The Gargoyle Gets His Girl

Page 31

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She laughed bitterly. “I guess the king was a nice enough man, but to me he represented everything that had been taken away from me.”

“How old were you when you ran?”

“Fourteen. For the first few years when my parents came to visit, I begged them to get me out, to take me home. They would just smile nervously and tell me things would get better.”

She took a ragged breath. “Eventually, they stopped smiling and started scolding me. Telling me I was squandering an amazing opportunity. Then the visits just stopped. Not long after I turned thirteen, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I refused to do any of my lessons. I argued with my instructors. Then I stopped talking altogether.

“They sent my father in to speak to me and he made it very clear that my actions were hurting the rest of them. I didn’t know what that meant until he explained I now had two more siblings.”

She finally looked up at Nick, her eyes shining and liquid. “The fae court had not only rewarded my parents for having me, they’d paid my parents to have more children in hopes of getting themselves another lapidus, but when I’d started my rebellion, the fae court had punished my parents.”

Nick’s gut clenched. He wanted to reach out to her. He just wasn’t sure the gesture would be welcome. “Have you met your siblings?”

“No. I don’t know their names or even if they’re brothers or sisters. I used to imagine them, what they were like. If they looked like me. If they’d like me if we met, but all that did was remind me of everything that had happened.”

Her eyes focused on something distant. “I had become a golden ticket to my parents. A cash cow, who was, unfortunately for them, refusing to produce any more milk.

“I knew then no one was going to help me. I poured myself back into my studies, letting those in charge think I’d learned my lesson. We were deep into metal work then, learning the different types and their properties. I enjoyed it, and I was good at it, but not enough to want to stay. As soon as things went lax around me, I ran.”

Nick understood more than she knew. “Have you seen your parents since?”

She shook her head. “No. I stayed well under the radar until I was eighteen, but since then, I haven’t taken any great pains to hide myself. They can’t do anything to me now, and the fae court can’t conscript a fae over eighteen into service, so there’s not much to hide from. At least I don’t think there is. Old instincts die hard.”

He snorted. “Don’t I know it.”

She smiled weakly. “I guess you do.”

He took her hand. “I would much rather be on your side than against you.”

Her smile grew a little. “I feel the same way about you. The miserable thing is, because of this stalker and my inability to make anything to protect myself, I really do need someone’s protection.”

“I’m really, really good at that, you know.”

She laughed softly. “So I’m learning.”

“And I’m technically still bound to you until you’re safe.”

She squinted at him. “How does that work, exactly?”

“It’s old magic that’s been built into us. Gargoyles are designed to protect, so when someone makes a request of us and seals that request with an offering of stone, we are bound to that person until the request is fulfilled.”

“How do you get unbound to that person?”

“Either the situation is resolved or they release us.”

“Well, consider yourself released. I’d rather have you of your own free will.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that. But you should know the Ellinghams want you looked after too.”

“I’m okay with that. It was part of my deal with them. In a way.” She studied him. “Does that happen a lot? The request thing?”

“It’s never happened to me.” He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. “It’s the kind of thing you know is possible, but in this day and age…” He shrugged. “People don’t know the old ways like they used to. Rituals like that get forgotten.”

“By people like me.”

He leaned in. “By everyone. Except those of us who might actually be affected by them.”

“You said something about being in the foster system as a kid when we were at dinner.”

He nodded.

“How did you come through that knowing so much about who you are?”

He took a breath. “A lot of effort. And one really good set of foster parents who helped me. They were shifters, too. Avian. Sparrows. Kind, smart people.”

He smiled at the memory. “We used to go flying together in the early hours of the morning when it was dark and the human world was still asleep.” He laughed softly. “Can you imagine what a strange sight that was? Two house sparrows and a leviathan class gargoyle soaring through the sky like some kind of strange Disney movie. Even as a kid I was enormous in my true form, and they were, well, sparrows.”

“Are they the reason for the two birds tattooed on your chest?”

“Yes.” He took a breath. “They helped me learn everything I could about my kind. Warned me about the fae. Wanted to adopt me, but…”

Memories made it too hard to hold onto the joy of those brief days.

She squeezed his hand. “What happened?”

“She got cancer. It went fast. State moved me out. I heard he died a year later. Broken heart, the case worker said. I went into the military as soon as I was old enough, and that was that.”

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