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Tree Shepherd's Daughter
Tree Shepherd's Daughter

By: Gillian Summers
Series: The Faire Folk Saga #1
Imprint: Flux
Specs: Trade Paperback | 9780738710815
English  |  336 pages | 5 x 8 x 1 IN
Pub Date: September 2007
Price: $9.95 US,  $11.50 CAN
In Stock? Yes, ready to ship
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one

Trees. Keelie Heartwood didn’t think her life could be more depressing than it already was, but the sight of the green forest before her made her feel gray inside. She could al­ready feel the tingling of her allergic reaction. Wood of any kind made her feel sick, but living trees were the worst.

She stepped forward, slipping a little, and a ghastly smell greeted her. She looked down. She’d stepped inside a circle of rotten and decaying mushrooms. “Gross!”

Thunder boomed in the dark clouds that hung from the overcast sky, promising more rain. More bad news for her white Skechers. Lately all her news had been bad.

The black mud on the wide, winding, tree-lined path sucked at the shoes, staining them as she struggled to keep up with Ms. Talbot’s fast pace. The woman was her mother’s attorney, and Keelie hated her almost as much as she already hated Colorado. Behind her, the taxi that had dropped them off spun its wheels on loose gravel, then skidded onto the paved road and sped away. Keelie didn’t look back in case her longing to return to California showed on her face. She’d sworn to herself she wouldn’t cry, but the tears pushed at her throat, trying to rise. Maybe it was the trees. There were too many trees, and her tingling was turning into full-blown jitters.

Heart thumping, she hitched her heavy leather messen­ger bag higher on her shoulder, not wanting to risk ruin­ing her few remaining clothes. The airline had misplaced her luggage, another black mark against her miserable day, her miserable life.

The enticing scent of roasting meat wafted by, cutting through the wet, earthy smell that covered everything like a moldy blanket. Her stomach growled. The only thing she’d eaten all day was the tiny bag of peanuts and miniature pretzels tossed at her by the flight attendant on the plane from L.A. Too bad she’d been too depressed to accept Ms. Talbot’s offer to buy her an Au Bon Pain sandwich at LAX.

At least it wasn’t raining any more, though it looked and sounded as if it could start again any second. Dark clouds like spongy cannonballs hung low over the ever­greens. Ahead, the trees thinned, revealing two tall, an-cient-looking yellow stone towers on either side of over­sized wooden gates with black iron hinges. The doorway was flanked by giant topiary lions. One stood on its leafy haunches, its paw on a huge wooden shield that read, “Welcome to the High Mountain Renaissance Festival.” The other crouched as if ready to spring.

Framed by the tall trees of the forest, it looked like a leftover set from The Lord of the Rings.

Fake, she thought. Everything here was fake, except for the trees. Her fingertips tingled from all the living wood around her. She’d never been in such a big forest. Any minute now she’d break out in hives.

People milled around a ticket kiosk, some regrouping, ready to leave, others digging through wallets and purses for the admission fee. Beside the kiosk, a big painted map of the fairground showed the place was enormous, with lots of streets, even a lake. And a depressing amount of forest. Forget lunch. She was feeling nauseous.

Ahead, Ms. Talbot bypassed the ticket booth and dis­appeared through the gates, intent on her objective. Keelie was abandoned to make her way on her own. So what else was new? Her mom had been a busy woman, too. Keelie was used to fending for herself. She was going to be six­teen, not six.

Two big security guards in movie armor ran after Ms. Talbot. “Hey miss, stop. You have to buy a ticket.”

Keelie smiled, pleased that the lawyer was caught. Served her right.

Keelie flashed a fake smile at the ticket taker, smooth­ing her hair behind her ears. She’d wait right here for the taxi that would take them to the airport as soon as La Tal­bot got booted out on her can.

The ticket taker’s eyes widened and he bowed low. “You are most welcome, milady. Your father awaits within. Welcome to the High Mountain Renaissance Faire.” He handed her a small map and brochure.

Keelie stared at the papers in her hand. Was the man psychic?

“Keelie, get a move on.” Talbot was waving her in. The two guards were walking back to the ticket booth, one of them counting money.

Keelie groaned, her elation short-lived. She approached the lions. No one stopped her. A movement at the cor­ner of her eye made her turn. Had the lion shrugged? She could have sworn she saw a green ripple run through its body. Impossible. Must have been a gust of wind.

A flicker to her right. The tasseled tail of the crouching lion had twitched, as if it was ready to jump off its stone planter and leap into the woods. The costumed man at the doorway glanced at her and waved her through. He hadn’t noticed the movement, and either she was expected or this place was totally lax about letting people in.

She shivered as she passed under the banner and through the tall gate. It was like a noisy fortress. A raucous prison. Primal drumbeats kept time for clashing trumpets, fiddles, and bagpipes in a dizzying mix that these poor idiots seemed to enjoy.

Despite the friendly greeting on the lion’s shield, there would be no welcome for her. She certainly didn’t want to be here.

She glanced at her watch. Two hours into her new life and already her shoes were ruined, her luggage was lost, her back hurt, and she’d probably wrecked her manicure. Not to mention the skin-crawling, nauseous feeling she got from the woods. And she was seeing things.

She wanted—no, needed—a hot bath and a mas­sage. Back in the day, Mom would call TJ at the Beautiful Dreamer day spa and make an appointment for side-by-side hot stone massages. Keelie wished she could take the next plane back to California and civilization. Back to Mom.

Mom, who would say, “Okay, babe. Let’s talk it over,” whenever she’d seen or felt something strange, something inexplicable. The older she got, the more of those talks they’d had. Mom always made her feel normal again.

Except there was no Mom anymore. She inhaled, find­ing it hard to breathe. The pines pressed in all around, and she felt as if they were murmuring to her. Claustrophobia wasn’t far behind, but where could she run where there weren’t any trees?

“Hurry along, Keelie,” Ms. Talbot’s voice came from somewhere ahead. “I’ve got to get back on the road in thirty minutes, or I’ll miss my return flight.”

Ms. Talbot, who also worked at Mom’s law firm, had apparently drawn the short straw, and it was obvious she wasn’t thrilled about it. Keelie imagined how the meeting had gone. “Take the kid to Colorado?” Talbot would have said. “Can’t we just drop her off at the airport?”

But no, that would have been too easy, and she was al­ready labeled a flight risk, after the incident the first week­end. A potential runaway who had to be escorted like a baby. It was infuriating, even if it was true.

Irritated, Keelie blinked back the tears that threatened to return.

“Suck it up,” she muttered. “Show no fear.” She didn’t want to be all weepy when she saw her father for the first time since she was a toddler. Her bio dad, she reminded herself.

The mud made slurping noises against her feet as she struggled to follow the lawyer’s prim, dark blue suit. She was so not dressed for this. Neither of them were.

The visitors who streamed toward the entryway looked tired, but laughingly retold their favorite parts of their day. Keelie rolled her eyes as they passed. If they’d all lived through the same events, why retell them? Did they all suf­fer from short-term memory loss?

Ms. Talbot moved upstream through the human river, effortlessly sidestepping to avoid colliding with the tour­ists. How did she do it? Her high heels should have sunk into the mud, but she moved as efficiently as if the rustic path was the polished granite floor of Talbot, Talbot, and Turner’s L.A. office.

Keelie moved faster, determined not to stop. No whin­ing, she told herself. Ms. Talbot paused at a jewelry booth and talked to the clerk behind the counter. She pointed toward Keelie and brandished a folder. Keelie knew its tidy white label read, “Keliel Heartwood,” project number whatever in Ms. Talbot’s busy life.

The pinch-faced clerk behind the counter, plump and tightly corseted in her medieval costume, shook her head.

“Don’t know, ma’am,” she said. Her enormous bosom looked as if it was about to burst out of her bodice, like can­taloupes in bondage. She looked over at Keelie, frowning.

An ancient relic of a man, his weird medieval outfit covered by a disgustingly greasy leather apron, tapped Ms. Talbot’s shoulder.

Keelie hid a smile as the attorney stifled a shriek.

“She means the woodcarver,” the old man told the clerk, speaking with an outrageously fake British accent. He turned to Keelie. “So you’re one of them? We heard you’d be coming. Ye be wanting to go down the way a bit, miss. Heartwood’s in the two-story wood building, next to the jousting. Isn’t that right, Tania?” He cocked an over­grown eyebrow at the big-bosomed clerk.

Jousting. Keelie shook her head. Too much. And what did he mean that she was one of them? She wasn’t one of anything in this place. She pretended to look at the necklaces and charms on display. A box of polished stones caught her eye.

“How much are these?”

“Just two dollars, dearie.” The word was affectionate, but the woman’s tone was cold.

Keelie pulled two crisp bills from her bag and laid them on the counter, careful not to touch the wood. Ms. Talbot called her name from farther up the dirt road. Keelie ignored her. She examined the rocks in the box and pulled out a white-veined pink oval. “I’ll take this pink one. What is it?”

“Rose quartz.” The dollars had vanished. “Go on, that woman’s calling for you. And thanks for the business. This is the second straight week of bad weather. One more like it and we’ll all be in the Muck and Mire Show.”

Keelie took it, afraid the woman might start a laying on of hands and chanting to the rain gods. Thunder boomed again, causing Tania the melon smuggler to scrunch her face with worry.

“Good thing it’s near closing time,” she said. “Looks like another devil of a storm brewing.”

Wind gusts made the colorful banners overhead snap and stretch against their ropes. The breeze smelled sharply of ozone—rain was definitely near. Keelie hooked her leather bag back on her shoulders, then glanced down at her white sweater set and light blue linen capri pants and muttered, “I shouldn’t make fun of La Talbot. I am so overdressed for Never Never Land.”

Across the wide dirt path, a family guffawed as they stumbled out of a tent marked “Magic Maze,” bump­ing into each other dizzily. Keelie hated them for being happy, for being together. The mother glanced at them as they passed, eyebrows raised as she eyed Ms. Talbot’s suit. Keelie figured their clothing made them as remark­able as the jesters, stilt walkers, and medieval peasants that swarmed the grounds. Her stomach rumbled, again. “Ms. Talbot, can we—”

The lawyer was gone. Keelie looked around. No blue suit anywhere.

A crash sounded behind her. A shelf of jewelry stands had fallen. Necklaces were pouring onto the muddy ground.

“My stuff!” Tania scrabbled around, gathering them up. “This Faire is cursed.”

“Hush, girl. Don’t let management hear you say that.” The old man had lost his accent.

The place was packed with visitors, not all heading to­ward the exits, and it was hard to go in a straight line. She thought she saw a glimpse of the blue suit, but then she was surrounded as a crowd of faux peasants, cheering and singing, came down the path from the crest of the hill.

One huge man, wearing a red coat lined with fake fur and trimmed with dozens of jingling silver bells, yelled out in a megaphone voice, “Make way for the king and queen.”

The peasant-dressed crowd that surrounded Keelie shouted, “Huzzah, huzzah.”

She tried to push her way out, holding her breath. It was humid and hot, and several of the peasants were carry­ing authenticity a bit too far. Her nose detected that some of them had a serious need to get reacquainted with using modern-day deodorant.

A flash of blue flitted through the trees on the other side of the path. Ms. Talbot.

Keelie shoved her way clear, then saw the attorney wav­ing her folder in a man’s face. The man wore a jester’s hat and multicolored patched silk pants. And stilts. He leaned over from the waist, trying to read the papers Ms. Talbot waved. A black-haired goth girl stepped up, dressed in a form-fitting black gown with long, flowing sleeves pushed back to show tight undersleeves that buttoned from her elbows to her wrist. She spoke to Ms. Talbot and pointed toward a clearing on the other side of the hill, then turned and melted into the milling throng. The man on stilts yelled, “Long live the King and his new Queen.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Keelie said. Long live the King and his new Queen. Well, she hoped so. Long lives to them. She wondered what had happened to the old Queen. Probably came to her senses and fled this loony bin.

Keelie blinked back the tears that seemed to hit her by surprise every once in a while, even though Laurie’s mom, Elizabeth, told her she was taking it very well. Yeah, well, that meant she could fake being okay when in public, and she wasn’t about to quit now. She blinked fast to get rid of the wetness without having to wipe at her eyes and give herself away.

Through blurred vision she saw another flash of dark blue. She pushed through the jostling crowd, ignoring the curious looks she got from several of them. She suddenly realized she wasn’t queasy any more. She looked down at the smooth pink rock in her hand. Whatever works. She tucked it in her pocket.

At the other side of the mob was a throng of people watching a man with a bird with a leather hood on its head. Falconry. Okay, now this was interesting. She’d stud­ied medieval history in eighth grade at Baywood Academy and had done a report on falconry.

Up close, she could see the big falcon also had long leather ribbons tied around its legs. Jesses, she remem­bered.

Poor birds. They were prisoners, too. Just like Mom had said, the people here were a bunch of childlike dorks who wanted to live in the Middle Ages. They were totally out of touch with reality. Who’d want to relive a time when there was no sanitation and people walked around with scented pomander balls held up to their noses to cover the stench of unwashed bodies?

Mom had warned her about these Renaissance folks. And about her father, who had done the medieval version of running away to join the circus.

An owl hooted next to Keelie and she saw that there were more of them in the enclosure, along with hawks and falcons.

There had been a stuffed owl in Mr. Stein’s biology lab at Baywood Academy, but it had looked bald and moth-eaten. The white owl on its stand swiveled its head to fol­low her, yellow eyes huge and unblinking, feathers fluffy and soft. Keelie wished she could touch it.

A man in a puffy-sleeved white shirt and soft, black knee-high boots walked into the center of the circle, a hawk on his gloved hand. Despite the bird’s size, the man held it as if it didn’t weigh much. “Can anyone tell me why this bird’s eyes are covered?” His voice was loud, and he was faking an English accent, too. Voices offered answers.

Keelie looked at the bird, its wings fluttering. It shifted its weight from foot to foot, as if impatient.

“Hello. Interested in the birds?” The voice made her turn quickly. She hadn’t heard anyone come up. The woman wore her hair boy-short and was dressed in a femi­nine version of the falconer’s outfit, with a big poet’s shirt and tall boots. She nodded at the owl Keelie had admired.

“This is Moon. She’s a snowy owl,” the woman said. “She bites, so don’t get too near.”

“She’s beautiful,” Keelie said. Her voice sounded grumpy to her own ears. She didn’t want to be here, and she hadn’t planned to live in the Colorado woods with a bunch of hippie weirdos, but she wasn’t a liar. The birds were incredible.

The sound of running feet made them both look up.

“I need more bait,” a man said breathlessly, sweat drip­ping down his sun-reddened face, following the tributaries formed by the wrinkles around his eyes.

“Ariel is in the tree.” He pointed up toward the tops of the tall pines around the clearing.

Keelie looked up into the wind-tossed tree tops, not sure what she was looking for. A climbing woman? Branches swayed and needled boughs fluttered wildly in the wind, but near a fork in the trunk of a large tree she saw the still outline of a large bird. Ariel, she bet. She wanted to tell her to fly free. Keelie would escape, if she could. If she had wings, she would fly home.

Or maybe she’d fly back to the past and cherish each day with her mom. She’d tell Mom not to take the flight back from San Francisco to L.A. She’d tell her not to trust the commuter plane.

Her chest hurt. She took a deep breath. No crying. No more. “Fly free and never look back,” she whispered.

“Keelie, keep up. I’m running out of time,” Ms. Tal­bot said. She was standing about twenty feet away and, for the first time, looked a little cross. A thin dribble of mud stained one of her stockings.

The bird handler looked Ms. Talbot up and down, then bit her lip, as if trying to keep in whatever she was going to say.

“Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Zekeliel Heart­wood? This is his daughter. I promised to deliver her in person, and it’s getting late. I have to catch a flight back to California.” Ms. Talbot’s smile seemed insincere.

The bird woman pointed to a leaning post in the cross­roads, covered in haphazardly nailed street signs. “Follow Water Sprite Lane to Wood Row. He’s on the left. Can’t miss him.” She turned to Keelie. “And you’re his daughter. I’m ashamed of myself for not seeing it. You’re the image of him.” She grinned. “I’m Cameron. I’m a friend of your dad’s.”

A friend? She just bet. But despite her certainty that the Faire was full of geeks and weirdos, for some reason she felt herself warm to Cameron. She frowned and walked away quickly, then slowed as she realized that she didn’t need to follow Ms. Talbot’s blue suit. She knew the way. Cameron’s directions were clear.

A few yards away the path split. The left side of the fork was marked “Wood Row.” Just her luck. More wood. The right read, “To The Jousting Ring.” She pulled the map out. Sure enough, a big oval was marked “Jousting.” Interested, and not eager to see if Ms. Talbot succeeded in her quest, she took the right fork.

She jumped back as a big bird flew in front of her, swooping low over the path before arching into the trees. For a second she thought it would hit her. Was it the hawk? She looked up and saw a flash of bright red. Not the hawk. There was too much wildlife around here for her taste.

The jousting ring wasn’t a ring at all. It looked like a sandy football field, with a grandstand on one side and a wooden wall across from it. People still milled around excitedly, and the stands were crammed full. Food vendors hawked steak on a stick and turkey legs.

“Get your food poisoning on a stick,” Keelie muttered, keeping a tight grip on her bag. The place was full of pick­pockets and thieves, according to Mom.

As she climbed the hilly road, she got a better look at what lay beyond and stopped, mouth open. Knights in armor galloped toward each other on giant horses, just like in the movies. For a moment, she wasn’t at a twenty-first-century Renaissance Faire. She was there, in sixteenth-cen-tury England.

The horses were covered in brightly colored cloth that rippled with their movements, and the knights’ armor looked real, although instead of being shiny, most of it looked sort of dented and used.

They held long wooden pole lances, and every time they passed each other one would try to knock the other down by hitting him with the pole, which made the crowd go wild. Bloodthirsty geeks—what a concept.

Behind her the birds cried out, their keening cries com­peting with the long trumpets blowing fanfares, yells from the crowd, and the clang of armor and swords, a confusion of sound that echoed and swirled through her body.

Her father was close by. This place was supposed to be her home now. How scary was that? She looked around at the cheering crowds and the costumed players. She didn’t know anybody aside from Ms. Talbot. Even though she didn’t like her, she was a part of her old life, and Keelie wanted to hold on to every little piece that was left.

When she was gone, Keelie’d be left alone in this lop­sided fairy tale land. Well, not alone. She’d be with her fa­ther, and she’d heard enough about him to know that life was going to be less fairy tale and more nightmare.

She imagined what would happen if her friends ever learned that her father was no better than a gypsy, a man who made his living traveling between Renaissance Faires, going from show to show, hawking his wares to the public like some Wild West snake oil salesman. It sent shivers of embarrassment coursing through her.

When her friends asked about her dad, she told them he was in the government, working for the National Park Service in Alaska. It was too remote for him to come home. That would definitely be preferable to the truth. Alaska seemed very REI and outdoorsy, but this—this was not dealing with reality. She watched a woman go by, carrying garlands of flowers to sell as hair ornaments. She wore a laced-up bodice and a flowing skirt. It seemed to be a kind of uniform around here. Some wore their bod­ices tighter than others. Trailer-park tight.

Raindrops hit her, and Keelie touched her blunt-cut hair, smooth and shiny from her morning session with gel and a straightening iron. Now it was going to frizz and curl in every direction. She’d spent an hour on it for nothing.

The hawk screeched in the trees behind her. She’d thought she was like the hawk, tied up, blindfolded, and told what to do, but maybe the hawk was scared. Maybe it needed the safety of its handler’s arm. Who knew? No one had asked the hawk what it wanted before it was captured and tamed. No one had asked Keelie before turning her life upside down.

Lugging the bag, she caught a whiff of a delicious green scent. Not a scary tree smell. More like the smell of a meadow in the morning, or so she imagined. Her aller­gies had kept them away from forests and parks. She fol­lowed the smell to a booth with a wooden sign that said “Herbs.” By the doorway was a smaller sign: “Remedies for sore muscles and bad cooking.” Was that a joke?

The shelves inside held baskets, bottles, and different kinds of soaps and lotions. A whole section was labeled “Herbal Remedies.” That got her attention. She loved any­thing to do with medicine, although her mother would have dragged her out of here. She had scowled when Keelie mentioned volunteering at the hospital and told her to focus on her studies. She had, of course, meant her fu­ture law studies.

It made Keelie feel guilty to be in the shop, even if her mom was gone and couldn’t tell her to leave it alone. Would it betray Mom’s wishes if she just glimpsed the herbal tinctures and salves and sniffed a few? The open sample jars smelled wonderful.

The lady in charge wore a flowing purple gown laced in front with a silver leather cord. A snowy apron was pinned to her chest with straight pins and tied behind her waist in a bow. Her big, flowing sleeves almost dragged on the ground and were laced to her shoulders with more silver cord.

This was something Keelie could see herself wearing— if she were going to stay here, that was.

“Can I help you find something?”

Keelie lifted an intriguing pot. “What’s this used for?”

“It’s a form of liniment for sore knees.”

“Keelie Heartwood, where are you?” The call from out­side almost made her heart stop. She’d forgotten Ms. Tal­bot! It was as if her mom’s voice had called out, reminding her that this wasn’t her world. The herb woman seemed startled, too, and seemed about to speak.

Keelie didn’t give her a chance. She stepped outside, looking up the hill toward the sound of Ms. Talbot’s voice. She tripped on the lifted end of a flat gray paver and went down hard on her knees.

Her bag flew off her shoulder and hit the side of the stone, spilling her belongings down the hill. Keelie jumped up and ran, grabbing things up before anyone could get them. Her hairbrush, with leaves stuck in it; her extra panties, muddied; her journal, safe—thank goodness. With each thing she scooped up, the tears she’d fought earlier came closer to the surface. No amount of blinking would send them back. She brushed her arm across her face and reached for her clear plastic toiletry bag.

A hand reached it first, and Keelie followed it up as the person straightened. Knee-high laced boots, emerald green tights, a fancy tight black and gold jacket with a hawk em­broidered on the chest, and a green and black satin cape.

What an outfit. And above it all, a handsome face like a California surfer, all blonde and sun-browned.

The boy smiled and handed her the bag. She took it from him, unable to say a word, hovering between extreme thrill and rock-bottom mortification.

“Here’s your bag, Keelie Heartwood.” The woman from the herb booth had picked up her leather bag. The stuff that hadn’t rolled downhill poked out of it at crazy angles.

“Thanks.” Keelie shoved her panties into it before the guy could see, then dropped in the rest of what she’d man­aged to gather.

“Did you get everything?” His voice was low and sweet.

“Yes. I mean, I don’t know.”

“Oi’ve got her mirra.”

She turned. A massive man held her pocket mirror, the little blue plastic clamshell, pinched between two very grimy fingers. He was caked in mud, every inch of him, and behind him were three other grinning Mud Men.

The head mud guy held out her mirror. She reached for it, and he laughed and tossed it to one of his mud bud­dies. Keelie knew they meant it to be funny, but all she could think of was Christmas morning last year, when she’d found the mirror in the toe of the stocking her mom had fixed for her. Mirrors and lipstick. It was a tradition.

Tears ran down her cheeks, and she didn’t wipe them away. Why didn’t it rain? Why didn’t it rain so that all these bozos with their stupid kiddie tricks would go inside and leave her alone? No one could see her tears if it was raining, and she felt as if she could cry all day and all night.

1_

“Ho there, Blurp,” the prince beside her called out. “Give the lady back her mirror, or I’ll thrash ye with my sword.”

Blurp, the mud guy, roared with laughter, then glanced at Keelie. Something crossed his face. Regret, maybe, al­though he was too coated in mud for her to tell. “Here, lad,” he said, and tossed him the mirror.

The prince wiped it clean with his beautiful satin cloak and offered it to her, bowing from the waist.

Keelie nodded, but her nose was going to run if she said anything, and she couldn’t come up with a smile.

A girl in a pink and gold hoopskirt picked her way through the mud, a golden harp cradled in her arms. She glanced scornfully at the mud guys, then frowned at Keelie and the prince. Long golden curls twisted down her back, like a fairy princess from a storybook.

“Lord Sean o’ the Wood, the Queen awaits your plea­sure,” she said, eyeing Keelie up and down.

Lord Sean? How likely was that?

“Thank you, Lady Elia.” He turned back to Keelie, looking embarrassed. “I have to go. I hope you found everything.”

“I think so, thanks.” Her voice seemed kind of choked, but at least she got the words out.

“Oh, you poor child,” Lady Elia said, pouting.

Poor child? Where did this Elia person get off calling her a child? They seemed to be the same age. Keelie felt her eyes scrunch up with distrust. The airy-fairy princess pouted like someone who wanted to be admired. Keelie knew the type. Her long wavy hair and green eyes prob­ably got her lots of attention.

“Did you have an accident?” the golden girl asked. “Shall we call security?” She twitched her skirt back as if Keelie might get mud on it. Keelie hated her already.

“No need,” Lord Sean o’ the Wood said. “She says she’s fine. I think she is, too. Right, Keelie? I may call you Keelie, may I not?”

Had she just heard that? Keelie nodded dumbly, afraid to look at him, in case he didn’t mean what she thought he did.

“Keelie Heartwood! Come up right now. I’ve found your father.” Ms. Talbot’s strident voice rang through the crowd. “You’ll have time to play with your new friends later.”

Play? Mortified, Keelie froze. The pink and gold girl folded her arms and stared at her, eyes narrowed.

Keelie was positive that Ms. Talbot’s use of the word “friend” was premature.

Murmurs erupted around her. She thought she heard someone murmur “Heartwood.”

She didn’t wait to hear what they said. Dork! she thought. She was a dork for coming here, and a dork for mooning over the prince. Lord Sean. As if.

She whirled and ran up the hill, trying to outrun her humiliation. Slipping in the mud, she still moved fast enough to get all the way to the top without looking back. Her father was up there somewhere, and that was trouble enough. 


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