“An interrupted binding spell. He’s half in, half out right now.” Maeve pushed herself away from the wall she was leaning on as all eyes turned towards her
“Who are you?” Dante imposed himself between her and the girls. His posture relaxed and Paige looked up in alarm, remembering practice at his dojo. This was him readying for a fight.
“Maeve.” She held up both of her hands in surrender and gestured with a slight jutting of her chin towards Paige “I’m her guardian.”
When Dante cast a glance back at her, she only stared back at him in bewildered confusion. Paige reached deep for an inner calm that she did not know she possessed. With measured movements, she unfolded herself from Ainsley’s side and stepped up to Dante’s, facing the woman. “Please. Thank you for saving us but no more cryptic answers. You said you would explain.”
There was hesitancy as Maeve parted her lips. “Are you sure milady? The matter is rather...private.”
First princess, now milady? At least she was consistent. “Call me Paige. And yes, I think we need to all be working from the same information.”
Maeve dipped her head in acknowledgement. “Very well. To answer your questions, it’s more important to understand who you are.”
“Paige is Paige,” Ainsley almost sounded defensive, crossing her arms in her wheelchair.
“Paige is a fae changeling, a royalty of the Daoine Sidhe.”
“Paige’s human! We grew up together. She looks exactly like her parents.” Ainsley’s voice pitched higher than normal.
“She handles iron just fine.” Dante offered.
They all sounded far away. Her heart thundered in her ear as she struggled for that earlier calm. She was human, just as Ainsley said. There were baby pictures, pictures of her mom being pregnant. She grew up and aged just like anyone else did.
Awaken. Awaken. Paige couldn’t stop hearing the word in her head.
Maeve stepped closer and placed both hands on her shoulders, catching her eyes with her ebony ones. “You know the truth of my words, don’t you? You felt the rise of your powers when that thing tried to devour you.”
That explosive heat threatening to burst. The light that emanated from her body with fierce intensity.
Mommy, Mommy, come look at the garden.
What is it, sweetheart?
Over there, sitting on that bush, don’t you see the fairies playing?
You have a very vivid imagination, love. Never let anyone take that away from you.
She saw them as a child. Sylphs, salamanders, pixies, flower fairies. She saw them all, but no one believed her. By and by, she stopped believing herself. But why did she forget?
“Paige?” Ainsley touched her hand. In return, Paige clutched it in hers.
“As a descendant of King Nuada of the Silver Arm in the new world, your life would always be in danger. Your parents, your real parents, sent you to live as a human until you mature enough to defend yourself. What we didn’t expect was that you would get into trouble that had nothing to do with your heritage.”
She swallowed. Once, twice. “What happened to the human child?” She was proud that her voice held only a slight wobble.
“The poor thing was sickly, to begin with. We did our best to nurse her back to health, going as far as taking her to human doctors in addition to using our own methods. But alas, she did not survive.”
How was she ever going to face her parents ever again?
No Paige, focus.
“And you are my guardian.”
“Yes.” The features on Maeve’s face softened. “The royal family tasked me to monitor you, to keep you safe. I watched you grow from young but stayed away to give you the freedom of living a normal life until these circumstances forced my hand.”
“It was you, talking to Seth, the Oracle.”
Maeve nodded again.
“I… think I need to sit.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Ainsley followed as best she could when Paige sank into the couch beside Davin, who sat immobile, staring forward with a blank expression on his face.
“I’ve seen Paige get hurt, cut a gazillion times, sometimes by metal that must have iron in it. So if she’s fae, how come she never got affected?”
“Most iron these days are impure radiated alloys that have little effect on us,” Dante replied. If the revelations surprised him, his tone betrayed none of it. “Our vulnerability to iron comes only when our powers awaken.”
Maeve nodded in agreement.
Later. She couldn’t afford to break down right now. Deal with the now. Everything else could wait.
“This explains Maeve for now, but we still need to figure out...with Davin.” Here, her voice cracked. Already, she missed his smile, his reassuring touches.
He loved her.
No, she refused to cry.
The locks on the front door jiggled before opening to show an Avaline with multiple shopping bags in tow. But her face was grim as she set each bag down and walked across the room, heels clicking across the floor.
“Dante, fill me in.” It was as if none of them existed.
It was strange for Paige to hear her own story retold from another’s mouth, but Dante was brisk in his report. As Dante spoke, Avaline knelt down before Davin and stared into his eyes. Paige held her breath as she watched Avaline reached up with slender fingers to touch his temple. If anyone knew what to do, she had this inexplicable feeling that it would be Avaline.
Paige’s skin prickled as Avaline rocked back on her heels and stood up. Power gathered as glasses and mugs began to clatter on the table. With each deliberate step, Avaline closed the distance until she stood face to face with Maeve. Despite the difference in height and stature, there was no illusion that the two were at least equals in power.
“You broke the circles with no regard for Davin.”
“My priority is my charge.” Maeve made no apologies.
The room shook and unbidden winds from nowhere whipped at their hair as powers unfurled. This could not continue. Dante shifted to hover over Ainsley while her best friend stared, wide-eyed between the two ancient beings facing off.
With bravery she did not feel, Paige stepped forward on shaky legs, one hand on Maeve’s arm, the other on Ava’s shoulders. “Please.” She kept it to a low murmur until the winds began to die down.
The glow in Ava’s eyes faded as she regarded Paige. “As the princess commands,” she said through gritted teeth.
Paige shook her head. “I’m still me. I’m still Paige. Ava, please.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw Maeve open her mouth, about to protest and shook her head again. “No. I am still me. Doesn’t matter what you say I am, it doesn’t invalidate the last twenty-eight years of my life nor does it take away who I worked hard to be all my life. I am Paige Summers. I rent a basement suite from a white witch named Lillian and have a best friend named Ainsley Knight.” She gave Ainsley a small smile and straightened when Ainsley returned it, beaming with pride.
Next to her, Avaline relaxed. “Of course Davin had to choose the most troublesome mate. But at least he chose well,” she muttered beneath her breath.
There was no time to protest the title. On the list of things to wrap her brain around, the concept of mate seemed very low priority now.
Time to focus on the number one priority. “Ava, what happened to Davin...what can we do?”
“He’s half-in, half-out.” Avaline glanced back at her brother, consternation drawing her brows together. “Right now, he’s been empty of everything that is him and Anna holds his essence. If the binding and a chance to complete, Anna would have chosen which pieces of himself she would give back and which she would keep.”
“So we have to find Anna and make her give back all of Davin,” Ainsley muttered.
“Easier said than done.” Paige wanted to yank at her hair. “We don’t even know where Anna went. She could have left town for all we know.”
“If I may, milady. Paige.” Maeve corrected herself before Paige had a chance to. “We can consult the Oracle.”
It took thirty seconds before Paige registered who Maeve meant. It took another ten seconds for her to rein her temper in enough to speak.
“You mean that wannabe emo goth of a money-grubbing asshole?” She did not sound outrage. She sounded reasonable.
Avaline turned to Dante. “They visited Seth?” At that, Dante nodded.
Okay, sure, fine. Why not? At least it was a chance to wring his scrawny neck.
“It’s been a long night. We should all get some rest.”
Dante nodded in acknowledgement to Avaline’s suggestion. More of a statement really. “I’ll go prepare another guest room.”
Why wait? “But…”
“Paige.” Avaline shot her a silencing look. “Anna’s injured and not going anywhere. You’ve just been through one shock after another. One night can make the difference between you being alert enough to save Davin or too exhausted when the time comes.”
She heard the wisdom in Avaline’s words but it didn’t mean she had to like it. And how did Ava even know she had hurt Anna? Another mystery. The more she learned about this other world, the more questions she had.
Paige had doubted she could sleep, but the morning found her opening her eyes crusted with exhaustion. Emotionally wrung out, she went through the motions of getting dressed and buckling the weapons to her, pausing only to watch the still figure of Davin, laying on the bed.
She had refused to leave his side when they all retired last night and insisted on staying with him in the room they last used. It was in this bed that Davin made love to her and she refused to believe it would be the last time. So all night, she laid beside him, alternating between crying and nodding off.
Their bedroom in the twilight of dreams felt empty without him.
“I will get you back. I promise. And then we will have a real heart-to-heart. You don’t get to tell me you love me then walk away.” Paige leaned down and kissed his forehead before leaving the room.
When she descended the stairs, her stomach grumbled at the smell of food and with a start, she realized she hadn’t eaten since the sandwich yesterday afternoon. As she approached the kitchen table, she watched Ava and Maeve ignoring each other, then took a seat between Ava at the head and Maeve two chairs down. Dante approached, setting a plate of bacon, egg, and toast in front of her.
Avaline slid a business card across the table. “I won’t be coming with you to Seth’s. However, I ask that you keep me apprised.” Despite the delicious meal, the succubus puckered her cheeks. When Paige tilted her head to one side in question, Avaline breathes out her frustration. “I promised Davin once that I would not interfere in matters concerning Anna. It was an oath I made under the bonds of our sibling-hood and I cannot risk the consequences, no matter how dire things are.”
Paige accepted the card and took out her own phone, punching the numbers in.
“I’ll make you a pact, Paige. Bring Davin home. I’ll protect you in the meantime.”
Ainsley and Lillian. Paige nodded. “Deal.”
Breakfast became a fast and silent affair. Before Paige left, she climbed the stairs once more, this time to check on her landlady.
She gasped in relief when she saw Lillian sitting up, Ainsley already there with her.
“Ah, Paige.” She was so pale but here she was, smiling. Oh, thank god she was okay.
“Lillian. I’m so sorry.” Fresh tears spring from her eyes, fear of Lillian’s hatred and anger keeping her from fully entering the bedroom until Lillian reached out with one hand.
“Nonsense girl. You’re not responsible for the actions of a deranged witch gone bad.” Lillian made a tsk sound.
Paige stared at the hand and burst into tears. One step then another led her to the other side of Lillian’s bed, where she slipped her hand in hers. Lillian’s hand was thin and frail as if she lost weight overnight but it was warm and gripped her with more strength than Paige expected. It gave her hope for Lillian’s recovery.
“Ainsley here caught me up to speed.” Lillian gave a small chuckle as she turned her head this way and that to her surroundings.
"Well we don't know if Maeve is telling the truth still, right?" Even as Paige spoke, she knew it was false hope.
"Paige, dear, the fae do not lie. They may twist their words and lead you on a merry chase for truth but if this Maeve did not mince her words, you can trust the truth of them."
Great. Paige's face fell.
Lillian chuckled “I have to admit though, I never thought I’d be rescued by demons.”
A broken laugh spilt from her lips and she looked up to see Ainsley smile with sympathy.
“Then again, I never thought I was housing a changeling either,” Lillian commented in a drier tone.
Paige winced. “I can move out as soon as we’re back home. I understand if…”
Now Lillian gave her a stern look. “And lose the best tenant I’ve had in years? Put that silly thought out of your head.” Still holding on to Paige’s hand, Lillian shook both of theirs in the air. “You listen to me Paige Summers. Human or not, you stay true to who you are. And that is all we’d ever ask. And if you so much as to forget a single ounce of your humanity, Ainsley and I will be right here to remind you of it. Got it?”
Paige smiled through the tears that refused to stop falling. “Yes, Lillian.”
“Now, go bring back your beau’s soul. And give that witch a firm kick in the rear for me.”
Paige laughed and nodded. “That I can promise.”
“I’ll see you out. Sorta.”
As they left Lillian’s room and reached the top of the stairs, Paige could not help the stupidest of questions. “How did you get up and down from here?”
Surprised by the responding blush from Ainsley, Paige lifted a brow and waited until Ainsley muttered her answer. “Dante carries me up and down here and brings my wheelchair along.”
“Hush you,” Ainsley looked up now but there was a sparkle in her eye and she lowered her voice. “I suppose it makes having my ankles broken more tolerable than I expected.”
Paige grinned wide. “Hey if you want to be dating brothers together…”
“Sssshhh!” Ainsley made a grab at Paige’s hands but fell short. The two of them grinned at each other until Ainsley sobered. “Just promise me you’ll be careful and you’ll come back in one piece.”
“I promise.” Page nodded in seriousness. “Besides, we’re just going to see that damn Oracle for now. I’ll call before we confront Anna for real.”
“Okay,” Ainsley leaned forward in the chair. “He sounds like a character.”
“Yeah well, he’s about to be a blue and black character.” Paige pressed one fist to an open palm.
Ainsley chuckled. “Ah, I like this new Paige that’s willing to stand up for herself. I’ll be waiting for your call.”