“I can’t blame you for that. I apologize for our methods, but if we’d taken the time to explain everything, Lachlan would have woken up long before we were through.”

I noticed he’d totally ignored the “who are you” part of my question. I decided to try a different tack. “Let’s pretend I believe you. Why are you ‘helping’ me? How do you know who I am? How did you know where to find me?”

“One question at a time!” Ethan said, and again it sounded like he was teasing me.

I ground my teeth, wishing it weren’t so dark so I could see if my glare was having any effect on him. This whole kidnapping thing might seem like a big joke to him, but after everything that had happened to me since my plane had landed, I wasn’t in much of a laughing mood. I rubbed my tired eyes. I couldn’t focus my thoughts enough to choose one question to ask. Thankfully, Ethan took pity on me and chose one himself.

“Your father and your aunt are both hoping to be appointed Consul when the current Consul’s term has ended. Whichever one has you in their power could stand a much greater chance of being appointed.”

“What?” I cried. “Why?”

“That I’ll have to explain a little later. But I will explain, I promise. Anyway, in answer to your question of why Kimber and I are helping you, we would prefer not to see Grace Stuart as Consul. She’s one of the top contenders, and having you under her control could cement her victory. It’s well past time for Avalon to enter the twenty-first century, and she’s as old-school as they come. Your father isn’t exactly progressive, either, but he’s better than Grace. I don’t know what she told you to explain why she locked you up, but there’s a good chance you would never have been heard from again if we hadn’t gotten you out of there.”

“Are you saying she was planning to kill me?” I squeaked. I might not have liked or trusted Aunt Grace, but the idea that she might kill me had never entered my mind. It seemed so far-fetched as to be ridiculous. But then, so did a lot of stuff that had happened so far.

“She probably wouldn’t kill you,” he admitted. “Unless that was the only way to keep you from your father.”

The wagon came to a stop, and Ethan used that as an excuse not to elaborate. “I’ll answer as many questions as you like, once we get you to safety,” he said. “But until then, I need you to be quiet.” He mumbled something under his breath.

I knew without having to test it out that my voice had just taken another vacation.

chapter six

I sure was glad there were no mirrors around when I climbed out of the back of that wagon. Aside from the fact that my clothes were all wrinkled from being slept in, and my hair was badly in need of a brush, I was also covered in little bits and pieces of straw. Ethan, though he’d been sitting in the same wagon, must have been wearing some kind of straw-repellant, because he looked as perfect as he had when he’d climbed in. He decided to rub it in by reaching out and plucking a piece of straw from my hair. When I glared at him, he just winked at me and reached for my hair again. I batted his hand away, but then couldn’t resist running my hands through my hair, trying to smooth it down and remove any remaining straw.

I looked around and discovered that I was in a gated flagstone courtyard, surrounded by low brick townhouses. The townhouses looked much less exotic than most of the other buildings I’d seen so far in Avalon, though the stone courtyard did add a bit of atmosphere.

A figure dressed all in black detached itself from a pool of shadow and approached. I couldn’t see him very clearly, because he wasn’t looking my way, but any brief hope that he might help me died when Kimber mutely handed him the horse’s reins. I guessed this was the wagon’s owner, Ethan’s horny friend, and I was really glad when he gave Ethan a brief nod, then led the horse and wagon away instead of sticking around.

“Student housing,” Ethan explained, indicating the buildings around us with a wave of his hand. “The university is just down the road. That’s my flat,” he said, pointing at one second story window, “and that’s Kimber’s.” He pointed at a window directly across from it. I took another glance at Kimber, but she still didn’t look old enough to have her own “flat.” Of course for all I knew she was some kind of weird Fae that stopped aging at sixteen and she was actually older than my mom. Then Ethan grinned again. If Fae got laugh lines, he would be wrinkled up before he was thirty. “But that’s not where we’re going.”

Kimber had come up behind me while he talked. She didn’t touch me, but I knew she was ready to grab me if I gave her half an excuse. Ethan pushed up the sleeves of his long-sleeved T-shirt and adjusted his stance like he was about to lift something heavy. Only there was nothing there to lift.

Behind me, Kimber snorted. “Stop being a show-off and get on with it.”

Get on with what? I wondered.

Ethan took a deep breath, then held his hands out in front of him at about chest level, palms down. Something made a scraping sound, like rock sliding against rock. Ethan took another breath, then slowly raised his hands a few inches.

My jaw dropped open when a set of flagstones lifted from the floor of the courtyard. Ethan moved his hands to the side, and the flagstones moved with him, revealing a ladder that disappeared into a dark pit. He set the flagstones down, then blew out his breath in a big whoosh. He was sweating and out of breath, but he smiled.