Chapter no 19

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

AFTER MY HEART-TO-HEART WITH SEBASTIAN this afternoon, urgency and guilt weigh heavily on me as I pull out the mirror to begin my search for the

Grimoricon. If Sebastian must choose a bride by the new moon, I have only a few weeks to find the second and third relics for Mordeus and get Jas back.

My eyes flick to the locked door for the tenth time before I lift the mirror and stare at my reflection. “Show me the Grimoricon,” I say, careful not to speak too loudly.

The mirror shows me a grand, brightly lit library unlike any I’ve seen before. It’s massive, with a domed stained-glass ceiling and row upon row of books fanning out from a dais in the center of the room. There, on that dais, a pedestal holds a thick leather-bound book.

When the image fades, I ask again, and it shows me the same thing.

Why is the queen hiding the sacred book in a library? If it were in the stacks, I might think this was a case of hiding the book in plain sight, but it’s right there, on display, the centerpiece of the room.

I tuck the mirror away and ring the bell by my door to call for my maids. I’ve searched every inch of this palace and have never seen a room like the one I saw in the mirror. Maybe it’s hidden, or maybe the library lies within the queen’s well-guarded sunroom. It would make sense for such a valuable item, but it makes this all the more complicated for me.

“Lady Abriella,” Emmaline says, curtsying as she steps into the room. “What can we do for you tonight?”

I never call for them, so the surprise on her face is expected.

“The prince told me there are some special festivities tonight.” “Yes, milady. Tonight we celebrate Litha.”

“I would like to go. Would you help me dress?”

Emmaline blinks in confusion. I can’t blame her. In my two and a half

weeks here, I’ve never cared about the seemingly endless dances happening around the castle. I go only when I’m required, and I’m usually so full of

excuses that the twins have stopped trying to convince me otherwise. “Of course. I’m so sorry. We should have asked.”

I wave off her apology. “I only decided moments ago.” She beams, and I force myself to return her smile. “I suddenly feel like dancing.”

I wasted time with the mirror, but I won’t make the same mistake again. I can’t afford to. I will lock my guilt away tight and get whatever information I can out of Sebastian. And if he hates me forever once he learns how I used him . . . well, if that’s the price of saving Jas, it’s one I’m willing to pay.



By the time my maids dress me in a bell-sleeved gown of lightest purple and pin my hair into ringlets atop my head, the music and revelry are so loud, I can easily follow the noise to the celebration on the palace lawn.

I exit the palace and stop at the top of the stairs, awestruck by the sight below.

Litha, I learned from my maids, is a celebration lasting from dusk to dawn the night before summer solstice. Bonfires are lit all around the castle to honor the sun and bring in the longest day of the year. Smaller

celebrations like this happen in the human realm, but I never bothered about them or understood why the masses would celebrate blessings in a world that seems to bless so few. But under the cool glow of the crescent moon,

with food and wine aplenty and so much music and laughter, I can almost understand the need for such a spectacle of gratitude.

Slowly I descend the castle steps and venture onto the lawn. The fires are massive, with heat rolling off them. Just as a fine sweat breaks out on my brow, a server thrusts a cold glass of wine into my hand and walks away before I can decline.

“You came,” Sebastian says softly behind me.

Tensing, I turn to him, all too aware of the hurt I caused him earlier. “I can go back to my rooms if you want.”

“I’m pretty sure my problem lies in the fact that I don’t want that at all.”

He looks me over slowly. “Though it seems you’re bent on torturing me with your beauty.” There’s no bite to the words, and he’s smiling when he meets my eyes again. “I’m glad you came.”

“I’m glad you’re glad.” I look him over and swallow. He’s not the only one feeling tortured. His white hair is swept back, tied at the base of his neck, and his golden tunic makes his shoulders look impossibly broad. My gaze dips for a beat, but I don’t dare let myself linger on the sight of his powerful thighs in his leather pants.

“I’m sorry about earlier. I had no right to—”

“No. I’m sorry,” I say. And it’s true. It might not change how I feel or what I must do, but I hate hurting him. Hate knowing that what I’m doing now will hurt him more. “I know I came here with prejudices, and I see now how unfair they were. I’m realizing that Faerie isn’t exactly what I thought it was.”

He searches my face. “Is that a good thing?”

“Mostly.” I try to find the words to explain the shift in my thoughts, and I’m not sure how. “I have trouble trusting people here, but trust never came easily for me back home either. Faerie might have its own problems, but the fae are no more cruel and selfish than humans.”

He studies my face, as if he might find all my lies and secrets written there. “And what does that mean for us?”

I step closer to him. When I take his hand, I feel every bit the traitor I am. “It means, I hope you won’t give up on me yet.”

His eyes widen and his nostrils flare. “I don’t know how to give up on you, Abriella.”

I’m too much of a coward to hold that beautiful gaze, so I drop his hand and look down at my wine. “This is Litha, then?” I ask, if only to fill the


“It is. Though as you noticed, we’ll use any excuse to dance and drink wine to excess.”

“Can I ask why a celebration of the day is held at night?”

He scans the crowd, the fires, the musicians. “Because you can’t have the longest day of the year without the shortest night. And because we honor the sun by bringing the fires into the night. They’re lit before the sun sets

and will burn until she rises, symbolically lighting even the short hours of darkness.”

“And what do the wine and dancing symbolize?”

“Our zest for life.” He grins, his gaze dropping to the untouched wine in my hand. “Is it bad?”

“I haven’t tried it.” I consider it a moment. The bubbles cling to the sides of the glass and sparkle in the firelight. “Doesn’t faerie wine make mortals lose their inhibitions?”

He laughs. “Much like mortal wine, that depends entirely on how much of it you drink.” He reaches for my glass and our fingers brush as he takes it. The single touch sends me back to my chambers, his hand on my waist, his mouth pressed to mine, and tingles race down my spine. He swirls the

contents and sniffs it before handing it back to me. “It’s safe if you’d like to try it.”

It’s my turn to sniff the golden liquid. It smells like sun-ripened cherries.

I hold Sebastian’s gaze as I bring it to my lips. The sweetness and flavor explode on my tongue, and warmth immediately fills my chest. I hum

appreciatively and drain half the glass. “Wow. It’s so good I want to swim in it.”

Sebastian chuckles. “Summer solstice wine is my favorite too.”

We watch the fires and the guests as I finish the rest of the glass. Worried that my curiosity will seem suspicious, I don’t let myself ask about the library yet. Spending time with Sebastian is no hardship, and surprisingly, no one bothers us. Not even when the music turns slow and couples start dancing all around the lawn.

I frown suddenly. “I expected the other girls to drag you away from me.”

As my maids dressed me tonight, they told me that of the original dozen

who were invited to stay at the castle, six have been sent home. I wonder if Sebastian’s interested in the girls who remain. Once he discovers my deception, will he be happy to choose one of them?

He tears his gaze off a group of dancers and looks at me. “I have us glamoured so the humans can’t see that we’re here.” He grins at me. “I wasn’t about to miss out on spending tonight with you.”

I want to shake him and tell him I don’t deserve the adoration in his eyes. I’m the worst. A liar. A thief. A manipulator. Instead, I give my empty glass to a passing servant and loop my arms behind Sebastian’s neck. “Then perhaps we should dance while we have the chance.”

He slides his hands around to the small of my back and pulls me closer. I rest my head on his chest and sway to the music. My first night in Faerie, the music was a syncopated, drugging rhythm that lured me into its thrall.

This is different. If anything, this music reminds me of home. It reminds me

of my mother playing the piano while Jas and I played with our dolls. It reminds me of the dances my cousins attended while I was busy cleaning and trying to make my payment to Madame V. It reminds me of what I

could be building with Sebastian if I didn’t need to trick him to save my sister.

It is precious memory and missed opportunity. It is the bitter and the sweet.

Sensing the shift in my mood, Sebastian pulls back to look down at me. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

There’s your opening, Brie. I hesitate, wanting to be Bash and Brie for a little longer. But I don’t have time for hesitation. “I was thinking how, after a night like this, I might like to spend an entire day in bed reading.” I hate myself for exploiting this moment, but I make myself smile up at him. “Do you think you could show me the libraries? That way I can lose myself in a book next time you have to leave me for days.”

His eyes dance with amusement. “You know I don’t actually like leaving you, but I can’t avoid my responsibilities either.” The humor leaves his face, and his hand rubs small, gentle circles at the small of my back. “Even if our time together is limited.”

Limited because I don’t want to marry him. Limited because he needs to choose a bride by the next new moon.

I bow my head and shut my eyes against the pain of it. I never imagined my heart would ache for a faerie, yet here I am.

“I can’t have you looking so distressed on Litha. That won’t do.” Before I can appease his worries and pretend that I’m fine, he takes my arm and leads me back into the palace.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ve asked so little of me in your time here. If you want to see the library, I’m going to take you to it right away.”

My heart races, and I don’t bother to hide my smile. I didn’t expect him to take me tonight. Maybe I could snag the book while everyone else is distracted by the party.

“You know,” he says as we walk, “you were reading the first time I saw that terrible closet you called a bedroom in Fairscape.”

“You remember that?” I know remember. I hadn’t known Sebastian long and was mortified that Jas brought the handsome apprentice down to

our cellar. I didn’t want him to see the reality of our lives.

“You were curled in the corner of the bed, completely absorbed in that book, as if it didn’t matter that you lived this brutal existence and had only a tiny room to call your own. It didn’t matter that you had to work so hard for everything. When you were reading, you were somewhere else. You were

someone else.”

He’d noticed so much more about me than I ever realized.

“My mother taught us to read and to appreciate the power of stories,” I say. “After she left, stories were the only thing that helped Jas when she missed our mother. Stories helped both of us work through that.”

He cuts a curious look to me. “I’m surprised you haven’t asked about your sister lately.”

“I . . .” I watch my feet as we walk. Right. Since he thinks I returned the mirror, he has no way of knowing how obsessively I use it to check on her. “I guess I try not to think about it.”

“Hey.” He squeezes my hand. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I just wanted you to know I’m still working on it. My spies have narrowed her location down. I have soldiers heading there now. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but . . .”

I stop walking. I’m not sure when I gave up hope that Sebastian might be able to rescue her. So typical of me. “Really?”

His expression is grim. “The king is cunning. He wouldn’t have taken your sister if he didn’t believe she was valuable, so he won’t give her up easily. Though I feel like we’re closer than we’ve been before, until Jas is home safe and under my protection, everything can change in a heartbeat. He’s too powerful.”

The king is powerful. I’ve seen it for myself. Whereas I’ve never seen Finn use his powers. Is Finn’s magic suppressed somehow because he’s not on the throne where he belongs? Is that why he didn’t heal after fighting the Wild Fae traitors?

“Do the king’s powers come from the throne?” Sebastian frowns. “The king’s powers are his own.”

“If another took the throne, would that power transfer to him?”

He shakes his head. “You’re thinking of the crown, but Mordeus hasn’t been able to find it. In fact, he can’t even sit on the throne without the

crown, and until he gets the crown, he can’t tap into the power of either.”

The missing crown. Could Finn have powers but choose not to use them?

Is he saving them for when he recovers the crown? None of this makes sense to me, and I know I’m missing some vital piece of information.

“Here it is.” Sebastian pushes open the tall wooden doors that lead to the queen’s library. The one I’ve already seen and explored several times.

“I’ve been to this one,” I say, going for breezy. “It really is amazing, but if you’re all about spoiling me tonight, how about taking me to a bigger one?”

He shakes his head and laughs softly. “There isn’t another—bigger or smaller. But if you love books so much, perhaps I’ll have the palace

architects construct a new library wing.” His smile wavers, as if he too is thinking of how few days I have left here.

Ignoring the guilt that stabs through me, I take his hand and wander into the library and into the stacks. I said I wanted a book, and since there are thousands in here, he’d be suspicious if I didn’t pick one. Luckily, this little bit of play-acting is easy. I do love books, and I instantly spot half a dozen I can’t wait to dive into.

“May I take a few?” I ask Sebastian, running my fingers across the spines.

“Take as many as you want,” he says, his voice a little rough.

I limit myself to four, but when I turn back to him, he’s staring at me with something like wonder in his eyes. “Why are you looking at me like that?” I ask, smiling.

He swallows. “Before all this, I couldn’t imagine how you could fit in here, but now that you’ve been part of this life, it’s going to be so much harder to let you go.”

I tighten my grip on the stack of books. I can’t imagine a life without Sebastian. In Fairscape, he was the color to my black and white existence.

He filled me up when I was empty. When every day seemed to be an

endless slog of work, thievery, and failure, I still had seeing him to look forward to. “I don’t want to leave you either,” I admit. I just wish a life with you didn’t have to happen here.

The truth is, I couldn’t stomach a life under the same roof as the queen. I don’t want to be the kind of person who can turn a blind eye to her brand of cruelty, and no matter what I feel for Sebastian, I refuse to let go of that part of who I am.

Sebastian takes the books from my hands and sets them down on a nearby table. When he looks down at me again, his expression is soft, tender. “Close your eyes.”

I look around the library. I hope he doesn’t have some sweet surprise waiting in here for me. My guilt is already near paralyzing. “Why?”

“Just do it.”

I can’t even fake a smile. “Okay.” I close my eyes and sense him bending closer.

“Keep them closed.” He blows a stream of soft air into one ear. I arch my back in pleasure but keep my eyes closed. He blows into the other, and then I hear it—soft at first, then louder. A sweet melody fills my ears—fills the whole room. “Do you hear it?”

“Where is it coming from?” I ask.

“The library pixies. They love books and live among them. If you know how to listen, you can hear them sing.”

Library pixies that live among books and sing. I wonder if I ever could have hated faeries if I’d known such a thing existed.

“Why can’t we hear them with our eyes open?”

“I can hear them fine, but you’re mortal. Your ears aren’t as sensitive as ours.”

He’s used his magic to let me hear a special part of his world that my human ears would have never picked up.

“Dance with me?” he asks, sliding his arms around my waist.

With my eyes still closed, I rest my head against his chest and sway to the ethereal sounds of the library pixies. Maybe it’s the pixies’ song, but I somehow feel closer to him while we sway. I let myself imagine, just for a moment, that I could accept what he’s offering me, that I could be his wife and have a life of stolen kisses and dancing in the library.

“Prince Ronan.”

Sebastian stills, and I reluctantly step out of his arms as he turns to Riaan, who’s stepped into the library.

“My apologies, Your Highness, but you asked to be notified if there was any news about . . .” His eyes flick to me for a beat before returning to his prince’s face. “About the traitor.”

My entire body goes cold. The traitor.

Sebastian bristles, his own reaction likely the only thing keeping him from noticing mine. When he turns to me, I try to keep my face neutral. “I need to step out for a few minutes. If you’d like to stay here, I can return for you, but it might be a while.”

I look around the library and at my stack of books waiting on the table. All I want to do now is find out what Riaan means by the traitor. “I think I’ll go to bed.”

“Your rooms are on my way. Let me walk you.”

He offers his arm, and I slide mine through it, falling into step beside him and trying to keep my movements relaxed when every part of me is wound tight with tension. Riaan stays behind us but never too far away.

Sebastian stops at my door. “Good night.” He lifts my hand to his lips and kisses my knuckles. “Sleep well.”

“Good night, Seb—” I realize that Riaan is watching, his eyes mistrusting. Can he hear my pounding heart with his sensitive fae ears? Sebastian, at least, seems oblivious, and I give him a smile as I nod my good night. “Your Highness.”

“Sweet dreams.” Sebastian winks at me.

I back into my chambers without closing the door and watch as they walk away to deal with a traitor.

As soon as they’re far enough that I don’t think they’ll notice, I slip into the shadows and follow.

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