Chapter no 4

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

“YOU NEED TO TELL SEBASTIAN your plan,” Nik says, leaning against the side of Mage Trifen’s house.

“Is that why you brought me here?”

I had moved out of Madame V’s this morning and gone straight to Nik, who patiently listened to my panicked story and half-baked plan before insisting that I follow her to Mage Trifen’s for a sleeping tonic. The portal doesn’t open until midnight, she reasoned, and I wouldn’t be any good if I didn’t get some rest before then.

Now the sun inches toward the horizon, and it feels as if time is moving both too fast and too slow. If it were up to me, I would already be searching Faerie for my sister, but I’m scared I won’t be strong enough or smart

enough once I get there. I’m so scared I’ll fail.

“I brought you for the tonic,” she says, patting her purse, “but I do think you should tell him. Maybe he could go with you.”

I shake my head. “He’ll get in the way trying to protect me. And anyway, he leaves for the next portion of his apprenticeship tomorrow. I won’t ruin that for him.”

Frowning, she straightens. “I don’t like you doing this alone. I don’t like that you’re doing this at all.”

“Would you go if you were in my shoes? If it were Fawn who’d been sold to the Unseelie king?”

Her dark eyes glitter with tears, and she swallows. “In a heartbeat.” “Then you know I have no choice.”

“I imagine you’ve done many things because you had no choice,” she says softly. She toys with a dark curl and seems to consider this before adding, “I need to ask you something.”


She looks down the alley in each direction, and even though we’re the only ones out here, she lowers her voice when she speaks. “That money you gave me for Fawn’s contract . . . did you steal it from Gorst?”

My stomach plummets. How would she know that? “Do I look that stupid?”

She narrows her eyes at me. “Brie.”

I rub the back of my neck, where all my tension from the last twenty-four hours seems to have coiled into one big knot. “Wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t know where I got it?” I can’t believe that was only last night. So much has happened since then—my whole world tipped on its axis.

She purses her lips. “Someone broke into Gorst’s house, got past his wards, and raided his vault. He’s pissed.”

“I imagine so.”

“Whoever it was left blood behind,” she whispers. “And it’s only a matter of time until his mage finds the match—finds the thief.”

Shit. I’ve been so busy dealing with everything else that I’d forgotten about the blood. “Gorst is the least of my worries.”

“Yeah? Well, you’d better hope the magic works slowly, or you may never get the chance to enter that portal.”

“Brie?” Sebastian calls, coming down the alley from the courtyard. “We’ll talk later,” Nik says, giving me a sad smile and squeezing my

wrist before backing away. “I’ll see you at home. Until then, watch your back.”

“Thanks, Nik.” With a deep breath, I turn to face Sebastian. My heart squeezes at the sight of him. He’s wearing a white tunic with dark leather

pants that are fitted to his powerful thighs, and his white hair glows faintly golden in the sunlight.

“Master Trifen said you were looking for me.”

I swallow the knot of emotion in my throat. I want to tell him my plan

and warn him that we may never see each other again. I hate deceiving him, but I don’t see a better alternative. “I wanted to see you before you go.”

Sebastian steps closer and takes my hands in each of his, squeezing. “I wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye.”

“I know.” I scan his face, memorizing every inch. His eyes are more blue than green in the setting sun. I may never see those eyes again.

He reaches into his pocket and draws out a necklace with a crystal pendant. “I made you something.”

“Bash . . .” The chain is a simple, finely woven silver, but the crystal is flawless. “It’s . . . the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Then it suits you.” His voice is hoarse, and the heartbreaking tenderness in his eyes grates against my conscience. “It’s an amulet of protection. If I can’t be here to protect you myself, then . . .” He flinches, as if the thought causes him physical pain, then gently guides the necklace over my head.

“Promise me you’ll always wear it.”

“I promise.” It falls between my breasts and glitters in the sunlight. I clutch it in my fist. “When do you leave?”

“First thing in the morning.” His gaze goes to the sky, as if checking to make sure he hasn’t run out of time.

“Thank you for being such a good friend. I don’t know if I would’ve made it through the last two years without you.”

“Don’t do that.” He shakes his head. “Don’t act like you won’t see me again.”

I drop my gaze to my feet, staring at my battered black boots instead of letting him look into my eyes, where I fear the truth is written.

He tilts my face up to his. “There’s so much I still need to tell you.” “Like what?”

He scans my face again and again. “About my past . . . about me.”

I open my mouth and snap it shut again. Sebastian’s never talked about his family. He never wanted to share anything about his life before he moved to Fairscape, and I never pushed.

“I’ll do everything in my power to see you again,” he says softly. “But I’m not ready to leave you yet.” His hands are big and warm. I’ve secretly imagined him touching me like this so many times, but nothing I dreamed up could compare with the sensation of his callused fingers sliding behind my neck and into my hair as his gaze drops to my mouth. “Is there anything you need to tell me? Anything I should know before I leave tomorrow?”

Does he mean about my feelings for him? Or does he suspect that I’ll be headed to a different realm at midnight, risking everything on the unlikely chance that I can save my sister? “Sebastian, you’re my best fr—”

Before I can finish the word, he lowers his head. Soft lips find mine, and I gasp against him. Electricity buzzes through me, waking me up, zapping between us, making this kiss feel like it could light all of Fairscape, all of Elora.

When his tongue sweeps across my lips and then inside my mouth, I kiss him back with everything I have. Everything I am. I can feel his worry in

his kiss, and I wonder if he can feel my fear. I have to save my sister, but I don’t want to die. I don’t want to lose him either.

My emotions are a muddled mess, somehow heightened by his kiss.

When he pulls away, I’m lightheaded, the rug pulled out from under me. I’ve been falling for Sebastian for two years, and all this time I believed my feelings were unrequited. And now, when I may never see him again, I learn that they’re not. Fate is toying with me.

“Wait for me,” he whispers.

I won’t. I can’t. And I feel a stab of guilt at how good his words feel

anyway. I can’t let my feelings for Sebastian blur my focus. All that matters is getting to Jas.



“Brie.” A whisper in my ear as the mare runs faster and faster, carrying Mom and me toward the beach. “Brie, they’re coming.”

My heart races, and my hair flies in wild wisps around my face. Mom’s wedding band bites into my little finger as she grips the reins.

“Brie.” The breeze turns hot, and smoke fills the air, stinging my throat. “Abriella, wake up!”

My eyes burn as I crawl across the floor on my hands and knees. The acrid smoke snakes its way into my lungs, and fire dances all around me.

Heat licks my skin. Flames dart out and sear my bare legs. Jasalyn smiles up at me, blinking through the smoke. I sweep her off the bed, but she’s too heavy for my skinny arms to hold, and I fall back under her weight. I grip her tighter, and she disintegrates into a pile of ash.

“Brie!” Someone shakes me hard.

I force my eyes open. Force air into my lungs.

The room is dark and cool. There’s no fire, save for a single flame flickering atop a candle on the bedside table. Nik crouches beside me on the floor, still in the skintight dress she wore to meet her client.

“What is it?” Sleep threatens to drag me under again, thanks to the tonic Nik gave me after dinner.

“Gorst is here for you.”

I press my hand to my mouth and spring to my feet. Fawn is curled on her side in the bed, her stuffed rabbit clutched to her chest. My stomach

cramps at the thought of Gorst tearing this little girl’s home apart because of me.

The booming knock on the door seems to shake the whole apartment, and I spin to Nik with wide eyes. “Stall for me. I’ll sneak out the window.”

She nods, one step ahead of me. “I put one of my dresses in your bag.” She looks toward the door when the knock sounds again. “It’s nothing as fine as what your sister could make, but it’ll help you blend in with all the girls going to the ball.”

“Thank you.” I hug her tightly. “I owe you.”

“If you don’t open this door, we’ll knock it down!” a deep voice calls. “I’m coming!” Nik shouts. Her voice doesn’t betray any of the fear on

her face. Then, to me, “The portals should open in less than an hour. Be safe and come back to us, you hear? Fawn needs her aunt Brie.”

My eyes burn, so I just nod and sling my bag over my shoulder.

Nik stomps toward the door. The fear sloughs off her with each step, replaced with bravado. “Who do you think you are, pounding on my door in the middle of the night?”

I close the bedroom door as quietly as possible, then pull the pillows and blankets from my mat and place them neatly on the bed.

“We’ve been told that Abriella Kincaid is staying here,” the deep voice says.

“Well, you’ve been told wrong. It’s just me and my daughter.”

After kicking the mat under the bed, I blow out the candle. The blanket of darkness is a reassuring balm to my senses.

“If you don’t mind, ma’am, we’d like to see for ourselves.” Nik huffs. “I do mind. My daughter is sleeping.”

I pull myself out the window and shut it behind me just as light pours into the bedroom from the main part of her unit. I run down the alley, then

cut across to another, zigzagging in a path they’d never suspect. The night is bright under the full moon, and I avoid the main streets, sticking to the darker, narrower paths between buildings to remain unseen, pressing myself against walls and between trash barrels when need be. I run and run and run, sweating, lungs burning. I don’t stop until I’m safely ensconced in the woods at the edge of town.

There’s already a line of young women tittering excitedly in the flood of moonlight at the river’s edge. Some are dressed in elaborate ball gowns,

others in simple cotton frocks that are likely the nicest thing they own. They’re all waiting for the portal to open, staring at the riverbank as if it’s their own personal path to salvation. Fools.

Avoiding the crowds and the moonlight, I head to the dense grove of trees beyond. Blindly, I strip off my clothes, peeling my shirt and pants from my sweat-drenched limbs before searching the satchel for the dress

Nik packed. The fabric is thin and silky, and when I pull it over my head, it slides like cool water over my skin.

I clutch the crystal at my neck. I don’t know how well amulets of protection work, but I escaped Gorst’s men tonight. If this necklace can get me to Faerie safely, I may never take it off.

I huddle against a tree, hidden by the darkness, and watch the moon climb higher in the sky until, finally, gasps and delighted laughter drift toward me.

“It’s opened.”

“The portal has opened!”

“The golden queen welcomes us!” “Prince Ronan awaits!”

I tuck my amulet into my dress and slowly emerge from the shadows, stepping into the line of women. We wait our turn to walk through the

portal. I clutch my hands to resist the urge to smooth my hair and wipe the sweat off my brow. If I keep my head down, maybe they won’t notice that I’m not dressed as finely as they are.

I’m not like these women. I’ve never wanted to be a faerie princess, never dreamed of the day I could dance with the immortals at one of their legendary balls. But tonight I recognize my luck. Once I’m on the other side of the portal, Gorst’s men can’t touch me.

With that thought, I lift my head to see the woman in front of me step off the bank and into the sheer five-foot drop to the river—only to vanish into thin air.

“Go on now,” the woman behind me says. “It’s your turn. Don’t hold up the line.”

“I just . . . jump?” I ask.

She laughs. “No, silly. If you jump, you’ll fall right into the river. You have to walk to the portal above the water. You must believe it’s there, or it won’t work.”

I gape at the rushing river beyond the bank. Fear climbs on my back and weighs me down.

“Go on,” she says. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

“I fall into the water, get pulled under, and have the rapids beat my body against the rocks until I drown?”

She laughs as if I just said something hilarious. “Go on now.” “Right. Just believe.” So simple.

“Have any of you ladies seen a redheaded young woman with a scar on her wrist?” someone asks farther down the line. “She’s a thief, and we have a cash reward for the first person who helps us find her.”

The woman behind me drops her gaze to my wrist.

I press my palm to my amulet, and I don’t just walk over the riverbank. I run.

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