Chapter no 7

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

“THERE HAS TO BE ANOTHER WAY,” I say, stepping away from the goblin at my door. After I was given an opportunity to bathe and the king’s servants dressed me like a doll, King Mordeus sent his goblin to escort me to the queen’s palace. I don’t care to put that much trust in a creature who has

wiped drool from his mouth twice since I came into his view.

“King Mordeus long ago destroyed his brother Oberon’s portal to the Seelie lands,” one handmaiden says.

“Can I take a carriage or . . . a horse?”

The handmaidens exchange surprised glances. “It’s a week’s journey on our fastest steed, milady.”

At first I nearly snorted every time they call me lady. That’s one thing I’ve never been accused of being, but after hours of having them fuss over me, I’m more annoyed by the title than anything else.

King Mordeus’s goblin grumbles under his breath, then offers his hand

again. I get it. Not only can goblins move freely between and within realms, they can do so instantaneously. They choose to go somewhere, and they

simply appear there. Next to the knowledge they hoard, it’s their greatest power. My gaze lands on the bracelet at my wrist. As the faeries washed me, I confirmed Bakken’s promise that the bracelet was visible only to me. Now I’m tempted to use it. I would so much rather have Bakken transport me than this unknown goblin, but I don’t want to waste a thread—or, truthfully, unnecessarily lose any more of my hair. I’m supposed to seduce a prince, and my wild red curls are the best physical attribute I have on my

side. I take a deep breath and a step forward. “Okay.”

The goblin takes my hand. His skin is leathery against mine, but before I can think on it too long, the world falls away. This isn’t like the sensation of appearing before the king from my cell. This is like moving down and up

and out all at once—then I’m jerked to a halt, my head whipping back. I’m surrounded by rows of neatly tended flower beds, and the golden queen’s

castle gleams in the evening light.

“I leave you here,” the goblin says, releasing my hand.

I turn to ask how I’m to summon him after I retrieve the mirror, but he’s already gone.

The castle is as bustling as it was when I first arrived in Faerie, with humans and faeries of all kinds milling about beyond and within the gates. I graze my fingers across the amulet that hangs between my breasts and start toward the footbridge. The handmaidens who dressed me had asked about the amulet and suggested that I trade it out for pearls, but I refused. I don’t know if Sebastian’s magic works in this realm, but even if it doesn’t, the feel of the cool crystal between my breasts brings me comfort.

Sebastian. My chest pinches, and I allow myself a moment of self-pity. I close my eyes and remember his kiss, his sea-green eyes. It’s hard to believe that only a few days ago my debt to Madame V and my secret crush on the mage’s apprentice were the most complicated problems in my life.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see Sebastian again, but if I do, I hope he can forgive me for whatever actions I’ll have to take to make Prince Ronan trust me.

“Brie? Is that you?”

I turn toward the familiar voice and see Sebastian striding toward me, as if my thoughts alone summoned him. I nearly fall to my knees in relief at the sight of his beautiful face. He’s dressed in dark brown leather pants and a vest, a long sword strapped to his back, as if it’s just another day in Fairscape and he’s ready to train in Mage Trifen’s courtyard. But then I take in his pointed ears, glowing skin, and the sharper angles of his features. He looks every bit like the noble fae I saw dancing inside the queen’s castle last night.

He must have gotten a potion from Mage Trifen—I considered it myself before realizing I could never afford such a thing, and I didn’t have the time to steal the funds.

“Bash,” I whisper.

He pulls me into his arms. His heat is a comfort I thought I’d never experience again. “It is you.”

When I pull back to study him, a combination of awe and frustration taint his perfectly handsome face. “I would never have believed you could pass for a faerie,” I say, skimming my fingertips across his beautiful cheekbones. “Your glamour is flawless. If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t doubt that you belong here.”

He flinches at this, and his throat bobs as he swallows. “When I heard Gorst’s men were looking for you, I went to Nik. She told me you were gone. She wouldn’t tell me where you went, but she didn’t have to. I knew you’d come for Jas.” He pulls me into his chest again and exhales heavily. “I’ve been searching the Seelie Court all day, and I couldn’t find you.

Damnit, Brie, where have you been?”

I fish the amulet out of my dress and show it to him. “I’m safe. See?”

He runs his big hands up and down my arms and looks over every inch of me. After pulling my hair back in a series of braids gathered into a bun atop my head, the Unseelie handmaidens had dressed me in a sleeveless gown of layer after layer of yellow satin. The fabric hugs my figure from the

sweetheart neckline down through my hips and flares out to where it

sweeps the ground around my yellow-slippered feet. When they showed me my reflection, I thought I looked like a giant tulip. The maids insisted that the prince would find me irresistible like this, and I had no reason not to trust them.

But maybe Prince Ronan isn’t the only one with a weakness for tulips. Sebastian is speechless as he takes me in. His eyes return to my face again and again, as if he’s trying to convince himself that I’m okay. “You look

. . .” He squeezes the back of his neck and flashes me a boyish grin. “Let’s just say I can’t imagine that you’ve been able to get around unnoticed.”

I swallow but can’t help my blush at the compliment. “I managed.” “I’ve been so worried.”

“I’m fine.” It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell him the truth, but what did the king say about talking about our deal? Was it only the Seelie I can’t tell or did he forbid me to tell anyone? I think it’s just the Seelie, but what happens if one of them overhears me telling Sebastian? “You shouldn’t have come looking for me. What about your apprenticeship?”

He studies my face, tracing the edge of my jaw with his thumb. “Nothing matters as much as you.”

I rest my cheek against his chest, curl into him, and hold tight. Maybe it makes me weak, but I’m desperately grateful that he’s here. Because I’m tired. Because I’m scared.

Because I’m ashamed.

I’m ashamed that part of me wants to go home—that I wish I could leave this place and these awful creatures. Ashamed that I wish I didn’t have to be

the one to rescue my sister.

The king was right about one thing. I am a great thief. I can steal just

about anything. But a faerie prince’s heart? I wouldn’t know where to start.

I should feel lucky that the king isn’t asking anything worse from me, but instead I feel primed for failure. I would rather have ventured into the depths of the Unseelie wilds—fought and evaded terrible monsters to steal magical treasures. I would’ve had more confidence in my ability to do that, but this? Pretending I want to be a faerie’s bride and beating out other

women for the honor? Even in the prettiest dress, I wouldn’t know how to do that.

Sebastian steps back and cups my face in one big hand. “Tell me where you’ve been.”

I shake my head. I can’t tell him about the king. I can’t risk it. “I’ve been looking for Jas. My search led me . . . away from the queen’s lands.”

He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “My amulet can’t protect you from the worst of the shadow court. You have no idea how dangerous they are. If an Unseelie fae had seen you, they would have taken you. They

could have bound you as a slave. Worse.”

I hate that my choice hurts him. How can I explain? If anyone understands what Jas means to me, it’s Sebastian. “I won’t go home until I find her. But you should. This isn’t your fight, Bash.”

He scans the lush gardens around us and curses under his breath. “I need more time,” he says, more to himself than to me.

I put my hand on his arm, all too aware of the strength and warmth beneath my fingers. “For what?”

“To do what I should have done months ago.” He swallows. “Walk with me?”

I cast a long look at the castle. I need to go in and present myself as a potential bride for the prince before he’s chosen his twelve.

“Just for a few minutes,” Sebastian says. He tucks a loose curl behind my ear. “Can you give me that?” His smile is like sunlight on my icy heart. I

can’t deny him this—not when it’s so simple.

Turning, he stoops and plucks the bud of an orange day lily from the garden. It blooms in his palm, and I gasp. “I’ve never seen you do that.”

“My mother loves day lilies. When I’d leave you to go home, my best friend would mock me for staring at them. He knew they reminded me of

your hair, but in truth they don’t compare.” He tucks the flower into my hair, and I allow myself a beat to close my eyes. The feel of his rough fingertips on the shell of my ear sends a shiver through me. How can I be so greedy for more of his touches—more of these long glances and tenderly

spoken words—when Jas needs me?

“You never talked about your family.” I shake my head. “I should have asked more questions.”

“I never gave you the chance.” He adjusts the flower one last time before dropping his hand. “I was raised in privilege and power. And I couldn’t

always trust that those around me truly cared.”

This surprises me. Not everyone is lucky enough to be a mage’s

apprentice, of course, but any family with significant power would consider the position beneath them. “What kind of power?”

“Ruling power. The kind I’ll be expected to take on myself.” He takes my hand in his and studies my fingers in his palm. The glamour may have

sharpened some of his features, but it left his calluses untouched. “Soon.”

Frowning, I curl my fingers, squeezing his fingertips in my palm. “Then why have you been studying to be a mage?”

“The skills are useful, and I . . . In truth, I needed to get away.”

That’s when it clicks. “You weren’t really leaving for another part of your apprenticeship, were you? You were going home.”

He nods and searches my face. “I wanted to ask you to go with me, but I knew you wouldn’t want the life I could offer you.”

My heart soars and aches all at once. “Why would you say that?” Does he think I’d be that picky? Or was it because he knew I’d never leave Jas behind and didn’t think he could take us both?

He blows out a breath. “I still can’t believe she sold her.”

I return my cheek to its resting place on his chest, relishing the feel of his heat and strength. Maybe Sebastian can’t save Jas or protect me from this task I must take on, but there’s something comforting in his embrace. Part of me wants to believe I could put my problems in his capable hands and he would be able to fix everything. “It’s not your fault.”

“It is my fault that I never told you how I feel. And now I’m afraid I’m too late.” His gaze flashes away, and I follow it to see a group of yellow-and-gray-clad guardsmen marching out of the castle. Yellow, I realize, like my dress. One of the queen’s banner colors.

When I look back up at Sebastian, he’s staring at my mouth.

I lift my hand, cupping his jaw in invitation. Slowly—so slowly it’s nearly painful—he lowers his mouth to mine. His lips are soft, but I slide my hand into his hair and the kiss turns searching. Time stutters to a stop. The sun stalls on the horizon, the birds quiet, and the breeze stills in the flowers. Nothing in the world exists but his mouth and mine, and my heart aches as I try to memorize every perfect second. This could be our last kiss.

How can I make another man fall in love with me when I have always been in love with this man?

When he pulls away, my knees are weak and the world comes back into focus too slowly.

“Please forgive me,” he whispers.

“You have nothing to apologize for.” I almost smile. “I’m pretty sure I

kissed you.

“His Royal Highness, Prince Ronan, is needed in the throne room,” a guard says, too near us.

I jerk away to scan the gardens. Is the prince nearby? Did he see me kissing Sebastian? If he did, how will he ever believe I want him?

Foolish and reckless, Brie. Get it together.

But no one is in the garden except Sebastian, the guards, and me. The guards watch Sebastian expectantly, and Sebastian watches me.

“Sir, excuse me,” one of the queen’s garrison says, “but it’s time to go.

They await you inside. The selection was to begin hours ago.”

“Tell my mother I will join her shortly.” His voice is tight and sharp, and my muddled brain scrambles to make sense of his words.

The sentinel shifts awkwardly from one leg to another and looks to his fellow guardsmen. “Your Highness—”

Sebastian sets his jaw. “Leave us.”

I’m vaguely aware of the sound of feet marching away on the garden’s flagstone path, but I can’t take my eyes off my friend. I blink at him. “Your mother?” Prince Ronan. They addressed him as Prince Ronan. And Your

Highness. “Bash, I don’t understand. What kind of glamour is this? Why do they think you’re the prince?”

He takes my hand and gently squeezes my fingertips. “Because I am.” I step back, yanking my hand away. “That’s not funny.”

“Brie, listen to me. I couldn’t tell you, not when I knew how you felt about my kind. I wanted to, but—”

“No.” I shake my head wildly. “No, you’re a normal human. You can’t be


“Please. Just give me a chance to explain.”

I’ve backed away without realizing it and find myself in the shadow of a willow tree.

“Brie?” He mutters a curse and spins in place. “Abriella? Please.

I look at my hands, but they’re not there. Somehow I’ve become invisible again—become the shadows, like before.

I don’t question it. I just run. Through the gardens, beyond the castle gates, and into thick fog. My lungs burn and my legs ache, but I don’t stop

—not when the landscape changes from the impossible perfection of the palace grounds to something like a ruin, not when my limbs appear again, whatever magic made me invisible falling away. I don’t slow down until the fog is as thick as a storm cloud and the sun is so low in the sky that the last fingers of light barely brush the horizon.

I lean against a broken marble column and sink to the ground. I don’t even realize I’m crying until my cheeks are wet and my breath comes in hiccupping gasps.

He lied to me. He made me believe he was someone he wasn’t.

I was prepared to steal from a spoiled prince. I wouldn’t hesitate to deceive a faerie to save my sister, and I wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about my heart. But Prince Ronan isn’t just a faerie. He’s Sebastian, and I

don’t know how I’m supposed to pretend I can forgive him—pretend I want to marry him.

When you meet Prince Ronan, remember that you need him. Hold his trust, or you will be unable to infiltrate his court.

The king’s words from this morning ring in my head. He didn’t tell me to earn the prince’s trust. He told me to hold it. And yesterday he told me that there are no coincidences in Faerie. That’s why he wanted me for this mission. He knows. Somehow, King Mordeus knows about my relationship with Sebastian, and he’s using me because of it.

I don’t know what upsets me more—the idea of hiding my heartache and pretending that Sebastian’s lies are forgivable or the possibility that playing

this part with Sebastian might break me in a way I can never come back from.

But what choice do I have? I ran because I panicked, but if I had been thinking clearly, I would have stayed with the prince—used our relationship as a way in. I will give up anything to save Jas. My pride. My heart. My life.

I have to go back. I have to convince Sebastian that I still want him. I push off the ground and brush the tears from my cheeks. Turning around, I step through rubble to find my path back to the palace.

A robed, hooded figure steps out of the fog. I tense until familiar dark

eyes meet mine. My shoulders sag, and a soft breeze of relief washes over me, leaving exhaustion in its wake. I know her.

Another figure—tall and menacing, with glowing red eyes that leer at me from under his hood—appears behind her. I open my mouth to warn her, but before I can get out a sound, sleep swallows me whole and I fall to the ground.

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