“You’re enjoying this more than I’ve ever seen you enjoy anything,” I said, and that only deepened his smile. “Well, I’m glad you find this funny. Me being felt up by complete strangers and tripping all over them. What a great time.”
“It won’t be so bad.” He motioned for me to come over. “If you learn the basic steps, at least you won’t be tripping over them.”
I sighed loudly and walked over to him. Most of my trepidation about dancing with strangers melted away the instant Finn took my hand in his. It suddenly occurred to me that before I had to dance with them, I got to dance with him.
After a few directions from him and a rough start by me, we were dancing. His arm was around me, strong and reassuring. He instructed me to keep my eyes locked on his so I wouldn’t get in the habit of watching my feet while I danced, but I wouldn’t have looked anywhere else anyway. His dark eyes always mesmerized me.
We were supposed to keep a certain distance between our bodies, but I found it impossible. His body nearly pressed against mine, and I delighted in the sensation. I was certain we weren’t going as fast as we should, but I didn’t care. This moment with him seemed entirely too perfect to be real.
“Right, okay.” Finn suddenly stopped and took a step away from me. Disappointed, I let my hands fall to the side. “You’ve got that down pretty well, but there’s going to be music. So you should see how you do with that.”
“Okay?” I said unsurely.
“Why don’t I play the piano, and you count out the steps yourself?” Finn had already started backing away to the piano, and I wondered what I had done wrong that made him stop so suddenly. “That might be a better way for you to learn.”
“Um, okay.” I shrugged uncertainly. “I thought I was doing fine before.”
“We weren’t going fast enough. The music will help you keep time.”
I frowned at him, wishing he would just come back and dance with me. I remembered how he once told me I was a terrible dance partner, and wondered if maybe that was the problem.
He sat down at the piano and started playing a beautiful, elaborate waltz. Of course he could play. He could do anything. I just stood there staring at him, until he directed me to start dancing.
I whirled around on the dance floor, but it definitely wasn’t as fun as it had been with him. In fact, it wasn’t really that fun at all. It might have been if I weren’t trying to figure out what I did wrong that always made Finn back away from me.
It was hard to concentrate on that, though, when Finn kept barking out corrections at me. Funny, he hadn’t noticed any of my mistakes when we had been dancing together.
“Nope, that’s it,” I panted after what felt like an eternity.
My feet and legs were getting sore, and a sheen of sweat covered my body. I had had my fill of dancing for the day. I sat down heavily on the floor, then leaned back, sprawling out on the cool marble.
“Wendy, it hasn’t even been that long,” Finn insisted.
“Don’t care. I’m out!” I breathed deeply and wiped the sweat from my forehead.
“Haven’t you ever worked at anything?” Finn complained. He got up from the piano bench and walked over to me so he could lecture me up close. “This is important.”
“I’m aware. You tell me every second of every day.”
“I do not.” Finn crossed his arms and looked down at me.
“This is the hardest I’ve ever worked at anything,” I said, staring back up at him. “Everything else I’ve quit before this, or I never even tried. So don’t tell me I’m not putting effort into this.”
“You’ve never tried harder than this? At anything?” Finn asked incredulously, and I shook my head. “That brother you had never made you do anything?”
“Not really,” I admitted thoughtfully. “He made me go to school, I guess. But that’s about it.” Matt and Maggie encouraged me to do many things, but there was very little they actually made me do.
“They spoiled you more than I thought.” Finn looked surprised at that.
“They didn’t spoil me.” I sighed, then quickly amended, “They didn’t spoil me rotten. Not the way Willa was spoiled, and I’m sure a lot of the other changelings were. They just wanted me to be happy.”
“Happiness is something you work for,” Finn pointed out.
“Oh, stop with that fortune-cookie crap,” I scoffed. “We worked for it just like anybody else. They were just really careful with me, probably because my mom tried to kill me. It set them up to treat me more gently than they would’ve otherwise.”
“How did your mother try to kill you?” Finn asked, startling me. I hadn’t told him much about it, but he rarely wanted to talk about my past.
“It was my birthday, and I was being my usual bratty self. I was angry because she’d gotten me a chocolate cake, and I hated it,” I said. “We were in the kitchen, and she snapped. She started chasing after me with this giant knife. She called me a monster, and then she tried to stab me but she just managed to cut my stomach pretty badly. Then my brother Matt rushed in and tackled her, saving my life.”
“She cut open your stomach?” Finn furrowed his brow with concern.
“Yeah.” I pulled up my shirt, revealing the scar that stretched across it.
Immediately after I’d done that, I regretted it. Lying on the floor and flashing Finn the fattest part of my body did not seem like a good idea.
Finn crouched on the floor next to me, and tentatively his fingertips traced along the mark etched on my belly. My skin quivered underneath his touch, and nervous warmth spread through me. He continued to stare intently at the scar, then he laid his hand flat on my belly, covering it. His skin felt hot and smooth, and inside, my stomach trembled with butterflies.
He blinked and, seeming to realize what he was doing, he pulled his hand back and got to his feet. Quickly I pulled my shirt back down. I didn’t even feel that comfortable lying down anymore, so I sat up and fixed my bun.
“Matt saved your life?” Finn asked, filling that semi-awkward silence that had shrouded us. He still had a contemplative look on his face, and I wished I knew what he was thinking.
“Yeah.” I got to my feet. “Matt always protected me, ever since I could remember.”
“Hmm.” Finn looked thoughtfully at me. “You bonded so much more with your host family than the changelings normally do.”