Chapter no 15

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

THE LATE EVENING BREEZE BLOWS in my window, a cool relief after a hot day.

I feigned a headache and skipped dinner with the other girls tonight. I’m mentally exhausted after my little training session with Finn, but I could have managed a couple more hours before retiring. In truth, I don’t want to see all the other girls fawning all over Sebastian. I don’t want to see him flirting with them. I don’t want to see him smiling at them the way he used to smile at me, and I don’t want to think about him having a future with one of them.

I’m staring into the star-studded night sky when someone raps on my door. Three taps. Pause. Two taps.

I smile at Sebastian’s signature knock. “Come in.”

The door cracks, and he sticks his head in. “Are you alone?” I nod. “My maids have left for the night.”

He pushes the rest of the way into the room. He’s in russet leather pants and a white tunic that’s open at his neck, showing off the golden skin of his chest. His white hair hangs loose around his shoulders, and his smile makes my chest squeeze with longing for things I can’t have and shouldn’t want.

He pulls something from behind his back with a flourish, and my eyes widen as I take in the silver gilded mirror. It’s a match to the one I have waiting under my mattress. “Is that . . . is that really it?”

“The Mirror of Discovery.” Holding it in both hands, he extends it toward me.

As I wrap my fingers around the cool metal, my heart races. I’m one step closer, Jas.

“You look . . . awed,” he says.

I pull my eyes off my own reflection and look at him. “Who wouldn’t be?”

He smiles shyly. “You surprise me. You’ve always spoken so poorly

about my world. I never expected you to be interested in our holy relics.”

Right. I swallow. “I guess the longer I’ve been here, the more interested I am in understanding your realm?” I can’t manage to keep it from sounding

like a question.

He’s silent for a long beat. I give him an awkward smile and start to turn away when he says, “Is it so awful?”


He extends his hands to the sides, indicating the room, the palace, maybe his whole court. “Being here. I know you never wanted to come, but are you . . . unhappy?

“I won’t be happy until Jasalyn is safe.”

He ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck. “Of course not. I understand that.”

I am the worst. “I’m sorry, Sebastian. I didn’t mean . . .”

His expression turns tortured as he asks, “Didn’t you?” I open my mouth to object, and he holds up a hand. “Do you want to try it?” He nods to the mirror. I hadn’t realized I’d clutched against my chest.

Swallowing, I extend the mirror and study my reflection. I’d asked my maids to leave my hair down tonight, and my curls are a wild mess around my face, not the tamed, perfect curls they form them into when dressing me for the day. But my face . . . my face has changed since I arrived in this realm nine days ago. It’s benefited from plentiful nutrition and regular

sleep. The dark circles under my eyes have faded, and my cheeks are no longer so hollow. I’ve thrived here, but what about Jas? Until this moment, I didn’t realize I was scared to know the answer to that question. “How does it work?”

“It shows you what you want to see. Or should. I don’t know that a mortal has ever used it.” His eyes soften, and he nods in encouragement. “Tell it what to show you.”

“Show me Jasalyn,” I say softly.

The air around the mirror shimmers with magic, and it seems to vibrate in my hand as my reflection fades away. The glass shows me a lavish bedchamber. It’s like looking through a window. Jasalyn sits at a vanity,

smiling at her reflection as her maids brush her hair. The sound that slips from my lips is half cry, half gasp. She looks well. Her cheeks are flushed with laughter, and her face has grown fuller, as if she, like me, has eaten better while in Faerie than ever before.

“I miss my sister,” Jas says, smiling at her maids. “She would love you two.”

The one brushing her hair meets her eyes in the mirror and smiles. “I’ve no doubt you will be reunited soon.”

Jas bites her bottom lip. “I hope so. I have so much to tell her.” The image fades, and I see myself in the mirror again.


I drag my gaze up, and Sebastian’s looking at me expectantly. “You didn’t hear that?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “I can’t see what you see. And if I hold it, you wouldn’t be able to see what I see. Did it work?”

I nod, and I don’t bother to hide the smile that stretches across my face. “She’s okay. She misses me, but she’s well and seems comfortable. She’s not”—my throat tightens, and it feels like I have to push the word out through the smallest space—“alone.”

Sebastian releases a breath. “Good,” he murmurs, almost to himself. “So we have some time.”

I clutch the mirror to my chest again. “Thank you, Sebastian. Thank you so much for this.”

“You’re welcome,” he says softly. “I just want you to be happy here, to feel safe and trust that I’m doing everything in my power to get Jas back.” He steps forward, his eyes intent on my face, and my heart pounds. “Will you take a walk with me?”

I draw in a deep breath. “Sure.” I tell myself I’m just giving him the

attention he needs so he’ll let me stay, tell myself I’m doing what I need to prepare to retrieve the next relic for the king, but I’ve missed Sebastian over the last few days. I haven’t seen him since I visited him in the training ring and asked for the mirror. I’ve been with Pretha while he’s been gods know where, and I’ve missed his reassuring smiles. His warmth.

I lift the mirror. “I’ll leave this here so no one sees it.” He nods. “Of course.”

I pull open a drawer in my bureau and place the mirror gently inside. I notice my sleep clothes, and self-consciousness straightens my spine. “I should probably get dressed.”

“You look fine.”

I’m dressed for the hot summer night in loose, flowing pink pants that sit low on my hips and a matching scoop-necked sleep shirt that leaves my

arms bare and is nothing but soft lace across my midriff. I arch a brow.

“Won’t the servants think it’s odd for me to be walking with their prince in my pajamas? Anyway, I’m a mess.”

His gaze drifts over me as slowly as a caress. “You’re beautiful no matter what you wear.” Warmth flares in my cheeks and pools low in my belly. He steps closer, and every cell stands at attention. “If you’d like, I could glamour us so no one can see.”

“You . . . you can do that?” Aside from his attack on the Barghest and numbing my wound afterward, I haven’t seen Sebastian use much of his fae magic.

Grinning, he snaps his fingers. “It’s done.” I frown. “But I can still see you.”

“And I you.” His eyes skim over me slowly, as if to say he wouldn’t have it any other way. “But no one will see us or hear us when we speak. Do you trust me?”

It’s a loaded question, and one I can’t answer yet. Before I came here and found out who he was, I trusted him implicitly, and then he broke that trust.

But now? He gave me the mirror so I could check on Jas, and he’s

searching for her. It would be easy to trust him again. Maybe too easy.

As if sensing the direction of my thoughts, he lifts his chin. “We’ll get there. I’ll earn it back. I promise you.” He offers a hand, and I take it, aware of the warmth of his skin and the roughness of his fingers twining between mine.

We walk into the hall, hand in hand, past sentries and servants putting the palace to bed for the night. No one sees through Sebastian’s glamour, and I have to wonder what he’d think if he knew I could do this too—if less

effectively and inconsistently. Once, he would have been the first person I’d want to talk to about my powers. Now I’m grateful I didn’t recognize them for what they were back in Fairscape. I would’ve told him, and my tasks here wouldn’t have been possible.

“Care to walk through the gardens?” he asks.

I bite my lip and drop a glance to my bare feet. “Should I go back up for some shoes?”

“The gardens are pristine. It’s perfectly safe to walk barefoot.”

In truth, I can think of nothing lovelier than a moonlight walk on a warm night, the feel of the cool grass between my toes. I squeeze his hand and let him lead me through a pair of glass doors into a massive courtyard garden.

There are countless like it around the palace, and I’ve passed this one, but I haven’t visited before.

We wander to the center of the garden, and I pause under the sliver of a waning crescent moon. Closing my eyes, I breathe in through my nose, filling my head with the scent of roses and lilies. I’d almost swear I can

smell the moonlight.

When I open my eyes, Sebastian is watching me. “What?” I ask, feeling a little foolish.

He swallows. “I love seeing you let go like that. You don’t do it often, but when you do . . .” He lifts a hand and touches my neck. “You’re breathtaking.” His fingers linger at my ear, and for a beat, I think he might slide them into my hair . . . might finally lower his mouth to mine again.

But he pulls away and turns to study a fountain that’s gurgling in the center of a bed of roses.

Disappointment tugs at me. I bow my head, trying to pull it together and remind myself what I want—what I need from Sebastian—and it’s not a kiss.

“I know you never wanted a life in Faerie,” Sebastian says, still watching the fountain. “But . . . I need to know if you think you could be happy here. I need to know if . . . if I could be lucky enough to talk you into a life with me.”

A life with him. In Faerie. Forever. Is he asking me to live as a pampered princess, locked up in her castle and ignoring the many human servants who make that life possible? Even if the servants at the Golden Palace have a better life than I ever could have imagined, how can I be part of a world that treats so many humans as commodities?

Is Finn right to think I’d be so easily swayed to accept this life?

No. Even if part of me wants Sebastian again—still?—that’s not the life I want.

But if I want to stay in the castle, I might need to make Sebastian think I could want it. Even if lying to him crushes something fragile in my chest. “This is hard for me,” I whisper, and the truth of those words resonates in my voice. “I would be lying if I told you I’m ready to accept a life in Faerie.”

He bows his head. I wish he’d look at me.

“But I don’t want to leave you either,” I say. And even this is true, I realize. “Can you give me some time?”

Finally he turns and lifts his head, those sea-green eyes seeming to look right inside me. “I can do that. If you’re willing truly to consider a life here.”

My heart pumps hard, sending guilt trickling into my blood. I give him as much truth at I can. “It’s easy to imagine a life with you, Bash. It’s the other parts that are hard for me.”

He shakes his head, and there’s something like wonder in his eyes. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For forgiving me. For being here with me now. I don’t take this for granted.”

I swallow. I don’t deserve you. You shouldn’t trust me.

When he takes my hand again, he leads me to a stone bench where we sit together, soaking in the moonlight, talking of nothing, and smelling the flowers. The night has always been my favorite time, but nighttime in Faerie makes my power tingle beneath my skin, makes me feel like I could fly. And here next to Sebastian, it feels like I could be happy.

“My mother loves these gardens,” he says. “When she was younger, she spent every minute she could among the flowers. Father would find her out here in the middle of the night and drag her to bed.”

“Your mother mentioned your father when I went before her. She said you got your tender heart from King Castan. I bet he’d be proud of you.”

Sebastian bows his head. “I like to think that.” “What happened to him?”

“He was killed in an assassination attempt on my mother several years ago.”

I gasp. “By whom?”

“A group of fae that defected from our court and took up arms with the Unseelie.”

I shiver in the breeze, but it’s guilt and not the balmy air that has my skin prickling. I shouldn’t waste my time worrying whether I want a future with Sebastian. If he knew I was working with the Unseelie prince and his misfit band of friends, that future would be off the table. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, but I know that an apology isn’t enough for this kind of deception.

He sighs. “The war might be over, but the tensions between our courts are higher than ever. There are some who believe the solution is in taking out the monarchies of both courts and starting over.”

“What do you believe?”

He studies me for a long beat. “I believe change is coming. And that the right leader could unite both courts.” Shaking his head, he stands. “That’s enough political talk for one night. Let’s get you inside.”

I’m quiet as we head back into the palace. I immediately miss the night air and the solitude of the courtyard.

Just inside, a group of girls dressed in slinky gowns head toward the ballroom. Since the queen’s away and my attendance isn’t required, I’d forgotten that there was a dance tonight. My maids are probably already in my chambers, waiting to see if my headache has improved so they can dress me like a doll.

“Shouldn’t you be joining them?” I ask Sebastian, hoping he doesn’t notice the jealous edge to my voice.

He cuts his eyes to me. “I think we both know I’d rather spend my night with you.”

There go those stomach butterflies again, but I ignore the sensation and bump him with my shoulder. “You’re a shameless flirt.” I bite my lip, trying to hold back the question that’s been bothering me all day.

“What?” he asks. “I know that look. What are you thinking?” He’s

smiling as he tucks my arm under his and leads me to the kitchen. When he looks at me like that, it’s so easy to see the boy I knew from home. So easy to forget everything else.

“You said you were planning to come back to Fairscape for me.”

“I meant it, too.” He pushes into the kitchen. It’s empty, like the last time we were here, but the smell of tonight’s roasted chicken, squash, and stew hangs in the air—a bittersweet reminder of how pampered this life is.

“How would that have even worked, Bash? Were you planning to come home, pick a wife, and then return to Fairscape for me as a married man?”

He rolls his shoulders back. “I’m hungry. Are you?” “Don’t avoid the question.”

“I’m not. But I need something to eat.” He smiles and waves a finger toward the large cooler against the wall. “We have ice cream. It’s fresh.”

My mouth waters. I remember ice cream from my childhood. It’s not a

common treat in Fairscape. Fresh milk is expensive, and once the ice cream is made, you have to eat it right away, but the richest households in Elora have iceboxes where they always have frozen treats on hand. Is that what it’s like to live in Faerie? Ice cream in every kitchen? Ending each day with that creamy sweetness melting on your tongue? I arch a brow and pretend I’m thinking about it rather than revealing that I’m already drooling. “What flavor?”

“We have many flavors, but if I recall, chocolate anything is your favorite.”

Those words make me feel vulnerable, and for some reason they make me suddenly aware of my nightclothes and bare feet. Sebastian brought me chocolate for my birthday last year. Just a small portion purchased from one of the vendors at the market. It was such an indulgence, and it felt like too much, but the thoughtfulness of the gesture had made me fall even harder for him. “Chocolate sounds good.”

He takes out two bowls and spoons, and I laugh. He flashes me a grin. “What?”

“When it comes to tedious tasks like scooping ice cream, I always imagined faeries would use their powers.” Or their servants.

“That would just be showing off,” he says, winking.

And if magic is life the way Finn described, maybe they don’t use it so carelessly.

Sebastian scoops a hearty serving of chocolate ice cream into each bowl before handing one to me.

We eat in silence, leaning against opposite counters like we did with our tea, and my bowl is half empty before he speaks again. “I planned to come back once I was in a position to free you from that contract. To be honest, I never let myself think it through too far. I knew you’d hate me when you learned who I was, but I promised myself that as soon as I had the power, I would help whether you wanted me to or not.”

I want to point out that he’s a prince, to ask why he didn’t help us sooner, but given all he’s done for me, that seems like the question of an ungrateful brat. Instead I stir my melting ice cream in my bowl. “When we get Jas back, can you find a way for her to stay here for a while? Maybe not right

away, since you might still be in the middle of picking a bride, but . . .

eventually? I want her to know what this is like, and when we return to the human realm, I won’t be able to provide her with anything close.”

I sense rather than see Sebastian step close to me. With one finger, he tilts up my chin so I’m looking at him. “When I am king, you and your sister

will have an open invitation to stay at the palace.” The rest hangs unsaid in the air: if I become his bride, I won’t have to wait until he’s king. And maybe . . . maybe if I’m honest with myself, the possibility would be tempting. If it weren’t for my bargain.

I finish my ice cream in silence, stuck in the loop of my own thoughts.

When I’m finished, Sebastian puts our dishes in the sink and walks me back to my bedroom.

“Thank you for tonight,” he says when we stop outside my door. “It was good to have you to myself, even if the minutes went too fast.”

“It was really nice,” I admit. “Thank you.”

He drops his gaze to my mouth and his lips part.

Finn’s words ring in my ears. You’re a few sweet promises and tender moments away from being that boy’s bride, and everyone knows it.

I step back. “Good night, Sebastian.”



I sleep with the mirror under my pillow and half expect Mordeus’s goblin to show up in my room during the night. He doesn’t.

After breakfast the next day I feign another headache as an excuse to miss training with my “tutor” and wait in my room with the mirror. I want to get this to the king as soon as possible so that I can start looking for

whatever’s next.

But it seems that Mordeus’s goblin operates on his own schedule.

I spend a lot of time using the mirror to see Jas, and as I lounge in bed waiting for the goblin, I allow myself to look again. She’s sewing today, sipping tea, and laughing with her attendants.

I close my eyes and clutch the mirror to my chest. Could she really be so well cared for? I want to believe, but there’s a niggling warning in the back of my mind that says I shouldn’t be quite so willing to trust this magic.

Even Sebastian wasn’t sure it would work for me. How does he know I can trust what I saw? I need to know if Jas is okay.

I sit up in bed. This doesn’t have to be complicated. I still have the mirror, so I can test it.

“Show me Sebastian.”

My reflection fades away, and I’m looking at the golden prince. He’s

sitting at his desk in his chambers, his expression serious as he focuses on the book before him.

I jump off the bed and swap the mirror for the fake before rushing across the palace.

Halfway there, I second-guess myself. What if he moves before I make it to him? What if he recognizes the mirror I’m returning as a fake? With each doubt, I move faster, and by the time I get to his door, I’m out of breath.

When the sentry posted outside Sebastian’s chambers spots me, he smiles and bows his head. “Lady Abriella.”

“He’s here?”

The sentry nods. “Yes, milady. I can show you right in. He said you’re always welcome.” He opens the door for me, and I step inside. I haven’t been here since the night I was attacked by the Barghest. I’m more

accustomed to the castle’s opulence now, but even so, I never had the

chance to fully appreciate the beauty of his room that night—the dark wood furniture, the sitting area as large as Madame Vivias’s entire main floor, the floor-to-ceiling windows that line the far wall.

I find Sebastian at his desk, looking just as he did in the mirror, and I nearly melt with relief. It works. Jas is okay.

Sebastian looks up from his books and smiles at me. “Hey, you.”

I don’t bother trying to hide my grin. Knowing that Jas is well cared for is a massive weight off my shoulders. I want to dance. “Hey.”

He closes the book he was reading and pushes out of his chair. “The servants said you were ill and canceled with your tutor today. Are you okay?”

I nod, giddy. “I was just tired.”

He tucks the shorter lock of hair from my face behind my ear. It won’t

stay, but I don’t think he minds the excuse to touch me. “I kept you out too late. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.” I extend the replica mirror toward him. “I forgot to give this back to you last night.”

“Right. I was . . . distracted.” He smiles and takes it from me, his fingers brushing mine. “I hate to cut this short when I have you to myself again, but I have a meeting I need to get to.”

I step back. “Of course. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you.”

“I have a lead on Jas.” He puts the mirror in a drawer. “I need to meet with one of my sources.”

“What will you do if you figure out where she is?”

His sea-green eyes turn icy. “Whatever I have to do.”

My heart squeezes. I’ll keep doing what I must to free Jas, but if Sebastian can somehow free her before I’ve retrieved all three items, all the better. “Be careful,” I whisper. “I’ve heard that the king is cunning and can turn your own people against you. Watch your back.”

“Careful?” He cups my face in one big hand and smiles down on me. “Could Abriella Kincaid possibly care about the fate of a wicked faerie?”

“You’re not wicked,” I say. Then I back out of the room quickly because I do care. I care too much.



I wish I knew how to contact the king. I’ve spent most of the day alone in my room, and his goblin hasn’t shown up to take the mirror. Thinking that maybe the goblin can’t come into the castle, I tell my maids I want to take a walk.

Heading out to the castle grounds and through the gardens, I wander to the area where Mordeus’s goblin left me before.

I search. I pace. I lie on the grass and stare at the clouds, letting the setting sun warm my face.

He doesn’t come.

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