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"Four-ball, side pocket." Aislinn pushed the cue forward with a short, quick thrust; the ball dropped into the pocket with a satisfying clack.
Her playing partner, Denny, motioned toward a harder shot, a bank shot.
She rolled her eyes. "What? You in a hurry?"
He pointed with the cue.
"Right." Focus and control, that's what it's all about. She sank the two.
He nodded once, as close as he got to praise.
Aislinn circled the table, paused, and chalked the cue. Around her the cracks of balls colliding, low laughter, even the endless stream of country and blues from the jukebox kept her grounded in the real world: the human world, the safe world. It wasn't the only world, no matter how much Aislinn wanted it to be. But it hid the other world—the ugly one—for brief moments.
"Three, corner pocket." She sighted down the cue. It was a good shot.
Then she felt it: warm air on her skin. A faery, its too-hot breath on her neck, sniffed her hair. His pointed chin pressed against her skin. All the focus in the world didn't make Pointy-Face's attention tolerable.
She scratched: the only ball that dropped was the cue ball.
Denny took the ball in hand. "What was that?"
"Weak-assed?" She forced a smile, looking at Denny, at the table, anywhere but at the horde coming in the door. Even when she looked away, she heard them: laughing and squealing, gnashing teeth and beating wings, a cacophony she couldn't escape. They were out in droves now, freer somehow as evening fell, invading her space, ending any chance of the peace she'd sought.
Denny didn't stare at her, didn't ask hard questions. He just motioned for her to step away from the table and called out, "Gracie, play something for Ash."
At the jukebox Grace keyed in one of the few not-country-or-blues songs: Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff."
As the oddly comforting lyrics in that gravelly voice took off, building to the inevitable stomach-tightening rage, Aislinn smiled. If I could let go like that, let the years of aggression spill out onto the fey . . . She slid her hand over the smooth wood of the cue, watching Pointy-Face gyrate beside Grace. I'd start with him. Right here, right now. She bit her lip. Of course, everyone would think she was utterly mad if she started swinging her cue at invisible bodies, everyone but the fey.
Before the song was over, Denny had cleared the table.
"Nice." Aislinn walked over to the wall rack and slid the cue back into an empty spot. Behind her, Pointy-Face giggled—high and shrill—and tore out a couple strands of her hair.
"Rack 'em again?" But Denny's tone said what he didn't: that he knew the answer before he asked. He didn't know why, but he could read the signs.
Pointy-Face slid the strands of her hair over his face.
Aislinn cleared her throat. "Rain check?"
"Sure." Denny began disassembling his cue. The regulars never commented on her odd mood swings or unexplainable habits.
She walked away from the table, murmuring good-byes as she went, consciously not staring at the faeries. They moved balls out of line, bumped into people—anything to cause trouble—but they hadn't stepped in her path tonight, not yet. At the table nearest the door, she paused. "I'm out of here."
One of the guys straightened up from a pretty combination shot. He rubbed his goatee, stroking the gray-shot hair. "Cinderella time?"
"You know how it is—got to get home before the shoe falls off." She lifted her foot, clad in a battered tennis shoe. "No sense tempting any princes."He snorted and turned back to the table.
A doe-eyed faery eased across the room; bone-thin with too many joints, she was vulgar and gorgeous all at once. Her eyes were far too large for her face, giving her a startled look. Combined with an emaciated body, those eyes made her seem vulnerable, innocent. She wasn't.
None of them are.
The woman at the table beside Aislinn flicked a long ash into an already overflowing ashtray. "See you next weekend."
Aislinn nodded, too tense to answer.
In a blurringly quick move, Doe-Eyes flicked a thin blue tongue out at a cloven-hoofed faery. The faery stepped back, but a trail of blood already dripped down his hollowed cheeks. Doe-Eyes giggled.
Aislinn bit her lip, hard, and lifted a hand in a last half wave to Denny. Focus. She fought to keep her steps even, calm: everything she wasn't feeling inside.
She stepped outside, lips firmly shut against dangerous words. She wanted to speak, to tell the fey to leave so she didn't have to, but she couldn't. Ever. If she did, they'd know her secret: they'd know she could see them.
The only way to survive was to keep that secret; Grams taught her that rule before she could even write her name: Keep your head down and your mouth closed. It felt wrong to have to hide, but if she even hinted at such a rebellious idea, Grams would have her in lockdown—homeschooled, no pool halls, no parties, no freedom, no Seth. She'd spent enough time in that situation during middle school.
So—rage in check—Aislinn headed downtown, toward the relative safety of iron bars and steel doors. Whether in its base form or altered into the purer form of steel, iron was poisonous to fey and thus gloriously comforting to her. Despite the faeries that walked her streets, Huntsdale was home. She'd visited Pittsburgh, walked around D.C., explored Atlanta. They were nice enough, but they were too thriving, too alive, too filled with parks and trees. Huntsdale wasn't thriving. It hadn't been for years. That meant the fey didn't thrive here either.Wicked Lovely. Copyright Â© by Melissa Marr . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
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