“Start talking!” he commanded.
I wished I could squirm my way out of talking, but I couldn’t, so I tried to keep my explanation as simple as possible. “The Erlking put a spell on me when I was trying to get him to free Ethan.” I left out just how he’d put the spell on me, because there was no way I was telling anyone about the Erkling’s brooch. I’d used it three times to make myself invisible, and the third use had activated the mark. I hadn’t used the brooch since—despite the Erlking’s promise that it contained no other secondary spells—but I didn’t want to risk having it taken away.
I resisted the urge to reach up and touch the mark. It didn’t hurt or anything, but somehow I was always very conscious of it on my skin, knowing exactly where it was even when I couldn’t see it.
“It’s like a tracking device. He claims it’s for my own good,” I said, “because he wants me alive so I can take him into the mortal world.”
I hadn’t thought it was possible for Keane to look any more horrified, but I was wrong. Most of the people around me had accepted that the Erlking, despite being one scary dude, wanted me alive. They didn’t know that he wanted me alive so much he’d saved my life, but it was pretty obvious a dead Faeriewalker wasn’t going to do him much good. From the way Keane was looking at me, I felt sure he wasn’t as convinced as the rest.
“He knows where you are right now?” Keane asked. “He knows the location of your safe house?”
“Yeah, he knows. He’s known for a long time and he hasn’t come down here after me, so you can stop looking like the world just came to an end.”
“You’re unbelievable! You didn’t think it was important to tell anyone this shit?”
“What good would it do? No one can do anything about it.” A geis prevented the Erlking from attacking anyone in Avalon, but the geis was deactivated if someone attacked him. “The bottom line is he can’t attack me, and I don’t want anyone getting all protective about this and maybe giving him an excuse to hurt them.” That was, after all, how Ethan had been captured by the Wild Hunt.
Keane didn’t look convinced.
“You’re not going to tell my dad, are you?” I asked, then chewed my lip when he didn’t answer immediately.
Keane let out a heavy sigh and shook his head. “How many other secrets are you keeping?”
I didn’t want to think about that. The Erlking had once suggested that all my secrets were going to come back and bite me in the butt someday. I had a feeling he was right, but I was determined to put off dealing with it until absolutely necessary.
“Are you going to tell on me or not?” I asked, ignoring Keane’s question.
“I won’t. At least for now. But you really should tell him yourself. Have you ever considered that when you go into Faerie, the geis that keeps the Erlking from hunting anyone in Avalon won’t be in effect anymore? And that you’re not officially a member of the Seelie Court and therefore aren’t protected by the Erlking’s agreement with the Queens?”
I’m sure my face went pale. No, I hadn’t thought of that.
“There will be nothing to prevent him from hunting you, and if you’ve got the equivalent of a radio collar on you, he won’t have to look very hard to find you.”
It was true that the Erlking didn’t want to kill me. However, if he was free to hunt me, then if he captured me, he could force me to join his Wild Hunt. And then the Hunt would have its very own pet Faeriewalker to take them out into the mortal world and wreak havoc.
I swallowed hard. “I hadn’t thought of that,” I said, “but I’m sure my dad has. He wouldn’t take me into Faerie unless he’s sure the Erlking can’t get me.”
“How can he be sure when he doesn’t have all the facts?”
Geez, Keane was full of uncomfortable questions today. And I was sorely lacking in satisfying answers. Dad had assured me I’d be protected by the rules of Court etiquette. The Erlking didn’t belong to either Court, but maybe he followed their rules of etiquette anyway. I trusted my dad and his judgment.
“I’m going to go change,” I announced, because continuing this conversation wasn’t going to do anyone any good. I could feel Keane’s angry gaze on my back even after I escaped to my bedroom and closed the door behind me.
* * *
My day didn’t get any better after that. I had a lot of packing to do, and my mom called about a zillion times. I refused to answer, despite the weepy messages she left. I couldn’t face talking to her. I was too freaked out by the reality that I was leaving for Faerie the very next day, in the company of a prince who would be happy to see my dad—and me, by extension—dead, to deal with any more drama.
As if all this wasn’t enough to make me a nervous wreck, my dad came by in the afternoon and took me to a gun range to teach me how to fire the derringer. Shooting the little gun was a stark reminder that this supposedly safe trip of ours might be far more dangerous than we knew. I also discovered that I was not destined to be an expert marksman. I had to fight my instinct to close my eyes every time I pulled the trigger, and I jumped at the noise, despite the earplugs.
Dad was pretty patient with me, but I think he was regretting the impulse to give me a lethal weapon by the time we left the range.
There was one bright spot to my day, though it wasn’t the kind of bright spot that soothed my nerves: that night, Ethan and I were going on our first honest-to-goodness date. We’d planned it before the summons, and there was no way I was going to cancel. Although this being our first real date, I couldn’t help being nervous. (As if the knowledge that I would be leaving everything familiar behind and traveling to Faerie in less than twenty-four hours didn’t make me nervous enough.)