It didn’t help that this morning’s session with Keane had made me so painfully aware of all the secrets I was keeping, even from my family and my closest friends. For example, I’d never told Ethan about the Erlking’s mark. His head would probably explode if he ever found out I’d told Keane and not him. I could give Ethan some watered-down version of the story I’d given Keane, but Ethan was more likely to push for details—and I was more likely to cave to his pushing.
The last time Ethan and I had gone out together was before the Erlking had sunk his claws into Ethan. I’d insisted we were just friends, and it wasn’t a date. We’d gone to a movie, and I’d discovered just how creative Ethan was capable of being in a darkened movie theater. Even with Finn sitting there just a few rows back, Ethan had gotten away with things I’d never meant to let him get away with.
Figuring I’d learned the hard way that going to a movie with Ethan was dangerous, this time we were going out to dinner instead.
I have to admit, I felt pretty sophisticated and grown up as I headed out to meet Ethan at a tiny little Italian restaurant he swore was fantastic. Most kids my age did school dances or trips to the mall for their dates, but Ethan had outgrown high school dating practices. He could act majorly childish and immature at times—especially when he was bickering with Kimber—but at the ripe old age of eighteen, he considered himself an adult, and for this date, he’d chosen to act like one.
He was waiting for me just outside the restaurant, and I felt the familiar flutter of excitement in my belly when I first caught sight of him. The Fae are all ridiculously good-looking, but from the moment I’d met Ethan, he’d pushed my buttons in a way no one else did.
His hair was a very pale blond, and it reached to his shoulders when he didn’t have it tied back. His eyes were a shade of teal blue humans can only achieve with contacts. And the slight imperfection of his nose—which looked like it had once been broken—gave him just enough character to save him from being pretty.
Of course, these days, the first thing that drew my eyes when I caught sight of him was the Erlking’s mark, which looked like a tattoo of a stylized blue stag curling around the side of his face. It was the mark that said that even though he was no longer a member of the Wild Hunt, he was still bound to the Erlking. It always gave me a little chill when I saw it, although if I didn’t know what it meant, I might have thought it kinda sexy.
Ethan broke into a smile when he caught sight of me. That smile still had the power to make my insides quiver, but there was a haunted look in his eyes that made my heart ache for him. He was not the same boy I’d first met. Once upon a time, Ethan had been cheerful and carefree. You couldn’t apply either of those words to him now. Everything he had gone through had been because of me, and sometimes I felt like I was drowning in the guilt.
Glancing over my shoulder at Finn—who, of course, had to come with me even on a date, because that’s what bodyguards do—Ethan put his hands on my shoulders, then leaned forward to give me a chaste kiss. Even that slight brushing of lips made me tingle all over. I wanted to pull his head back down to mine, wanted him to give me a deeper, longer kiss. But although Finn wasn’t officially my chaperone, I knew he’d interrupt if things got too hot and heavy. Besides, I couldn’t help being self-conscious with him watching.
“You look beautiful tonight,” Ethan told me, still smiling as he held the restaurant door open.
I was glad he thought so, because I’d spent the better part of an hour deciding what to wear. I felt like a total loser for doing it, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I’d gone for jeans, paired with a cozy sweater that would not only keep me warm on this typical chilly Avalon summer night, but would also feel nice if Ethan should happen to touch me.
The restaurant was even tinier than I’d imagined, with only ten tables and a bar about the size of your average walk-in closet. Nine of those tables were occupied, and there were a number of twenty-somethings hanging around the bar. I was acutely aware of how much Finn stood out as he positioned himself against the wall near the door.
Most people were dressed pretty casually—one couple, who were probably tourists and didn’t know the average temperature for summer here was in the sixties, were even wearing shorts. Finn, on the other hand, was wearing his usual dark suit and tie, as well as the dark sunglasses, and he was on the receiving end of more than one curious look.
The hostess guided Ethan and me to our table, and I tried not to feel self-conscious. The people who’d stared at Finn were one by one transferring their curious stares to Ethan and me.
I should have been used to it by now. I had to have Finn with me whenever I left my safe house—unless I had my dad instead. Which meant I was always at least a little conspicuous. But maybe because of the whole date thing, I felt more conspicuous than usual. My nerves were buzzing as I picked up my menu and stared at it without seeing it.
I was on a date. A real, honest-to-goodness date. With a guy so gorgeous he’d usually have a handful of cheerleaders hanging on him wherever he went. I know that compared to all the crazy stuff that had happened to me so far in Avalon, this was nothing. But it made my heart beat a little quicker. And it made me feel about as mature as your average twelve-year-old.
Ethan leaned over the table, dropping his voice. “Is something wrong?”
Great. Bad enough that I felt so awkward and uncomfortable. Did I really have to be so obvious about it that Ethan could tell?