Dad sighed, but we’d reached the head of the line so he made no comeback. We stood on the landing right outside an honest-to-goodness ballroom, and I was painfully aware that even though we hadn’t been announced yet, and even though there was a lovely Fae woman currently making her way through the receiving line, practically all eyes in the room were on us. My palms felt clammy, and I hoped my face wasn’t flushed with embarrassment.
“Seamus Stuart,” the gatekeeper, or whatever you call him, intoned, and anyone who hadn’t already been looking at us turned their heads in our direction. “And Dana Stuart,” the gatekeeper finished, and I had to clench my teeth to resist the urge to correct him.
I could count the weeks I’d known my dad on one hand, and I’d always gone by my mother’s name, Hathaway. Guess my dad had “forgotten” that when he had me added to the guest list. If it weren’t for our audience, I’d have ripped into him on the spot. Instead, I plastered on the world’s fakest smile and promised myself a good temper tantrum later.
* * *
The next forty-five minutes were about as much fun as sitting in the dentist’s chair. Each time my dad ran into someone he knew—and I swear he knew every person in the room—it was the same thing. They’d exchange some stupid small talk, Dad would introduce me, and then they’d start talking politics.
The high heels were pinching my toes, and I was losing sensation in the balls of my feet as we continued our circuit of the room. My face hurt from the fake-smiling, and I was so bored I had to swallow a yawn every three seconds. And we weren’t even to the speeches yet!
Throughout the torturous meet-and-greet, more people kept arriving at the party, each one announced in a voice that cut through all the chatter. At first, I couldn’t help looking every time someone new came in, but since it was never anyone interesting, I stopped paying attention. Until a wave of silence swept over the room, and even my dad turned to look.
The party had been under way for over an hour, and the Important Dignitaries in the receiving line had abandoned their posts to come mingle with us little people, so there was no line waiting to come in. As a result, everyone in the room had a crystal-clear view of the figure who stood regally in the doorway. I immediately suspected he’d planned things that way.
In some ways, he was a typical Fae man. Tall, lean, with angular features that were painfully beautiful. And yet, he was like no Fae I’d seen before. He was dressed in an outfit that looked like it came straight out of some artsy historical movie, complete with a crimson velvet coat with enormous cuffs and elaborately embroidered lapels, knee breeches, and a frothy white neckcloth. Crimson wasn’t a good color for him, not with his typical Fae pallor and the long red hair that framed his face under a thin gold circlet, but his lack of fashion sense didn’t make him any less breathtaking.
“His Royal Highness, Henry, Prince of the Seelie Court,” the announcer said into the silence that had overtaken the room.
Many of the Fae bowed or curtsied. I glanced at my dad out of the corner of my eye and saw that he didn’t, even though he was a card-carrying member of the Seelie Court. Avalon had seceded from Faerie about a hundred years ago, and in theory, its Fae citizens weren’t supposed to belong to either the Seelie or the Unseelie Court. In reality, there were very few Fae in Avalon who didn’t align themselves with one Court or the other.
Prince Henry soaked in the attention for a moment, standing nearly motionless in the entryway as his gaze swept the room. My stomach did a flip-flop when the prince’s eyes stopped on my father’s face, then slid to me. A smile curled his lips, and there was something oily and unpleasant about it. I took an instant dislike to him and didn’t care that it probably wasn’t fair of me.
The prince finally stepped into the room, breaking the spell of silence he had cast. People started talking again, and the folks who’d been in the receiving line swarmed to greet their royal guest. I rubbed my sweaty palms together and looked at my dad. It didn’t matter that as his daughter, I was generally considered to be Seelie even though I hadn’t sworn allegiance. The Queens of both Courts felt threatened by my abilities and wanted me dead. That made Prince Henry the enemy in my book.
“Who is Prince Henry?” I asked Dad in an urgent undertone. “And shouldn’t we be heading for the nearest exit?”
Dad patted my shoulder in one of his reserved Fae gestures of affection. “You’re perfectly safe here,” he assured me. “Henry is one of Titania’s sons, but she’d never use him in an assassination attempt. And she certainly wouldn’t do it here of all places.”
I’m sure Dad meant that to be comforting, but my mouth had gone dry and my heart was speeding. I couldn’t see it as anything but a bad sign that a member of the royal family was in town. Not when the royal family wanted me dead.
“Did you know he was going to be here?” I asked.
Dad shook his head slightly. “I had no idea. I don’t know what Titania’s playing at, but I have a feeling we’ll find out before the evening is out.”
I watched the knot of people surrounding the prince move closer and closer to us, and my throat tightened. “Is it my imagination, or is he moving in our direction?”
“It’s not your imagination.”
“Great,” I muttered. Not that I thought I was in any real danger. I had a feeling that if a member of one of the royal families showed up at a state dinner and killed one of the guests, that might start an international incident. Maybe even a war. So I was pretty sure Dad was right and Prince Henry wasn’t making his way toward us with murder on his mind. I just didn’t think whatever was on his mind was something I’d like any better.