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       A Faerie's Curse (Creepy Hollow #6), p.1

           Rachel Morgan
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A Faerie's Curse (Creepy Hollow #6)


  A Faerie’s Curse

  By Rachel Morgan

  Copyright © 2016 Rachel Morgan

  Smashwords Edition

  Cover Photography by Regina Wamba

  Cover Design by Rachel Morgan

  Summary:

  Calla Larkenwood must battle against a witch’s curse to save the one she loves and prevent a power-hungry princess from tearing through the veil between two worlds. With her magic disappearing bit by bit, can she stop the worst from happening before the curse claims her life?

  This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information please contact the author.

  Mobi Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9946953-2-1

  Epub Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9946953-3-8

  **

  PART I

  CHAPTER

  ONE

  Glittering beach sand crunches beneath my boots as I walk hand in hand with a five-year-old faerie girl toward the palm grove that conceals her father’s home. It’s late in the evening, and a million scattered stars illuminate our path up the beach and away from the waves. The pain shooting through my right ankle—the result of skidding across a wet deck while being chased by a band of pirates—causes me to limp, and the gash below my ear is no doubt oozing blood into my golden hair. Not the best way to present myself to faerie nobility, but all in all, I’d say it was a successful rescue mission.

  Unfortunately, it isn’t the rescue mission I wish it was. Chase—the man who was once Lord Draven; the man I’ve found myself falling for despite the things he’s done—is still chained in a secret dungeon beneath the Seelie Palace. His own mother made a deal with the Guild, trading his life for her freedom. It’s been a week—an entire torturous week—since he was taken, and we’re no closer to breaking into the Seelie Palace. Tonight’s mission, however, will change that.

  Elsie tugs my hand and says, “This is where you throw the gem.”

  I smile down at her. “Thanks for the reminder.” From my jacket pocket, I remove the red gemstone I was given earlier. I throw it between the trees ahead of us as we continue walking. Layers of glamour magic begin to peel themselves away. The palm trees vanish, sand filters into the ground as lush grass and tiny flowers take its place, and a ruby-studded stone path appears beneath our feet. At the end of the path rises the grandiose home of Baron Westhold. Elsie reaches down and plucks a star-shaped yellow flower from the ground. She twirls it between her fingers as we head toward the house.

  Now that this part of the mission is over, distracting thoughts circle my mind: Chase disappearing into the night sky in a Seelie Palace carriage, Mom’s trial ending tonight, the horrible vision of a spell that will tear through the veil separating our world from the human world. That vision is the reason Mom ran away from the Guild years ago. It’s the reason she’s been on trial. From the magic of the depths to the magic of the heights, with blood from one side and blood from the other. Together with the greatest power nature can harness, we shall tear this veil asunder.

  I shake away the memory of those disturbing words and point my thoughts firmly in a different direction. Tonight’s mission isn’t yet complete, and I can’t afford distractions.

  The two security guards at the entrance to the baron’s home pull themselves a little straighter as Elsie and I walk beneath the pillared archway and toward the front door. Their blank expressions never faltered earlier today as they took me to see the baron, but now, as their eyes fall on the girl at my side, they can’t hide their relief. The younger guard opens the door and steps back as we enter the house. “This way,” Elsie says, tugging me past the mermaid statue and along a wide marble passageway, unaware that I already know where to go.

  We’ve barely taken five steps when I hear a commotion up ahead. Something falling, hurried footsteps, and then a voice shouting, “Elsie?”

  From around the corner at the end of the passage, his clothes rumpled and hair disheveled, Baron Westhold appears. A groan of relief escapes him before he runs the final distance toward his daughter and scoops her into his arms. He hugs her tightly to his chest while she pats the top of his head and says, “I’m fine, Father. I was with your friend, the captain. He said you wanted me to make gold for him.”

  “Dear Seelie Queen,” Baron Westhold murmurs. “Elsie, that man was not my friend.”

  An older girl runs around the corner, almost skidding in her purple unicorn slippers, but stops short of throwing her arms around her father and sister. Instead she clasps her hands together and tucks them beneath her chin as her brow puckers. “I’m so sorry, Elsie. I’m so sorry. I only looked away for a moment, and then—”

  “That’s enough, Brynn,” the baron says. He lowers Elsie to the floor and straightens. He blinks and clears his throat before turning to his older daughter. “Take Elsie upstairs.”

  “I’m so sorry, Father. You know I never meant for this—”

  “We’ll talk later.”

  I take a few discreet steps backward, distancing myself from the family drama. As Brynn attempts to plead her case, I reach down, wrap my hand around my ankle, and release additional magic into the area, hoping to aid the healing process. My mind reaches automatically for Chase, to update him on what’s going on, before I remember I’m not wearing the telepathy ring. Gaius took it from me before the mission began.

  “Please don’t ground me,” Brynn begs. “Elsie’s safe now, and I promise I’ll never lose her again.”

  “Brynn,” the baron says, slow and precise, her name a warning on his lips. “We will talk later.”

  Brynn nods, her eyes downcast, and reaches for Elsie’s hand. The little girl looks toward me and says, “Thank you.” She stretches her hand out to me, so I step forward and take it. The flower she’s still clutching tickles my skin, then seems to become … heavier. She pulls her hand back—and a solid gold flower sits on my palm.

  Gold. Real gold. That isn’t normal magic. My mind races to fill in the missing gaps from the brief I was given this morning. By the time I tear my eyes from my palm, Elsie is skipping ahead of her sister as they disappear around the corner. I look at Baron Westhold and find him staring at the gold flower. He sucks in a shaky breath, turns around, and says, “Follow me.”

  I place the flower carefully into the hidden pocket on the inside of my jacket and hurry after the baron, my limp almost gone now. We turn out of the passageway, cross an atrium with a fountain at its center, and head down another passage toward the office I met the baron in this morning. It’s richly furnished with paintings in gold frames, a maroon and gold carpet, and dark wooden shelves lined with leather-bound books. A tall glass vase filled with liquid that glitters gold and maroon stands in one corner. Flames flicker and crackle in a fireplace, warming the chilly ocean air entering through the balcony doorway. The sheer curtains lift gently in the nighttime breeze, giving me a glimpse of waves tumbling onto the shore.

  The baron walks to his desk and unlocks the top drawer with a stylus. He removes a slim rectangular case made of wood. “This payment doesn’t come close to expressing my gratitude,” he says as he hands me the case. “My guards told me it would be impossible to retrieve my daughter from that vile pirate’s clutches. I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again.”

  I remember the baron’s words to me this morning—How old are you anyway? Are you sure you can get this done?—and manage to keep my response polit
e as I take the case. “We specialize in the impossible. That’s why you hired us.”

  “Yes.” He pauses a moment, watching me carefully, then adds, “And for complete confidentiality.”

  “Of course.”

  “If the Guild finds out what my daughter can do—”

  “They won’t. Not from us. We understand the need for secrecy, especially when it comes to Griffin Abilities.”

  The baron flinches at my use of those two simple words. Words he left out of his instructions this morning. Words he’s probably been trying to deny ever since he discovered what his daughter can do. He must have been in possession of one of the griffin discs when his daughter was conceived. Except … there were no griffin discs five years ago. They lost their magic after Draven used them to unlock the chest Tharros’s power was kept in. So how …

  I push my confusion to one side and clear my throat. No distractions, I remind myself. “Besides,” I add, “if we couldn’t be trusted, no one would ever hire us. We rely on word of mouth, which means we need happy clients. Trust me, Baron Westhold. We don’t want to make you unhappy.”

  The baron considers me for another moment. “I suppose not.”

  I slide the wooden case into the pocket with the gold flower. “If that’s all …”

  “Yes, thank you, that will be all.”

  “I can show myself out then.”

  “Good.”

  I nod politely, then turn and leave. With quick strides, I make my way back to the entrance hall. The guards need to see me leave, just in case the baron asks them, so I pull the heavy wooden door open. Instead of walking out, though, I release my control on the imaginary fortress around my mind and let my Griffin Ability free. I picture myself walking out into the night, and that’s exactly what I see. The imaginary version of me continues along the path, and the guards watch her go. “How the hell did she get past all of Captain Nuvareed’s men on that ship?” one murmurs to the other.

  The other shakes his head as he moves to close the door. “Wish I’d been there to see it.”

  I smile to myself as the door slides shut with a heavy thud. I close my eyes and picture my imaginary self still moving along the path. When I’ve imagined her going far enough into the night that the guards can barely see her, I let go of that illusion and wrap a different one around myself. The illusion of invisibility. Then I turn back to face the mermaid statue and focus on the real reason I was given this mission: a party invitation.

  When Gaius, one of Chase’s team members, was called here late last night, he witnessed a conversation between the baron and his teenage daughter. Brynn was distraught, barely able to speak through her tears as she explained how Elsie had disappeared. Furious that Brynn had let her little sister out of her sight, the baron yelled, “You are grounded for the rest of the year. For the rest of your life.”

  With her tears shocked to a halt, Brynn was able to speak more easily. “What? But the party. I have to go. This isn’t the kind of invitation you say no to.”

  “You won’t be going near the Seelie Palace—or anywhere else for that matter—if we don’t get your sister back.”

  And that was the moment at which Gaius became a lot more interested in the whole matter. With Chase confined beneath the Seelie Palace for a week now, and the rest of his team no closer to finding out how to get there, this invitation was the best lead so far. Despite the fact that it was extraordinarily unprofessional, Gaius asked, “What party is that?”

  The baron ignored him—most likely because the question had no relevance to the current situation—and sent Brynn to her room. He then discussed the rescue mission details with Gaius, who promised he would select the best member of his team for the job, and there’d been no further mention of the Seelie Palace.

  Given the ease with which I can sneak around without being seen, Gaius chose me for this task. No pressure, I think as I remind myself that this is our one chance to get inside the Seelie Palace. No pressure at all. Wrapped securely in invisibility, I begin my search for Brynn’s bedroom. I look into several unoccupied rooms upstairs before finding the right one. The door is ajar and I hear sniffling from within. I imagine myself as Baron Westhold, then knock on the door and push it open—and have to stop myself from blinking in surprise at the purple glitter covering almost every surface. Focus! I command myself.

  Brynn, who was lying on her stomach with her face buried in her arms when I walked in, looks up with hopeful eyes. “Father?”

  “I’ve decided you won’t be going,” I tell her in a voice that sounds just like her father’s.

  Her face falls as she pushes herself up into a sitting position. “But it’s rude to decline the invitation.”

  “Don’t tell me you care about politeness. I know you only want to go because of that boy.” I have no idea if that’s true, of course, but I imagine it’s something an angry father might say.

  “What—what boy?” Brynn asks, but her twisting hands and the way she looks down instead of holding my gaze tell a different story.

  “Where is the invitation?” I ask.

  She looks up, her eyes narrowing in confusion. “The invitation to the party?”

  “Yes, of course. What other invitation would I be talking about? I won’t have you sneaking out on your own to attend this event.”

  Her frown deepens. “But you know I can’t get there on my own. And don’t you still have the invitation? It was addressed to you, not me. I don’t even know what it looks like.”

  Shoot. I had hoped this would be as easy as taking the invitation from Brynn and leaving. How am I supposed to get the baron to give it to me? I focus hard on keeping the image of the baron covering me as completely as a second skin. I allow my folded arms to fall to my sides as I say, “I’m still not happy with you, Brynn, but it’s late now, so we’ll speak tomorrow.”

  “Okay, but please just think about—”

  “Tomorrow, Brynn.” I leave the room and pull the door closed. I release the image of Baron Westhold and switch back to invisibility as I hurry downstairs to his office, hoping he hasn’t gone to bed yet. Reaching his office doorway, I see him standing at a gap in the curtains with his back to me, staring out at the night. I step away from the door and press myself against the wall beside it, giving myself a moment to clear my mind. I need to take more care with deceiving the baron than I did with his distraught teenage daughter.

  I focus hard on picturing Brynn, on seeing her in my place. I don’t move until I look down and see her slippers instead of my boots. Then I tell myself that I am Brynn, and I walk into her father’s office. “Father?” I say, relieved that the voice I hear sounds more like hers than mine.

  He turns and frowns at me. “You should be in bed, Brynn.”

  “I know, but I just wanted to ask if you’ve changed your mind about … about the party.”

  “We don’t need to discuss it now,” he says, returning to his desk and sinking into the leather chair.

  “But … didn’t we say we would attend? If you’ve changed your mind, then we need to let the palace know.”

  “Fine. I will inform the palace tomorrow.”

  I allow myself to look appropriately devastated. “Please, please don’t do that. I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. This was just one mistake, and it will never happen again.”

  The baron folds one hand over the other and leans forward. “You allowed your sister to be kidnapped by a pirate. It wasn’t just a mistake, Brynn. Can you even begin to imagine how devastated your mother would be if she were still alive? No, my decision is final. We will not be attending that party.”

  I wobble my lower jaw before pressing my lips tightly together. I imagine tears forming in Brynn’s eyes. “Can I at least have the invitation as a memento?”

  “You don’t need a memento of an event you won’t be attending.”

  I bite my lip, clench my fists, and prepare myself for a teenage tantrum. “You know what? I hate you. I hate you for ruining my life
like this! I’m going to find that invitation when you’re not around, and I’m going to that party without you. I don’t care that I can’t find the palace on my own. I’ll find someone who knows how to get there.”

  Baron Westhold looks thunderstruck. I turn and flounce from the room before he can respond. I stop just outside. Picturing myself as empty space instead of as Brynn, I look into the office once more. The baron slowly shakes his head, clearly shocked at Brynn’s outburst. He leans back in his chair with a weary sigh, covering his brow with one hand. I start to consider what illusion I can use to get him to leave the room, but then he opens one of his drawers and removes a rosebud the color of champagne. He places it on the desk and the petals slowly open. Gold words appear in the air above the rose. I tiptoe into the room to get a closer look, but the baron brushes his hand against the petals, causing the words to vanish and the petals to curl closed once more. He stands, carries the rosebud to the fireplace, and—

  No! My hand stretches out automatically, but I’m on the other side of the room, and the rose is already in the fire. No, no, no! I need a distraction—something—a noise—

  The first sound that comes to mind is a child’s scream. I go with it, clinging desperately to my invisibility as the shriek pierces the still night. The baron’s head whips around. “Elsie?” He dashes from the room as I lunge for the fireplace. I drop to my knees, shove my hand into the flames, and grasp the flower. I breathe in sharply against the sudden, burning pain, scramble to my feet, and plunge my hand into the tall vase. I search the room with desperate, darting eyes for my escape. I need a way out, I need to think, and the vase’s contents isn’t providing nearly enough relief for my burning hand. I squeeze my eyes shut and hold in the groan of pain I would really like to release.

 

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