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“Not really.” I shrugged. For once, I was actually happy to see Elora, since her arrival meant a reprieve from all of this.

Elora surveyed the room with disdain, but I wasn’t sure what met her disapproval, since she had to at least have had a hand in the design. She stepped into the room, her long gown pooling around her feet. Tove didn’t get up and watched her with offhanded interest.

“Can I have a moment alone with the Princess?” Elora asked without looking at anyone. She managed to stand in such a way that her back was to all three of us.

Duncan mumbled apologies as he hurried out of the room, stumbling over his own feet. Tove left more slowly, always content to do things at his own pace. He ran a hand through his disheveled hair and made a vague comment about coming to find me when I was done.

“I’ve never cared for this room,” Elora said once they’d gone. “It always felt more like a greenhouse to me than a throne room. I know that was the idea behind it, helping us maintain our more organic roots, but it never felt right to me.”

“I think it’s nice.” I understood what she meant, but it was still a beautiful room. All the glass gave it a sleek yet opulent feel.

“Your ‘friend’ is staying with us.” She chose her words carefully and walked over to the throne. She ran her fingers along the arms much the same way I had, letting her black manicured nails linger on the details.

“My friend?”

“Yes. The … boy. Matt, is it?” Elora lifted her head, meeting my eyes to see if she was correct.

“You mean my brother,” I said deliberately.

“Don’t call him that. Think of him however you’d like, but if someone hears you say that…” She trailed off. “How long will he be staying with us?”

“Until I feel it’s safe for him to leave.” I stood up straighter, steeling myself for another fight, but she didn’t say anything. She simply nodded once and looked out the window. “You’re not gonna try to stop me?”

“I’ve been Queen for a while, Princess.” She smiled thinly at me. “I know how to pick my battles. This is one I suspect I couldn’t win.”

“So you’re okay with it?” I asked, unable to hide the shock in my voice.

“You learn to tolerate the things you cannot change,” Elora told me simply.

“Do you want to meet him or anything?” I felt unsure about what I should do.

I didn’t know why she’d come to talk to me, if it wasn’t to stop me from doing something or tell me I’d done something wrong. That seemed to be the only time she sought me out.

“I’m certain I’ll see him in due time.” She smoothed her black hair and walked a bit closer to me. “How is your training going?”

“Fine.” I shrugged. “I don’t get it, really, but it’s okay. I guess.”

“You’re getting along all right with Tove?” Her dark eyes met mine again, as if studying me.

“Yeah. He’s fine.”

Whatever she saw in me must’ve pleased her, because she nodded and smiled. Elora stayed and chatted with me a few minutes longer, asking more about the training, but her interest waned almost immediately. She excused herself, citing business to attend to.

Once she had gone, Tove returned to continue the training, but I suggested we get lunch instead. We went down to the kitchen to discover Matt making something for him and Willa. Rhys was at school, so it was just the two of them.

Willa threw a grape at Matt, and when he tossed it back, she giggled. If Tove noticed anything unusual about their banter, he didn’t say anything, but he hardly looked up from his plate. He ate in total silence, while I watched Matt and Willa with confused fascination.

I ate in a hurry, then Tove and I went back to training while Matt and Willa were still eating. Not that either of them really seemed to notice or care about our departure.

The rest of the day didn’t afford me much time to think about how strange Matt and Willa were acting. Training went on in the throne room much the way it had in the morning. Toward the end of the day I began feeling tired, but I didn’t stop until Tove called it quits.

After Tove left, Duncan followed me upstairs, because I couldn’t seem to ditch him no matter what I said. I wanted to be alone, but I let Duncan in my room. I felt weird and mean making him stand out in the hall all the time.

I know he supposedly was a bodyguard, but he wasn’t some stiff in a suit with an earpiece. He was a kid in skinny jeans, which made it hard for me to treat him like staff.

“I don’t understand why you hate it here so much,” Duncan said, admiring my room.

“I don’t hate it here,” I said, but I wasn’t sure if that was true.

My hair had been up in a messy bun, and I took it down, running my fingers through the kinks and curls. Duncan looked at the stuff on my desk, touching my computer and CDs. I would’ve been mad, if any of it were really mine. Everything had come with the place when I moved in. Even though this was my room, very little in it felt like it actually belonged to me.

“Why’d you run away?” Duncan picked up a Fall Out Boy CD and investigated the track list.

“I thought you knew why.” I got into my bed, immersing myself in the overflow of blankets and pillows. I folded a pillow under my head so I could see him better. “You seemed to have it all figured out.”

“When?” He set the CD down and turned to look at me. “I never seem like I have anything figured out.”