Lucian smiled and slowly rubbed his beard. Queen Maeve gawked at her, judging her. Mina noticed the moment when the Queen dismissed her, because her gaze moved past her and beyond.

Mina’s legs began to quiver from staying low in the curtsey.

She was doing great so far at not making eye contact with Teague. His black leather boots had not a single spot of dirt on them. Suddenly that black boot started to tap impatiently, as if trying to draw her attention upward. Was this it? Had the giants brought her all this way so Teague could send her to prison?

Knowing the moment was at hand, and it was no longer avoidable, Mina looked up and her breath caught in her throat.

He was frowning, but then the corner of his mouth lifted in the hint of a smile that he was trying to hide. Her eyes traced a line from his lips and his angular jaw up past his nose to make contact with his deep blue eyes. Which were alit with—relief?

He bowed. “Elle,” the name rolled off his tongue, and she shivered.

She was certainly thankful he wasn’t furious at her, but she could tell he wanted to say more. He held her gaze and flicked his eyes to the right. She glanced in that direction. There wasn’t anything over there.

He did the motion again, and she realized she was supposed to head up the steps and follow the other girls inside. She was standing there like a goof staring at the prince.

“Oh yeah, that’s right.” She lifted her skirt and proceeded up the steps. When she got to the top, she hesitated again. There were two options. She started to go left.

“To the right,” Teague whispered.

“I knew that,” she said into the air, refusing to look back at him. His laughter followed her down the corridor. When she was out of his line of sight, she started to run—not down the hallway toward where the other girls were waiting—but for an exit. An escape route. She found a smaller hallway and followed it around to another side door. Thinking this must be a servant’s entrance, she opened it and dashed inside.


Only to come face to face with beautiful girls in a waiting room.

Eleven hateful gazes greeted her.

Chapter 22

“Hi,” Mina said meekly. She waved her hand in a wide arc in good old American fashion. Which was obviously not the thing to do, because the scowl grew deeper on the girl closest to her. Apparently, waving was not in their etiquette book or something.

“Who are you? I don’t know you. Why are you here?” The questions vaulted out of the one called Annalora’s mouth, one after another. Annalora’s dress was deep amber, which complemented her gold blonde hair and hazel eyes, and she was petite.

Mina couldn’t help but liken her to a small, aggressive Chihuahua.

“I’m here for the food, of course.” A snarky comment felt like the best course of action. She didn’t feel the need to elaborate.

“I knew it,” Annalora huffed. She turned and sat down next to Ever, crossing her arms and casting an annoyed look toward the others. “I heard there were only eleven, but she makes twelve.”

Another beautiful girl in an emerald green dress approached her. Her skin was tanned, and her hair a dark green piled high and woven with leaves and vines throughout. Her reception was much kinder than Annalora’s—the girl clasped her hand gently and gave it a warm squeeze. Mina noticed that her skin, though soft, had an odd pattern to it.

Oh. It wasn’t skin, but very soft, supple bark.

“I’m Dinah, a wood nymph. Welcome, and I’m sorry for Annalora’s reception of you. After all, she’s part gnome, and we all know gnomes have no manners.” There was no hidden malice behind Dinah’s comment. She’d stated it as fact.

Mina glanced over and watched as Annalora just gave a shrug of acceptance and looked away. Other than Annalora’s stature, there was nothing similar to what she’d envisioned a gnome to look or act like. The girl was not rosy cheeked or good natured. In fact, she was quite mean.

“Come sit with us. You must be nervous.” Dinah motioned to a long padded bench.

Mina sat next to her, studying the girls, while Dinah gave quick introductions. Her head spun as she tried to match the names with the faces and races. She finally settled on trying to go by the color of the dress—or in some cases, the girl herself. Fuchsia, a pink fairy, had small iridescent wings. Shaya was a nixie with green skin and dark waist-length hair. She sat closest to the fountain with her shoes at her side, dipping her toes in the cool water.

Ever was the most surprising; she was so different from modern-day Ever. Her jet black hair fell in soft curls down her back. Her pale blue dress was trimmed with silver lace. Her face showed hints of mixed anticipation and anxiety. She kept clasping and unclasping her hands, reaching up to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear, but her expectant eyes never left the door. She wasn’t paying the other girls any attention, even seeming to tune out most of Annalora’s complaints.

Mina was about to move and try and speak with Ever, but the door opened and a page entered, clearing his throat. The small talk died immediately as all eyes zeroed in on the young man. “Follow me, please.”

Dresses ruffled and shoes clipped along the marble floor as eleven anxious girls and one terrified interloper followed him out into the hall. Mina picked up her pace and cut in line to squeeze next to Ever, receiving a scowl from one of the girls with star white hair—Stella, Stellya—or something.

Mina stared at the back of Ever’s head, willing her to look over her shoulder and recognize her, but the pixie never did. She knew that Ever had fallen for Jared and that they’d been friends for years. She’d just never realized until now how many years, since the Fae aged differently than humans. Of course, it could’ve had something to do with how immature Ever acted on the human plane. Like when she was thieving French fries from Mina’s tray at lunch.

Something soft brushed against Mina’s face, and Ever jumped and turned around, her eyes filled worry. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to bump you with my wings.”

Mina paused as Ever’s long pointed wings shimmered into view. They were more spectacular than Fuchsia’s wings. The fine spirals of iridescence created a mosaic of color.

“Why are you hiding them? They’re beautiful. You should be showing them off proudly,” Mina said softly.

Ever’s cheeks filled with color as she blushed and stammered. “It’s because I can’t control them. They reflect my mood. When I’m excited or angered, they flutter uncontrollably. And right now, I’m extremely excited. I’d die of embarrassment if the Fates saw me like this. I mean, who knows what kind of tests we will have to go through before he gets to choose one of us.”


“You didn’t think the next queen would be selected on beauty alone did you?”

“Queen?” Mina knew she was starting to sound like an idiotic parrot who repeated everything. But Ever didn’t hear her and kept on talking.

“We’ll be weeded down to a few based on certain requirements, and only then will one of us be betrothed.” Her cheeks flushed a pretty pink again, and her wings fluttered, causing a stir in the air. “Oops, see? There I go again. It’s so embarrassing.”

“I think they’re beautiful.” Mina tried to process what Ever had said. She quickly looked over the girls in front of her and couldn’t help but feel sorry for Ever. She seemed so hopeful, but Teague—and then Jared—were obviously not in her future.

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