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Serpent & Dove - Shelby Mahurin

That was the trouble with magic. It was subjective. For every possibility I considered, another witch would consider a hundred different ones. Just as no two minds worked the same, no two witches’ magic worked the same. We all saw the world differently.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid

I was gorgeous, even at fourteen. Oh, I know the whole world prefers a woman who doesn't know her power, but I'm sick of all that. I turned heads. Now, I take no pride in this. I didn't make my own face. I didn't give myself this body. But I'm also not going to sit here and say, 'Aw, shucks. People really thought I was pretty?' like some kind of prig.

Here's the thing about Hollywood. It's both a place and a feeling. If you run there, you can run toward Southern California, where the sun always shines and the grimy buildings and dirty sidewalks are replaced by palm trees and orange groves. But you also run toward the way life is portrayed in the movies.

You run toward a world that is moral and just, where the good guys win and the bad guys lose, where the pain you face is only in an effort to make you stronger, so that you can win that much bigger in the end.

It would take me years to figure out that life doesn't get easier simply because it gets more glamorous. But you couldn't have told me that when I was fourteen.

I'm not proud of what I did to him; it didn't feel casual to me, the way I hurt him. It didn't then, and it doesn't now.

But I also know how badly I'd needed to leave Hell's Kitchen. I know what it feels like to not want your father to look at you too closely, lest he decides he hates you and hits you or decides he loves you a little too much. And I know what it feels like to see your future ahead of you - the husband who's really just a new version of your father, surrendering to him in bed when it's the last thing you want to do, making only biscuits and canned corn for dinner because you don't have money for meat.

So how can I condemn the fourteen-year-old girl who did whatever she could to get herself out of town? And how can I judge the eighteen-year-old who got herself out of that marriage once it was safe to do so?

Sometimes Ruby and I, and some of the other girls on the lot, would grab lunch and gossip about various going-ons, but, to be honest, I would have thrown every single one of them in front of a moving train to get a part. And I think they would have done the same to me.

Intimacy is impossible without trust. And we would have been idiots to trust one another.

"I hope you know by now that all of your secrets are safe with me," Celia said as she started unbuttoning it to put it on.
I think for her it was a throwaway line. But it meant a lot to me. Not because she said it, I supposed. But because when she said it, I realized I believed her.
"I do," I said. "I do know that."
People think that intimacy is about sex.
But intimacy is about truth.
When you realize that you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is, "You're safe with me" - that's intimacy.
And by those standards, that moment with Celia was the most intimate one I'd ever had with anyone.

"You're the most beautiful woman here," Don said into my ear as I stood next to him. But I already knew he thought I was the most gorgeous woman there. I knew, very acutely, that if he did not believe that, he would not have been with me.
Men were almost never with me for my personality.

"So this book, your biography ... you're ready to come out as a gay woman?"

Evelyn closes her eyes for a moment, and at first I think she is processing the weight of what I've said, but once she opens her eyes again, I realize she is trying to process my stupidity.

"Haven't you been listening to a single thing I've told you? I loved Celia, but also, before her, I loved Don. In fact, I'm positive that if Don hadn't turned out to be a spectacular asshole, I probably never would have been capable of falling in love with someone else at all. I'm bisexual. Don't ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box, Monique. Don't do that."

"I love you so much, sweetheart. So, so much. And it's in part because of things like that. You're an idealist and a romantic, and you have a beautiful soul. And I wish the world was ready to be the way you see it. I wish that the rest of the people on earth with us were capable of living up to your expectations. But they aren't. The world is ugly, and no one wants to give anyone the benefit of the doubt about anything. When we lose our work and our reputations, when we lose our friends and, eventually, what money we have, we will be destitute. I've lived that life before. And I cannot let it happen to you. I will do whatever I can to prevent you from living that way. Do you hear me? I love you too much to let you live only for me."

"I loved you so much that I thought you were the meaning of my life." Celia said, crying. "I thought that people were put on earth to find other people, and I was put here to find you. To find you and touch your skin and smell your breath and hear all your thoughts. But I don't think that's true anymore." She wiped her eyes. "Because I don't want to be meant for someone like you."

The searing pain in my chest felt like water boiling. "You know what? You're right. You aren't meant for someone like me," I said finally. "Because I'm willing to do what it takes to make a world for us, and you're too chickenshit. You won't make the hard decisions; you aren't willing to do the ugly stuff. And I've always known that. But I thought you'd at least have the decency to admit you need someone like me. You need someone who will get her hands dirty to protect you. You want to play like you're all high and mighty all the time. Well, try doing that without someone in the trenches protecting you."

"Do you think I'm a whore?"

Harry pulled over to the side of the road and turned to me. "I think you're brilliant. I think you're tough. And I think the word whore is something ignorant people throw around when they have nothing else."

I listened to him and then turned my head to look out my window.

"Isn't it awfully convenient," Harry added, "that when men make the rules, the one thing that's looked down on the most is the one thing that would bear them the greatest threat? Imagine if every single woman on the planet wanted something in exchange when she gave up her body. You'd all be ruling the place. An armed populace. Only men like me would stand a chance against you. And that's the last thing those assholes want, a world run by people like you and me."

I laughed, my eyes still puffy and tired from crying. "So am I a whore or not?"

"Who knows?" he said. "We're all whores, really, in some way or another. At least in Hollywood. Look, there's a reason she's Celia Saint James. She's been playing that good-girl routine for years. The rest of us aren't so pure. But I like you this way. I like you impure and scrappy and formidable. I like the Evelyn Hugo who sees the world for what it is and then goes out there and wrestles what she wants out of it. So, you know, put whatever label you want on it, just don't change. That would be the real tragedy."

"Do you regret that you didn't call her?" I ask her. "That you lost that time?"
Evelyn looks at me as if I am stupid. "She's gone now," Evelyn says. "The love of my life is gone, and I can't just call her and say I'm sorry and have her come back. She's gone forever. So yes, Monique, that is something I do regret. I regret every second I didn't spend with her. I regret every stupid thing I did that caused her an ounce of pain. I should have chased her down the street the day she left me. I should have begged her to stay. I should have apologized and sent roses and stood on top of the Hollywood sign and shouted, 'I'm in love with Celia St. James!' and let them crucify me for it. That's what I should have done. And now that I don't have her, and I have more money than I could ever use in this lifetime, and my name is cemented in Hollywood history, and I know how hollow it is, I am kicking myself for every single second I chose it over loving her proudly. But that's a luxury. You can do that when you're rich and famous. You can decide that wealth and renown are worthless when you have them. Back then, I still thought I had all the time I needed to do everything I wanted. That if I just played my cards right, I could have it all."

Look, I'd be the first person to say back when I was young that all I was was a nice pair of tits. The only currency I had was my sexuality, and I used it like money. I wasn't well educated when I got to Hollywood, I wasn't book-smart, I wasn't powerful, I wasn't a trained actress. What did I have to be good at other than being beautiful? And taking pride in your beauty is a damning act. Because you allow yourself to believe that the only thing notable about yourself is something with a very short shelf life.

The problem was, I used my body to get other things I wanted. And I didn't stop doing that, even for her. That's my tragedy. That I used my body when it was all I had, and then I kept using it even when I had other options. I kept using it even when I knew it would hurt the woman I loved. And what's more, I made her complicit in it. I put her in a position to continually have to approve of my choices at her own expense. Celia may have left me in a huff, but it was a death by a thousand cuts. I hurt her with these tiny scratches, day after day. And then I got surprised when it left a wound too big to heal.

"You're hard on yourself, I think," I say. "Celia wasn't perfect. She could be cruel."
Evelyn shrugs slightly. "She always made sure the bad was outweighed by so much good. I ... well, I didn't do that for her. I made it fifty-fifty. Which is about the cruelest thing you can do to someone you love, give them just enough good to make them stick through a hell of a lot of bad. Of course, I realized all this when she left me. And I tried to fix it. But it was too late. As she said, she simply couldn't do it anymore. Because it took me too long to figure out what I cared about."

No one is all good or all bad. I know this, of course. I had to learn it at a young age. But sometimes it's easy to forget just how true it is. That it applies to everyone.

Evelyn was born to be famous. I think her body helped her. I think her face helped her. But for the first time, watching her in action, moving in front of the camera, I get the sense that she has sold herself short in one way: she could have been born with considerably less physical gifts and probably still made it. She simply has it. That undefinable quality that makes everyone stop and pay attention.

She Gets the Girl - Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick

I mean, I love all books, but the classics are what got me through my childhood. There’s something reassuring in books and stories older than you are. Still talked about long after they’ve been written and long after their writers die. When the world around you is on fire, there’s a certain kind of comfort in that.

The Stolen Heir - Holly Black

As a child, Wren read a lot of fairy tales. That's why, when the monsters came, she knew it was because she had been wicked.

This is a pantomime I am familiar with. The performance of gallantry while keeping me in restraints, as though the chill in the air is what I am most worried about. But I suppose this is how princes are expected to behave. Noblesse oblige and all that.

Oak was lounging on a cushion beside his sister's feet. No one seemed to expect him to act with any kind of formal decorum. At the mention of marriage, he looked up at me and flinched.

His eldest sister's lip curled slightly, as though she found the thought of me even coming near him repulsive. Oak shouldn't have anything to do with these people or their creepy daughter, she said.

In that moment, I hated him for being so precious to them, for being cosseted and treated as though he was deserving of protection when I had none.

Maybe I still hate him a little. But he was kind when we were children. It's possible there's a part of him that's still kind.

His sister. The High Queen. It was such a different way to be royal, to have a family that you would consider by their relationship to you before their title. Whose weapon you wouldn't be afraid to steal.

"Get on up," Tiernan says impatiently, nodding toward the kelpie. The thing doesn't even have a saddle, no less reins. I look longingly at Damsel and wonder if the knight is forcing me onto a carnivorous monster out of sheer dislike.
Oak goes to it willingly enough, patting its flank absently. Then he swings onto the kelpie's back and reaches down a hand to me. He is wearing his golden armor again, the boy who'd been my friend disappearing into a man I don't know.

"You have an unusual voice," he says. "Raspy. Quite fetching, really."
"I damaged my vocal cords a long time ago," I inform him. "Screaming."

I stomp back through the hall to my room and swing open the door, only to find Oak lounging in one of the stairs, his long limbs spread out in shameless comfort. A flower crown of myrtle rests just above his horns. With it, he wears a new shirt of white linen and scarlet trousers embroidered with vines. Even his hooves appear polished.
He looks every bit the handsome faerie prince, beloved by everyone and everything. Rabbits probably eat from his hands. Blue jays try to feed him worms meant for their own children.

I am not accustomed to someone being this close.
When I look up, his smile is all invitation.
We are no longer children, playing games and hiding beneath his bed, but I feel as though this is a different kind of game, one where I do not understand the rules.

Still, if he expects me to believe he bridled Hyacinthe for Hyacinthe's own sake, I will find that hard to do. In the Court of Teeth, everything terrible that happened to me was supposed to be for my benefit. They probably could have found a way to slit my throat and call it a gift.

I suppose he's been avoiding the throne for most of his life. I think of cowering beneath the bed in his room during the Battle of the Serpent and shove the memory from my mind. I don't want to think about back then. Just as I do not want to think about how, despite Hyacinthe's warnings, I am ready to eat out of the prince's hand as tamely as a dove.
It's too easy. I'm hungry for kindness. Hungry for attention. I want and want and want.

He laughs at that. Oak liking me is as silly as the sun liking a storm. but that doesn't stop my desire for it.

Me, with my sharp teeth and chilly skin. It's absurd. It's grotesque.

And yet, the way he looks at me, it almost seems possible. I imagine that's his plan. He wants me to be charmed by him so that I will stay by his side and do what he asks of me. No doubt he believes that a little attention and a few smiles will be all it requires of him. He expects me to be as malleable as one of the ladies of the Court.

So much of me wants to give in and pretend with him that it makes me hot with rage.

My thoughts are racing as fast as my feet. I kissed two people before Oak. There was the boy who liked fires and, later, one of the treefolk. Neither of those kisses felt quite as doomed as the one I shared with the prince, and they had been doomed enough.
This is the problem with living by instinct. I don't think.

"You may think that Elfhame will look ill on my attempts to keep you here, but I promise you that your sister would like it far less well to find I'd let you leave with Lady Suren, only to discover she sliced open your throat."
Oak winces
Annet notes his reaction. "Exactly." Then she turns away with a swirl of her long black skirts, one hand on her gravid belly.
"Come," the prince commands me. A muscle in his jaw twitches, as though he's clenching his teeth too hard.
It would be safer if I hated him. Since I cannot, perhaps it is good that he now hates me.

Making people betray themselves was Lady Nore's favorite sport, and one in which she was very skilled. Tricking her supplicants and prisoners into sacrificing that which she cared most about. Breaking their own instruments. Their own fingers. The necks of those they loved best.
Everything died in the Ice Citadel, but hope died first.

In the firelight, the prince's amber eyes are molten gold.
I am aware of my skin in a way I have never been before, of the slight movements of my limbs, of the rise and fall of my chest. I can hear the beat of his heart against my cheek. I feel as though I am shouting kiss me with every restless shift of my body. But his does not, and I am too much of a coward to do more than lie there and yearn until my eyes drift closed at last.

The longer we walk, the more we realize we cannot get away from the Stone Forest. Something it seems as though the woods itself moves. Twice, I looked up and found myself surrounded by trees. The drag of the magic reminds me of the undertow on a beach: a strip of calm, dark water that seems innocuous but, once it has you, pulls you far from land.

"My sister thinks that she's the only one who can take poison, but I am poison," he whispers, eyes half-closed, talking to himself. "Poison in my blood. I poison everything I touch."

I am reeling from the kiss, from the swiftness of the violence. I am not yet used to Oak's ability to kill without hesitation and then look chagrined about it, as though he did something in slightly poor taste. Spilled a rare vintage of wine, perhaps. Mismatched his trousers to his shirt.

What I recall is the depth of my fear, the tide of it sweeping me away from myself. I hope I can mimic that expression and not show her what I actually feel - a rage that is as thick and sticky and sweet as honey.
I'm tired of being scared.

"How can you hate me so much?" I ask her, the question slipping out of my mouth before I can snatch it back.

"You should have been like us," says Lady Nore, her posture rigid. The words come easily, as though she has been thinking on them for a long time. "And instead, you are like them. To look at you is to see something so flawed it ought to be put out of its misery. Better to be dead, child, than to live as you do. Better to drown you like some runt of a litter."

I taste tears in the back of my throat. Not because I want her to love me, but because her words echo the worst thoughts of my heart.

I want to smash the mirrors and make her stick the pieces in her skin. I want to do something so awful that she regrets wishing I was anything like her.

As we trek across the snow, I am careful to walk lightly so that I can stay on top of the icy crust. But it still spider-webs with every step. My dress billows around me, caught by the cold wind. I realize that I am still barefoot.
Another girl might have frozen, but I am cold all the way through.

I do not shift from the shadows, but perhaps some small movement exposes me, because the prince turns toward where I am.

He squints, as though trying to make out my shape. "Wren?" he says. "Talk to me."

I don't reply. What would be the point? I know he will twist me around his finger with words. I know that if I give him half the chance, love-starved creature that I am, I will be under his spell again. With him, I am forever a night-blooming flower, attracted and repelled by the heat of the sun.

"Let me explain," he calls to me. "Let me atone."

I bite the tip of my tongue to keep myself from snapping at him. He meant to keep me ignorant. He tricked me. He lied with every smile. With every kiss. With the warmth in his eyes that should have been impossible to fake.

I'd known what he was capable of. Over and over, he'd shown me. And over and over, I believed there would be no more tricks. No more secrets.

Not anymore.

Coward that I am, I flee. My heart thundering, my hands shaking. But I can't pretend that I don't like the sound of him screaming my name.

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