My eyes shot open as a figure pressed a hand over my mouth and whispered, “Don’t scream.”
It was a male, an intruder.
Flooded with fear and confusion, I opened my mouth to scream, unable or unwilling to comply, but the hand mashed down, slamming my lips together and bearing down on me with such force that I knew my attacker had to be huge, at least twice my size and weight.
Rage surged inside me like a wild tiger climbing to the surface. No matter what they wanted, I wouldn’t roll over and let them do it. No matter who they were, they would regret the moment they stepped into my room.
I swung my arms and kicked my legs, fighting with all my strength. I reached for the knife tucked under my pillow, but before I could grab it, someone jumped on me and a second set of hands gripped my wrists, pinning them to my sides. My wings at my back felt crushed.
“A wild one,” the second voice said. It was female, though gruff. The weight of her felt less than the male’s but just as determined.
“We deserve a bonus for all this trouble,” she grumbled.
“Just help me get her in the van,” the male voice said to his partner. Then he turned and spoke to me. “Please don’t fight us. You’re just making it harder for everyone.”
Harder for everyone? Who were these people? Unseelie fae? Who else would wish me ill? King Oberon and his followers were my sworn enemies, but other than that, I’d never harmed anyone.
My body seized as I thought of the children, all asleep in their beds in the other rooms. Were they being attacked, too? I had to get away. I had to make sure they were fine. It was my job to protect them.
“Just use the magic already,” the female voice said. Her gruff voice sounded annoyed. She pinched my wrists, her fingers digging in cruelly.
Magic? They couldn’t be Unseelie fae, then. They had little if any magic. They ruled by force and sheer brutality. If these people had magic that meant they were a witch and a warlock. But what could they want with me? With a fae?
“We’re not supposed to use the magic. Not here,” the warlock grumbled. The Supernatural Academy where I was living at the moment had many wards. He seemed reluctant to trigger them, scared even.
Taking advantage of their distraction, I ripped one of my hands from the witch’s grip and swung wildly. My fist struck hard. A crunch sounded, followed by a groan.
“Oh, geez!” the man exclaimed, his voice thick, “I think she broke my nose.”
“Enough,” his partner shouted. “We do this my way.”
The room crackled to life as a bolt of purple energy surged from her fingertips. In the flash of light, I was able to take a good look at the female’s face. She was definitely human with short blond hair, angry eyes, and hard lines etching her features. Then her magic struck me, and my body went rigid. I knew the immobilizing spell when it hit me, a paralysis where no muscle in my body could respond to my desperate commands.
I tried my arms, my legs, my wings—nothing moved.
I floated off the bed, carried away by more magic.
No. This could not happen! The children.
Let me go, my brain screamed. Put me down! Yet, no words escaped my lips. I couldn’t do a thing as they floated me out of my bedroom, down the hallway toward the open front door.
Stupid. How could I not have planned for this? Oberon must’ve sent wizard mercenaries.
As I floated down the hallway, my eyes were glued to the ceiling, but, on the periphery, I could tell the other doors were closed. I had to hope that meant the children—my wards, my friends, my family—were safe in their beds and these intruders only wanted me. That or they’d come for me last, and the children were already gone. I could barely stand the thought of someone harming them. They’d already been through enough, losing their homeland and parents, being refugees in this cruel world, surrounded and hated by the same creatures responsible for the destruction of our realm.
We’d been borrowing this cottage for a few months now, waiting for the children to heal and regain their strength. We’d begun healing. Arryn had even started sleeping on top of her bed instead of under it, a big step for her. She was so attached to me I worried about what finding me gone would do to her.
Moonlight flooded the little clearing around our house. I couldn’t scan the surroundings, but only the wind stirred. There was no one nearby to save me from my captors. Instead, a van was parked on the gravel path beside the garden, its silhouette pale in the moonlight as they floated me closer.
Creaking hinges sounded as someone opened the back doors. Then I was angling toward them. As my body turned, I finally got a good look at my attackers.
The woman was older and hardened—wrinkles lined her face, especially around her mouth as it frowned at me. She wore cargo pants, boots, and a tactical vest that suggested what I had come to associate, in my short time in this realm, with a human military background. The male was large with huge, bulging muscles and brown skin. His black hair was cropped short and his goatee was neatly trimmed. His attire was more casual—jeans, a long-sleeve T-shirt, and a pocketed vest. Where she looked pissed, he just looked… sorry, despite the streak of blood sliding from his nose.
“Careful with her,” he said as the ’ciallachadh witch floated me into the van.
The moonlight dimmed as my body floated into the van. I landed on the carpeted floor and the doors slammed shut. Only then could I move.
Sitting up, I scrambled to the door and yanked on the handle, but it was locked.
“There’s no use. You won’t get out.”
Whirling toward the voice, I saw I wasn’t alone.
A teen male sat against the far wall, his arms resting on his knees. Under the weak light that shone inside our space, I took in his symmetrical human features, light brown hair, chestnut-colored skin, and muscular physique. He was tall and broad, the kind of man that starred in TV commercials on those programs the children were always watching. He had to be eighteen or nineteen and privileged, judging from the expensive watch onat his wrist.
Was he an ally or a foe? His icy glare made me think it was the latter.
I didn’t have time to make up my mind. My attackers were walking away. In a panic, I tried the door again, then banged on the back windows, the only two in this section of the van.
“Hey!” I shouted. “Help.”
“Like I said, there’s no use,” he said, his tone full of annoyance. “No one can hear you. This whole van is totally sealed by magic, though, I heard your kind doesn’t have any, so what would you know?” He glanced behind my back at my wings, his mouth twisted.
Your kind? He’d said it like a curse, like he wasn’t keen on sharing a van with a fae. So he was one of those. I’d met my share of haters during my short time in this godsforsaken realm.
Doors shut. The van’s engine started, a low rumbling that sent my heart hammering even harder. Where would they take me? Nothing in the empty van indicated where we were going or why. And just because they hadn’t harmed me yet, didn’t mean they weren’t going to.
I banged on the window desperately, but the human was right, the vehicle was sealed. No one could hear me.
The van lurched. I fought to keep my balance, watching my derelict, little home get smaller and smaller. I pressed a hand to the glass.
Gods, the children. I’d been taking care of them since we arrived here, since our land was destroyed.
“Are you crying?” the human asked, his green eyes narrowing.
I swiped at my cheeks, getting rid of all traces before facing him. “Who are these people? Why did they take us?”
He ground his teeth, making his jaw work back and forth. “They’re trash, that’s what they are. They’ll be sorry.”
“Do you know who they are?”
“The extraction team. They’ve been sent by those who will teach us a lesson.”
“Teach us a lesson? What does that mean?”
His only answer was a frown as if he didn’t want to waste words on the likes of me.
I was being kidnapped to be taught a lesson? That made no sense. What lesson was I meant to learn? I’d already been educated on genocide, the murder of my people, and the destruction of my homeland.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
His eyes darted back to me, tracing me up and down as if taking in my measure for the first time. Finally, he answered. “Vaughn. And yours?”
“Tallyndra,” I said.
He shrugged, clamming up, unwilling to talk.
A fae hater, for sure.
After our world had been poisoned by The Bane, a madman bent on revenge, my people had come here as refugees. We didn’t want to be here anymore than the humans wanted us here, but we had nowhere else to go. Still, many called us a blight on society. They blamed crime on us and called us savages.
I’d avoided the bulk of this, living in isolation in a home provided by a group of humans who didn’t hate us, but I’d heard the stories and seen the hate on TV. There were those that thought we were vile. That still wanted us dead, the way The Bane had.
Maybe Vaughn was one of those.
Either way, if that was true, he could e fhèin himself.
We rode in silence, watching my home disappear. We followed several highways, civilization disappearing more and more the longer we drove. Vaughn dozed, lying curled up on the floor, but I stayed awake, watching each turn we took, each town we passed. If there was any way out, I would find it.
I must have dozed off because when we came to a stop, I jumped up in a panic and crawled to the van’s back windows.
We were deep in the trees now, though they looked very different from the ones we’d left behind. The trees near our cottage had been tall and bushy. These were frond-like and tropical. How long had I been out?
Where were we?
As I peered through the van’s tinted windows, both the male and female captors walked into view. They stepped to the side, talking with two other humans in similar attire. Were they handing us over? If I was going to make a move, it had to be now.
The male walked toward the van, leaving his partner back with the others.
I dropped limply on the van floor, closing my eyes and slowing my breathing. I didn’t move when his footsteps reached the doors and I heard a click and the squeak of hinges.
I held my breath, waiting for him to get close enough to strike.
“Watch out!” Vaughn shouted. “She’s going to attack you.”
I lurched up, but it was too late. The van doors slammed before I could even lift my head. I whirled, staring at Vaughn, anger rolling off me in waves.
“Why?” was all I could muster between my clenched teeth.
His eyes shone like hard emeralds as he stared me down. “If I’m stuck here, fae bitch, you sure as hell should be, too.”