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Jareds quest, p.2
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       Jared's Quest, p.2

           Chanda Hahn
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  Mina jumped out of the car and glared at him. “You know, Jared, Tom doesn’t deserve to be turned into a toad. However, I can’t say the same for you. You are by far one of the most selfish Fae I’ve ever met. You’re mean, cruel, and heartless.” She whirled around and headed up the stairs to her family’s apartment.

  Jared slammed his head into the back of the driver’s seat and mentally berated himself for losing control of his emotions. He’d let his ugly side show through again. She was right. He was the one making all the terrible jokes and not taking his job seriously. But how could he, when every step they took together, every quest they finished was one more step toward the Fae being banished back to the Fae world and the gates closing forever? It was one step closer to losing her.

  His knuckles cracked when he realized how upset that made him. It ripped him up inside, this wanting to tell her the truth, about him, about the curse, about why he couldn’t go back to the Fae world.

  Would she shun him? Despise him? Look at him with hate? He had a problem controlling the anger that was always under the surface. Whenever Mina got through a chink in his armor, his rage snapped at her like a cornered animal.

  Like now. No, he begged of himself. Not now. Sweat trickled down his brow, and he focused on breathing slowly.

  It couldn’t be helped. His dark half was always there, just a thought away. Their souls called to each other, constantly searching for each other, never whole without the other. But he couldn’t give in. He couldn’t cross over to the Fae plane.

  And he must make sure that Mina never went either. Or all of Fae and humankind would pay the price.

  He pulled the car around the block until he was in the alley and had a full view of Mina’s bedroom window. The light flicked on, and he knew she was probably getting ready for bed. A few moments later the light flicked off, and he felt a moment’s hesitation about doing this without her.

  He pulled down the driver’s side visor and looked at himself in the mirror. Somber gray eyes stared back at him, an angular jaw with a day’s worth of light stubble. He ran his fingers through his dark hair and smiled wanly.

  “So, Jared, ol’ boy. She thinks we deserve to be turned into a toad. Let’s see if we can prove her right.”

  Chapter 3

  Jared hated school, hated the idea of school, and especially hated learning in large groups taught by an unknowledgeable teacher. Perhaps it was because the Fae could live for a really long time, and he didn’t need to study for eight hours a day, or maybe because he had accumulated such a wealth of knowledge over the years. But there was no other way.

  Thankfully, it didn’t take much to show up at Lincoln Heights High with forged papers. With a little Fae persuasion, he was enrolled. He’d done it before. In fact, he was sure Mina was going to question where he was today, since he was ditching classes once again. He would rather be in art class with her, teasing her, making her all red and flustered—enough to smash her next pottery assignment in frustration—but instead he was here.

  At a different school.

  And he couldn’t tell her why.

  Which made him extremely irritable.

  He walked down the pine-scented hall with his class sheet. He ignored the piece of paper and his locker assignment completely. Studying wasn’t his goal. Hunting the rogue Fae was. Jared found what looked like the central hallway of Lincoln Heights, and he leaned against the wall, studying the students, searching for a particular reddish blonde.

  His ears picked up whispering, and his nose picked up a particular scent that he knew quite well—fear. He noticed a large corkboard to his right—with barely an inch of cork showing. It was plastered with posters. One for a missing poster for Kevin Sanders, who’d disappeared three weeks ago. There was another one for a Mitch Trujillo, who had been missing for two weeks. Jared carefully lifted the top posters and saw that there were more missing boy posters underneath announcements and ads—dating back to over a year ago.

  And not all of them were from this school.

  This was a very serious problem. If someone didn’t handle this Fae girl, then the humans would eventually find her…and all the Fae would be in danger of being revealed.

  He shook his head angrily and went back to search for her. It was a good thing she had popped up on the Fates’ radar. He didn’t necessarily thank the Story for its added requirement of his personal involvement, but he knew it had to be taken care of.

  After the first two periods of class, he still hadn’t found the frog girl and he would have almost missed her, if she hadn’t stopped to take a drink at the water fountain right in front of him.

  Kathleen spent a very long time at the water fountain. In fact, so long, Jared thought maybe she was frozen. Nevertheless, after a full minute, her red-blonde head popped up and politely apologized to the boy waiting behind her. She wiped her mouth daintily and headed down the hall away from him. It was a good thing she couldn’t sense him.

  Jared didn’t need prodding. He moved away from the wall and followed her into the classroom. With a bit of Fae magic he changed his class schedule to Journalism.

  The room was filled with old computer cubicles and computers. Every wall was covered with newspaper clippings and past issues of the Lincoln Heights Journal. A large table at the back of the room had a collage of action shots of the football, basketball, and track teams. The teacher introduced him to the class, and he watched as the boys in the room glowered at him. The girls visibly brightened at the prospect of a good-looking new boy. He made his way to an open chair and sat down, being careful to act like he wasn’t interested in anything anyone was saying. He wasn’t here to draw attention or make friends; he needed to keep it on the down low.

  The teacher gave instructions to the class, and Jared was assigned to a small group that would report on last week’s football loss to none other than Mina Grime’s own school Kennedy High.

  They moved to a large table, and Jared listened to a discussion on stats between Mark, who had dark caramel skin and a thick, pleasant South African accent, and Adam, a slim brown-haired boy with glasses. Lucy, the only girl in the group, had sandy blonde hair in stark braids. She wore glasses and a blue chevron sweater.

  “So, have any of you seen Tom this morning?” Lucy whispered to their group during a lull in their writing. Her pencil tapped her notepad nervously. Jared listened carefully but didn’t chime in on the conversation.

  “No, but he’s probably in class,” Adam answered.

  “I waited out in the parking lot, and he never showed,” she insisted.

  “Whoa, have you become a stalker?” Adam scoffed.

  Lucy shook her head. “No, I’ve just started paying close attention to who Kathleen Donovan has her sights set on.” She leaned in close and whispered, “It seems to me that all of the boys that have gone missing over the years were attracted to her.”

  Mark glanced over his shoulder and smiled at Kathleen, who happened to glance up at that moment. She turned her nose up at him and went back to work. He swung back around and gave Lucy an annoyed look. “Aw, not little miss sunshine over there. Are you sure you’re not letting your jealousy get in the way? She’s cute—and harmless.”

  Lucy’s cheeks flushed an angry red, and she pulled out a notebook and flipped it open. It had every missing boys name in one column on the left and a column of dates and notes and initials on the right. It was obvious that there were a lot of K.D.’s in the right-hand column.

  “The disappearances started occurring shortly after she transferred here last year. She’s never outright dated anyone who’s asked her, but she’s pretty enough to date anyone she wants.”

  “Lucy, you can’t convict someone based on the fact that they’re single. If that’s the case then you might as well charge me with all the missing guys,” Adam scoffed, holding up his hands.

  She started to flick her pencil faster and faster on the notebook. “No, but see that’s the point. Look here.” She pointed to the dates. “These
are all the dates on which the boys broke up with their last girlfriends, and she was seen with all of them in the days following—before their disappearance.”

  Adam stared at Lucy hard, before shaking his head. “Who are you—Nancy Drew?”

  “Naw, Scooby Doo!” Mark laughed.

  “More like Velma, with braids.” Adam flicked Lucy’s braid when he said it and Jared had to bite back his tongue. This wasn’t the time to get into a confrontation with boys, when he needed the information that Lucy had.

  “Maybe we should test your theory,” Mark straightened his shirt and cleared his throat. “I’d volunteer to start dating her.”

  Lucy eyed them both with disbelief. “No, she only goes out with hot guys…like him.” She pointed to Jared and then clapped her hand over her mouth, blushing.

  Both Mark and Adam started to snicker, but it quickly died down. Apparently, it had dawned on them that she didn’t think they were hot.

  She sighed loudly and plopped her head in her hand. “Never mind. It was a stupid idea. So how many sacks did Oliver get?” Lucy’s shoulders slumped, and Jared could feel her dejection across the table. He was surprised at how astute she was. She would probably make a phenomenal reporter someday.

  None of her information had solved his problem, though. He still had to get Kathleen to notice him.

  When the bell rang, Jared reached out and tapped Lucy’s shoulder. She spun around and looked up at him in surprise. “I know, not a good first impression,” she said. “You probably think I’m nuts like Mark and Adam.”

  “No, I wanted to say that I believe you.”

  “You do?” Lucy’s mouth dropped open and hung there.

  Jared shifted uncomfortably. “Yes, and I’m willing to test your theory.”

  Lucy wrinkled up her nose and shook her head. “I don’t think you should. I mean, I would hate for the new guy to go missing too. And what if I’m wrong? You’ll probably just tell everyone, and then I’ll be the biggest laughingstock.” She turned to walk away, but Jared called out after her.

  “But what if you’re right?”

  Lucy stopped in her tracks but didn’t turn around. She was obviously contemplating the repercussions of being right. She spun around, her eyes bright with excitement. “If I’m right, you promise that I get first dibs on the story?”

  Jared thought about it. “Sure. Why not?” he answered, knowing full well she probably wouldn’t remember it after the tale was over.

  “Done.” Lucy stuck her hand out, and Jared awkwardly grabbed it and gave it a shake.

  “So what’s the plan?” Jared asked.

  Lucy looked a little embarrassed. “Um, you need to get a girlfriend and act like the world revolves around her. Like a Romeo and Juliet—soap opera type love.”

  Jared stepped back and stared at her. This posed a problem. Mina was the first girl who popped into his head to play the role, but she hated him at the moment. And he didn’t want her involved in this anyway. He cocked his head to the side and hoped he was pulling off a winsome smile, but she shook her head and backed up.

  “Nope, not gonna happen. The girls were all hot as well. Even if I had an extreme makeover, I’m pretty sure no one would believe us.” Lucy took off her glasses in a pretense to clean the lenses, but Jared saw it as a ploy not to look at him.

  He sighed. Maybe he should just back out now and let Mina take over the quest. He knew she could handle the frog girl, but that was the problem. It wasn’t the Fae that was the tricky part of this quest. It was the rules of this particular tale that needed to be satisfied. The Frog Prince tale was about a spellbound frog prince who is kissed by a girl. Well, in this version it looked like the girl needed to find her prince for her curse to be lifted—and until that happened, a whole crew of teenage boys were suffering under it as well! But if Jared told Mina what he knew, she would demand to know how he knew, who told him, and why the Story wanted him to be the prince.

  He didn’t know her well enough to tell her all his secrets. No, it was better to satisfy the quest first, and then let Mina finish it with the Grimoire.

  Jared had to think of another option. One person who could probably pull it off did come to mind, if she could keep her sarcasm at bay. “Okay, I think I can find a fake girlfriend. Did you find anything else, oh Wise One, that would help me seal the deal?”

  Lucy hesitated before answering. “Are you sure you’re doing this to expose her, and not just date the girl?”

  Jared was disgusted. “Positive.”

  “Then if she tries to talk to you, or comes in contact with you, spurn her. Make fun of her. Make her ripe with jealousy. It will make her go after you more. I’ve seen it with a few others.” Lucy sucked on the inside of her cheek in thought and leaned against the doorframe. “You really think you can do this?”

  Jared flashed his dangerous smile at her. He watched as her eyes widened and her hand unconsciously moved to her heart.

  “Lucy, when I want something? I get it.”

  Chapter 4

  Jared knocked on the motel door and put his hands in his pockets, waiting. He hoped she hadn’t moved somewhere new. Was this the smart thing to do? Was getting another Fae involved in this quest worth keeping Mina in the dark?

  What would Mina think? After all, it was her quest. She was already mad at him. He’d been hearing her spout off all kinds of rotten things about him in the back of his mind. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t with him. If she was anywhere near the Grimoire, he would always be able to hear her thoughts.

  He should probably just trust her. After all, she had defeated Claire on her own using the Grimoire. However, just the memory of his allowing her to get kidnapped by the Fae wolves infuriated him. He’d failed them both, really. He hadn’t been able to protect her, and he’d been seriously injured in the process. What had the Story been thinking picking such a young girl?

  Jared knocked again, but this time he pounded so hard the wood splintered. He grimaced and tried to rein in his anger, which was starting to seize control again. But once he’d seen what Kathleen Donovan was, he’d known it had never been a quest set up for Mina. This was a trap especially laid out for him, because Kathleen was a girl and the quest needed a boy, a prince.

  The hotel door opened, and a short girl with black spiky hair stepped out. She was wearing all black, except the violet glittery skull barrette in her hair and the purple gloves on her hands.

  “Jared? Holy periwinkle! It is you!” She jumped up and flung her arms around his neck, pressing her face close to his. “I’ve missed you! You haven’t been by in such a long time.” When he didn’t immediately return her embrace, she slowly slid down and looked at him. “Wait, what’s wrong? Someone found the book, didn’t they?”

  It had been a very long time since he’d allowed himself to see Ever. When he’d been banished from the Fae plane, she’d followed him and had been here as his guardian ever since. But he hadn’t spoken to her in a while.

  He swallowed, “Yes, someone found the book.”

  Ever looked at him, her big dark eyes round with worry. “Well, it will be fine. After a few quests they’ll lose, just like all the others, and the book will go back into hiding. No biggie.”

  “No, it’s not that simple. I don’t think…I don’t want them to fail. Not this time.” He knew the words would hurt her, and they did. At one time, Jared had thought he was in love with Ever. It was obvious that she loved him, but he could never be sure of his true feelings. They weren’t always his own.

  “Jared, of course we want them to fail. Then you will be safe.” Ever grabbed his hand, closed the door, and started to walk with him away from the motel.

  He savored holding her small and familiar hand in his large one, and he could sense the flutter of her invisible pixie wings. She made him feel stabilized, grounded.

  “Ever, it’s about a certain quest that the Grimm was given. I don’t think it was meant for her.”

  Ever stopped walking and jerked her
hand out of his. “Her? The Grimm’s a girl! Why in the world would the Story choose a girl?” And then she surprised him. She went from being angry about it to laughing hysterically. “Oh, this is priceless. We have nothing to worry about. We’ll be safe in no time.” She latched onto his right arm and squeezed possessively.

  Jared let her hang on to his arm. It was the least he could do for ignoring her for so long. He looked down at her dark head and felt a pang of sadness. She’d given up so much for him, and he hadn’t been kind to her.

  “It’s not that simple, like I said. This quest isn’t for her. It’s for me.”

  She pulled away only slightly and looked up at him. “Why do you think so? That’s not how it works.”

  “Do you really think the Story cares about following rules? He’s sending a message to me. There’s a Fae that is turning human boys into frogs.”

  Ever threw her head back and giggled. “So what? I always thought boys were toads anyway.”

  Jared thought back to how many names had been on the paper and how many frogs were swimming in the creek. “We’re talking dozens of boys missing.”

  “Wow…that many, huh?”

  “Ever, we’re talking about a Croanoak here.” Jared stopped walking and turned to face her.

  “What?” She stopped and turned her face up to his. “Oh, yeah. They can be a pain.” Her mouth quirked. “So what do you want me to do? I left my toad stomping boots back at my place.” She pointed back to the parking lot and motel they’d just left.

  “No, I want you to pretend to be my girlfriend and enroll at Lincoln Heights with me,” Jared answered casually.

  “And what about the Grimm? She can’t help you with this?” Ever simpered and batted her lashes, taunting him.

  He closed his eyes and slowly breathed out. “I would like to try and leave her out of this as much as possible. The less she knows about me the better. We will try to bring her in at the last possible moment, okay? To close the deal.”

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