Ethan leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “We’re going to be traveling together for weeks. I bet if we’re clever enough, we can carve out some time for ourselves.”

My heart fluttered at the thought, though I suspected getting time alone on this trip was going to take more than a little cleverness. And even if we did …

Ethan and I could never do much more than make out. I knew I should be satisfied with that, at least for now. It wasn’t like I was ready to go all the way with him even if I didn’t have the Erlking’s bargain hanging over me. But I’ve never been good at living in the moment. Taking care of my mom had taught me from a very young age that I always had to look three steps ahead, had to be ready for the curveballs life was going to throw at me. My forethought had helped keep food on the table and kept us from getting evicted, but sometimes—like now—I really wished I could just switch it off.

Ethan leaned even farther over the table. “I can read you like a book,” he said. “Forget about the Erlking for a while. We can have plenty of fun together without crossing the line.” There was a wicked twinkle in his eyes that made my heart flutter. “I can be very creative, you know.”

I swallowed hard, both excited and intimidated by his words. Just kissing Ethan was almost enough to make me completely lose my head. If we were alone together without a bodyguard/chaperone, I suspected he could completely overwhelm me. There was something very tempting about the idea of being overwhelmed like that, of letting him kiss me until my rational mind went on sabbatical and I just allowed myself to feel without thought.

It was a dangerous temptation. Especially with a guy like Ethan, who was no doubt used to girls who could and would put out. Could I trust him to stop on his own if I let down my guard? Or did we need me to remain in my role as the voice of reason?

I wished I knew.

Chapter five

The day of the big trip was a typical Avalon summer day, meaning it was gray and gloomy with a hint of chill in the air. Dad had arranged for my bags, except for my backpack, which I refused to part with, to be delivered to the baggage wagon in advance. In the backpack, I put everything that couldn’t exist in Faerie outside a Faeriewalker’s aura, like the little gun. At the last minute, I threw in a digital camera. I would be the only mortal ever to have photographed Faerie. I might have thought that was cool, if I weren’t so nervous.

Prince Henry’s caravan was leaving from the Northern Gate, and when Dad and I arrived, it was to see that the bridge leading to the gate had been cordoned off, only official members of Prince Henry’s party allowed through until after he was gone. I would have thought that was a show of royal arrogance, but blocking off the gate was the only practical solution. The entire parking lot was packed, only a few cars visible in a corner that I suspected was employee parking. The rest of the lot was teeming with people, and horses, and wagons. Some of the Fae were wearing modern clothing, but most were wearing long dresses or breeches. The whole scene looked like something out of a Renaissance Faire.

“Geez, are we traveling with a freaking army?” I muttered to Dad. I’d known it wouldn’t be just my friends and Prince Henry, but I hadn’t realized his entourage would be this substantial.

Dad’s lips curled into a wry smile. “Henry goes nowhere without an army to serve and protect him. It would be beneath his dignity as a prince.”

Of course, not everyone down there was part of the prince’s entourage. I’d dragged my feet a bit about leaving my safe house, so we were among the last to arrive. At the near side of the bridge, waiting for us, were Ethan, Keane, Kimber … and my mom.

Keane and Ethan were standing about twenty yards apart and pointedly ignoring each other. Kimber and my mom stood between them, looking uncomfortable. I wondered if the boys had started fighting already.

I never returned any of Mom’s calls yesterday. I’d known I’d have to face her again before I left, so I wasn’t surprised to see her. But I was still too angry at her to force an apology I didn’t mean. Maybe if I rode off into Faerie without caving to her oh-poor-me eyes, she’d finally understand just how much this drinking thing meant to me.

I held up my head when I caught her eye, knowing the look on my face was pure stubbornness. She took a step toward me, her arms opening as if to give me a hug. I gave her a cold glare instead of the welcoming embrace I’m sure she was expecting, or at least hoping for.

Mom’s smile wilted, and hurt flashed in her eyes. A hint of guilt stabbed through me, but I ruthlessly shoved it away. If my mom couldn’t even stay off the booze for a few weeks, then I didn’t feel like protecting her delicate feelings.

She opened her mouth as if to say something, but I guess the look on my face was forbidding, because she didn’t get anything out. In my peripheral vision, I saw Ethan, Kimber, and Keane looking away, trying to give us an illusion of privacy. My dad wasn’t inclined to do us the same courtesy.

“Give your mother a hug, Dana,” he said, giving my shoulder a little push. “You don’t know how long it’s going to be before you see her again.”

I gave him a dirty look over my shoulder. “Thanks for the pep talk. I wasn’t freaked out enough by the whole idea of going into Faerie, so I’m glad you put it in perspective for me.”

“It’s all right, Seamus,” my mother said before my dad could tell me what he thought of my smart mouth. She smiled sadly at me. “Dana and I have to work this out between ourselves.”