“There are things I still can’t tell you,” I said to assuage my guilt. “I’m sorry.” I clasped my hands together in my lap and stared at them, wondering if all the years I’d been a loner had made me incapable of being a good friend. “And I’m sorry I lied to you about the geis. I just…” I shuddered. “The truth was too embarrassing, and I’m used to keeping embarrassing things to myself.” I swallowed hard. “Do you think you can ever forgive me?” I asked in a pathetically tentative voice.
Kimber sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “I’m not in any position to throw stones,” she said, not looking at me. “Practically every word out of my mouth when we first met was a lie, and you managed to forgive me.”
She had a point, but I couldn’t help noticing that she hadn’t actually answered my question. She’d lied to me when we’d barely known each other, when there weren’t any bonds of friendship to betray. What I’d done was entirely different, and we both knew it.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“There’s nothing I can do. I’m not having sex with the Erlking, and I’m not letting him take Ethan back. So…” I shrugged. “I guess I’ve taken a lifelong vow of chastity. Maybe I should join a convent or something.”
Kimber made a little snorting sound that might have been a reluctant laugh. “Don’t. You’d look lousy in black.”
I smiled and whapped her shoulder. She smiled back, though the expression didn’t reach her eyes. She was either pissed at me or hurt—or maybe both—but if she was going to pretend she wasn’t, that was fine with me. I’d had all the turmoil I could take for one day.
“Do you think the prince’s people have managed to magic up a shower somewhere?” I asked. “I feel all gross and stinky.”
“That’s because you are,” Kimber said, jumping to her feet before I could whap her upside the head. “I believe I did spot an impromptu bathhouse on my way to the kitchen. Follow me.”
I wasn’t quite as steady on my feet as I would have liked, but I managed to get upright and totter off after Kimber.
* * *
I began day three of my trip through Faerie with a headache I suspected might be a hangover. Maybe I shouldn’t have drunk the second dose of hot posset Kimber had nagged me into downing before bed. Then again, I had actually slept, which after the day’s nightmarish events was a minor miracle. I would have loved a nice, strong cup of coffee for breakfast, but the Fae don’t do coffee, so I was stuck with strong, weird-tasting tea that probably didn’t have anything resembling caffeine in it.
I was not looking forward to a full day in the servants’ wagon. So when Ethan suggested I ride double with him on his horse, I jumped at the offer.
“It’s going to be pretty uncomfortable,” Ethan warned. “These saddles aren’t meant for two.”
I waved off his concern. “It won’t be much more uncomfortable than the stupid wagon.”
As soon as I climbed on behind Ethan, I realized I was dead wrong about the comfort level. The edge of the saddle dug into my butt so hard I would probably have bruises, and since there was only one set of stirrups, my legs were dangling. Still, I was with Ethan, my body pressed up against his back, my arms around his waist. I rested my cheek against his shoulder, closing my eyes and breathing in the scent of the minty Fae soap he favored even when we were in Avalon. I hadn’t realized how much I’d begun to associate that scent with Ethan until I’d used a bar of the same stuff to wash with last night.
“Are you miserably uncomfortable?” Ethan asked as we started forward. “I can take you to the wagon if it’s too—”
“I’m fine,” I told him, despite the way the saddle dug into me in unfortunate places. I was happy to put up with the discomfort, as long as I got to spend some time with Ethan, even surrounded by an audience as we were.
We passed a few minutes in companionable silence before Ethan said, “Seeing that horse run off with you yesterday was one of the worst moments in my life.”
I tightened my arms around him, hearing the genuine pain in his voice. “I didn’t enjoy it a whole lot myself,” I said. I remembered the sick feeling in my stomach as I’d watched Ethan and Keane fighting off Bogles as Phaedra carried me helplessly away. “I felt like I was abandoning you.”
He turned to look at me over his shoulder, his face a mask of amazement. “You’ve got to be kidding! It’s not like you chose to run off. And it’s not like you could have done anything to help the rest of us. Besides, we were more than a match for a bunch of Bogles.”
It was true that no one had died, and it was also true that I hadn’t left them behind voluntarily. That didn’t make the memory any easier to bear.
“Actually, I could have helped in the fight,” I said, then told Ethan about what I’d done to the Bogles that had attacked me.
“But you would never try to cast a spell in front of witnesses, right?” he asked, and I could feel the tension in his body and hear it in his voice. He was convinced that if anyone learned about my affinity with magic, I’d be viewed as even more of a threat than I already was.
I sighed, not sure what I would have done if I’d been in the middle of the battle and found myself or one of my friends in life-threatening danger. I had a sneaking suspicion I’d have cast the spell even with witnesses around, but Ethan didn’t need to hear that.