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“It’s more than that, Wendy.” Finn shook his head. “Loki would hurt you.”

“But that’s not why you got mad. You were jealous because I might love somebody else.” Anger surged through me. “You’d rather I live a lie than find happiness with someone else.”

“You think you’d find happiness with a Vittra Markis?” Finn scoffed. “He’s dangerous, Wendy. I didn’t trust him around you.”

“You didn’t trust him because you knew I cared about him!”

“Yes!” Finn shouted. “And you shouldn’t. He’s a bad guy!”

“You don’t even know him!” I yelled back.

“Do you want to go run off with him?” His face went stony, trying to hide any hurt he might feel. “Is that what you’re saying? That I prevented you from living a fairy tale with him?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying.” I swallowed my tears. “I prevented myself from running off with him because I knew what was best for the kingdom was me staying here. But I can’t believe how selfish you are. You say everything you do is for me, but if that were true, you’d encourage me to go after happiness, instead of trapping me here with you.”

“How have I trapped you here?” Finn asked.

“This!” I gestured between the two of us. “I can’t have you, and I can’t be without you. And I’m stuck in it with no way out. I care about you, and I can’t stop, and you don’t even care!”

“Wendy.” His expression softened, and he moved toward me. I stepped back and ran into the bookshelf, so I couldn’t go any farther. He reached out to touch me, and I pushed him off.

“No!” I shouted, with tears streaming down my face. “I hate that you do this me. I hate how crazy you make me. I hate you!”

He reached out, brushing hair back from my forehead. I jerked my head away, but he didn’t move his hand. He’d moved right in front of me, so his body was against mine. I tried to push against him, but he stayed firm. He wouldn’t move. His hand rested on my face, making me tilt my head up toward him.

His eyes were so black and deep, and they took my breath away, the way they always had. With his fingers, he traced along my hairline. The fight inside me disappeared, but the passion still lingered.

He leaned in, kissing me. His mouth pressed hungrily to mine. An intense quivering started in my heart but radiated out all over me, so my whole body shuddered. His stubble scraped against my skin as he kissed me desperately.

His lips traveled to my neck, and I moaned, burying my fingers in his hair. His weight sent us crashing against the shelves, and books tumbled out around us. We went with them, collapsing in a pile.

“Finn!” Thomas’s voice boomed, interrupting us.

Finn stopped kissing me, but he remained on top of me. His breath came out in ragged gasps, and he continued to stare down at me. Passion smoldered in his eyes, but behind that, I saw terror. He realized that he’d done something terrible and didn’t know how to undo it.

“Finn!” Thomas yelled again. “Get off her before someone sees you!”

“Yes, sir.” Finn clambered off me, tripping over books as he got to his feet. I pulled down my dress, and got up much more slowly than him.

“Get out of here!” Thomas barked at him. “Get yourself cleaned up!”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” Finn kept his eyes on the ground. He tried to cast a fleeting glance back at me, but he was too ashamed and simply darted out of the room.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, unsure of what else to say. I could still taste Finn on my lips, feel his stubble on my cheek.

“You don’t need to apologize to me,” Thomas said, and the expression he gave me was much softer than the one he’d given his son. “You need to protect yourself, Princess. Go to your room, forget this ever happened, and pray that nobody ever finds out.”

“Yes, of course.” I nodded quickly and stepped carefully over the books. I’d almost made it out when Thomas stopped me.

“My son doesn’t tell me much about his life,” Thomas said, and I paused at the doorway, looking over my shoulder at him. “We’ve never been close. This job is a hard one. It keeps you isolated, and that is something that you and I have in common.”

“I don’t feel that isolated,” I said. “I’m always surrounded.”

“You’ve been fortunate, but it won’t always be that way.” He licked his lips and paused. “Sometimes you have to choose between love and duty. It’s a hard choice, the hardest you’ll ever make, but there is only one right answer.”

“And you’re saying that it’s duty?” I asked.

“I’m saying duty was the right answer for me,” Thomas explained carefully. “And duty will always be the right answer for Finn.”

“Yes.” I nodded, lowering my eyes. “That I know all too well.”

“Trackers are often looked down upon.” He held up his hand to silence me before I could argue. “Not by everyone, but by many. We’re pitied. But it’s an honorable life, living in service of people. Knowing that we are essential to creating a better world for the kingdom.

“The Queen lives in service as much as a tracker, maybe even more so. Your mother’s whole life has been given to the people here. There is no greater honor than that. No greater deed. That is going to be your honor, Princess.”