Stopping Time, Part 1 - By Melissa Marr

—Part 1—

Unlike some faeries, he didn’t bother with a glamour. He sat on a bench across from the tables outside the coffee shop. Their silent late-afternoon meetings had become a routine of sorts the last few months, and each week, the temptation to speak to him grew greater—which was why she’d invited a study group to meet with her this week. Their presence was to be incentive to keep her from talking to him.

It didn’t help. These together-but-not times were the closest thing she’d had to a date in months. She looked forward to seeing him, thought about it throughout the week, wondering what he’d be wearing, what he’d be reading, if this week he’d approach her.

He wouldn’t. He’d promised her choices, and he wouldn’t take them from her. If she spoke to him, it would be because she approached him. If she went to him, it would be of her own volition. If she wanted to stop seeing him, she could stop arriving here every week. That, too, was her choice. So far, she resisted approaching him and speaking to him. She did not, however, stop coming to the precise spot each week at the same time. They had a routine: he read whatever his book of the week was, and she studied.

And tried not to stare…or go to him…or speak to him.

She couldn’t see the cover of his current book at first. His taste was eclectic in genre, but consistent in quality. She glanced at the book several times, trying for subtle, but he noticed.

He still notices everything.

With a grin, he lifted the book—one called American Gods this time—higher, hiding his face as a result. The extra benefit of that move was that she could look at him unabashedly while they both pretended he didn’t realize she was admiring him. He appeared happier of late, far more so than when she’d left Huntsdale. Ruling the Dark Court had suited him, but advising the new Dark King seemed to suit him better. He hadn’t lost his taste for indulgent clothes, though. A silk tee and tailored linen trousers flattered him without being ostentatious. The silver razor blade he’d worn before was accompanied by a small black glass vial. Without asking, she knew it was the same ink that she had in her tattoo.

Maudlin or romantic? She wasn’t sure. Both maybe.

He lowered the book, taking away her unobserved access, and stared at her for several heartbeats. Often, he stayed invisible when he came to sit near her. This week he was very visible, though. She saw him either way, but when he was visible to others, it was extra difficult to keep her gaze off him. His visibility was an invitation of sorts, an extra temptation to approach him.

It means I could walk over and start talking to him.

“He’s got it bad,” one of her study partners commented.

Beside her, Michael was silent.

Leslie tore her gaze from Irial and looked at her companions. “He’s an old friend.”

The curiosity on their faces was obvious. She shouldn’t have met them here.

“A friend you don’t talk to?” Jill’s voice held the doubt that the others were too polite to voice. “What kind of friend is that?”

“One who’d move the earth for me, but”—Leslie glanced back at Irial—“not one who brings out my better side.”

His mouth quirked in a just-restrained laugh.

Got to love faery hearing. Leslie watched the girls check him out—as he preened for them. It wasn’t overt, but she knew him. His tendency to arrange himself to his best advantage was reflex more than choice.

“Well if you don’t want him…maybe I should go say hello.” Jill flashed her teeth in what passed for a smile.

Leslie shrugged.

Of course, I want him. Everyone who looks at him wants him.

Anger rose up inside of her as Jill stood and started across the grassy lawn that separated the coffee shop and the bench where Irial waited. Worse still, it embarrassed her to admit that she felt a familiar possessive pang. Irial was hers. That hadn’t changed, wouldn’t change.

Except that it did.

When she left his world—their world—she’d made it change. He still watched her, not in a predatory way, or even in an intrusive way, but she’d see him around campus. While Irial watched, Niall respected her requests not to visit; instead, he sent Hounds to guard her. Occasionally Aislinn’s rowan-people or the Winter Queen’s lupine fey looked in on her too. Leslie was safer than she’d ever been, guarded by the denizens of three faery courts, and pretending