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       Fairest, p.9

           Chanda Hahn
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  One minute she was sliding on the rocks pitching backward, the next, she was wrapped in Jared’s arms at the bottom of the embankment, warm and protected. At a loss for words and unwilling to move first, she just laid there face to face with him, intensely aware of how close they were and how tightly he was holding her.

  She had always known that Jared was attractive. His dark hair, strong jaw, and grey eyes made him irresistible, but Mina could never get past his ugly attitude. His pride, arrogance, and the disdain he usually seemed to carry just for her helped keep her in check.

  His eyes were closed, and she could make out each individual eyelash. His lips were slightly parted, as he breathed slowly trying to regain his breath from the fall. The faint rain splattered his cheek and in this moment, everything else forgotten, Jared was breathtaking.

  She should move, lean back and pull away, but she didn’t, couldn’t, mostly because his arms were wrapped around her, and he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to release that hold.

  He still hadn’t opened his eyes. Mina almost thought maybe he was unconscious, but she knew that to be a lie, because her hand was resting across his chest and the longer she stared at his face, the faster her heart raced, and Jared’s heart was racing faster.

  Finally, he swallowed, opened up his eyes and she almost drowned in the raw emotions she saw in them. He was going to kiss her! She gasped when she realized his intent, and she wished she hadn’t because he misunderstood her anticipation for rejection. He immediately went cold. His jaw tightened and he looked hurt. He let go of her and she felt a little disappointed, when he reached up toward her face and pulled a stick out of her hair.

  “Next time, try not to take the whole forest with you when you fall,” he smiled slowly but the smile never reached his eyes. He pulled another twig from her hair and handed both of them to her. “For your Christmas tree next year,” he joked.

  She scrambled away from Jared and instantly felt the loss of his warmth; it was so much warmer being snuggled up next to him. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment, but thankfully he didn’t notice.

  He sat up slowly but continued to sit on the ground. He stared at his hands for a moment before looking at her. He looked solemn, determined and whatever he was about to say. She knew she wasn’t going to like it.

  Large crashing from the nearby bushes interrupted them, and they both looked up in alarm. There was no time to run or scream, before a large beast appeared in front of them. Mina froze as the black bear towered over her. All she could see were eyes and teeth as it moved in for the kill.

  Mina screamed.

  Chapter 10

  The black bear lunged for Mina, swiping at her with its powerful paws, trying to knock her back. Jared shifted into his Ogre form, and dove between them, taking the force of the bear’s blow and getting slashed across his forearm in turn. The bear was undeterred at the sight of the larger Ogre and became even further enraged. Ignoring Mina, it focused its attack on the new, larger threat.

  The Jared rushed forward into the bear’s clutches and physically began to push and wrestle the bear away from Mina, who was paralyzed with fear. Swipe after swipe, the bear used his most powerful weapons, his paws, to try and dislodge Jared, but he was too close for those paws to do much damage. Unfortunately, that only put him closer to the bear’s second strongest weapon, his teeth.

  Mina cried out when the bear twisted its head and bit down on the Jared’s left shoulder. He roared in pain and punched the bear in the snout, causing the bear to release its painful grip. Jared grunted and wrestled with the bear and was able to grab it around the middle to lift it high in the air above his head. He turned, took three large steps, and tossed the bear into the river. The bear went under, broke the surface, and swam toward them, this time keeping a greater distance when it circled them threateningly again.

  The bear rose to its hind legs and roared at them. Jared moved toward the bear and roared back in challenge. Startled, and a little unsure, the bear dropped and ambled off into the thicket.

  Jared stayed in Ogre form until the bear had disappeared; only changing back when he was sure they were safe. Mina watched him in fascination as his skin took on a more normal, pink hue and his features shrank and disappeared until he stood before her, bleeding, spent, and fully human.

  His head drooped in fatigue, but he looked up at her and smiled wanly, before collapsing to his knees in pain. Mina rushed to his side and ripped open his t-shirt to see the damage to his shoulder. It was bloody and messy, but he didn’t look to have broken any bones.

  “I’m fine, it’s looks worse than it feels,” He lied terribly.

  “Oh, Jared, you could have been killed. We have to get out of here, more bears could come back, and we don’t want to be here.” She tore off a strip of her shirt and ran back to the water and started to clean the wound.

  “We will be fine as long as we don’t make any sudden moves in the direction of that thicket.” He sat down on the ground and let Mina tend to the bite on his shoulder and the cut along his arm. He closed his eyes and nodded toward where the bear had both appeared and disappeared into.

  “How can you be sure?” Mina asked hesitantly. It was too much like being attacked by the cannibalistic bears, but the Grimoire wouldn’t work in this real situation.

  “It was our fault. We startled a mother and her cubs when we fell down the embankment. The cubs were hiding in the thicket the whole time. She was just being a good mom.” He hissed in pain when she pressed to hard against the wound.

  Mina glanced over at the thicket and was barely able to see the retreating form of the mother black bear and two rambunctious cubs bumbling after her.

  Jared rested for a few moments with his eyes closed before he took a closer look at his wounds. Slowly, he got up and began to look around the base of tree trunks. Mina asked what he was doing, and he explained that he was looking for Eros Moss, a plain looking tree moss that the Fae loved for numbing pain. It was easy to find since the moss grew everywhere. He got Mina to apply it and bandage his wound. Satisfied, he motioned for them to continue their journey.

  Mina kept close to Jared, worried that he might collapse or fall down from fatigue. But the Eros Moss seemed to be doing its job, because Jared never slowed his pace, but picked it up. It actually looked like he was the one becoming impatient with her slowness.

  “Do you like to climb trees?” He asked.

  Mina looked at the huge pine tree they stopped next to apprehensively. “Not really, but I can try.” She began to scale the tree, but about fifteen feet up, her natural clumsiness got the best of her and she slipped and sliced her arm on a broken branch. Pain laced up her arm, and she cried out.

  “Stay there, I’m coming up,” Jared yelled up at her.

  “No, I got this!” She knew he wasn’t in any condition to climb a tree. Gritting her teeth, she slowly ascended to the top. She spent a few minutes looking around at the surrounding landscape. What she saw was discouraging. A few agonizing minutes later she was back on the ground next to a perplexed Jared.

  “So what did you see?” he asked carefully.

  “A whole lot of trees,” she grumbled under her breath.

  “Ah,” he intoned casually. “Well, let’s go this way.” He pointed left.

  “How do you know where to go?” She looked around and back up at the sky confused.

  “Because I know we need to go east,” Jared answered.

  “But it is overcast and cloudy and we can’t even see the sun? How do you know which way is east?” Mina waved her arms and pointed at the grey sky. The sky took that moment to start to rain down on them. “See!”

  “Because the moss grows on the north side of trees, so as long as you head this way, you’ll get out.”

  Mina stopped and stared at Jared in disbelief. “If you knew that already, why in the world did you have me climb the tree?”

  Jared looked at her his eyes widening in innocence. “I didn’t ask you to climb the tree. I k
new which way we were heading. I just asked you if you liked to climb trees in an attempt to start a conversation. You were the one who wanted to try and climb the stupid tree.”

  “I did not,” Mina tried to argue but realized that she was the one at fault.

  They trudged through the slight drizzle, and soon all of her clothes were once again soaked. Another hour in and she started to shiver and sneeze. If they didn’t get out of this soon they were going to catch pneumonia.

  “How much longer?” she asked.

  “Hey, how am I supposed to know?” He was becoming cross.

  “Well, can’t you do any magic to make it go faster?” Mina whined. The pain in her arm was starting to sting and make her more irritated than she already was.

  “What, do you think I’m some kind of genie in a bottle that can grant you three wishes?” Jared fumed angrily.

  “Are you really that selfish that you can’t help us out? If you can get us out of here then you should,” Mina yelled back. “It’s your fault that we are lost in the woods to begin with, so don’t you think you should try and get us out?”

  “I’m not your beck-and-call boy. You don’t tell me what to do!” Whatever she said really set Jared off because he turned his back on her, and the happy-go-lucky Jared from last night and this morning was gone, to be replaced by the surly one she used to know.

  His footsteps became longer and faster, and Mina had to start running to catch up with him. “Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did. I didn’t know it was going to make you so angry. So you will have to forgive me if I’m not my most congenial self at the moment. I’m tired, sore, and I know that my mother is probably worried sick and desperate to hear from me. I just want to get home to my family, and I will do almost anything to get there. Do you have any idea, what that’s like?”

  He stopped when they came to a small cliff overlooking the forest below. He stood there still as a statue and waited for Mina to catch up to him.

  “Yes, I do know what it is like to want to desperately go home.” He turned to look at her, and his face was detached, his grey eyes that were moments ago crinkled in laughter, were void.

  “Then why don’t you just disappear and go back home to the Fae plane?”

  “Because, I am unable to crossover. I’m stuck here.” He turned his back to her.

  “But, why? What happened?” Mina asked quietly.

  “It’s none of your business,” he answered heatedly. He turned and stared back out across the forest as if he was searching for something. He raised his head and sniffed the air; his shoulders stiffened in anger. “I have a confession to make,” he growled out.

  Mina felt her mouth grow dry with dread, and she swallowed nervously.

  Jared cleared his throat. “I did this on purpose.”

  “What do you mean you did this on purpose? She couldn’t even fathom what he was referring to; the bus ride, tricking her,--there were endless possibilities.

  “I purposely brought you out to the middle of the forest, to make sure you got lost.”

  She went cold at his words. There was no way he was serious after saving her from a fall and protecting her from an angry black bear. He had to be joking. He wasn’t.

  “I have to leave you here.” He looked at her, his eyes dark and angry. She went still.

  “Please, tell me you aren’t seriously going to abandon me.” She stood still next to him, pleading with her voice, letting all her fear and insecurities pour out.

  “I have to. Something bad is coming and I need rest; otherwise, I won’t be able to help you,” Jared whispered. There was a catch in his voice. “Just promise me you’ll be careful and stay on the path.”

  “Path? What path?” Tears of pain and frustration burned at the corner of her eyes. She blinked them away, and when she opened her eyes, Jared was gone.

  She spun in a circle to look for him, but he had vanished. There was no evidence of footsteps, sounds or bushes being disturbed. He just disappeared. Mina called his name, but no one answered except for the echo of her voice off of the valley. Dejected and alone, she sat down in the dirt and rain and stared out over the forest.

  How could she have ever trusted him? He was, she decided, the absolutely worst kind of Fae. She didn’t think that they were capable of disappearing like that, but obviously they did it and did it a lot. He probably was in league with the Story against her. He was being the evil Step-parent figure leading her out into the forest and abandoning her.

  She turned to look angrily across the forest and saw what Jared had seen. A path. It seemed to be a few miles off. But if she got moving, she could get there by nightfall.

  She took Jared’s moss advice hoping it was accurate, and started walking in an easterly route. It took her two hours to reach the dirt access road.

  The dirt road came to a fork, and Mina wasn’t sure which one to take. They both traveled in somewhat the same route. She chose the path that went right. After another hour, she was sure she’d chosen the wrong path. But wasn’t it better to keep going on the same path, instead of backtracking?

  Mina’s feet were dragging, and she slipped on a muddy rock and twisted her ankle. Crying out in pain, she crumpled to the ground. Biting her lip, she tried to stand up and continue walking, but as soon as she put weight on her ankle, she fell to the ground again. Tears of pain and frustration rained down Mina’s face as she half crawled, half dragged herself along the road.

  If she’d been one to curse, she knew she’d be calling Jared all kinds of nasty names. But instead she envisioned all of the terrible things she was going to do to him, if he ever dared to show his face to her again.

  A crack of thunder made Mina jump, and she looked up as the clouds turned ugly and let out their fury in a downpour of rain. Wasn’t this just like her luck?

  She half dragged, half crawled her way to the side of the road to take shelter under a tree. Her skin felt like ice, but her hatred of Jared kept her warm. Just when she was about to give up hope of ever being found, a light in the distance pierced the darkness.

  She tried to yell, but her voice felt hoarse. The light grew bigger, drew closer, and became two lights. They were headlights. Mina used the tree for support and pulled herself up into a standing position so she could be better seen from the road. She could just make out a black Jeep coming her way. Mina began calling out and waving her hands through the darkness and rain, hoping the car wouldn’t drive past her. It wasn’t slowing down.

  Panicking, Mina began hopping on one leg toward the road in an attempt to intercept the moving car. Just when she was almost there, she slipped and fell into the road, right in the direct path of the speeding vehicle. Looking up, she could see her death coming as the driver of the Jeep, hit the brakes. It spun out of control in the mud and began to fish tail, heading right for her!

  Chapter 11

  Crack! A large tree fell on the road in between Mina and the out-of-control Jeep. Mina screamed as the branches pinned her to the ground. She gritted her teeth as the Jeep spun sideways into the downed tree sending the tree and Mina sliding down the road in the mud. Thankfully, the trunk of the tree took the force of the car’s impact. The vehicle had sideswiped the large tree and looked to be in worse condition than the evergreen.

  She heard a car door slam.

  “Hello! Are you there?”

  “I’m here!” Mina tried to yell back through the storm. She could barely see as broken branches and pine needles covered most of her body. She held up her hand in the air and someone began to clear branches off of her body. Laying there in the mud, during a storm, Mina couldn’t help but be thankful that she was alive. She really thought that she was a goner. Strong hands gripped her and helped pull her to a sitting position.

  “Are you hurt anywhere?” the man asked. He looked shaken from the accident, but otherwise fine.

  “My ankle, I twisted it,” Mina answered.

  The man stopped and stilled. “What’s your name?” he asked.
  Mina looked closely at her rescuer. He was of medium build, olive toned skin, with brown eyes and slightly curly hair. She didn’t recognize him. But a whisper of a voice told her to lie and do it well. “Nan Taylor.”

  She watched as he ran back to the Jeep and called in to someone on his c.b. radio. She couldn’t hear the answer coming from the radio, but it was obvious that he was out searching for someone. Help had come. But what kind?

  The man came back to Mina and helped pull her to her feet, being careful of her injured leg. He introduced himself as Karl, and helped Mina wobble to his car. He grabbed a rain poncho and flashlight from the back of the vehicle and walked around it, checking under the hood and under the rear of the vehicle.

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