“She’s really not so bad,” Ethan leaned over and whispered. “I just bring out the worst in her.”

I figured a diplomatic silence was my best option. Ethan’s eyes twinkled, like he knew he hadn’t come close to convincing me. There was enough light now for me to see those eyes were a striking shade of blue, almost teal. They were not the eyes of a human being, despite the fact that he acted nothing like the stereotypical Fae. (Kimber, on the other hand …)

The other humans in the cave had dressed for the chilly temperature below ground, but my short-sleeved T-shirt left me shivering. The cold appeared not to bother the Fae. Ethan guided me to an unoccupied love seat. There was a knitted afghan draped over the back. Ethan handed it to me, and I gratefully wrapped it around my shoulders. Then he gestured for me to sit beside him. It was closer than I was totally comfortable with, but I sat anyway, huddling into the warmth of the afghan.

Ethan propped his elbow on the back of the couch, turning to face me. For once, he wasn’t grinning or otherwise looking amused.

“How much do you know about Avalon politics?” he asked.

“Umm … pretty much nothing.” I winced, hating to show my ignorance. I’d been thinking of living here. Surely I should have read up on more than where the best restaurants and shopping were.

The grin was back. “Don’t feel bad about it. Very few people who don’t live in Avalon or at least spend a lot of time here know very much. And what they think they know is usually wrong.

“You do know that in the past, humans and Fae have fought quite bitterly over Avalon.”

I nodded. Avalon was the most coveted, most fought-over piece of land in the world, beating out even Jerusalem. But there’d been peace in Avalon for over a hundred years, ever since it declared its independence both from Great Britain and from Faerie. It was now its own sovereign state, even though it was surrounded by England. Kind of like Vatican City.

“Avalon is ruled by what we call the Council,” Ethan continued. “There are a dozen general members of the Council: six humans and six Fae. The humans are democratically elected, and the Fae are not so democratically elected.” He went on before I had a chance to ask him what that meant. “There is a thirteenth member of the Council, the member who has the power to break any ties when the Council votes. That member is the Consul, and he or she is appointed by the Council.

“Every ten years, the Consulship must change hands between Fae and human so that neither race can have the majority for too long. The current human Consul must be replaced by a Fae in a little more than a year.” His expression turned sardonic. “You chose perhaps the worst possible time to decide to pay your father a visit, as the candidates are now crawling out of the woodwork.”

“Okay, fascinating as this civics lesson is, what I really want to know is what I have to do with all of this,” I said.

“Maybe nothing,” he said, and I think I did the look-like-a-moron jaw drop again. “We’ll have to wait until the sun’s up to find out for sure. I can’t explain that part yet. There’s a, er, test we’re going to give you when it’s daylight. That will tell us if you will play a role in reality, or just in your family’s most ambitious dreams.”

I stuttered, trying to ask some kind of intelligent question while my mind reeled in confusion.

“I know I’m being vague,” Ethan said. “But I don’t want to influence you and invalidate tomorrow’s test.”

“What kind of test?” I finally managed to ask, my voice sounding strangled.

He touched my arm reassuringly. “Nothing to be frightened of, I assure you.”

I’d be the judge of that! “And after I take this test, will I be free to go?”

He frowned, the expression almost like a pout. “You’re free to go now, if that’s what you really want. Would you have somewhere safe to go?”

From the way he asked, I guessed he already knew I didn’t. “Do you know if my father’s really in jail?” I asked instead of answering.

Ethan nodded. “When someone of his stature is arrested, it’s big news. From what I hear, though, it’s little more than a formality—though his enemies are doing their best to slow down the wheels of justice.”

I swallowed hard. If my dad didn’t get out of jail ASAP, I was seriously screwed. More screwed than I already was, that is.

Ethan reached over and took my hand, stroking the back of it with his thumb. The contact sent a little zing through me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll be safe with Kimber and me.”

I cocked an eyebrow at him skeptically, though my heart was going pitter-pat at the feel of his hand on mine. No, it wasn’t any big deal, but it was new to me. Dating was part of everyday life for most girls my age, but between keeping up with my schoolwork and running the household when Mom was too drunk to bother, I didn’t exactly have a lot of free time. The one and only date I’d ever agreed to go on ended in disaster when my mom got drunk and fell down the stairs. I had to take her to the emergency room when I was supposed to be meeting my date, and I was too chicken to reschedule.

“You look exhausted,” Ethan said gently. “Would you like to lie down and get some rest? Kimber and I are kind of the co-leaders of the Underground, so we should stay until the party’s over. Or I could get you a beer and you can join us if you’d like.”

The “party” seemed to consist of people sitting around drinking and talking. Not exactly tons of excitement when my body kept wanting to drag me back down into sleep. “I think maybe I’ll just close my eyes for a minute,” I said, fighting a yawn.