There is no Prince Charming

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Chapter 3

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, I was waking up. Every limb felt heavy and frozen, but at least I could feel them, unlike the previous time I woke up. It felt as though every ounce of strength had been sucked from me, leaving me an empty husk. I remembered the men on horses and the forest. I also remembered that the man who had brought me and left me in this room called himself Gray. After a long moment of deliberation, I dared crack my eyes open.

It was pitch black. With much effort, I propped myself up onto my elbow, looking around. My eyes found nothing but a tiny sliver of light shining from under the gap at the bottom of the door. I shifted higher and heard the crunch of hay under me. My lip curled with disgust. I smell like horse breath.

A shiver raced down my spine. I grabbed for the tiny blanket and wrapped it around me again. My teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. It was freezing in this room.

I heard a rustling on the other side of the room, shrouded in darkness, and froze. “H…hello?” I asked in a weak voice. The rustling continued and my heart picked up a notch. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Hello?”

Suddenly a small peephole in the door opened and someone looked in. “Quiet in there. I do not want any trouble from you,” A gruff voice mumbled.

I stood, causing my world to spin dangerously. By reflex, I spread my arms out and regained my center of gravity then proceeded to hobble over to the peephole. “Excuse me. Can you tell me where I am?”

“Hush. I ain’t allowed to speak to you,” The man grumbled over his shoulder. As I looked out through the peephole, I saw that he had returned to his chair, just to the side of the door to my prison.


“Master Gray said that if I talk to you, I get a sound lashing. Now shut your mouth and back away from the hole.” The man stood, angry now and shut the peephole with a slam. I backed away just in time to avoid getting my eye knocked out of my skull, crossing my arms in frustration.

Further attempts on my part were met with silence. I settled for pacing my small dirty cell. It was hard on my body, but it kept me warmer than laying in my hay-bed. As I paced, my mind tried to come up with a plan on how to escape. Maybe I could scream and when he opens the door to look at what’s going on, I’ll rush him and escape… It was a good plan, but it had too many loopholes. What if he didn’t open the door and just opened the peephole? Even if I got out of the room, I didn’t know where I was or how to get out of this house. I sat heavily on my hay bed and frowned. I had no choice but to wait.

As the hours passed with nothing to look at, let alone do, I lied back down and exhaustion took over once again. I was so tired of this whole thing and the fact that I still did not have answers was even more frustrating. A yawn ripped through me as the comfort of sleep picked me up and wrapped me in its arms.

The sun shone through the window, streamed through the canopy of the bed and onto my face. I groaned and rolled over so the glare wouldn’t wake me, and then I froze. My eyes flew open and I looked around in shock. To my surprise, I was no longer in the cold little dungeon. I found myself in a large bed situated in the center of a very big room.

The ceiling housed an enormous window that had glass that seemed to swirl towards the sky. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I ripped my eyes from the window and sat up, my eyes wearily taking in the room. Thick blankets pooled into my lap. An ounce of relief shot through me when I came to find that I was still in my street clothes.

I ran my hands through my hair and pulled my hands back down, looking at my fingers with disgust. I was in desperate need of a shower. Dirt was embedded under my nails, my shirt was sweat soaked and my pants were muddy, not to mention the stringy hair to go with the bad breath. In short, I was a mess.

As I swung my heavy legs over the side of the bed, I found that someone had removed my shoes and socks. Once my feet hit the floor I shivered. The stone was freezing.

Before I could change my mind and crawl back under the warm covers, I pushed myself to my feet. For an unsteady moment, I swayed, but for the most part I could hold myself up. With careful steps, I walked around the room, looking firstly for a weapon and secondly an exit. My search came up with little. The room was sparse of anything but the essentials. Then finally my eyes landed on a thick candle stand. I palmed it and felt its reassuring weight. Oh yeah. I can do some damage with this…Now for an exit. My tired eyes searched the spacious room once again.

It was well furnished with a large nightstand made of dark wood. The bed was huge, pushing king size status. The canopy hung with a thin film of blue cloth. A wardrobe was tucked in the corner and alongside it, a fireplace that was currently bared off. The room was obviously well lived in, but at the same time, very clean.

My eyes were drawn like magnets to the only door. I hobbled across the room and grabbed the handle, hoping against hope that it would be open. To my astonishment, it swung open; the thick dark wood barely made a sound. I looked both ways down the stone halls, making sure no one was around. What the…? Where am I now? I returned to my first assumption that I was kidnapped by a cult and trapped in some sort of weird castle exhibit. What did they want with me?

As I crept down the hall with my weapon at the ready, I watched my front and back like a spy. This was far too easy. Why would they move me and not lock me up? I couldn’t hear anything, yet my heart pounded and my senses were on fire, waiting for someone to round the corner.

Reverting to all the TV shows I had seen, I knew how cops did it. I cautiously peered around the corner before stepping into another wide and expensively furnished corridor. I held my weapon in front of me, hoping that I ran into Derek and not Gray. Gray’s face was too beautiful to damage. But then again, he was one of my captures. One thing was for sure, I wanted to know where the hell I was!

I reached a lit corridor. This one had many windows. Rushing to the first one, I looked out and gaped, feeling the color drain from my face. I pressed my palms into my eyes and looked again. The dreadful scene hadn’t changed. I was a few stories up, but the land below looked like something out of a fairytale or medieval movie. The small houses I thought I’d seen when I was pulled through town were still there and everything was covered in snow.

I fought back tears before they could flood my eyes. Back to business. I eyed the hall wearily, continuing to pad my barefoot feet quietly over the freezing stone.

At the end of the corridor, I found a stairwell. Hallelujah! Joy and hope flooded me as I rushed forward. I kept my eyes on my surroundings as I raced down the first few steps. Suddenly I heard voices at the bottom.

Whipping around so fast that I nearly tripped over my own feet and sent myself flying, I scrambled back up the stairs into the safety of the empty hall. The voices grew louder. They were coming up the stairs. Great! My eyes darted around wildly, looking for a hiding place. I spotted the heavy drapes around the windows and without a second thought, dove behind a set, making myself as small as possible.

As they grew closer, I separated the voices into two different people, a woman and a man. They reached the top of the stairs and continued down the hall, passing right by my hiding spot. When they were far enough I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. They were heading in the direction of the room I was supposed to be in. I prayed they weren’t going to go check on me. That would narrow my escape time drastically, not that I had a set time before.

I peeked around the drape and shot for the stairs once I saw the coast was clear. Moving quickly, I rocketed down, my bare feet slapping against the cool stone. I had reached the last step when a male voice shouted from the upper hall. Damn! They’d discovered that I was missing, already.

Adrenaline shot through me, causing me to pick up the pace. I flew across the landing and looked for the front door. There it was! My heart pounded as I dashed forward, dropping the candle holder. The shouts grew more frantic, getting closer. Three bounds and I reached the huge wooden door. I shoved against it with all my might. It budged! I pushed harder.

The shouting became audible as the man yelling reached the top of the stairs. “Stop!”

I cursed and threw my shoulder into the door. It opened right as he reached the bottom step. With one final glance behind me, I realized it was Gray who was gaining on me.

“Sorry pretty boy, not today,” I said as I pushed past the door and into the daylight. It was freezing and the ground was hard with frost, but I didn’t have time to think about that. I ran down the dirt road, pumping my arms in effort to get myself to run faster. Gray was close behind, picking up the pace and closing the distance between us. My lungs burned as I swerved. If I was going to get caught, I was not going to make this easy.

All weakness forgotten in the wake of pure adrenaline, I sped. My feet hurt, but I wasn’t going to be a baby just because some stones had stabbed me. I glanced behind. Shouldn’t have. He launched himself through the air like a football player. Everything happened in slow motion; he made contact, tackling me, and sending us both crashing to the ground with a hard smack. Road burn! Just what I needed.

He quickly pinned me below him and yelled at me with such anger that it froze any breath left in my chest. “What do you think you are doing? I ordered you to stop!”

My chest heaved as I tried to catch my breath and get away from Gray. His body weight held me down as he yelled some more. “I ordered you to stop!” he repeated, as if amazed, and pissed off, that I hadn’t listened.

“Go to Hell!” I yelled back.

He shut his mouth and frowned. Before I knew what was happening my face flew to the side and my cheek felt like it was on fire. He slapped me!

“You will respect me when you speak to me!” he growled dangerously. Before I could say anything else, he sprung to his feet with easy grace for someone of his enormous build, and took me along with him. He gripped my wrists tightly so that I couldn’t escape as he dragged me back to my prison.

As he held onto me, he began grumbling to himself. “That is the last time I allow Claire to dictate where my prisoners are to be kept.”

I ignored him and got my first good look at the house. It looked like a small castle. The stone in the front was being taken over by ivy, which at this time of year was brown and dead. The bushes along the side of the house and that lined the drive promised to be big and lush, but again the frost had killed them. The windows were narrow on the ground level, but the second story had magnificent windows. The roof met at a sharp 90˚ angle that made the house look like a square, only to be broken up by a few random towers.

The snow set the scene and it looked like a magical place. Too bad, I know it for what it really is, my prison.

With that thought, I began to struggle. He would have none of that. Before I knew what was happening, he pinned my arm behind my back and twisted until I gasped in pain. Even though I went limp, he wouldn’t ease up. I trudged up the drive with him. I had no choice; the hold hurt like hell.

The gray haired woman I had seen the first day was waiting at the open door. I could only guess that she was the other person I heard speaking with him when he went to check on me in my room.

She looked at me with disappointment as he dragged me through the door. I glared at her as he began to ascend the stairs again. What do you want from me lady? His constant tightening of his hold kept me from doing anything drastic. Though I couldn’t fight him, I fought myself to keep my tears at bay. Now was not the time to cry. Now was the time to plot.

As we walked up the stairs, I spotted the heavy candleholder I had taken from the room as a weapon, on the floor. I had not noticed that I dropped it. Great! I so could have used that to bash his head in! I sighed in defeat as we marched back to the room, the woman following close behind.

He literally threw me into the room. I tripped over my own feet, sprawling on the floor. As soon as my head stopped spinning, I quickly crawled away from him. He slammed the door, stepping in front of the woman protectively.

“If you ever try that again, I will not hesitate to hurt you!” he yelled. The woman put a gentle hand on his shoulder and stepped around his large frame. He tensed as he watched me, ready to spring if I so much as blinked wrong.

She spoke softly. “My dear. You must remain in this room for your own safety. You see, until our search for Mary is over we cannot allow you to leave the grounds. There are men who would… kill you.”

My blood ran cold. What did I do to deserve death? They are the ones who kidnapped ME!

The woman took a step closer and Gray grunted. She stopped. “I convinced them to let you stay in a room more suitable for a lady than that holding room below. I’m afraid that if you continue to struggle with us, we will be forced to send you back there.”

She spoke so calmly and hypnotically that my heart slowed and my head cleared slightly. She made it seem like they were not the bad people, yet they wouldn’t let me go. I pulled my legs to my chest protectively, still on the floor. For some reason, I felt that the smaller I was, the less attention I drew to myself.

The woman turned to Gray and put a hand on her hip. “You may leave now so that I can clean up our…guest.”

Gray shook his head. “I won’t leave you alone with the likes of her,” he said, glaring at me.

“Gee thanks,” I muttered sarcastically under my breath.

“Gray. I think I can handle her,” The woman said, her resolve firm. If I were Gray, I would have given in. However, he refused. After a tense staring contest between the two, she sighed and her shoulders slumped. “If it worries you so, I will arrange to have a few of the servant girls in here. I won’t be alone.”

“Then I will leave when they arrive, Claire.”

Claire huffed in frustration and left the room. He made sure the door was closed then turned his harsh brown eyes on me. I crawled back a few more feet. He didn’t move from his post by the door, but his eyes bore holes into me.

Claire entered again, trailed by two young women. She carried a bundle of linen in her arms, the other two brought wood and a large bowl of water. They made quick work at starting a fire in the fireplace. Claire shooed Gray with her hands.

“I will be right outside this door,” he said. His eyes then turned to me as he continued, “so, do not try to escape again. If you hurt one of these women, I will personally see to it that you are thoroughly punished.”


“Yes, yes, she knows. Now if you are done, please leave!” Claire insisted, now physically shoving him from the room.

As soon as the door shut, she hurried towards me. My first reaction was to tense and ball tighter. “Oh do not worry my dear. I will not hurt you.” She placed a gentle hand on my arm and managed somehow to pull me to my feet. “Let us get you out of these dirty clothes.”

She began to tug at my shirt and I recoiled from her. “Don’t.”

Her lips turned down into a frown as she propped one hand on her hip. “You cannot expect to get bathed with your clothing still on. Now this will only take a minute. Hold still… Stop…honestly!” She sighed in frustration as I dodged her once again. She dipped the rag in the bowl of steaming water as the girls continued to coax the fire into flames. “Very well. Then you do it.” She handed me the rag.

I looked at it for a moment, thinking how amazing a shower would feel right now. She must have thought I was insulted by the look on my face because she grabbed the rag from my hands. “You may be used to better service, but I am afraid I cannot get the tub filled for you in time to bathe. It is almost supper and we must hurry. Now if you would allow me to assist you, we can finish in a matter of no time and get you into a clean gown.”

She again went for the shirt I was wearing. I stilled her hands, suspicion in my eyes. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

For a moment, she studied me with her light blue eyes then smiled kindly. “It is not every day we have a visitor from…another village. In fact…we never have visitors. Nevertheless, I do not want you to think we are all like the men around here. I have to admit, the circumstances surrounding your arrival are…complicated, but I do not think you are a danger.” She dipped the cloth in the water again and handed it to me. “I can see it in your eyes that you are as every bit confused as we are. Now hurry and clean yourself up. Who knows when you will get the chance again?” She turned her back to me and began directing the girls around the room. I couldn’t help but soften slightly toward the woman. She reminded me a little of my grandma.

I stripped to my underwear (refusing to go farther, fearing that Gray would waltz in at any moment) and sponged myself down. The water was mixed with lovely lavender scent that made my skin tingle. It felt heavenly to wipe the dirt and sweat from my skin. I decided not to push my luck by taking my time, but I made sure every ounce of dirt was gone.

When I was finished, she handed me a long white gown. I put it on and blushed. It was very thin. She then handed me the second piece to my outfit. It looked like a blue tunic. As soon as it was over my head, she helped me wrap the complicated strings around myself and tied the sash around my waist. The blue tunic came to hang just above my feet. One of the servant girls produced a nice pair of leather boots that wrapped around my feet very snug, but were warm and waterproof from the looks of them.

Claire helped me wash my hair in a new basin of water and braided it with skill that suggested years of styling tough hair. When she was done with my long braid, she tied it with a thin golden cord and stood back. She smiled brightly at me. “There. You look presentable now.”

I looked down at myself and couldn’t help but feel some of the stress of my situation begin to melt away. It felt so good to be clean. It brought hope.

At least Claire was calm enough to listen to me and help me out. I decided to test the waters a little. “Thank you so much. I feel like a new woman.”

Claire beamed, her eyes crinkling in the corners as she smiled and began to clean up the towels and my dirty clothes. I stepped closer to her. “Do you mind me asking where exactly I am?” I asked, putting my best manners forward.

She looked up at me in surprise. “Why, you are in Delbrook of course.”

“Oh,” I said, as if the fact were obvious. I wondered why that name sounded familiar. “Can you tell me how long until they will let me leave?”

A slight frown creased between her brows. “I am afraid they will not release you until they find Mary or prove your innocence.”

“Innocence? But I didn’t do anything!”

“I am sure you did not, however I am not the one who has the say around here.”

“Who does?” I asked, my insides knotting.

Claire seemed to become uncomfortable all of a sudden and gathered all the linen into her arms. “I believe you will find out soon. I really must be on my way to the kitchen to help finish supper.” With a kind nod, she hurried to the door and knocked. The two girls followed closely behind, they hadn’t made a sound since they’d entered.

Gray opened the door a crack and made sure that it was Claire before he opened it for her. He let them out and popped his head in to check on me. I couldn’t help but catch his slow perusal. I tried not to blush and instead lifted my chin defiantly. He glared at me before he tore his eyes from me and with a grunt, shut the door, locking me in.

I sat on the bed, fighting how lightheaded I’d just become. Oh, get over yourself! I yelled at myself. He was NOT checking you out. This was not the time to let my mind wander as if I were one of the women in the stupid romance books. I shook my head and stood, pacing the room while trying to come up with an escape plan. I pushed all thoughts of Gray far from my mind.

About an hour later, chaos broke out. I heard angry voices coming down the hall and decided I’d better find myself another weapon. I looked around and found the twin candleholder to the one I had taken before. I grabbed it and sat on the bed, tucking it under my skirts, making sure that it couldn’t be seen.

The next minute the door burst open and bodies filled the room. I decided that my best bet was to stay seated on the bed, though my muscles were tight and ready for action. I looked curiously in turn at the people who came in, trying desperately to keep my calm, ready to prove my innocence.

Gray was there, along with Claire, who had helped usher in the others. Derek, the angry man from the forest, was shooting daggers at me, beside him stood a thin woman. She had her blonde hair pulled back into curls cascading down her back. She was richly dressed, and by the way she held herself, I could tell that she was someone important.

Eventually, they all turned to me and Claire escaped, shutting the door behind her. I felt a shot of fear. My only ally just deserted me! I shook the thought from my head. She was one of them. I couldn’t come to depend on her.

They created a half circle, but made sure to keep their distance. The whole thing was very awkward, as if they were studying a zoo animal. It seemed as though no one knew where to start. So, I opened my big mouth.

“Where am I?”

A few mouths opened as if to answer me, but one of them stepped forward and answered heatedly. “We will be the ones to ask the questions, outsider.” It was Derek. His raven black hair swung into his face as he sneered at me.

I tried to keep calm, but my heart had just leapt. It was obvious that he wanted to hurt me, maybe even kill me. My throat suddenly grew dry. I tried to swallow around the lump of fear that was beginning to block the air going into my lungs. I tore my eyes away from him and searched the other faces. Gray’s jaw was set hard; it seemed he agreed with his angry friend. The small woman had a look of confusion and curiosity on her pretty face as she studied me. I was completely outnumbered.

“Who are you?” Derek snapped.

I didn’t take well to being spoken to in that tone of voice, but I pushed my attitude aside for the moment before I got myself killed. “Jennifer Carmichael. Who are all of you?” I asked, deciding I should carefully milk the information where I could.

Derek seemed confused at first. He was probably debating on whether to answer or hit me. He looked to the small woman who nodded thoughtfully. “I am Derek of Delbrook.”

“I am Gray of Delbrook,” Gray answered after him in a monotone voice. My eyes landed on him again. I could tell from the fog in his eyes that he was deep in thought.

“And I am Princess Lorianna of Delbrook,” the woman answered.

“Princess?” I couldn’t help my snort of disbelief.

Derek glared at me. “What have you done with Mary?”

I frowned at him. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“Mary. She was in the forest. You must have done something to her!” he growled.

“Whoa. Calm down, Delbrook,” I said, finally allowing my New York attitude to cover up the fear that was threatening to take over and make me cower like a child. “I have no idea who Mary is. And why would I do anything with her?”

He worked his jaw as he glared at me. “I do not know what you want of her, but you better tell me where she is, or I will make you wish you had never come to this place.”

Anger shot through me, almost more powerful than the fear at this moment. My hands shook; I couldn’t tell from which emotion. “News flash, Delbrook, I already do wish I never came here. Ever since I woke up it’s been nothing but ‘where’s Mary’ and ‘let’s throw Jen around because we’re some sort of psychos who live in a whacked out cult town and don’t have real showers’.” As soon as all the words had left my mouth, I regretted them. I was letting my fear get the best of me, causing me to ramble. I didn’t know who I was dealing with.

He blinked in confusion as he tried to decipher what I had just said. “I don’t want to hear your complaints outsider! Now tell me where Mary is!” he lunged forward and grabbed my shoulders. With ease, he lifted me off the ground.

The candle stand fell to the ground with a clang, but only Gray’s eyes found it. My eyes widened in fear as Derek brought his face close to mine, his blue eyes smoldering beneath black lashes. He was a beautiful man. He could have walked right off the cover of a magazine with his chiseled nose, jaw line, black hair…Jeez! I was starting to worry for my sanity in this place. “If you have harmed one hair on her head­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ I will−”

Lorianna hushed him and with one look, he shut his mouth, slowly setting me down. I hadn’t realized how tightly he’d been holding me until he let go. My arms throbbed. I was pretty sure I’d bruise.

She smiled, but I could feel no warmth behind it. “Our friend Mary was in the forest the same time you were found. Now she is missing. Do you know anything about where she could be?”

How many times do I have to tell you people? I shook my head.

Derek’s eyes smoldered more. “What did you do to her?!” he advanced again, but this time Gray placed a hand on his shoulder. Derek stilled. I noticed that he was clenching his hands into fists so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. Again, he worked his jaw, trying to practice restraint.

“Look, I didn’t do anything!”

“Where is she?”

“Hell if I know.”

Derek’s brows rose at my words. “You must have done something. She should have been there.”

“Look, I don’t like being falsely accused. I already told you I didn’t do anything to Mary. If she was walking around in the woods, maybe she’s still out there…just somewhere else…” I offered. I needed to get these guys off my back. Making enemies would not help my situation.

Gray frowned slightly as he watched me. I kept my chin high and defiant. I wasn’t going to let them gang up on me.

“We have searched the woods; she is nowhere to be seen. She is always in that clearing when she is found,” Gray said. He moved to stand in front of Derek, blocking his view of me, so that his friend could get a hold of himself.

“Excuse me?” I asked, confusion setting in.

Gray shook his head and frowned at me. “You should not be here.”

“You’ve got that right. So how ‘bout you bring me back to the woods so I can find my way home?”

Lorianna spoke this time. “We cannot do that. Not until we find our friend, you understand?” She nodded as if that were the end of the conversation. She turned to leave and Derek followed, glaring back at me over his shoulder. The door closed.

I crossed my arms and stepped back to lean against the bed. Suddenly I felt exhausted as I growled in frustration. Now I was even more confused.

Gray stepped forward and I froze. Without a word, he bent and picked up the candle stand I had dropped. Again, I forget my weapon! I mentally kicked myself. He palmed it and looked at me, raising an eyebrow. “Were you planning on killing all three of us with this, outsider?” he asked softly, a hint of amusement lacing his voice.

My nerves were raw from the confrontation I’d just survived. His mocking me raked against my emotions and I glared at him. “No, just you.” The comeback was lame, I knew, but he pulled back in disbelief.

“Watch your tongue woman!” He snarled. “You do not seem to realize what manner of trouble you are in.” He leaned forward, putting his face in mine, his brown eyes scorching me. “You are in no place to make orders, no place to voice your opinion, and in no place to talk back to the Princess or her Captain of the guard. So I suggest you shut that mouth of yours before I shut it for you.”

He stayed in my personal bubble for much longer than was comfortable. Then without a word, he turned and left the room, locking me in. He changed emotions quicker than I could keep up with.

Why does everyone hate me? I asked myself. They kidnapped ME! Sitting still was completely out of the question, so I took to pacing as I thought. This Mary girl seemed to be my ticket out of this crazy cult. Why wouldn’t they let me out to look for her? After an hour or so of fuming and mumbling to myself, I sat heavily on the bed. What now? I felt like that was the only question I could ask, and one I would never have the answer for.

I couldn’t give them the answers they were looking for. When they realized that I was useless, would they kill me? There was too much to think of.

I ran my fingers over my braid and chewed my bottom lip. Man, I miss Maggie. Though she could be a pain sometimes, she always knew how to think her way through a situation.

No one bothered me for a few hours. The only reason I could tell the time was because I could see the sun moving through the huge window on the ceiling. Occasionally I heard a few voices outside the door, but no one came in.

As the hours inched by, I was working myself into a frenzy. My confusion had only grown from all the thinking I’d done. I needed answers and I needed them soon, for my sanity. Judging by the condition of my surroundings, I was pretty sure I no longer had any sanity left to save.

It had finally happened. Maggie said it would. My books had taken over and I was stuck in the biggest fantasy my mind could concoct. The thought made me feel a little better to think that this wasn’t real.

So, if this was my fantasy, couldn’t I control it? I stood and marched towards the door. If I was in control, the door should be unlocked. I twisted the knob. Locked.

Ok, that doesn’t mean anything. Maybe I’m just so into this fantasy that I can’t control it. I thought. That didn’t make me feel better. I was about to try again when the knob turned. Instantly I launched backward, taking a defensive stance.

It was Gray. He held a tray of food, but from the look on his face, I could tell he would rather not feed me at all. When he found me at the door, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. He thrust the food at me and stood before me in a guard stance, obviously trying to intimidate me. I wouldn’t lie and say it wasn’t working.

I eyed the food. My stomach gurgled loudly; after all, I did throw up my last meal…a few days ago. I almost reached for a small roll when I thought better. “How do I know you didn’t poison it?”

He sneered at me. “Why would we poison you when we still have not gotten any answers from you?”

He had a point, but these people kidnapped me and locked me up. How could I trust them? After a few silent minutes, he sighed in frustration and took the roll from my tray. He ripped off a piece with his teeth and chomped it. After he had swallowed it, he motioned for me to eat. I picked up the roll and nibbled the edge.

This is nasty! I set the tray aside. Maybe I’m not hungry. I knew that was a lie and my stomach revolted against me, demanding I pick up the roll again.

“Now that I have fed you, will you do something for me?” he asked. His mouth tensed; obviously, he didn’t like talking to me much.

I studied him, trying to get a read on this guy. His eyes focused just over my shoulder, not meeting my gaze. “Can you tell me where Mary is?” He finally looked at me.

I looked him straight in the eye. “I don’t know.”

He took a deep breath, the tension building on his face. “I have tried to be nice. I fed you and you still will not…” he trailed off, breathing deeply. “What do you want? I will give it to you.”

I pondered for a moment. This offer could be a trick, or it could be exactly what I needed to get out of here. “Can I ask you something first? Why do you want this Mary back so badly?”

He blinked in surprise. “I do not want her.” For a moment, he was silent with thought. “She is meant fall in love and wed Derek…that is how it has always been…”

“Hold on a minute. Meant to? As in it hasn’t happened yet?”

He looked me over for a moment, wondering whether to share the information with me or not. “You speak strangely.”

I raised a brow, wanting the answer to my question.

He flexed his jaw. “No. She ran away from home and we have been sent by the King to find her.”

I shook my head and frowned at him. “This makes no sense. How do you know that she’s going to fall in love with him and marry him or that she was going to be in the grove?”

He stood straighter. “I have answered many of your questions, now answer mine. Where is she? If you tell me, all of this will end. I will release you…” He looked away

My heart leapt slightly. Maybe he doesn’t want me to go? As soon as I thought that, I threw the thought to the ground and kicked it until it whimpered off into the dark recesses of my mind. “First of all you only gave me more questions. Secondly, I’m telling you the truth when I say I don’t know where she is. Obviously the chick is really important to Derek and−”

“Chick?” he asked, then decided against his question, shaking his head and returning to his questioning. “Without her…I am not sure what happens next.” He seemed confused by his own words and slumped slightly at the thought. “It is of the upmost importance that we find her.”

I shook my head, trying to clear all the craziness he was talking. “You know, even though you’re cute, you’re crazy.”

Half of me couldn’t believe I’d actually said that and the other half just didn’t care anymore.

“I am not…crazy,” he said, obviously unsure of the wording, but knew enough from my tone to be offended.

I was getting very sick of not getting any answers. I also really needed to get out of this room. “How about I help you look for her?” I offered.

“Why? So you can lead us astray from where you are really keeping her? So you can try and escape?”

Great! I’m the bad guy again. I thought I was getting through to this guy. “For the last time, I don’t know where Derek’s loveykins is! So stop acting like I do!” I yelled.

He glared at me, but didn’t say anything. I sighed with frustration and picked at the roll. There was a cup, but after smelling what was in it, I decided I wasn’t thirsty either.

Silence lapsed in the room as he stared at me. The tiny hairs on my neck stood on end as I fought the urge to duck my head or to ask him what his problem was. His dark brown eyes traced my face and I felt my cheeks flush, first with embarrassment, then with anger. I was angry at the fact that he had made me blush. Who was he that he suddenly had such power over me? I was about to open my mouth when he opened his, “Very well.”

I furrowed my brow. “Very well what?”

“You may help in the search for Mary, under my supervision.”

I rolled my eyes. I don’t need a babysitter! However, I didn’t argue. In fact, I was a little relieved that he had agreed to let me out and do something. I’d take that any day over doing nothing but think all day.

“We will leave just after dawn.” With that, he headed for the door.

Oh no! He’s a fool if he thinks I’m going to let him get away this easily. Someone was finally answering some questions. Even though those answers were only giving me more questions in turn, but it was still more than what everyone else was doing. Just because he’s letting me out doesn’t mean I don’t need to know what’s going on. I jumped up. “Hold on a minute.”

He tensed, the muscles in his shoulders rippling as he turned to face me. It was obvious that he didn’t like being ordered to do anything by a woman.

I took the moment to take him all in, starting at his sandaled feet to his cloth attire bound to him in leather. The cloth was thin and tight and showed every intimidating muscle. No one ever dressed like this, and New York was definitely full of interesting characters. Strangely enough, the style suited him. In fact, he looked mm mm good! It took me a minute to get my thoughts back in order. “What did you mean by she’s always in that clearing when she’s found? Does she run away often or something?”

He thought through his words before he answered me. “In a way, but she is always found… That is how it has always been.”

“So why do you think I took her this time? If she’s prone to running−”

“She was not there. She is always there. Instead of finding her, we found you.”

Jeez, sorry to bust the party. I shook my head. “But she could still be out there.”

“No. She is always in the clearing. Always. I do not expect you to understand,” he sneered. Without another word, he turned and left in a hurry, locking me in behind him.

If this girl ran away a lot, then obviously there’s a problem. I knew that if I ran away, I wouldn’t want to be found, so it only makes sense that she’s not in the same spot. Man he’s an idiot! They all are.

I sat back on the huge bed and picked at the roll again. My stomach was rumbling so loudly that I decided to just suck it up and eat the nasty thing. At first, I thought I was going to throw up again, but then my stomach settled and even felt better. I yawned and noticed the sun was setting.

Who knew a day of doing nothing was so tiring. I settled into the bed, it seemed to swallow me up with its comfort. I was drifting, in minutes I was out.

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