Stopping Time, Part 2 - By Melissa Marr Page 0,1

was gone—burned away by her own choice.

This isn’t a faery matter.

But it was. If Ren was looking for Irial, if he was looking for Niall, for Gabriel, for her Dark Court family, it did concern them. She pulled out her phone and pressed the button she’d programmed but never dialed, closed her eyes, and waited.

“Leslie.” Relief laced Irial’s voice. “Are you…safe?”

“Did you see him?” she started, and then quickly added, “Don’t come here!”

“Where are you?”

“My apartment,” she said.

“Alone?”

“I am the only one inside my apartment.” She shivered. His voice made her want to cry, even now. Especially now. He was every monstrous thing she shouldn’t miss, every nightmare she shouldn’t crave.

“Are you hurt?”

She shook her head, as if he could see. Memories of the way he’d held her when she wept came flooding back. “No,” she whispered.

“Stay inside. I’ll fix this.”

Tears slipped down her cheeks. Hearing his kindness and his darkness made her miss him as intensely as she had those first days after their bond was severed. “Don’t come. He wants to hurt you. Someone told him about you, about faeries. He’s here to…he says he’d let you pay more for his silence, but you can’t trust him. You can’t…and I can’t…if you were hurt, if Niall…”

Irial sighed. “My beautiful Shadow Girl…no mortal will hurt me or our Niall. I promise.”

A sob escaped her lips. “Ren’s in my building. He has a gun. I should call the police. I couldn’t…if you were hurt…I just…I don’t want him to ever hurt you, either of you. Neither of you can come in here. Someone else…I can’t ask anyone else to either. I just—”

“Hush, now,” Irial soothed. “I’ll stay exactly where I am. This will be fixed, and neither I nor Niall will be injured.”

“Promise?”

“We will not be injured by Ren, and I won’t move a step. I promise.” Irial’s voice was the same comforting croon that had kept her steady when she felt the horrible emotions that he had once funneled through her body.

She whispered, “I wish I was with you instead of here.”

Irial didn’t hesitate, didn’t make her regret her admission. He said, “Talk to me, love. Just talk to me while we wait.”

Irial wanted to rip the door from its frame, but to do so would mean that the building would be vulnerable. He stepped away from the doorway to her apartment building as Gabriel and Niall approached.

“Push the button to open the door, Leslie,” he said.

She gasped.

“Open the door,” he repeated.

“You said you wouldn’t move.” She pushed the button even as she said it.

“I didn’t. I said I wouldn’t take a step, and I didn’t.” Irial put one hand to the window in front of him, wishing he could move, wishing he could be the one to enter her building. He’d promised. He’d assured her that he wouldn’t move. He didn’t intend to twist his words with either Leslie or Niall if he could help it. If Niall were going in there alone, Irial wouldn’t be waiting so calmly, but Niall had Gabriel at his side, and the Hound would keep their king safe.

A weak laugh from Leslie made him smile. “You said ‘a step,’ didn’t you? A lot of steps doesn’t break the vow.”

“Indeed,” he murmured. “My clever girl.”

“I couldn’t stand playing word games all the time,” she said, “but I’ll try again. Promise me Ren won’t hurt you. Promise me you are safe right now.”

Irial watched the Dark King in all of his furious majesty drag Ren into the street. Mortal and faery were invisible as long as Niall had his hands on Ren—and he did. One of Niall’s hands was on Ren’s throat.

“I am safe, love,” Irial promised. “So are you now.”

“You always keep me safe, don’t you?” Leslie whispered. “Even when I’m not aware of it, you’re here. I want to tell you that you don’t have to, but—”

“Shush. I needed a hobby now that I have all this free time.” He felt a burst of love in the tattered remains of their connection. “I’m lousy at knitting.”

She sighed. “You need to let go.”

“Never. I’m yours as long as I live. You knew that when you left me.”

In the street between the buildings, Gabriel waited. Oghams appeared on his forearms as the Dark King’s orders became manifest.

For a moment, Leslie was silent. Then, she whispered so low that it was more breath than words, “I’m glad you were here today.”

Gabriel spoke softly enough that Leslie wouldn’t hear him through the phone line: “Is she

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