He held on to my hand longer than necessary, looking at me expectantly. I suppose he was waiting for a polite response of some sort, but he’d creeped me out so badly that my throat had closed up and I couldn’t say a word.
There was a flare of satisfaction in the prince’s eyes when he finally let go of my hand, and I cursed myself for being such a wimp. There’d been a battle of wills going on, and I’d lost. I turned my hand slightly as I brought it back to my side, letting the back of it where he’d kissed me rub against my dress. I was trying to be subtle about it, but I can’t say I was overly upset when the slight narrowing of the prince’s eyes told me he’d seen it.
“There are many people more important than us eager to greet you,” my father said, his arm tightening around my shoulders. “Please, don’t let us monopolize your attention.”
What I heard—and, judging by his expression, what Henry heard—was “get out of my face.” For a moment, I thought the prince was going to lose his cool and say something openly rude, but he recovered.
“I have one more item of business to discuss with you,” he said through what I suspected were gritted teeth. He held his hand out to one of the Knights, who gave him something that looked very much like a scroll. “My mother, the Queen, is very anxious to meet this long-lost daughter of yours.” He handed the scroll to my father. “She invites you to bring your daughter to the Sunne Palace to be formally presented at Court.”
I felt my father’s jerk of surprise through his arm, and it was all I could do not to gape in shock myself.
“Is this a joke?” I found myself asking. “She wants to—” My dad’s hand tightened painfully on my shoulder, and I swallowed the rest of my sentence. I’d already said enough to win me some sharp looks of disapproval from our audience. But really, how else was I supposed to react to an invitation like that? The Seelie Queen wants to kill me, so I should leave the relative safety of Avalon and travel to her palace in Faerie to meet her in person? Either Titania was nuts, or she thought I was.
Prince Henry was staring at me again, his shoulders stiff and an expression almost like a snarl on his lips. “Rarely is an individual with mortal blood so graced by Her Majesty. She does you an unprecedented honor.” One Henry didn’t think I deserved, if the look on his face was any indicator. “You would do well to remember that and be appropriately grateful.”
Wow, my outburst must have seriously rubbed him the wrong way. I felt like I’d just been called to the front of the class and yelled at by the teacher while everyone watched. My face was hot, and I tried to keep my gaze focused on the prince so I didn’t have to see how many people were watching. I bet my dad was wishing he’d let me stay home after all.
Prince Henry turned to my dad. “It is past time you bring your daughter to receive the Queen’s blessing. One would not want to foster the impression that there is bad blood between your family and the Queen after your sister’s unfortunate actions.”
He was referring to my Aunt Grace, who’d concocted some crazy plan to use my powers to help her usurp the Seelie throne, but I didn’t see what that had to do with anything. Grace was dead, and it wasn’t like my dad and I had conspired with her.
My dad bowed his head respectfully. If he was pissed off by my outburst or Henry’s public reprimand, he hid it well. “We are, of course, greatly honored by the invitation. However, Queen Mab has shown rather less hospitality, and I fear it would not be safe for my daughter to travel into Faerie.”
I bit my tongue, hoping I didn’t look as indignant as I felt. I knew Mab wanted me dead, but I thought Titania’s murderous intent was more relevant at this point.
Prince Henry made a face that I think was supposed to express polite concern. “Of course, Her Majesty would never dream of endangering the dear child.” He smiled, raising his voice a little so that all the observers could hear his every word. “You will travel to the Sunne Palace with me as my honored guests. Rest assured that none of Mab’s people would dare to trouble my entourage. You will be quite safe. We leave in three days. Now, if you will excuse me…”
He didn’t wait for an answer, simply turned his back to us and approached one of the high-society types who’d been listening in. The prince’s Knights then stepped between us and the prince, just in case we didn’t get the hint that we were dismissed.
It would have been nice if Dad and I could have slipped away from the dinner party now that Prince Henry had completely ruined it for both of us. Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t going to let a little thing like a summons from the Seelie Queen interfere with his political campaign, and he carried on as if nothing had happened. Me, I just fumed. Making polite conversation with self-important assholes was even harder now, and I didn’t exactly make a whole lot of friends. I kept expecting Dad to give me hell about it, but he seemed to understand.
The worst part was we couldn’t talk about what we were going to do until we were out of the public eye. I was under no illusion that saying no to the Queen’s invitation was going to be easy, and I wouldn’t have been particularly surprised if Prince Henry planned to kidnap me if I didn’t go voluntarily. He wouldn’t be the first who’d tried.
The state dinner itself was torture, as expected. I’m sure the food was fantastic, but I was too anxious to have much of an appetite. And the speeches! Honestly, I don’t know how anyone managed to stay awake.