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       Reign, p.13

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  She leaned into him, lost as he gazed upon her with utter and pure longing. Underneath that stare, she trembled, knees weak.

  Mina shook her head and shivered again, this time from being cold. The night air was quickly leaving goose bumps across her flesh.

  “Please tell me I’m awake,” he whispered softly and closed his eyes.

  Mina stepped closer, wondering if he meant for her to overhear his plea. “You’re awake, I think. I don’t know if the same goes for me.”

  “There’s one way to find out.”

  “What? Are you going to pinch me?” Mina teased, feeling safe.

  “I was thinking more along the lines of a kiss.” He smiled again, and her heart fluttered. “But I know that wouldn’t be proper of me, given the current situation.” Only then did he frown and turn to look off in the distance. “In three days’ time, I’ll be betrothed.”

  “Oh. Then, congratulations on the betrothal—although you don’t seem too excited.” Mina answered, doing some quick mental calculations. If the stories were true, then Teague’s betrothal happened before the Grimm Brothers ever crossed onto the Fae plane. She groaned when she realized she’d been sent too far back in time. Maybe even by years.

  He shrugged his shoulders. “Happily ever after with a complete stranger. Yes, I’m ecstatic. Please excuse me if I’m not dancing for joy.”

  Mina was confused. “You’ve never met her before?”

  He eyed her sadly. “I’ve met a few of them at formal dinners and such, but most of the eleven I’ve only heard about in stories. Over the last few days, I’ve been flooded with details about them—their attributes, beauty, and family lineage—but they’re still just names on parchment to me.”

  “Eleven? You’re going to marry eleven girls?”

  He chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Will you walk with me?” He offered a hand, and she placed her hand in his, letting him lead her down a path, toward a downed tree. As he reached out, the tree began to glow, shifting and changing into a beautifully carved bench. Mina sat on it and he sat next to her, his hand still wrapped around hers. Part of her wanted to pull it away, and another was curious at the weight of his hand in hers. It was a reassuring feeling, yet confusing at the same time.

  The warmth of him seeped through the fabric of their clothes to her shoulder. He looked at their hands intertwined, and he smiled.

  “Would you like to hear a story?”

  The word “story” made her gasp inadvertently.

  He released her hand from his and she felt the immediate loss of both his trust and his warmth.

  She bit her lip and pulled herself together. “Yes, I would.”

  Teague dropped his gaze to the ground and let out a slow breath. “I have no desire to marry any of the girls my parents have tried to parade in front of me. But they’ve given me an ultimatum—pick one or they’ll strip me of my title.”

  He looked so hopeful and young. Of course he was. He was a few Fae-hundred-years younger than the person she knew. Teague was sitting next to her, before he’d been corrupted, when he was still good and full of innocence. Her heart filled with sympathy because she knew what his future held. His soul was destined to grow cold with hate until he was pure evil. Unless she could stop it…but how? There was no way she could kill him when he was so uncorrupted.

  “So what are you going to do?”

  His smile fell. “Do? I can do nothing. I waited too long. The choice has been taken from me. The Fates have arranged a betrothal ceremony. The girls arrive tomorrow. They’ll be the most powerful, the most beautiful, and the most intelligent girls in the land. And one of them will be my future bride.” The word “bride” was filled with such distaste. He leaned forward, placed his head in his hands, and groaned.

  Mina gently set her hand on his back, offering what little comfort she could.

  He turned to look at her, an apologetic expression on his face. “I’m sorry. I was rude. You are not much more than a stranger either, but here I am pouring out my troubles on you.”

  “No, not rude. You’re stressed and worried. I understand. Sometimes when the choice is taken from us, we feel like a victim. I get that.” It was easy to utter those words which mirrored her own feelings toward her curse.

  “What would you do in my situation?” he asked. He leaned in closely, and she felt herself swallow.

  What could she tell him? She couldn’t encourage him to do the wrong thing and alter more of history than she was supposed to. Repercussions could be endless. She had to be careful to only affect her own timeline. Still, it seemed like he was asking her permission for something.

  “Hope for the best. Maybe you’ll find your true love over the next few days. And if not true love, then true friendship. But I do have to ask—why haven’t you married before now?”

  He gave her a slow smile that rocked her to her core. “Because I never met the girl of my dreams…until now. Tell me, though I can already see it in your eyes. You know me like I know you. You’ve dreamt of me also, haven’t you?”

  Heat flooded her cheeks and her heart skipped a beat. How could he know just from a look? The Prince of Fae may have been dreaming of her, but how could she explain that when he appeared in her dreams they were her worst nightmares? She shivered at his words and her stomach sank. He saw her shudder and mistook it.

  “You’re cold? I’m so sorry. It’s late. I should be getting you back to your escorts.” He paused and looked around in confusion. “Where are they?”

  “I seem to have lost them,” Mina lied.

  “Well, that will be no problem. I’ll find them. And if not, I’ll send a coach for you, and you can come to the palace. I’ll tell my parents there’s one last addition to list.” He grinned and stood back a few feet.

  “No, you can’t. I’m not here for—”

  But he didn’t hear her. “Have you ever seen a Royal shift? Because only the Fae with royal blood can do it.”

  Mina pursed her lips at him and laughed. “Of course.”

  “No, I don’t mean earlier. That doesn’t count.” His smile lit up his face. “Name anything that flies, and I will find your entourage.”

  She had no desire to ruin his fun by telling him she had seen him shift numerous times in the future. And he looked so earnest, she couldn’t help but laugh at his attempt to impress her. “Okay, how about a bald eagle?”

  “What is that?” he asked, confused. She realized her mistake. He wouldn’t know all of the creatures from the human plane. Yet.

  “It’s a bird.”

  “Well how can a bird be bald?” he laughed. “That’s absurd.”

  “Uh, never mind. Why don’t you pick?”

  “All right. Stay here and I’ll be back with your escorts shortly.” Teague stepped back and took off running.”

  “No wait!” Mina called after him.

  He just waved at her and kept running. He spread his arms and leapt up into the air, shifting into a fiery phoenix. His feathers left a trail of flames in his wake and she watched as his path lit up the sky. She tried to keep him in her line of sight and wave him down, but she was quickly distracted. The shoes that she had left discarded on the ground began to glimmer and flash.

  Already? She hadn’t finished what she came here to do, but she couldn’t be stuck in the past. Mina ran to the slippers as their flashing picked up speed, like a timer counting down to activation. She wouldn’t get to say goodbye to Teague. He wouldn’t know where she’d gone.

  Mina got one foot in the slipper and dropped the other. She cried out and slipped her foot back in just as another ball of light enveloped her.

  She shot down a bright luminescent tunnel.

  Chapter 20

  This time she was burning hot, and her muscles felt like rubber. She opened her eyes to find herself collapsed in the driveway of the country club—only a few feet away from where she had left Brody.

  In fact, he was still there.

  “What just hap
pened? You disappeared, and now you’re here again. Where’d you go?” Mina reached for Brody and he helped her up, although she immediately felt like falling again. “You’re burning up. Are you okay?”

  Mina nodded. “It’ll pass. Just give me a second.” Odd. It seemed going into the past made her body cold, and shooting into the future made her core temperature a raging inferno. This couldn’t be good for her. And she’d blown it. She hadn’t saved anyone. Her family was still doomed.

  It was all because of the stupid shoes. They were broken. They didn’t work. Not to mention she’d been sidetracked by Teague and his problems. Brody helped her back inside the country club and to a private sitting room. Once she sat down on the chair, her defeat set in, and she started to cry. She’d failed.

  Brody wrapped his strong arms around her and let her cry on him. His hand rubbed her back as he tried to comfort her. When Mina had settled down, he asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”

  “I went back in time. The shoes did it. I was supposed to help my ancestors and save myself and my family from disappearing.”

  It took Brody all of one minute to let the news sink in. “And you knew the shoes did this? That they would take you back in time. When were you going to tell me?” That reaction was not what she expected.

  “Soon. After tonight. I don’t know. I was just given them today, and no one told me when they would work—only that they needed to charge. Then—” she waved her hands in the air, “—poof I would go. But they sent me to the wrong time. I was nowhere near where I should have been. In fact I was on the wrong plane entirely.”

  “Where’d you end up?”

  “On the Fae plane. I was attacked by a griffin.”

  Brody didn’t look pleased. “Take them off,” he demanded.

  “I can’t. I need to be ready in case they work again. In fact, give me your phone. I have to call Mei.”

  His lips thinned in frustration, but he let her have his cell phone. She quick dialed in Mei’s number.

  Mei answered on the second ring. “Hello?”

  “Mei, it’s me. It didn’t work. I didn’t fix anything,” she rushed out. “I doomed everyone.”

  “Mina, Mina. Calm down, okay?” There was muffled whispering, and then she heard static. “You’re on speaker.” Mei’s voice sounded far away. “Constance is here.”

  Mina put them on speaker phone too, so Brody could hear. “I ended up on the Fae plane. Not the human plane. The shoes are defective.”

  There was a moment of silence, and then Constance said, “They’re not defective. How long were you gone?”

  “I think only a few seconds,” Mina answered. Brody nodded his head in agreement.

  “Then they took you exactly where you needed to be for the right amount of time. I’ve talked with Schumacher, and he explained that they can only hold you in time for a certain amount total before their powers are depleted for good. Look at the heel.”

  Mina slid one shoe off and turned it over. Sure enough, within the heel was a small hourglass. The top half was filled with hundreds of tiny diamonds that looked like sand. Some had started to fall, but the top was still filled.

  “Do you have time left?”

  “Yes, there are still diamonds within the heel.” Mina swallowed and felt herself start to relax.

  “Then you still have time. Trust the shoes; trust Schumacher. Just don’t lose them—don’t even take them off,” Constance said.

  “You’ll do it, Mina. You will fix this.” Mei jumped in, trying to calm her down.

  “What do I do now?” Mina asked. A knock came on the door. “Wait,” she whispered. Mr. Carmichael popped his head into the room and motioned for Brody. When he was out of earshot, she whispered softly. “I met Teague on the Fae plane, and he didn’t know who I was.” She turned the volume down slightly so Brody and his dad wouldn’t hear.

  “Then keep it that way. Don’t let him figure out who you are. Lie. Mina, I’ve told you before what you need to do to break the curse. If you go back again, I think you must seize your moment,” Constance said.

  “And do what?” she said louder than she meant to. Brody glanced over at her, his brows lifting in concern before he turned back to speak to his dad. It seemed like things were getting heated over there too.

  “I’ll be right back. I’m just stepping into the hall,” Brody said. He stepped out and closed the door softly.

  “Mina you know what you have to do to save your family, your mother, and even your father.” Constance’s voice became sterner. “I know you know. Now I want to hear you say it.”

  She sighed loudly into the empty room, “Kill Teague.”

  Constance waited a moment before responding. “I’m glad you’ve come to accept that. This is why the shoes took you to that time and place. You can gain his trust and kill him before it’s too late.”

  The shoes started to flash again, signaling another time jump.

  “Oh no! It’s about to happen again,” Mina called out in fear. Mina turned the volume back up and set the phone on the seat beside her. She stood up.

  “Mina?” Mei’s voice sounded unsure and her voice filled the room over the speaker phone. “If you do this, you may never meet me in the future. Because there will be no need for Godmothers.”

  “Oh, Mei,” Mina started to cry.

  “I’m not saying this to dissuade you.” Her voice was shaky with emotion, “I just wanted to say that I have come to love you dearly, like my own daughter. And I’ll miss knowing you.”

  “I love you too, Mei,” Mina sobbed.

  “Mina,” Constance’s self-assured voice called to her.

  “Yes.”

  “Do whatever you have to do to survive. Do you understand?”

  “I do,” Mina answered, wiping her tears with the back of her hand. She moved to the middle of the room, leaving the cell phone on the chair.

  “And, Mina, one more thing,” Constance’s voice sounded.

  “Yes?” The shoes were flickering wildly, sending beams of light all over the room.

  “You make us proud to call ourselves Godmothers.”

  “Thank you, Con—” The ball of light surrounded her and she was cut off.

  Chapter 21

  This time she was prepared for the aftereffects of the time travel—the chill that ran through her body and the tingling sensation of pins and needles.

  But she was sorely unprepared for the band of giants that immediately surrounded her upon her arrival. Their crested metal helmets and large thumping clubs created an intimidating and menacing picture.

  “I got her,” the closest giant bellowed, lunging for her. He swung out his hand as if to try and pick her up by her feet.

  Mina tried to run but couldn’t get her limbs to work. She tripped over the hem of her dress and fell into a pile of leaves. It looked to be mid-afternoon, if she had to hazard a guess.

  “Careful! You’re scarin’ it.” A giant of slightly less stature than the other piped up. The giants backed up and Mina was left alone to struggle and get her legs to support her.

  The leaves clung to her feathered dress and sticks and twigs were entangled in her long brown hair. She must look strange to them. The giants weren’t as frightening as long as they weren’t trying to kill her, and apparently they weren’t…at least not yet.

  “What do you want?” Mina asked when she was able to stand without wincing and walk a couple feet unaided.

  The first giant—the one who’d tried to catch her— seemed the least pleased with taking it easy on her. He had rough gray-colored skin, dead eyes, and a very large chin.

  The smaller giant with sunspots splattered across his nose appeared to be the talkative one of the group. “We’ve been sitting out here for hours, waiting for you.”

  “For me? Why are you waiting for me?” Surely that wasn’t right.

  “Captain Plaith said to escort you to the palace,” he answered. They had to be mistaken. If it truly was her they’d been waiting for,
the passage of time must flow differently on the Fae plane—what was minutes in her realm had been hours in the Fae.

  The giants closed in on her and forced her to walk among them as they marched through the woods.

  Wedged in the middle of the pack, she had no choice but to follow their lead. They walked for a quarter mile before they came to a road. Pulled off to the side was a white carriage, drawn by four large mice. Mina wondered who the carriage was waiting for, when a giant opened the door and motioned for her to get inside.

  She picked up her skirt and put one foot on the step. A large hand shoved her roughly from behind and she landed fast face first in a velvety purple cushion. Mina heard the laughter that followed at her expense, and she might have yelled at them if they weren’t dangerous giants. She heard the snap of a whip, and the carriage lurched forward. Once the carriage was moving, she felt it was safe enough to part the curtain and look out the side window.

  She wondered if Teague’s betrothal had already passed, and if he was angry at her for disappearing like she had. Mina was surprised at how the thought saddened her, though it shouldn’t. She knew that historically, Teague got betrothed, but then the betrothal was broken off. That turning point was the epicenter of the problems.

  Her one chance was to try and catch him unaware. “Oh please.” She closed her eyes and whispered. “Let him not have turned already.” For the dark prince petrified her; this kinder one she could handle.

  She sat back in the seat and was almost lulled to sleep by the swaying of the carriage. Half an hour later, she heard the sound of hooves. She sat up again and looked out the window. They were beside the lake, and the mountain backdrop was just the same as the view she’d seen with Nix the day she’d destroyed the Grimoire. They seemed to have fallen in behind another carriage, this one the color of fresh leaves in spring. It was hard to tell, but Mina thought she saw the back window flap on the carriage move as someone peeked out.

  A white and black carriage pulled by four beautiful white horses with snow white manes came up alongside Mina’s coach and then moved in front of them. She watched for signs of life, but this passenger wasn’t as curious as the one in the green carriage.

 
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