Figuring this conversation would end a lot quicker if I just gave in to the inevitable and talked, I told Kimber about my doomed-from-the-start attempt to get my mom to promise she’d stay sober. I stopped frequently for sips of posset, so my muscles felt all loose and comfortable, and my head was spinning just a bit. All signs that I’d had too much posset already. And all signs I ignored as I drained my mug.

Kimber gave me a look of sympathy, although she wasn’t giving me that pitying look some people give me when they see me with my drunken idiot of a mother. It was a look of compassion, and it was one I could accept without shame.

“Parents stink sometimes,” she said, finishing her own posset and setting the mug on the floor at her feet. “At least your mom is around, however screwed up she may be.”

I winced in sympathy. Kimber’s mom had left to live in Faerie when Kimber was twelve. I knew how much that had to hurt. “When did you see your mom last?” I asked.

She scrunched up her face. “It’s been about two years, I think. We went to see her in Faerie over a Christmas break. I guess that means it’s about two and a half years.”

“And she never comes to Avalon to visit?”

Kimber shook her head. “Not once since she left. She always seems glad to see us, and when we visit, it sometimes feels almost like the old days. Only it isn’t.” She reached for her mug, then grimaced when she saw it was empty. “It can never be like the old days again. I can never unlearn that she didn’t love me enough to stay in Avalon.”

I am not a touchy-feely person. But the bitterness and hurt in Kimber’s words inspired me to heave myself off my bed—and wow, that was harder to manage than it should have been—and sit beside her. I gave her the hug I thought she needed. She patted my back and pulled away, smiling sadly at me.

“You don’t need to comfort me,” she said. “We’re supposed to be talking about you, not me. I’m just trying to make you feel better by letting you know I understand.”

“Thanks,” I said, my veins practically buzzing with the aftereffects of my posset. That she would try to make me feel better by opening her own wounds and sharing them … humbled me. And made me feel even guiltier about all the secrets I was keeping from her. She deserved more from me than I was giving her.

Maybe it was the alcohol. Or maybe it was just that the guilt had reached critical mass and forced my hand. But at that moment, my mouth seemed to take on a life of its own, moving without any conscious thought.

“I lied to you,” I blurted. The part of me that had never truly trusted another person started screaming at me to shut up before it was too late.

Kimber blinked in surprise. I guess my confession did sort of come out of the blue. “Oh? About what?”

She’s never going to forgive you, my inner voice told me. I feared it was right. I knew I wouldn’t forgive me in her shoes. But I’d already said too much, and it was too late to back down. I opened my mouth to blurt out my secret—at least one of them, the biggest one—but I couldn’t get any sound out. Tears swam in my eyes. I was terrified I was about to lose my best friend—just like I was losing my mom to the alcohol again.

Kimber put her hand on my back. “About the ‘geis’ the Erlking put on you so you can’t talk about your agreement?” she prompted gently. I could hear the mental quotes around the word geis.

Come to think of it, when I’d first told her that a geis prevented me from telling her what I’d done, she’d been openly skeptical. But I’d been too humiliated by the agreement to tell her the truth. I was such a pathetic coward.

A tear dribbled down my cheek, and I swiped it away angrily. I’d made the decision to lie, and it was too late to cry about it now. “You never really believed me, did you?” I asked in a tear-raspy voice.

“Not for a moment,” she confirmed. Strangely, she didn’t sound angry. Maybe just because this wasn’t coming as a surprise, which I probably should have known from the beginning. Kimber was pretty sharp.

“You’re not mad?” I asked, risking a glance at her face.

“I was at first,” she admitted. “But I figured you were keeping it secret for a reason and that you’d tell me when you were ready. And you don’t have to tell me now if you’re still not ready. I’m not going anywhere.” She made a face. “Well, not anywhere you’re not going, anyway.”

I managed a hint of a smile. Then I took a deep, steadying breath and told her just what I’d had to promise the Erlking to get him to release Ethan.

Kimber didn’t interrupt my halting explanation. I sneaked glances at her face every now and then, but I couldn’t read her expression. She was certainly surprised, and horrified, but I couldn’t tell if she was pissed or not.

I told her about the day I’d gone to see the Erlking and bargain for Ethan’s freedom, and about the magic that had sealed our deal. I even told her about the kiss the Erlking had given me and how the magic had made that kiss feel good despite the fact that I knew he was a cold-blooded killer.

There was a lot I left out, some things—like the Erlking’s mark—because I didn’t want to talk about them, some things—like my magical abilities—because I shouldn’t talk about them, and one thing—the real reason the Erlking wanted me to give him my virginity—that I couldn’t talk about. I wasn’t covered by the geis that kept the members of the Seelie Court from talking about it, but the Erlking had promised me that Connor would suffer for the rest of his immortal life if I told anyone. Maybe if I told Kimber, the Erlking would never know, but I didn’t dare risk it.