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       Reign, p.5

           Chanda Hahn
 

  “Hey, Li’l man.” Nix chuckled, placing Charlie’s feet back on the floor.

  Charlie smiled and yanked on Nix’s arm, pulling him out of the kitchen and pointing toward his room.

  “What are you doing, Charlie?” her mom asked, evidently confused at her son’s reception to a complete stranger.

  “It’s okay. They’ll be fine,” Mina spoke up. She jumped up and moved as far as she could across the room from Brody and began to clean up. “I’ll have this cleaned in no time, Mom.”

  “That doesn’t explain what you’re doing and why he’s”—she pointed to Brody’s chest but wouldn’t look at him—“not wearing a shirt. And what is that awful smell?” Brody was smart enough to move to the restroom to try and clean up.

  “Mom,” Mina rushed over to her and pulled her closer to the sink. “Let me explain. Look at his—”

  “Mina, I don’t know that I want to hear an explanation.”

  “He was bitten by a wolf.”

  “That’s ridiculous. There are no wolves around here.”

  “No, I think it was a different kind of wolf. You know. Of the Fae variety. Although I’m not certain.”

  Her mom stopped talking and froze. Mina gave her credit for not immediately breaking down into hysterics. She looked over at Brody’s empty chair and asked, “Is he going to be okay?”

  “I think so. Nix made something, and it seems to be making it better.” She gestured to the messy kitchen.

  “Nix?”

  “The boy with red hair, the one that’s with Charlie.” Her mother walked over and gingerly picked up each bottle reading the label. She looked into the cauldron and over to the teapot. “This smells familiar, this smells…Fae. Mina, what do you know about this boy?”

  For starters, Mina didn’t know her mother could tell just by smell what things were Fae and what weren’t. Was that even possible?

  “Charlie saved Nix’s life when Nix was about to die on the Fae plane.”

  “Charlie was on the Fae plane? When? What happened?”

  “I think it’s best if you ask your Fae godmother Terry for those answers. Right now, I need you to trust me. We are doing what we can for Brody.”

  Brody stuck his head in the kitchen and held out his arm. “You won’t believe this.” He pulled up one end of the dry paste to reveal a bright pink patch of skin. There wasn’t a single wound left. “That putrid smelling garbage works.”

  Chapter 8

  Thankfully, Mina’s mom understood and helped her clean up the kitchen. Brody had hundreds of questions. Her mom and Nix were able to fill him in on the gist of it. It was nice to have someone else besides her to explain. When three different people agreed on the story, it was at least slightly easier to make him believe he wasn’t crazy.

  Convincing him the Fae really existed was tough. He got quiet a few times and had to get up and walk around the kitchen. Once, he even left the house and stood in the rain before he came back in to hear more of the impossible. The inner turmoil was evident. His mind struggled to come to grips with the reality of what happened versus the false memories implanted by the Story.

  They were all careful to continue calling the Fae power Story. Trying to explain Jared’s death as he became one with Teague again could be saved for a later date. A few times, her mom became visibly shaken with the retelling of certain events—especially when something didn’t gel with her own memories. She toyed anxiously with the charm bracelet on her wrist until her face relaxed and she calmed down enough to continue on with the story. Then, her breathing slowed, and she would perk up.

  Mina knew it was the charms that were helping her mother. Each renewed memory must send her mother into a nervous fit, but then the charm would push the memory farther back into her subconscious.

  It was after midnight when they explained it enough for him to understand. Nix even came clean about his own past and the horrors of possibly turning into a Sea Witch.

  Mina told him about the Fates and how it was their deal with the Grimm Brothers to break the curse and close the gates. She left out how the royal Fae were able to shape shift, and that she believed it was Teague himself that attacked Brody. She wasn’t positive, after all. The dark prince could have sent any one of his followers to do the dirty work.

  They did warned Brody to watch out, because there were bad Fae intent on harming Mina and all who were associated with her. But there was something different about the wolf. She’d seen the wolf. It was intent on killing Brody.

  Brody grew quiet again, and she thought for sure he would drive off right then—out of her life forever. But he surprised everyone, even her mother, when he asked, “What can I do to help?”

  Nix shrugged his shoulders and pointed to Mina. “You’d have to ask the Grimm.” He looked at her with such confidence, such devotion and admiration. What had she done to earn this kind of loyalty? She only hoped she was worthy of it in the end.

  After the hours-long conversation wrapped up, Mina was still concerned with one thing. “Can you keep my secret, Brody?” He looked like he was about to argue with her, so she added, “For now. And I swear I will try and find a way to secure your memories from being manipulated again.”

  Brody hesitated but nodded his head. “Okay. Since you’re coming with me Friday.”

  “Why? What’s Friday?”

  “The masquerade ball at my parents’ country club, of course.”

  “A ball?” That one word made her skin crawl and her mouth go dry. Balls were full of fairy-tale possibility. It would be a sure opportunity for the Story.

  “It’s that thing that you promised to attend.”

  “I really need to ask more questions in the future.” Mina said, inwardly panicking but doing her best to appear excited.

  “That would probably be a good thing.”

  ***

  Scarves can be a great fashion accessory if utilized right. Incorrectly used, they’re a torture device for fashion-challenged teens. In Mina’s case, they were more the second. After her shower the next morning, she looked at three items Nan lent her the last time she’d been over—wedged heels, scarf, and lipstick—and decided to pick one. She chose the scarf, thinking it was the least dangerous of her choices. Mina felt like the simple silk scarf was choking her, but Nan always swore by them as “the perfect accessory to any outfit.”

  She should have chosen the heels.

  “Blech!” She glared at the chevron-patterned offensive material. This is as good as it’s going to get.

  This morning Mina wouldn’t even give the ball a second thought. Her heart was soaring. Because someone knew. Brody knew.

  Whether he would continue to believe her remained to be seen. He might change his mind and end up calling the psycho ward on her. But for the moment, she wasn’t alone. Which gave her a whole new outlook.

  For the first night in months, she’d had a dreamless sleep.

  She headed toward the kitchen to make a sandwich for lunch and made a face at her reflection every time she passed a mirror. Her bedroom mirror received a pig face; the bathroom she shot a bucktoothed expression. She’d just passed the hallway mirror with her jaw jutted out, when she caught something strange.

  Had her skin seemed a bit translucent? She leaned closer to the hall mirror, within inches of the glass, and touched her face.

  A polite cough spun her around. Brody stood by her front door. “Don’t worry. You look lovely.” He chuckled.

  Her cheeks burned red with embarrassment. He stood there in his jeans and white V-neck shirt looking relaxed and confident.

  Mina’s hair was wet from her shower, and she didn’t have a touch of makeup on. “Don’t you knock?” Mina frowned.

  “Yes, and I even wait to be let in,” he nodded over to Charlie. Her brother was once again hauling a chair to the hallway, appearing ready for Operation Open Suitcase again. “He opened the door.”

  “Well,” she said. “I guess that means you can come in.”

  “I assume
d as much.”

  “So why are you here?” Mina asked, feeling dumb for having to ask why his tall handsome self graced her foyer in the middle of the afternoon.

  Brody looked uncomfortable and glanced at Charlie. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “To protect you from any stray… um… Fae.”

  “Oh!” Mina said, surprised. She wouldn’t have thought it possible, but her cheeks burned even hotter.

  “That is, unless your problems have all gone away?”

  “Uh, no.” Mina thwarted Charlie’s curiosity by pushing the door closed as soon as he opened it. She locked the door and tucked the iron skeleton key into her pocket.

  He grabbed the doorknob and shook it angrily.

  Brody continued, “But also to see if you’d like to come over and keep me company during a planning committee for the ball. My mom’s in charge of planning the event, and I know girls really get into this kind of thing.”

  “Um, that would be most girls. Not me.”

  His face fell. “Oh, if you don’t think you’d like it, you don’t have to come.”

  “No,” she replied hastily. “I’d love to come. Let me just grab a jacket.” Mina stepped over Charlie’s mess, grabbed a light sweater, and turned to face Brody. Maybe she should tell him that party planning terrified her.

  But the way Brody looked at her helped her make up her mind and had her smiling politely and going to the passenger door of his car. Underneath his worried expression, she thought she saw a bit of hope. He wanted her to come.

  She slid into the seat, snapped the seatbelt, and looked over at him. He cranked the engine and pulled out of the driveway. Pop music and the hum of the vehicle soothed her frayed nerves. Were the nerves from butterflies or terror?

  The car slowed and they passed through the gates, heading up the Carmichaels’ driveway. Mina noted the large statues of horses and neatly trimmed hedges.

  “My mom has invited a few of her friends’ daughters over to help with the last minute details,” Brody said softly.

  “Ah,” she exclaimed as they passed the garage. “That explains…nothing.”

  “The Ziesters and Steppes happen to be longtime friends, and our families go way back,” Brody chuckled, reaching over to give her hand a reassuring squeeze. “Especially their daughters. There are two of them here tonight who can be a bit zealous in their pursuit. They can’t take a hint, but I thought—”

  “You brought me here to run interference.” Mina pinched her lips trying to hide the smile. “You want me to tackle them.”

  Brody laughed. “That’s why I like you. You get it.” He pulled up to the front of the large three-story house with its terra cotta roof. As soon as the engine died, the double mahogany doors opened, and Mrs. Carmichael rushed out, phone in hand, followed by two young women. Both of the girls looked to be in their late teens, one a stunning brunette with laughing blue eyes and suntanned skin, the other a striking redhead with full, pouty lips and pale skin. They stayed on the steps, and when Mina exited the car, their faces flickered annoyance.

  “Brody, you kept our guests waiting.” Mrs. Carmichael turned and noticed Mina for the first time. “Oh, I’m sorry. You must forgive me. Please call me Melody. And you are?” she chimed.

  “Mina,” Brody cut in, standing behind her. “She’s a friend from school.”

  The words “friend from school” cut her a little deeper than expected. Granted, he’d never verbally stated they were more than that, but hearing it still hurt.

  “Mina. Let’s go to the sitting room and get started.” Melody didn’t miss a beat.

  Mina didn’t even know new houses still had sitting rooms. Her own house did of course, because it was hundreds of years old. But apparently the wealthy still liked to follow tradition. The sitting room was lovely with a large family portrait on a taupe-colored wall above the marble fireplace. Two Victorian white sofas faced each other across a white coffee table. An antique grandfather clock towered next to the bay window. Two high back chairs brought the room together in a perfect little circle, made for intimate conversation over tea. She could very well envision Melody sitting here with her friends talking about the latest news and gossip.

  Once Mina was seated, Melody left to call the caterer for the event. Mina sat in a high back chair, and Brody sat on the sofa across from her. The redhead and brunette joined their party. The redhead slid onto the sofa, closer than necessary to Brody. She gave a slight tug on her white shorts before crossing her legs to dangle them in his line of sight. Her foot bobbed up and down, the tinkling of her charm anklet acting as a lure.

  “So what happened?” she asked. “You’re late, and you kept us waiting.”

  Brody sat a little straighter and shot Mina a worried look. She mentally kicked herself for sitting so far from Brody.

  Brody answered, “I needed to pick up Mina.”

  “Oh! So you’re going to help us with the planning?” the brunette asked. Mina heard a slight southern accent.

  “No, I’m here for moral support.”

  The redhead’s leg froze, and her eyes narrowed. “Like one of those twelve-step programs?” she whispered.

  “No!” Brody and Mina answered at once.

  The conversation was a bit awkward and stilted after that. Brody politely introduced the two guests. The tall brunette was Lara, and the spicy redhead, Daphne. Mina couldn’t help but picture Lara and Daphne as the video game heroine and the cartoon detective, although the girls in front of her were nothing like the fake ones.

  Lara opened up a magazine from the coffee table in front of them and pointed to the full color spread from last year’s ball. “See, it frequently makes the headlines in Glitz & Glam Magazine.”

  Anxiety filled Mina as she scoped the page—photo after photo filled with ruffles, flounces, and feathers. Not to mention a few close up photos of Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael. Mina’s gaze was instantly drawn to the photo of a very dapper Brody in a tux, with none other than Daphne on his arm. Her dress was a sweet peach that brought out the color of her hair and added a warmth to her cheeks.

  Lara smiled, showing even white teeth. “It’s one of the biggest events of the season, and Melody is the planning committee chair. We’re on the junior planning committee.” Her eyes dropped to the floor coyly when Brody glanced her way.

  It didn’t take a genius to see that both girls liked Brody. Who didn’t?

  “I think all that’s left for us is to finish our playlist for the party.” Lara looked only at Brody as she spoke. “I’ve made a list of fast, medium, and slow songs, and we need to put them in order.”

  “Isn’t that what a DJ is for? To put the sets together and play according to the crowd’s taste?” Mina asked.

  Her question received two blank looks from Daphne and Lara followed by a snort from Lara. “This isn’t some cheesy homecoming. This is the biggest event of the year. We leave nothing to chance.” She handed out the song sheets to Brody and Daphne but ignored Mina’s open hand.

  Not to be outmaneuvered, Mina got up and sat next to Brody to share his song list. This only encouraged another dour look from the girls.

  Mina scanned the names of the songs briefly and felt a bit lost. She knew many of the popular songs from the radio, but she was stunned by the number of waltzes being played by the live band. Not once had she thought it was going to be that kind of a ball. She didn’t know how to waltz. Mina chewed her thumbnail, pretending to be interested in the discussion, while secretly thinking of a hundred excuses to get out of the date.

  “So the ones marked with hearts are our must-haves,” Lara said. “We’ll intermix our live music with songs from the DJ. If we run out of songs, then we move on to the ones with stars on them. What do you think, Brody?” Her voice dripped with honey.

  “Sounds all right,” he answered. It was obvious he didn’t want to be a part of this.

  Daphne frowned. “Brody, really. You have to give us some input. After all, you’re as much a part of this as we are.”


  “Okay then.” He picked up the sheet again and gave it more thought. “I think it needs something else. What do you think Mina?” Brody turned to look at her.

  Mina dropped her hands to her lap and clasped them together. She really didn’t have an opinion and had stopped reading the list soon after she saw the word “waltz.” But she lied. “I think you need to add in some Dead Prince Society.”

  Brody’s face broke into a huge grin. “That’s perfect! It’s exactly what we need to bring it into the twenty-first century.” He nudged her with his elbow and she blushed. “I’m so glad you agreed to come.”

  Daphne forced a smile. “We could definitely put it on our Maybe list.”

  He shook his head no. “Not going to happen.” He grabbed a pen from the table and wrote it at the top of her paper with a big heart around it. “We added them.”

  Lara looked skeptical. “I guess we could do one or two songs.”

  “No, I say we bring them in live. If we’re going to have a live orchestra for the waltzes, then they should switch off every thirty minutes. After all, the band is family.”

  Brody’s announcement really sent the girls into a tizzy, but they aimed to please. Over the next hour, they crossed songs off, rearranged, and highlighted like crazy. The girls did everything they could to make it work—for Brody.

  After a while, he disappeared to let his mom know about the song list and to get drinks, leaving Mina with the cartoon girls.

  “So you know Brody from school?” Lara asked, playing with the locket around her neck. “I still think it’s weird that he insists on going to public school instead of private like us.”

  “Uh huh,” Mina answered, slightly intimidated by the elegant girls in front of her.

  “What about the other girl? What’s her name?” Daphne asked, tapping her lip with a perfectly manicured nail.

 
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