Annalora broke the kiss only long enough to say, “That tickles.” She greedily pulled him in for a deeper kiss. Ha! She thought Teague was the one tickling her. A split second later, the vine wrapped around Annalora’s legs and pulled her sideways. She plunked into the fountain with a splash.

The girl came up sputtering and crying. Her beautifully coifed hair was a tangled, watery mess. Teague put one boot up on the ledge of the fountain and laughed.

“It’s not funny,” she yelled.

“Oh, yes it is,” he taunted back.

How dare he? Mina thought. To tease a girl. Yes, Annalora got what she deserved, but Teague had no right to laugh at her misfortune. Mina made a shooing motion toward the vine, and it rose up behind Teague. With one hard push, the dark prince followed her into the water.

Mina watched the vine go back into the closest pot and quietly congratulated herself on her advancement in Fae magic. She quietly made her exit amid the echoes of screaming and laughing.

She hurried back toward her room but took a wrong turn. She had no idea where she was. Passing a partially opened door, she felt compelled to investigate. The room was empty. Going on gut alone, she slipped inside. It was a sitting room. The furniture was masculine—a large desk and mahogany chair. Expansive gold decorations lined the wall. Mina noticed a silver leaf emblem carved into the bed. This was Teague’s suite.

She didn’t have much time, so she began to search for the Grimoire. She headed for the bookshelf and gave it a cursory glance, but didn’t see anything.

Stressed, she rushed over to the desk and began to open drawers, looking for the book. Then she spotted it—right on the desk. In her panic, she’d missed it. She grabbed the journal and took off running for the door.

A soldier approached, so she paused and ducked back in quickly. She recognized Captain Plaith in his white armor. When he passed, she quietly left and headed back the way she came. Eventually she found her room and closed the door behind her. Mina felt whole with the Grimoire in her hands once again. She crawled into bed and opened it up. Teague had added a new entry.

It’s a test. I know I’m being tested. But how can I prove myself?


The next entry was written with a heavier hand—hurriedly.

I will show her. I will make her wish she’d never crossed me. She doesn’t tell me what to do.

There was nothing else on the page. Mina ran her fingers along the edges and waited for the familiar hum. It soon came. The Grimoire answered her touch, and it felt so good to have the book in her hands again. As soon as Teague had taken it away, she knew she needed to have it back. It was like a drug, its nearness. She just needed to touch it. She had no idea what would happen if Teague caught her with it, but she would take that chance. Slipping the Grimoire under her pillow, she lay down and rested her hand against the leather cover.

She fell asleep that way, and woke to the young brownie knocking on her door.

“Miss, it’s time for dinner.”

Mina got ready quickly. So far, she had been very careful to not eat too much of the Fae food, because she wasn’t sure what was safe for a human. Tonight that wouldn’t be a problem, for her appetite had disappeared...along with her shoes.

The brownie was able to find her a pair of slippers that fit, but Mina felt naked—and terrified—without her shoes. They were her one lifeline home. What was worse was that she wasn’t sure when they disappeared. She couldn’t remember if they were on her bed when she’d left the room, or if they were there when she returned. Had someone slipped in and stolen them while she slept?

The brownie braided her hair and applied just the lightest touch of blush to her face, probably because Mina looked so pale. Mina picked up the Grimoire and turned her back to the servant, trying to find a place to tuck it without being obvious about it.

“Here. Put it here,” the girl piped up. Apparently, Mina hadn’t done such a good job being stealthy. The brownie pointed to a hidden slit in Mina’s dress, a pocket big enough for a small mirror, handkerchief, or small book. Mina slipped the Grimoire inside and turned to her, trying to gauge her reaction. Maybe she simply assumed it was Mina’s and didn’t realize it had been stolen from the prince.

The brownie just smiled widely at her, pleased that she was able to help.

Mina still felt disheartened about her missing shoes as she was led down to dinner and escorted to an empty chair next to Dinah. Teague sat at the head of the table, with Annalora at the place of honor on his right, followed by Ever, and Dinah sat to his left.

This dinner was supposed to be a special occasion—for Teague to congratulate the four ladies who had made it through the second test. Tomorrow would hold the last test followed by the official announcement to the whole land. The other three girls genuinely sparkled with excitement, their faces glowing and smiles lighting up the room. Mina couldn’t even gather the courage to plaster on a fake smile.

She found the strength to answer a question when directly spoken to, but she floundered when it came to entertaining. She felt hollow, an empty shell of herself. Here she was, at a beautiful table, eating the most extraordinary food, in a fairy-tale castle, and all she could think about was she was now stuck here—permanently.

The only thing she could come up with was that the shoes might have run out of time and gone into the future—without her. She had made a stupid mistake. Now she’d never see her mother or brother again.

Mina turned her head at the sound of Annalora’s voice and noticed how often she accidentally brushed against Teague’s arm, or ran her fingers along the cuff of his jacket. She was marking her territory. And at this point, Mina didn’t care.

Dinah dropped her napkin between her chair and Mina’s, leaning close enough to grab it and whisper, “What’s wrong with you? This is no time to give up just because that harlot is trying to mess with your mind.”

When Dinah looked into Mina’s tear-filled eyes and read the pain there, her voice changed. “Something else has happened.”

Mina nodded her head, “Yes, the worst imaginable.”

Dinah pinched her lips together and gave Mina’s hand a quick squeeze. “Don’t worry. It will all be over tomorrow and you can go home.”

“That’s just it. I can never go home, regardless of the outcome,” Mina confided. A single tear slid down her cheek. She tried to wipe it away without making a big fuss about it, but Annalora saw and moved in for the kill.

“So, Elle, crying about the next test already, I see.” Her smile was filled with delight. “Maybe you should quit now and save your breath.”

Teague didn’t say anything. He just sat back and studied the two of them with interest.

Mina didn’t have the heart to exchange barbs at the moment. She just reached out and took a sip of water.

Ever, on the other hand, had plenty of fight left. “Why don’t you worry about yourself, Annalora?”

“Because I don’t have anything to worry about.” She scooted closer to Teague and proceeded to look down her nose at the pixie. “But you on the other hand…do. I’ve heard how you’re an embarrassment to your family. Don’t go doing something stupid tomorrow, like actually trying to win. Because we all know you’ll fail.”

Mina felt the air in the room stir as Ever tried to get her temper under control.

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