and more serious, but at least he was free. I reached up and touched his face where the mark had been, marveling at the softness of his skin.

“When I wake up and find you in my bed with your hand up my shirt, you can’t blame me for making certain assumptions,” I said tartly.

Ethan grinned at me. “I didn’t put my hand up your shirt until after you were awake,” he reminded me, and I couldn’t stifle a bit of a laugh as I rolled my eyes at him.

“A technicality.”

His grin faded as he leaned down to brush a soft kiss on my lips, pulling back quickly before either of us could catch fire. “I know my reputation,” he said. “And I know I earned it. Once upon a time, I probably would have tried to take advantage of the situation. But I’m not that guy anymore.”

Maybe I was veering too far to the other end of the trust-o-meter, but I believed him. “So putting your hand up my shirt isn’t taking advantage?” I asked, but I smiled to let him know I was teasing.

“All depends where that hand ends up, doesn’t it?”

Right now, it rested right at the bottom of my rib cage, the thumb stroking idly back and forth. The touch was hot and soothing all at once.

“So what are you doing here, really?” I asked. “I can’t believe my dad or any of the rest of the crew would leave you alone in a bedroom with me.”

He made an exaggerated face of innocence. “I can’t imagine why not.”


“Kimber was here to watch over you,” he said. “I threatened to do something unpleasant to Keane if she didn’t give us some alone time. She threatened to do something even more unpleasant to me if I didn’t behave like a gentleman.” He shuddered theatrically. “You won’t tell her about the hand-up-the-shirt thing, will you? Because I think we’ll both end up missing the parts she removes with a rusty spoon if she finds out.”

I laughed and blushed at the same time. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

To show his appreciation of my restraint, he bent down and kissed me until all my thoughts and fears retreated.

* * *

I don’t remember falling asleep again, but I must have, because when I next opened my eyes, it was dark out and Kimber was back on guard duty. She was reading another huge tome—its binding green instead of red, so I knew it was a different book—this time sitting on the bed beside me with her back propped up against the wall. I tried to be quiet about it as I sat up and yawned, not wanting to startle her as I’d done earlier.

I felt better. I was stiff and achy from too much time in bed, but my mind felt a whole lot clearer. My stomach rumbled loudly, reminding me that it had been at least twenty-four hours since I’d last eaten.

Kimber put her book aside. “Sleeping Beauty awakens,” she said.

I responded with an unladylike snort. I didn’t want to know what I looked like right now, but I figured I was more likely to break mirrors than win over Prince Charming. I rubbed at my gritty eyes and tried a tentative stretch. I really wished the Fae had coffee, because I sure could have used some.

“How are you feeling?” Kimber asked.

“Alive.” That was the best I could say about my condition at the moment.

“Oh, good. I wasn’t looking forward to dragging your corpse down to the caravan in the morning.”


“We’re leaving. First thing in the morning, whether you’re up to it or not. I’m not quite sure if Titania kicked us out, or if your dad just decided it was time to go. Strangely, people don’t seem to want a one-woman killing machine around.”

Well, that answered the question of whether my friends knew what I did to Henry. I guess if I were an immortal Fae, I wouldn’t want to be around someone like me, either.

“Your dad hired some locals to provide horses and supplies,” Kimber continued. “We don’t get a royal escort this time.”

I grimaced. “Considering what happened the last time we had a royal escort, I’d say that’s a good thing.”

“Couldn’t agree more. Now get out of bed and get washed up and dressed. You need to stuff some food down your gullet and regain some strength. After that, your dad wants to talk to you.” Her grin was almost evil. “I think you’re grounded until the sun explodes.”

I had a feeling that once we got back to Avalon, I was going to be spending a lot of time in my safe house. That would get old fast, I knew, but right now, I’d have liked nothing better than to be curled up in my own bed.

“There’s no place like home,” I murmured under my breath, and wished for some ruby slippers.

My knees almost buckled when I got out of the bed. Kimber reached out to steady me, but my knees firmed up before I did a face-plant.

“Wow,” I said. “I’m worse off than I thought.” And tomorrow, I got to go horseback riding. Oh, joy.

“You’ll feel better after you’ve eaten. The magic hangover is hitting you extra hard because you’re half- starved.”

My stomach roared in agreement, but I wasn’t quite ready to get moving yet. Kimber was acting like her normal self, but I couldn’t help wondering if she was just being nice to me until I got better.

“So, um, are you still speaking to me?” I asked.

She crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes at me. “Yeah, I’m still speaking to you. I’m going to be speaking to you a lot over the next few days.”

She looked angry and implacable, and I knew her words were meant to be something like a threat. But I had to fight off a smile anyway. I’d happily listen to as many stern lectures as she wanted to give, as long as she stayed my friend.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

I avoided going to see my dad for as long as I could. I mean, yeah, I wanted to see him, wanted to assure myself with my own two eyes that he was okay. Facing his anger was a whole other question.

I followed Kimber’s directions to a little sitting room where every horizontal surface that wasn’t a seat was covered with bowls of fruit, or pastries, or bread. There was also a vast selection of different teas, and a steaming pitcher of water. Even not being a tea fan, I made myself a cup, wanting some liquid to wash the food down with.

While my tea was steeping, I put together a plate of the most recognizable of the fruits along with a thick slice of bread and some kind of turnover. When I sat down on one of the chairs with my plate on my lap and reached for my tea, I saw that the water pitcher was still filled to the brim and steaming.

Magic water. I’d never seen that trick in Avalon. Then again, in Avalon we had electricity and water mains.

My stomach wasn’t up for a big meal, but I ate as much as I could before heading back toward the suite of rooms where we were staying. My hands were clammy when I stood in front of my dad’s door and tried to get myself to knock.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of my dad. I knew he’d never hurt me. But aside from the fact that I’d taken what he was sure to think were unacceptable risks in coming back to the palace, he had now learned a whole lot of secrets I’d been keeping. Things I should have confided in him, just as I should have confided in Kimber. And let’s not even talk about the fact that I’d killed someone. Someone my dad hated, but still …

Maybe knowing about my secret spell, my dad would be afraid of me. The thought made the hunk of bread in my stomach feel like a lump of lead. Even the Erlking had been unsettled when he’d learned what I could do, but I wasn’t sure I could stand it if my dad suddenly looked at me as if I were something dangerous.

I guess I wasn’t completely silent, because as I stood hesitating, trying to find the guts to knock, the door swung open.

My dad was dressed in what was, for him, casual clothes: wool slacks with a button-down oxford shirt. A kink

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