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       Reign, p.25

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  Mina spun to face him and pushed him on the chest. Her little eyebrows pinched together in annoyance, and her maple brown eyes filled with anger. Her cheeks were flushed. Her lips pursed as blood rushed to her face—all the way to the top of her ears. Just seeing her riled up, thrilled Jared to no end.

  “I am being quiet you big oaf. You’re the one who appeared out of nowhere to try to attack me.” She bit her lip and flung her ponytail backward over her shoulder to stare through the bushes again, focusing on her target.

  Jared leaned down next to her in pretense, watching whatever she was watching. Now they were hiding like criminals, huddled in the bushes outside a house in the middle of the night. The night had started out warm and humid. However, over the last few minutes, the temperature had dropped considerably, and they were now surrounded by fog. The little yellow Cape Cod they were surveying backed up to a greenbelt with a creek. Even now, they could hear the creek ten yards away, and the air was filled with the sound frogs croaking.

  Mina had been on edge for days, sensing that another quest was coming.

  She was right, there was one. But this time, he didn’t necessarily want to help her figure it out. He just wanted keep her safe. Confronting the evil Fae would absolutely endanger her life. So what if he was a little slow in the help department? It’s not like he’d had played the role of Helper often over the years. He was servant to the Grimoire. Bound, entrapped—anyway he looked at it, it sucked. But for once in his long life, he’d actually shown himself, his true self. And to a girl no less! Jared had hidden his form from many of the Grimms that had come before, but something made him answer Mina’s cry for help in the beginning. Something about her called to him…and called out to the Story as well.

  The Story. He felt uneasiness in his gut and couldn’t help but reach out and put a protective hand on Mina’s shoulder. She jumped, and her breath caught in her throat. She turned and began to pummel him in the arm.

  “What do you think you’re doing? Stop it!” she hissed quietly. She turned back around, but not before she mumbled something about boys and watching too many scary movies.

  He smiled. Couldn’t help but smile. She did something to him that no one ever had before. She made him feel human, with all of their peculiar range of emotions.

  There was another sudden drop in the temperature, and he knew the quest was coming. He needed to get Mina out of here.

  “We’ve been here forever because of your girly hunch. I need food, let’s come back another night, and we can play spy versus spy then.” He waited to see if he could goad her into moving. She shifted her shoulders and reached into her pocket. He felt a little surge of happiness. She was going to leave with him.

  Something white came flying through the air and hit him in the chest, dropping onto the dewy ground with a thud. Jared reached down to pick it up. It was a granola bar. A slightly squished granola bar. So, she’d take a little more convincing.

  He lifted his lip in fake disdain. “What, were they out of chocolate chip?” He was running out of time. They needed to leave. Now.

  “Jared, if you don’t shush it, I swear I’ll—”

  Quick footsteps sounded down the driveway, and he snapped back to attention as he felt Mina tense in front of him. They both stilled and waited in the darkness as the figure slowed and approached. Jared dropped the granola bar on the ground and watched.

  A girl with curly reddish blonde hair walked down the driveway toward them, sniffling. She was short—probably shorter than even Mina. Her heart-shaped face looked flushed and tears poured down her fair cheeks. She wore a pair of shorts with a boy’s blue Lincoln Heights high school letterman jacket. She clutched a brown satchel that was slung over her shoulder and glanced behind her, as if she knew she was being followed. Her pace quickened, and she passed the house’s front door and to go around back.

  She was only feet away, but didn’t see them. With a strangely expectant expression, she turned to look up the driveway. Jared followed the girl’s gaze and noticed another shadow approaching—a much larger silhouette.

  The side screen door opened, and the girl ducked into the small yellow house. The figure at the end of the driveway grew more distinctive as it came closer. It was a young man with short-cropped hair and wearing a white shirt, denim jeans and sneakers. His arms were well-muscled, and he had the body of an athlete. He walked softly up to the side door, skipped up the steps and rapped three times.

  “Kathleen?” he chimed out quietly. “Please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I’ll promise to never make you cry again.”

  A porch light went on. The door opened slightly, and a breathy voice answered. “Tom, do you promise?”

  Tom looked down at his feet. “Is it that terrible that I tried to kiss you? I’m sorry it wasn’t what you wanted. I thought it was a fabulous first kiss.” Kathleen didn’t answer, and Tom looked back up at her pleading. “I’ll never disappoint you again.”

  “No—no you won’t,” her husky voice answered in return.

  Before Jared and Mina could react, the teen boy was pulled into the house. The inner door closed, and the screen door banged shut against the doorframe.

  Jared’s skin crawled. He could feel the Fae inside. This was not a run-of-the-mill Fae, and he had only ever heard of this one in tales.

  “Looks like a lover’s quarrel followed by some making up,” he spoke casually.

  Mina stood and eyed the house quizzically. “I guess,” she answered and started walking toward the creek. “I just felt so certain that this was the next quest. That the story wanted me here, and now I don’t know. Maybe this is all a joke. A bad one set up by the Fates.”

  Jared mentally sighed and followed behind Mina. “Don’t feel too bad, I mean you’re not the best Grimm I’ve ever seen, so maybe your Grimmdar is off.”

  “Grimmdar?”

  “You know Grimm Radar.”

  Her hands flew to her hips as she turned. She looked him squarely in the eye, and arched her eyebrows accusingly. Uh oh. He knew the signs. He was in trouble now.

  “Tell me the truth, Jared. Could you sense any Fae nearby? I know you can tell when they are near.”

  Ah, she’d cornered him. He couldn’t outright lie, but he could avoid the truth, and it was something he was quite good at doing. “Yes, there was a Fae nearby. A tall, dark and handsome one that is really hungry and quickly wasting away.” His inner Fae self did a little happy dance at how well he’d avoided her question.

  Mina pointed her finger at him. “No, I mean someone else—wait, listen!”

  Jared stopped and tried to listen, but all he could hear was the beating of his own nervous heart, when he focused he heard how quiet the woods behind the house had become…too quiet.

  “The bullfrogs, they stopped,” he whispered.

  The screen door opened again, and Kathleen exited the house holding something in her hands. She turned towards the woods and started down a small gravel path toward the creek.

  Jared yanked Mina into his arms and dropped to the ground. She struggled slightly under his upper body weight and the inconvenience of being smothered by his leather jacket, but he couldn’t worry about that. He needed to make sure that he masked her human scent. At least she couldn’t sense that there was another Fae nearby.

  Of course Mina wouldn’t know that. Maybe he should tell her the reason for pressing her face into the earth and practically making her eat dirt, but that wasn’t in his nature. He would just let her grumble and fume and complain.

  He watched Kathleen walk to the creek bed and crouch down beside the running water. “You’re a disappointment, Tom, just like all the others.” Kathleen spoke sadly.

  Jared felt Mina wiggle underneath him and escape enough for her head to pop up. She’d be able to look through the tall grass to watch what was unfolding in front of them.

  Kathleen slid off her shoes and stepped into the dark murky water. As soon as her legs touched the flowing liquid, her legs turned green and sinewy,
her mouth began to stretch and widen, and her eyes grew even larger until she resembled a skinny but very human-sized frog.

  Her green webbed fingers still clutched something in her hands, and it was trying to jump away from her, but she gave it a slight shake in frustration. Jared heard the small croak come from the frog she was holding.

  “You were supposed to save me and end my curse. You promised to be my prince. Instead, you failed. And now you are like all the others. Ugly, useless, beasts.”

  She flung the bullfrog, who was once a very human Tom, into the creek, and he landed in the water with a small splash. A few seconds later Tom’s frog head peeked above the water and croaked at her in protest. Followed by another frog head, and another frog head. The creek was quickly filled with dozens of large bullfrogs. All of them were croaking at Kathleen in anger.

  She waved her hand at them, and they silenced their croaking symphony.

  “You’re all disappointments. Failures. Making promises you cannot keep. You deserve your fate. Every single one of you,” she yelled into the night before walking to the edge of the marshy creek. Once she’d stepped onto the embankment her glamour faded, and she was fully human again. She collapsed to the ground and began to sob miserably.

  The wind picked up, and the tree’s branches blew. A whispering moan filled the air. Kathleen and Mina didn’t hear the ethereal words whispered into the night, but Jared did. And he shivered in understanding as the Fae warning raked through his very core.

  This is not her tale to finish, but yours.

  Chapter 2

  “We need to do something!” Mina demanded. “We should have gone back there and captured her in the Grimoire.” She yanked on the ends of her jacket in frustration.

  He sighed and shifted gears in the car as he sped toward the international district to take Mina home. Good thing Mina just used the word should and didn’t command him to go back. There was only so much he could do to indirectly disobey her since she had the Grimoire. If she figured out just how linked they actually were, then there would be no end to her demands. He would be stuck saving every lost kitten, dog, and—in this case—frog.

  No, it was better that she never learned this particular secret. Mina needed to believe simply that he was a Fae and that he was there to guide her—sort of—some of the time—when he felt like it.

  “You just can’t go charging in declaring war on every Fae you don’t like and trapping them in the book. I hate to use this pun in the situation, Mina, but you really need to look before you leap.”

  “I have to stop her. That’s my quest. It’s the frog prince tale. I’m sure of it.”

  “But how are you going to stop her? You could have captured her right there and—boom!—quest over.”

  She turned and gave him an ugly glare. “I would have, if you hadn’t shown up on my personal stake-out and interfered. Which leads me to my next question. Why in the world did you show up in the middle of the woods?”

  He gripped the steering wheel and took the right on to Main Street a little too fast. Mina clutched the door handle until her knuckles turned white. He felt a little bad and released pressure off of the gas pedal, but not much.

  “You saw what she became. You saw what she did to…to…that young man!” Mina pleaded at him with her big brown eyes. Gosh, she didn’t know what those pleading eyes did to him. It made him feel weak, and he hated being weak.

  “So what! Did you even ask yourself if maybe he did something bad and deserved being turned into a toad?” Jared spat out harshly. A knee-jerk reaction to the way she was making him feel internally.

  Mina blinked, taken aback by his harsh tone. “No, that never crossed my mind at all, because she was the one that was the walking-talking toad monster. Not Tom.”

  “So now it’s Tom, is it?” he grit his teeth in anger and actually missed the turn for her apartment. After a quick U-turn, he pulled in front of the Golden Palace Chinese Restaurant and checked to see if he could see Mrs. Wong inside. Nope, the restaurant was as dark and abandoned as the rest of the street. He was free from running into the annoying woman.

  “Mina, I think you need to keep a low profile for this quest. Let it be.” The words sounded hollow even to him. Weak and without reason.

  “Are you dumb, Jared? That Fae is turning boys into frogs! She’s worse than Claire and her thirst for young men. At least, she didn’t turn Brody into a frog!”

  “You’re just upset because of how that particular tale ended in response to your love life. Get over it Mina. Life isn’t a bed of roses. These tales don’t have happy endings. What makes you think that because you are a Grimm, you’re exempt? Because you’re not.” The spiteful words flew out of his mouth before he could stop them, though he didn’t intend to hurt her.

  It drove him crazy how hung up she was on Brody. She needed to snap out of it, because Brody was a real weakness. If the Story ever saw how much she cared for him, then he would be a target. It was the same thing with her best friend Nan. It would be better if she got rid of all of her friends until this was over. It would be safer. For all of them.

  Mina blinked quickly and looked away from him. Her body stiffened, and he could tell that she was holding back tears. He hated these human emotions of hers, at times like this. Too bad she couldn’t be more Fae like.

  Jared unbuckled his seatbelt and turned, facing her. “Get used to the disappointment and failure because sooner or later, you will fail at the Story’s quest. Where will that leave you? Or Charlie?”

  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 stud
y 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 him 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 that dated 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.

 
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