“I’m perfectly safe without you.” I walked faster.
“Does anybody even know that you left the palace?” Finn asked, giving me a sidelong glance as he matched my pace, and I shook my head. “How did you even know where I lived?” I didn’t answer because I didn’t want Duncan to get in trouble, but Finn figured it out on his own. “Duncan? Excellent.”
“Duncan’s doing a perfectly adequate job!” I snapped. “And you must think so, otherwise you wouldn’t have left me in his care.”
“I have no control over whose care you’re left under,” Finn said. “You know that. I don’t know why you’re angry with me for that.”
“I’m not!” I walked even faster, so I was almost jogging. That didn’t bode well for me, because I stepped on a sharp rock. “Dammit!”
“Are you okay?” Finn asked, stopping to see what was the matter.
“Yeah, I just stepped on a rock.” I rubbed my foot. It didn’t appear to be bleeding, and I attempted to walk on it. It stung a little, but I’d survive. “Why couldn’t we take your car?”
“I don’t have a car.” Finn shoved his hands in his pockets and slowed down.
I hobbled a little, and he didn’t offer to help me. Not that I would’ve accepted his offer, but that was beside the point.
“What do you call that Cadillac you always drive?” I asked.
“Elora’s,” he said. “She lends me the car for work, the same way she lends all the trackers cars. But we don’t own them. I don’t actually own anything.”
“What about your clothes?” I asked, mostly just to irritate him. I assumed he actually owned them, but I wanted to argue with him about something.
“Did you see that house back there, Wendy?” Finn stopped and pointed to his house. We’d gone too far to see it anymore, but I looked at the trees blocking my view. “That’s the house I grew up in, the house I live in, the house I will probably die in. That’s what I have. That is all I have.”
“I don’t have anything that’s really mine either,” I said, and he laughed darkly.
“You still don’t get it, Wendy.” He rested his eyes on me, and his mouth twitched into a bitter smile. “I’m just a tracker. You have to stop this. You have to go be a Princess, do what’s best for you, and let me go do my job.”
“I really didn’t mean to bother you, and you don’t need to walk me home.” I turned and walked again, more quickly than my foot would’ve liked.
“I’m making sure you get there safely,” Finn said, following a step behind.
“If you’re just doing your job, then go do it!” I stopped and whirled on him. “But I’m not your job anymore, right?”
“No, you’re not!” Finn shouted and stepped closer to me. “Why did you come to my house today? What did you think that would accomplish?”
“I don’t know!” I yelled. “But you didn’t even say good-bye!”
“How does saying good-bye help anything?” He shook his head. “It doesn’t.”
“Yes, it does!” I insisted. “You can’t just leave me!”
“I have to!” His dark eyes blazed, making my stomach flip. “You have to be the Princess, and I can’t ruin that. I won’t.”
“I understand, but…” Tears welled in my eyes, and I swallowed hard. “You can’t keep going like you do. You have to at least say good-bye.”
Finn stepped closer to me. His eyes smoldered in a way that only he could manage, and the chill in the air seemed to disappear entirely. I leaned in to him, even though I was afraid he’d be able to feel the way my heart hammered in my chest.
I stared up at him, praying he would touch me, but he didn’t. He didn’t move at all.
“Good-bye, Wendy,” Finn said, so quietly I could barely hear him.
“Princess!” Duncan shouted.
I pulled my gaze away from Finn to see Duncan standing a little ways down the road, waving his arms like a maniac. The palace was right around the corner, and I hadn’t realized how close we were. When I looked at Finn, he’d already taken several steps away from me, toward his house.
“He can take you the rest of the way home.” Finn gestured to Duncan and took another step back. I didn’t say anything, so he stopped. “Aren’t you going to say good-bye?”
“No.” I shook my head.
“Princess!” Duncan shouted again, and I heard him racing toward us. “Princess, Matt noticed you were missing, and he wanted to alert the guards. I have to bring you back before he does.”
“I’m coming.” I turned toward Duncan, putting my back to Finn.
I walked with Duncan to the palace, not even looking back at Finn once. I was quite proud of myself. I hadn’t yelled at him for not telling me about my father, but I did say some of the things I wanted to say.
“I’m lucky that Matt was the one who saw you were gone, and not Elora,” Duncan said as we rounded the bend to the palace. The asphalt road gave way to a cobblestone driveway that felt much better on my feet.
“Duncan, is that how you live?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Like Finn’s house.” I pointed toward it with my thumb. “Do you live in a cottage like that? I mean, when you’re not busy tracking.”
“Yeah, pretty much.” Duncan nodded. “I think mine’s a little bit nicer, but I live with my uncle, and he was a really good tracker before he retired. Now he’s a teacher at the mänks school, and that’s still not so bad.”
“Do you live around here?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He pointed up the hill, north of the palace. “It’s pretty well hidden in the bluff, but it’s right up that way.” He looked at me. “Why? Did you wanna go visit?”
“Not right now. Thanks for the invitation, though,” I said. “I was just curious. Is that how all the trackers live?”
“Like me and Finn?” Duncan was thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, pretty much. All the trackers that stay around, anyway.”
Duncan walked ahead and opened the front doors, but I stopped and stared up at the palace, where intertwined vines grew over a massive white exterior. When the sunlight hit it, it glittered beautifully, but it was almost blindingly white.