Part 4: In Which My Past Catches Up With Me

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Part 4

I reeled back, clutching at my heart which felt like it was being stabbed with icicles. Particularly cold and sharp icicles. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. My backup plan had better pull through—

A soft whooshing sound—a portal opening—met my ears. Perfect. The pain stopped and I straightened, drawing in a long, ragged breath.

The fae queen frowned, studying me. "What is—? Why didn't that take?"

Footsteps approached across the icy dance floor and she looked past my shoulder.

"Well, you see, I already have . . . a prior deal that might interfere with it." I forced a smirk and tried to resist turning around to look.

Too late. A hand seized my shoulder from behind and spun me around with iron force, nearly knocking me off-balance. I tried to steady my footing and grin disarmingly at the same time, not an easy thing while looking up at a hulking, muscular figure with shaven head, blue swirls of tattoos up his neck, and wearing a snug-fitting leather jacket twice as large as my own.

"Heya, fellas," I said breezily, tipping my chin up in a nod at him and sending a half-wave, half-salute toward the half-dozen similar figures behind him—five men and a woman with streaks of blue in her battle braids. "Fancy meeting you here—" I cut off and choked as Laker's fingers closed around my throat and I was shoved up against one of the ice pillars.

"You talk too much," he rumbled in his raspy voice I'd hoped not to hear again for a really long time, if ever.

I had a response to that if he'd care to listen or let me say it, but clearly he had no intention of doing either.

"And what," the fae queen said, in a tone which practically made hands propped on hips audible, "are selkie shifters doing in my court so suddenly?"

Laker's fingers loosened enough that I could rasp a breath, though still pinning me with my back against the icy support column, and his sea-colored eyes glowered down at the queen. "If you were planning on taking him, you should know that this . . . nuisance is already previously indebted to my people. Magical attempts to control him or kill him are not allowed until he has answered to us." He lowered his voice on the last word, ending in a hiss of animosity and turning his gaze to my own. "Isn't that right, Sean?"

So, yeah. Those selkie shifters.

I'm not saying it makes sense, but my thought process went roughly like this:

Since I already love a certain girl back home, Her Royal Iciness here can't take my heart so she'll turn it to ice and I'll die.

At least, I think I love her . . . How do magical curses decide for sure? What if it doesn't count because I haven't told her yet?

Alternately, in that case, I would belong to the fae queen, which is not on my to-do list.

But, either way, whatever happens, (which one had happened? I wondered—that would be useful to know, but was a little lower on the importance list than surviving this encounter), the selkies aren't going to let it go through, and they'll sense it and show up to do something about it.

Enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?

Even if it's just going from one insurmountable problem to another.

Riel was so going to owe me for this.

"You lying—" The fae queen appeared in my peripheral vision, cold and angry. "This is your version of 'no tricks,' is it?"

I swiveled my head in her direction as much as Laker's iron grip let me. I left off clawing at his choking fingers to lift my arms slightly in an exaggerated shrug. "Hey, all I recall agreeing to is a kiss in exchange for releasing everyone else. Not my fault if it didn't go off quite as you planned."

"Devious trickster." She pursed her lips, looking like she couldn't decide whether to laugh or be livid.

I'd gotten quite good at creating that sort of response in people—aside from certain selkies, who were nowhere near laughing.

"It's not like I'm enjoying this any more than you are," I added, side-eying Laker and his death grip.

"Oh, take him away and save me the trouble." She waved one pale, delicate hand decorated with jewelry apparently made of ice.

"Our pleasure," Laker growled to her next to my ear. He released my throat—truth to tell, kind of a relief—and shoved me toward the exit.

I turned my stumble into a half bow in the fae queen's direction. "Your Royal Iciness."

"Mm. Maybe if there's something left to you when they finish, I might see if my luck holds better on you next time."

"Luck's my middle name so . . . tough for you."

"Shut up," Laker said, grabbing me by my jacket's collar and shuffling me out through the icy gates. No sense of humor, this guy. "Come on. You're coming home to our boss."

"Can we talk about this—?" I began.

His tone was as flat and unamused as he was. "No."

Parked on the ice bridge before the palace—past the fae guards eyeing us as we trooped out—were seven motorcycles. Selkies' transportation mode of choice—when on solid ground. The six others mounted their rides. I eyed the dark lake beyond the road winding down from the castle, and the small boats that had just landed on the far shore with Riel and the billionaire's daughters—safe.

"Sure we're not swimming back instead?" I said. So much for avoiding water all this time, just to call the selkies right to me after all.

"Get on." Laker shoved me toward his motorcycle.

"Happy to," I grunted, vaulting onto it a split second after landing a solid kick to his middle that launched him over the short ice wall of the bridge we stood on, sending him plummeting toward the moat below.

I didn't wait to hear the splash, revving the motorcycle's engine and spinning the vehicle in a screeching circle on the groaning ice. Simultaneously, I flicked my left wrist forward with a flinging motion of my hand, activating the emergency portal-generator I kept literally up my sleeve.

A spiral of swirling smoky-blue light flashed out from the portal wrist-band and in a blink had expanded into a revolving blue-edged circular door to the human world, a trailing tendril of light still anchoring the portal to my wrist.

"Sean!" Laker's voice—even deeper in the seal form he'd transformed into when he hit the moat—bellowed furiously from somewhere in the water below. The others started either turning their motorcycles in my direction or drawing handguns.

I was out of here.

Selkie motorcycles are fast and I roared toward the portal, snatching my own gun from the back of my jeans to shoot out the tires of the two nearest pursuing motorcycles just before I went through.

A whip of water lashed viper-fast from the moat beneath the bridge and slashed the back of my hand—a parting gift from Laker, making me drop my pistol. I yelled something uncomplimentary and slammed the button on the back of my portal armband a second after I roared through the gateway.

The portal swirled shut and its smoky light sucked itself back into the device on my wrist, but not before four of the selkies had also blasted through the portal on their motorcycles in pursuit.

Well, four was better than seven, I reflected, as I hastily wrenched the handlebars of my ride to the left to avoid driving over the edge of the rooftop I had landed on.

Oh, yeah. That's a thing about portals.

I hadn't had time to recalibrate it to a specific location, so it landed me in the last place I'd been when I'd used it before.

Namely, on the roof of a several-story building under renovation in the middle of a city halfway across the world from where I lived.

Long story.

Riel, you owe me big-time.

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