Stolen diamond bracelets glittered on my wrists in colored nightclub lights, and I laughed, my wings swelling damp in the warm crush of bodies. Midnight at Unseelie Court, dark and fragrant with smoke and sweat. Music ripped my ears like sweet razors, so loud, the air thudded in my lungs and my hair shook to the beat. Strobe lights sliced me, snapshots in time as I danced—here, there, gone.
Blaze wrapped his long white arm around my waist, spilling flames on my shoulder from soft crimson hair. I grinned and wriggled closer, his hot firefae flesh a delicious glory on my skin. Dancing, drinking, diamonds I don’t own. Doesn’t get sweeter than this.
The floor’s packed tonight, a mash of bright fairy wings and rainbow limbs and slick vampire smiles, the air steamy with breath and lust and chemical euphoria. Humans here, too, a few sly ones who can see, but mostly shimmer-eyed and drunk on poison glamour, here for the oblivion. A heady bubble of unreality, this club—no thought, no consequences. Kiss, embrace, dance, love, drown your cares in glorious sensory nectar. A fairy kind of place, no rules, no guilt, the air so glassy with glamour, it might shatter.
Even the name is a fairy joke: Unseelie Court. We fae have no court, no queen or princes or justice. We leave that to demons, gangsters, people who matter.
The smell alone warmed my insides. I’m waterfae, which makes me attuned to moisture, and the wet scent of all that pleasure pressed a sweet ache deep inside me. I shimmied on the crowded dance floor, my silky skirt sticking to my thighs, and lifted my arms in the candy white smoke. My new diamonds sparkled over my wrists, painted blue and green and scarlet by flashing lights. We’d filched them tonight from a glossy apartment in South Yarra, along with a pile of cash and other trinkets.
My skin glowed blue with desire. Shiny things get me all warm and wriggly. I won’t get to keep them. We owe the Valenti gang too much protection money. But just for tonight, they’re mine. And what harm ever came from something shiny?
Behind me, Blaze rubbed his cheek against my wing, sparks drifting from his pretty red hair. Ooh, tingles, all down my side like sugar. I flexed my shoulders, fluttering golden dust that danced in manic spotlights and rippled in the brittle static of glamour. Blaze is my best friend, a dazzling firefae boy with cute muscles and a cheeky sharp-toothed smile, and his glamour is good. I mean, it’s really good. Humans won’t see the fine crimson wings like a dragonfly’s, the flame dripping from his fingers, his narrow fae-muscled body. They just see a cute redhead with wicked black eyes.
Me? Well, I do my best, but glamour isn’t my forte. My nose looks a bit less pointy, my hair more blond than orange, my garish yellow skin fades to human tones. That’s about it. Glamour or not, I’m still the same geeky old me.
Blaze slid his arm over my shoulder to offer his fingertip, slick and adorned with a shimmering purple pill.
Naughty boy. I giggled, licked the pill off, and swallowed. It stung bitter, but his finger tasted of sherbet, sparkly and nice.
He rubbed his sharp nose in my hair, and I laughed, my blood hot and urgent, my head awhirl with fizzy-sweet vodka and the thrill of our night’s work. Forget the Valentis. Forget the world. Just me and my diamonds, jumping, twirling, dancing until I dropped. Yes.
Next to me a blue-haired vampire kid in leather and his girl kissed, bloody spit trickling on her chin as she swayed to the music, his fingers sliding beneath her skirt. A pair of shirtless trolls scoped for girls, sweat glistening on bulging green muscles and bell-pierced nipples. One winked at me, flicking ragged black hair from his eyes, and I pretended not to see him.
“Spice for Ice!” Blaze yelled, sparks showering. He’s allowed to make fun of my unfortunate name. He sizzled my pointed ear with his tongue. Shivers. Mmm. More tongue, slower and wetter than strictly necessary. Bet he’s got a hard-on.
I arched my butt backwards and giggled again. Oh, yeah. He’s wearing suction-tight leather pants—how he gets those on, I’ll never know—and they don’t leave much to the imagination.
I grinned, magical warmth already glowing in my guts. Blaze feels as good as he looks, and when he’s sparkled to the eyeballs and high from housebreaking and too much broken glass, he always tries something. But we’re just friends. We’ve got rules, and they don’t include dragging each other out the back for a hot dirty shag.
Blaze is my lucky charm. Other guys will laugh at me or hit me or play tricks on me just to watch me cry. Fairy girls get that. It’s a harsh fae-taunting world out there. Every week you hear about a new fairyslasher, a sadist, a murderer on the loose. Fairies aren’t people, see. We’re whispers, shadows, irrelevancies sheathed in desperate glamour so we won’t stand out or offend anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable. We’re just flotsam, bobbing on the surface of real people’s lives. We just hang out and party. It’s what we’re here for. No one cares if we die or hurt or bleed.
But I know I’m safe with Blaze, even if he is a horny little rat.
That hunky troll bumped my hip, his beady black gaze slithering down over my ass, and Blaze snarled wet sparks at him and spun me away.
I snickered, and wriggled to face him, static shifting. He tossed bloodred hair and threw me that dazzling Blaze grin. He cuts his hair short in the back and scrunches it wildly too long at the front so he can shake it back like that and skewer you with his dirty black come-taste-me stare.
But I know he doesn’t mean it, not with me. He’s just having fun. I tickled his pointy teeth with my claw. “Go rub that thing on someone else, ya dirty whore.”
He slid bony fingers over my hip, keeping me just an inch or two away. His scent zinged my nose, fresh like a newly struck match. Rakish golden rings glinted in his pointy ears, and his studded black velvet jacket was cropped at his smooth hip with nothing underneath. Sweat caressed his narrow muscles in all the right places. He flicked his smoldering gaze to the bar for a second, ruby sparks jumping from his lips. “I can taste green. Azure’s watching us. Wanna tease her a bit?”
Azure’s our other best friend, as pretty and awesome as Blaze. I looked. She was watching us, with that glinting glaze over her eyes that meant trouble. “You’re cruel.”
“You’re scared.” He edged closer, sweat-slick skin sliding on my bare midriff. My breasts pressed against his chest, burning.
Already the purple pill flowered deep and hot inside me. It couldn’t be desire. I was far too sensible to want Blaze. Indignation lifted my eyebrows. “Am not. I’m sensible.”
“To hell with sensible. Let’s be reckless. I’m good at reckless.” He wetted his plum-red lips, and the smell of that moisture tripped warm dizzy waves in my skull. Hot fae boy. Lips. Diamonds.
I couldn’t keep the giggles in any longer, and I shoved him in the chest, tipping him backwards. “What you are is a naughty boy with a hard-on. Get a girlfriend.” And I turned and pushed my way through the fragrant crowd, laughter floating from me like starlight on the swelling currents of my high.
Colors tumbled and prismed. My diamonds dazzled me, and I stumbled over my own ankles a few times as I approached the blue neon bar. Azure pointed at me and laughed, pearlescent wings jittering as she swayed on her stool. She wore a jagged-hemmed white dress that left her back bare, and she’d piled her green hair above her head in a wild nest of knots and stolen pearls, a pair of broken chopsticks and a cocktail fork sticking out.
My purple-drugged heart swelled with love and awe. Azure’s the pretty one. Her glamour shows some weirdly beautiful supermodel, tall and willowy with wide-spaced almond eyes. Her real appearance is the same, only with shimmering oval wings, and her skin is a dozen perfect shades of pale air-sprite blue.
Whereas my hair looks kinda like mango peel, half green and half moldy orange, and my wings are burnt yellow, ragged and droopy like a sick butterfly’s.
Some girls have all the luck.
Azure poked my chin with a sharp claw, her soft breeze playing with my hair. Az is airfae, attuned to air and the atmosphere. “You’re drunk, diamond girl.”
“Not true. I’m high. You’re the one who’s drunk.” I jumped up and down, unsteady on my heels, until the bar boy noticed me, and he served me two pink vodka lemonades without me asking. Maybe I was drunker than I thought. Still plenty of stolen cash left, though. I tossed him a crumpled twenty, waving my diamonded wrist grandly. “Keep it, peaches. Stop looking at him like that.”
Azure said nothing, and I lurched onto a stool and tickled her slender ribs. “I said, stop staring at him.”
“Who?” She tossed her pretty blue head, her wings aflutter, and concentrated too hard on stirring her drink.
“Oh, I dunno, the woolly mammoth in the corner? Who d’ya think?”
She thumped her chin into her hand and her elbow onto the bar, sea-green moisture staining her eyes. “But he’s so pretty.”
Guilt twinged my happy guts, and I patted her shoulder clumsily. “Yeah, I know. But it’s an orchid farm in here, okay? Look around. There’s other pretty ones.”
“Not like him.” She hiccuped and burst into proper tears, her wings flooding verdant.
I sighed. Last month she’d had the hots for some cute blond vampire babe. This week it was Blaze. She’d get over it. But my heart still ached for her. Just because she falls quick doesn’t mean she doesn’t fall hard. And Blaze is the Court’s biggest boy whore. He’ll only break her heart.
I slipped my arm around her bony shoulder and pointed to the dance floor, where Blaze was trickling orange flame down some laughing banshee’s spine, singeing the ends of her long silver hair. “Look at him. See that girl he’s dancing with? In the silver dress? Oh, now he’s tongue-kissing her, he’s putting his hand up her . . . Yeah. You really want that to be you?”
Az just looked at me, indignant breeze dragging her hair back.
I flushed, vodka-tainted water heating my muscles. Maybe I wasn’t quite making my point. “Okay, let’s not look at that anymore.” Firmly I spun her back around to the bar.
She glared, wet-eyed. “You’re a real big help, Ice.”
I gulped my vodka, pink fizz shooting fireworks up my nose. “So he’s boy candy. Everyone knows that. You also know what a bitch he can be. Whaddaya want me to say?”
“Promise you’ll never go with him.”
I flushed again, and this time the water burned my cheeks. “What?”
“Butterflies in the sun. I’ve seen him flirt with you. Promise me you’ll never.”
“Never flirt with him?” Discomfort twisted, ruining my high. Why dissemble? We were best friends. That’s all. Even if I’d wanted to, I didn’t have the courage to pursue it further. Believe it or not, I’m not too smooth with the boys, and courage is not my middle name.
Azure swatted my shoulder. “You know what I mean.”
“Hide and seek, catch-me-if-you-can. It’s just games—”
“Promise, Ice. I couldn’t bear it.”
She stared, so earnest and brimful with tears that I couldn’t take it. “Okay, I promise. Call me a pincushion and shove safety pins up my nose if I’m wrong. It’s the rules anyway, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Azure gave a sad half smile.
I hugged her, my hand slipping beneath her delicate wings. “You’ll get over him, Az.”
She hugged me back, and I felt better. I had nothing to hide. She sniffed, wiping snot on my shoulder. “I wish I was like you, Ice. You’re the sensible one.”
I thought of Blaze’s tongue in my ear and giggled. “Yeah, that’s me: sense, dense, intense. Dripping out my ears, it is. Of course you wanna be me. Why wouldn’t you? You’re only the prettiest, cleverest girl in the whole world.”
She kissed me, a sugary taste of sky-blue lips, and gamely wiped her tears away in green streaks. “You’re nice. Let’s get drunk and find some boys.”
Meaning she’d get prettily tipsy, I’d get smashed, she’d find more boys than she had hands for, and I’d get the leftovers who were too plain to interest her and too shitfaced to care she was a hundred times more beautiful than me. But what are best friends for?
“Yes yes yes.” I paid for two more drinks, and we clinked glasses and chugged. Sugar and alcohol burst into my brain like flares, and my nose fizzed.
Azure gasped. “Raspberries and ice cream. More.”
“Careful, there’s a fairyslasher on the loose.”
She snorted. “S’always a fairyslasher. More.”
I ordered more, and we chugged again. This time the froth did come out my nose, laced with plummy drug-charmed mirth. I laughed, splurting pink bubbles onto the guy next to me. “Whoa. Sorry, dude.” I yanked up my skirt hem to wipe his arm clean, but the frills were too short. My heels skidded from under me, and I landed in his lap in a giggling, spluttering heap.
Oops. I craned my neck up to apologize, and my laughter strangled.
Dark blue skin dusted with copper, so smooth and perfect, it’s unreal. Black hair so crisp, it curled jagged. Eyes the velvety gray of softened steel. Long narrow wings like silver-shot glass.
My senses tumbled, intoxicated in hot metal scent. Warm midnight blue hands steadied me, and my belly melted inside like chocolate fudge sauce on ice cream, running everywhere. I inhaled, molten iron and hot fairy skin. . . .
Fluid scorched into my wing veins, swelling them tight. I held my breath. Calm, Ice. He’s touching you. You’ve practically got your face in his lap. Say something really cool and seductive.
“Oh. Um. Hi, Indigo. It’s me.”
Yeah. That so wasn’t it.
Effortlessly, Indigo lifted me to my feet. Rusty wing-glitter shimmered warm on my shoulders. His coppery claws grazed my wrist, and tiny electric shocks crackled up my arms, sparking my diamonds blue.
I stared, my fingerpads itching. He wore black, as usual, jeans and a sleeveless shirt that showed off lean blue arms.
I wanted to rub my cheek against them, tickle my tongue along his biceps. Metalfae are usually twisted, hunchbacked little monsters with razor metal teeth and an attitude. Indigo—well, he’s tall and sculpted and moves light, like a cat burglar, but he’s still got razor metal teeth and an attitude. Licking is strictly off-limits, especially for a no-account geek girl like me.
He surveyed me back, steely eyes cool. “Nice diamonds.”
His dark quicksilver voice broke my skin out in bumps. I tugged my skirt shyly down over my butt, my skin zinging all over under his scrutiny. My tank top was splashed with pink drink, and my nipples poked the wet fabric, painfully visible. I caught myself fiddling with my hair and yanked my hand away, embarrassment squirming inside. I so wanted to be like Azure, elegant and gorgeous, instead of gangly and yellow and pointy-nosed like me.
At least I had a shiny score to impress him with. Not that it’d impress him much. He was the real deal, Indigo. Not just a petty con artist. I wanted to be him when I grew up. “What? Oh, yeah, thanks. They’re not mine. You like ’em?”
He gave me a dark silver-fanged smile, and my tongue tingled. Like candies, Indigo’s smiles. Make your mouth water, but you only get one when you’ve been a very good girl. Probably rot your teeth, too.
He tinkled a copper claw along my glittering bracelets. “Pretty. They suit you.”
My cheeks sizzled at his compliment. “Yeah? Wow. I mean . . . Thanks, you look great, too. I mean, not that you don’t always look gr . . . Well, that is. You look well.” Shit.
Indigo brushed pink froth from lean denim-clad thighs, electricity arcing between his fingers.
Great. Not only had I snorted my drink on him, but I’d spilled his as well. Metalfae rust, doncha know. Good job, Ice. Well done. “Sorry ’bout the drink. I’ll get you another one—”
“It’s okay. I was finished anyway.” He adjusted brittle silver wings, and hard fae muscles did sexy things inside his shirt. I stared, my fingerpads burning to touch that narrow body packed tight with faelight flesh. He’s bigger than Blaze, stronger, harder. His muscles, I mean. I can only dream about the rest.
My mouth crinkled inside. This so wasn’t going the way I’d imagined it.
Every time I saw him, it was like this: I made a gibbering fool of myself and then spent the time until I saw him again thinking of all the cool things I should’ve said.
I licked my sharp teeth. He didn’t make it easy, so dark and silent and all. Guess he was shy. “So . . . Umm . . . You got anything happening? Me and my friends, we’re always—”
“Not right now.” His coppery lashes glinted.
“I mean, not that you need our help or anything, but we’re real good, like tonight, there was this alarm system wired into the window when we smashed it, and me and Blaze—”
“Ice.” Clipped, like he didn’t want to listen to me or something.
“I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
I peered around him. A blond banker type, sleek black suit and golden rings, sipping a bottled green drink through a straw. He glinted black eyes at me, and ash drifted from golden lashes.
I shivered. Spooky. Maybe a client, he looked rich enough. I fluffed my wings out as prettily as I could, grubbing up the dregs of my courage. “Oh, sure. Hi. I’ll wait. Maybe after, we could go for pizza or something—”
“Yeah?” My pulse fluttered. I held my breath. Please say yes, and I’ll never tease Azure about Blaze again.
He stared at the bar, his elegant jaw tight. “Leave us alone? Please?”
Nausea warmed my stomach. I swallowed, beestung. “Fine. Sure, Indigo. Later.” And I walked away, flicking a little updraft to keep my step light.
Embarrassment and alcohol burned my skin. For the fairy of my dreams, he sure was a condescending asshole. That was like ten times he’d brushed me off like that. Why did I set myself up for this? I was so over him.
Fluid boiled in my wings, and my head swirled. Azure smirked at me from the bar, but I ignored her. Just because he’d never turn her down. I made it halfway to the dance floor before my feet tangled and I fell, my kneecaps banging into grippy metal. Nice move. That’d impress him.
I chanced a look up, and he wasn’t even watching me. Prick. I scrabbled to get up, my plastic heels slipping on the metal. My ankle twisted, and I yelped, my palm slapping into the floor. “Ow! Shit.”
A blue-eyed vampire boy slipped his cold hand in mine and lifted me gracefully to my feet. His black hair scrunched wild in his eyes, blond roots showing. “You okay, fairy lady?”
Nice teeth, white and twinkling sharp. Narrow pretty face, lashes long and green, sexy sapphire stud in his violet-dyed eyebrow. Kinda cute. All the same, too thin, too much eyeliner, smelled of meat and cigarettes. Not my type. No one else was my type with Indigo in the room. And guys who paid attention to me were usually trouble, the kind of guys who liked me because I looked desperate enough to be a sure thing. And it wasn’t always a good time they were after.
But at least this one had manners. I slid my arms around his neck, glancing over his shoulder in case Indigo was looking this time. He wasn’t. Damn it. “Sure, sweetie. Wanna dance?”
Her sugarbright scent recedes, and Indigo exhales bitter iron temptation. His thighs are still sticky with rum and pink vodka, and imprints of her tiny hands still scorch his skin, too pleasant. She hasn’t given up on him. Like she wants to be his girlfriend or something, and the world knows Indigo doesn’t do girlfriends, not anymore.
He does thieving, chasing, fleeing from pissed-off hellspawn. Girlfriends just get in the way.
Indigo scrapes wetness from his thighs, wanting to lick his fingers. Silly mango girl has no idea. Pretty amateurs like her should stick to taunting electric alarms and swiping diamonds from faeblind humans. Not playing in the dark where the monsters are.
Indigo flexes tense wings again, raining glitter. Still, something bright and clean about her refreshes his metal-laced blood. Sweet. Charmingly inept. Innocent. Precious things he lost a long time ago.
But not harmless. Ice is never harmless, with that cheeky smile and cute pointy nose and beguiling amber eyes and tempting skin the lost color of sunflowers. In his darker moments, he can admit her awe strokes his ego. Not for a moment harmless, that wide worshipful glow in her eyes, the way her fingers twitch when he touches her, the way she wets her lips without thinking when he gets too close.. . .
His copper claws tingle. Rust crunches along the silvery edges of his wings, and he cracks it off with an electric jitter. Iron-scented particles puff, littering the ash-strewn floor. Better she never knows what hell is like. Better he forgets her. She’s probably false anyway. The rest are.
Beside him, the demon lord sips his lime vodka drink, blond ringlets tickling his cheek. Immaculate black suit, lime tie, golden cuff links, the distant smell of thunder. Soft boyish face, fresh with rosy lips, and his voice splits the numbing music effortlessly. “Do you have it?”
Indigo tightens his fingers around the ridged metal sphere, and something evil inside slithers against his palm. He’s thieved a demoness’s lair for this, and it’s not the first time he’s stolen it. He should be wise to its tricks by now. Still, giving it up again crawls a hot snake of false regret into his guts. Maybe he should take it home, keep it for his very own, where no one else can see.. . .
The damn thing’s gnawing at his mind again. He clunks the heavy sphere on the bar. Good riddance. The demon better keep his end of the bargain. “We done?”
Kane taps blue nails on his bottle, and the sphere rolls across the glass to his waiting hand. It flowers in his palm, iron triangles flashing open like razor-curved petals to reveal the gleaming mirror inside. Kane smiles, childlike, his black eyes swirling green. “You looked, didn’t you? I warned you.”
Indigo clenches steely teeth in denial. Maybe he’s peeked into the glass, drawn by the shimmering silver surface. Wouldn’t be the first time. He’s a fairy. He likes shiny things. So what? That was days ago. Nothing’s happened. Has it?
A sly new whisper rustles warning in his ears. He ignores it. The mirror winks, triumphant, and he drags his gaze away, his stomach twisting. “Are we done?”
“Oh, yes, we’re done. For now.” Kane admires the glass in colored strobe lights, green sparks playing in his hair. “Who’s that pretty yellow child? She smells like strawberries.”
“Mind your fucking business.” Jealousy shoots hot quicksilver into Indigo’s blood. He itches to look over his shoulder, warn her, make sure she’s all right, and the irony heats his claws molten. His fingertips scorch. The whispers in his head grow louder, more insistent, mocking him, eating at his reason like acid. His vision flickers like an electricity surge, mirrorshiny images of tangled limbs and fresh auburn hair and blood, and he lights blindly up from his stool with a twist of quivering wings, Kane’s empty laughter stinging.
Nausea claws his guts as he staggers away like he’s drunk, though he’s had only one. Music rocks his ears like motion sickness. A table bangs into his hip, metal crunching, and someone curses, but he doesn’t stop or apologize. He tries to focus, but limbs and eyes and fairy wings swim before him, running together like watercolors, wrapping him in a stinging cocoon of gabbling colors. His limbs hurt and yearn. His mouth stings with chrome. His teeth ache like he’s grinding them on glass. Something’s not right. It’s that cursed mirror again.
A slick giggle slides around in his head, and dread wipes his skin with hot grease, but it’s too late. Something dark and warm like a snake darts with jagged teeth for his senses, and before he can do anything, the world snaps black.