The inquest was long and detailed but inconclusive. The cause of death had been strangulation by person or persons unknown. I knew who it was but couldn't prove a thing, not now. Freya was a force of nature – literally – a forest sprite. She was thoroughly unprincipled and up for anything, even murder. If only I had realised what I was getting into when I met her.
The canapes were delivered just before noon. I set them out in the dining room and then looked at her. She said nothing as she stared back. The only sound was the clock tick-tocking on the mantelpiece. The sound of the clock chiming lingered for at least a minute after it finished striking the hour.
“I don't normally do this,” she said into the silence that followed.
“Don't do what?”
“Mix with humans.” She stared at me with those luminous eyes of hers beneath a wave of long auburn hair. Over the weeks that I had known her, those eyes had sucked out my soul, taken my will and left me nothing but hunger for all that I had lost. Her nihilism had led me to reject everything I knew to be right, to be just. To be human.
She looked down at her white hands in deep concentration and began to juggle at least five of the canapes. The careless grace of her actions, the sense that this was no effort at all for her grated on me. She never tried to do anything; she just did them. With an elegance that I would never have, she flipped them high into the air and then gulped down each in turn. I tried to compare her to a frog swallowing flies, but the analogy would not stick. She was too perfect. She was the princess … and I was the frog. A short clumsy human with frizzy chestnut hair, freckled face and brown eyes. That was why I had summoned her, and why now I was cursed with her until the end.
Suddenly she clutched her stomach. The canapes hadn't been a good idea it would seem.
“The things you humans eat!” she snarled and shot me a glare of molten silver before she dashed out into the garden and disappeared into the foliage. I hesitated. The guests would be here at any moment, and an angry forest sprite loose in the garden wasn't something I wanted to pursue right now.
An hour passed, and then another. I smiled my false welcomes at so-called friends, all of whom had betrayed me or let me down at one time or another. Inside a little glow of satisfaction warmed my heart and stilled the butterflies rollicking in my stomach. If only they knew what was coming. Freya's continued absence nagged at me in a litany of doubts, but we had arranged to meet later in the garden anyway. That had always been the plan.
“Hello Samantha.” The voice sent a whisper of chills up my spine. Forcing a wider smile onto my face, I turned. Josh. Another perfect being who had made me feel less than the dirt beneath his feet. My boyfriend only for the sake of a dare before he'd bragged about sleeping with me. If I had gone back home instead of remaining on the train, I might not have noticed his friends all sniggering and pointing at me the week before.
Hot hate replaced the chill but my smile stayed locked in place. A line of poetry flickered through my head. 'If words could kill would I continue to speak your name?' Oh yes. Definitely. “Hello Josh. How are you?” I touched him lightly on the shoulder and all expression leached from his perfect face. Freya's captor charm worked. “Why don't you come for a walk with me?”
I took his hand and led him out. He came as though welded to me. The sweetness of revenge sent the blood pulsing hot and hard through me until my head throbbed with it.
Creeping through the undergrowth she held her breath as she parted the over-hanging ivy. She'd waited anxiously for the past three days for this moment. Just as she had waited for the human female to utter the words she needed to enter this world. She wondered if she should just give the whole thing up, return to the Fae without the human soul she needed for redemption. A return to disgrace and the stripping of her powers.
No. She wouldn't do that. The human's spell bound her to this task, but afterwards freedom and power lay ahead. The need for it burned in her faery heart in a way that no natural flame could.
A movement drew her gaze. Who was that tall, handsome stranger standing by the fountain? Was this the man Samantha had offered her in sacrifice? How delicious. How beautiful. He would be just perfect. She rose from the greenery and stalked towards him.
I led Josh to the fountain. Then I froze. Something swung from the great oak opposite that I hadn't expected to see until much later. Something that should have had Josh's blond hair, not the dark, glossy curls of whoever this poor sod was. You couldn't even rely on a nature goddess to be able to tell one human from another.
The body hanging from the tree was a warning to them all. A shame that it was the wrong one.