Rating for this section: R
Pairing: Adam/Kris, others
In 1683 the first boat carrying fey landed in Virginia. Receiving ill welcome from the young American colonies, most of the passengers and the ones who followed after chose to go west, eventually establishing the new kingdom of Western Faerie in the Pacific Northwest. Distrust of Faerie persisted in the east and traveled outwards as the United States
and its ally, the Kingdom of Texas, spread west into the lands bordering those claimed by the fey.
Two years ago Kris Allen, lost to himself after a bitter three-year war, answered a newspaper ad and headed west to the chaotic borderland known as South California. He'd hoped, in a land with no loyalties, he could find respite from his own divided nature. What he found was something else.
It was maybe not the best time to talk to Adam after all.
He sat at the giant makeup counter in his dressing room, functionaries fluttering around him by the dozen. That wasn’t really the problem. The problem was he looked like he’d just come from the bath and was wearing nothing more than some kind of wraparound terrycloth skirt. His lack of apparel didn’t seem to be bothering either him or the other fey but Kris wasn’t really used to talking to people wearing what amounted to a large towel.
The tawny little Sidhe who’d accompanied him to the party the past week stood beside him, one hip leaning against the table. The boy ran his fingertips up Adam’s arm and then bent low to speak something in Adam’s ear, lips brushing briefly against Adam’s neck. Adam’s answering look was flirtatious enough, but it was reflexive, almost cynical.
Kris almost turned to leave but then Adam caught sight of him in the mirror and waved him over. Adam spoke a few low words to the crowd around him and about half of them filed out. The Sidhe boy gave Kris a knowing look and a quick wink and then followed after.
“Hey,” Kris said, uncertain. Things between them had been tense and uneasy ever since Adam had learned about Kris and Allison’s activities. It hadn’t helped that Adam had been in a terrible mood with everyone, snapping from brittle imperiousness to temporary apology by the minute.
It had been bad enough when Kris had just thought Adam was mad at him. Figuring out that it was mostly himself Adam was angry with had been a lot worse.
“Hey,” Adam said, expression contrite enough that Kris felt it safe to take up the boy’s place in leaning against the counter.
“Are you heading back home now?” Adam asked. “I can send for someone to take you.”
“No—I just wanted to see what you were doing.”
Adam grimaced. “Just getting myself pretty for this ball. You’re lucky you get to escape.”
“I don’t know,” Kris said, picking up a bottle of bright nail polish and twisting it around in his hand before putting it back on the counter. “It might be interesting.”
“It won’t be, I promise,” Adam said. “It’s a formal delegation from the European court. It’ll be me sitting around while people I don’t know bow at me.”
Kris just shrugged a shoulder. “I’ve never seen one.”
Few humans had. This wasn’t one of the nights the fey would be opening their doors to the human media.
“Hey, if you want to come you’re welcome to—you know that,” Adam said. “It’s pretty formal, though. And by that I don’t mean a suit and tie.”
“I think I can handle a makeover,” Kris said. He looked over Adam’s makeup, a curious heat in his stomach as he thought about just turning himself over to Adam for the night, letting Adam transform him into whatever he wanted.
Adam looked over his shoulder and gestured at two of the servants. “Casia and Mikhail here will take care of you.”
“Wait—I thought you.” But no, of course, that was stupid. “Never mind—I’m sure they’ll be great.”
“Oh,” Adam said, eyes warming with understanding.
“No—you’re busy. You have a whole palace waiting for you.”
“I’m going to tell you a little secret.” Adam wrapped a hand around Kris’s wrist, his thumb rubbing comforting circles into Kris’s skin. “I’m the belle of this ball. They’ll wait as long as I tell them to.”
He turned back to the servants. “Bring me some options for him.”
He looked up at Kris. “I’m going to have to give you a sign of my blessing. There will be strange fey here who might not immediately recognize you.”
Kris nodded, not entirely able to speak as Adam turned on his stool and pulled Kris to stand between his splayed knees.
“Don’t worry,” Adam said, amused glint in his eyes. “I’ll be gentle.”
Adam slid his hands up Kris’s neck and then settled them on opposite sides of his face. Kris closed his eyes and let Adam pull him forward.
He felt the warm soft brush of Adam’s lips across his forehead and then the glide of slow, honeyed warmth down over his body. He’d felt Adam’s magic before, but this felt subtly different, more intimate. He had to clutch at Adam’s biceps for balance, smooth clean skin under his hands and filling his head with every breath.
He opened his eyes to find Adam’s on him, still filled with that patient understanding. Adam rubbed a thumb across Kris’s lower lip, his hands steady and sure on Kris’s face.
“Okay?” Adam asked.
Kris blinked and tried to yank his brain back into a place that was capable of words. “Yeah, you could say that.”
Adam took his arm and settled him back on the stool someone had placed there, looking a little reluctant when he at last dropped his hands.
A servant appeared at Adam’s shoulder. “Highness, shall I begin?”
She lifted a vial full of inky black liquid that gave off shimmers of blue and green and purple depending on where the light hit it. Adam took a deep breath and nodded.
Adam turned perpendicular to the table, allowing her to stand behind him. She set the liquid on the table and lifted a silver stylus. She dipped it into the liquid and then began to draw something on Adam’s shoulder blade.
Kris gave him a questioning look.
“Later,” Adam said. “I don’t want to spoil the effect.”
A group of servants lined up with what were presumably things for Kris.
The first of them held up something shiny and vaguely futuristic, crystals covering the silver fabric in shimmering patterns.
“Are you trying to amuse me?” Adam said. The servant bowed his apology and swept away.
The feathery second option got a sigh and a quick dismissal as did options three through six. The one that included what looked like buckskin chaps got an amused quirk of Adam’s lips and a quick considering look thrown at Kris, but Adam at last shook his head.
“The idea is for him to enjoy himself, not to force him to go looking for the closest curtains to hide behind,” Adam said. “Bring me something he’ll be comfortable in.”
They bowed and swept off, tittering at each other in some high pitched feathery language Kris didn’t recognize.
“I don’t know,” Kris said. “The one with the bondage straps was pretty hot.”
“Well then,” Adam said, “we’ll just have to keep that one in mind for the future.”
The second wardrobe they brought in looked significantly less ornate, full of plain but rich fabrics. Adam pursed his lips and pointed at the second outfit.
“Let’s try that,” he said.
The servant bowed and pressed the clothes into Kris’s hands.
“Um,” Kris said, looking around at the giant crowd floating in and out of the room. Adam might be perfectly happy sitting around mostly naked, but Kris was not so sanguine.
Adam gave him an amused indulgent look but then signaled at one of his flunkies.
Kris slipped behind the screen they set up. It blocked him well enough from the rest of the room, but he was still hyper-conscious of Adam sitting just a few feet away as he stripped off his clothes.
The woven blue shirt and pants were comfortable, but Adam shook his head.
“Totally the wrong color,” he said, sending Kris back with another bundle.
“You’re having fun with this, aren’t you?” Kris said by the time Adam had said no to three more in succession.
“A little,” Adam said. The woman behind him finished up with one side and then moved to his opposite shoulder. He flinched just slightly but then settled under her hand.
A servant leaned into Adam’s ear, yet another carefully folded pile of clothes in hand. Adam looked it over and then Kris.
“With the right accessories, maybe,” he said. Kris dutifully headed back to his changing station. He’d really thought taking this many clothes off for Adam would have been a lot more fun.
This outfit was the simplest yet; just brown suede pants, a long sleeveless dark red shirt with a high open collar, and a matching belt and low boots. Kris vaguely felt like an extra from an Errol Flynn movie putting it on, but the fabric slid cool and comfortable over his skin, even the pants softer than the plushest cotton.
To his profound relief Adam just nodded. Kris returned to the safety of his stool as Adam sifted through the trunks of jewelry offered to him one after another.
He plucked a solid torque of old gold and a pair of matching armbands from one of the jewelry boxes. Kris probably could have managed them himself, but he let Adam slide the bands onto his upper arms and settle the heavy weight of the torque around his neck and onto his collarbone. The thing had probably cost more than Kris had made in his whole life altogether.
He sat there, slightly bemused, as Adam picked up containers of eye shadow and powder and lined them up on the counter. Adam opened each small pot in turn, smoothing creams over Kris’s face and then following up with broad strokes of powder across his cheeks and above his eyes. He drew careful lines around Kris’s eyes, hand sure and practiced. Kris wasn’t sure about the final tube of lip gloss, but Adam shushed him with a wave. The small strokes of the lip brush felt oddly sensual against his skin and Kris just gave himself over to it. One of the servants rubbed something through his hair pulling it into rougher spikes as Adam finished up.
“Okay,” Adam said.
Kris stood up and turned slowly to the mirror. He felt like himself but at a slight angle. The red suited him, he thought, and the rich weight of the torque made him look like some kind of barbarian princeling. Adam hadn’t added as much make-up as he’d feared—or if he did Kris couldn’t see it. It just sharpened his features, brought out his cheekbones and the line of his jaw. His eyes were liquid dark and very large in his face, and the gloss on his lips felt strange and oddly vulnerable.
He looked—not like Adam really, but at least like someone who belonged here.
“I think I like it,” he said.
“Good,” Adam said, obviously pleased.
“Highness,” the woman behind Adam said, “if you are quite ready I believe we can proceed.”
“Yes,” Adam said with a slight grimace. He flicked his gaze at Kris. “You might want to stand back for this. Well back.”
He turned to face the mirror again as everyone else scurried away. There were two complicated, twisting symbols drawn on his back, one over each shoulder blade. Kris wasn’t tremendously excited to see things etched into Adam’s skin but no one else looked upset.
The woman took up another vial, this one full of a softly glowing lilac oil. She smeared it liberally over each symbol on Adam’s back before stepping away herself. Adam made a small suppressed sound and dug his fingers tightly into the wood of the table as great wings burst from the symbols on his back and fluttered once before settling.
They were the same deep black the liquid had been and glimmered with that same purple and green and blue iridescence. Kris stepped forward, amazed, but then he saw the blood on Adam’s skin.
“Jesus, Adam,” he said, grabbing the damp cloth from the hovering woman with a scowl. “Was that really necessary?”
Adam took a few more deep breaths and opened his eyes, meeting Kris’s in the mirror. “The best magic always has its price. You know that.”
“You’re bleeding,” Kris said. He took a swipe at the blood on Adam’s back with the towel. The skin beneath seemed whole and smooth, but Adam made a small hitched sound and Kris snatched his hand away, appalled.
“God, I’m hurting you.”
“No,” Adam said, face oddly flushed, “that wasn’t pain.”
Kris looked back at the blood on Adam’s back, uncertain.
“The wings are sensitive when new—as is the skin where they join,” Adam said.
“Oh,” Kris said. Oh, God.
“It would be best to clean it before it dries,” Adam said, a challenge and a question both.
Feeling bold, Kris wiped the towel in a firm swipe down Adam’s back. Adam kept his eyes on Kris’s in the mirror, not hiding the shivering pleasure that stole over his face with every press of Kris’s hand. Kris cleaned the rest of Adam’s back slowly, intent on each small gasp Adam made. At last the blood was cleaned away—more than really—and Kris had to drop his hand. He wondered what would happen if he followed the same path with his tongue.
A servant cleared his throat loudly and Adam jumped, spell broken. Kris wondered viciously if there weren’t some candlesticks off somewhere the servant couldn’t be polishing.
“Right,” Adam said. He took a few deep breaths, visibly forcing himself back under control.
“I think I may have to join you later,” he said, rueful. “My beauty routine takes a little longer than yours.”
Kris wanted to tell him he could go out there as is and still be the prettiest one there, but it didn’t feel like the thing to say in front of twenty strangers.
“I’ll have to let Allison take care of you during dinner,” Adam said. “I have to be charming for our guests.”
“It’s fine,” Kris said. “I’ll talk to you later?”
“Yes,” Adam said. “Definitely.”
Allison gave him a mock leer and then a quick affectionate hug when she saw him. She looked different herself, her hair brighter and flickering with all of the colors of fire.
“These are our nights for showing off,” she said, leading him to the giant ballroom.
The fey had already gathered at the great tables. They showed a different face than the one they usually presented to the media—almost as if some veil had been lifted and he was seeing their real selves. They looked wild and strange, features sharper and less human. More than one person wore wings like Adam, though none were quite so grand as his. There were others sporting shimmering dragonfly wings and still more with twisting horns like a goat or the great spreading antlers of the stag. At least one person wore the hard twitching carapace of a flying cockroach on his back and another a long pink tail like a rat.
The clothing was just as strange—angular and exaggerated beyond human fashion: the most extreme of haute couture taken to higher wilder levels. There were dresses of spiderwebs and clouds and tunics of forest moss and leaves. A lady walked by in a gown of what looked like floating starlight, her companion in a dress that made a sound like the sea as it brushed the floor.
There was an odd arresting beauty to it all. It left him as unsettled as the weirdest parts of the Canyon but compelled his interest even so. He felt his attention darting everywhere and it was almost a shock a good while later when the trumpets announced Adam’s entrance.
Adam walked down the center of the room alone although Baraz of course followed a respectful three feet behind. He wore what for him was a very simple tunic of blue silk edged in silver embroidery and matching loose pants over embroidered slippers. The tunic tied around his neck leaving his arms and shoulders bare. They’d somehow grown his hair longer and tied it in some complicated topknot. His make-up was simpler, too—just heavy vaguely Egyptian kohl around his eyes and something that made his lips glisten.
It was the wings that were the real part of the outfit, of course. They arched up high over his shoulders and trailed nearly to the ground. They’d been set on the upward sweep with heavy bands of blackened silver and somehow they’d attached dark jewels in blackened metal settings on the inner arch. When he passed Kris and mounted the steps toward the throne Kris noticed the ties from the shirt fell down the center of his back leaving most of the rest uncovered. The pale skin of his back where the wings attached stood out in stark bold counterpoint to the darkness of his shirt and wings. Knowing what he did about how sensitive that skin was seeing it like that felt almost more erotic than if Adam had come out naked.
Adam settled on the great throne—a trifle carefully it seemed to Kris—and Baraz took up his usual position at his right side.
The guests from Europe filed in one after another and, as promised, bowed at Adam after the presentation of some small gift or another. Watching them parade in, each stranger than the last, was interesting enough for Kris despite Adam’s warnings. Adam himself put on a nearly inhuman job of acting warm and interested in each guest even though Kris thought he was probably bored out of his skull.
A tall broad-shouldered brunet swept in last and was announced as a Lord Stephane. The shimmering red and gold scales that swept over his eyes and then in intricate lines over his arms like the world’s loveliest tattoo said that he was one of the higher orders of dragons—the kind that could wear human shape when they chose.
Adam looked sincerely charmed for the first time that night and wondered aloud if the effect could be replicated.
“It would suit you, Highness,” Stephane said in a completely stupid French accent. “Though I think blue and silver would better complement your beauty.” He bowed, ridiculous floppy hair falling over his chiseled face.
Kris looked up at Adam, certain he could not be falling for such an obvious cliché, but Adam just looked entirely delighted with him. Stephane was given the last seat on the dais just to Adam’s left and dinner was announced.
“Stop looking so constipated.” Allison elbowed him sharply. “Stephane is the son of the most powerful duke in Europe. Adam has to play nice with him.”
Kris didn’t think playing nice required so very much smiling in the strictest sense, but he calmed down when Adam spent at least as much time talking to Baraz and the older Sidhe lady on his right as dinner commenced.
After dinner the tables shimmered and disappeared, leaving the ballroom free. Allison took pity on him and escorted him to the raised tables that lined the sides of the room where the human companions of the fey sat. There were more of them then Kris would have expected and the looks they shared with their fey partners seemed to hold genuine affection.
The rest of the fey lined up for the dance, striking out in even more elaborate intricate rhythms than Kris had seen the day Adam had danced with the Sanctuary. Allison bounded off with a bashful Sidhe after a quick look of apology at Kris. He saw her once later with Adam and then briefly with Baraz, her bright hair standing out even in that crowd.
Adam had a line of partners crowding up after each dance. He joined in a few of the more sedate numbers, his wings proving too complicated otherwise. Kris knew Adam usually enjoyed dancing but he had a look of fixed politeness on his face as he escorted one member of the European delegation to the floor after another.
Stephane swooped in inevitably, leading Adam out for a waltz. The rest of Adam’s partners had at least been polite enough to keep their hands on Adam’s lower back where it was covered by the silk of his tunic, but Stephane’s hands started straying immediately. His fingertips at first just brushed the edges of his shirt in what might have been an accident but by the third trip around the ballroom his fingers were entirely laying on Adam’s bare skin.
Adam looked flushed but not exactly unwilling and Kris sat there feeling frustrated and useless. It wasn’t like there was anything he could do if Adam really wanted people to paw at him.
“He is impertinent,” Baraz said, coming up across the table from Kris.
Unlike the rest of the crowd, Baraz had kept to elegant simplicity. He wore a long plum robe that gathered on one shoulder and fell in perfect even pleats to the floor. Thousands of diamond chips had been woven into his braids, shining like stars against the unrelenting black of his hair. He looked as fresh as if he’d just stepped out of his dressing room although Kris knew he had joined the dancing.
“It must take a lot of effort to be you,” he said, not really in the mood to be polite.
Baraz’s startlement only registered in a quick lift of his eyebrows and a slight tip of the wineglass he carried but it was totally worth it.
“A modest amount,” Baraz said, composure regained. He indicated Allison’s abandoned chair with a sweep of his hand. “May I?”
“Why not,” Kris said. Baraz at least was never boring and it seemed like he might also dislike Stephane. Which, for the moment, made him possibly Kris’s favorite person in the room.
“Why aren’t you out there, you know, doing your hovering thing?” he asked. He would have thought Baraz physically incapable of straying more than ten feet from Adam at one of these events.
Baraz’s lips thinned but then he relented. “His Highness indicated that if I could not find it within myself to treat all of our guests with proper hospitality I might find myself more comfortable in other company.”
Kris blinked at him. “Are you telling me that Adam actually gave you a time out?”
“I am not familiar with this ‘time out’,” Baraz said. “But if I catch your meaning, then yes.”
Wow. This evening might be salvaged just yet.
“So,” he said, “what’s your problem with Stephane? And feel free to elaborate.”
“He oversteps himself,” Baraz said, gesturing at the dance floor. The waltz had ended and Stephane was leading Adam over to the refreshment table where they were serving flavored cups of the winter’s first snow. “He imagines himself a proper suitor for Ailill. He has been sending grander and grander presents to Eilín for years now, seeking to curry her favor to that end.”
Stephan’s hand was planted somewhere more polite now that the dance was over, but his thumb still caressed the edges of Adam’s shirt. Another member of the European court came up, hopeful look on his face, but Stephane sent him packing with a quick scowl.
“And does Adam’s opinion matter at all in any of this?”
“Eilín would never send a child of hers to live with such a graceless buffoon, no matter his political worth,” Baraz said. “But Ailill knows that his ultimate disposition is in the hands of our Queen. It is not a matter of desire.”
“He’s not just some prize,” Kris said. “He’s . . . well, you people don’t even know, do you? You wouldn’t even look at him until he turned into some kind of super-special magic dispenser. Of course you don’t think he’d have any thoughts on his own future worth even listening to.”
Baraz took a sip of his wine, not bothering to turn from watching the resumed dancing.
“I loved a woman once,” he said after a weighted pause.
Kris took a sharp indrawn breath, but if Baraz heard him he gave no sign.
“The more common tales say she was exquisitely beautiful. She was not. But she had her mother’s wisdom and her father’s spirit, and they were no small things to own.”
“You don’t have to tell me this,” Kris said. He didn’t think he’d earned the intimacy of this confession, no matter what his relationship to Adam—or Baraz’s, for that matter.
“It is my story to tell. I think in any event the details of her birth may seem not altogether unfamiliar to you.” Baraz turned and looked at him at last, his eyes filled with that bittersweet mixture of gladness and loss that Kris had come to expect from tales of the Sidhe.
“When her father was a young man, he and his friends went to the prince’s great city to watch the Sidhe dance at the Midsummer fires. And there he saw a young fairy woman, a being of shining loveliness far beyond anything he’d ever thought to experience. His friends hung back, afraid, but Keiros had a brave and merry heart and would not be so easily daunted. He offered her the only gift he thought she might value—a song. The Lady Indira, enchanted by his music and his grace in offering it, chose him as her own for the night and then for all nights after so long as he dwelled in the world.”
It was familiar and that was what Kris had been afraid of. “They had a child,” he said, almost unwillingly.
“More than that,” Baraz said. “A Midsummer’s child. All children of summer’s highest blossoming are special to us, but she, who sparkled with mortal vitality and Sidhe magic both, was a treasure beyond reckoning. Jaina was born of music and laughter and carried them with her in all of her days. She moved through the world with such joy and grace the world seemed a lighter place, just because of her presence in it.
“There were no seven kings, no great quest for the fair princess’s hand. She had her suitors, however—a shy sculptor’s son, a bold and celebrated poetess, and, least worthy, an arrogant Sidhe prince. She chose the prince for reasons I still do not comprehend. She did not want the gifts I showered upon her, the dresses of spun sunlight or the necklaces of dragon’s tears. In the end I told her I had nothing else to give her besides myself and that seemed a pale offering for one such as her. She said it was that that finally won her and perhaps it was so, because love was what she treasured most in this world.”
Baraz looked down and traced the lip of his wineglass with one finger although he did not lift it to his lips. “The tales always give her a tragic death, one of fire or childbirth or the sword, but it was not so. If it was tragedy it was only the common shadow all born to mortals live under. Towards the end of our third century she began to tire and thus to age. I had feared it long and long, but it was no terrible thing after all. It only taught me new ways to love her and to value the years we had left. In the end, she saw a great road stretching before her and I had to let her go to walk upon it even if I could not follow. And then I went out into the world trying to live as she would have done instead of hiding in my city and letting the centuries roll over me.”
And then the humans had come and did what they did, Kris thought.
“I have wandered the world for a very long time now,” Baraz said. “In all of that time I have met only four like her—children of Midsummer who bore the twinned blood in their veins. There were others of course, but it has been four centuries since I even heard whispers of one.
“So, please, do not tell me I do not know how to value him. It would be a kind of human arrogance I have not often found in you.”
Kris looked down, gut twisting. “He’s not her.”
“No, he is not.” Baraz sighed and for the first time Kris got a fleeting sense of the pressing weight of centuries upon him. “And you are right that they do not recognize him. They could not and hope to make of him another Liandra.”
Kris looked over at Adam, a little sad that even now Adam was still being compared and found wanting. “So she is stronger than he is.”
“Strength has nothing to do with it,” Baraz said. “Liandra is a gift of the harvest. She is the death that carries the seeds for new life. He is a summer prince. You can rule an empire with such as he is, but you would be a fool to try and found one with his power.”
“And why don’t they know all that?” Kris gestured at the gathered crowd, more than a little suspicious. “It doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you’d just forget.”
“We were a different people once—a wilder people,” Baraz said. “I fear that it has been so long since many of them have allowed themselves to feel the summer that they cannot recognize it when it returns. The younger of them may not even believe in such divisions in power. Like many of you humans, they consider the older tales to be no more than superstitious drivel.”
“So . .. what they’re trying to do, it won’t even work? All of this is for nothing?”
Baraz nodded slowly. “If Inir was correct in stating they are trying to found their own empire, then no, it won’t work. And the fact that they have as much power as they have displayed and yet have so little understanding of what they are trying to control concerns me.”
Kris tried to run a hand through his hair, forgetting for a moment all the gunk holding it in place. “You’re a very cheerful person to talk to.”
“I believe I have heard that before, yes,” Baraz said.
“I should perhaps return to the dancing,” Baraz said, rising to his feet. He glanced over at where Adam still stood next to Stephane and then back at Kris. “A piece of advice, before I go. He does not like to be defined. I would be careful in assuming you know how he feels about his role here.”
Baraz gave him a brief but respectable bow and then descended onto the ballroom floor, leaving Kris entirely alone. The other humans at the tables appeared to know each other—or at least their fey partners stayed with them most of the time. Kris caught sight of Allison romping about in the middle of the floor and assumed she probably wouldn’t be back.
Stephane leaned in to say something in Adam’s ear. Adam gave him a slanted glance, the corner of his mouth curling up. He didn’t exactly look like someone who wanted rescuing. Stephane gestured at the large doors leading out into the garden. Adam went with him, Stephane’s hand easy on the small of his back.
Kris got up and fled into the quieter dark of the hallway. He passed a laughing fey couple oblivious to the world in an alcove. They’d been pairing up all night, disappearing down hallways or up the grand ballroom stairs—or heading out into the garden. The fey in the Division had never been ones to hide their sexual adventures, and it seemed the Sidhe were no different.
He found a quiet terrace and leaned back against the smooth wall of the palace, breathing in the cooler night air.
You were the one who wanted to come. You just had to see.
He closed his eyes and took another breath.
“Well, well, if it isn’t our prince’s tempting little mortal all on his own.”
Kris jerked upright. A Sidhe lady stood in the center of the terrace, her golden hair bleached into something softer in the moonlight. She stepped toward him, the pale rose petals of her gown fluttering with her every movement and revealing tempting slices of flesh beneath.
“I think I should go back to the ballroom.”
“There’s no hurry, surely,” she said, standing very near indeed. “There’s no reason to be afraid. We aren’t allowed to hurt you.”
“I really think I should leave.”
“Why?” she asked, looking distressed. “Do you find me too ugly?”
Oh, God. He didn’t even know the Sidhe could have their feelings hurt.
“What? No, of course, you’re . . . you’re beautiful. You have to know that.”
Her pouting expression melted back into her former voluptuous pleasure. “Good, there is no problem, then.”
She leaned in and licked his neck above the torque. “You taste just like him.”
“Wait,” he said as she pressed closer. She smelled of roses and sunlight on leaves and everything that was good in the world. He turned his face into her hair, needing more.
“If you have other preferences, I am amenable,” she said. Her form shimmered and the pretty Sidhe boy from earlier stood before him.
She pressed her lips to the skin just below his ear. “Does it please you—to put your hands on what he has touched?”
He realized he was gripping her closer, one hand on her back and the other on her hip. Letting go seemed a mental effort well beyond him.
“Or do you prefer a more direct fantasy?” Her features slid into Adam’s—the casual, mussy-haired Adam who sat on his couch every morning. She bent to kiss him. There was a moment when he could have stopped her, but he just let it happen. Let her slide her hands around his back and jerk him into her, let her brush Adam’s full perfect lips against his. She moved her thigh between his legs and rubbed hard against his erection. He made a small helpless sound and fisted his hands in her hair, yanking her down for a second kiss.
She trailed her hand down his back and then lower. “I could have you right here. And I think you would beg me for it.”
He shoved hard against her shoulders and pulled his face away. “No. Stop.”
He was expecting a fight but she just dropped her hands and took a step back.
“There is no reason to feel guilty,” she said, still wearing Adam’s body. “He is a popular choice. I’d thought to offer him to Stephane, but I think our conquering dragon is having no trouble with the original.”
Kris’s face twisted and he turned away.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she said, her silvery laugh almost friendly. “Ailill has always been generous. I’m sure there will be enough left for you after Stephane is done with him. Are you sure you don’t want a little fun while you wait your turn?”
“I’m sure.” He retreated a further step along the wall.
“There’s no need for that,” she said, shifting back into her original form. “Once you say no we have to stop. Those are the rules.”
She held a hand out to him, but he brushed past her out into the hallway and up to the hopeful safety of Adam’s suite. The room was dark and cool, empty even of the usual servants.
He tore the armbands off his wrists and then the torque. He tossed them onto the bathroom counter, heedless of the effect of the hard surface on the soft gold. Everything else got kicked into a ball into the corner. He didn’t care if the humidity of the shower was bad for the suede. He wasn’t going to be wearing it again.
He opened the door of the shower and slid under the spray, not caring that it was too cold. His skin felt hot, oversensitized. He gripped himself roughly, not wanting pleasure so much as just to be done. With Adam’s damn flirtation and Stephane and this whole place.
He jerked himself hard, but it wasn’t enough, not after tonight. He held two fingers of his opposite hand under the spray and then shoved them inside himself, uncaring of the sharp burn. He rocked back on his hand, thinking about Adam’s body pressing him up against the wall, the dark promise in the way she’d slid Adam’s hand down his body—and how very much he’d wanted what she was offering.
He twisted his fingers, trying to find the spot that would let him end this quickly. He didn’t often do this to himself. It had usually been Katy. Katy laughing at herself in bed as she’d pored over sex tips from one of her magazines. Katy’s shy pleasure turning bolder as she’d slipped that first finger inside of him. He’d been more turned on by her excitement than what she’d been doing until a shift of her hand had brushed something deep inside of him. It had felt like their secret game—like sex was their own discovery, because surely no one else could have felt this good, ever. They’d tried it later with her vibrator, her hair cool and silky on his thighs while her warm pink tongue teased him wild with desire.
But Katy wasn’t here. It wasn’t even Adam’s fingers inside of him, just himself, alone. His orgasm when it came felt more painful than good and left him empty and shuddering. He scrubbed the washcloth over his body, scraping away make up and sweat and everything.
He stumbled out of the shower finally. The face that met him in the mirror was his own, just maybe a little frayed at the edges.
He found his clothing stacked neatly and pulled them on slowly. He sat on the divan in Adam’s room and stared out into the night, forcing himself to feel the dull ache inside of him as he moved.
He heard a sound in the outer room and tensed. Adam strode through the doorway, stumbling to a halt when he saw Kris sitting there.
At least he was alone.
“Kris!” Adam said. “There you are. Allison said you’d left the party in kind of a hurry.”
“It wasn’t my kind of scene after all.” Kris really didn’t want to be having this conversation right now.
Adam waved a hand and the lights came up. There was a crescent shaped bruise on his neck and another on his collarbone. Long strands of his hair had come out of their bindings and his wings looked ruffled as if someone had been running their fingers through the feathers.
“I cannot fucking believe you,” Kris said, sick disappointment twisting into anger. Which was fine. At least he could do something with anger.
“What?” Adam looked like he really didn’t know what Kris was talking about, which just made it even worse. “I don’t—did someone do something to you?”
“You actually slept with him, didn’t you?”
Adam jerked upright, concern banished behind icy correctness. “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“You don’t even care, do you—how they look at you.” He just couldn’t understand it, how Adam could just go with them when Kris had been waiting here. “They treat you like you’re some kind of buffet and you just let them.”
“You know,” Adam said, diction gone painfully precise, “that’s the second time you’ve called me a whore.”
“Wait, no, that’s not what I—“
“I’m sorry if you’re so disgusted,” Adam said, hands twisting into fists. “No, fuck that, I’m not sorry.”
He gestured at himself—at the marks on his throat and the wings, everything. “This is who I am. They are who I am. I won’t apologize for that. But don’t worry, you won’t have to watch anymore if it sickens you so much. You can have your life back.”
He turned and stalked out of the room.
Kris bolted up off the divan and after. “Adam, don’t.”
Adam paused at the doorway to the hallway and looked back over his shoulder. He looked like he might speak, but then just shook his head and disappeared.