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       Reign, p.4

           Chanda Hahn

  “I don’t know.” She avoided looking at him. Afraid he’d see the truth in her eyes.

  He reached out to touch her shoulders. “How could I know that your kisses taste like honey? And I would give anything for another one, but yet…I don’t think we’ve ever kissed.”

  The tears came, and Mina thanked God that it was raining to at least hide them. “I don’t kn—”

  “Stop. Don’t say that again. I don’t think I can hear those words again. Not from you.” Brody’s grip became tighter and he pulled her closer.

  “I’m sorry. I don’t have the answers you want,” she answered softly, refusing to meet his gaze.

  “No, I think you do.” The water trailed off of Brody’s cheek and dripped onto Mina’s face with a small stream. She flinched from the splash and her movement brought Brody back to the present. He looked around and only now seemed to notice he was holding her captive in the middle of her driveway in the pouring rain. He stepped back, appearing upset with himself, and ran his hands through his hair.

  Mina wanted to wrap her arms around him and tell him everything would be okay. But she couldn’t. She didn’t dare. She was a bona fide chicken when it came to him. “I’m sorry, Brody,” she whispered. She looked over her shoulder at him before she walked away. “For everything.”

  Without warning, he grabbed her arm and pulled her into his embrace. His lips locked onto hers, and he kissed her. She was momentarily a prisoner of his desire, and she didn’t respond right away. His hand lowered to her back refusing to let her pull away. He wasn’t going to let her escape.

  She didn’t try. She leaned in and met his kiss. The ember of desire that she’d been squelching for so long started to burn hotter. Maybe it was because Jared was gone that she felt lost…alone. She’d closed herself off from so many other emotions that she forgot what it was like to feel. And right then, with his kiss, she felt more alive than she had in weeks. Her hand reached up to cradle his neck, encouraging him. Never before had their kisses been like this. It may have started off soft, unsure, and confused, but then it was as if something awoke in them.

  Their lips remembered. Then the sparks that have been pushed down for so long resurfaced.

  He pulled away and Mina gasped for breath, his mouth still inches from hers. His eyes locked onto her lips as if he couldn’t believe what they had just shared. Their breaths were ragged, and he squeezed her closer to him.

  “See, we’re a natural fit. We’ve must have done this before,” he buried his head into her shoulder, hugging her close, the rain a forgotten thing.

  Mina sighed in happiness. This—this was what she could have if she had a normal life. Brody leaned back and brushed away a wet tendril of hair that had wrapped around her cheek. “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to try that again, just to make sure I won’t forget this kiss.”

  Mina smiled. “I’m not going anywhere.”

  Brody’s face lit up and he lifted her chin slowly. Her heart raced with anticipation as he leaned in to seal their kiss and their new relationship. She felt the warmth of his breath whisper across her lips before an animal-like snarl ripped through the night, searing fear into her heart.

  Brody spun, and Mina stared over his shoulder to see an impossibly large black wolf only feet away. The wolf’s mouth was opened wide, teeth glaring as he lunged for Brody’s throat.

  Chapter 6

  Mina screamed in terror as Brody was knocked to the ground with the full force of the large wolf. Brody lifted his arm to protect his throat, but the wolf locked his teeth around his forearm and continued the attack on Brody’s arms and stomach with his powerful front legs.

  Brody twisted, brought his feet up, and successfully launched the wolf off him. He rolled to his side and looked toward Mina, his face filled with fear as he struggled to his knees. The wolf recovered from the throw quickly and prepared to attack again.

  “Brody!” Mina cried out. She rushed forward, putting herself between the wolf and Brody. Her arms flailed wide as she made herself a human shield. Tears fell from her eyes as she challenged the wolf. “Come on! I dare you!”

  It wasn’t fair. Just when she thought she could recover and have a normal life, normal boyfriend, something terrible happened. She was sick to death of it.

  “Mina, no!” Brody warned, as he slowly got to his feet.

  The wolf rebounded quickly and began to pace in a half-circle, searching for a way to get to his target. His dark fur bristled, and he growled in warning. He turned his canine eyes on her, and she gasped at the intense blue that stared at her.

  The rain began to pour down faster, and—as the wolf continued pacing—Mina found it difficult to focus on where he was. One minute he was in front of her, the next five feet to the left.

  Her instinct to protect those she cared about caused her to do something she’d been trying to avoid. Her skin began to prickle with electricity. As the air charged with power, Mina closed her eyes and exhaled. She focused on the pounding of her impossibly fast heart.

  The screen door slammed, and she opened her eyes. Nix rushed out of the house screaming with the fire poker in his hand. He jumped off the porch and landed among the rocks, skittering the smaller pebbles along the ground.

  The wolf turned, zeroing in on the new threat. Nix held the poker out in front of him, then swung the metal rod toward the animal, trying to make the wolf back up.

  The wolf dodged to the side and ran away into the trees.

  Nix watched him retreat into the darkness before he turned around to ask, “Is everyone all right?”

  Brody nodded and moved to stand near Mina.

  The black form darted toward Nix from a different direction, releasing no warning growl.

  “Nooo!” Mina screamed, releasing the power she’d gathered to herself. A flash of lightning came out of the night and struck the ground inches from Nix. The startled wolf flew off of the Nixie, landing on his back. A second bolt of lightning struck the wolf, burning off a patch of fur and searing the skin, filling the air with the smell of burnt flesh. The wolf yelped in pain and disappeared into the night. This time he did not return.

  Nix blinked his eyes and looked at the scorched earth inches from his prone body. “Well, I’ll be. I thought lightning never struck the same place twice.”

  “It doesn’t usually.” Brody answered, coming to survey the damage. His right arm had some nasty cuts, and the teeth marks had gone deep.

  “Well, thankfully, mother nature was on our side tonight.” Mina shivered as she struggled to release the energy zinging through her fingertips back into the atmosphere. She had saved them—she knew it. Mina wasn’t sure how, but there was no denying that she was the one who called down the lightning. It had struck exactly where she’d wanted it to.

  Nix stood up and eyed Mina suspiciously. “Yeah, when you see her next, tell her thanks from me.”

  Mina ignored him and went over to Brody, who was staring off into the night where the wolf had disappeared.

  “Let’s get inside.” He turned and put his hand on Mina’s lower back, ushering her up the porch steps in front of him.

  “You don’t need to tell me twice.” Nix scampered up the steps and into the house before either of them reached the top step.

  “We should call animal control,” Brody said as soon as the door closed. They latched the lock.

  “And tell them what exactly?” Mina did not want to be the one to call attention to her family.

  “That I think a large rabid dog is on the loose.”

  “A dog? You think that was a large black dog?” She asked in disbelief.

  “I don’t know. I could have sworn it was a wolf, but then when it attacked me, I saw its eyes. Wolves don’t have blue eyes.”

  “How do you know they were blue? It was dark. You could have been mistaken.”

  “I’ll never forget those eyes. They were so blue they looked human.”

  Mina’s stomach dropped. She’d thought the same thing. She would n
ever forget that shade of blue either, because it haunted her every night in her dreams.

  Chapter 7

  Never in her wildest dreams would Mina have thought Brody Carmichael would be sitting shirtless on her bathroom counter. Of course, as dreamy as this was, his bare muscled chest was the last thing on her mind. Okay, maybe it was the second to last thing on her mind.

  The first was applying hydrogen peroxide to the long cuts on his chest. Nix was taking care of the more serious injuries on Brody’s arm. He’d already cleaned up most of the blood with a clean towel, being careful of the torn skin surrounding the bites.

  “I think I can make a salve for this,” Nix said after evaluating Brody’s arm. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.” He may have actually skipped on his way to the kitchen.

  “What’s with him?” Brody hissed in pain as Mina used a cotton ball to dab at one of the scratches. The clear liquid immediately started to bubble as it cleansed the wound. After a few seconds, Brody released the breath he was holding.

  “He’s obsessed with Leave it to Beaver lately.” Mina placed the cotton on a larger cut. Brody inhaled quickly. “Oh, Brody. I’m sorry.”

  “It’s no big deal. It’s just cold and it tickles.”

  Mina put the swab over the lid of the brown bottle and turned it upside down, trying to stay focused on the white fuzzy cotton ball instead of how near he was. “No, not about the antiseptic. About what happened in the yard. With the wolf. It’s all my fault.”

  Brody gently grabbed her hand with the swab in it. “Mina, that had nothing to do with you.”

  She couldn’t look him in the eye. “No, I think it does. I think everything weird that has ever happened to you, and so much more that you don’t remember, all happened because of me.”

  “I don’t understand.” Brody dropped her hand and pulled back to look at her.

  It was the moment of truth. “Falling from a catwalk, waking up on the floor of an abandoned building, fighting a man in a dark alley.”

  Brody visibly paled and his brows furrowed in anger. “How do you know all of that? You can’t possibly know those things. I’ve never told anyone—”

  She held up her hand, interrupting him. “No, let me finish.”

  Mina’s bottom lip started to tremble. The seriousness of what she was about to reveal weighed upon her. He may hate her for it. She lowered her voice and whispered, “For killing Nan.”

  The blood rushed from Brody’s face, and he actually started to keel forward.

  Mina instinctively reached up and braced him as Brody dropped his forehead onto her shoulder in an awkward hug.

  “In a car accident?” he mumbled.

  “Yes, at the lake house. It was raining and you were racing her to see your cousin before he left on tour. You took the turn too fast and flipped your SUV, killing Nan.”

  Something warm spread over her shoulder, and Brody’s body started to shake. Mina wrapped her arms around him and let him cry.

  The Fae were stupid to think that altering humans’ memories wouldn’t harm them. Here was proof that they were doing more damage than good. Obviously her friends did retain bits of their memories, or the memories surfaced when they dreamed. Truth was the only medicine for the internal hurts they’d been hiding, for goodness knew how long.

  A few minutes later, Brody leaned back and placed his hands around her face, brushing a thumb across her lips. “So how much more is true? Were we? Are we…?” he trailed off.

  Mina nodded her head. “Yes, once. A long time ago.” She tried to remember what month it was when she’d found out about being a Grimm. “It’s been over a year.”

  He nodded and sighed loudly. “I don’t know if I’ll ever understand, but just knowing that you know is comforting.”

  “Brody what happened—what has been happening—it may continue to happen to you, to me, to others.” She swallowed nervously.

  He stiffened and sat up on the counter and pulled away from her. “No. Nobody should have to live not knowing if what they experience is real or not. I know I can’t.”

  “Then you have to stay away from me. Stay as far from me as you possibly can, and maybe you won’t be sucked into my curse.”

  Brody’s eyes flashed and he looked at her possessively. “Never, now that I know we really had something. I’m going to continue to pursue that. I won’t let anything come between us.”

  Mina’s heart soared before it came crashing down to earth, shattering in a million pieces. “Can you fight your shadow? Something that you can’t see or understand? What I’m in the middle of—this fight—is something that’s been going on for hundreds of years. People get hurt, become pawns, and get tossed aside. Especially those closest to a Grimm.”

  “Grimm? You mean like the two brothers?”

  Mina nodded her head. “The very same. They were my ancestors.”

  “I seem to remember you studying a bunch of books by the Grimm Brothers…at a library…right?” He looked at her expectantly.

  Mina smiled. “Yes.”

  “Go on…” he waited.

  Mina’s eyes drifted to his chest and then to his injured arm that was turning an ugly purple. “Not now. First we need to worry about this.” She stepped away from him, which was harder to do than she thought. She opened the bathroom door and pointed with her head for him to precede her.

  Brody slid from the countertop, picked up his bloody and ruined shirt, and walked into the hall. Mina brushed all of the cotton balls into the garbage and screwed the lid back on the disinfectant before walking him to their kitchen.

  He probably could have found the kitchen without her based on the horrid smells wafting down the hallway. Mina found Nix wearing her mother’s flowered apron as he hummed and stirred a cast iron pot full of boiling green liquid.

  The kitchen was an epic disaster. It looked like Nix had raided the cabinets and left all the cupboard doors open. He was currently going through the spice cabinet, taking the lid off every available jar of natural herbs to smell them. Most he discarded quickly, making a face and shoving them to the right. He did set two or three in a different group. But then he reached farther back, and slid out a few glass jars sealed with wax.

  Mina didn’t recognize the unlabeled jars as belonging to her family. Well, not her immediate family. They could very well have been put there by her father—or even her grandfather.

  Nix seemed pleased with what he’d found and added them to the boiling concoction. The way he mumbled to himself, tossing herbs in, made him look very much like he was boiling and toiling up some trouble. The brown terra cotta pot that sat in the corner by the kitchen table had been stripped of all of its leaves. She had no idea what the plant was—it had already been in the house when they moved in—but obviously Nix knew.

  “Take a seat. The doctor will be ready in a moment,” Nix said, chuckling.

  Brody sat on a chair facing Nix, who started straining the foul smelling broth into a teapot. He kept the spices, leaves, and who knew what else and threw them into another pot, crushing the remains with a potato masher until it took on a pulpy texture. It looked horrible and smelled worse. But Nix scooped the paste into a small bowl and stood over Brody.

  “Okay, I’m ready,” Nix grinned happily. He was clearly in his element.

  “Not on your life,” Brody said, holding his hand over his nose. “That stuff can’t possibly help.”

  “Arm,” Nix demanded, eyeing the wound that was starting to ooze again.

  “You don’t even know how to work a toaster. I’m not letting Betty Crocker go all Florence Nightingale on me.”

  “Who?” Nix asked and looked to Mina.

  “Exactly!” Brody pointed toward Nix. “You agree with me right, Mina?”

  Mina had to cover her mouth as the laughter just spilled out. Amid all the stress, these two could still make her laugh. When her giggles stopped, she finally choked out, “No, he knows what he’s doing, Brody…trust me.”

  Brody looked at her like
she’d grown horns. “No.”

  “Why not?” Mina frowned.

  “Not until I know for sure that you’ll go with me to that thing.”

  “Are you really going to deny being treated until you have an answer? I thought I already said yes.”

  “Well, technically you did, but I want to make sure you hadn’t changed your mind.” Brody raised one eyebrow at her and waited.

  Nix watched the exchange, holding a long wooden spoon filled with the green paste up in the air. Any minute now, he would start tapping his foot.

  “This has nothing to do with the date. You’re just trying to delay the inevitable. Just let him treat your arm before you get rabies and die, you big baby.”

  “Okay,” Brody said sheepishly. He held out his arm.

  Nix looked relieved and started to smear the goo up and down, covering the large bite marks. Mina didn’t want to draw any more unnecessary attention to it, but those wounds were made by something bigger than any dog she’d ever seen. Way bigger.

  “It feels weird.” Brody kept flexing his fingers. “It’s getting hot.”

  “That means it’s working.” Nix grinned and went to pick up the glass jar he had found earlier. “At home in my cave, I used to keep a jar of this stuff. I never expected to find it here in your world.”

  Mina’s eyes went wide, and Brody’s head snapped to look at Nix.

  “Cave? World? What in—”

  “Heaven’s name is going on in here!” her mother screeched as she came to a halt in her kitchen. Her face flushed red as she surveyed the mess in the kitchen, the half-naked boy sitting at the table with her daughter, and the other boy wearing her apron.

  Charlie peeked around his mother and took one look at Nix in his apron and ran to him. Nix bent down and scooped the boy into his arms in a big hug. Charlie began to pull on Nix’s red hair and touch his face as if he couldn’t believe the difference. It took a second for Mina to realize that this was the first time her brother had seen Nix’s new human body. He’d seen Nix on the Fae plane with green hair and skin. Charlie had been the one to insist that she drag him into their world. She hadn’t been sure Charlie would remember.

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