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Rhapsodic: Chapter 22

May, seven years ago

This can’t be real life.

An hour ago I didn’t have a date, a dress, or a ticket to the May Day Ball.

Now I have all three, thanks to the man next to me.

I glance over at Desmond as we wait to enter Peel Academy’s ballroom, and my knees go a little weak.

There is a God and he loves me, I think as I drink Des in. I’ve never been particularly fond of men in tuxedoes, but then, I’d never seen Des in one.

His white blond hair is free of the leather band he usually wears, and it skims his shoulders.

He runs a hand through that hair now, looking untouchable. And yet I swear he’s uncomfortable.

Perhaps it’s because tonight people can see him.

Ever since the two of us walked out of my dorm room, people have come to a grinding halt. Callypso Lillis, the pretty but weird outsider, is going to May Day Ball, and the man taking her is a babe. At least that’s what I assume they’re thinking based on their wide eyes and lingering looks.

It could also be the fact that Des simply looks like trouble, with his staggering frame and rakish features. His tattoos are hidden, but there’s no masking the edgy vibe he’s giving off.

We make it up to the entrance and hand our tickets over, and then we’re inside.

I can feel dozens of eyes on us, and I realize I’m beginning to tremble from the attention. This is high school, where students excel at making undesirables feel invisible. I’d been invisible for so long, and that was fine with me. So fine.

But tonight I can already tell no one’s going to ignore me. Not with my beautiful and dangerous date at my side. And not while I wear this dress, with its choker of diamonds that holds the fitted silver silk taut against my body. The backless expanse of it dips to just past the small of my back. More strings of diamonds trail down my spine, holding the edges of the silk in place. The hem of the gown drags against the ground. It’s a dress a celebrity should wear, or a queen—or a fairy. Not me.

But I really didn’t have a choice in the end. It’s not like my closet came pre-stocked with prom dresses. And this was the one Des procured for me.

We’re only inside the school’s ancient ballroom for a minute before Trisha, one of the girls on my floor, approaches me.

“Callypsie!” she squeals and, ugh, shoot me now, that nickname needs to die.

“Callypsie?” the Bargainer says under his breath.

Don’t,” I warn. “If you care for your balls at all, don’t.”

At the beginning of the year, one of the girls on my floor started calling me that, because for whatever reason Callie wasn’t a good enough nickname, and it just never fucking went away.

The Bargainer snickers. “Whatever you say … Callypsie.”

I don’t have time to make good on my threat before Trish is on me.

“I didn’t realize you were coming!” she says, pulling me in for a hug.

This is awkward. Trish is one of those girls that I must’ve pissed off at one point in time because her hobbies include studiously ignoring me.

Except for right now.

I pat her back, willing her to release me so I can understand what sort of hex has been put on her to make her address me. And as Callypsie, of all things. I thought she’d missed that nickname during all that time she pretended I didn’t exist.

And then she turns to the Bargainer, and holy shit, she is giving him one hell of a predatory look.

I move a little closer to him. I find I don’t really like sharing Des. It’s a pretty illusion to believe that he’s mine and mine alone, but amongst this crowd he might as well be. No one here knows him, no one here has seen him orchestrate a deal or collect repayment. No one has drunk and played poker with him, or sipped tea and chatted over pastries with him. No one has had movie marathons or heart-to-hearts with him. No one here knows that he’s kind and cruel and wicked and funny and everything in between.

But the way Trisha’s staring at him, like if she had five minutes alone with him she could win him over, it’s making me question my decision to come to the dance. Because maybe five minutes is all it would take. I really don’t know, and I’m afraid to find out.

“Um,” I say, “this is my date—”

“Dean,” the Bargainer fills in for me, extending his hand.

Trish looks moonstruck as she takes his hand. I seriously hope I don’t wear that expression around Des.

I probably do.

“How do you and Callie know each other?” she asks as Des releases her hand. She smiles shyly, like she’s some coquettish little flower. I can’t decide if I want to smirk or grimace at that.

I turn to Des, and I’m so scared he’s going to tell the truth.

Oh Callie and I met right after she murdered her stepfather. She’s quite vicious if you really get to know her …

Des drapes his arm around my waist and looks at me fondly. “I saved her life—at least that’s how she puts it, isn’t it, cherub?” He gives me a little squeeze as he does so.

His eyes twinkle as I gaze up at him. The man is definitely playing us up and having entirely too much fun doing so.

I can’t find the words to respond, so I nod.

“Oh,” Trish says, furrowing her brows, “that’s … odd. Wow, so are you two a thing?”

Her eyes move briefly to me before returning to the Bargainer. The girl is undressing him slowly in her mind’s eye, and damnit, I had a corner on that particular market up until today.

The Bargainer’s gaze moves past Trish’s shoulder. “Your date’s waiting for you, Trish Claremont. Don’t leave him hanging.”

“How do you know—?” Her words trail off at whatever she sees on Des’s face. She glances over her shoulder, backing away. “Uh, yeah, well, it was nice meeting you, Dean.” She doesn’t bother saying goodbye to me before she hastily retreats.

He watches her walk away, his eyes narrowed.

“That was weird,” I say.

Weird is just a euphemism for an emotion I can’t actually put a name on. Obviously a part of me is territorial, which is embarrassing because Des isn’t even mine, but it’s more than that. It’s being both pleased and disappointed to be recognized for the first time in your life by someone you don’t like. And it’s shame that a part of you even feels pleased at something as basic as human recognition. But then again, Trisha hadn’t really seen me tonight. Not as a friend, not as a threat. My existence began and ended with the introduction I gave her.

Bringing Des here might’ve been a very bad idea.

The Bargainer’s lips brush against my ear. “Let’s find a table. Maybe I’ll even let you straddle me and pretend that we’re a thing for the next girl that asks.”

That’s all it takes to wipe away my somber mood.

My skin begins to brighten just from the thought of getting to straddle Des. A.k.a., this siren totally popped a lady boner.

Des doesn’t have time to remark on it before more acquaintances come over.

And so we do that same little song and dance all over again. And again.

Right in the middle of introductions to Clarice, a girl from my myths and legends class, the Bargainer takes my hand and leads me away. I barely have time to throw her an apologetic glance over my shoulder before I’m swept off.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

Students part as soon as they see Des. “Dance floor,” he says over his shoulder.

I slow a little. Dancing is not really my thing.

He gives a little tug, and what pathetic resistance I have falls away.

I catch up to his side. “That was insanity back there,” I say, because I can’t think of anything better.

“That was hellacious,” he says, “and I’m used to events like this. Thank fuck I never went to high school.” That gets him a look or two from people who’ve overheard us.

“You never went to high school?” I ask as we weave between couples. I don’t know why I’m surprised; nothing about Des seems particularly normal.

But still.

“My upbringing was a little more unconventional.”

Because Des is a king of the Otherworld. A king.

I took a fae king to my supernatural prom.

Jesus. All I need is the Monster Mash playing in the background to round this out.

We step onto the dancefloor just as one song ends and a slow one begins.

I suck in a breath, about to be like, “Oh, ew a slow song, let’s sit this one out,” despite wanting to latch onto the Bargainer like a koala. But before I can get a word in, he pulls me in close, one of his hands going to the small of my back, where my skin is exposed.

There’s something oddly intimate about his hand touching the bare skin at the base of my spine, something that has my cheeks flushing.

I have no idea what to do with my hands. No freaking clue.

The Bargainer leans in. “Put your arms around my neck,” he says.

Tentatively I do so.

I’ve fallen asleep draped along this man, and yet this feels oddly more exposed, what with him looking down at me, his silver eyes shining strangely.

I give him a nervous smile, one I’m sure he sees right through.

His head dips down to my ear. “Relax, cherub.”

His thumb strokes the exposed skin of my lower back, and my mouth goes dry. My eyes drop. I can feel the pull to give into the siren. I don’t have a good handle on her yet. But as the song goes on, I get more comfortable. I decide to peek up at Des.

I’m not prepared to see the tormented expression on his face.

“What’s wrong?”

“Everything, cherub,” he says. “Everything.”


Present

I stare at my phone long after I hang up with Temper.

Fairies only do this with their betrotheds.

Technically, Des and I were lovers. But we weren’t in any sort of relationship. And we definitely weren’t betrothed, to use Temper’s outdated word.

But Des was going around flashing his wings at other men, forcing them to back off without telling me.

My blood is beginning to boil.

How dare he.

I storm out of my room only to find the Bargainer pacing, looking agitated as hell.

“Is it true?” I demand.

He pauses. “Is what true?”

I’m almost surprised he’s not aware of what I talked about with Temper. So much for being Master of Secrets, or whatever the fuck his title is.

“About your wings,” I say. “Is it true that you’ve been flashing them to let everyone know not to touch me? That I belong to you?”

He goes utterly still, but his eyes… his eyes are bright. Around us, shadows begin to gather in the room.

Alarm bells are going off in my head.

“It is,” I say as the truth dawns on me.

Carefully, he approaches me.

“You bastard,” I say. “Were you ever going to tell me?”

He stops in front of me, looking a little menacing.

And I don’t give two shits.

I poke him in the chest. “Were. You?”

He looks down at my finger, like I personally offended him. And then I see the corner of his mouth curl.

He steps deeper into my space, his chest brushing mine. “Are you sure you want to know my secrets, cherub?” he says. “They will cost you much more than a wrist full of beads.”

“Des, I just want answers from you.”

I’m surprised to see his eyes deepen with excitement. He picks up a lock of my hair and rubs it between his fingers. “What can I say? Fairies can be incredibly jealous, selfish lovers.”

“You should’ve told me.”

“Perhaps I was proud to have my wings out,” he admits, setting my lock of hair back down. “Perhaps I enjoyed the way you looked at them and the way others looked at them. Perhaps I felt things that I haven’t felt before.”

As he speaks, his wings slowly unfurl. And with each word he says, my irritation dissipates. In its place is something more uncomfortable. Something that makes my heart ache.

“Perhaps I didn’t want to tell you only to find out that you didn’t feel the same. I know how to be lethal, Callie. I know how to be just. I don’t know how to deal with you. With us. With this.”

“With what?”

He’s still being cryptic, even now after he promised to tell me his secrets.

He runs a finger along my collarbone. “I haven’t been wholly honest with you.”

This isn’t exactly a shocking revelation.

“There was a question that you asked me,” he continues. “Why now? I’ve been gone seven years, Callie. So why do I come back now?”

I furrow my brows. “You needed my help,” I say. The mystery, the missing women. He’d been very clear about that.

He laughs, and the sound has an edge to it. “A lie that became the truth.”

Now I give him a strange look. If not for that reason, then why?

He touches my cheek gently.

Callie.” It’s not so much that he says my name as it is the way he says it.

His wings spread fully out, the span of them stretching across his living room. The things are huge. “A fairy doesn’t show his wings to his betrothed.”

He slides his hand behind my neck, his thumb stroking my skin. “A fairy shows them to his soulmate.”


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