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       Reign, p.6

           Chanda Hahn
“Nan. Yes, we both attend classes with Brody.” She automatically thought of her own best friend.

  “No, not her.” Daphne rolled her eyes, flipped a magazine open and pointed to an old photo of Brody and Savannah. “Is she still with Brody?”

  “Savannah? No, they aren’t together anymore.” Mina wanted to claw the snarky Daphne for that jab.

  Lara and Daphne started to pick up their notebooks, magazines, and seating charts for the ball.

  “So are you coming to the ball?” Lara asked casually. Almost too casually.

  “Why, yes, I promised Brody I would.” This was starting to sound familiar.

  “Really?” Daphne swung her cross-bag over her shoulder. She eyed Mina’s clothes and ripped jeans. “As a server? I know the club was a bit short-handed for the event.”

  “No. As his date,” she said between clenched teeth.

  Brody returned with two glasses of iced tea. Daphne reached for one, but Brody turned and handed it to Mina instead. The gesture was so unexpected, she almost let the glass slip through her fingers. Thankfully, she caught it, as well as the look of hatred that shot her way. Brody took a long swig of his own glass of iced tea.

  Right then, the old grandfather clock in the corner started to chime, and it didn’t ring the two tones it should have. It continued—another ten chimes.

  Lara’s face scrunched up in confusion, “Twelve?”

  “I think your clock’s broken,” Daphne snorted.

  “It’s not broken. At least it shouldn’t be.” Brody walked over to the clock, opened the glass door, and looked inside for the key to wind it. He inserted it into the face of the clock, gave it a few twists and turns, and gently moved the hands around the face until it showed two o’clock.

  Immediately, the clock started to chime again. Everyone waited, silently counting two deep, resonant chimes.

  There was almost an audible exhale as no other noise came from the clock.

  “See, it’s not broke,” Brody turned and smiled.

  “I guess not.” Mina smiled wanly, but she kept her eyes on the clock because what she knew was coming next. She’d been on high alert as soon as she heard the girls’ names. Steppes and Ziester? How close could the Story get to “stepsister”?

  The slight tingling began, indicating the Story was near. Mina couldn’t take her eyes off of the clock, watching as Brody hung the key up and closed the glass door. As soon as it clicked shut, the clock continued its haunting chime.

  Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve.

  And this time, when the clock struck twelve, the bay windows blew open, and the curtains flew horizontally into the room.

  Lara and Daphne shrieked as the pages in the open magazine on the table began to flip.

  Brody rushed across the room and tackled the opened windows. Once he got them shut, the wind died down. The magazine settled on a two-page spread of Brody wearing a white mask with the caption in bold Times New Roman:

  Brody Carmichael—A real, live Prince Charming.

  Mina launched to her feet, knocking her knee into the corner of the coffee table. “Ouch! Excuse me, but I have to go.”

  “Where are you off to so early?” Daphne called out. “Is your coach going to turn into a pumpkin?”

  “Don’t be silly, Daphne. She probably just has to catch a bus.”

  “Girls, enough.” Brody said heatedly.

  Both Daphne and Lara turned pouty looks toward him.

  Brody leapt after her. “Mina, are you feeling okay?”

  She waved him off. “I’d like to go home.”

  Brody disappeared to tell his mom where he was going.

  Mina could hear the two girls whispering. One of them—sounded like Lara—said it was all an act. That Brody couldn’t possibly like her. She was only there to make them jealous.

  Mina’s anger got the better of her and she spun. “No wonder you’re so excited about wearing masks at a ball. Who knows, if you don’t say a word, you may be able to disguise your hideous personalities.”

  Lara’s and Daphne’s mouths dropped open. They looked like drowning fish as they tried to come up with a retort.

  Mina didn’t stay to listen or battle with words. She needed to get home and get help, because Teague had just set up her next quest. As innocent as the Cinderella story sounded, Mina knew there would be a deadly twist to this fairy tale.

  The whole way home, she was tense and on edge. Brody asked if she was okay.

  “No, I’m not okay.” She blew out a long breath.

  “Is it something I did?”

  “Not intentionally. It seems like we’re both in for another round of fairy-tale madness.”

  “You mean you’re getting your intuition?”

  Mina laughed softly. “Yeah, I guess you could say that. I think we are about to go head to head with the Cinderella tale.”

  Brody pulled the car up her driveway and put the car into park. She listened to the hum of the engine as he unbuckled his seatbelt and turned toward her.

  “And you think we’re both caught up in this tale?”

  “Yeah, unfortunately I do.”

  “Okay and what part do you think I’m going to play in this quest?”

  “I think you’re Prince Charming,” Mina said, feeling awkward at voicing her assumption out loud.

  “So in Cinderella, it’s all about the girl falling in love with Prince Charming, right?” A mischievous smile lurked at the corner of his lips.

  She could hardly concentrate with how good he looked right then. She swallowed. “Yes.”

  “And the prince falls in love, loses the girl, and has to find her.”

  Again she answered, although her voice dropped in volume. “Yes.” She studied her hands, clasped in her lap.

  Brody reached for her hands and pulled them up between them. “Well, this may be the easiest quest ever then, because this prince has already found you.” He placed a gentle kiss on the back of her hand.

  Her heart slammed against her chest at the simple gesture that was so packed with emotion.

  “And I don’t plan on letting you go anytime soon,” he added.

  She smiled weakly. “It’s never that easy.”

  “I wouldn’t expect it to be. Otherwise the other Grimms before you would have beaten this.”

  “We could get hurt. You could get hurt.”

  Brody tightened his grip on her hands, cupping them between his. “I’ve seen you play sports. You need all the help you can get. Maybe Nix could make up another batch of that foul smelling fix-it-all? Then we’ll be good.”

  Mina pulled her hand out of his to playfully punch his shoulder. He lurched forward and she missed.

  He laughed. “See, you probably couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.”

  “Probably not, but I’ve got to try.”

  Brody mellowed. “As long as you let me, I’ll be here to help you.”

  “As long as you remember me.”

  “True, but keep in mind that’s not something I can control. Still, there’s something between us that—no matter what—keeps pulling us together. So if I forget or get put under a spell, you’ll just have to remind me how awesome you are.”

  Mina grinned and hopped out of the car. He was right. There was something between them, and it spun her in circles with confusion. Was it a crush, an infatuation, love? So soon after losing Jared, she didn’t want to even think it was possible, but …what if what she had for Jared hadn’t been real? It had only been a few weeks ago, but in her heart it felt like years.

  The stress of the quests was wearing on her. She could feel the next one looming over her. But for once, she felt like her future might not be so bleak.

  One final question hung over her, though. Teague would manipulate this. How would she survive it?

  Chapter 9

  Nan insisted on taking Mina dress shopping for her date with Brody after school on Wednesday. Since her car was in the shop, they were stuck with the horrib
le public transportation system. Maybe it was the combined stench of exhaust and sweat that filled the air making her feel uneasy. Maybe it was the odd look that Ever kept giving her from across the aisle.

  It had started as soon as Nan compared Mina to Cinderella going to a ball.

  The bus dropped them off at Harlow Street in a quaint area filled with small nook and cranny stores and family-owned businesses. They were heading to Nan’s favorite café for a bite to eat while they decided what type of dress she should wear. Mina wanted simple; Nan wanted something spectacular, and jaw dropping.

  “You don’t want any old dress. You need a dress fit for a queen.”

  Mina shivered. “Don’t say that too loudly. I have no desire to be queen of anything.”

  Ever snorted loudly.

  “Fine. Then you’ll be the belle of the ball.”

  Mina inwardly groaned. Now it sounded like Beauty and the Beast. The last time she’d gone dress shopping, she was stuck in a Red Riding Hood tale. “No belles, no queens. Just a dress. A simple one, with not too much stuff on it.”

  “Boring. Got it,” Nan answered.

  “No, not boring. I just don’t want any extra attention on my date with Brody.”

  Nan looked to Ever and wiggled her eyebrows. “You heard that. We got our marching orders. We are on a mission to make her as unattractive as possible.”

  Ever smirked. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”

  “Hey, watch it!” Mina bumped her shoulder into Ever playfully. Ever withdrew and moved away to walk on the other side of Nan. That hurt.

  Mina wanted to say something, but Nan pointed to a sign above a store with a bunch of old clocks. “Hey, I’ve never heard of this one. Hickory Dickory Dock! We should—”

  “No!” Ever and Mina answered simultaneously.

  Nan’s eyes went wide and she was about to ask why, when Mina noticed the traffic. A large garbage truck barreled toward them. She thought it would slow down for the light.

  Only it didn’t. It continued picking up speed.

  “Watch out!” Mina shouted. The garbage truck hit the curb and vaulted onto the sidewalk. It was heading straight for them.

  The ground rumbled and noise split the air as the driver blasted the horn in warning. The world moved in slow motion as the faded green garbage truck crashed through a newspaper stand, scattering papers into the air. The license plate came into focus. After all, she was only feet away.

  Mina saw Ever grab Nan and try to fly up into the air, but the Pixie wasn’t going to be fast enough.

  Instinctively, Mina stretched out her palm and used power to launch her friends out of harm’s way. That was it. She knew it. Save her friends or save herself. She turned and saw the driver’s terrified expression as he raised his arm to cover his face, prepared to slam into her.

  But right before impact, she heard the sound of metal scraping across cement. And it wasn’t from the truck.

  Chapter 10

  “Stupid! You’re so stupid. I can’t believe you didn’t try to save yourself. How dumb can you be?” A male voice growled into her ear as her rescuer carried her, pressed tightly to his chest.

  Mina couldn’t see the person who spoke. Her arms were wrapped awkwardly around his neck, and she didn’t let go for fear of being dropped.

  It was dark, and the sounds of the city were faint. Where was she? It had happened so fast. One minute she’d been facing death, the next she’d been pulled downward into someone’s arms. The person holding her stopped and tossed her roughly to the ground.

  She slid across the cement in something slimy and let out a pathetic yelp.

  The voice continued to berate her for her stupidity as her rescuer walked back and forth in the darkness. “You helped them instead of yourself.”

  She kept quiet and let her eyes adjust to the lack of light. It took almost a minute, but light trickled down through a hole in the ceiling, circular like a manhole. After a few more seconds, she saw rungs in the wall near her and made out that the top of the manhole was partially blocked. From this distance, she could see part of a wheel and the undercarriage of a car up there.

  Now that she could see, she stood and glanced over to spot Teague only a few feet away, his chest heaving in anger, his hands clenched into fists. The look he shot her was pure disgust.

  Had Teague just saved her? Why?

  Before she dwelt on those thoughts too long, she took another look at her surroundings. She decided to wait before she called him savior. Right now, since she couldn’t find an exit, he was her captor.


  Like a flash, he closed the distance between them and pressed her into the ladder rungs. His forearm barred across her chest, preventing her from moving. He held his other hand over her mouth.

  “Don’t speak. Don’t you dare say my name.” His eyes blazed as he glared at her, but something was wrong with them. It was like they couldn’t decide on what color they were. Shifting between a furious gray and an even angrier blue. He looked pained, and he momentarily released the pressure on her.

  Mina lifted her hand to gently brush across his arm.

  He inhaled in a quick hiss and jerked at her touch. He was shaking he was so furious.

  But he pushed her against the ladder again. The back of her head connected with the upper rung, sending blinding arrows of light into her vision. His arm pressed harder into her body, making another rung dig deeper into her shoulder blade.

  Tears formed at the corner of her eyes, and she lashed back in anger. “Get away from me, you freak!”

  His lips formed a cruel smile as he leaned forward to whisper into her ear. “I could have let you die up there. In fact, I’m not altogether of one mind why I didn’t…Oh, that’s right. You have something I want.” He took his free hand and gently stroked the side of her cheek, running his fingers over her lips. The move sent an unwilling shiver through her until his fingers moved under her chin. “I want that dagger.”

  “Even if I had it, I wouldn’t give it to you,” she spat out. She pushed against him to escape, but his fingers dug deeper into her throat, cutting off her air.

  “Tsk tsk tsk,” he clicked his tongue. “I thought you would have heeded my warning. I told you your friends aren’t safe if you don’t give me the dagger.”

  “It was you that attacked Brody.”

  “I thought it pertinent to give you another warning, to show you I mean business. But it will be your last.” He pushed away and turned his back on her.

  “No, leave my friends out of this. You have no right to bring them into our fight.”

  “You are the one doing that. You’re endangering your friends, not me.”

  “That’s an outright lie and you know it. You have been controlling me from the very beginning with your games.”

  “Mina, if you don’t want to play my games, I’m okay with ending this here and now and moving on to the next Grimm. Your brother.” He turned to face her, and his eyes looked almost black in the shadows. Something invisible tightened around her neck.

  “N-n-no,” she stuttered, struggling against the magic. Fear raced through her. Never before had Teague been so violent with her. Threatened her?—yeah. Tried to kill her through quests?—plenty. But before, she’d thought she was his equal.

  She used to be able to play the games and win, but this was someone new. This was the Teague who threatened to tear the Fae kingdom apart. The one who frightened the Fates and forced their hand. This wasn’t the Jared she knew or the Story. It was true: divided Teague was manageable.

  This wasn’t a case of Jekyll and Hyde.

  This was Hyde on steroids. The person who stood before her was terrifying, and he was going to kill her.

  She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t inhale, and she felt herself starting to black out. “Puh-please,” Mina choked out.

  “You’re the only one who stands in my way.”

  “Mina?” Nan’s voice echoed faintly from above her. “Mina, where are you?”
r />   Teague clearly savored watching her writhe under his power. At the sound of Nan’s voice, he turned to listen and released some of the pressure on her throat.

  It was enough that Mina could gasp for air. Which then set off a round of coughing.

  Teague looked irritated and moved away from her. Mina fell to her knees as she gathered her strength. “Pathetic,” Teague taunted, staring up at the trickles of light that came from above. Police sirens increased in volume, coming to the scene.

  “Why don’t you just kill me?” Mina stood up straight to challenge him, her hands splayed at her sides.

  “I keep wondering that myself.” He turned to square off against her, his hands clasped behind his back as if waiting for her to make the first move. “What can you accomplish with no Grimoire to do all of your dirty work for you? You have nothing in your arsenal but a pretty face—and a lying one at that.”

  “Mina, are you down there?” This time it was Ever, who had either heard something or figured out that she’d gone down the manhole into the sewer. Ever’s hand squeezed through the opening the light shone through.

  “I have enough to fight the likes of you,” Mina challenged.

  Teague sighed, “You’re all talk, and I’m becoming bored. I’m done with you and your pretty little threats to stop me.” He started toward her with his hands aimed at her throat.

  Mina had no clue to what Teague was referring, but she was scared she was about to die. Desperate to save herself, she tried to use the power she had so little control over. Harnessing what she could, she thrust it all toward him.

  Teague flew across the room and cracked his skull into the wall, going limp. Mina used her chance to climb up the rungs toward Ever’s voice.

  “Don’t go up there,” he growled from below.

  “I’m here!” Mina thrust her hand through a small opening between the chassis of the truck and the wheel. She waved her hand in the air and almost started crying when Ever’s hand took hold of it.

  “I’ve got you, Mina. I’ll get you out. I promise.” Ever called. Mina believed her.

  Something grasped her ankle and started pulling her back down. Mina cried out when Teague’s hands began to pull on her legs. He was trying to make her fall.

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