“Zeez are pattern books,” Madame said, opening the first one to a line drawing of a woman wearing something that looked vaguely Victorian, with a long train running behind it and a hat that was about half again as tall as she was. Madame turned the page, displaying two more drawings, both of similarly ornate dresses. “Look through. Tell Madame what you like.”
Kimber drew the book to her and began flipping through, not at all fazed at the idea of me wearing one of those ridiculous dresses. Madame smiled approvingly, then moved away, giving us time to look without hovering over our shoulders.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I said, keeping my voice down so Madame wouldn’t hear. “I’m not wearing a freaking bridal gown!”
“I like this one,” Kimber said, pointing at a frilly monstrosity, “and it won’t be white like a bridal gown. One does not wear all white to Court unless one is royalty.”
“I don’t care about the color,” I said through gritted teeth.
Kimber shrugged. “This is what a court dress looks like.” She flipped a couple more pages. “What about this one?” she asked, pointing at a dress that was mercifully free of feathers or ruffles, but just as ornate, with short puffed sleeves, tons of lace, and yet another incredibly long train.
“I’ll look like I’m trying out for a part in The Tudors,” I grumped. “And do not tell me I have to wear a corset, because all those dresses sure look like the kind that have corsets under them.”
Kimber let out a huff of irritation. “You’d never get a part in The Tudors wearing one of these—they’re more Regency and Victorian style. That’s later than the Tudors, in case you don’t know.”
I glared at her. Kimber’s an intellectual prodigy—she’s only seventeen, but she was going to be a sophomore in college in the fall. Her specialty is math and science, but I guess she actually paid attention in history class, too.
“I think this would be perfect for you, as long as we choose the right colors,” she continued, ignoring my death glare.
I looked more closely at the drawing. “It has a freaking bow at the back.” I could see Kimber wearing something like that and being totally stunning. Me, I’d just look silly.
“We can ask Madame to skip the bow,” Kimber said. “And I’m sure she can alter the design enough so it fits without a corset.”
I sighed, knowing I was fighting a losing battle. “What about the train? Can we lose the train?”
Kimber shook her head. “Nope. That’s a requirement.” There was a sudden glint in her eyes. “In fact, you’ll need someone to help you with that train. I’m sure the Queen would be happy to lend you one of her ladies, but maybe you’d be better off bringing your own. Like, say, me.”
There was a suspicious tightening in my chest as I looked at my best friend’s excited face. The idea of having a friend with me for the trip to Faerie made the prospect a lot less daunting. I wanted Kimber to come so badly I could taste it. And yet …
“I don’t care what anybody says,” I said. “I think this trip is going to be dangerous, and I don’t want anyone else to be dragged down with me.” Of course, I knew better than to expect Kimber to give in.
“If it’s going to be dangerous, then all the more reason to have friends at your side. Not that the prince’s entourage isn’t plenty of protection, but their main focus will be on protecting him.” She slung a companionable arm around my shoulders. “You need someone whose main focus is protecting you.”
“My dad’ll be with me,” I reminded her. I hoped I was keeping a good poker face, because Kimber wasn’t exactly bodyguard material. She pretty much sucks at magic, which is usually a Fae’s primary weapon. I’d seen her kill a Spriggan with a knife, so she wasn’t completely incapable of defending herself, but I surely wouldn’t drag her into Faerie as some kind of protection for myself.
Kimber nodded. “Your dad, and probably Finn, too. But having a couple of extras couldn’t hurt.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “A couple of extras?”
“Well, if I go, you know Ethan’s going to want to go, too. And Ethan generally gets what he wants.”
There was a touch of jealousy in Kimber’s voice. She loved her brother, but there was some serious sibling rivalry between them. Ethan is a magical whiz-kid, and magic trumps brains in the Fae hierarchy, so Kimber always felt like second best.
I didn’t know how I felt about Ethan coming with us. Yeah, he was sort of my boyfriend, but our relationship was so complicated … You see, Ethan had been captured by the Wild Hunt, and I’d been determined to save him. I made a devil’s bargain with the Erlking, and now I had to live with it. The Erlking had offered to release Ethan if I promised to give him my virginity.
I’d known from the moment the Erlking made the offer that there was something more to it than just a desire to get me into bed. However, making the promise—enforced by magic—was the only way I could save Ethan, and the Erlking would let me pick the time to fulfill my promise. As a bonus, he would release Connor, my brother, if and when I ever did the deed. Later, I’d found out that the Erlking wanted my virginity because he had the secret ability to steal power from virgins. If I ever slept with him, he’d steal my powers as a Faeriewalker, and ride out into the mortal world on a killing spree. Obviously, I couldn’t let that happen, which meant I couldn’t give him my virginity. But if I slept with anyone else, Ethan would be drawn back into the Wild Hunt.