It's hard to be a hero. There's always something needing October "Toby" Daye's attention, and her own desires tend to fall by the wayside in favor of solving the Kingdom's problems. That includes the desire to marry her long-time suitor and current fiancé, Tybalt, San Francisco's King of Cats. She doesn't mean to keep delaying the wedding, it just sort of...happens. And that's why her closest friends have taken the choice out of her hands, ambushing her with a court wedding at the High Court in Toronto. Once the High King gets involved, there's not much even Toby can do to delay things...
...except for getting involved in stopping a plot to overthrow the High Throne itself, destabilizing the Westlands entirely, and keeping her from getting married through nothing more than the sheer volume of chaos it would cause. Can Toby save the Westlands and make it to her own wedding on time? Or is she going to have to choose one over the other?
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WITH THE DOOR SHUT and them safely trapped inside with me, the boys seemed to lose a little of their previous bravado. The one I suspected of being Quentin, despite being the wrong height, build, and bloodline, turned to look at me. He was still clinging to Dean’s hand like a lifeline, and for the first time, he looked genuinely concerned.
Dean, on the other hand, looked like he was going to lose his most recent meal all over my kitchen floor. I favored him with a brief smile as I walked past them to the pile of baked goods May had left on the counter.
“I think these are scones,” I said. “Anyone care to guess the flavor? May’s been getting experimental recently. So it could be blueberry or plum or apple, but it could also be ham and raspberry or ginger and whatever the hell she’s decided is a complementary flavor this week.”
“Toby . . .” began the boy who might be Quentin.
“Nope,” I said, with all the good cheer I could muster. It was a surprising amount. This was too ridiculous to be anything but abstractly funny. Either my squire had made an ill-advised deal with the sea witch for reasons I did not yet fully understand, or his boyfriend had discovered the single stupidest possible way to try to get out of the consequences of his own actions. And it didn’t matter which was true because I was going to have a thrice-cursed scone before I dealt with it. “I just got up. Breakfast, then horrifying drama.”
Always horrifying drama. In this house, horrifying drama is never a sometimes food.
I whisked the cloth off the pile of scones, revealing them to the rest of the kitchen. Even that seemed more dramatic than it necessarily had to be. The boys’ impending revelation was infecting breakfast. The scones were pale pink, glittering with yellow sugar, and smelled like one of Luna’s gardens. I picked one up and sniffed. It smelled sugary, tart, and floral all at once. I laughed.
“She made rose lemonade scones,” I reported to the two boys. “Leave it to May to find a way to make even breakfast seem ominous. Either of you want a scone?”
“I’m good,” said Dean.
“I’d love one,” said the other boy.
“Here you go.” I dropped the scone onto a plate and passed it to him before serving myself. May has long since figured out that the best way to get me to reliably eat is to keep food around the house, already cooked and ready to be shoved into my face. Scrambled eggs and bacon may be enjoyable, but they’re not likely—that takes effort. Fresh-baked scones that someone else did all the work of preparing? I’ll eat those. Same with coffee that someone else brewed. I may not get the pharmaceutical benefits of caffeine, but hydration is a good thing.
“October . . .” began Dean.
“Nope. Still fixing breakfast.”
Both boys watched helplessly, the one who might be Quentin clutching his plate, as I prepared my coffee and carried it to the breakfast table, along with my own scones. I had taken two. Maybe that was greedy of me, but it’s my house, and I was getting the distinct feeling this was going to be one of those nights where I didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and eat.
The boy who was probably Quentin sat across from me, watching warily as I picked up a scone and took the first bite. He held his head like Quentin did, a little off-center, like he was expecting to need to tilt it in disapproval at my antics at any moment. And he had that Quentin‑y look in his eyes, the one that implied I was about to do something absolutely appalling that would probably violate about a dozen rules of hospitality and nearly as many laws of Faerie, either written or unwritten.
The scone tasted like summertime perfume. I swallowed thoughtfully, and took a sip of coffee, lingering over the action. Let them squirm. If they’d done what they were claiming to have done, they deserved it.
Finally, I put my cup down and focused on the Banshee boy. “Prove you’re my squire,” I said.
“By the rose and the thorn, the root and the branch, I would need to have a death wish to pretend to be your squire when I’m not,” he said. “I swear it on my magic, may it wither in my veins and stop my dancing if I lie.”
“Nice, and suitably dire,” I said approvingly. “But it proves nothing, especially since my squire, who is smarter than an unnecessary bargain with the sea witch implies, has magic that smells of steel and heather, while yours . . .” I breathed in deeply. “Yours smells of common gorse and vetiver. It’s not even related.”
He flinched a little. Apparently, that was more of a transformation than he’d been expecting. But this was the Luidaeg we were talking about here, and her magic is never just skin-deep. I took the opportunity to lean forward, breaking off another bite of scone. “So convince me,” I said, popping it into my mouth.
“Your fiancé is a total nerd who tried to convince me you’d be fine with him dragging me to Silences for the weekend to watch a production of Much Ado About Nothing, and then he said that since back in Shakespeare’s day ‘nothing’ was slang for female genitalia, it was the most appropriate play for a King of Cats on the verge of matrimony, since the title is actually Making a Fuss About—”
“Okay, you’ve met Tybalt,” I said quickly, cutting him off. “And if you are Quentin Sollys, I have officially ruined the next King of the Westlands. Prove you know me.”
He looked at me gravely, and said, “The first time I met you, I had been sent to carry a message from Duke Sylvester Torquill, which you summarily refused to hear, chiding me for my attempts to deliver it in the middle of a human neighborhood. I didn’t know much about humans back then, so I believed you when you implied that someone might come along and . . . and overhear something that would betray the existence of Faerie to the mortal world. I was so worried I’d fail if I forced you to listen to me, by breaking one of the oldest rules, and that I’d fail if I didn’t force you, because I’d be letting a Ducal message go unanswered.” A note of frustrated misery crept into his tone. “I’d been in Shadowed Hills for almost a year. Everyone said the Duke was mad, but he’d been better since his wife and daughter came back, and then they all said it was only you who could move him to one of those black tempers, where he threw things and screamed, or tried to read secret messages in the cobwebs, or . . .”
His voice trailed off. I fought the urge to prod him to keep going. I’d been back for six years, and I still knew almost nothing of what it had been like to live with Sylvester while Luna, Rayseline, and I were all missing, presumed lost forever. People would only ever tell me that the Duke had lost his mind, or perhaps lost himself, in the tangled maze of bereavement and betrayal where he’d been abandoned. Etienne had been with him the whole time, and still couldn’t speak of those years without paling and looking away. The general consensus seemed to be that I was better off for having been somewhere else.
And yet, Sylvester’s temper and sense of right and wrong had been skewed enough these last few years that I sometimes felt like I needed to understand the man at his worst in order to figure out how to live with the person he was now.
The boy—Quentin, I couldn’t pretend any longer that it wasn’t Quentin—was looking down at the table, silent. I tapped the edge of my plate with one fingernail, filling the room with a sharp chime. He glanced up.
“Hey,” I said. “I believe you.”
Some of the tension left his shoulders.
I wasn’t done. “I believe you have done something very stupid and very ill-considered, and I’m trying to decide how angry at you I am right now, so if you would please take a deep breath, tighten any necessary sphincters, and explain exactly what the fuck it is you were thinking, I might be less inclined to ground you until your own coronation!” My voice rose steadily throughout my little rant, until I was almost shouting by the end.
Quentin flinched again. “Um,” he said.
“Um? That’s what you have to say for yourself? Um? Oh, well, let’s pack in it, folks, everything’s fine, your parents aren’t going to have me tried for treason after all!”
“Treason?” asked Dean.
I turned and glared at him. He quailed, apparently realizing that attracting my attention right now was a bad idea.
“Yes, Dean, treason,” I said, forcing my voice to stay level. “I don’t know how you do things in the Undersea, but here on the land, bargaining with one of the Firstborn to transform the Crown Prince into someone new, someone who has no blood relation to either the High King or the High Queen, who cannot possibly inherit the throne that is his by right of birth, is considered a little bit, I don’t know, treasonous. Since I already have a reputation for king-breaking, which is entirely unfair and unearned—”
Quentin made a choked sound that might have been laughter. I shifted my glare briefly to him, and he quieted again.
“—but is definitely a factor of my life, I need to consider what it looks like when my squire goes off and pulls this sort of ridiculous stunt for no good reason whatsoever.”
“But I have a good reason!” protested Quentin.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “And what could that good reason possibly be? And don’t think I’ve forgotten that you still haven’t told me the terms of your bargain with the Luidaeg. I’m about thirty seconds away from calling her and demanding she transfer your debts to me.”
He blinked. “I don’t really know how that would work . . .”
I put a hand over my face. “By Oberon’s balls, I need you to tell me that you did not trade your firstborn child to the Luidaeg in exchange for the ability to attend my wedding.”
“I didn’t. And it’s really weird hearing you swear by someone we’ve met. Even if he still hasn’t really acknowledged that I exist, or talked to me, or anything like that.”
I lowered my hand. “Noted. Tell me what you paid first, and then tell me why you thought this was a good idea.” Dean made a sound of protest. I held up one finger, signaling him to silence, while continuing to glower at Quentin. “Now, please.”
“I, um, I traded her my identity for a new one, and I get the counter-draught that gives my real face and everything else back after I see you get married. Which means I have to attend the wedding, and we both have to be alive when you take your vows. And it seemed like a good idea because . . .” He hesitated, swallowing hard. “Because you’re my mom, Toby. I have a mother, I love her, but she stopped being there for me seven years ago, and it’s been you almost the whole time since then. You’re my knight and my responsible adult and my mom. I know someone’s going to try to kill you at your own wedding! I’ve met you, I know how your life works, and you’re my mom. I have to be there. I’m your squire. I’d be failing you completely if I wasn’t there.”
I stared at him, barely aware that my eyes had started to burn with unshed tears. Then I blinked and they were rolling down my cheeks, salt painting my lips and overwhelming the taste of lemon sugar. I put my coffee cup down again and leaned back in my chair, opening my arms.
That was all the invitation Quentin needed. He flung himself out of his own chair and into mine, sending me rocking back, although the counter was close enough that we didn’t—quite—topple to the ground. He pressed his face into my shoulder as he slung his arms around my neck, and I closed my own arms around him, and held that boy as tight as I dared. I was still crying, a slow leak that felt almost insufficient for the moment. This should have been a huge, dramatic thing, all racking sobs and blood.
Maybe my standards are skewed.