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When Rhys and I showed up at my “brother” Matt’s house at eight in the morning, he was happy … in the sense that he was glad I was alive and hadn’t disappeared forever. Despite being angry, he listened while I put together a vague explanation, glaring at me the whole time with mystified rage.
At least I only had to face Matt. My aunt Maggie is my legal guardian, but she wasn’t there when we arrived. Matt explained that she had gone off looking for me in Oregon. I have no idea why, but for some reason, she thought I’d run off there.
As Rhys and I sat on the shabby-chic couch in Matt’s living room, surrounded by the boxes that he had yet to unpack from when we’d moved into the house two months ago, Matt paced back and forth in front of us.
“I still don’t understand,” Matt said. He stopped in front of us, arms folded over his chest.
“There’s nothing to understand,” I insisted, gesturing at Rhys. “He’s your brother! It’s pretty obvious when you look at him.”
I have dark, wild, curly hair and mahogany eyes. Matt and Rhys both have sandy hair and sapphire eyes. They had something much more open in their faces too, and they had the same easy smile. Rhys stared up at Matt with bemused wonderment, his eyes wide with awe.
“How could you possibly know that?” Matt asked.
“I don’t know why you can’t just trust me.” I sighed and laid my head back on the couch. “I never lie to you!”
“You just ran away from home! I had no idea where you were. That’s a major trust violation!”
Matt’s anger couldn’t cover up how hurt he still was, and his body showed signs of the strain he had been under. His face was gaunt and haggard, his eyes red and tired, and he had probably lost ten pounds. When I disappeared, he completely collapsed, I’m sure. I felt guilty, but I hadn’t had a choice.
Matt had always been too preoccupied with my safety, a side effect from his mother having tried to kill me and all that. His life revolved around me to the point of being unhealthy. He had no friends, no job, no life of his own.
“I had to run away! Okay?” I ran a hand through my tangled curls and shook my head. “I can’t explain it to you. I left for my safety and for yours. I don’t know if I should even be here now.”
“Safety? What were you running from? Where were you?” Matt asked desperately, not for the first time.
“Matt, I can’t tell you! I wish I could but I can’t.”
I wasn’t sure if it was legal for me to tell him anything about the Trylle or not. I assumed everything about them was secret, but nobody had expressly forbidden me from telling outsiders either. Matt would never believe me, though, so I didn’t see the point in trying.
“You’re really my brother,” Rhys said in a hushed tone. He leaned forward to get a better look at Matt. “This is so weird.”
“Yeah, it is,” Matt agreed. He shifted uncomfortably under Rhys’s stare before he turned to me, his expression serious. “Wendy, can I have a word with you? Alone?”
“Uh, sure.” I looked over at Rhys.
Taking his cue, Rhys stood up. “Where’s your bathroom?”
“Down that way, off the kitchen.” Matt pointed to his right.
Once Rhys was gone, Matt sat down on the coffee table in front of me and lowered his voice.
“Look, Wendy, I don’t understand what’s going on. I have no idea how much of what you’ve told me is true, but that kid looks like a total weirdo to me. I don’t want him in my house, and I don’t know what you were thinking bringing him here.”
“He’s your brother,” I said wearily. “Honest, Matt. I would never, ever lie about something this major. I am one hundred percent certain that he is your real brother.”
“Wendy…” Matt rubbed his forehead, sighing. “I get that you believe that. But how could you actually know? I think this kid is feeding you a story.”
“No, he’s really not. Rhys is the most honest person I’ve ever known, except for you. Which makes sense, since you’re brothers.” I leaned in closer to Matt. “Please. Give him a chance. You’ll see.”
“What about his family?” Matt asked. “Who has been raising him all these years? Don’t they miss him? And aren’t they your ‘real’ family or whatever?”
“Trust me, they won’t miss him. And I like you better,” I said with a smile.
Matt shook his head as if unable to decide what to make of all this. I knew a large part of him didn’t trust Rhys and wanted to throw him out of the house, so I admired him all the more for his restraint.
“I wish you would be straight with me about all of this,” he said.
“I’m being as straight with you as I can be.”
When Rhys came back from the bathroom, Matt leaned away from me and eyed him warily.
“You don’t have any family pictures up,” Rhys commented as he looked around the room.
That was true. We didn’t really have decorations of any kind up, but we didn’t particularly care to remember our family. Matt especially was not fond of our … er, his mother.
I had yet to explain to Rhys about his mother being a lunatic locked up in a mental institution. Stuff like that is hard to break to someone, especially someone as awestruck as Rhys.
“Yeah, we’re just that way,” I said and stood up. “We drove all night to get here. I’m pretty beat. What about you, Rhys?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess I’m tired.” Rhys seemed a bit startled by my suggestion. Even though he hadn’t gotten any sleep, he didn’t look tired at all.
“We should get some sleep, and we can talk more later.”
“Oh.” Matt got to his feet slowly. “You’re both going to be sleeping here, then?” He looked uncertainly at Rhys, then back at me.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “He doesn’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Oh.” Matt was clearly against the idea, but I knew he was afraid that if he kicked Rhys out, I’d go after him. “Rhys, I guess you can sleep in my room, for now.”
“Really?” Rhys tried to tone down his excitement over staying in Matt’s room, but it was obvious.
Matt awkwardly showed us up to our rooms. My room was still my room, all my stuff the same as I had left it weeks earlier. As I settled in, I listened to Matt and Rhys talking across the hall in Matt’s room. Rhys was asking him to explain the simplest things, like how to turn on the bedside lamp, and it made Matt frustrated and uncomfortable.
By the time Matt came into my room, I had already changed into my pajamas. They were worn and comfortable, and I loved them.
“Wendy, what is going on?” Matt whispered. He shut the door behind him and locked it, as if Rhys were some kind of spy. “Who is that kid really? Where did you go?”
“I can’t tell you what happened while I was gone. Can’t you just be happy that I’m here and I’m safe?”
“No, not really.” Matt shook his head. “That kid is not right. He’s so amazed by everything.”
“He’s amazed by you,” I corrected him. “You have no idea how exciting all this is for him.”
“None of this is making any sense.” Matt ran a hand through his hair.
“I really do need to get some sleep, and this is a lot for you to process. I get that. Why don’t you go call Maggie? Let her know I’m safe. I’ll get some rest, and you can think about everything I’ve been saying.”
Matt released a defeated sigh. “Fine,” he said, then his blue eyes went hard. “But you better think about telling me what’s really going on here.”
“All right.” I shrugged. I could think about it, but I wouldn’t tell him.
Matt’s gaze softened again, and his shoulders slackened. “I am glad you’re home.”
I could see just then how terrible this had all been for him. And I knew I could never disappear like that again. I went over and hugged him tightly.
Matt left me alone in my room, and I crawled into the familiar comfort of my twin bed. I had been sleeping in a giant king-sized bed in Förening, but somehow, my narrow bed felt so much better. I snuggled deeper in the covers, relieved to be somewhere that felt sane again.
I’d always had an inkling that I didn’t fit in with my family, despite Matt’s devotion to me. My mother had nearly killed me when I was six years old, claiming that I was a monster and not her daughter.
Turns out, she was right.
Less than a month ago, I found out I was a changeling—a child that is exchanged in secret for another child. Specifically, I was switched at birth with Rhys Dahl. It turns out that I’m a Trylle. Trylle are basically glamorous grifters with mild superpowers.
Technically, I’m a troll, but not in the creepy little green monster sort of way. I’m of normal height and fairly attractive. In Trylle culture, the use of changelings is a practice that dates back centuries. The custom’s intention is to make sure Trylle offspring have the best childhoods possible.
I’m supposed to be a Princess in Förening—the compound in Minnesota where the Trylle live. My birth mother is Elora, the Trylle Queen. After spending a few weeks in Förening, I decided to head home. I had a falling-out with Elora, who had forbidden me from seeing Finn Holmes simply because he’s not royalty.
I escaped and took Rhys with me. In Förening, Rhys had shown me genuine kindness, and I felt he deserved some of that in return. I brought him here to meet Matt, since he is really Rhys’s brother, not mine.
Of course, I couldn’t tell Matt all of that. He’d think I was completely insane.
Growing drowsy, I thought again how good it felt to be home. It only took ten minutes for Rhys to shatter that comfort when he crept into my room. I was almost asleep, but the sound of my door opening made me alert. Matt had gone downstairs, presumably to make the phone call I suggested, and if he knew Rhys was in here, he’d kill us both.
“Wendy? Are you asleep?” Rhys whispered, sitting gingerly on the edge of my bed.
“Yes,” I muttered.
“Sorry. I can’t sleep,” Rhys said. “How can you sleep?”
“It’s not that exciting for me. I lived here before, remember?”
“Yeah, but…” He trailed off, probably because he had no argument for that. Suddenly he tensed and sucked in his breath. “Did you hear that?”
“You talking? Yes, but I’ve been trying not—” Before I could finish my sentence, I heard it too. A rustling sound outside my bedroom window.
Considering I had just had a horrible run-in with some very bad trolls known as Vittra, I was alarmed. I rolled over and peered at the window, but the curtains were drawn, blocking my view.
The rustling turned into actual banging, and I sat up, my heart pounding. Rhys shot a nervous glance at me. We heard the window slide open, and the curtains billowed out from the wind.
Copyright © 2010 by Amanda Hocking