The Sharpest Blade (Shadow Reader #3)


by Sandy Williams

ONE

THE TIME IN the bottom right corner of my computer screen mocks me. I try not to look at it, but no one has come to the reference desk in over an hour, and I can stare at nothing for only so long. Even though this is only my fourth day working as a library clerk, I know every hour is going to drag. Theoretically, that should be a good thing. It means no one’s swinging a sword at my head or aiming a gun at my chest, and I’m not in a situation where I’m forced to hurt or kill someone. The problem is if I’m not distracted by people asking questions, I’ll be distracted by something else.

Or rather, someone else.

A flicker of emotion travels through the bond I share with Kyol. If I close my eyes, I can picture him perfectly, his firm, unsmiling lips and his dark silver eyes. His gaze is always steady and unwavering. He’s one of the strongest men I know, and sometimes his presence unravels me, especially when chaos lusters spark across his face. It’s hard to believe we haven’t seen each other in three weeks. It feels like I’ve spent every day with him. I know when he’s asleep. I can tell when he’s sparring with his men or when he’s talking to Lena, the Realm’s queen. Right now, he’s thinking about me. Probably because I’m thinking about him.

I force out a frustrated sigh because he’s not the fae who should be invading my thoughts. Maybe he wouldn’t be if Aren were around, but there’s been no sign of him or Lena or any of the rebels since I left the Realm. They’re giving me space, time to live my life without interruptions from the fae. That’s something I’ve asked for a hundred times in the last couple of years, but now that I finally have it, I’m going a little crazy. Not having any news from the Realm makes me restless.

Kyol’s mood darkens when he senses my unease. I try not to let that affect me, but I fail, and a cloud settles over me just the same. This is one of the reasons I’m glad I haven’t gone back to the Realm. Even though Kyol and I are in separate worlds, our emotions spiral off each other’s until one of us is distracted enough to feel something else. It would be a thousand times harder to block him out without the In-Between separating us.

And the other reason I haven’t returned? I lean back in my swivel chair and scan the quiet, calm library. This is the first time in ten years that I’ve been a normal human.

Of course, I’m not completely normal. If I were, I wouldn’t see the pale, erratic lightning flitting across the skin of the girl who’s coming in the library’s door. Two of her friends are with her. I don’t know their names, but I’ve heard them call her Kynlee before. She’s shown up here after school every day I’ve worked. If she were human, I’d guess that she’s fifteen, maybe sixteen years old. Her friends are definitely close to that age, but they’re not fae. Kynlee doesn’t really look fae either. She laughs and smiles like a normal American teenager. She’s dressed like one, too, in jeans and a yellow crew-neck tee. The only thing odd about her clothing is the purple gloves that reach up to her elbows, but I understand their purpose: they keep her from skin-to-skin contact with humans.

When the trio walks by my desk, I lock my gaze on my computer screen to keep myself from staring at her chaos lusters. I’m almost certain her friends don’t know what she is. Humans who don’t have the Sight like I do can’t see the lightning, but they would feel the hot, tingling sensation when it leaped to their skin. Or, in Kynlee’s case, they would feel a surprisingly chilly sensation. Her chaos lusters aren’t as bright as a normal fae’s, which means she’s tor’um. She has little to no magical ability, and if this were the Realm, she and others like her would be considered the dregs of society.

After the tor’um and her friends take a seat at a table in the Teen section, my gaze ventures back to the time on my computer screen. Only three freaking minutes have passed since I last looked at it.

“You shouldn’t scowl,” the woman sitting next to me says.

“What?” I ask, turning toward Judy, my supervisor, even though I think I heard her clearly.

“It makes you look unapproachable.”

Yep. That’s what I thought she said. Surprising advice given that she’s always scowling. Judy is a full-time librarian with twenty years of experience marked by gold stars on her name badge. Unfortunately, she happens to hate having degreeless library clerks like me manning the reference desk. But it’s not my fault the city of Las Vegas had to make budget cuts, and considering that the most difficult question I’ve been asked today is “Where’s the restroom,” I’m pretty sure I can handle the job.

Planting a semipleasant expression on my face, I rest my folded arms on the edge of the desk and stare out at the bookshelves. At least the tor’um was enough of a distraction to break the cycle of emotion Kyol and I were close to being caught up in. He’s not thinking about me anymore; he’s concentrating on something else. What that something is, I don’t know. We can’t hear each other’s thoughts or see what the other is doing, but we have a ten-year history together. Even without our magical life-bond, I know him well enough to link his emotions to his thoughts, and right now, he’s not focused on my feelings. He’s focused on his actions.

I feel myself frowning. I can’t help it. Kyol is calm, but he isn’t relaxed. My muscles mimic the tension in his. It’s a strange sensation, one that makes me sit straighter in my seat. I don’t think Kyol’s worried, but he’s heading somewhere that isn’t safe.

I draw in a breath, then let it out slowly, trying not to let my emotions distract him. He was the previous king’s sword-master and is Lena’s lord general. He’s more than capable of taking care of himself.

Just like Aren is capable of taking care of himself.

A little stab of pain cuts through my stomach. I never thought Aren would stay away this long. I thought he’d come to his senses quickly, get over the life-bond, then come get me. The fact that he hasn’t hurts, and I don’t know whether to be pissed off about it or devastated. Most of the time, I’m both.

Still, I want to see him, but I can’t get to the Realm on my own. Fae can fissure from any point they want to as long as they’re not surrounded by silver, but I have to be escorted through a gate to survive the trip through the In-Between. Plus, if Aren wanted to see me, he would have found me already.

Which leaves only one conclusion: he doesn’t want to see me.

I don’t want to believe that because, if it’s true, if he’s letting this life-bond—a life-bond I didn’t have any control over entering—break us up, then I was wrong about him. He doesn’t love me half as much as I thought he did. He doesn’t love me half as much as I love him.

I swallow down the lump in my throat and scan the library again, looking for something to distract me, but no one looks like they’re lost or need help. There’s not even a paper jam at the printer station. My gaze finally rests on Judy, who’s flipping through a magazine. If she’s doing that, then she shouldn’t have a problem with me checking my e-mail for the hundredth time today. I’ve contacted every hospital in London looking for Shane, the Sighted human I left behind to save my friend, Paige. I lost track of him in a mass of panicked people at a concert, and I don’t know if he escaped, died there, or ended up in the hands of the fae. The London authorities have assured me he never checked into a hospital, and I keep hoping he’ll turn up somewhere safe.