So I’m doomed to die a virgin, and no matter how much Ethan tells me he doesn’t care that I can never put out, I have trouble believing him. I couldn’t find it in myself to say no when he asked me out, and I wanted to be with him so badly it hurt, but always in the back of my mind, I was searching for signs that he was getting restless. Which doesn’t make for a very comfortable relationship at all.

I frowned as I thought about Ethan and Kimber coming with me to Faerie. “Would you two even be allowed to come with me to the Seelie Court?” Ethan and Kimber were Unseelie, and usually the two didn’t mix well.

“I don’t see why not,” she answered. “Our Courts are not at war. We might not be received with the same enthusiasm you are, but it’s not like we’re not allowed to travel in Seelie territory.”

So much for that objection. “What about your dad? Would he let you put yourself in that kind of danger?”

Kimber put on a wan smile. “For the chance to help you? In a heartbeat.”

I looked away, hating the reminder that both my dad and Kimber and Ethan’s dad, Alistair, considered me a pawn in their political chess game. Alistair would do anything possible to encourage my relationships with his children, and if they could win my gratitude by helping me, that was even better in his book. I guess he hoped that if I was grateful enough to his kids, I’d be willing to support him if he became Consul.

Kimber sighed. “Sorry. That came out wrong. He wouldn’t send us with you if we didn’t want to go. And remember, theoretically at least, there’s no reason you or anyone with you should be in danger during this trip.”

I wished I could believe that. “All right. If you guys can convince my dad and yours to let you come along, you can come.”

“Gee, thanks,” Kimber said with a droll look. “Your enthusiasm’s overwhelming.”

I opened my mouth to protest that it wasn’t lack of enthusiasm, it was fear for their safety, but Kimber didn’t give me a chance.

“Now, let’s show Madame the dress you’ve chosen and we can start picking fabrics.”

I would have argued that I hadn’t actually chosen anything, but Kimber was already waving Madame over.

*   *   *

In the end, we spent almost three hours at the dressmaker’s shop. If I never see a bolt of cloth again it’ll be too soon. Kimber, of course, loved every minute of it. I tried my best to keep the dress as simple as possible, but Kimber would have none of it and Madame always agreed with her. Two against one just wasn’t fair!

The bodice was going to be white silk with gold embroidery, with a red taffeta train about a mile long. The train, too, would be decorated with gold embroidery. I absolutely put my foot down about the big gold bow they wanted to put at the back. The dress was outrageously girly and froufrou enough already. Kimber and Madame finally backed down, but I put the odds at about fifty/fifty that when the dress was ready, there’d be a honkin’ shiny bow on it after all.

There was an uncomfortable moment when Madame wanted me to undress so she could take precise measurements. To keep from having to reveal the Erlking’s mark, I pretended to be painfully modest, stammering and looking pathetic. Madame took pity on me and agreed the fit would be close enough if I kept my clothes on while she measured.

I couldn’t imagine how Madame could create a dress that ornate in time, but she didn’t seem concerned, and I suspected there’d be copious amounts of magic involved. I didn’t even want to think about how much the dress was going to cost. When I’d lived with my mom, we’d always had to pinch pennies, because alcoholics aren’t the best at getting and holding high-paying jobs. But my dad was loaded, and he’d arranged for Madame to put everything on his tab with no spending limit. Too bad the dress wasn’t for Kimber—she’d have appreciated it a lot more than I did.

Kimber wanted to do some more shopping afterward, telling me I needed a fancier wardrobe to travel in Faerie. Only for the presentation at Court—the ceremony during which I would be formally introduced to the Queen—would I need to dress like a native, but Kimber was certain I wanted a whole new wardrobe, just because hey, what girl wouldn’t?

I was saved from the ordeal of being bullied by my personal fashion consultant when my cell phone rang. Unfortunately, an even bigger ordeal was in store for me: my mother had just found out I was going to Faerie.

Chapter three

When my mom had come to Avalon looking for me, my dad had tricked her into handing over custody of me. (Tricked her because she’d been too drunk at the time to pay attention to the papers she was signing. Yep, she was a paragon of parental responsibility all right.)

Aside from losing legal custody of me, she’d also been declared legally incompetent, which involved my dad using either his influence or his money to manipulate the courts of Avalon into giving him what he wanted. That meant she was also in my dad’s custody. To make me happy, Dad had promised that as long as she was in his custody—living in something resembling house arrest—he would make sure she had no access to alcohol. The weeks I’d been in Avalon were by far the longest stretch of time my mom had been sober in my memory.

The phone call I’d gotten was from my dad. He’d broken the news to my mom that we were leaving for Faerie the day after tomorrow, and she’d gone ballistic. There was a hint of what sounded like desperation in his voice when he asked me to come over and talk to her. Unlike me, he didn’t have sixteen years of experience dealing with her fits of hysteria, and I could tell he was in completely over his head.