“About sixteen years ago, after your father was gone, my father came under the employ of your mother. He had retired from tracking, and Elora hired him to guard her and the estate.” His eyes darkened and his lips tightened, and my heart raced.
“Elora was in love with my father. No one knew, except for my mother, who is still married to him. Eventually, my mother convinced him to leave. However, Elora remained quite fond of my father and, in turn, rather fond of me.” He sighed and continued casually, as if he were talking about the weather. “She has personally requested my services over the years, and because she pays well, I have accepted.”
I stared at him, feeling nauseous and nervous. Since his father became involved with my mother after I was born, I could safely assume that we weren’t siblings, so at least that was something.
Everything else made it feel rather disturbing, and I wondered if Finn secretly hated me. He had to hate Elora, and he must only be here because of how much she paid him. Then I wondered if he was some kind of glorified gigolo, and I had to fight to keep from vomiting.
“I am not sleeping with her, and she has never made any advances of the sort,” Finn clarified, looking at me evenly. “She is fond of me because of her feelings for my father. I don’t blame her for what happened between them. It was a long time ago, and my father was the one who had a family to think of, not her.”
“Huh.” I looked up at the ceiling because it was easier than looking at him.
“I have distressed you. I’m sorry,” Finn apologized sincerely. “This is why I was hesitant to say anything to you.”
“No, no, I’m fine. Let’s just go on,” I insisted unconvincingly. “I have a lot to go over and all that.”
Finn remained silent for a minute, letting me absorb what he had just told me, but I tried to push it from my mind as quickly as possible. Thinking about it made me feel dirty, and I already had too much on my mind.
Eventually Finn continued on with the texts, and I tried harder to pay attention. If I was thinking about what exactly a Queen’s job entailed, I wasn’t thinking about my mother crushing on his father.
Frederique Von Ellsin, the dress designer, came over the next day. He was excited and flamboyant, and I couldn’t tell for sure whether or not he was Trylle. I wore only a slip as he took my measurements and sketched like mad in a note pad. Finally, he declared that he had the perfect gown in mind, and he dashed out of my room to get working on it.
All day long there was an irritating succession of people. They were all staff of some kind, like caterers and party planners, so most of them ignored me. They just trailed after Elora as she rattled off an inconceivable amount of information about what she expected them to do, and they all scurried to write it down or punch it into their BlackBerrys.
Meanwhile, I had the pleasure of camping out in my sweats all day. Whenever Elora saw me, she glared at my apparel with disgust, but she was always too busy making demands on somebody else to complain about me.
Everything that I managed to overhear only made my coming-out festivities sound even more terrifying. The most horrific thing I heard as she zipped by: “We’ll need seating for at least five hundred.” Five hundred people were going to be at a party where I would be the center of attention? Splendid.
The only upside of the day was that I got to spend the entire thing with Finn. But that became less enjoyable because Finn refused to talk about anything that wasn’t related to my performance at the party.
We spent two hours going over the names and pictures of the more prominent guests. Two whole hours spent poring over a yearbook-type thing trying to memorize the faces, names, and notable facts of about a hundred people.
Then there was the hour and a half spent at the dinner table. Apparently I did not know how to eat properly. There were certain ways to hold the fork, tilt the bowl, lift the glass, and even place the napkin. Up until that time I had never mastered any of those skills, and from what I gathered about the way Finn regarded me, I still hadn’t.
Eventually I gave up. Pushing my plate back, I laid my head down and pressed my cheek against the cold wood of the table.
“Oh, my God, has he killed you?” Willa asked, sounding appalled.
I lifted my head to see her standing at the end of the dining room table, hands on her fashionable hips. She wore too much jewelry, her necklaces and bracelets overly adorned and jangly, but perhaps that was part of being a troll. They all seemed to have a fondness for trinkets, something I had somehow missed, other than my obsession with my thumb ring.
“He bored me to death too.” Willa smiled at me, and I couldn’t believe I felt relieved to see her. No way would she try to drill me about the names of the past three hundred monarchs.
“And yet you look as alive as ever,” Finn said dryly, leaning back in his chair. “Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough with you.”
“Is that some kind of burn, stork?” Willa pulled back her lip in some kind of snide grimace, but she didn’t completely pull it off.
“If you’re feeling a burn, I suggest you look to your former sexual partners.” Finn gave her a small smile, and I gaped at him. I’d never heard him speak like that to anyone before.
“Funny.” Willa tried to keep a straight face, but I got the impression she was amused. “Anyway, I’m here to rescue the Princess.”
“Really?” I asked a little too brightly. “Rescue me how?”
“Fun stuff.” She shrugged in a cute way, and I looked to Finn to see if I could leave.
“Go.” He waved vaguely at me. “You’ve worked hard and you need a break.”
I didn’t think I’d ever be happy to get away from Finn, but I nearly scampered after Willa. She looped her arm through mine, leading me away from the dining room and toward my room. I instantly felt bad about leaving Finn, but I couldn’t take another lecture on silverware.
Willa chatted with me the whole way to my room in one endless stream of commentary about how dreadful her first few weeks were. She’d been certain that Finn would stab her with a fork before they even made it through the dining service, or vice versa.
“This is the worst part,” she said solemnly as we walked into my bedroom. “The whole boot camp before the ball.” She wrinkled her nose. “It’s horrid.”
“Yeah, I’m not enjoying it,” I admitted tiredly.
“But I made it through, so you’ll definitely make it through.” She walked into my bathroom, and when I didn’t follow, she looked back at me. “Are you coming?”