Page 30

Maggie easily could’ve lived like this. I thought back to what Finn had told me about Matt and Maggie living well below their means. I wondered why it was so important to them to preserve the family nest egg.

The only explanation that made sense was that they were saving it for me—to make sure I was taken care of for the rest of my life. Which probably seemed all the more necessary given my problems at school.

Funny that the very thing Elora planned to steal from them was precisely what they planned to give.

And Maggie had made it clear through her choices that taking care of me herself was more important than spending money. She had made a choice that my own mother never would have.

“So you like shitake mushrooms, right?” Rhys was saying. He had been pulling things out of the fridge, but I had been too lost in thought to notice. His arms were overflowing with vegetables.

“Uh, yeah, I love mushrooms.” I straightened up and tried to see what all he had, and for the most part it looked like things I enjoyed.

“Excellent.” Rhys grinned at me and dropped his armload of food into the kitchen sink. “I’m going to make you the best stir-fry you’ve ever tasted.”

He went about chopping things up, and I offered to help him, but he insisted that he could handle it. The whole time, he talked amicably about the new motorcycle he’d gotten last week. I tried to keep up with the conversation, but all I knew about motorcycles were that they went fast and I liked them.

“What are you making in here?” Finn came into the kitchen, his expression vaguely disgusted.

His hair was damp from a recent shower, and he smelled like the grass after a rain, only sweeter. He walked past me without even a glance in my direction and went over to where Rhys had thrown everything into a wok on the stove.

“Stir-fry!” Rhys proclaimed.

“Really?” Finn leaned over his shoulder and peered down at the ingredients in the pan. Rhys moved to the side a little so Finn could reach in and grab something out of it. He sniffed it, then popped it into his mouth. “Well, it’s not terrible.”

“Stop my beating heart!” Rhys put his hand over his heart and feigned astonishment. “Has my food passed the test of the hardest food critic in the land?”

“No. I just said it wasn’t terrible.” Finn shook his head at Rhys’s dramatics and went to the fridge to get a bottle of water. “And I’m certain that Elora is a much harsher food critic than I’ll ever be.”

“That’s probably true, but she’s never let me cook for her,” Rhys admitted, shaking the wok to stir up the vegetables more.

“You really shouldn’t let him cook for you,” Finn advised, looking at me for the first time. “He gave me food poisoning once.”

“You cannot get food poisoning from an orange!” Rhys protested and looked back at him. “It’s just not possible! And even if you can, I handed you the orange. I didn’t even have a chance to contaminate it!”

“I don’t know.” Finn shrugged. A smile was creeping onto his face, and I could tell he was amused by how much Rhys was getting worked up.

“You didn’t even eat the part I touched! You peeled it and threw the skin away!” Rhys sounded exasperated. He wasn’t paying attention to the wok as he struggled to convince us of his innocence, and a flame licked up from the food.

“Food’s on fire.” Finn nodded to the stove.

“Dammit!” Rhys got a glass of water and splashed it in the stir-fry, and I started to question how good this was going to taste when he was done with it.

“If being picky is a Trylle trait—and it sounds like it is—how come Rhys isn’t picky?” I asked. “Is it because he’s mänks?”

In a flash, Finn’s face changed to a mask of stone. “Where did you hear that word? From Elora?”

“No, from Rhys,” I said. Rhys was still bustling around the stove but something about his posture had changed. He appeared almost sheepish. “And I wish one of you would tell me what that means. What’s the big mystery?”

Rhys turned around, a nervous glint in his eye, and exchanged a look with Finn that I couldn’t read.

“Elora will explain everything in time,” Finn said. “But until then, it’s not our place to discuss it.”

Rhys turned around again, but I knew that the icy edge in Finn’s voice hadn’t escaped him.

On that note, Finn turned and walked out of the kitchen.

“Well, that was weird,” I said to no one in particular.

When Rhys finished cooking, he pulled stools up to the island. Fortunately, the awkward moment had passed and our mood lightened again.

“So what do you think?” Rhys nodded at the plate of food I was trying to eat.

“It’s pretty good,” I lied. He had obviously worked hard on it, and his blue eyes showed how proud he was of it, so I couldn’t let him down. To prove my point, I took a bite and smiled.

“Good. You guys are hard to cook for.” When Rhys took a mouthful of his own food, his sandy hair fell into his eyes, and he brushed it away.

“So . . . you know Finn pretty well?” I asked carefully, stabbing my fork into a mushroom.

Their banter earlier had left me curious. Before things got weird, Finn seemed to genuinely enjoy Rhys, and I had never seen Finn enjoy anybody. The closest he came was respect and obedience for Elora, but I couldn’t tell what his true feelings were for her.