Thanks to my dad’s skillful use of the standing stones, it took us only three days of easy travel to reach the Avalon border. Titania had offered to send a couple of her Knights with us for security, but my dad had declined the offer. No, I wasn’t what you’d call completely safe. Despite his nasty personality, Henry surely had friends who would hate me forever for killing him, and we had no way of knowing if Mab still wanted me dead or not.

“The extra security would be nice,” my dad told me, “but I suspect the Knights would be there more as spies than protectors, and I’d rather do without.”

When he put it that way, I couldn’t help but agree. Besides, the six of us all by ourselves could travel at a quicker pace than we could if we had another handful of Knights—and their supplies—with us.

That last terrible day in the woods seemed to have changed something between Ethan and Keane. Not that they suddenly liked each other or anything—they still bickered enough to make themselves truly annoying—but I no longer got the feeling they might burst into violence at any moment. Even when Kimber and Keane weren’t as sneaky about stealing kisses as they thought.

When I saw how Keane looked at her when she wasn’t looking, I stopped worrying that he was using her to get to Ethan. Maybe it had started out that way, but it was definitely more than that now.

Everyone was still pretty mad at me for all the secrets I’d kept, particularly Kimber. But I got the feeling it was the kind of mad that would fade away in time. I’d come close to completely destroying our friendship, and I knew it. I couldn’t swear I’d never keep a secret from her again—after all, I was still keeping a secret, enforced by the Erlking’s geis—but I was going to make every effort to be as open with her as humanly possible.

You might think now that I had an arrangement with Titania, my dad would finally ease up on some of the paranoid security measures he’d been taking to keep me protected. Like maybe he would let me live with him in his real, normal house instead of keeping me entombed in my underground safe house. Or that he might decide I no longer needed a bodyguard twenty-four/seven. If you think that, you don’t know my dad.

Sure, I’m in a much safer position than I was before my trip to Faerie. Before going to Faerie, we’d thought both Queens wanted me dead. Maybe Mab still does, but even if Titania might prefer I be dead, she isn’t going to try to arrange it. I pointed out to my dad that everyone now knew how dangerous I was in my own right. At which point my dad pointed out that now that people know about my spell, they’ll be much more able to avoid it. I’ll still always be vulnerable to the surprise attack, or to overwhelming numbers.

Dad has a point, but I can’t help wondering if maybe some of the security stuff is just a way of keeping me from being alone with Ethan. There are times when Dad treats me like he thinks of me as a responsible adult, but as soon as Ethan enters the picture, I become a little girl again. Dad won’t forbid me from seeing Ethan, no matter how little he approves, but he’s going to make damn sure the two of us never have enough privacy for things to go too far. (Dad’s definition of “too far” being anything past first base, as far as I can tell.) Apparently now that I no longer have my agreement with the Erlking forcing me to chastity, my dad is convinced I’ll turn into a sex-crazed teen and let Ethan get away with anything he damn well pleases.

I’d never admit it out loud, but in some ways, I’m glad for my dad’s overprotectiveness. I love Ethan, and I love knowing that I’m no longer under the Erkling’s thumb. I love knowing that when I’m ready, we can go all the way. But I know I’m not ready yet, and as long as my dad doesn’t give us alone time, I don’t have to tell Ethan that.

I’m trying to be more trusting these days, I really am. But it’s not so easy to change who I am at my core. I tell myself that Ethan would be just fine with waiting until I’m ready, and most of the time I actually believe it. But there’s a part of me that fears if I tell him no, he’ll start pushing. Or worse, that he’ll dump me. If this thing between us is ever going to go to the next level, I’m going to have to face that fear eventually. But for the time being, I’m perfectly happy to let my dad’s rules and regulations make it a moot point.

Which brings me to my mom.

I wish I could say I returned home to Avalon to find my mom a changed woman, sober and vowing to stay that way. I wish I could say that our tempestuous parting had finally broken through the walls of denial and shown her that her drinking didn’t only hurt her, it hurt me as well. I wish that fearing she would lose me were enough to give her the will to get her life under control.

Unfortunately, I can’t say any of those things. My mom was living in an apartment my dad had rented for her, seeing as she was too flat broke to afford anything on her own. Dad took me to see her on the very day we made it back from Avalon, but she didn’t answer when we rang the doorbell. Dad wasn’t overly concerned with her right to privacy, so he used his magic to coax the lock open and let us in.

We found my mom on the floor in the bathroom. Taking a shower when you’re too drunk to stand up can be hazardous to your health. My mom had apparently tripped over the edge of the tub trying to get out and had broken her hip. She’d been lying there just over twenty-four hours when my dad and I found her. I shudder to think what might have happened if we’d stayed in Faerie a day or two longer. I don’t think anyone would have found her until too late, and I couldn’t thank my dad enough for deciding to go in even though she hadn’t answered the door.