I hate politics. Too bad my father is a big-deal Fae politician, hoping to get bigger. Also too bad that I’d run away from home to escape my alcoholic mother and live with my father in hopes of a more normal life, because what I’d gotten was a heaping helping of anything-but-normal, with a side order of mortal danger. Which is how I found myself dressed in an insanely expensive midnight-blue evening dress—wearing heels, no less—and being escorted by my tux-clad father to a fancy state dinner I wanted no part of.
The dinner was at the Consul’s mansion. My dad and I joined the glittering cream of Avalon high society, waiting in line between the velvet ropes as a pair of Knights controlled traffic and checked invitations. I’d never been to an event anywhere near as formal as this before, and I wouldn’t have been at this one if my dad hadn’t insisted.
When I came to Avalon, the only place where the mortal world and Faerie intersect, I already knew my father was some kind of big-deal Fae. What I didn’t know was all the zillions of ways his status would affect my life. Or that he would try to use me as a pawn in his political chess game. You see, in a little more than a year, the current human Consul—the most powerful person in Avalon, kind of like a president, but not really—was going to have to step down in favor of a Fae. The Consulship changes hands between humans and Fae every ten years, and my dad was bound and determined to be the next Consul of Avalon.
Another thing I’d had no clue about before I’d blundered into Avalon was that every once in a while, when a really powerful Fae—like, say, my father—had a child with a human, that child was … special. A Faeriewalker, someone with enough Fae blood to travel into Faerie and enough mortal blood to travel into the mortal world. But here’s the kicker: not only can Faeriewalkers travel freely in both worlds, they can bring magic into the mortal world and technology into Faerie.
Yup, you guessed it: I’m a Faeriewalker. A rare breed, seeing as the last one before me died almost a century ago. And because of my unique abilities, I became a political asset, which was why my dad was dragging me along to this event when I’d have preferred to stay home and scrounge something from the fridge. Everyone in freakin’ Avalon knew about me, knew I was a Faeriewalker, but Dad had to trot me out to the dinner and show me off, remind everyone that I was his daughter and that if he became Consul, he’d use me to Avalon’s advantage. Never mind that I wasn’t going to let him “use” me for anything, and he knew it.
“Try not to scowl quite so fiercely, Dana,” he said to me in a dry undertone as we inched toward the head of the line.
I tried to wipe the scowl from my face, though I’m not sure I succeeded. “You are going to owe me for this big-time,” I muttered, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw his lips curve into a faint smile.
“Maybe you’ll enjoy yourself,” he suggested, handing his invitation to the Knight with the clipboard.
Knights are Fae warriors, and there was something just wrong about seeing one standing there with a clipboard. Of course, he probably had about a hundred weapons concealed on him, and I could feel the prickly sensation of magic surrounding him. Supposedly only true Fae could sense magic, but I was apparently the exception. Because being a garden-variety Faeriewalker didn’t make me freakish enough. I’d managed to keep my affinity with magic hidden from almost everyone—even my father—so far, and I planned to keep it that way.
The Knight waved us through, and we climbed a set of red-carpeted stairs into a cavernous marble entryway. There were more Knights inside, directing the crowd down a long hallway and making sure no one strayed from the path. They were dressed in tuxes, just like all the other men in the crowd, but they stuck out like sore thumbs anyway, with their muscular builds, their severe expressions, and their not-so-covert surveillance.
“Yeah, this is going to be tons of fun,” I mumbled, keeping my voice low so it wouldn’t echo off the marble. I didn’t need any prior experience with state dinners to guess it was going to include a lot of long, boring speeches. And that Dad was going to introduce me to a lot of people with whom I was supposed to make polite small talk and smile. Just how any sixteen-year-old likes to spend the evening, right?
I could, of course, be a total brat and play the part of the sullen, bored teenager, making my dad regret dragging me along. But he and I were still sort of learning our way around each other, and if I was going to be difficult about something, it would be something more important than whether or not I had to sit through a bunch of speeches.
At the end of the hallway, we had to stand in line again, but this was worse, because I could see—and hear—what was in store for us when we got to the head of the line. There was a tall, thin Fae man standing there, and everyone stopped when they stepped up beside him, then waited for him to announce their names in a loud, deep voice, after which they could finally enter the room and go through an endless-looking receiving line.
Groan! If it took this much time and effort to even get in, I didn’t want to know how long the dinner was going to take. I wondered if I could convince Dad I’d suddenly developed a migraine, or the flu. Maybe Ebola.
“You’re scowling again,” Dad whispered, and I gave him a dirty look.
“This counts as cruel and unusual punishment,” I told him. “And I haven’t even done anything wrong.” The bratty, sullen teenager idea was beginning to hold a certain appeal. Maybe I could embarrass my dad enough to make him send me home.
Dad sighed, but we’d reached the head of the line so he made no comeback. We stood on the landing right outside an honest-to-goodness ballroom, and I was painfully aware that even though we hadn’t been announced yet, and even though there was a lovely Fae woman currently making her way through the receiving line, practically all eyes in the room were on us. My palms felt clammy, and I hoped my face wasn’t flushed with embarrassment.
“Seamus Stuart,” the gatekeeper, or whatever you call him, intoned, and anyone who hadn’t already been looking at us turned their heads in our direction. “And Dana Stuart,” the gatekeeper finished, and I had to clench my teeth to resist the urge to correct him.
I could count the weeks I’d known my dad on one hand, and I’d always gone by my mother’s name, Hathaway. Guess my dad had “forgotten” that when he had me added to the guest list. If it weren’t for our audience, I’d have ripped into him on the spot. Instead, I plastered on the world’s fakest smile and promised myself a good temper tantrum later.
* * *
The next forty-five minutes were about as much fun as sitting in the dentist’s chair. Each time my dad ran into someone he knew—and I swear he knew every person in the room—it was the same thing. They’d exchange some stupid small talk, Dad would introduce me, and then they’d start talking politics.
The high heels were pinching my toes, and I was losing sensation in the balls of my feet as we continued our circuit of the room. My face hurt from the fake-smiling, and I was so bored I had to swallow a yawn every three seconds. And we weren’t even to the speeches yet!
Throughout the torturous meet-and-greet, more people kept arriving at the party, each one announced in a voice that cut through all the chatter. At first, I couldn’t help looking every time someone new came in, but since it was never anyone interesting, I stopped paying attention. Until a wave of silence swept over the room, and even my dad turned to look.
The party had been under way for over an hour, and the Important Dignitaries in the receiving line had abandoned their posts to come mingle with us little people, so there was no line waiting to come in. As a result, everyone in the room had a crystal-clear view of the figure who stood regally in the doorway. I immediately suspected he’d planned things that way.
In some ways, he was a typical Fae man. Tall, lean, with angular features that were painfully beautiful. And yet, he was like no Fae I’d seen before. He was dressed in an outfit that looked like it came straight out of some artsy historical movie, complete with a crimson velvet coat with enormous cuffs and elaborately embroidered lapels, knee breeches, and a frothy white neckcloth. Crimson wasn’t a good color for him, not with his typical Fae pallor and the long red hair that framed his face under a thin gold circlet, but his lack of fashion sense didn’t make him any less breathtaking.
“His Royal Highness, Henry, Prince of the Seelie Court,” the announcer said into the silence that had overtaken the room.
Many of the Fae bowed or curtsied. I glanced at my dad out of the corner of my eye and saw that he didn’t, even though he was a card-carrying member of the Seelie Court. Avalon had seceded from Faerie about a hundred years ago, and in theory, its Fae citizens weren’t supposed to belong to either the Seelie or the Unseelie Court. In reality, there were very few Fae in Avalon who didn’t align themselves with one Court or the other.
Prince Henry soaked in the attention for a moment, standing nearly motionless in the entryway as his gaze swept the room. My stomach did a flip-flop when the prince’s eyes stopped on my father’s face, then slid to me. A smile curled his lips, and there was something oily and unpleasant about it. I took an instant dislike to him and didn’t...