“Yes.” There was something about his answer—he wasn’t lying exactly, but he was holding something back. I thought about pressing him further but there were so many other things I wanted to know.
“So . . . how often do you do this?”
“You are my eleventh.” He looked at me to gauge my response, so I kept my face as expressionless as possible.
I was a little surprised by his answer. It seemed like an incredibly time-consuming process, for one thing. And he seemed fairly young to have done it eleven times. Plus, it was unnerving to think there were that many changelings out there.
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Since I was fifteen,” Finn answered.
“Fifteen? No way.” I shook my head. “So you’re trying to tell me that at fifteen years old, your parents sent you out into the world to track and find kids? And these kids, they trusted you and believed you?”
“I’m very good at what I do,” Finn replied matter-of-factly.
“Still. That just seems . . . unreal.” I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. “Did they all come back with you?”
“Yes, of course,” he said simply.
“Do they always? With all the trackers, I mean?”
“No, they don’t. They usually do, but not always.”
“But they always do with you?” I persisted.
“Yes.” Finn looked over at me again. “Why do you find it so hard to believe?”
“I find this all hard to believe.” I tried to pinpoint what was bothering me. “Wait. You were fifteen? That means that you were never . . . you weren’t a changeling. So not all Trylle begin life as changelings? How does this work?”
“Trackers are never changelings.” He rubbed the back of his neck and pursed his lips. “I think it’s best if your mother explains the changelings to you.”
“How come trackers aren’t ever changelings?” I questioned.
“We need to spend our lives being trained to be a tracker,” Finn said. “And our youth is an asset. It’s much easier to get close to a teenager when you are a teenager than it is when you’re forty.”
“A big part of what you do is building trust.” I eyed him with renewed suspicion.
“Yes, it is,” Finn admitted.
“So at the dance, when you were being a total dick to me. That was you building trust?”
For a split second he looked pained, then his normal emotionless expression returned. “No. That was me putting a distance between us. I shouldn’t have asked you to dance. I was trying to correct the error. I needed you to trust me, but anything more would be misleading.”
Everything that had transpired between us had just been because he was trying to get me to the compound. He had been keeping me safe, getting me to like him, and when he noticed my crush developing, he had tried to put me in my place. It stung painfully, so I just swallowed hard and stared out the window.
“I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you,” Finn said quietly.
“Don’t worry about it,” I replied icily. “You were just doing your job.”
“I know that you’re being facetious, but I was.” He paused. “I still am.”
“Well, you’re very good at it.” I crossed my arms and continued to stare out the window.
I didn’t feel much like talking anymore. There were still a million questions I had about everything, but I’d rather wait and talk to somebody else, anybody else. I thought I would be too anxious and excited to sleep, but after about an hour into the drive, I started nodding off. I fought to stay awake until I realized the ride would go quicker if I just slept.
When I opened my eyes, the sun was shining brightly above us. I had curled up on the seat with my knees pressed against my chest, so my whole body felt sore and achy. I looked around, then I sat up and stretched, trying to work the kinks out of my neck.
“I thought you were going to sleep the whole ride,” Finn said.
“How far away are we?” I yawned and slouched low in the seat, resting my knees against the dashboard.
The scenery had started giving way to tall tree-lined bluffs. The car rolled up and down through the hills and valleys, and it really was stunningly beautiful. Eventually Finn slowed and we turned, driving to the top of a bluff. Soon the road curved down again, winding among the trees. Through them I could see the Mississippi River cutting through the bluffs.
A large metal gate blocked our path, but when we reached it, a guard nodded at Finn and waved us on. Once we were through, I saw beautiful houses dotting the bluffs.
They were all heavily obscured by trees, which gave me an odd sensation that there were more homes than I could actually see. But every one of them appeared luxurious and perfectly positioned to make the best of the view.
We pulled up in front of an opulent mansion perched precariously on the edge of a bluff. It was pure white, with long vines growing up over it beautifully. The back, which faced the river, was made entirely of windows, but it seemed to be held up by weak supports. While stunningly gorgeous, the house looked as if it could fall off the edge at any moment.
“What’s this?” I took a break from gaping at the house to look back at Finn.
He smiled in the way that sent shivers through me. “This is it. Welcome home, Wendy.”
I had come from money, but it had never been anything like this. This was aristocratic. Finn walked me to the house, and I couldn’t believe that I’d truly come from this. I had never felt so small or ordinary in my entire life.
With a house like this, I had expected a butler to answer the door. Instead, it was just a kid. He looked about my age, with sandy hair cascading across his forehead. He was very attractive, but that made sense, because I couldn’t believe that anything ugly ever came from a house like this. It was too perfect.
He seemed confused and surprised at first, but when he saw Finn, an understanding came to him and he smiled broadly.
“Oh, my God. You must be Wendy.” He opened the massive front door so we could come in.
Finn let me go in first, which made me nervous, and I felt embarrassed with the way this kid smiled at me, especially considering my pajamas and bruised cheek. He was dressed like any other normal kid I had gone to school with, at least in the private schools, and I found that weird. As if it would be more natural for him to run around in a tuxedo first thing in the morning.
“Um, yeah,” I mumbled awkwardly.