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“When they come over here, I’ll go over to Rhiannon’s,” Rhys suggested cheerily. Elora nodded at him, indicating that his response was sufficient.

“As for you, you will be joining us.” Elora smiled at me, but couldn’t mask the unease behind it. “The guests are very good friends of our family, and I expect you to make a good impression on them.” She gave Finn that intense look, staring at him so long I felt uncomfortable, and he nodded in understanding. “Finn will be in charge of preparing you for the dinner.”

I nodded, figuring that I had better say something. “Okay.”

“That is all. Carry on.” Elora turned and walked away, her skirt flowing behind her, but nobody said anything until she was long gone.

Finn sighed, and Rhiannon practically shivered with relief. She was clearly even more terrified of the Queen than I was, and I wondered what Elora had done to make the girl so afraid. Only Rhys seemed to shake it off as soon as she had left.

“I don’t know how you can stand that creepy mind-speak thing she does with you, Finn.” Rhys shook his head. “I would freak out if she was in my head.”

“Why? There’s nothing in your head for her to get into.” Finn stood up, and Rhiannon giggled nervously.

“What did she say to you, anyway?” Rhys pressed, looking up at him.

Finn dusted off his pants, ridding them of dirt and leaves from the bench, but he didn’t respond.

“Finn? What’d she say?”

“It’s nothing to concern yourself with,” Finn admonished him quietly, then turned to me. “Are you ready?”

“For what?”

“We have a lot to go over.” He glanced warily at the house, then back at me. “Come on. We better get started.”

As we walked back to the house, I realized that whenever Elora left, I was able to breathe again. Whenever she was present, it was as if she took all the oxygen from the room. Breathing deeply, I ran my hand up and down my arm to stifle the chill that ran over me.

“Are you holding up all right?” Finn asked, noticing my unease.

“Yeah, I’m great.” I tucked some of my curls behind my ears. “So . . . what’s going on with you and Elora?”

“What do you mean?” Finn looked at me from the corner of his eye.

“I don’t know.” I shrugged, thinking of what Rhys had said after she’d left. “It just seems like she looks at you intently a lot, and like you understand exactly what she means.” As soon as it came out of my mouth, it dawned on me. “That’s one of her abilities, isn’t it? Talking inside your head? Kind of like what I can do, but less manipulative. ’Cause she’s just telling you what to do.”

“Not even telling me what to do. She’s just talking,” Finn corrected me.

“Why doesn’t she talk to me like that?” I asked.

“She wasn’t sure if you’d be receptive. If you’re not accustomed to it, hearing another person’s voice in your head can be unsettling. And she didn’t really need to.”

“But she needed to with you?” I slowed down, and he matched my pace. “She was talking to you privately about me, wasn’t she?”

Finn paused, and I could see that he was considering lying to me. “Some of it, yes,” he admitted.

“Can she read minds?” I felt slightly horrified at the thought.

“No. Very few can.” When he looked over at me, he smiled crookedly. “Your secrets are safe, Wendy.”

We went into the dining room, and Finn set about preparing me for dinner. As it turned out, I wasn’t completely socially stunted and had a basic understanding of manners. Most of what Finn said amounted to commonsense things, like always say please and thank you, but he also encouraged me to keep my mouth shut whenever possible.

I think his task had been less about preparing me for the dinner and more about keeping me in line. The secret things Elora had been telling him had just been a warning to babysit me—or else.

Dinner was at eight, and the company was arriving at seven. About an hour or so before that, Rhys popped in to wish me good luck and let me know he was heading over to Rhiannon’s, in case anybody cared. Shortly after I got out of the shower, Finn came in, looking even sharper than usual.

He was clean-shaven for the first time since he’d stopped going to school, and he wore black slacks and a black button-down shirt with a narrow white tie. It should’ve been too much with all that black, but he managed to pull it off, all the while looking incredibly sexy.

I had on only my bathrobe, and I wondered why nobody here thought it was inappropriate for boys to barge in when I wasn’t dressed. At least I was doing something semi-sexy: sitting on the edge of my bed putting lotion on my legs. I did it every time I showered, but since Finn was in the room, I tried to play it off as being sensual when it really wasn’t.

Not that Finn even noticed. He knocked once, opened my bedroom door, and only gave me a fleeting glance as he headed straight to my closet. After a little while, I sighed in frustration and hurriedly rubbed the rest of the lotion in while Finn continued to rummage through my clothes.

“I don’t think I have anything in your size,” I said and leaned farther back on my bed, trying to see what he was doing in there.

“Funny,” he muttered absently.

“What are you doing in there?” I asked, watching him, but he didn’t even look at me.