“Is this about the mänsklig?” Finn asked, referring to Rhys. “I thought I told you to stay away from him.”
Mänsklig were the human children taken in exchange for Trylle babies. They were the lowest in the Trylle hierarchy, and if a Princess was caught dating one, they’d both be banished forever. Not that I cared, but I didn’t have any feelings for Rhys that weren’t purely platonic.
“It has nothing to do with Rhys. I just thought he’d like to see his family.” I shrugged. “It has to be better than living in that stupid house with Elora.”
“Good. He can stay here, then.” Finn nodded. “Matt and Rhys are taken care of. Now you can come home.”
“That is not my home. This is my home!” I gestured widely to my room. “I’m not going, Finn.”
“You are not safe.” He took a step closer to me, lowering his voice and staring into my eyes. “You saw what the Vittra did in Förening. They sent an army out to get you, Wendy.” He put his hands on my arms, strong and warm on my skin. “They will not stop until they have you.”
“Why? Why wouldn’t they stop?” I asked. “There’s got to be Trylle out there who are easier to get than me. And so what if I’m a Princess? If I don’t come back, Elora can replace me. I’m meaningless.”
“You are far more powerful than you know.”
“What does that even mean?”
Before he could answer, there was a noise on the roof outside my window. Finn grabbed my arm and threw open my closet door, shoving me inside. As a rule, I don’t enjoy being tossed into closets and having the door shut in my face, but I knew he was protecting me.
I opened the door a crack, so I could watch what happened and intervene if necessary. Even as mad as I was at Finn, I would never let him get hurt over me. Not again.
Finn stood a few feet from the window, his eyes blazing and his shoulders tense. But when the figure climbed through the window, Finn only scoffed.
The kid coming in tripped on the windowsill. He wore skinny jeans and purple shoes with the laces untied. Finn towered over him, looking down at him wearily.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” The kid flipped his bangs out of his eyes and pulled down his ill-fitting jacket. It was zipped all the way up, and the bottom met the top of his jeans. When he bent over or moved, it rode up.
“Getting the Princess. They sent you after her?” Finn arched an eyebrow. “Elora really thought you’d be able to bring her back?”
“Hey, I’m a good tracker. I’ve brought in way more people than you have.”
“That’s because you’re seven years older than me,” Finn replied. That made the clumsy kid twenty-seven. He looked much younger than that.
“Whatever. Elora picked me. Deal with it.” The kid shook his head. “What? Are you jealous or something?”
“Don’t be absurd.”
“So where is the Princess anyway?” He looked around my room. “She ran away for this?”
“This is my room.” I walked out of the closet, and the new tracker jumped. “You don’t need to be condescending.”
“Um, sorry,” he stumbled, blushing. “My apologies, Princess.” He offered me an unsure smile and did a low bow. “I’m Duncan Janssen, and I’m at your service.”
“I’m not the Princess anymore, and I’m not going with you. I just finished explaining that to Finn.”
“What?” Duncan looked uncertainly at Finn as he adjusted his jacket again. Finn sat down on the edge of my bed and said nothing. “Princess, you have to come. It’s not safe for you here.”
“I don’t care.” I shrugged. “I’d rather take my chances.”
“It can’t be that bad at the palace.” Duncan was the first person I had ever heard genuinely call Elora’s house a palace, even though it sort of was one. “You’re the Princess. You have everything.”
“I’m not going. You can tell Elora that you tried your best, and I refused.”
Duncan once again looked to Finn for help. Finn shrugged at Duncan, and his shift to indifference startled me. I had put my foot down on the subject, but I hadn’t really expected him to listen.
“She can’t possibly stay here,” Duncan said.
“You think I don’t agree with you?” Finn raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t think you’re helping.” Duncan fidgeted with his jacket and tried to stare Finn down, a task I knew was impossible.
“What do you expect me to say to her that I haven’t already said?” Finn asked, sounding surprisingly helpless.
“So you’re saying we simply leave her here?”
“I’m right here, you know,” I said. “And I don’t really appreciate the way you keep referring to me like I’m not.”
“If she wants to stay here, then she’ll stay here,” Finn said, continuing to ignore me. Duncan shifted and glanced over at me. “We’re not going to kidnap her. That leaves little in the way of options.”
“Can’t you, like”—Duncan lowered his voice and fiddled with the zipper of his jacket—“you know, convince her somehow?”
Word of Finn’s affection for me must have spread through the compound. Aggravated, I refused to let my feelings for him be used against me.
“Nothing is going to convince me,” I snapped.