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An iron fey valentine, p.1

An Iron Fey Valentine, page 1

 part  #4.40 of  The Iron Fey Series

 

An Iron Fey Valentine
 

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An Iron Fey Valentine


  An Iron Fey Valentine

  by Julie Kagawa

  “A-ha! There you are.”

  Ash glanced up from where he was leaning against a library shelf, an open

  book in his hands. One leg was drawn up, resting against the edge of the shelf,

  and his silver eyes glimmered in the shadows. For a moment, he was perfectly

  still, and I took advantage of that moment to admire him. Even at rest, he looked

  like a coiled jungle cat, lithe and graceful, his long black coat falling elegantly

  around him. I’d tracked him to the library after failing to find him in the

  courtyard where he usually was, sparring with Glitch or training the new recruits.

  I guessed he’d let them off easy today; most of the guard was terrified of him.

  Smiling faintly, Ash replaced the book on the shelf and beckoned me

  forward. Unable to resist, I stepped into him, and he drew me close, long fingers

  resting against the small of my back. “Here I am,” he agreed, sounding slightly

  amused as he brushed a strand of hair from my eyes. “Though if you needed me,

  all you had to do was call.”

  “I know.” I laced my arms around his neck and smiled up at him. “But I

  wanted to talk to you alone, without gremlins peering over my shoulder or spying

  from the ceiling.”

  “Ah, well, it’s a good thing I came here, then.” Gremlins rarely ventured

  into the library; there was nothing electrical for them to destroy or short circuit. I

  knew that was another reason Ash liked to come here; the gremlins often annoyed

  him, with their high-pitched laughter and general love of chaos. He pulled me

  closer, his gaze affectionate. “What did you need, Meghan?”

  “Do you know what today is?”

  “Are you asking me to guess?”

  “Um, sure.” If he already knew the day, then explaining what I wanted to

  do tonight wouldn't be so awkward. “Give it your best shot.”

  Ash lowered his head and kissed the side of my neck, making my insides

  twirl. “It's not your birthday,” he murmured, as his lips traced a slow line up my

  jaw and butterflies erupted in my stomach. “You already went to see your family

  for Christmas, and Elysium isn’t for a few months.” I felt him smile against my

  skin as he breathed into my ear, “You might have to give me a hint, my queen, or

  we could be here awhile.”

  I fisted my hands in his shirt, closing my eyes. It was hard to think of

  anything when Ash did that; all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around his neck

  and kiss him until we were both breathless. The library was dim, quiet, and--most

  important-- vacant. Staying here awhile was sounding more and more tempting...

  Focus, Meghan. That's not what you're here for.

  “It's February 14th,” I explained, pulling back to give him a serious look,

  though even that took no small amount of self-control. He cocked his head, his

  brow furrowing, and I sighed. “Valentine's Day?”

  He pondered that, and I waited to see what he would do. "This is a human

  holiday," Ash finally guessed, and I nodded. “What does it celebrate?”

  I felt my face heat. “You really don't know?”

  “I know of Beltane and Samhain and All Hallows’ Eve.” Ash shrugged.

  “Those were the festivals we celebrated in Tir Na Nog. I’m afraid we didn’t do

  anything for this Valentine’s Day ritual.” He gave me a thoughtful look, as if just

  realizing something. “So, I assume you came here because you want me to take

  part in this Valentine’s Day festival, as well?” I smiled at him hopefully, and he

  sighed. “What do need me to do?”

  I grinned and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Go get changed,” I

  ordered, and watched both his eyebrows arch. “Into something more...human.

  We’re going into the real world.”

  “Now?” He regained his look of mild amusement. “You're leaving Mag

  Tuiredh? Won't Glitch have something to say about that?”

  “I already talked to him.” Actually, talked probably wasn't the right word.

  Cajoled, persuaded, then flat-out ordered were better terms. My first lieutenant

  was loyal to a fault and took his duties very seriously. The thought of the Iron

  realm bereft of its queen, even for a few hours, was horrifying for him. He’d

  conceded in the end, but only after I’d promised I would be gone only a night and

  would return at once if there was an emergency. “Mag Tuiredh will be fine

  without me for one evening,” I said, rolling my eyes. “And Glitch will make sure

  nothing explodes while we’re gone. Relax, Ash. Humans do this all the time.

  It’s called a date.”

  “I...see,” Ash said, though it was obvious he did not. “Then, you’re

  implying that this...Valentine’s Day ritual involves courtship. Dinner, flowers,

  that sort of thing?”

  “Yes, exactly.”

  He gave me one of those looks where I didn't know if he was teasing or

  being serious. “I thought my courtship attempts were successful when you agreed

  to marry me.”

  “Ash,” I groaned, dropping my forehead to his chest. “Please. Just...go

  along with this, for one night? Please?”

  He chuckled.

  “How are we getting to the mortal world?” he asked in a half-weary, half-

  resigned voice.

  I hugged him. “Meet me at the back gates in twenty minutes. I have a

  carriage that will take us to a trod. Just make sure you're wearing human clothes.

  We'll be going into the real world, after all.”

  “I am wearing human clothes.”

  I gave his boots, sword, and stark black coat a scrutinizing look. “Fine.

  More human, then. We want to fit in tonight. Also, that means no swords,

  knives, or ice-daggers, Ash. Leave all sharp pointy weapons at home.”

  Ash smirked. “As you command, my queen.” He straightened with great

  dignity. “Though if we're attacked by rogue centaurs or rampaging chimera, I’ll

  be at a distinct disadvantage.”

  “I think I can risk it.”

  He bowed, still smiling. “Then I will meet you at the gate.”

  ***

  I hurried to my chambers, excited, breathless, and nervous all at once. My

  first real date with Ash. On Valentine’s Day, no less. The idea teetered between

  ridiculous and surreal. Until very recently, Ash had been the last remaining

  prince of the Unseelie Court. Unseelie faery princes did not take girls out for

  coffee, or bowling, or to the movies. The thought of Ash in Starbucks, sitting in a

  booth with his long black coat and sword, nursing a latte, brought on a hysterical

  giggling fit that lasted several minutes.

  I quickly changed into the outfit I had selected for the evening: a cute blue

  dress, shoes, and a purse, nothing too formal or extravagant. No ridiculously

  fancy faery gowns or glamoured finery. Tonight, I wanted to be a normal girl on

  a normal date.

  With her not-so-normal, former Winter-faery-prince husband.

  As the sun was beginning to set over the distant clock tower, I made my

  way through t
he courtyard to the back gates, hoping to avoid the notice of any

  gremlins, knights, or hacker elves who might wonder why their queen was

  sneaking out of her palace like a grounded teenager. Thankfully, no one stopped

  me as I approached the outer wall. A clockwork-horse-drawn carriage waited for

  me just inside the gates, and I hurried forward, looking around for Ash.

  I didn't have to search far. He was waiting for me as promised, leaning

  against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. The coat and sword were

  gone, replaced with black pants and a white collared shirt, and his hair had been

  combed back so that his silver stud glittered in the fading light.

  My stomach jumped into my throat. You’d think I’d get used to his

  unearthly beauty, but even now, he took my breath away. I stopped, waiting for

  my heartbeat to return to normal, before taking a calming breath and walking

  forward. Ash looked up and pushed himself off the wall, a wry smile crossing his

  face.

  “Is this human enough?” he asked, raising both arms for inspection then

  letting them drop. “Will I fit in among the masses?”

  Oh sure, I thought, my mouth suddenly dry. You’ll fit in about as well as

  a peacock among pigeons. Or a tiger among sheep. There’s no way we’re not

  getting stared at tonight.

  I studied him a moment before slipping my arms around his waist. “I

  guess you look human enough,” I said casually, and he raised an eyebrow.

  Arrogant faery. He knows exactly how gorgeous he is. “Come on,’ I said,

  tugging him toward the carriage. “We should hurry or we'll miss our

  reservation.”

  Ash gave me a strange look, but if he was puzzled about why we needed a

  reservation, he didn’t ask.

  ***

  The restaurant I'd chosen wasn’t elaborately fancy, though it did boast an

  impressive foyer, already filled wall to wall with people. Ash gazed around

  curiously, and more than a few admiring stares were leveled his way. A well-

  dressed hostess took our names, showed us to our seats, and wished us a pleasant

  meal. Her gaze lingered on Ash even as she walked away. If Ash noticed, he

  didn't say anything.

  “Hold on,” he said, stopping me as I reached for my chair. “This ritual

  requires that I court you, does it not? Allow me.” Reaching around, he pulled out

  the seat for me, and my stomach fluttered at that simple, courteous gesture.

  Former Unseelie Prince or not, Ash was always a gentleman.

  “Look at you,” I said, smiling as Ash took the seat across from mine. Our

  table was small, and positioned intimately in a corner, away from the crowd. A

  single candle between us cast his features in a hazy glow. “For someone who

  claims not to know much about human customs, you’re certainly fitting in well.”

  Ash snorted quietly. “I’ve been around awhile, Meghan. I’ve picked up a

  few things over the years. Observe.” He plucked the menu from the table and

  opened it, scanning it gravely. “So, what’s good here?”

  I giggled into my napkin.

  ***

  The food was excellent, as was the wine, and the live band playing in the

  far corner as the evening wore on. The only slightly annoying thing was our

  waitress, who kept returning to our table far more often than necessary to check

  on us and refill Ash’s drink. For his part, Ash was a perfect dinner companion;

  polite, charming, attentive. He was taking this “Valentine’s ritual” seriously. I

  even got him to split a slice of triple fudge cheesecake with me for dessert, though

  I noticed he took very small bites and let me have the parts covered in chocolate

  sauce.

  As we were leaving, another waiter approached, handing me a rose with a

  smile and a “Happy Valentine’s Day, ma’am.” I thanked him, and continued out

  the door with Ash, who gave the rose a puzzled look but didn't say anything.

  Outside, the temperature had dropped, and the nippy February weather

  made me glad I’d brought a coat. I slipped it over my shoulders and envied Ash,

  who stood beside me looking perfectly comfortable. The cold never bothered

  him.

  My date regarded me coolly, hands in his pockets. “Where to now?” he

  asked, smiling. “You’re looking at me like you have something planned. I’m

  guessing the ritual isn’t quite over yet?”

  “Nope.” I took his arm, beaming up at him. “The night is young, I’m

  finally in the real world, and tonight I am having a proper Valentine’s Day date.

  Come on.” I tugged him down the sidewalk, and he fell into step with a rueful

  sigh. “One more stop, Ash. Just one more place, and then we can go home.”

  He shook his head but didn’t argue, and a moment later his hand slipped

  into mine, lacing our fingers together. We strolled down the sidewalk like any

  regular couple, passing windows and shops, the chilly breeze unable to penetrate

  the warm glow in my chest. I snuck a glance at us in a darkened window once,

  grinning at how normal we looked: not a queen and her knight, not two powerful

  faeries who ruled an entire realm invisible to human eyes. Just a young couple

  out for Valentine’s Day, having fun and happy to be together.

  “Are you going to tell me where you’re taking me?” Ash mused with a

  faint smile as we crossed the road, where the streetlamps were starting to flicker

  to life. “Or do I have to guess again?”

  “No need,” I said, grinning as I spotted our destination on the corner.

  “We’re already here. No turning back now.”

  He looked up, and his eyebrows rose. “The cinema?”

  “Dinner and a movie, Ash,” I said grandly, marching toward the sizable

  crowd milling in front of the theater. “That has been the protocol for millions, if

  not billions, of Valentine’s Day dates. This is all part of that ritual you signed up

  for.”

  “I didn’t know what I was agreeing to,” Ash returned weakly, as I dragged

  him down the sidewalk and through the glass doors. Ha, too late now.

  As expected, the theater on Valentine’s Day was a madhouse, packed

  wall-to-wall with laughing, kissing, screaming teenagers. As I scanned

  showtimes, Ash moved behind me and slipped his arms around my waist, holding

  me tight in a jostling sea of people. “Goodfellow told me about these places,” he

  murmured, sounding equally intrigued and horrified. “He sometimes threatened

  he would get me into a theater one day. Congratulations, you’ve managed

  something he could never do.”

  “Wow, I’m honored.” I turned my head to glance at Ash, whose chin

  rested on my shoulder. “But now that I've twisted your arm and dragged you

  here, is there anything you want to see? Action, horror, romantic comedy?”

  “This is your occasion,” Ash said, and placed a feather-light kiss on my

  earlobe, making my stomach knot. “Whatever you want is fine.”

  A little distracted now, I looked back at the movies playing. I wasn’t in

  the mood for horror or drama, though Ash would probably enjoy an action flick,

  with fighting and blood and chase scenes.

  Screw it, it’s Valentine’s Day, and this will probably be the last movie I’ll

  see for awhile. Romantic comedy it is.


  He stood patiently with me in the line to get tickets, then popcorn, and

  finally in the long line to the theater doors. As we waited in the kernel-strewn

  corridor, I snuck a glance at the former Winter prince, standing in line for the

  movies, holding a large tub of extra butter popcorn. I couldn’t help but giggle at

  the image.

  He blinked at me. “You’ve been doing that a lot. Why am I so amusing?”

  “It’s just...” I gestured at him helplessly. “You look so normal. This

  whole evening is so...normal. It’s hard to believe I’m having a real date with a

  centuries-old former faery.” I leaned against the theater wall, inhaling the near-

  forgotten smells of popcorn, cologne, and too many people in a small space, and

  sighed. “I’d forgotten what it’s like just to be a teenager.”

  Ash grinned. “I could create a blizzard and fill this whole place with ice,

  if you’re getting bored.”

  “No!” I glared at him, and the smirk grew wider. “Don't you dare. For

  once, I would like to get through an evening without monsters or magic or faery

  craziness erupting. Tonight, we are two normal humans, on a normal Valentine’s

  Day date. Please, no snowballs or icicles or magic projectiles, okay?”

 
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