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       Moonbeam, p.11

           Adrienne Woods

  “Look at you. You look so much like your father.” She smiled, tugging on my hair slightly. Clearly she hadn’t heard a word I’d said. This was too much for her to take in.

  I laughed. “Yeah, I get that a lot. But you have to listen. The North side of Etan, Mom.”

  “How old are you?”

  I sighed. “Twenty-six. I can’t stay, Mom. Dad is looking for us as we speak. He thinks we’re traitors. We need to get back to our time.”

  She nodded and looked back at Blake. “You are a second Robert Leaf, but Isabel’s soul is staring straight at me through those blue peacock eyes.”

  “Please, Mom. Just do it. For me. I need you.”

  “Okay, baby.” She stroked my cheek softly. Her hands were so warm. I closed my eyes “The pond didn’t lie when it showed me your face.”

  “The pond?” Then I remembered her name in the book. That was why she’d entered the Sacred Cavern. This was what she’d needed the pond for. To look into her future, to see if she was going to ever have children. She must’ve seen me.

  I grabbed her again and pulled her into my chest. She smelled of vanilla.

  Another thought invaded my mind. “In ten years, Wyverns are going to come to find a truce. They can’t be trusted. Ever. You hear?” Desi couldn’t die. Not this time.

  She nodded.

  “Don’t forget that. No matter what Dad says, they can never be trusted.”

  “I promise I won’t forget.” She held me at arm’s length and looked me over as if storing up the memory of me. A twinkle glinted in her eyes.

  “North side, Mom. Tomorrow. Maybe they’re already there.”

  She nodded, clutched my arm, and pulled me to her chest.

  “Elena, we need to go,” Blake said through gritted teeth. I could see in his thoughts his burning need to get me out of harm’s way.

  “Love you,” I said to my mother. She nodded in my arms. I felt the movement in the nape of my neck.

  She didn’t say it back. But I knew there was a chance I would now grow up hearing it. She just need to kill him.

  When Blake opened the door, we could hear the guards running toward Queen Catherine’s wing.

  She reached past him and closed the door. “Follow me,” she said. “There’s a secret access.” She led us to her room. I barely took in the unmade bed and air of loneliness as she took us to a wall panel. This hidden passage wasn’t even on the layout of the plans that my father had shown us.

  She opened it. Blake stepped in first.

  “Be safe. I promise I will see you again.” A beautiful smile transformed her face.

  “I trust you.” I hugged her one last time. I didn’t want to break the hug, but I had no choice. “Will you be okay?”

  She gave me a sideways glance. “I’m the Queen of Paegeia. I’ll be fine.”

  I let out a startled laugh.

  She pushed us through the opening in the panel and shut it behind me slowly. Neither of us wanted to say goodbye. “Just go straight.” Her voice was muffled through the wood. “The tunnel will lead you outside.”

  I nodded. I rushed after Blake down a pitch-black hall, relying on his senses not to run into things. His relief at finally being able to move flooded my senses.

  Once we were outside, we searched through his mind for the Beam that would take us back to the present. That Beam would either take me to a new future or the same one. I just hoped that my mom was going to make it this time.

  I saw them lift off. My baby girl and her dragon. Extraordinary visitors indeed. Al hadn’t realized how extraordinary they were when he’d said it.

  The dragon darted into the air. A gasp left my mouth as he vanished into thin air and then a bright light engulfed the sky.

  A familiarity of that light entered my mind. About two hundred years ago during the war. There had been the outline of a huge dragon. I gasped. I’d shot at them with my arrow.

  Oh my gosh. I could’ve hurt her.

  I looked back at the sky. The light vanished, leaving not a speck in the sky.

  They were gone, just like that.

  Was that them? Is she safe? What will she find? Will I be there? I have to be there. I just have to.

  I didn’t care that it was Goran anymore. She’d called him insane. His father was right, and we were wrong. Wyverns. It was a hard pill to swallow, but they’d had all the evidence, she’d lived through it. I would ask her one day what her life was, one day when Elena would meet the future Elena. One day.

  The knock on my door came.

  I reached it before Sophie could.

  I grabbed my lady. She hadn’t expected the roughness of my touch. I yanked her back. My shield sparkled around us.

  “You will remember nothing. I was whimpering inside my room, just like every night. Nobody was inside my chambers. The name Elena means nothing. You don’t know an Elena.” I looked into a pair of wide eyes turning a lovely, but vacant, green as I erased tonight’s memory. She stood there, dazed by what I’d done to her. Satisfied, I slowly walked back to my room. I reached my room and softly closed the door behind me.

  Insistent knocks on the door filled the chamber.

  Sophie must have shaken off her daze, remembering nothing. The gift of persuasion. A gift from my sister. A gift I could use no matter how many miles or magical walls were between us. The sister who, according to Elena from the future, would eventually break her promise. That saddened me the most. Knowing that she wasn’t strong enough in the end.

  But she would be. Everything was going to change. Everything. My little girl would come home. She would grow up with me by her side. She will know who she is.

  I just had to take care of this problem.

  “Has anybody come to see the queen?” Albert’s voice boomed in my outer chamber.

  I huffed and laid back on my bed.

  “No, Your Majesty. Nobody was here. Is everything all right?” she asked.

  Should I go to him, ask what is the matter? No, I’m not going to. He didn’t want to even listen to them. No matter that he didn’t know who she was. He’d promised me that if he found out who was going to betray us, he would kill him or her on the spot.

  He’d lied.

  “Is she…” His tone went softer, barely audible, but I could hear him loud and clear. Something he never remembered.

  “She is asleep, Your Majesty. Crawled in around seven.”

  “How is she doing?”

  “I fear the queen will never recover from her sister’s disappearance,” she said. In my newly revived mental state, I felt a sharp twinge of guilt at the dejection in my lady’s voice. She deserved better.

  “Don’t say that. There is always hope.”

  “Sorry, my king. I didn’t mean it in an ill way.”

  “Albert, they spotted them.” Helmut or Goran’s voice. I could never tell their voices apart, but telling their faces apart was easy because of Helmut’s mustache.

  “Thank you, Sophie.” His voice was kind. How did it all go so wrong, so fast? He hadn’t searched hard enough. And now that he knew…It was like he was betraying me. Choosing Goran over me. Over his queen and his daughter.

  “It’s my pleasure, Your Majesty.”

  She closed the door and that was it. My mind whirred as I tried to come up with a plan of how to get close to Goran. Then I realized I already had one. Elena had given it to me. He’d betrayed Albert for me. He loved me. That was how I was going to get close to him. And then I would cut his heart out of his chest with my dagger.

  If he wanted me so badly, he would get all of me. Even the crazy part.

  I would do it tonight. She’d said they would come tomorrow. Tonight was the only chance I had.

  Two o’clock. Goran would be inside his tower, where he’d brewed his plan for who knows how long.

  I put on my translucent teddy. Its sheer, soft lace kissed my skin as it flowed over my body. Then I shrugged on my robe. I buried the dagger in my sleeve. Close to me, for easy access when I embr
aced him.

  He would finally know how my embrace felt, how my bosom felt against his cheek. And then he would pay dearly for it.

  Sophie’s snores filled the adjacent room. I opened the door, quickly rushed through it, and closed it softly behind me.

  Everyone was sleeping. I wondered if Albert was resting tonight, given the information he’d received from Elena. Does he sleep soundly? I wondered bitterly. Does he sleep like a baby?

  I pushed my husband to the back of my mind. Tonight I had to play a role I’d never played my entire life. I had to be convincing and I couldn’t do it with Albert in the back of my thoughts.

  I ducked through a hidden panel in one of the walls, taking a shortcut down toward the dungeons. I grabbed and lit a wall torch. I hated the dungeons. Why didn’t Albert tear them down? It felt as if someone was watching from the deep corners, lurking in the shadows.

  The torch in my hand only illuminated a few steps. After excruciatingly long minutes of creeping in the darkness, a faint light appeared ahead. I set my torch on the ground.

  If my dagger slipped from my sleeve, I only had to reach his eyes to make him forget. Heck, I could daze him and maybe even paralyze him from the inside. I just needed to be convincing tonight. He had to believe he was the only one for me.

  My mind lingered on Elena as I rushed through the passages. What would Albert have done if he’d caught them? Would she have revealed her identity to him? Would he have believed her?

  My eyes caught on the steps that led to the east wing. Goran’s tower was at the top where he brewed up the deadliest potions the realm had ever seen. Well, this time I had the deadly plan.

  It would never happen. I didn’t know exactly what would happen tomorrow night, but I refused to find out. I believed my daughter. Every fiber of my being trusted that what she had said was true. Thank heavens she had been brave enough to tell me.

  I reached the bottom of the steps and rushed up as fast as I could. With every flight, my lungs burned. My calves seized as I reached the halfway point. After months in bed, I wasn’t as fit as I used to be. This year of sulking over my baby, fretting over who would betray us, and aching for information hadn’t done my body any good.

  I rested for a few minutes, then pushed myself further up the steps.

  Gasping, I yanked the wooden door open, revealing the confined space in between the walls. A few short steps to another door and then I was inside the east wing.

  Once in his tower, my roleplaying had to be flawless.

  I want no one other than Goran McKenzie.

  I said that a few times over and over in my head. For my child who needed me. She was worth it.

  A telltale light above revealed that Goran was working late as usual. I always wondered about the potions he brewed. Now I knew it wasn’t a potion. It was an evil plan to destroy everything we loved, everything we’d built.

  Wyverns, of all creatures. I remembered hearing Al’s claims that dragon was dragon, that breed didn’t matter. But Elena had left no room for questions: they couldn’t be trusted. Something terrible involving a Wyvern had to have happened to her to make her distrust them so fiercely. My mind raged. Just thinking about scenarios almost drove me to insanity.

  I finally reached his door. You can do this, Catherine. You have no choice. It’s either him or you.

  I took a huge breath. My face went numb. Tears glistened in my eyes. I needed to do this. My daughter belonged home.

  I knocked on his door and waited.

  When Goran opened it, his face lit up. He hadn’t expected to see me. “Katie, is everything okay?”

  My lower lip vibrated. I shook my head as I threw myself into his arms.

  He hesitated, even though the desire to touch my body was evident in the stiffness of his posture.

  “What is going on with you? Please, I need to know?”

  I sniffed and pressed into his tower chamber. It was tidy, nothing out in the open. He was always such a secretive and organized man.

  I took a huge breath and turned around.

  “I should’ve never married him!” I cried. He wrapped his long arms around me. “Why didn’t you fight harder for me?” I asked.

  “Because you were in love with Albert. You made that perfectly clear.”

  I shook my head. “I didn’t know better then.”

  “Katie,” he crooned, leading me across the semi-dark room. He perched half on the table. I hovered a few inches from him. He wiped my tears away softly. Desire radiated from him. I moved in for the kiss, but he pulled away.

  “We can’t do this!” he said.

  He feels guilty now? “I thought this was what you wanted.” I pouted.

  “It is.” He grabbed my hand but closed his eyes so I couldn’t use my gift on him. His lips touched my knuckles. He was so cunning. Albert must have told him what they’d said.

  “Let’s run away. Let’s do it now.”

  “Katie.” He smiled. “You don’t know what you are saying. Just tell me what is bothering you, please.” His eyes flitted open but never met mine. He spoke with his lips against my head.

  “I’m so lost, Goran. Without Tanya…” I didn’t know how to finish. I remembered a conversation between Al and Bob. The time Bob wanted answers, Al had to tell him something. Even if it was a lie. Anything to protect our daughter. “He told me to choose between him and Tanya. I never should’ve chosen him.”

  “He did what?”

  A shock of regret sliced me in two; I’d only fueled his hatred for Albert. But I couldn’t let him discover the existence of my little girl.

  “I never thought he was the jealous type, but he never liked my dragon very much. She always said what was on her mind.” I smiled, remembering my sister and how she’d used to be.

  “How could he give you an ultimatum between Tanya and him? She was your Dent.”

  I shrugged. “She didn’t like Bob. Said he was capable of betraying us. You know Al, such a goody two shoes. I used to love that about him, but now… Now I despise it.” Good one, Catherine.

  He brushed my cheek. It took all my self-control not to recoil from his touch. I laid it on thick. “Why didn’t you fight more? Was Sarafine really everything to you?”

  “I only took Sarafine to get over you,” he admitted. It struck me how sad that was. But he’d send his followers to chase down my daughter like a dog. She would have no home because of him.

  I inhaled deeply. This is it. His head bowed toward mine. Before our lips touched he veered off course and kissed me on my temple with his hand still on my cheek. My left hand covered his. The fingers of my right hand gripped my dagger inside my sleeve.

  “If I could run away with you, I would. But now is not the right time.” With a wistful sigh, he pulled away, out of my reach. “I promise you, if you want me, you have me. Just not tonight.”

  I looked at him. “Why not tonight?” I tried not to rouse his suspicion.

  “I am working on something really important.” His lie was smooth. “I think you just gave me the missing ingredient. Wait till tomorrow. I promise you everything will be sorted.”

  I blew out a breath. He wouldn’t give me the opportunity tonight. He was a man of many talents and if I struck now, right this moment, he would know that our guests got to me. Surprise was my element. And it was not going to happen tonight. He was much too powerful for that. I nodded.

  He walked me back to my chamber. We chatted about the good old days. He was my friend again. Goran, one of my best friends.

  “Join us for breakfast tomorrow,” he cajoled. “I’ve missed you around the castle.”

  I nodded and smiled. “See you tomorrow then, I guess.”

  We said goodnight. I had to carry on my part, so I gave him a kiss. It wasn’t one that would allow me to grab my knife and swing away. No, it was a sweet, soft kiss. I went inside and shut the door behind me.

  He wanted to attack. He still planned to do this. What were his plans with me, exactly? Elena was right;
he was a psychopath if he believed I would select him after he killed my Albert.

  There was no choice. I had to end this tomorrow before the attack.

  I had to.

  I struggled to fall asleep that night. Where was Elena now? Had Tanya at least ensured her happiness? By now Jako would know what she’d done. How was he treating her? He was a Copper-Horn. He’d been King Louie’s dragon, so I doubted he would hurt Elena. He was wise, always had the perfect answer for anything. Even in the darkest scenarios, he saw the light. I prayed that he could see the light around her.

  My mind drifted to the daughter I’d met tonight. What future did she inhabit? How was her life? Was she excited, disappointed? Would they come back and warn me again if I failed? How many times had they come back in time? I knew of two already—when I’d shot at them in battle, and this time.

  I tossed under my sheet restlessly. My mind chugged like a steam train.

  I missed my sister. She’d always been able to make me laugh. She could brew up one hell of a plan, could concoct crazy stories to get herself out of any situation. People called them lies. I called them creativity. She’d never lied to me. I could tell.

  But she had promised she would stay, and she hadn’t.

  It hasn’t happened yet, Katie. It’s not going to happen. You have to make sure of it.

  The sky outside my windows turned gray as the sun peeked out from the horizon in the east.

  I hadn’t even pulled the curtains closed last night.

  I rose, feeling wired and useless. I went over to the sill and watched the sunrise. Today was a new day. Today might be the first of many happy days. I just had to do this. Pinks and oranges slid across the sky like wet paint. Surely the beautiful color wasn’t an omen of bad luck.

  Assassinating Goran in a private place hadn’t been fruitful. I needed to find him wherever he was. Even if Al was around. He might throw me in the dungeon. Goran was highly ranked, set to take over the kingdom if anything happened to Al. I was just his queen, not a ruler.

  I didn’t care anymore. I had to do this for my child.

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