Read Virtue - a Fairy Tale Online

Authors: Amanda Hocking

Virtue - a Fairy Tale


A Fairy Tale

by Amanda Hocking

Copyright © 2011 by Amanda Hocking

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

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The palace nestled in the rolling hills of Insontia was hardly the fanciest place Lux had ever been, and to be honest, it disappointed him. Everything tried too hard to be opulent and lavish, and even when it succeeded, the effort was all too apparent.

Lux had gotten through the gate with an invitation to the party, courtesy of his boss, and he’d been ushered down to the ballroom. Instead of going in, he waited just outside the gilded doors, spying on the masquerade ball with disdain.

The ballroom was filled to capacity. He hadn’t expected that many people to attend a tacky affair like this, but once again, Lux had overestimated the human race. All the girls wore flowing gowns, and their faces were hidden by glittery masks. A brunette caught sight of him hiding in the doorway, and she lowered her mask to get better look at him.

Lux wore a perfectly tailored suit with a black shirt underneath, the top few buttons left undone. His blond hair had been pushed back, so it lay straight, except for where the curls formed at the base of his neck. He had the kind of smile, that when used correctly, got him nearly anything he wanted, but it never quite reached his blue eyes.

There had been a time when all of this appealed to Lux. This anniversary party for a Lord and Lady he’d never met would’ve held some entertainment for him, even with its faux splendor and forced extravagance. The dance floor would’ve been a treat, full of beautiful women on which to dine, but he could barely muster the effort to smile back at the brunette. He’d grown bored with this all.

If he hadn’t been sent, Lux would never have come here. His instructions were to attend this ball for a job, and everything would be explained once he arrived. After years of this, he’d gotten used to vague orders, and it suited him better when he didn’t know what his boss was doing.

A waiter offered him a flute of champagne, and Lux swallowed it down greedily. He considered leaving the palace entirely, hopping on his black horse, and racing off to meet Gula at a bar where they could eat and drink too much.

But he knew better than to disobey his boss, so he settled for wandering away from the masquerade. He needed a moment to let the champagne hit him before he dealt with the crowd in the ballroom.

Lux went down a long hallway, following a deep red carpet away from the ball. Eventually, he found himself in a rotunda, the sounds of the party a faded din on the other side of the palace.

A massive chandelier hung from the ceiling, its crystals dangling like stalactites. The walls were papered in off-white with gold designs. A wide marble staircase curved up from the center of room, leading to the second story twenty feet above him.

Lux put his hands on his hips and sighed. The red velvet rug underneath his feet was worn in places, the paper on the walls peeled in the corners, and several of the candles in the chandelier were missing.

None of this made any sense. What could his boss possibly want with a Lord and Lady and their fading glory in a forgotten place like Insontia?

“Are you lost?” A soft voice came from the top of the stairs, sending a warm shiver through him, and Lux turned to see a girl.

Her long dark hair hung down her back, decorated simply with diamond clips, and her sparkling white dress revealed her slender shoulders. Her skin looked pale and smooth, like snow, and her lips curved into the most delicate of smiles.

For a moment, he was struck completely mute by her beauty, and that response to her startled him.

“Are you alright?” she asked, a nervous undercurrent to her words. Her hands on the banister, she leaned forward to see him better.

“Yes, I’m fine.” He suppressed his unnatural reaction and flashed his infamous smile, and she returned it easily and her shoulders relaxed. “I needed some air.” He stepped toward the stairs, feeling oddly drawn to her, but stopped himself before going farther. “What about you? Are you lost?”

“No.” She gave a small laugh and lowered her eyes, her hands twisting absently on the railing. “I know my way around here quite well.”

“You’re not enjoying the party either?” Lux asked, staring up at her from the bottom of the staircase.

She shrugged. “I always feel out of place at these things. I feel silly shouting down to you. Shall I come down to meet you?”

“Yes,” Lux replied before she’d even finished the question.  

She descended the stairs in a startlingly elegant way, as if she glided down them. Her fingers trailed along the banister, and her gown flowed out behind her. Something about her was terrifyingly captivating. He didn’t trust himself to even look at her, so Lux ran a hand through his hair and pretended to admire the chandelier.

“Do you like it?” she asked when she reached the bottom.

“What?” Confused, Lux allowed himself to glance over at her. Up close, she was even more stunning, and he had to remind himself to breathe.

“The chandelier.” She gestured to it.

“It’s… nice,” Lux said noncommittally, afraid of offending her.

“Lady Scelestus commissioned it after her wedding,” she said, and Lux noticed a sadness in her tone. “She wanted to leave her imprint on the palace.”

“Well, she certainly has,” Lux muttered, letting his derision seep into his words. She laughed, a light sound that rippled through him. “Sorry. I don’t even know your name.”

“Lily,” she smiled, and he would’ve sworn he’d never seen anything quite so radiant.

“I’m Lux.”

When he said his name, she held out her hand, and he took it, a warm electricity running through him. He bent down and kissed the back of her hand. Her skin was cool on his lips, and her cheeks flushed ever so slightly.

Lily quickly pulled her hand back from his. She took a step away, and he stepped after her.

“The ball doesn’t suit your either?” she asked.

“No. I’m not much into parties,” Lux lied. He’d spent the majority of his existence partying, but he’d say anything to please her.

“There are too many people.” Lily linked her hands together in front of her, resting them on the embroidered bodice of her dress.  “And I have nothing to say to them.”

“I’m sure you have plenty to offer.” He took another step closer to her, so close that he imagined he could smell the sweet fragrance of her skin. “If I may be so bold, you look lovely in that dress. In fact, I would say that no one has ever looked more lovely than you do right now.”

“That’s not true at all.” She shook her head, making her dark waves sway around her. The rose on her cheeks deepened, and her smile turned shy.

She lifted her head to look at him, maybe to protest further, but as soon as her eyes met his, all her words died on her lips. His heart pounded in his chest. Unable to deny the pull inside him any longer, Lux moved towards her, pressing his lips to hers before he could think about what he was doing.

She kissed him back, timid at first. He wrapped his arms around her, barely restraining himself from pushing himself on her. She threw her arms around his neck, and then, as she kissed him, she wrapped the curls of his hair around her finger.

That simple gesture did something to him he couldn’t explain, and he froze. He had no idea how to act. He wanted her in a way that he had never wanted anyone before, so instead of taking her the way he normally would, he stopped. His heart even ceased to beat.

“What?” Lily had noticed his abrupt change and stopped kissing him. Her ice blue eyes, welling with nervous tears, searched his. She moved back from him, and even though he wanted to hold her to him, he couldn’t make his arms work. “I’ve done something wrong.”

“No,” Lux shook his head, but his word came out feeble.

“I’m such a fool.” She put her hand to her forehead, as if in pain, and her cheeks blanched. “I hope you’ll accept my humblest apologies. I had no idea what I was…” She trailed off, stepping away from him as she spoke.

“No, you’ve done nothing wrong.” He held at out his hand to her in an empty gesture. He wanted to comfort her, but to the best of his recollection, he’d never comforted anyone before.

“I should get back to the ball.” Her words came out in a hurried jumble, doing a poor job of masking the quiver. “I do hope that you’ll forgive my parents for raising such an obscene child.”

“You’re not –” He didn’t have a chance to stop her before she lifted her skirts and dashed out of the room, running down the hall towards the ballroom.

Lux could’ve gone after her. He even considered it, but he had no idea what was happening. Everything felt so unnatural. His heart beat erratically and his blood felt electrified, as if her touch had literally shocked him. His hand went to the back of his neck, gingerly touching where she had twirled her fingers.

When his hair got a bit long, it tended to curl where it touched the top of his spine. He’d been with so many girls, and one of them had to have played with his hair. It had to have happened, at least once.

But nothing had ever struck him as forcefully as when Lily had done that.

Before he could ponder things further, a small man interrupted. He came out of a doorway hidden in the wall, pushing it open so soundlessly that if Lux hadn’t been looking, he wouldn’t have noticed him at all.

The man was very tiny, almost impish, with slender arms and high cheekbones. His gray eyes appeared too large for his dirt smudged face, and scraggly hair fell across his forehead.

He limped towards Lux, favoring his right leg, and Lux instinctively took a step back. The small man looked as if he’d be carrying the bubonic plague.

“You are the one they call Lux?” The man looked up to inspect Lux.

“I am.” Lux tilted away and raised an eyebrow. “I’m to have business with you?”

“Not with me. With my mistress,” he clarified. “I’m merely her servant, Jinn.”

“I see,” Lux said, but he still wasn’t convinced that his boss would want anything from people like these. Admittedly, Lux had done business with far worse people in far worse places, but it was always for a very good reason. Here, he couldn’t see what any of them had to offer.

“Come along, then,” Jinn waved Lux on, hobbling towards the grand staircase. “She’s expecting us, and she doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

“No, I suppose not.” Lux gave Jinn a wide berth before following behind him up the stairs.

Jinn smelled of frogs and toadstools, a common nasty side effect of having a sorceress for a mistress. If Lady Scelestus was a sorceress, that made a bit more sense. Sorcery was something Lux’s boss had a hand in.

Thanks to his injured leg, Jinn walked slowly, but Lux made sure to lag behind him. He didn’t want any of his clothes to smell like the dirty little servant. At the top of the stairs, Jinn took a left down another long hallway. They went past several closed doors before Jinn pushed open a secret door hidden behind a painting of a dark horse.

Jinn held the door open, offering a grin that revealed a missing tooth, and Lux slid past him into a secret chamber room. Black silk draped the walls to give it a more elegant feel. Iron sconces were dotted amongst the drapes, bathing the room with dim yellow light, and two red velvet couches with gold claw feet rested against the walls.

It was the massive mirror on the far wall that caught Lux’s attention. That, and the table below, lined with vials and pouches and sealed jars. A black cauldron sat next it. The room reeked even worse of toadstool and potions, so Lux presumed that this must be where the magic happened.

Lux was about to ask Jinn where his mistress was when he saw a shimmer in the black silk hanging along one of the walls, and he realized that wasn’t the drapery. Her gown blended in seamlessly, and he had a feeling that had more to do with a cloaking spell than it did with her designer.

She turned to face him, the dark folds of her dress billowing out. Her bodice clung tightly to her thin frame, pushing up her low-cut assets. Her black hair had been pulled back severely, and despite the heavy make up on her pale skin, time had obviously begun catching up with her. Not that there wasn’t something strikingly beautiful about her. If Lux hadn’t been so flustered by his recent encounter with Lily, he’d most certainly have attempted to seduce the sorceress.

“Lux, I presume.” She smiled at him, her lips blood red. Something was so wicked about it, it nearly ignited something inside him. It should have, but he couldn’t shake the taste of Lily from his lips.

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