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“But Finn, I—” I wanted to tell him more, but he pulled away.

“You have to go.” He turned his back to me completely, busying himself with packing so he wouldn’t have to look at me.

“Why?” I demanded, tears stinging my eyes.

“Because.” Finn picked up some of his books off a shelf, and I followed right behind him, unwilling to relent in my pursuit.

“That’s not a reason!”

“I’ve already explained it to you.”

“No, you haven’t. You’ve just made vague comments about the future.”

“I don’t want you!” Finn snapped.

I felt like I had been slapped. For a moment I stood in stunned silence, just listening to the sound of my heartbeat echo in my ears.

“You’re lying.” A tear slipped down my cheek. “You promised you would never lie to me.”

“Wendy, I need you to leave!” he growled.

He breathed heavily, with his back to me, but he had stopped moving around. He leaned against the bookshelf, his shoulders hunched forward.

This was my last chance to convince him, and I knew it. I touched his back, and he tried to pull away from me, but I wouldn’t move my hand. He whirled on me, grabbing my wrist. He pushed me until my back was against the wall, pinning me there.

His body pressed tightly against mine, the strong contours of his body against the soft curves of mine, and I could feel his heart hammering against my chest. He still gripped my wrist, restraining one of my hands against the wall.

I wasn’t sure what he intended to do, but he looked down at me, his dark eyes smoldering. Then suddenly I felt his lips press roughly against mine.

He kissed me desperately, like he couldn’t breathe without me. His stubble scraped against my cheeks, my lips, my neck, everywhere he dared press his mouth against me. He let go of my wrist, allowing me to wrap my arms around him and pull him even closer.

Seconds ago I had been crying, and I could taste the salt from my tears on his lips. Tangling my fingers in his hair, I pulled his mouth more eagerly against mine. My heart beat so fast it hurt, and an intense heat spread through me.

Somehow he managed to pull his mouth from mine. His hands gripped my shoulders, holding me to the wall, and he took a step back. Breathing hard, he looked at the floor instead of at me.

“This is why I have to go, Wendy. I can’t do this to you.”

“To me? You’re not doing anything to me.” I tried to reach out for him, but he held me back. “Just let me go with you.”

“Wendy . . .” He lifted his hand back to my cheek, using his thumb to brush away a fresh tear, and looked at me intently. “You trust me, don’t you?”

I nodded hesitantly.

“Then you have to trust me on this. You need to stay here, and I need to go. Okay?”


“I’m sorry.” Finn let go of me and grabbed his half-packed suitcase off his bed. “I stayed too long.” He started walking to the door, and I ran after him. “Wendy! Enough!”

“But you can’t just leave . . .” I pleaded.

He hesitated at the doorway and shook his head. Then he opened the door and left.

I could’ve followed him, but I didn’t have any more arguments. His kiss had left me feeling dazed and disarmed, and I wondered dimly if that had been his plan all along. He knew his kiss would leave me too weak to chase after him and too confused to argue with him.

After he had gone, I sat down on the bed, which still smelled like him, and started to sob.


the ball

I’m not sure I had slept at all when Willa burst into my room the next day to wake me for the ball. My eyes were red and swollen, but she made very little comment about it. She just started in on getting me ready and talking excitedly about how much fun it was all going to be. I didn’t believe her, but she didn’t seem to notice.

Almost everything I did required verbal and physical prompts. She even had to remind me to rinse the shampoo from my hair, and I was just lucky that modesty had never been her strong suit.

It was impossible to combine fresh heartbreak with the fervor of a ball. Willa kept trying to get me excited or at least nervous about the whole thing, but her efforts were completely futile. The only way I managed to function was by being completely numb.

I couldn’t understand how this had happened. When I first met Finn, he had seemed creepy, and then he was just irritating. Repeatedly I had rejected him and told him that I didn’t need him or want to be around him.

How had it turned into this? I had lived my whole stupid life without him, and now I could barely make it through an hour.

I sat on a stool, wrapped in my robe, while Willa did something to my hair. She had offered to style it in front of a mirror so I could see her progress, but I didn’t care. Holding a bottle of spray in her hand, she stopped what she was doing and just looked at me.

“Wendy.” Willa sighed. “I know Finn’s gone, and you’re obviously taking it pretty hard. But he’s just a stork, and you are a Princess.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I mumbled.

I had considered defending him for a moment, but I was kind of pissed that he had left without me. There was no way that I could’ve left him after that kiss. As it was, it had been torture to stay behind. I just lowered my eyes and tried to close the subject.

“Fine.” Willa rolled her eyes and went back to spraying my hair. “But you’re still a Princess, and this is your night.” I didn’t say anything as she yanked and teased. “You’re still young. You don’t understand how many fish there really are in the sea, especially your sea. The most eligible, attractive men are gonna be all over you, and you’re not even gonna remember that stupid stork who brought you here.”

“I don’t like fishing,” I muttered dryly, but she ignored me.

“You know who is a catch? Tove Kroner.” Willa made a pleased sound. “I wish my dad would set me up with him.” She sighed wistfully and jerked on a lock of my hair.

“He’s really foxy, really rich,” Willa went on, as if I had asked her to tell me more. “He’s like the highest Markis in the world, which is so weird. The Marksinna are usually the ones with all the abilities. Guys can do some things, but they pale in comparison to what women can do, yet Tove has more ability than anybody else. I wouldn’t be surprised if he could read minds.”

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