Kiss of the Selkie: A Little Mermaid Retelling
A handsome fugitive seeking a marriage of convenience.
A selkie with a lethal kiss sent to seal his fate…
To evade a vicious sea queen’s clutches, selkie Maisie hides on land surviving as a thief. But when she rescues a human from drowning and illegally brings him to shore, she must answer for breaking fae law. As punishment, she’ll have to hunt down the man she saved…and kiss him. But with a kiss that can kill, Maisie’s mission means more than seduction. It means murder.
Son of a notorious fae-killer, Dorian was never meant to survive the shipwreck that was orchestrated to assassinate him. Now that he’s on the forbidden fae isle, he’ll do anything to gain citizenship—even marry a fae bride. Desperate for a hasty marriage, he holds a bridal competition in the isle’s most theatrical city, where displays of frivolity aren’t just encouraged—they’re expected. And if Maisie can act like a proper debutante and join the pageantry, she’ll get near enough to deliver her fatal kiss.
But getting close to her target brings complications she didn’t expect. As she pretends to compete for Dorian’s heart, it starts to feel less like an act…and more like falling in love.
If Maisie doesn’t deliver her kiss by sunrise on the last day of the competition, she forfeits her life. But if she succeeds, Dorian dies. When the pageant ends, will there be a true victor? Or only death and broken hearts?
ACOTAR meets Bridgerton and The Selection in this standalone fairytale retelling of The Little Mermaid. If you like enemies-to-lovers romance, bridal contests, and snarky fae royals, then you’ll love this swoon-worthy story in the Entangled with Fae series.
*NOTE this book is upper YA/NA featuring mature situations and some adult language. The romance is slow burn but leads to moderate steam.
Kiss of the Selkie is a complete stand-alone novel set in the same world as The Fair Isle Trilogy. Journey back to Faerwyvae or begin your adventure for the first time with this enchanting tale. Each book in the Entangled with Fae series can be read on its own and in any order. Happily ever after guaranteed!
Release date: December 31, 2021
Publisher: Crystal Moon Press
Print pages: 476
Content advisory: moderate steam, mature situations, and some adult language
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Kiss of the Selkie: A Little Mermaid Retelling
I killed the first boy I kissed, and if I ever press my lips to another’s, he won’t be the last. And I do very much hope he’s the last. Not because I dislike kissing. Had it been with someone I tolerated a little more, I could have enjoyed the kiss. That is, if he hadn’t stumbled back from me in the middle of it, choking on the taste of my lips.
Kissing is fine. It’s the killing I’m not so fond of.
Regardless of what I do and don’t like, the truth remains that there are very few options on the Isle of Faerwyvae for a killer like me. The first, of course, is prison. Since I’m fae—a selkie—that could mean an immortal lifetime in a cage. The second option is exile from the isle. That wouldn’t be too terrible if it didn’t mean death as well. Any fae who leaves the protective magical barrier surrounding the isle for an extended period forfeits their lengthy lifespan. Then there’s the third option. Punishment. Since the isle of Faerwyvae is ruled by the fae, lawbreakers are punished according to our ancient ways. Primarily through horrendous, bone-chilling bargains and curses.
Admittedly, as a runaway princess, there’s a good chance I’d escape the worst form of these punishments thanks to my father’s influence as Seelie King of the Sea Court.
But there’s a fourth option reserved just for me. A secret demise worse than all the first three combined. One that has sent me on the run for over a year…
Which, of course, leads me to option five. My favorite.
It’s called hide forever.
And where better to hide than the bright, boisterous city of Lumenas?
Hands in the pockets of my brown tweed coat, I stroll down the busy downtown city streets, jostled by distracted passersby. No one looks my way, for there are far more interesting things to ogle than a pink-haired fae girl wearing an oversized cap and men’s trousers. With my pointed ears—a feature only pureblood fae have—hidden beneath my cap, I could even pass for human if one didn’t look too hard. But if anyone did notice, it wouldn’t matter, for Lumenas is home to humans and fae in equal measure.
I turn down Halley Street, where the sidewalk is nearly packed end-to-end with tourists. The street crawls with pedestrians, coaches, and even an automobile or two. Sound blares from all around—horse hooves, horns, music, and laughter. After living here for a year, I’m used to it, but I remember how shocking it had been at first. I thought my head would explode from the noise, and it made me miss my quiet little lagoon back home. Now the chaos is nothing more than a colorful backdrop.
Best of all, it aids me in my line of work.
A human couple stops a few feet in front of me, entranced as they stare up at a sky-high building made of pink marble covered in iridescent electric bulbs. Lumenas is the type of city that is even brighter at night than it is during the day. It’s half past midnight and the sky is black, but the street is lit up brighter than the sun. I couldn’t see the stars right now if I tried. A strange contradiction for a city located in the Star Court—one of the eleven fae courts that comprise Faerwyvae.
“Excuse me,” I mutter, pretending to stumble as my shoulder comes up against the man’s. He neither acknowledges me nor the hand that slips from my pocket into his, coming away with a brass pocket watch.
Too easy, I think with a smirk as I drop the watch into my satchel. I feel movement from within the bag, followed by a muffled male voice. “That’s a nice one, Maisie.”
“Podaxis,” I hiss from a corner of my mouth, “how many times must I remind you? You can’t say that name anymore. It’s Pearl, remember?”
My satchel moves again as a pair of red pincers lifts the top flap. Although I can’t see his beady eyes hidden in the depths of my bag, I can imagine the worried look on Podaxis’ crab-like face. “Yes. Sorry, Your Highness. I mean, Pearl. You know it’s hard for me to use that name. It’s like lying.”
“It’s not lying,” I say, although it sort of is. Full-blood fae, like me and Podaxis, are incapable of stating any direct lie. We can, however, bend the truth quite a bit. It’s all about intent. “My name means pearl. That’s true enough.”
“I know, I know,” he mutters, then closes the flap again.
If I were anywhere else, I’d be worried about someone spotting me talking to my bag. But not here. Not when there are so many far more exciting things to look at no matter where you turn—winged men juggling everything from bunnies to knives, musicians pounding drums and bowing fiddles upon makeshift stages, beautiful nymphs dangling from lampposts, performing acrobatic feats on silk ropes. And that’s just this block alone.
At the northern tip of the Star Court, Lumenas is widely known as the musical capital of Faerwyvae, home to more music halls, opera houses, and theaters than anywhere else on the isle. But it has also collected several less savory monikers. Den of Debauchery. Gambler’s Ruin. Devil’s Delight. Thief’s Paradise. At the end of the day, Lumenas is a city teeming with wealthy humans on holiday. They may be drawn in by the beauty and the art, but they stay for the thrill.
Meanwhile, I stay for the subterfuge. The perfect place to hide, where a princess can shed her identity and never be found. Here, I’m just a grain of sand on the seashore. Invisible. Inconsequential. Just a girl dressed as a boy, lifting trinkets from pockets as smoothly as the girls in the Orchid Garden lift their skirts.
I scan the crowds until my attention narrows on a group of humans clustered around an antlered fae male spouting poetry on the corner. He’s dressed in nothing but a ruffled pink skirt and red suspenders, revealing a barrel chest and thick, sculpted calves that have several human females in his audience swooning. Their husbands seem torn between watching their smitten wives or the fae that’s stolen their attention, making them the perfect target. I weave through the crowd and come up behind one man, jabbing my elbow into his side. He surges away, bumping the man next to him. The second man stumbles and rounds on the first with a scowl and a curse. At that moment, I skirt around to the other side of the second man and extract a velvet money pouch from his coat pocket. In its place, I leave a book of matches.
By the time I reach the corner of Halley Street and Third, I’ve added a necklace, a bracelet, and a ruby earring to my satchel. If my bag wasn’t already so heavy with Podaxis inside, it certainly is now. I’m about to turn down Third, ready to call it quits for the night, when something catches my eye back on Halley. A group of well-dressed aristocrats linger outside the doors of the Diamonde Opera House, laughing and chatting next to a coach-and-four. The men wear their finest frock coats, top hats, and silk cravats, while the woman nearest me boasts a close-fitting black evening gown, white gloves, and a dainty beaded purse on her wrist. But that’s not what has my attention. It’s the hair ornament she wears at the back of her head, just below a cluster of neatly pinned curls. It’s a comb shaped like a seashell, silver inlaid with iridescent mother-of-pearl. My nose twitches at the sight of it, a sensation much like the precursor to a sneeze. It's the same thing that always happens when I spot any particularly tempting piece of treasure.
My bag shifts as Podaxis shuffles the flap aside. This time, he peers over the top. “Don’t do it, Mais—Pearl. You know what happens on this side of Third.”
“I know,” I mutter without taking my eyes off the comb. He’s right. East of Third Avenue, Halley Street hosts far more prestigious clientele than the artful chaos on the west side. Here, the streets are far less busy, the sounds coming from the theaters softer and more melodious, which adds up to higher chances of getting caught stealing. Not to mention the city jail is a block east of here.
“We have enough for tonight,” Podaxis says, a plea in his voice. “More importantly, I’d rather we didn’t go back to jail.”
“That was one time and only for what, fifteen minutes?” I release a sigh. “I really want that comb.”
“Why do I even bother?” His voice dissolves into a grumble as he sinks back into the depths of my satchel.
“I don’t think so, my friend.” I round the corner of the opera house and pause to open my bag all the way. Laughing tourists pass by and pay me no heed. I smile down at Podaxis. “I’m going to need your help on this one.”
He snaps his pincers. “What if I say no?”
“How do you know?”
I wink. “Because you never do in the end and you’re my best friend. Now, come. It will be easy! You know what to do.”
“You always pull the best-friend card at the most inopportune times.” He sighs, yet despite his protests, he begins to climb out of my satchel. I help him the rest of the way and set him at my feet. With a yelp, he scurries closer to the building and away from the pounding footsteps of those who walk by. He gets a few curious looks, but no one stares too long. Spotting fae creatures on the streets of Lumenas is unremarkable, even though Podaxis isn’t the most common type of fae found in the Star Court. He’s a fungus sprite, the size of a small terrier with a crablike body, red pincers, and a mossy green carapace sprouting numerous oddly shaped mushrooms. His kind tends to dwell in courts that host dark, wet, or warm climates. The Star Court is hospitable enough for him, but its mild weather and entirely average climate rarely draw his kind away from more favorable courts like Lunar, Earthen, and Fire.
“Ready?” I ask.
“No,” he mutters in reply but raises his pincers.
With a deep breath, I tug my cap lower over my forehead, ensuring any errant strands of my short pink hair are tucked safely beneath its brim. Podaxis and I take off, he toward the coach-and-four, I toward the chatting crowd. I lose sight of Podaxis as I brush past the group, keeping to the opposite side closest to the opera house. A whinny sounds, followed by the clatter of horse hooves.
“What is that?” The woman with the hair ornament gasps, and the group turns toward the commotion. The two horses at the fore of the parked coach try to rear up. The woman takes a step back…toward me. With a spin, I reach up and lift the comb from the back of her head and slide it into my pocket.
I nearly chuckle out loud. So easy.
At the back of the coach, Podaxis scurries from underneath it. That’s where we meet. I swoop down to lift him and hazard a glance back at the crowd. They’re still distracted by the startled horses. “You did great,” I whisper, hugging him to my chest. Despite my confidence, I know better than to linger long enough to let him back into my satchel. Not until after we round the next corner on Fourth. Away from the jail looming across the street.
“That was humiliating.”
“But it worked. I told you—”
“My hair comb! George, have you seen it?”
My heart leaps into my throat, but I keep my eyes fixed straight ahead. Fourth Avenue is a mere dozen feet away. After that—
“You there! Boy!” a man’s voice shouts behind me.
“Shells,” I mutter, quickening my pace. But already I hear the slap of fine shoes on the sidewalk.
“Pearl.” Podaxis’ voice raises an octave.
“I know, I know.” My feet are eager to break into a run, but I force myself to stay calm. Act natural. Finally, I turn down Fourth…
And nearly collide with two people rounding the corner at the same time. One glance at their starched mustard-yellow jackets and black bell-shaped helmets marks them as city patrol officers. I lurch back and to the side, almost tripping over my feet. “Watch yourself,” one says with a scoff. He’s fae with brown skin and enormous curling horns on each side of his helmet. The female officer next to him looks like a sylph, with her blue skin and hair. Sylphs might be pretty and slender, but they are known to be masters of the sword. And I see one at her hip.
“Sorry,” I mutter, trying to make my voice sound lower than it really is. Even though the officers are fae like me, I’ll get no favors from them if they look inside my satchel. Or pockets.
The sylph starts to step to the side to let me pass when a voice booms out behind me. “Boy!”
The officers narrow their eyes at me. I glance to the side and see one of the men from the crowd stomping up the sidewalk. Behind him trails the woman I lifted the comb from. Her eyes widen when she sees what’s clasped to my chest. “That’s the creature that startled the horses.”
“I’ll wager fifty citrine chips that the boy is a thief,” the man says.
“Shells,” I curse under my breath and retreat toward the nearest building.
The patrol officers don’t let me get more than two steps before they close in. “Empty your bag and pockets,” the male officer demands as he reaches for me.
I take another step closer to the building.
Then I close my eyes.
When I open my eyes, I find the world has turned an unsettling shade of violet. It covers everything, from the officer frozen in place mid-grab to his sylph companion and the two aristocrats, also motionless. Even Podaxis and I are now purple. Stranger yet is how everything—me, my crustacean friend, the people surrounding me, the street, the buildings—has changed. All matter is now composed of swirling, pulsing particles of violet light, constantly in flux despite how still every living being has become. Or nearly still, as each person continues to move almost imperceptibly.
It’s always this way when I disappear. And yet I’m still not used to it. Not sure I’ll ever be.
I take off toward the building, but instead of running on swift legs the way I intend to, I sort of float from one step to the next. It feels as if I’m wading through dense sand or swimming through muddy water. My moves are fluid, and my feet find solid ground, but my body doesn’t react the way it does in the real world. That’s because I’m not in the real world.
I’m in the Twelfth Court.
There are eleven courts on the isle of Faerwyvae, each named for a different element, season, or celestial entity. Each court hosts a different climate and terrain to exemplify the court’s elemental affinity, and each is ruled by two fae royals—a seelie and unseelie monarch. They rule separately and are each responsible for different aspects of the court. The seelie ruler oversees matters of everyday life, finance, and human-fae relations, while the unseelie ruler advocates for nature and upholds ancient tradition. But there’s a twelfth court, one that has no king, no queen, no division of seelie versus unseelie. In fact, it isn’t a true court at all. It’s the home of the All of All, the realm where fae magic originates. And, no, it is not normal to pay a casual visit like I’m doing now.
The first time I came to the Twelfth Court was by accident. It was almost a year ago during my early days in the Star Court when I first learned to steal. I got caught lifting a watch and was hauled by a pair of patrol officers to the city jail. After they shoved me and Podaxis into a dark cell in their fae ward, all I could think about was my desperation to shift forms. Most fae can shift, alternating between one’s unseelie and seelie forms at will. A fae’s unseelie form is their natural body, often animalistic or ethereal in nature, while seelie form is humanoid like the one I wear now. But I’m not like most fae. I’m a selkie—a seal fae. Unlike nearly every other kind of fae, selkies can’t simply shift by intention alone. We change into seelie form by removing our sealskins, and we can only return to our unseelie forms by donning our skins again.
I don’t know why it must be so complicated for selkies when every other fae shifts with nothing more than a dainty shudder, but here I am, highly inconvenienced at all times. And there I was, thinking I’d ruined my whole hide forever plan, wishing I could shift like normal just by touching the magic of the Twelfth Court like everyone else does when they alternate forms. Of course, even if I’d had my sealskin, it wouldn’t have done much good. The officers would have soon been back to process me. They’d have forced me to reveal my true identity regardless of what form I wore. That, in turn, would have revealed me to the very person I was trying to evade. However, my desire to shift wasn’t because I thought unseelie form would save me. No, it was comfort I sought then. Fur and blubber and everything I once associated with safety. I figured if everything were to go up in flames, I’d at least be comfortable. So I closed my eyes and tried. Really, really tried.
And then I found myself here, in a time without time, a form without form.
I made my escape then like I’m making it now. And about a half dozen times in between, if I’m being honest.
I breathe deeply, and my lungs respond too slow, filling with air that doesn’t feel like air. My pulse is all wrong, somehow beating both sluggishly and rapidly at once. I make it to the door of whatever business my unlucky fate has brought me to, and step through it, not even bothering to open it. There’s no need when all matter consists of buzzing particles of light. A quick look around reveals tables and chairs—a restaurant—all made of the same violet molecules. I see no bodily shapes, so the restaurant must be closed. I make my way toward the back of the room, still feeling as if my legs are being restrained by mud. I’m almost to the kitchen when the nearest table catches my eye, adorned with flatware. My gaze locks on four prongs and a long stem. A fork. While I can’t see it for more than a silhouette of shifting, buzzing violet light, the scalloped end of the stem is unfamiliar to me. And I’m willing to bet it’s silver. If I had a real nose right now, it would tingle. I glance down at Podaxis, still clutched to my chest. Luckily, he’s completely unconscious of what’s happening, otherwise he’d tell me not to do what I’m about to do.
“I have time,” I say in a voice that sounds too flat to be my own. With a slow grin that lags to catch up with my excitement, I make my way to the fork and pocket it.
My stomach lurches and a pressure begins to build behind my eyes.
“Shells,” I mutter. Again, my voice sounds wrong in my ears. “I guess I don’t have time.”
Keeping my gaze fixed firmly ahead to avoid further temptations, I leave the dining room and race through the kitchen. And by race I mean crawl. Float. Running that isn’t running. Pressure continues to build in my head, tingling through every purple particle that makes up my flesh, blood, and sinew. My momentum starts to slow, and my legs feel too heavy, my feet too thick, but the door is just a few steps away.
The violet light begins to disperse, and more colors start to show through it. The particles grow thicker, their buzzing slower. I reach the door and push against it, finding it far more solid than the first one I walked through. Still, I try, pushing aside molecules that were once the size of pinpricks but are now more like grapefruits. My vision grows blurry just as my hand breaks through the other side. With all my waning strength, I pull myself out, inch by inch, breath by breath.
Finally, I emerge on the other side just as the world returns to normal.
Gasping for air, I lean against the wall next to the restaurant door. I can’t bring myself to open my eyes, but the quiet combined with the stale rot invading my nostrils suggests I’m in the alley behind the building.
“Oh, for the love of shells,” Podaxis says. “You did it again, didn’t you? You really ought to refrain.”
I clutch him tighter as I sink to the ground, tears streaming down my cheeks in my efforts to catch my breath. “You’re the one who insisted we don’t go back to jail,” I manage to bite out. My throat burns, my voice as weak as my limbs. My body is racked with sudden chills. There’s a reason I continue to steal the old-fashioned way instead of utilizing my strange ability to enter the Twelfth Court.
In his silence, I can sense Podaxis’ desire to scold me, but instead, he nestles closer, patting my shoulder with his claw.
It takes several minutes before I regain my strength. When I think I’m ready to walk again, I open the flap of my satchel, allowing Podaxis to scurry inside, and then rise to my feet on wobbly legs. I make my way carefully to the mouth of the alley on the opposite side from where I was almost caught. Hopefully, the patrol officers have given up their search for me by now. They’re probably still marveling over how I could have disappeared in the blink of an eye. Finding nothing to alarm me on either side of the street, I wait for a group of inebriated young men dressed down to their shirtsleeves to pass before I follow behind, adding a swagger to my step in my attempt to blend in.
After a few blocks, I reach Orion Street and break away from the group. It’s quiet here, being so far from the stunning spectacle that is Halley Street. Instead of towering hotels, elegant theaters, and ostentatious street performers, there are unique galleries, obscure wax museums, curios, cafes, and fledgling clubs. Perhaps the most fledgling of all is the Vulture’s Prose Theater. Which is also where I call home.
I reach the theater with its telltale chipped black paint marring the façade. At least our sign is new, hanging above the door, stating Vulture’s Prose in freshly painted red letters to match the red-headed vulture wearing a tutu leaning against the E in Prose.
I enter and find the main room empty, the stage dark with not a single light left illuminated. The last performance of the night should have ended at ten, and all patrons are long gone, leaving no need to waste precious light. Not that we waste much at all. We rarely even utilize electricity, favoring the nearly archaic gas lighting instead. While electricity is readily available from the ley lines of fae magic that crisscross the isle, it still costs money to use. According to Mr. Tuttle, manager of the Vulture’s Prose, the theater needs far more vital improvements before electricity becomes a priority. Try to argue, and he’ll go on and on about how back in his day, audiences were awed not by tricks of fancy stage lighting but by an actor’s stellar performance.
Needless to say, I’ve learned not to haggle with him over the cost of light.
I’m halfway across the room when sounds of laughter reach my ears. Four figures enter from backstage, and their expressions brighten when they see me.
“Pearl,” Martin says with a glowing smile. The blond-haired half-fae boy strolls over to me, hands in his pockets, while the other three—Nadia, Klaus, and Stanley—follow behind. Martin deals cards at a club at the other end of Orion, while the latter three are residents of the Vulture’s Prose like I am. Unlike me, however, these three are regular performers at the theater, while I am just the thief that helps fund their artistic ventures.
Martin shifts awkwardly from foot to foot and looks at me from under his lashes. We spent a couple nights together a few weeks back, and he’s been acting increasingly attentive ever since—something I try not to feel too flattered about. It wasn’t supposed to last. He knows that.
“Greetings, Martin,” I say, keeping my tone formal.
He doesn’t seem at all put off by my lack of warmth. “We’re going out to the Honey House. Care to join us?”
The Honey House is a lesser-known public house that sells one thing. Honey Pyrus. Wine, extract, powder, and several other forms of the hallucinogenic fae fruit can be found there. I feign a yawn. “No, thank you. I think I’ll just turn in early. It’s been a long night.” While I’m feeling much recovered from the aftereffects of entering the Twelfth Court, the night has been long indeed. But aren’t they all? Mostly, I just want to avoid doing anything that could give Martin false hope.
His face falls. “Are you sure?” In his eyes, I can see everything he’s left unsaid. Everything he wants me to say. That he should leave his friends behind and perhaps go to bed early with me.
But I’m not going to say that. I never should have dallied with him in the first place. Romance and lethal kisses do not make a sustainable pair. “I’m sure. Have a lovely time, though.”
I take a step away, but Martin circles my upper arm with his fingers. His expression turns pleading. “Come on—”
“If she doesn’t want to go, she doesn’t have to,” Nadia says, coming up beside me. She gives Martin a pointed look until he releases my arm. Then she turns toward me with a warm grin. “That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want you to come. And you too, Podaxis.”
I glance down to see my friend peering from my bag, a subtle glow coming from the normally not-so-glowy mushrooms on his carapace. “Not tonight,” I say, my tone much kinder than it was with Martin.
“Next time,” she says with a wink and heads toward the door. Klaus flings an arm around Stanley’s shoulders and blows me a kiss, while the latter flutters his fingers in a wave. Then the pair follow Nadia. Martin lingers behind. He opens his mouth, but before he can utter a word, I brush past him and make my way backstage. Thankfully, he doesn’t follow. My heart sinks all the same. He and I will need to talk soon, and I’m not looking forward to it.
I find Mr. Tuttle in his office—a room I’m pretty sure was meant to be a mop closet before he filled it with his rickety old desk and crooked filing cabinets. Podaxis climbs from my bag and I set him on the floor. His mushrooms have ceased glowing and are back to their usual pinks, blues, reds, and greens. I’m curious what caused his momentary bout of luminescence, but I’ve got business to attend to.
“What did you bring today, dear Pearl?” Mr. Tuttle says without turning around to look at me. I glance over his shoulder to see him counting citrine chips and rounds—the currency of the Star Court. He’s an older gentleman, perhaps in his seventies, and human too. His wrinkled skin reminds me of an elephant seal, while his sparse gray hair recalls the wind-battered seagulls I used to watch from my lagoon.
“Just a few shiny things,” I say as I empty my satchel onto his desk, spilling out today’s treasures. Altogether there are two pocket watches, three money pouches, a bracelet, a necklace, and two mismatched earrings. Mr. Tuttle pushes his citrine chips aside and retrieves his loupe, bringing it to his eye. Then, one by one, he inspects each piece with his lens, uttering grunts of approval. No gasps of awe this time, for it’s rare that I lift something of supreme value. In our line of work, that’s a good thing. Anything too impressive could draw the wrong kind of attention back to us.
Once he’s inspected each piece, he picks up the necklace again. It’s a large pendant adorned with tiny amethysts, hanging from a brass chain. “Madame Lillian will like this one,” he says with a sideways grin.
I lift a brow. “Oh, I’m sure she will, but don’t you dare let her talk you down this time, Mr. Tuttle. You sold her the last necklace for half of what you said you could get for it.”
He faces me, and I can almost see the stars in his eyes. “I can’t help it, Pearl. She’s an enchantress.”
I bark a laugh. “She’s a charlatan and you know it.”
“Then why can’t I think straight when she’s around?”
“Because she has nice breasts, Mr. Tuttle.”
“They’re average, in my opinion,” Podaxis mutters near my feet.
I swivel toward my friend. “No, they’re fantastic.” That’s no lie. Madame Lillian is endowed fuller than a harp seal’s head. What I wouldn’t give to have bubbies like that. Or even a fraction of the delectable body fat I have when I’m a seal. But that’s beside the point.
Mr. Tuttle sighs. “Fantastic. That they are.”
I turn back to the old man with a pointed look. “Now, you better promise me. I’m fae, so I can hold you to it with my wicked magics.” I wink to show I’m teasing. Although promises with the fae can be binding indeed, bringing about horrible repercussions if broken, he knows I’m not the bargaining type.
He rolls his eyes with a groan. “Fine. I won’t let Madame Lillian buy this necklace for less than…twenty-five citrine chips.”
“Fine. Forty. And that’s final.”
He scoffs, but his expression is amused. “You’re a vicious one, Pearl.”
“It’s for your own good. Not to mention the good of the Vulture’s Prose.” He can’t argue with the last part. It’s Mr. Tuttle’s responsibility to sell our so-called found treasures to local shops and curios. In turn, he uses the money to fund the theater. Madame Lillian is one of his most regular customers, purchasing our stolen wares and then reselling them to gullible tourists under the guise of Protection Amulet or Enchanted Bracelet That Will Bring True Love. Ridiculous. And if he keeps letting her take advantage of his infatuation, the Vulture’s Prose will never see the marvels of modern electricity.
“Very well, very well.” With a chuckle, he hands me five citrine chips as payment for my night’s work, then shoos me away.
With a skip in my step, I pocket the chips and head deeper backstage.
“To bed then?” Podaxis asks with a little yawn.
“Nope.” I walk past the narrow corridor that leads to the bedrooms and go straight for the back door that opens to the alley. “We’re going out.”
Podaxis taps his pincers together in an anxious gesture, hind claws clacking on the wood floor. “But you said…to Martin...that we were staying in.”
“I meant it then, but I changed my mind.” I open the door to the quiet night and the destination that beckons me beyond. Closing my eyes, I try to imagine I can already hear the sound of waves, feel the spray of salt on my skin. When I open them, I see Podaxis watching me from the shadows of his carapace. “What?”
He releases a grumbling sigh. “For a fae who can’t lie, you are frighteningly good at it.”
We reach Cape Vega and find nothing but peaceful isolation. A black sky, a crescent moon, a soft wind. If I don’t look behind me where downtown Lumenas shines as bright as a beacon even from a mile away, I can pretend I’m far from civilization. Tourists don’t come to Lumenas for the beach, which means the cape is almost always empty. I still don’t dare come during the day. Only at night. Only when the moon is but a sliver of light.
I walk to the edge of the bluff that overlooks a wind-tossed ocean and breathe in deep. The air tastes of salt and smells of home. I close my eyes, trying to imagine I’m not here but where I wish I could be—Bircharbor Palace.
Not that I ever spent much time inside the palace itself. Bircharbor is located at the very edge of the Autumn Court, perched upon a tall cliff overlooking the eastern seas of Father’s domain. But dry indoor air, stuffy politics, and walking on two legs never had much appeal to me when I was growing up. I preferred life as a seal on the sandy beach below the palace or in my little lagoon at the base of the cliff. Protected by a wall of coral, the lagoon was the perfect place for a young selkie to swim without the dangers of the open ocean. When I wasn’t swimming, I was basking on sun-warmed rocks, playing with Podaxis, or nestled against my selkie brothers. Longing twists my heart at the thought.
“Are you certain this is wise, Maisie?”
I open my eyes and blink away thoughts of playful siblings and my crystal-blue lagoon. At least I have Podaxis. Not only is he my best friend, but he might as well be my brother too, considering we were raised together since we were both quite young. He was orphaned following a shark attack that killed his parents, found by my father, and brought home to be my companion. We took to one another like fish to water and have been inseparable ever since.
He climbs from my bag and I set him on the ground. Since we’re alone, I don’t bother correcting his use of my real name. “Wise? I don’t recall coming here for wisdom.”
He looks up at me and taps his pincers anxiously together. “It’s just that you really ought not to be this close to the ocean. You know I thought it was a bad idea to come to Lumenas at all, with such close proximity to the sea.”
He’s right about that. When I first went on the run and came to Lumenas, Podaxis made no secret of his concern. I would have been worried too if I hadn’t heard the rumors about the city. Anyone who speaks of it insists it’s the ultimate location to disappear to and start new lives. A city of brilliance, beauty, and debauchery. Where opportunities abound for artists, aristocrats, and thieves in equal measure. A place where one can easily get lost in the teeming crowds. Hearing all of this, I decided to take the risk.
And that risk has paid off. I’ve been living in Lumenas for over a year and not once have I come close to being found by she whom I evade. Aside from that one time in jail, of course. That was a beginner’s mistake.
“Podaxis, who should I worry about seeing me?”
“There could be…ruffians around,” he says, although I can tell from his tone that he doesn’t find it too likely.
“The only ruffians here are you and me.” I chuckle, glancing from one side of the beach to the other. The only imposing figures in sight are the towering stones that make up the magical perimeter wall around Faerwyvae. Each stone is at least twice my height and thrice as wide with no more than fifty feet between each stone. They rise from the rocky shore, lining it as far as I can see, standing sentinel against outside threats. Infused with unseen magic, the biggest army in the world couldn’t penetrate the invisible wall the stones create, for only one of pure fae blood may pass through it. That’s how it’s been since the end of the last human-fae war. At least, that’s what my father told me. I wasn’t alive yet. The war ended about twenty-two years ago and I was born a few years after that. But stories tell how the stones once stood as a divide, separating the human lands in the south from the fae realm in the north. After Faerwyvae was threatened by a human army that sought to wipe out all life on the isle in order to eliminate faekind, the fae rose against them and triumphed. That’s when the stones were moved. Instead of forming a wall that separated two species, they became a protective perimeter, allowing the humans and fae to live unified under fae rule. Now it’s impossible for humans to enter or leave the isle without a fae escort, and such things are highly regulated.
For the fae, there’s very little appeal beyond the stones, even for a sea fae. The magic of the wall only extends so far out into the ocean, and fae can’t thrive without our magic.
When it comes to this side of the stones, well, there isn’t much at Cape Vega to entice my kind to linger about. Below the bluff, there’s only a sliver of a shore, and it hosts not plush sand but rocks. The boulders peeking from the water’s surface are jagged and covered in barnacles. There’s hardly a beach for selkies to shed their skins and dance, much less an adequate perch for mermaids and sirens. Here I’m alone in the best sort of way.
I lift my chin and force confidence into my tone. “Queen Nimue won’t find me here.” I try to pretend saying her name out loud doesn’t make me shudder. Perhaps I should have used one of her alternate monikers. Like the city of Lumenas, she’s known by many.
Unseelie Queen of the Sea.
The Sea Witch.
Father’s Great Nemesis.
“If your father was frightened of her, you should be too,” Podaxis says. “I can’t imagine what could terrify a king in his own ocean. You must be careful.”
“I’m quite careful.”
“If you say so, Pearl.”
With a sigh, I sit, my legs extended slightly over the edge of the bluff. Podaxis takes a more conservative seat close to my hips. Then I take off my hat and let my short pink hair catch the wind. I luxuriate in the caress of the breeze dancing through every strand. After keeping my hair stuffed under a cap all day, it feels as good as a massage. Even though I feel safe in Lumenas, keeping my hair hidden is an easy precaution. Not that candy-floss-pink hair is unusual for a fae. My kind are known to have hair of all shades. But the combination of pink hair, golden-tan complexion, and an abundant spattering of freckles…well, that’s narrowing things down quite a bit. Throw in a girl carrying around her crustacean friend, and I’m as good as caught.
And if I’m caught…
My lungs contract at the thought.
She’ll make you a killer, Maisie, Father’s voice echoes through my mind. If Queen Nimue knows you have death magic, she’ll hunt you down. She won’t stop until she makes you one of her assassins. I can’t live with that. You’re not a killer, my child. I can’t see you made a murderer…
Clenching my jaw, I force the ruminations away and reach inside my coat pocket. A smile spreads over my lips as I draw out the shell-shaped comb. I run my fingers over the smooth mother-of-pearl, watching the starlight glint off the silver teeth of the comb.
Podaxis taps a claw on the grassy ground, each thud brimming with reproach. “I see you didn’t sell that to Mr. Tuttle.”
“Nope.” Ignoring his beady, condemning eyes, I brush one side of my hair behind my ears and pin the comb in place. In an instant, my hair ceases whipping into my eyes. “Cutting my hair was the best choice I ever made.”
“You say that often.”
“It’s always true.” I reach into my pocket again, and this time I come away with my newest treasure.
Podaxis gasps at the sight of the stolen fork. “I didn’t see you take that! Where did you get it?”
“A restaurant.” I run my fingers along each of the four tines, then over the scalloped shell-like design on the handle. Now that I have time to properly study it, I can confirm that it is, indeed, pure silver. My nose twitches as I watch it glimmer even brighter than the hair comb.
“You know, your agreement with Mr. Tuttle states that you’re supposed to hand over everything you steal.”
“I know our agreement, Podaxis. Technically, we never made a binding promise. I’d like to think of it more as a general suggestion. Besides, I can’t wait to add this to my collection.” By collection, I mean the hatbox full of silverware I have tucked under my bed at the theater. If only I hadn’t had to leave my former collections behind when I went on the run. I had so many pretty things, curated over many years.
“What, pray tell, are you planning on doing with your collection? Hmm? I know you aren’t going to sell it, although I can only guess it would be worth enough to either fund a few weeks of performances at the Vulture’s Prose or rent us a new place to live.”
“I like where we live. I also like to collect shiny objects. That isn’t a crime.”
“But stealing them is. Keeping them under your bed is just leaving evidence lying around.”
I scratch an itch on my scalp with the tines of the fork. “I don’t keep everything I find.”
“You still steal them.”
“No, I sell them,” I say. “That’s less stealing and more taking one thing from one place, moving it to another, and making a profit. I’m basically a merchant.”
Podaxis scoffs. “I honestly can’t fathom how you do it.”
“How I do what?”
He taps his hind claws on the ground again. “How you lie.”
“It’s not a lie if I can successfully utter it aloud.”
“No, I suppose not. But somehow you are able to convince yourself something is true when it is perhaps only partially so, and in turn, weave untruths into truth. It’s maddening.”
I wink. “Only because you haven’t mastered the art of doing it yourself. It’s called talent.”
“I’d call it something else,” he mutters under his breath.
Silence falls between us, and I think that might be the last of his arguments. Although, knowing Podaxis…
“Why didn’t you go out with Martin tonight?” His tone has shifted from condemning to hesitantly curious.
My muscles tense all the same. “Why would I?”
“I thought you liked him.”
I roll my eyes. “Hardly.”
He shifts awkwardly from claw to claw. “You seemed to like him enough to…you know.”
A blush rises to my cheeks as the nights I spent with Martin flood my mind. “What would you know about it? You better not have been listening. I told you to sleep elsewhere.” I try to keep my voice neutral, but there’s a note of hysteria I can’t hide. Podaxis may be my best friend, but we don’t talk about…that.
“I wasn’t listening,” he rushes to say. Then his expression takes on a dreamy quality, his tiny eyes turning down at the corners. “I stayed in Nadia’s room. Did you know she sings when she’s getting ready for bed? She has a lovely singing voice.”
I can’t help but note the wistfulness in his tone. It’s so pathetic and adorable I have to stifle a laugh. “Wait…do you fancy Nadia?”
He snaps his pincers at me. “So what if I do?”
“Nadia is human, Podaxis. I don’t think her kind thinks too highly of human-crab relations.”
“I don’t—I’m not a crab. I’m a fungus sprite.”
“Still, I think you’ll have to get over your prejudice and take seelie form if you want to impress her.”
“Prejudice! Me? I am not prejudiced. I don’t mind seelie form.”
“Then why haven’t you shifted before?”
He shakes a claw at me. “We’re getting off topic. This is about you, Maisie. You liked Martin. For two weeks, I watched you smile every time he was around. It was nice to see you smile again.”
I shake my head, trying not to remember how nice those two weeks truly were. Not that I felt anything for him. It was more that I enjoyed being so physically close to a man…and the things we did. “He’s too skinny. I like my men with some blubber on their bones.”
“You say that about every boy you try not to let yourself like. Or you say they’re boring. Or that they have the personality of dry kelp.”
“I only said that last one about Prince Franco.” And it was true. Before I decided to go on the run, Father thought the best way to keep me safe from Queen Nimue was to marry me to a royal on land. That’s where Prince Franco of the Lunar Court came in. However, him being a psy vampire and able to read my every mood, every lie…it wasn’t the best arrangement for someone with as many secrets as I have. Even if I had been able to convince him to marry me, what would he have done when he learned my kiss could kill him?
No. Marriage, romance, love…none of that is for me.
Podaxis’ voice softens. “Don’t you want to stop running?”
“I only run when I’m about to get caught by the officers.”
“You know what I mean. I thought we came here to settle down and start a new life.”
I turn my fork over and over in my hands to hide how ruffled I am by his questions. My lungs are growing tighter and tighter the closer he gets to the truth. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean I need to cozy up with every boy who bats his lashes at me.”
“Maisie, your father would want you to be happy—”
Just like that, a crack forms in my carefully curated façade. Right at the center of my heart. “What do you want from me, Podaxis?” My voice breaks on his name. “To admit that I’m not happy? That I’m downright sad? That I miss Father and my brothers?”
He shrinks down, eyes wide with apology though he says nothing.
My lower lip trembles. “Do you want me to admit that I’m lonely?”
“You don’t have to be lonely,” Podaxis whispers. “I know I’m not enough—”
“Yes, you are,” I say, wiping furiously at an errant tear.
“No, Maisie, I’m not. We may have grown up together, and we may be best friends, but you need more than just me. You need other friends. Maybe even love.”
“You know why I can’t fall in love. Why I shouldn’t have even let things get so far with Martin.” I close my eyes and tip my head back in frustration. It isn’t Podaxis I’m frustrated with but me. I’m the one who invited Martin to my bed. Before I ran away, I hadn’t removed my sealskin more than a handful of times, hardly left the beach I’d spent my entire life on. I was sheltered and didn’t even know it. Then I came here to Lumenas where new experiences and sensations are found on every corner. My eyes were opened to so much I hadn’t known existed. Curious things I never understood as a seal. Things like flirtation and lovemaking for pleasure, not just procreation. A couple weeks ago, I decided I wanted to know what that was like, and Martin was a willing accomplice. Honestly, I was surprised how accommodating he was with my terms of no kissing and no romantic attachments. Even though he succeeded at following the first rule, I could tell when he started breaking the second. He’s been a little too persistent ever since. I’m starting to think he doesn’t know the meaning of the word no.
“Why can’t you fall in love? Because you can’t kiss?”
I give Podaxis a firm look. “Yes, because I can’t kiss anyone without killing them. Without snuffing out an innocent life. Again.”
He taps his pincers together, and I can tell he’s debating whether he should say more. Then he speaks, his voice barely above a whisper. “Luther was hardly innocent.”
Nausea turns my stomach at the name.
“Maisie.” Podaxis gently pats my knee. “You didn’t mean to kill him.”
“It doesn’t matter.” My voice is raspy. Raw. I rise to my feet and take a step away from my friend. “Loving me is deadly. I can’t risk it.”
“So is this all you want from the rest of your life? To steal to get by? To keep all other people at claw’s length?”
What I want is to live my life in peace without having to worry that Queen Nimue will find me and try to exploit my deadly magic. But I can’t bring myself to say that, for it only brings up more questions. More uncomfortable realizations. Primarily the fact that I’m fae and—unless I’m mortally wounded in one of the few ways that can kill my kind—I could live indefinitely.
And so can she who hunts me.
There’s a reason I call my plan hide forever.
It’s only terrifying when you consider just how long forever can be. No wonder Father wanted me to marry a royal on land. If I had, this would all be over. No hiding. No stealing. I would no longer belong to the Sea Court, and Queen Nimue wouldn’t dare try to take me from a royal household on land.
But, as I’ve already come to terms with, marriage wouldn’t have worked. Not with me. Not ever.
I stare out at the sea, my eyes unfocused over the glint of moonlight on the water. “I just want to survive.”
“You know, there’s more to life than—”
“What the jagged clam is that?” I grow tense as I realize my gaze isn’t resting on moonlight at all but light of a different kind. One that shouldn’t be there. I shutter my eyes, but there’s no denying what it is. “Fire.”
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