Excerpt from Dare

by Taylor Longford

Somehow, I had to make Mim understand. “I can’t let anything happen to you, Mim. I can’t. I’ll do whatever it takes.” I didn’t mention that my gargoyle instincts required me to protect her. Because there was a whole lot more than instinct going on here. My feelings for her were the real driving force behind my desperation.

“Even if it means we’ll never see each other again?”

I nodded without answering. As I edged closer, the harpy was careful to keep Mim between us, making it clear that she could break Mim’s neck whenever she wanted to.

“Well, that’s just not acceptable,” she argued as her chin lifted to a determined angle. “I won’t accept it.”

Only a few feet separated us. Sadly, I think Mim finally understood how I felt about her.

“You’re giving up on me!” she yelled, her anguished voice echoing in the barn’s rafters.

I took a deep breath. “I’m not giving up on you. I’m giving up for you. There’s a difference. And there’s nothing you can do about it, Mim.” Or so I thought. I forgot that I’d tried that before with my wings and it hadn’t worked.

“Don’t do this,” Mim begged me.

I couldn’t look into her pleading eyes. I wasn’t strong enough. Instead, I targeted the harpy with my gaze and spread my arms out at my sides. “I’m here,” I said. At that point, I was close enough to touch Mim. “Let the lass go.”

“Might be lying,” the harpy pointed out in a suspicious croak. “Might be trying to trick Nitschka.”

“I’ll keep my word,” I promised, intending to honor the bargain as long as she didn’t try to hurt Mim. But I didn’t trust her. As soon as she got what she wanted, she could easily turn around and kill Mim without blinking. It’s not like the monster had anything like a conscience. I had to make sure Mim was safely in her car and driving away before I let Nitschka get her hands on me. After she released Mim, I planned to hold the harpy off with my second knife while Mim made her way back to the road.

But Mim had other plans. Like I said, I’d overlooked her stubborn streak. I’d forgotten how she’d defied me to give me wings. But never in my worst nightmare could I have foreseen what happened next. Just when I thought Mim would escape unharmed, the headstrong girl reached for my hand and crushed her fingers against my poisonous barbs.

I stared down at Mim’s hand in shock and horror then lifted my sharp gaze to Nitschka’s face. Together, we reached the same conclusion at precisely the same instant—all was lost. The harpy had lost her leverage. And I was about to lose everything that meant anything at all to me.

“Gog and Magog,” I cursed, my voice a bare whisper of sound.

The harpy freaked. I mean freaked. Mim was useless to her now and Nitschka was pissed. Screeching with rage, she swung Mim off her feet and threw her from the loft. A startled cry broke from Mim’s lips as she tilted toward the ground below.

“Like hell,” I muttered. My protective instincts slammed into gear and I shot my wing out in Mim’s direction. The harpy was already lunging at me, but as I stretched toward Mim, I avoided the monster’s charge. Over-committed, Nitschka fell forward, her heavy mass crashing to the hayloft’s smooth wooden floor, her momentum carrying her several feet beyond me before she came to a sliding stop.

Capturing Mim inside my wing, I threw my weight to the side and hauled her back to the relative safety of the hayloft floor. Swiftly, I swept her over toward the stack of hay and I pulled the thin knife from the pocket against my spine. But I didn’t turn and face the harpy who was back on her feet and thundering toward us. The tips of Mim’s fingers were already turning gray. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t stop to think. I didn’t consider the consequences or alternatives. I grasped Mim’s wrist with one hand and ripped my blade through the air.

With one violent downward slash, I cut off Mim’s fingers.

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