Titania gave him another dirty look, her face far more expressive now than it had been before.

Arawn shrugged. “By the time you got through your ‘frank and straightforward’ explanation, Dana would have been so frightened and confused she’d have no idea what you were saying. I’ve spent enough time in Avalon to speak like a native, as it were.”

She obviously didn’t like it. I wasn’t sure I much liked it, either.

“The reason for it,” Arawn continued, “is that you are a threat. Even more of a threat than Titania originally realized.”

Because of the spell, he meant. The spell he’d urged me to cast. The spell he’d known would show Titania just how dangerous I was capable of being.

It was stupid to feel betrayed by the Erlking, but I couldn’t help it. I knew how false his charms were, but I fell for them every damn time.

“You could kill the Queen, or any of her people, without a single weapon at hand,” the Erlking said, as if he hadn’t made his point already. “That makes you the most dangerous Faeriewalker ever born.”

I must have looked as terrified as I felt, because Titania shushed the Erlking and spoke softly, like she’d spoken to Elizabeth.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” she said. “All you need do to prove you are not a danger to us is to swear allegiance to the Seelie Court.”

The jaws of the trap snapped shut around my ankle.

Chapter twenty-four

My father had once told me that because I was the daughter of a Seelie Fae, I was automatically considered part of the Seelie Court. But having other people assume I was a member of the Seelie Court was not the same as being a member of the Seelie Court. I wasn’t bound by any oaths, and Titania had no right to order me around. But if I swore allegiance to the Court …

I glanced at the Erlking, who wasn’t quite smirking, but who definitely had a hint of knowing triumph in his eyes. I understood exactly why he liked where this was going. If I swore allegiance to the Seelie Court, then I’d also be bound by his agreement with Titania not to tell anyone that if a virgin gave herself to him of her own free will, he could steal her powers, and even her life. The geis around this agreement was so strong that my father hadn’t been able to give me even an oblique warning about it. Which meant there would be no one who could warn Elizabeth that her new “friend” had ulterior motives.

I shook my head at him, my hands clenched into fists in my lap. “I fall for your tricks every time,” I said bitterly. “You’d think I’d know better by now.”

“There was no trick,” he said. “Not this time. You were the only one who could kill Henry, and if you didn’t do it, both you and Elizabeth would have suffered.”

“And you didn’t give a thought to how it might benefit you when you pushed me into doing it, right?”

He shrugged his massive shoulders. “I won’t claim I was unaware of the advantages. But that isn’t why I did it. I am not the monster you like to think me.”

“Yeah, you’re a candidate for sainthood.”

As usual, he laughed at my sarcasm, but the laughter faded quickly. “Have you ever considered that once Titania gave me permission to hunt you, I could have bound you to the Wild Hunt and forced you to take me out into the mortal world whenever I wished?”

“Oh, and that’s not what you were trying to do when you had Ethan try to kidnap me in the middle of the night?”

He gave me a condescending look. “Think about it a minute, Dana.” His expression turned wry. “And assume I am not stupid.”

That was one thing I was sure he was not.

No, he wasn’t stupid at all. So why on earth had he used Ethan to try to capture me? Thanks to the mark on my shoulder, Arawn could find me wherever I was, and if he and his Wild Hunt found me, there would be nothing I could do to escape them. If Arawn hadn’t tried to use Ethan, I wouldn’t even have known he was hunting me. Not until it was too late, at least.

And then there was the way he’d had Ethan try to capture me. Ethan had said he’d fought the orders as best he could, making as much noise as possible so that Keane and Kimber would wake up and stop him. But surely the Erlking knew better than to allow any wiggle room in his orders. He could have ordered Ethan to sneak me quietly out of camp, maybe even knock me unconscious so I couldn’t fight him, and Ethan would have had to do it.

“But why?” I asked, totally bewildered. Every time I thought I had the Erlking figured out, he’d do something to prove I was completely wrong.

“Had such an opportunity presented itself to me in the early days, when I did not yet know you,” he said, “I would have taken it. I still want very badly to hunt in the mortal world, and if I could persuade or coerce you into taking me, I would. But I would not see you destroyed in the process. Being bound to my Hunt would destroy your special spark. And remember that mortals who are bound to the Hunt cannot survive it for long. Your Fae blood would preserve your life for several years, maybe even a decade, but you are too mortal to survive it indefinitely.”

I rubbed my eyes, exhausted and headachy from all the stress and the constant intrigue. I was pretty sure he was telling the truth about not wanting to bind me to the Hunt, but I wasn’t sure his reasons were anything so benevolent. After all, he still had hopes that I would give him my virginity, and that he could claim my Faeriewalker powers as his own. If he did that, he’d have access to the mortal world anytime he wanted, not just for as long as my body could survive the rigors of the Hunt. Reasons within reasons within reasons, all tangled together and confusing.