Finally, as the sun was setting over the buildings, the Queen of Shopping decided we were finished. Relieved that the long day was over, I sat on a chair, staring at the stupid code, annoyed that I still couldn’t solve it. I watched Leanansidhe chat up the clerk as she wrapped and bagged the merchandise. When she announced the grand total, I nearly fell out of my seat, but Leanansidhe smiled and handed her a credit card without blinking once. For just a moment, when the clerk handed it back, the card looked more like a piece of bark, but Leanansidhe dropped it into her purse before I could get a closer look.

“Well,” my temporary faery godmother said brightly as we departed the store, “we have your clothes, your shoes, and your accessories. Now, the real fun begins.”

“What?” I asked wearily.

“Your hair, my dove. It’s just…not good.” Leanansidhe made as if to pluck my bangs, but couldn’t quite bring herself to touch them. “And your nails. They need help. Fortunately, it’s almost time for the spa to open.”

“Spa?” I looked at the glowing orange ball disappearing over the horizon, wishing we could go home. “But it must be six o’clock. Aren’t most places like that closed?”

“Of course, darling. That’s when all the humans leave. Don’t ask such silly questions.” Leanansidhe shook her head at my naïveté. “Come now. I know Ben will be dying to meet you.”

Natural Earth Salon and Spa was crowded tonight. We passed a pair of giggling sylphs on the pebbled path to the salon. Petite and delicate, their razor-edged wings buzzing softly, they grinned at us as we walked by, teeth glinting like knives. A Winter sidhe, tall and cold and beautiful, brushed by us as we stepped through the door into the waiting area, leaving a trail of frost on my skin and a chill in my lungs. A trio of piskies landed in my hair, laughing and tugging, until Leanansidhe gave them a look and they buzzed out the door. Inside, the lighting was dim, the walls hewn of natural stone, giving it a cavelike feel. A marble fountain with fish and mermaids bubbled in the center of the foyer, filling the room with the cheerful sound of running water. Orchids and bamboo flourished in natural planters, and the air was warm and damp.

“Why are there so many fey here?” I asked softly, as a huge black dog loped across the doorway in the back. “Is this a place for exiles? A salon and spa? That’s kind of weird.”

“Can’t you feel it, dove? The glamour of this place?” Leanansidhe leaned down, gesturing to the walls and fountain. “Some places in the mortal world are more magical than others, hot spots for glamour, if you will. It draws us like a moth to a flame—exiles, solitary and court fey alike. Besides, darling—” Leanansidhe straightened with a sniff. “Even our kind appreciates a bit of pampering now and then.”

A blond, well-dressed satyr welcomed Leanansidhe with a kiss on both cheeks, before turning to me with a dazzling smile.

“Ah, so this is the princess I’ve heard so much about,” he gushed, taking my hand to press it to his lips. “She’s absolutely adorable. But—” and he glanced at Leanansidhe

“—I can see what you mean about her hair. And her nails.” He shuddered and shook his head before I could say anything. “Well, leave it to me. We’ll have her looking fabulous in no time.”

“Work your magic, Ben,” Leanansidhe said, wandering away toward a back door. “I’ll be with Miguel if you need me, darling. Meghan dear, just do what Ben says and you’ll be fine.” She waved her hand airily as she sauntered through the door, and was gone. Ben turned to me and clasped his furry hands. “Well, sweet-cakes, you’re in luck. We have the rest of the evening booked for you.”

“Really?” I couldn’t help sounding dubious. I had never been to one of these places before, let alone one run completely by the fey, and didn’t know what to expect. “How long can it take to do hair?”

Ben laughed. “Oh, sweet pea, you’re killing me. Come, now. We’ve got a lot to do.”

THE NEXT FEW HOURS flew by in a confused blur. The fey staff, mostly satyrs and a few brownies, were alarmingly attentive. They took my clothes away and wrapped me in a very white bathrobe. I was made to lie on my back while brownies in white suits slathered cream on my face and put cucumbers over my eyes, telling me to lie still. After maybe an hour of this, they sat me up, and a cute satyr named Miroku soaked my hands in a warm bath that smelled like cocoa and coffee beans. He massaged my hands with lotion before meticulously filing, polishing, and painting my nails. Then the whole procedure was done to my feet. After that, they whisked me away to the stylist, who shampooed, trimmed and styled my hair—with bronze scissors, I noted—chatting at me all the while. It was odd. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy all the attention and pampering, but I did feel a bit dazed through the whole process, and a little out of place. This wasn’t me. I wasn’t a princess or a superstar or anything special. I was a poor pig-farmer girl from Louisiana, and I didn’t belong here.

They were adding the final touches of makeup to my eyes and lips when Leanansidhe sauntered back into the room, looking so smug and relaxed that her skin glowed. She had dropped her more human glamour, and her ethereal beauty filled the room, red-gold hair nearly blinding under the artificial lights. Ben trailed behind her, gushing about how radiant she looked.

“Mmm yes, I swear that Miguel is a virtual musician with his fingers,”

Leanansidhe murmured with a catlike stretch, raising too-slender arms over her head. “If you didn’t need him so badly, love, I’d kidnap him myself and take him home. That kind of talent is hard to find, believe me. Well now,” she exclaimed when she saw me. “Look at you, darling. You’re a completely different person. I barely recognize you.”

“Isn’t she cute?” Ben added, beaming at me. “Don’t you love what they did with her hair? I adore the highlights, and Patricia does layering so well.”

“It’s perfect,” Leanansidhe nodded, studying me with a half smile that made me very uncomfortable. “If I don’t recognize her, no one in SciCorp will, either.”

I wanted to say something, but at that moment, a strange odor cut through the smell of perfume, makeup and moisturizers, stopping me mid-breath. Leanansidhe and Ben stiffened, as did every faery in the room. A couple brownies went scurrying away in terror, and the faery patrons began to murmur and shift restlessly as the foreign smell grew stronger. I recognized it, and my heart sped up, beating against my ribs. Metal. There was an Iron faery on the premises.

And then, it walked through the door.

My stomach turned over, and some of the patrons gasped. The Iron faery was dressed in a dove-gray business suit, and an expressive-looking one at that. Short black hair didn’t conceal the long pointed ears, or the Bluetooth phone near his jaw. His skin, green as circuit board, glinted with hundreds of blinking lights, wires and computer chips. Behind thick, wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes shimmered green, blue and red.

Smooth as glass, Ben sidled in front of me, blocking my view but also shielding me from the faery’s gaze. I froze and tried to be as invisible as possible.

“Well.” The Iron faery’s voice, thick with mockery, cut through the room.

“Isn’t anyone going to invite me in? Give me a pamphlet? Tell me your services? For such a high-ranking business, the customer service leaves much to be desired.”

For a moment, nobody moved. Then one of the satyrs edged forward, shaking but furious at the same time. “We don’t serve your kind here.”

“Really?” The faery put a hand to his chest, feigning astonishment. “Well, I must say, I’m rather embarrassed. Then again, I could probably kill you all without even thinking about it, so I suppose a little prejudice is acceptable.”

Leanansidhe stepped forward, her hair coiling behind her like snakes. “What do you want, abomination?”

“Leanansidhe.” The Iron faery smiled. “You are Leanansidhe, aren’t you?

We’ve heard of you, you and your little network of spies. Word is, you know the location of Oberon’s daughter, the Summer princess.”

“I know a lot, darling.” Leanansidhe sounded utterly bored and disinterested.

“It’s my business to be informed, for my own amusement and safety. I don’t make a habit of involving myself. Nor do I make a habit of conversing with iron abominations. So, if we’re quite done here, I think you should leave.”

“Oh, I’ll be gone soon enough.” The Iron faery didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. “But, my boss has a message for you, and an offer. Give us the location of Oberon’s daughter, and all your crimes will be abolished when we take the Nevernever. You can go home. Don’t you want to go home, Leanansidhe?” He raised his voice, addressing the rest of the assembled fey. “And that goes for every half-breed and exile, pure-blooded or not. Help us find the Summer princess, and your place in the Nevernever will be assured. The Iron King welcomes all who want to serve him.”

He paused after this announcement, waiting for someone to step forward. No one moved. Probably because Leanansidhe, standing in the middle of the room, was throwing off some seriously scary vibes, flickering the lamps with her power. Which was a good thing, because everyone was looking at her and not me.

The Iron faery waited a moment longer, and when no one volunteered to piss off the Queen of the Exiles, he stepped back with a smile. “Well. If anyone changes his mind, just call us. We’re everywhere. And we will come for you, in the end.”

He spun on a heel and left, footsteps clicking over the tile. Everyone watched him go. Leanansidhe glowered at the door until the last traces of iron faded away, then spun on me.

“Party’s over, darling. Let’s go. Ben, you’re a doll and your assistance today is much appreciated, but we really must dash.”

“Of course, girl.” Ben waved to us as we hurried out. “You bring that cutie back to see me soon, okay? And good luck infiltrating the megacorporation!”

WHEN WE RETURNED to the mansion, we found Puck and Ironhorse discussing strategy with Kimi and Nelson, who had returned from their mission. All four were huddled around the library table, heads bent close together, muttering in low voices. When we came in, followed by several redcaps carrying our bags, they straightened quickly, and their eyes went wide. Even Ironhorse’s glowing eyes got big and round when we swept through the door.

“Wow, Meghan!” Kimi bounced in place, clapping her hands. “You look awesome! I love what you did with your hair.”

“PRINCESS.” Ironhorse looked me up and down, nodding in approval.


I glanced at Puck, who was staring at me in a daze. “Um…” he stammered, while I nearly went into shock with the novelty of actually rendering Puck speechless. “You look…nice,” he muttered at last.

I blushed, suddenly self-conscious.

“Children.” Leanansidhe clapped her hands, bringing our attention back to her. “If we are going to retrieve the scepter, we need to move quickly. You, streetrats.” She snapped her fingers at Kimi and Nelson. “Did you get what I sent you for, darlings?”

Tags: Julie Kagawa The Iron Fey Book Series
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