But okay. We’ll go Dutch.”

We reached the top of the stairs, our bodyguards converging on us.

“We’re going to go have lunch on the quad,” I informed Finn. “If that’s all right with you.” For a while, my dad had been so paranoid he wouldn’t let me leave the safe house without permission, but since the threat against me had eased off, I had a little more freedom now. If you considered not being able to go anywhere without a bodyguard hanging over your shoulder “freedom.” I didn’t need my dad’s permission to have lunch, nor did I need Finn’s. But just because I didn’t technically have to ask Finn whether it was okay with him to go out to lunch didn’t mean I felt right taking it for granted. My dad treated Finn like a servant, always at his beck and call—and Finn considered this treatment completely appropriate, because the Fae class system is archaic and rigid—but I refused to do the same.

The Goth look and the informal language made me hope that Al was the kind of modern girl who would ignore the class system, but the look she gave me when I consulted Finn about my schedule put that hope to rest in a hurry. She didn’t even acknowledge her Knight’s presence, much less lower herself to actually speaking to him.

Finn smiled at me, and I had the feeling he knew what I was thinking. He’d certainly heard me argue with my father about the Fae class system enough times.

“I have no other pressing plans,” he told me wryly.

Al didn’t wait for him to finish speaking before she headed for the exit, pausing only so her Knight could open the door for her. I had half a mind to tell her I’d forgotten some important appointment, but I knew I was overreacting to what I perceived as her rudeness. Presumably she’d been born and raised in Faerie, where customs were very different from those in the human world and in Avalon. A few months spent attending the university here in Avalon weren’t enough to change a lifetime’s worth of cultural training.

But I still couldn’t persuade myself to like her, and wished I’d had the guts to tell her no.


It was one of the prettiest days I’d seen since I’d first set foot in Avalon, and Al and I were far from the only ones who thought having lunch on the quad sounded like a good idea. There was a smattering of picnic tables outside the sandwich shop, but those seats were all taken by the time we got our food, as were the seats on the wooden benches that were sprinkled here and there along the quad. Al and I settled for an impromptu picnic at the base of a massive oak tree. I’d have loved to have sat in the warmth of the sun, but I’d inherited my skin tone from my Fae father, and I’d probably burn to a crisp by the time lunch was over.

Al’s bodyguard stood stiffly at attention as Al plopped down onto the grass with her sandwich bag. He made no attempt to be unobtrusive or to hide the fact that he was guarding her. Finn, on the other hand, leaned casually against the trunk of another oak tree, close enough that he could get to me in a couple of his large strides, but far enough away to give me a semblance of privacy. I liked Finn’s technique better.

Al sat cross-legged on the grass, her short skirt making the position . . .

inadvisable. She didn’t seem to care that she was flashing the quad, though I supposed the opaque tights kept her from being indecent. When I sat on the grass, I realized it was damp—well, duh, this was Avalon, and the grass was always damp.

It didn’t seem to bother Al, but I cast a quick, longing glance at the nearest benches, hoping a couple of seats had opened up. No such luck.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Al said, then took a huge bite of her sandwich and chewed it happily.

“I’ll bet,” I murmured. Her magic was still prickling my skin, and the damp was soaking through my jeans. My ham sandwich didn’t seem terribly appealing under the circumstances, but I took a bite anyway.

“What’s it like to be a Faeriewalker?” she asked around the bite of sandwich she was still chewing. Apparently table manners weren’t highly prized in Unseelie princesses.

I shrugged. “It’s kind of weird, I guess.” Honestly, I had no idea how to answer her question, nor did I particularly want to talk about myself. I wished again that I’d declined the lunch invitation. “Do you mind if I ask you for a favor?”

Al smiled brightly and took another bite of her sandwich. “Go ahead.”

“Is there any way you can, um, tone the magic down a bit.” I shivered, partly from the annoying sensation of her magic, partly from the damp chill of the grass.

A sunny day it might be, but the temperature was still hovering in the low sixties.

“It’s kind of uncomfortable to be around you like this.”

Al raised a pierced eyebrow. “I’d heard you could sense magic,” she said. “I guess that wasn’t just a rumor.”

“So can you tone it down?”

“It’s a glamour,” she told me. “My mom would kill me if I really did this to my hair.” She grabbed a handful of her jet-black and purple hair. “And she would kill me slowly for the piercings.” Al grinned at me, her eyes dancing with glee at the thought of her mother’s reaction to her look.

While she hadn’t directly answered my question, she hadn’t dropped the glamour, either. I supposed that meant the answer was no, which irritated me to no end. Obviously, her Goth look was more important than my comfort, but then what did I expect from a freaking princess?

“It’s kind of tough having Queen Mab for a mother,” Al continued, looking a little forlorn. “I need my little rebellions here and there.”

Once again, I chided myself for being too hard on Al. My dad, whom I’d only known for a few months now, was a big-deal Fae politician who was hoping to be elected Consul—Avalon’s top political post—in the next election. I didn’t guess being the wannabe-Consul’s daughter was anywhere near as weird and stressful as being the Unseelie Queen’s daughter, but I did have an inkling of what it was like to have a politically powerful parent. And yeah, it’s tough.

“I’ll bet,” I said sympathetically, then nibbled on my sandwich some more.

After gobbling about half her sandwich in two bites, Al seemed to have slowed down, fidgeting with it instead of eating it.

“I had to go back to Faerie over the summer,” she said, plucking a crumb off her Kaiser roll and throwing it to a lurking pigeon. “That’s the compromise I have with my mother: I can go to college in Avalon as long as I return home whenever school is out.”

I sighed, thinking about my own deal with my father. “I know all about compromises.”

Al smiled at me, but the smile quickly faded as she pulled another corner off her bread. A couple of pigeons dive-bombed the corner when she threw it onto the grass, cooing and flapping their wings at each other as more birds took notice of the possible windfall and came winging our way.

“I was really, really looking forward to coming back to school,” Al said as she watched the birds fight over the crust of bread. “But now . . .” She shrugged and fell silent. There was a suspiciously shiny look to her eyes, like she might be thinking about crying.

I’d just met Al a little more than an hour ago, and though I was trying, I hadn’t yet succeeded in making myself like her. I wasn’t ready to have a deep, personal conversation with her. I’m used to keeping to myself and playing my cards close to the vest. But Al was obviously in need of a friend, and I like to think I’m a nice person at heart.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her gently.

She sniffed daintily and frowned down at her sandwich as if surprised to find it was still there. “I think my mother had my boyfriend run out of town while I was home for the summer.”

I winced in sympathy. “Ouch.”

For all my dad’s faults, he’d been very good about tolerating my boyfriend, Ethan. Even though Ethan is Unseelie while my dad is Seelie, and even though Ethan’s dad is destined to be my dad’s main opponent in the election next year. I kept expecting my dad to put his foot down and tell me not to see Ethan anymore, but so far, so good. Of course, since I couldn’t leave my safe house without having a bodyguard with me, it wasn’t like I could get too deeply involved with Ethan. Finn might not be an official chaperon, but his presence certainly discouraged Ethan from getting too . . . demonstrative. Which I knew was bugging Ethan more the longer we dated.

“He’s a human from London,” Al continued. “He told me he wasn’t going home for the summer, and he was staying in a flat off campus. He promised he’d be waiting for me when I got back from Faerie, but when I went to his flat, they told me he’d moved out. And I found out he’d dropped out of the university, too.”

“Maybe something came up over the summer and he had to leave.”

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