Siobhan flinched as Tavish took another blow to the face from Tracie. Her Summer Court co-advisor, on the other hand, smiled joyously as he rarely did in public. Their makeshift gymnasium was filled with cool air and the soothing sounds of soft jazz. It had not been designed to encourage the fighting they were there to do. Most of the others had left. Only Siobhan, Tracie, and Tavish were still there. Siobhan wanted to be left alone with him, and he’d demanded Tracie stay. “Are you afraid of Siobhan?” Tracie taunted as she kicked out at him. He caught her ankle. Blood already dotted his typically impeccable clothes, and strands of tinsel-like hair fell into his face. The plait that usually bound his silver hair tightly back had become loosened after several hours of training the small group. “Not bad for a Summer Girl,” Tavish said, shoving Tracie toward the ground before he sneered at Siobhan. “Unlike you, Siobhan. Unable to hit me?” Siobhan winced. He was intentionally being a prick.
Tracie, one of the few of the former Summer Girls who had become a guard, was ruthless, though. Kicks followed punches, and Tavish blocked almost all of them. Unlike Siobhan, Tracie seemed to be making up for their centuries of semi-dizzy lust with bursts of rage. She had found her place as guard, and Siobhan felt pride in seeing one of her own flourish. They had never been competitors. The Summer Girls were bound by Summer, trapped by the Summer King, and they had a bond that was unbroken still— even as a number of their group left. Tracie stayed. Eliza did, too. A few became solitary, and a few went to the High Court. Siobhan had stayed with the Summer Court, but not as a guard.
She’d become an advisor, not interested in unnecessary violence after the fight between the courts had ended. Not that Tavish cared. “And here, I’d heard that the Summer Girls were only good for—” Tracie’s fists flew, and Siobhan watched as the other woman hit Tavish repeatedly and say, “I am not. a. Girl. Asshole.” “And you?” Tavish dodged Tracie’s last blow and snaked out his leg to pull Siobhan off balance. She toppled to the ground in their makeshift gymnasium. “What use are you, Siobhan?” he asked. Siobhan glared at him as she launched to her feet.
“Jerk. I serve Ash by advising her, and I learned enough to stay safe.” “Pay attention. If someone comes here, you’re vulnerable,” he said, as if forgetting the guards that kept watch over the doors—and the queen herself, who was as fierce as any faery in any court. Several centuries of playing at foolishness made Siobhan instinctively pout. It wasn’t an act that worked on Tavish anymore, though. His next punch was hard enough to knock her backwards. “I’m not a guard, Tavish.” Siobhan spread her feet to give herself a more stable stance and shot her fist forward with as much force as she could. Her punch wasn’t enough to knock him backward, but it did distract him.
“I don’t like to hit anyone.” He was smiling, now. “Even me?” Then, Tracie landed a solid blow across his throat. Tracie grinned. “I like hitting you, or anyone else I can.” Tavish coughed hard, hand to his throat, not far from the black sun tattoo there. No one knew exactly how or why it had been put there. With his stern expressions and tightly bound hair, he didn’t seem the type for a tattoo on his throat, but one night over a lot of tequila, he’d told Siobhan that it was older than the then-king and had been applied when Miach, father to Keenan, ruled. That made it over nine hundred years old. “Are you injured?” Siobhan asked Rather than being upset, Tavish beamed at Tracie and said, “Well done.
” “Thanks, boss.” Tracie rolled her shoulders and asked, “Are we done?” “You are,” Tavish said. Then he turned to look at Siobhan. His approving smile vanished. “You can stay. You need to be able to defend yourself. What if you’re alone or with our queen and—” “When am I ever alone?” Tracie leaned up and kissed Tavish’s cheek. It meant nothing. Theirs was a court with little hesitation about affection. For a horrible moment, Siobhan hated Tracie for being the recipient of the approval she coveted.
It was foolishness, but the more time she spent with him, the more his rare sweet words charmed her. She knew better. Faeries— especially Summer Court faeries—were notoriously fickle in their affection. Far better to dream of a solitary, a Winter fey, a Dark fey. Not Tavish. Siobhan knew better. She thought about all of the reasons he was precisely not what she should want. Tavish was the Summer Queen’s advisor, head of the guard, and—as far as Siobhan knew —the oldest member of the court. And, Siobhan was the second advisor to the queen; she was expected to stand in opposition to Tavish’s advice when necessary. Tracie paused and kissed both of Siobhan’s cheeks.
Then she whispered, “Kick his ass.” Tavish made a sound of disbelief. Obviously, he’d heard. He didn’t respect Siobhan in any way, as far as she could tell. How could he? She’d gone from frivolous member of the Summer King’s harem, one of the many women who were wooed by him in his search for the queen, to the advisor to the Summer Queen. “If you can land three solid blows—” “No.” Siobhan shook her head. “I’ve proven that I can hit you, Tavish. I’m not here for games. I come to these sessions to show support of you, but in this court, I advise.
I do not like to fight.” “You are no longer some helpless mortal, Siobhan.” Tavish raised his fists in a boxer’s pose. “Or hapless plaything.” “Plaything?” she echoed. “Is that what you thought of me all these years?” “You didn’t even have the ambition to try to be queen.” He shrugged. “You chose his harem. Why would I think you more?” “Because you know me,” she said. In fact, Tavish knew her when she was mortal, when she refused the test to be Summer Queen, when she was sent by their king to seduce another king.
He’d once been the faery she’d wept on when she was newly cursed. “I was a spy for the king,” she reminded him. “That’s a fair bit more than hapless.” “But you were a seductress there, too.” He stared at her. “You can’t kiss your way out of every crisis. What if–” “You’ll never truly see me as an equal, will you?” she asked, although the question wasn’t one he could answer. It was hard to recreate her identity when he knew her so well. He was the reminder of what had been. Of the original trio of power in the Summer Court, only Tavish remained.
Niall was the Dark King, and Keenan was the Winter King. But Tavish remained—and they had centuries of history that meant he still saw her as someone who didn’t matter. All of which means that he’s not going to form an attachment to me. Or even see me as a worthy advisor. Siobhan met Tavish’s cool gaze. “I am done for the day.” He frowned, but was silent for several moments as she gathered her things. The blood dripping from his cut lip seemed not to bother him, but Siobhan found it irritating—more so because she was not the cause. “Is it wrong to want you to be safe?” he asked. Despite logic, Siobhan paused.
“I am safe, Tavish.” She reached out to wipe the blood drop away. Tavish caught her wrist. “No.” “You didn’t used to mind my touch.” Siobhan wasn’t sure she’d ever been among his favorites, but they had memories over the years. Blurry ones, admittedly, but they’d enjoyed each other. “If all you think of me is as a seductress, perhaps—” “You weren’t an advisor to my queen then.” Tavish squeezed her wrist, holding her in place. They stayed, caught in some silent battle for control until he asked, “Do you still visit the Dark? Do you still spend time in their court?” And that was the trigger to her rage.
She wrapped her leg around his knee and punched his shoulder with her free hand, using the push and pull of the combined motions to knock him to the ground. “Do you doubt my loyalty? Or are you jealous?” she asked. He tugged her forward, not releasing her wrist even as he fell, and she landed atop him. Chest-to-chest. Hip-to-hip. “My duty is to the Summer Court.” “Not an answer,” she said, glaring down at him. “Do you still warm the Dark King’s sheets?” he asked. She tugged her wrist free, hating that she could only do so because he allowed it. A part of her thought he was jealous, but such a thing wasn’t normal for a Summer Court faery.
If he was jealous, he was a fool. She had interest in exactly one faery—and unfortunately, he was the one who was currently insulting and rejecting her. “I answer to the queen, Tavish. Not you.” THE NEXT DAY was no better. Tavish was already in a foul mood when Irial himself arrived at the loft where the advisors and queen of the Summer Court made their home. He stood in the doorway as if posing for cameras, dark eyes sparkling and a smile that could only lead to trouble. The guards parted at Siobhan’s nod. “Irial,” Siobhan greeted. She knew him well enough to know that the king who had become Chaos was not here without reason.
“May I enter?” The guard at the door looked toward Tavish and Siobhan. It wasn’t as if they could refuse him, not truly, but seeing him seemed to evoke unease in those who had been born fey. “No,” Tavish said, just as Siobhan said, “Yes.” Siobhan muttered a curse that had Irial laughing aloud. He strolled into the room. “Lovely to see you, too.” Irial was no longer the Dark King, and in truth, he had a unique status among their kind. As Chaos, he could not properly be refused welcome in any court. “It has been too long, lovely.” Siobhan gave him a look no one else could see, and his smile grew cunning.
After his death, he’d managed to finagle resurrection as the embodiment of Chaos, and he had the unique position of also being the unofficial consort of the current Dark King. “Irial. My regards to your better halves.” He laughed. “Oh, but if they are both my better halves, they’ve fulfilled all the good I could be. Does that leave me nothing but wickedness?” “If memory serves, that always was a particular gift of yours.” Siobhan stepped closer and allowed his familiar embrace, knowing well that he was harmless to her. No one who knew him would be surprised that he dipped her for a kiss. While Irial’s kiss was fairly chaste, it undoubtedly looked otherwise, and the wink he gave her made clear that he intended as much. Siobhan bit back a smile as Tavish jerked her away from Irial.
“Why are you here?” Tavish asked. “I have no record of a meeting.” Irial grinned. “Niall kicked me out of the house for being ‘absurdly cheerful,’ so I thought I’d visit the other courts.” He looked around expectantly. “Is the queen around? I’d like to pay my respects.” “On behalf of . ” Tavish prompted. “Chaos, it is what I am,” Irial answered with a cheeriness that was slightly out of character. “Why else would I possibly be here?” “Are you drunk?” Siobhan asked softly.
Irial laughed gleefully and said, “Not yet, my dear. A glass of Summer Wine wouldn’t go amiss, though. Would you fetch me one?” “Siobhan is not a cocktail maid. She is an advisor to Her Majesty, Aislinn, Queen of the Summer Court and—” “I was asking you, Tavish.” Irial looked at Siobhan’s counterpart with an innocent smile that was about as convincing as kelpie claiming to be vegetarian. The innocence fled after a moment, and there instead was a faery to fear. Taunting. Powerful. Far too proud to back down, despite—or perhaps because of—centuries of encounters. “Summer Wine is for those of our court.
” Tavish glared, eyes as black as Irial’s now. The two could be brothers, opposing twins: Tavish spun-silver hair and Irial shadow-dark strands. “I belong to all courts,” Irial stated. “Or none.” Tavish held Irial’s gaze and added, “Our queen is busy. One makes an appointment, requests a convenient time—” “Are you refusing me access to the Summer Queen?” “No.” “To the Summer Wine, then?” Irial taunted. “Are you afraid I’ll become drunken and difficult, Tavish? Afraid that I cannot control myself? Surely, you are not worried for my well-being.” “You are not of our court,” Tavish said, not backing down at all. “Summer Wine is the drink of the court of light.
You are a thing of shadows.” If Siobhan didn’t know him so well, she would’ve missed the rage in his form and voice. Even then, however, she would not miss the accusations in his voice. The history between the courts was tense, and Tavish saw no beauty in the Dark. But while the Dark Court was never a place of sparkling light and joyous laughter, Siobhan knew well that it wasn’t evil. She had many fond memories of nights in black sheets with the shadows touching her skin. There was joy there, too, as in her own court. She looked between the two faeries. Whatever grudges they had meant that this could turn ugly. “Perhaps, we could—” “Why would the Dark King want sunlight?” Tavish bit off, speaking over her.
“I am no longer the Dark King, old boy. Your liquid sunlight is no longer deadly to me.” Irial held his arms wide. “Let us drink and be friends. I am no longer a creature that must fear sunlight.” “You are still him,” Tavish said. “The past is unchanged. Call yourself something else, but you are still monstrous. I remember the countless nights Niall wept. I remember the laughter when my king was bound and weakened.
You are still that monster.” “No forgiveness, then?” Her co-advisor ignored the question and said only, “My queen is not without obligation. She may be indisposed or–” “Come now, Tavish. I know Seth is not due back from Faerie for several days.” Irial’s casual drawl barely disguised his growing temper. “And I am in rather immediate need of seeing Aislinn. You have no grounds to refuse me audience . or drink, for that matter. There are laws. Surely, you aren’t going to ignore them, old boy.
” “As you will,” Tavish said. Siobhan stared at Tavish. There was something off in the way he spoke the queen’s name, the sheer weight of it was strange. Irial caught her eye and looked at her as if daring her to speak. When she didn’t, he said, “Then will one of you please tell the queen that I request an audience, and”—he stared at Tavish then—“that I am here waiting? I will be here until she has the time to speak with me.” “I will wait with Irial,” Siobhan offered. “Perhaps you could see if Aislinn is available. ?” “As you say.” Tavish gave a curt nod and left