over her. He hovered in front of her face. Eddie blinked at him, trying to see what it was he wanted, but his expression was devoid of any trace of thought.

“You…” she swallowed. He traced his fingertips across her cheek and she realized he was hesitating as his lips trembled to form words. She felt her stomach clench as her vision was filled with nothing but his fathomless eyes that held no reflection in the dark night. “So we’ll….be leaving soon…”

“I…want to apologize to you,” he at last interrupted her. Eddie blinked in surprise.

“Oh?” she breathed.

“Aye.” He finally closed the distance and kissed her. It was nearly the same as before, it was forced and not pleasant, even when she wasn’t gagging on blood. She pushed him back and for a second she saw a devastated look on his face. She laid a finger over his gouging lips.

“If you would apologize to me,” she told him. “Open your lips only slightly, and invite me in.”
He blinked but leaned in again. He did as asked, gently pressing his lips against hers, coaxing her in. She followed his invitation, gently grazing his lips with her teeth before letting her tongue explore his. She took care to avoid his fangs, and broke the kiss with a sigh. He leapt after her, his embrace becoming more forceful, but still asking for permission. She granted it again, even as her fists balled against his chest in response to his arms sliding around her. Her thighs clenched and she knew she should break the embrace. Yet even as the chill of his body sank into her, she wanted him to sweep over her. Even knowing it would drown them both she wanted to go more deeply inside him, let his fangs cut her and herself be vivisected by his body.

In the end however it was Naoise who retreated. He let her go with a gasp and rolled back onto the tree behind him. She bowed her head as she also caught her breath. She let herself lean back against him, and he wrapped his arm around her waist. She laid her head against his neck. Even as she shivered against the cold of his body, the warm wind dried her dress.

“I want to say I’m sorry too,” she sighed. His grip tightened around her. “I wish…we hadn’t met this way but…I’m not regretful we met at all.”

He kissed the top of her head, a gesture so tender and subtle that she knew it was how he felt too. She closed her eyes.

“Are we protected here?” she asked him.

“Aye, so long as I’m here.” He answered.

“Then, stay.” She smiled. His body relaxed around her and within a few minutes Eddie could tell he was truly asleep. She exhaled and reached down to her thigh to untie the dagger. Making certain his breathing had not changed she raised the weapon up. She leaned forward and threw the knife with all of her might. It landed in the pond with a great splash. Naoise startled at the sound but didn’t fully wake up when Eddie leaned back against him and whispered in his ear.

“Just a fish.” And with that she threw away her last chance to save herself.

After watching the dagger sink beneath the surface she fell asleep in the monster’s arms. She had made her decision. She would not be saved. She would not stop what she had started. Perhaps she was in love. Even now she didn’t wish to fully ruminate that she may have already made it impossible to sever the bond between them, whatever happened.

All she wished for was a peaceful night, and she received it in the arms of the beast, counting his infernal heartbeats.

Her comfort made her unwary. For she could not have foreseen their silent and distant stalker converging on the pond and its treasure after they had departed in search of breakfast. Her attention was on Naoise gently holding her hand, and not at all what harm an unattended weapon may do.

Brody only had one duty in Regan's employ; information gathering. The demon was an exceptionally clever creature and he had a long and expansive memory, with a certain morbid curiosity. It was what made him Regan’s right hand man above all the fae and other spirits he kept in his thrall. Unlike the prince Brody had the added benefit of being created without conscience. So long as there was benefit for himself, even just his master’s kind word, he would do whatsoever asked. He was attracted to scandal above all else, as, after all, those made the best stories, and he was by nature petty and spiteful.

Regan Seele kept control over the infernal by keeping him impressed with his skill and cruelty. The half fae lad had captured Brody at only eighteen years old during an adventure in Germany. The brash young man had erased the demon's real name and changed it into Brody, the name of a slave. Oh it had been a tricky sort of magic and the young man had performed it effortlessly. That was more than his Papa being a sidhe; that was true talent and ruthlessness. Regan had spent years honing his skills to make the lives of those around him miserable. Brody adored him.

He included him in all his vicious schemes of course. As a man of the law, a beguiling secretary, and even once a Buddhist priest to Brody’s shrieking delight, he acted as the force behind Regan’s hand. His enemies were ruined by blackmail and outright coercion, his beloved trapped in a cage that she couldn’t even see the bars of.

Tonight however he had been restricted from his usual target of the girl and her kelpie slave. He had instead been sent to watch the new betrothed of his sister. Brody had felt some jealousy that the selkie had been given his target of the last few weeks, but he knew to never touch the fae woman. Nothing was worth the wrath of a magician that could have his infernal heart torn apart by the very hounds of hell.

In his guise of a small, black dog Brody chased after the scent of the man. He had disappeared some minutes before in the company of Kelly. True to human nature they had absconded to a bedroom after a morning of wine drinking. He dispersed his particles and slipped through the wall to reform his body on the other side of the locked door.

A nude female back greeted him. The woman’s hair was in damp knots that flared across her flushed skin in lines of filigree. Her lover toyed with the ends of it, his arm lazily hooked over the incline of her waist. Brody recognized the full buttocks as those of his master's sister. He had after all been watching her since she'd been loved by the predecessor of this Jai Darzi. The demon cackled and crawled to lie beneath the bed.

"It's strange when I look at Naoise Burne, it's hard to describe. It's almost like, I knew him in another lifetime. Nostalgic, almost." Kelly said softly. Her slurred words indicated she was drunk. Brody rolled onto his back, oh what sort of love-talk was this?

"Déjà vu?" The man suggested, just as intoxicated.

"Mm. Perhaps yet when I look at Jai…I almost feel the same way. I even feel like my memories of him sometimes…are indistinct…" She sighed deeply. "Oh, never mind, I think I'm just being silly, or I've had too much stress at work—"

"No, I think I understand. I…never really told anyone about this, but I was born with a dead twin." Matthew answered, the bed creaking as he shifted his weight towards her. His voice dropped to a whisper, "so I think I live a bit with a ghost over me, especially as it was a brother. I don't really believe in the supernatural, but I think God may allow for it."

"Oh Matty," Kelly sighed, the mattress groaning in pleasure as she moved towards him. "Do you think I'm seeing too far then so to speak?"

"I think you're a sensitive soul that sees what others cannot." A breathy kiss ghosted over some appendage of the woman's, she whimpered ardently in return.

"My love," Kelly cried softly. The mattress squeaked in suspense as she moved to hold the man again.

"Yes, and I can say the same." He breathed and seconds later the bed squeaked in their ardent love-making. And the poodle snickered, he knew a secret to tell his master now! He rolled out from underneath the bed. He vanished through the wall where the light of the bracelet on Kelly’s wrist threw an amethyst spangling of stars. He barked in joy and was shushed by the old bitch through her bedroom door. He ran down the stairs and threw himself in Regan’s lap.

And there he told Regan how he may at last murder the man who would kill all of his malicious dreams.