Excerpt from Chapter 3 – Katy Meets the Hero
Katy slowly closed her eyes, let the cool ground soak into her hands and butt, let the uncomfortable pebbles make themselves known. She counted to three and opened her eyes.
Intact castle wall? Still there.
A frantic fluttering whipped through her chest and choked her throat. “No, no, no!”
Her whole body shaking, she pushed up on a nearby rock and stood. She tugged on her coat’s zipper and yanked it up to her neck. She gazed at the castle.
No freaking way. Intact castle walls soared skyward, not stumpy, crumbling stone courses pockmarked with bird’s nests and tufts of grass. She whipped around. No deck steps arching over the once-ruined entrance.
She shoved her hand into her coat pocket.
Dread curdled in her stomach.
Shit. No case.
Oh God. The case worked. The case transported her back in time. Just like it had with Isabelle. Sweat bloomed on her skin in the chilly air, overheating her in her winter coat.
But she hadn’t made a wish. Had she? Then her whispered words of a moment ago came back to her: What should I do, Isabelle? I wish I knew why I’m not as happy as I should be.
Shit. Shit. Shit. She spun around and raked her gaze along the hillside. This crazy-ass, zapped-back-in-time thing could all be fixed with a quick wish.
But…she dared not move. Getting turned around and missing it because she was searching in the wrong spot would suck. Big time.
She scrutinized the ravine, keeping her breathing steady. If she didn’t panic, everything would be okay. Just a little blip she could laugh about—to herself—later, and get a spike of adrenaline thinking of her narrow escape. Yep. Mm-hmm. The guy line securing the thin veneer of her control strained and creaked.
Okay. She’d come along that path, and had, oh God, made that wish on the stupid case. Smooth, Katy. Then the queasiness. And a gust of wind. She’d started sliding down the incline and…flung out her stupid-ass hands. With the case probably sailing away.
So, with the right hand doing the flinging… She charged up the hill and inched along its edge, on the lookout for a shiny glint of silver.
An odd, pounding noise sounded behind her, and the ground vibrated slightly. What could…? Oh God, no. She wheeled around, her pulse beating frantically, and yep, the hugest, scariest war horse she’d ever seen galloped straight for her. She assumed it was a war horse, well, because it was so…large, and it had…Jiminy Cricket, it had chainmail on it. And, of course, some guy on its back, with chainmail and some kind of tunic, as well as a clothes-iron-shaped shield and friggin’ sword.
Her muscles tightened, shivered, and she almost—swear to God—peed herself.
She scrambled down the ravine. Find the case. Find the case. And the scary man on horse would be gone. She slipped and landed on her ass, sliding the rest of the way, her hands scraping and stinging on the rocks.
The horse stopped above her, snorting loudly. She scowled over her shoulder—was she about to get skewered? Cuz she’d want to know. Not that she could do much against a muscle-bound, medieval guy bent on running her through with a sword. Or worse. Except find that case. She had maybe twelve feet of distance on him.
He lifted his helmet free with two mail-clad hands, the clang of metal against metal loud, and let it fall to suspend from a chain at his belt. Helmet removal was a good sign, wasn’t it? At least it wasn’t sword removal. The early afternoon sun shone from behind him. She couldn’t see his face.
Gibberish popped from the dark shape. Coupled with his arm pointing away from the castle.
Er, what the hell kind of language was that?
Fear and a bit of oh-shit-what’s-happening slithering through her, she rose and faced him. “What?” Peering right and left with only her eyes, she searched for the stupid case. Her only salvation.
He cocked his head and spouted more nonsense. Slower, sure, but still nonsense. She edged back and continued to search the ground, pebbles clicking against rock as her shoes scattered them downhill.
More gibberish, but it grew closer. She looked up. He’d dismounted and was stomping down the hill.
Oh, hell no.
She sprinted along the ravine, praying she’d see her case but knowing she probably wouldn’t. Blood pounded in her ears, as jarring as her frantic footfalls along the hard ground. She sucked in short gasps of air as his steps drew closer. C’mon, all those gym sessions had to count for something.
A strong arm clamped around her waist, yanked her back against a solid wall of chainmail-covered man, and lifted. She slid down his body until his forearm nudged the underside of her breasts. She instantly stilled, breathing still panicked, because she’d read enough romance novels, and damned if she’d be one of those annoying heroines who got all feisty unprovoked. Pissing off someone who hadn’t yet hurt her would be epically stupid.
He inhaled sharply. Melodic, darkly-rich words vibrated from his chest to fill her ear, his warm breath sending chills across her skin. She could hear the question in them, but not knowing what he so softly demanded, she remained frozen.
She’d need any ally she could get, because yeah, she’d gone and wished herself back in time. All because she’d second-guessed her plans.
He grunted and marched up the hill, easily carrying her against him. At the top, he whistled and…his horse came to him. Of course. Then he draped her in front of a saddle like none she’d ever seen, jumped on, and galloped across the rocky terrain. But not before she saw her case, winking in the sun as they passed.
“Hey— Wait! Shit.”
Oh, crap, this was not comfortable. She clamped her jaw tight, afraid she’d bite her tongue with all the jouncing. Brief flashes of scenery and activity stuttered by. Flash—a white flower between two rocks. Flash—a cluster of colorfully clothed people. Flash—a woman with two children, one on her hip. Flash—a man driving a donkey laden with baskets. And all, all of them, hurrying. Hurrying in the same direction, into the castle. Behind its walls.
That couldn’t be good.