Lilith Chambers has been with her boyfriend for two years now, and things are going great.
Well…most of the time.
So what if he always forgets that she likes honey instead of sugar in her tea, or thinks she’s a little too dramatic when she gets upset? So what if he thinks pet names are stupid and that her interests are a little basic?
So what if he never notices when she has a new outfit or changes her hair? And maybe their sex life is a little vanilla…but she cares about him.
Love doesn’t have to be butterflies and fireworks….. She’s content, and that’s what matters.
When he wakes her up kissing along her jawline one morning, she’s pleasantly surprised, smiling softly, eyes still closed. Lilith hears the faint tinkling of windchimes, and she’d heard them before, but not for a while.
It’s strange, because there aren’t any houses with wind chimes on her block, at least that she knows of. It must be in the back of someone’s yard somewhere.
“Good morning, petal.”
Lilith’s eyes fly open. He’s never called her anything approaching petal, and that’s not his voice…. Is it?
Her head feels a little fuzzy when she looks at him, but she’s sure his lips have never been that full, his jawline that sharp.
“K-Kellan?” The name feels foreign in her mouth. Is that his name? What is wrong with her?
Lilith doesn’t remember drinking too much at dinner the night before, but maybe she did overdo it.
Kellan smiles warmly at her, stroking her cheek, and she frowns.
“I don’t…I don’t feel so well.” She’s suddenly scared, heart thudding against her breastplate. Is she really this hungover? Is she having a stroke? Worst of all, is she going insane?
“My poor baby,” he croons. “I’ll get you some tea.”
Lilith is sure his voice has never been that sweet and melodic, and when he stands to walk to the kitchen she can’t believe she’s never noticed his lithe, dancer’s body.
In fact, that’s impossible. She would have noticed. She and Kellan had been together for two years now and living together for a year.
Lilith isn’t in the best shape herself, although she’s curvy in all the right places. At least that’s what her friends say. Kellan, not so much.
He’s always trying to get her to go to the gym with him, but she gets bored there. She likes the outdoors, the way the wind whistles through the trees.
She sits up, trying to even her breathing, trying to think. Her memories are oddly disjointed, everything slightly blurry.
Kellan returns with the tea and she squints at him.
“Here you go, petal.” He hands her a cup of tea on a saucer and sits next to her, rubbing her thigh. The touch doesn’t feel familiar, because she doesn’t remember him ever touching her so casually. It sends a shock of pleasure up her spine. “Drink up.”
Lilith takes a careful sip and the taste of honey bursts on her tongue. “You…you remembered the honey,” she mumbles.
He tilts his head, giving her a quizzical smile. “Of course I did. Don’t I always?”
No, she thinks, no, you never remember the honey. You never remember the honey and you’ve never been this attentive in the mornings, you always grumble and snore…
“Th-thank you,” is all she says.
“You have work today, yeah? I’ll drive you.”
She gapes at him in shock. As far back as she can remember, her boyfriend has never offered to drive her to work. Even when Lilith had the flu, she had to drag him out of bed to so much as drive her to the doctor.
Kellan (if that is his name, she’s still not sure), squeezes her thigh.
“You are out of sorts today, petal. Maybe you should call in sick?”
She shakes her head to clear it. “No. No, I’m okay. I’ll walk to work. Maybe it’ll clear my head.”
He gives her a big pout. His lips have definitely never looked like that, she’s almost sure of it. His eyes have never been that deeply brown. He’s so incredibly handsome she feels like she must have known it already, but it feels like she’s seeing him for the first time.
“I’ll worry about you, petal. Let me drive you.”
Lilith murmurs out something agreeable and escapes to the bathroom, and she can swear she feels his eyes on her. Kellan would usually still be snoring at this point or busy on his phone.
She gets dressed and washes her face with cold water, skipping a shower. She looks at herself in the mirror. Her blonde curls are all mussed from sleep, and her blue eyes look a bit glassy. It must have been the new wine that Kellan bought. That’s it.
She wants to get to work, wants to get away from him so she can think, so she can scroll through the pictures on her phone and figure out what the hell is going on.
When she walks back into the bedroom, he’s got his shirt halfway buttoned, and her mouth goes a little dry.
She’s sure her boyfriend never had a chest and stomach like that. She’s sure his skin was never that honeyed, his muscles so defined…
“Lilith?” He’s at her side in an instant, putting his hand on her forehead. “Are you sure you’re okay to go to work?”
She just nods and bolt as quickly as she can out to his car, grabbing her purse on the way out.
She’s quiet on the drive there, and he’s humming and holding her hand and this all just feels so…different.
Why does it feel different? Why is he acting so strange? She’d think he was cheating on her or something, but she’s not sure that’s the difference. Everything feels almost too good.
When she goes to open the car door when he pulls up, he makes a little displeased sound in the back of his throat.
“Aw, petal…no kiss?”
Her heart is pounding again, but she turns and pecks his full lips.
When she starts to pull away, he grabs the back of her head and kisses her more deeply, sliding his tongue into her mouth.
She gasps and pulls away, and he’s just smiling at her, almost innocently.
That was different. Kellan doesn’t kiss like that unless they’re about to make love.
“Have a good day at work. I love you.”
“M-me too,” she stutters, fumbling with the door handle.
She locks herself in her office and looks at every couple picture she has in her phone.
They’re all…they’re all normal, except…except it still doesn’t feel right. He’s kissing her cheek in some of the pictures, she’s sitting on his lap, and she would swear that she hasn’t seen some of them before.
She thinks back over all the memories she’s shared and everything’s the same but…it’s not.
Lilith eventually ends up texting her sister a picture of him that’s in her camera roll with the caption: Is this really my boyfriend?
Yeah, yeah, rub it in, you have a stupid hot boyfriend and I’m single, her sister replies, and Lilith frowns down at her phone.
She gets on her computer, and if anyone finds her Google searches, they’ll definitely think she’s crazy.
“My boyfriend isn’t my boyfriend”
“Someone is pretending to be my boyfriend”
“My boyfriend was switched with some other guy who’s hot and really nice but he’s NOT MY BOYFRIEND”
Lilith huffs out a breath and finally, she finds an article about something called changelings.
Legend has it that the fae switch out human children, and even sometimes spouses, for their own. These replacements are called “changelings.”
Her breath catches in her throat as she continues to read.
How to Know if You’re Dealing with a Changeling
1. The fae are ethereally beautiful.
She thinks of Kellan’s full mouth, his perfect bone structure. Well…check.
2.Her loved one might suddenly seem like a different person, doing things they wouldn’t normally do.
She remembers his offer to drive her to work, his passionate kiss before she left, the way he called her petal. Check.
3. The people around you might not notice anything is amiss.
That explains the text from her sister, who seemed to think it was normal that the ethereally beautiful man who suddenly treats her like spun gold is her boyfriend.
4. They have an aversion to iron. It might cause a burn or a skin reaction.
“Bingo!” Lilith shouts out, and then quiets herself so that she doesn’t get carted off to an asylum before she figures this thing out.
She has an iron rose necklace that her mother had brought her after a vacation to Ireland, where she hailed from. It’s at home, in her jewelry box, and maybe she could casually touch him with it, see if there’s a reaction.
If that didn’t work….
Well, if that didn’t work, she would go get a CAT scan and see if there was something wrong with her brain.
She manages to finish her day at work, getting a series of texts from Kellan asking how she is feeling and what she would like for dinner.
Lilith shakes her head at her phone.
“He’s definitely too sweet to be human,” she mutters to herself.
While she’s looking at the texts in disbelief, he calls, and she jumps in surprise before she answers.
“Hey, petal. How are you feeling?”
She feels her face flush. “I’m better.”
He hums a little. “I’m so glad. I was worried. What time should I pick you up?”
She mumbles out that she’ll walk home, but this time when he protests, she insists.
“All right, petal. Whatever you say,” he says, his voice sounding like a low hum that Lilith could listen to all day.
On the walk, she’s full of adrenaline. She feels clearer than she has all day. Lilith has a plan now, and she’s going to figure this out.
She’s determined to get to her necklace as soon as possible, and thankfully, she hears the shower when she walks in.
She’s rifling through her jewelry box when she hears Kellan’s melodic voice.
She stops breathing, stiffening. She wonders if she should run or just throw the necklace at him, see what happens.
“What are you looking for?”
She’s got the necklace in her hands when she turns but…oh. He stands there, a towel slung low on his hips, running one hand through his wet, black hair.
Of course he isn’t human. Ethereally beautiful is an understatement.
She drags her eyes away from his Adonis belt to his face.
“You’re not my boyfriend.”
His smile fades ever so slightly. He takes a step toward her and she takes a step back, bumping the backs of her knees on the bed. “What?”
“You’re not my boyfriend!” She repeats, voice shaking.
“Lilith. Petal.” He says softly, taking another step toward her.
She has nowhere to go so she holds out her iron necklace, brandishing it.
“I know what you are. This is iron.”
He’s been frowning at her but at her words, he sighs and rubs a hand over his face. When he moves his hand, he’s smiling almost sheepishly.
“Caught me. You’re smart, petal.”
He takes another step toward her and she waves the necklace.
“Stay back! This is iron!” she warns.
Kellan’s smile fades completely. There’s something almost hurt in his warm, brown eyes. “Lilith… don’t be afraid. I’m not here to hurt you. I was sent because you needed me.”
“Where is he? Is he…is he dead?”
“No! Of course not! He’s just…among my people, with different memories.” Kellan explains. It really isn’t an explanation at all, in Lilith’s opinion, but right now she’s on defense.
“Bring him back,” she orders.
“But I’m better,” he says matter-of-factly.
He looks so innocent, standing there with a pout, and she’s never once felt unsafe around him, even if things have been crazy, so she drops her hand.
“I’ll make you a deal. Give me a week,” he says, and Lilith slumps, feeling defeated.
“A week for what?”
He shrugs. “A week to prove I’m better. That you deserve better.”
Her lip starts to tremble and she sits down on her bed, still clutching her iron necklace.
Kellan sits next to her. “Are you okay, A’ghra?”
She starts a little at the sound of the new pet name. “What…what’s that?”
“What? A’ghra? Oh.” He looks away, smiling, face a little flushed, and she stares at him agape. “It’s just a… a term of endearment among my people. I figured I didn’t have to pretend anymore.”
He moves his hand to her face and kisses her, apparently unafraid of the iron rose, softly at first, and then when she makes a little whimper into his mouth, he kisses her harder, hungrier.
When she lifts her hands up to spread them across his chest, he hisses in a breath and pulls away from her, looking to the necklace in her hand.
“You don’t wanna do that, A’grha. Not yet.” He gives her this wicked little smirk, and her head clears enough to scoot away from him.
He just watches her, smile turning softer. “Would you like me to run you a bath?”
“Why…why are you so nice to me?” Lilith asks, tilting her head. “You don’t even know me.”
Kellan looks almost offended, frowning. “Of course I know you. You think I just popped into your life on a whim? Fae look hard for their mates.”
“You…you found me?”
He nods, looking at her intensely. “I saw you first in the garden. You were crying.”
Her breath catches in her throat. She remembers that day, remembers a huge fight with her boyfriend, and going to her mother’s. She had a big garden with roses and hydrangeas and she’d sat there for the longest time, listening to the sound of windchimes tinkling in the distance.
“That…that was almost a year ago,” Lilith says, shaken. Her head feels even fuzzier, now, that she knows the truth. But no one else can bring her boyfriend back, and she loves him, so she has to do this. This… week.
He tilts his head. “I told you, we don’t choose on a whim. So I know that you like honey in your tea. I know that you hide the mystery books you read from your boyfriend because you think he’ll tease you. I know you cry sometimes, alone in your mother’s garden.”
Kellan moves toward her again, his towel slipping down low on his hips, and she swallows and impulsively puts the necklace around her neck.
“Ah, A’ghra…there’s no need to be afraid. I thought you might like to cuddle, that’s all,” he says easily, his voice smooth. He backs away, though, looking at the necklace between her breasts.
She swallows hard. “I think…I think I do want a bath.”
He nods, eyes lighting up. “I’ll have it ready in a moment.”
The towel drops when he stands, and she covers her eyes, and for some reason, the laugh he lets out reminds her of those windchimes she heard in the garden.
It’s like that for the whole week, Kellan being the most attentive partner, all smiles and calling her A’ghra, driving her to work every day, running her baths, making her tea, holding her at night and kissing the juncture of her neck and shoulder to wake her, carefully avoiding the chain of her necklace.
He behaves himself, for the most part, even though he sleeps naked and Lilith wakes up with him pressing hard into the small of her back. It excites her but she always pulls away, wanting to be faithful to the boyfriend she can still barely remember.
The first morning that happened, she turned to look at him with wide eyes and he just gave her a smirk. “I’m sorry, A’ghra. You just smell so good. Better than any flower, you know.”
Some nights, he asks her to read from her mystery novels, watching her face almost reverently, and she does start to soften toward him, but she keeps her necklace on, staying wary, every day trying to remember more about her boyfriend, the one he had replaced.
On the fourth day, Kellan wakes her up by placing a single rose on the bed. When Lilith touches it, the thorns cut her thumb.
“Ow!” she shouts, and Kellan takes her thumb in his hand, popping it into his mouth, sucking softly.
Lilith stares at him and slowly removes her hand from his mouth, drawing her injured hand to her.
“Does that feel better?” he asks.
Miraculously, it does.
“How did you do that?” she asks.
“Fae don’t reveal their secrets,” he tells her, a charming smile on his face, his brown eyes warm when he looks at her.
“He never looked at me like that,” she says, narrowing her eyes, and Kellan barks out a laugh.
“Of course he didn’t. That’s why I chose you, A’ghra. You needed me.”
“What does that mean, Kellan?”
“All in time,” he said, and Lilith found herself irritated.
“We only have three more days,” she said, exasperated, and Kellan looked stricken just for a moment before his charming smile came back.
“We fae have our ways of persuasion,” he murmured, taking her hand in his. “Why don’t we make a trip to the library?”
“The library?” Her boyfriend rarely ever asked her on dates, and never to anywhere that books might be involved. He didn’t like to read, preferred movies, and that was fine, of course, but…
Sometimes Lilith wishes that he cared more about her interests and not just his own.
Kellan isn’t him, though, he isn’t to be trusted, and she shouldn’t start thinking that way. Kellan is an outsider, he isn’t even human.
“What if I don’t want to go?” she asks hesitantly.
He frowns, tilting his head. “But you love the library.”
Kellan’s voice is a warm baritone with some kind of chime underneath, like a melody that Lilith has half-forgotten.
“I do,” she admits, and he favors her with a smile that lights up his whole face.
“Then let’s go,” he says. “It’s a nice day for a stroll.” He holds out his arm and Lilith bites her lip, thinking.
What harm could it do, right? She’s already stuck in this weird dream, this nightmare where her boyfriend has been taken and replaced by a seductive changeling. Shouldn’t she enjoy herself while she can?
She puts her hand on his bicep, shocked at how tight it is. She’s sure that her boyfriend never had this type of body. She supposes it’s something about his seductive powers, how he needs to be whatever she wants, and he’s certainly her type.
Sharp jaw, rounded, soulful brown eyes with a warmth in them that she’s never encountered before. Tight body, lithe and strong but not too large.
Lilith shakes her head slightly to rid herself of those thoughts. She’s faithful. She’s faithful to her boyfriend, and just because she can’t remember his name doesn’t mean that now she will stray. Especially with Kellan.
“Are there other fae?” Lilith asks as she and Kellan walk slowly toward the library. Kellan whistles a tune, and it sounds so much like the windchimes that Lilith has heard in her mother’s garden that it makes her curious.
“Of course,” he says easily. “Brownies, the Seelie court-”
“Is that royalty?” she pauses, stopping in her tracks, her blue eyes widening. “Are you royalty?”
Kellan laughs out loud, the sound rumbling in his chest. “Changelings can’t be royalty, A’ghra.”
“Oh.” She’s almost disappointed. In all the stories she read, the main male characters were somehow royalty, somehow important. Wait. Why is she disappointed? She doesn’t want this. She doesn’t want Kellan.
“Changelings are considered low-class,” he tells her. “The Seelie Court doesn’t pay much attention to us. The only true king is the White King.”
“The White King?” she asks, fascinated. She can’t deny that she’s interested in what Kellan is, where he’s from, why he chose her.
“He’s the head of all fae,” he tells her. “A good man, a healer.”
“You know him?” she asks, and he grins.
“Just a little.” There’s something mysterious in that answer, and she wants to get to the bottom of it, but they’re already arriving at the library.
Kellan opens the door for her, ushering her toward the mysteries, her favorite.
She browses among the shelves and he picks out a couple of books for her. She has to admit they’re the books she would have chosen for herself.
“How do you know me so well?”
“I told you, A’ghra. I’ve been watching you.”
“Why? Why me?” she asks.
Kellan looks almost offended. “Why not you?”
“You’re not even human. Why not go after another fae?” she asks.
“That’s not how changelings work,” he says simply. “We find humans who need us, and we put ourselves into their lives.”
Without permission, she thinks, but doesn’t say. She’s beginning to understand that this is just a way of life for Kellan. This is the way he and his people have always done things, and her questioning him isn’t going to stop this.
She just has to make it three more days. Then she can go back to her regular life.
While she’s browsing books in a different section, this time the romance section, she comes across a book with fae royalty as the main male character.
“That ones all wrong,” Kellan whispers, suddenly right behind her, right at her ear, and she jumps, startled. “Didn’t mean to frighten you, A’ghra.”
She’s getting far too used to that pet name, far too used to how close he always is, close enough to touch.
Lilith turns but Kellan doesn’t back away, just looking down at her with a slight smile on his generous mouth.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“Just want to be near you,” he murmurs, and his voice has that melodic tint again and she would have thought that he was manipulating her, using his powers, but the scary thing is…..he’s not.
This is just how she feels, and her heart is pounding too hard against her chest plate and she wants something she shouldn’t.
She wants him to kiss her.
Lilith remembers how he kissed her that first day, before she knew what was going on, remembers how deep his tongue delved into her mouth, how warm it felt. She wants more, and she shouldn’t.
Then he leans his head down and kisses her, and it’s like those soft windchimes she’d heard in her mother’s garden are so much louder now, not painful, but melodic and sweet, like a strange tinnitus in her ears.
“A’ghra,” he mumbles under his breath when she pulls away. “I want to taste you.”
Heat spreads throughout her body, pooling between her legs, and she feels a flush on her cheeks.
“Here?” she asks, breathless, no thoughts in her head but how close he is, how he smells like lavender and the soap that he’s been using in her shower, how warm his skin feels as she places her hands on his broad chest.
A chuckle rumbles in his chest and she can feel it through her palms, through the fabric of the shirt that had once been her boyfriend’s.
Her boyfriend. She shouldn’t do this, but this all seems like some kind of dream and surely he wouldn’t know, would he? It isn’t cheating if she can’t even remember his name.
“Here,” he says, and suddenly the air around them seems wavy, almost smoky, and she looks around with awe.
“I told you that we fae have our tricks,” he reminds her, and she laughs, unable to help it.
This couldn’t be real life. She’s asleep somewhere next to her boyfriend, and this has to all be a dream. She can have fun while it lasts, can’t she?
When he kneels to the ground in front of her and slides his hands up her thighs, she gasps in a breath and braces herself against the bookshelf.
He doesn’t slide down her panties, just hooks the crotch of them to the side and presses his face against her, lapping at her most sensitive spot and she cries out before slapping a hand over her face.
“No one can hear us,” he murmurs against her inner thigh, kissing her there and making her tremble. “No one can see us, A’ghra. Be loud for me.”
She gasps out a breath as he presses his face back into her, sucking around her clit, and she’s sure the bookshelf will rock as she holds onto it, but it’s sturdy and Kellan’s right, people are walking by the outsides of the shelves as if they aren’t even there.
It must be some kind of glamor but she can’t think, she can only feel how close she’s getting to her peak and when she comes she clenches her thighs around his head.
She thinks he must have some fae ability to breath through his ears because he keeps at it, his tongue sliding into her entrance and she comes twice more, trembling, her legs buckling, before he’s done.
He stands up, licking his lips, his face covered with her, and she blushes so hard she thinks she might pass out from all the blood rushing to her face.
“You taste so sweet,” he mutters, and he’s hard through his jeans but he doesn’t seem to want more, doesn’t put her hand there or push her.
Guilt washes over her in a wave and she adjusts her skirt and underwear, clearing her throat.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” she says, and Kellan just grins wickedly at her.
“You didn’t do anything, A’grha. I did it all for you.”
Lilith sputters and then she takes her books in hand and rushes to the check-out.
She doesn’t hold his hand or take his arm on the way back, but this time, Kellan doesn’t sulk about it. He’s grinning all the way home.
When she slides into bed beside him that night, she’s sure he’ll press up against her, ask her for more, but he doesn’t, just throwing an arm around her waist and pressing his face against her neck, his breath warm against her skin.
Lilith shivers. She’s the one who wants more. She’s getting closer and closer to giving in, but she has to focus. It’s just a bit hard to do that when her memories have been messed with.
She tries her best to ignore him the rest of the week.
On the sixth day, her mother Facetimes her to ask her to dinner, and when Lilith tells her that she’s going alone, her mother whines.
“But we haven’t seen Kellan in months.”
She huffs out a breath when he’s suddenly standing right behind her, chin resting on her shoulder, smiling at the phone.
“Hi, Mamai!” he chirps, and she guesses him speaking in Gaelic is a-okay with her mother because she grins.
“Kellan! Tell her that you simply have to come.”
So of course, he tags along, holding Lilith’s hand under the table and flirting with her mother and older sister.
She hates this, all of this, because none of them know him. They had barely tolerated her boyfriend, never asked him to dinner or family events, but her mother and sister are all starry eyed, hanging on to this Kellan’s every word, and it makes Lilith angry.
Lilith’s breath comes shorter as she realizes that she’s living a lie. She’s living a lie and who knows where her boyfriend is or what his family thinks. Do they even remember him?
Finally, she throws her napkin down and stands up. “If you all like him so much, why don’t you take him home!”
Her sister raises an eyebrow. “I mean….”
Lilith glares at her, still standing, crossing her arms over her chest.
Kellan frowns up at her.
“My name is Lilith.”
She storms out and he’s right on her heels after a murmured apology to her family. She’s silent on the way home and she jerks away when he tries to hold her hand.
Kellan looks hurt, pouting. “A’ghra…Lilith. Don’t be so cold.”
She glares at him. Lilith thinks he likes to use his looks and his voice to calm her, but it’s not going to work this time.
“What do you expect, Kellan? You lie to my family, plant false memories…you took the man I’ve loved for two years and what, just stuffed him in a tree somewhere? And for what? Because you just decided you wanted me? Why would I want to be with someone like that?” She bursts out, frustrated.
Kellan goes silent and faces the road as he drives her home.
She crosses her arms over her chest, and for the first time, when the car pulls up, he doesn’t open her door first, just gets out and heads into the house.
Lilith trail along behind, her skin still hot with anger. She shakes her head, shaking out her curls because she’d rolled her hair for dinner.
She wants to keep yelling at him but she doesn’t feel like he understands a single word she says.
When she comes out of the shower, she expects to find him sulking in bed but instead, he’s on the couch with a pillow and blanket, sitting with his legs folded beneath him and his head down.
Kellan looks up at her, and tears are streaking down his face, his warm brown eyes soft, and suddenly she feels guilt hot at the back of her head.
“I just want what’s best for you, A’ghra,” he says quietly. “You weren’t happy. I thought I could make you happy. It’s been almost a week, and you’ve been smiling more than I’ve seen in the last year but…maybe I was wrong.”
Kellan is a big man (fae?) but he’s so folded in on himself sitting there that he almost looks small, and Lilith can’t help but soften.
“Come to bed, Kellan,” she says, taking a step toward him and holding out her hand, and when he looks up at her, there’s such hope in his warm brown eyes that it hurts her heart.
When he undresses and slips into bed with her, naked, as always, his eyes widen when she uncinches her robe and spreads it open.
“Lilith….you don’t have to-” he says quickly, and she takes his hand and puts it on her breast.
She can’t think about her boyfriend anymore. She can’t feel guilt anymore. Kellan is here and he wants her, maybe even loves her, and she wants him, too. She can’t deny that anymore, even to herself.
“I want you to, Kellan.” Her heart is pounding, but she isn’t afraid. She’s never been afraid of him, through any of this, and she does want him. It feels like some kind of betrayal but it also doesn’t, it feels like this is meant to be.
He swallows hard, looking at her, rolling a thumb over the pebbled peak of her nipple. She arches her back.
“Please,” she pleads, and he ducks his head to kiss the base of her throat, still careful around the chain of her necklace, but she isn’t thinking.
She wraps her arms around his neck, tugging him toward her, and when he’s finally kissing her, hovering above her, careful not to touch her with his body, Lilith whines out his name.
“Are…are you sure?” He asks when he pulls away, eyes searching her face, and she smiles and nods, trying to remember if anyone else has ever been so kind and gentle with her, and coming up empty.
“Oh, Lilith…A’ghra…you won’t regret this. I swear to you.” His voice is fierce and she pulls him down to kiss her, not thinking about the iron around her neck.
Instead of yelping and pulling away, though, he moans into her mouth and bucks his hips against her, his cock hard and sliding through her wetness, and presses his chest to hers, digging the rose into his skin.
When he pulls away, she sees the red mark of it in the middle of his chest like a brand, and she gasps.
“Oh, Kellan, I forgot – are you-” but he captures her mouth in a hard, hungry kiss and slides inside her, and she loses her breath.
He’s kissing her all along her throat, his hand cupping her breast to pull her nipple to his mouth, hungry but somehow gentle, and to her surprise, he presses his body flush against her again, deepening the brand, moaning against her skin.
“A’ghra, my petal…I love you.” he whispers against her throat, and she doesn’t know what to say but she can’t respond anyway.
She’s holding her breath, rocking her hips against his because he moves like he’s made of water, fluid strokes that seem to hit parts of her that she’s never felt, his pelvic bone hitting her clit at just the right pace.
She’s coming and crying out his name and he’s kissing the line of her jaw as she comes down, fucking her through her orgasm, when he says it again, looking into her eyes.
“I love you, A’ghra. I’m so grateful you chose me,” he breathes, and before she can ask what that means, he’s pulling out of her and kissing down her body, nipping at her inner thighs, and she stops thinking again.
Once she comes a second time, his full lips around her clit, tightening her thighs around his head, she cups his face to tug him up.
He whines out a protest. “I wasn’t done, A’ghra. You taste like honey, is that why you like it in your tea?” He grins up at her, his mouth swollen and red with her kisses, chin slick with her juices.
“I want to taste you instead, Kellan,” she breathes, her head spinning from his mouth and body, heart pounding.
He trembles a bit when she leans her head down, kissing the v of his hip and abdominal muscles, and her necklace drops down and he hisses and moans.
Lilith has discovered by now Kellan likes the pain, likes the burn of the brand, and she kisses him again, letting the rose charm rest on his hip bone.
“Ah, fuck, press a little harder…”
She takes the charm in her hand and presses it to his hipbone, searing a new red mark there, and he groans low in his chest and bucks his hips, his cock sliding across her cheek.
When she takes him into her mouth, her necklace bounces just slightly across the seam of his balls and he’s babbling Gaelic in a low, throaty voice between the most musical whines.
She’s focused on swirling her tongue around him, her hand clamped on his hip, whenever she hears windchimes, louder than she’s ever heard them, a background to Kellan crying out of her name.
Kellan was wrong, it isn’t Lilith that tastes like honey, it’s him, when he spills down her throat, his hand hovering over the back of her head.
He leans to pick her up under her arms when she pops off of him.
Kellan pulls Lilith up to lie on top of him, settling her in just the right spot for the rose charm to fit on the mark she’d left, sighing and nuzzling her neck.
“Thank you, A’ghra. Thank you for choosing me,” he murmurs against her ear, and when she raises her head to look at him quizzically, he’s already fast asleep.
She wakes up in the same spot, and manages to wiggle out from his arms, though he whimpers a little in protest in his sleep.
She looks down at him for a moment, the perfect line of his jaw and throat, the delicate rose brand red on his chest, her chest feeling tight, before she slides out of bed.
As she goes, her hip bumps the edge of her nightstand and a single slip of paper slides out from under the lamp.
When she leans down to pick it up and sees the handwriting, her knees give out and she sits down on the bed, hard.
Going out for eggs. – Keith
Keith. His name was Keith and he had sandy blonde hair and green eyes, and the first time she’d met him he’d blushed when she smiled at him. His mother’s name was Suzanne, and she knitted sweaters for him that he never wore every Christmas. He bought Lilith a pair of diamond earrings for their anniversary two months ago, uncommonly sweet that night, his mouth tasting of red wine when he kissed her.
Lilith trembles all over, memories washing over her in a wave, and when Kellan touches her hip, she startles.
“A’ghra – what’s wrong?”
She hears windchimes, faint, just under his voice. Windchimes. The windchimes, tinkling, just like she’d heard in the garden, just like she’d heard the first morning she’d woken up, windchimes like she’d heard just last month, sitting in the park and reading her mystery novel.
“Bring him back,” she says, voice shaking.
Kellan kneels in front of her before she can blink, frowning up at her, taking the note from her hands. “What? Oh. This is nothing.”
He tosses the note to the ground, like it’s nothing, like two years of memories taken from Lilith was nothing, and it heats her blood, makes her heart pound against her chest plate.
“Bring him back,” Lilith says, her voice raising and trembling all at the same time. “You said a week. You promised-”
“What about what you promised me?” Kellan bursts out, tracing the rose brand on his chest with his fingertips.
“What- I-” she stutters.
“You branded me, A’ghra. You branded me, don’t you know what that means to my people? What it means to me?”
He looks so stricken, almost like she’s hit him, and she ignores the arrow in her heart.
“That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t matter because I remember now. I remember everything you made me forget and there’s a man out there, God knows where-”
“A man who didn’t respect you!” His lip trembles but his eyes are flashing, hands on the bed on either side of her thighs. “He didn’t treat you like the treasure you are, A’ghra. When was the last time he bothered to kiss you goodbye when you left for work? When was the last time he even thought to text you to ask what you’d like for dinner? When was the last time he made your body arch under his hands, huh?”
“He loves me,” she says, and it sounds weak to her own ears.
“He doesn’t! He doesn’t love you. I do. I’ve watched you for almost a year, learned everything about you, and he’s known you for how long and can’t even remember the honey in your fucking tea?” He’s breathing hard, leaned over her lap, still kneeling on the floor, and when she shakes her head, tears slipping down her cheek, his face softens.
He plants a soft kiss on her knee and then nuzzles his face against her thigh. “Don’t do this, A’ghra You…you can’t do this. I’ll be so good to you. You know I will.”
His voice breaks and Lilith feels her resolve weakening, but she just keeps focusing, keeps thinking about her boyfriend’s smile when she told him she’d move in with him.
“It doesn’t matter. I…I need him back. I remember now, and I need him back.”
He lifts his head, wiping at his face angrily as frustrated tears spill down his cheeks. “Hold on to that memory a little longer, Lilith, and you’ll remember things you’d rather forget. I promise you.”
“I don’t care! I don’t care because…this isn’t real, Kellan. None of this is real and he was! He was real and…and I loved him.”
He leans back on his heels, his chest heaving, throat working like he has more to say, tears still spilling down his cheeks.
“You know I’m better,” he says quietly. “You know I could love you better, and you still want him. I guess I was wrong, Lilith. I guess you’re in love with him after all.”
Kellan chokes back a sob and runs a hand through his hair, looking up at her, chin stuck out almost defiantly.
Lilith feels as if her heart is cracking inside her chest but she can’t keep doing this. She can’t keep ignoring that the man she loved is God knows where with a fae replacing him.
Kellan takes her hands in his. “Do you really want this, A’ghra?” His voice is desperate.
She doesn’t trust herself to speak, so she just nods, and his jaw tightens. “Fine. Fine, but don’t call for me in your mother’s garden, crying again, when you realize he doesn’t deserve you, when you realize I would’ve treated you like the treasure you are. I won’t be listening.”
There’s windchimes again, loud this time, discordant, and Lilith reaches up to cover her ears and….
She doesn’t remember anything else until she wakes up the next morning, with Keith’s soft snores at her ear.
She throws an arm around him, hugging him tight, and he stirs and turns away from her. It’s familiar but her heart stings anyway, because Kellan would have turned over and held her, pressed his face against her neck, called her A’ghra.
Lilith’s head spins when she thinks about it too much. It all seems like such a long, long dream, but she can still hear Kellan’s voice in her head, still feel his soft breath against her neck when she thinks about it too much.
It’s easy enough to go back to her old life, to what she’s known, and when Keith puts sugar in her tea instead of honey, she doesn’t say a word but her heart skips, just a little, remembering someone else’s more delicate hands placing the saucer in Lilith’s hand.
It’s a month before she hears the windchimes again, in a park where she’d gone to read her mystery novel.
Her breath catches in her throat, but when she looks up, she sees the windchimes, hanging from a tree nearby in her mother’s garden and her heart falls to her feet. It isn’t Kellan. It isn’t Kellan and all that time, he was right. She wasn’t happy with Keith. She’s only pretending.
She remembers now. All those times she’d been crying in her mother’s garden, hearing those windchimes that are so uniquely Kellan to her now that she can’t believe she didn’t notice them before.
Keith had forgotten her birthday, their anniversaries. He’d barely even seen her. He didn’t understand her, and she doesn’t know what to do about it now.
Kellan had understood her. Kellan had treated her like something precious, something important, and she isn’t even sure that Keith knows her middle name, not after two years of dating.
She tells herself that she’ll leave him, but it’s easier just to stay. It’s easier just to wipe her tears, go back home, and crawl into bed next to Keith, who is all hard lines instead of holding her tight and close the way that Kellan had.
It’s another month before Keith comes to her and tells her it isn’t working, tells her that he’s done pretending, and she barks out a bitter laugh.
He’s done pretending. That’s rich.
“It’s over, then?” she asks, and she’s angry, thinking about what she’s given up for him, what she’s done, how she lost someone that she…
Does she love Kellan? Had it gotten that far, in just a week?
“We’re just not compatible,” Keith says, his voice flat, and Lilith glares at him.
“I tried,” she chokes out, despair sweeping over her. It isn’t for him. It isn’t for the end of the relationship. It’s because she let go of Kellan. Because she pushed him away for Keith, to get him back.
And she can’t tell him that. He’ll never understand.
“Did you?” he asks, and walks away from her.
He’ll never comprehend what she gave up for him. He’ll never know how hard she tried. Because he didn’t try at all, and that’s why Kellan had come for her.
Kellan had said that changelings came for humans who needed them, and God, Lilith needs Kellan. She needs him so much that she can’t imagine how she ever lived before she met him.
But she’d pushed him away. She’d chosen Keith, chosen her own life instead of the one that Kellan had offered her. She’s ruined everything.
So it goes.
Lilith moves into her mother’s house, and she keeps urging Lilith to go to the garden, sending her out to water the flowers, and she hates how it makes her heart ache when she hopes to hear windchimes.
Lilith is fingering the rose charm on her throat and fighting tears when her mother brings her a bowl of sugar cubes.
She looks up at her, confused, and her mother rolls her eyes.
“The charm was your father’s. Why do you think I gave you that necklace?” her mother asks, tugging down her dress to reveal a duplicate rose brand on her collarbone.
Lilith’s mouth drops open, and her mother just smiles. “We like sweets,” she says simply, gesturing to the bowl. “Just…just call his name.”
“He…he said not to,” she says miserably.
“We fae are not so good at holding grudges. Just try it, M’inÃon,” she lilts, and the Gaelic word makes Lilith start, but her mother has already slipped inside. She’d known that her mother was Irish, but she’d never known this.
What does this mean? Is she part fae? There will be time for that conversation later, when she’s finally gotten Kellan back – if she can.
She places the bowl of sugar cubes next to her on the swing, tears forming behind her eyes.
“Kellan?” Lilith says brokenly, and when nothing happens in five minutes, she covers her face with her hands, crying.
That’s when she hears them. The windchimes, tinkling ever so faintly, and she looks up and Kellan is standing there, arms crossed over his chest.
He looks different, like maybe he’s lost some weight in the last few months, his cheekbones sharper. He’s wearing what looks like nineteenth century clothing – a fabric Lilith has never seen before on his pants, a flowy tunic instead of a t-shirt.
“I told you not to call me,” he says coldly.
A sob catches in her throat, and Lilith goes to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing her cheek to his chest, where she knows her iron rose brand is.
“I’m sorry,” she chokes out, and he’s stiff only for a moment before his hands go to her hair and he’s humming comforts into her ear that sound like windchimes.
Lilith sobs into his chest. “I messed it all up, didn’t I? You don’t want me anymore?”
Kellan barks a chuckle into her ear.
“Oh, A’ghra. You didn’t give me a choice, did you? Who could ever stop wanting you?”
Lilith relaxes into his arms. “What do you mean, I didn’t give you a choice?”
Kellan pulls away from her, just slightly, tugging down his tunic and showing her the iron rose brand on his chest.
“You branded me. You chose me as yours, and then you sent me away.”
His brown eyes are full of hurt and Lilith chokes back a sob.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I didn’t know.”
Kellan looks at her warily. “Does that mean you don’t want to be married? You don’t want to be branded?”
She swallows, hard. “Will it hurt?”
He laughs. “All love is worth a little pain, don’t you think, A’ghra?”
Kellan steps toward her but Lilith doesn’t back away. She’s not afraid. She loves him, with her whole heart, and he found her when she was at her lowest and he loves her back. She’s never been afraid of him.
He leans down and presses his mouth against her throat, sucking a mark there, and a shiver goes through her body.
“Take after your human father, aye?” he lilts in that melodic tone of his. “I suppose I’ll just have to mark you there, every day.”
Now, instead of wondering if she’s happy, Lilith knows it, spending days in the garden where Kellan puts flowers in her hair, kisses her over and over by the gnarled oak tree.
In a few weeks, he asks her to wear a white dress and he takes her to that oak tree, leading her toward the hole inside of it.
It looks too small to fit a person and Lilith leans her head down but looks back up at Kellan, quizzically.
“Go on,” he says in that way he has that’s demanding but not demanding, and she listens, ducking her head inside before climbing in.
The air has that wavy quality that it had when they were in the library, when he’d used his glamor to make them invisible.
“What is this?” she asks, marveling at the wavy air, the way the tree is expanding and now she’s standing in an open field, with the smell of lavender everywhere.
“This is my home,” he says. “You can come through the realm because you’re half-fae. Humans can’t come here.”
“I’m only half human,” she muses, still not believing it. She’d had long talks with her mother since, and as if thinking of her had called her up, Lilith sees her mother walk into the tree, smiling.
“Sorry your father couldn’t make it,” she says. “but he’s looking down on us right now.”
Lilith’s eyes sting with unshed tears and she takes hold of Kellan’s hand, squeezing it hard.
“Kellan? I thought we were already bound.”
Kellan offers her a sweet smile. He still tries to charm her, still succeeds in charming her, but now she knows that’s just who he is. He’s not trying to manipulate her. She chose him and that’s what matters. Even if he chose her years before she knew he existed.
“That’s part of your family tradition, the branding,” he says. “But I thought you might want part of your human tradition, too. A wedding.”
Lilith bursts into tears and Kellan takes her face in his big hands, kissing them away.
“Oh, no, don’t cry, A’ghra,” he mourns, but then Lilith is laughing, too.
“It’s wonderful,” she says, and then a tall man with white blond hair comes walking toward them across the open field.
Kellan smiles widely. “I didn’t think you’d make it,” he says.
The man nods to Kellan but looks at Lilith curiously.
“Nice to meet you,” he says in a low baritone, and his eyes are warm and brown just like Kellan’s. “I’m Midhir.”
“Also known as the White King,” my mother gasps, and she drops to her knees, dirtying her pretty dress.
Midhir chuckles and takes my mother’s hand, lifting her off the ground and kissing her fingertips.
“Don’t kneel, my lady,” he tells her. “It’s a joyous occasion. My only son only gets married once.”
Lilith gasps and looks at Kellan. “You told me you weren’t royalty,” she accuses.
Kellan grins almost sheepishly. “I told the truth. My mother is a changeling, so my sister is the royal one.”
“Your….sister?” Lilith’s head spins. She’s got so much to learn about this realm and her new husband.
“You’ll meet her at the ceremony,” Midhir says easily, and when he heads across the seemingly endless field, everyone follows.
Everyone except Lilith. She stands there, shell-shocked.
Kellan walks back to her, something worried on his face, his brow furrowed.
“A’ghra?” he calls. “Have you…have you changed your mind?”
Lilith puts her hands on his chest and his heart is beating too hard. She makes a noise in the back of her throat and lifts her head so that he can see the marks he’s left on her neck.
“I can’t,” she says with a smile. “You’ve already marked me yours.”
Kellan smiles and it’s prettier than the whole field of lavender they’re standing in.
The wedding is surreal, with the Seelie Court stopping by for a quick visit and a man with seemingly no face that Kellan told her was the fae Grim Reaper, called the Ankou.
He arrives in a horse drawn carriage and the bells that accompany him are so loud and discordant that Lilith holds her ears.
“The Ankou comes for all of us, in time,” Kellan says, soothing her by rubbing his hand across her back, and at first, Lilith is afraid.
The Ankou stands in the back with his face covered, and when Lilith nods to him, he holds up one long-fingered hand.
“He’s smiling,” Midhir says, and Lilith wonders how he knows. The Ankou’s face is covered.
The Ankou leaves in a horse drawn carriage, and the sound of the bells that accompanied him are gone. He’d only been there for a few moments, but Lilith still shivers at the clapping of the horse’s hooves when they leave.
They divide their time between the Seelie Realm and the human world, and sometimes Lilith’s mother accompanies her. She learns that her mother is a brownie, a household fae who likes hearth and home and family.
It’s perfect, really, and when Lilith asks how she met her father, her mother just gives her a sly smile.
“We fae choose our partners wisely,” she says mysteriously, and it reminds Lilith of Kellan when he’d told her that he hadn’t chosen her lightly.
Lilith learns so much, like that the White King and the Ankou have an immortal friendship, and that Kellan’s mother was taken years ago by the fae Grim Reaper.
When she asks Kellan if he resents him for it, Kellan gives her a sad half-smile.
“I used to,” he says. “But the Ankou comes for us all, in time.”
“You said that before,” she says curiously. “What does that mean?”
Kellan rambles off something in Gaelic, and she can’t understand it quite yet, but she’s sure it would probably answer all her questions. She still has a lot to learn, but she’s happy instead of just content, instead of just pretending with Keith, and that’s what’s important.
Since Lilith doesn’t have an allergy to iron, Kellan brands her throat with his mouth instead, marking her his over and over, every day.