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“Finn!” I jogged after him, but Rhys rather smartly made his escape to the kitchen. “Wait! Finn! What happened?”

“A conversation,” Finn replied glibly. I scurried to keep up with him, but he made no effort to slow down, so I grabbed his arm, stopping him halfway up the stairs. He glanced back over his shoulder as if looking for Rhys, clearly avoiding my gaze. “I thought I told you to stay away from the mänsklig.”

“Rhys was just sitting with me while I waited for you,” I said. “Get over it.”

“It’s very dangerous for you to be around him.” Finn faced the top of the stairs but looked at me from the corner of his eye. “It’s dangerous for you to be around me.” I didn’t appreciate the way he wouldn’t look at me directly. I missed his dark eyes.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded.

“Let go of my arm,” Finn said.

“Just tell me what’s going on, and I’ll leave you alone,” I said, tightening my grip.

“I have been relieved of my duties,” Finn answered carefully. “Elora no longer perceives a threat, and I have been insubordinate. I am to pack my things and leave the premises as soon as possible.”

The air completely went out of my lungs. It was my worst fear. Finn was going to leave, and it was my fault. He had been defending me when I should’ve been defending myself. Or I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.

“What?” I gaped at him. “That’s not right. You can’t . . . You’ve been here for so long, and Elora trusts you. She can’t . . . It’s my fault! I’m the one who refused to listen!”

“No, it’s not your fault,” Finn insisted firmly. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Well, you can’t just leave! I have the ball tomorrow, and I don’t know anything!” I continued desperately. “I’m not a Princess at all, Finn. You have so much left to help me with.”

“I wouldn’t be helping you after the ball anyway.” Finn shook his head. “A tutor will be coming in to help you learn everything you need to know from here on out. You’re ready for the ball, no matter what Elora says. You’ll do wonderfully tomorrow.”

“But you won’t be here?”

He turned away from me and quietly said, “You don’t need me.”

“This is my fault! I’m gonna talk to Elora. You can’t leave. She has to see that.”

“Wendy, no, you can’t—” Finn said, but I had already started back down the stairs.

There was an unbearable panic settling over me. Finn had forced me to leave the only people who had ever made me feel loved, and I had done it because I trusted him. Now he was going to leave me alone with Elora and a monarchy I wanted no part of.

Rhys would still be here, but I knew that it was only a matter of time before she sent him away as well. I was going to be more alone and isolated than I had ever been before, and I couldn’t handle it.

Even as I was running down to Elora’s drawing room, I knew it was more than that. I couldn’t stand to lose Finn, and it didn’t matter how Elora or anyone else treated me. A life without him just didn’t seem possible anymore. I hadn’t even realized how important he had become to me until Elora threatened to take him away.

“Elora!” I threw open the drawing room door without knocking. I knew it would piss her off, but I didn’t care. Maybe, if I was insubordinate enough, she would send me away too.

Elora stood in front of the windows staring out at the black night, and she wasn’t startled at all by the door slamming open. Without turning to look at me, she calmly said, “That’s completely unnecessary, and it goes without saying that that is not at all how a Princess behaves.”

“You’re always going on about how a Princess should behave, but what about how a Queen should act?” I countered icily. “Are you such an insecure ruler that you can’t handle the slightest bit of dissension? If we don’t bow instantly to your opinion, you ship us off?”

Elora sighed. “I assume this is about Finn.”

“You had no right to fire him! He did nothing wrong!”

“It doesn’t matter if he did anything wrong, I can ‘fire’ anyone for any reason. I am the Queen.” Slowly she turned to me, her face stunningly emotionless. “It is not the act of disagreeing that I had a problem with; it was why.”

“This is about my stupid name?” I spouted incredulously.

“There is much you still have to learn. Please, sit.” Elora gestured to one of the couches, and she lay back on the chaise lounge. “There’s no need to get huffy with me, Princess. We need to talk.”

“I don’t want to change my name,” I said as I sat down on the couch across from her. “I don’t know why it’s such a big deal to you. Names can’t be that important.”

“It’s not about the name.” Elora waved it off. Her hair flowed out like silk around her, and she played with it absently. “I know that you think I’m cruel and heartless, but I’m not. I care very deeply for Finn, more than a Queen should care for a servant, and I am sorry that I have been so negligent in the examples that I have set for you. It pains me to see Finn go, but I can assure you that I did it for you.”

“You did not!” I yelled. “You did it because you were jealous!”

“My emotions played no part in this decision. Not even the way I feel about you factored into this.” Her lips tightened, and she stared emptily at me. “I did what I had to do because it was best for the kingdom.”

“How is getting rid of him best for anybody?”

“You refuse to understand that you are a Princess!” Elora paused and took a deep, fortifying breath. “It doesn’t matter whether or not you understand the gravity of the situation. Everyone else does, including Finn, which is why he is leaving. He knows this is best for you too.”

“I don’t understand. How can his leaving possibly help me? I count on him for everything, and you do too. And now you’re telling me you let him go, just like that?”

“I know you think this is all about money, but it’s about something more powerful than that. Our bloodline is rich with tremendous abilities, far exceeding the general Trylle population.” Elora leaned in closer to me as she spoke. “Unfortunately, Trylle have become less interested in our way of life, and the abilities have begun to weaken. It is essential to our people that the bloodline is kept pure, that the abilities are allowed to flourish.

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