“I cannot accept your charity,” I say primly. “I will work until I may purchase supplies, and then I will paint your portrait, as I promised.”
“Do not let pride blind you,” he says sharply.
I stand taller, disregarding the bandit’s warning. “Give me my brother instead, and I will go.”
“Your brother bound himself to Faerie,” Lord Ambrose says impatiently. “He made a wager he could not afford, and now he’s paying in years.”
“Count Treald asked why you wouldn’t release him,” I say, stepping forward. “I heard him! Doesn’t that mean it’s in your power to forgive Gustin’s debt?”
“Ian also wants to claim you as a pet—he cares nothing for you or your brother. He would crush you in the palm of his hand, and then he would move on to the next amusement. He was taunting me, not showing you mercy.”
I stare at him, breathing hard. “Give me the money once I’ve earned it.”
“Why are you so determined to stay?” he demands.
“Why are you so determined to get rid of me? Is it that miserable to have a human in your midst? Am I that repulsive?”
I hold my breath when his hand tightens on the bag.
Perhaps I should accept his offer and flee, but what about Gustin? I can’t just leave him in Faerie.
“Fine,” I say when he doesn’t answer. “Give me the gold. I will go to the debtor’s prison and pay for Gustin’s freedom myself.”
“You will do no such thing,” the marquis says curtly, and his eyes flash with warning.
“Why do you care?” I exclaim, frustrated.
His jaw hardens, making the slight cleft in his chin more prominent. “Is your life worth his?”
“That’s the only exchange the jailer will offer you—no amount of gold will buy your brother back. I am the only one with the power to release him, and I cannot do it.”
“Cannot? Or won’t?”
He pins me with his dark eyes. “Won’t.”
I think about it, coming to a decision. I nod to myself, determined.
“What is it?” he asks, sounding like he wishes he hadn’t instigated the conversation.
“I simply have to change your mind, and I cannot do that if I take the gold and run away. I will stay, tending the plants and eventually painting your portrait, working diligently until I can win your admiration, hoping your heart will eventually soften toward my plea.”
“Alice,” he says, sounding genuinely exasperated now. “Go home.”
His change of tone catches my attention, and I quirk my head to the side as I study him. My eyes land on the subtle points of his ears.
“Not yet,” I say slowly.
Letting out a frustrated growl, he narrows his eyes. “Have it your way, but be warned—the full moon is tonight. The creatures of Faerie become wild—including the ones in my own household. I will not be here to ensure your safety. Lock the door to your room, and do not answer it for anyone.”
He turns to leave, but I call to him, “And my balcony door? Should I lock it, too?”
Lord Ambrose stops abruptly and turns back, giving me a look I cannot read. “Every door, every window.”
“When will you return?”