Blood Feud Page 47

Isabeau looked crestfal en. “Phones won’t work here, not after al the magic that’s been done. It’s why phones don’t work in the caves either.”

“Then send someone to somewhere where they do work,” I ground out. I reached for her hands, remembered the thin girl stealing coins and eating stale crusts of bread, the woman I’d kissed just this morning as the sun rose like a candle set too close to lace curtains. “If I do this,” I asked huskily, “I’m proving myself to you?”

She nodded almost shyly. “Yes, but—”

I cut her off, turning to the band of armed warriors.

“Let’s go.”



The march back to the caves was formal and irritating. At least Magda wasn’t smirking at me anymore. Isabeau was bewildered and embarrassed. I probably should have been more concerned about my own welfare, but I was kind of glad to have a chance to prove myself to her. Even if it was the worst possible timing. And I’d been tested before, by Madame Veronique, who might prefer embroidery to warfare but was stil remarkably intimidating.

Possibly I was underestimating this test.

Most of the torches had been doused inside the caverns; only a few candles were left burning along the edge of the milky lake.

Kala already looked better, sitting on a worn stone, her amulets and bone beads clacking together when she shifted. Warriors lined the wal s with their dogs. I could only see the glint of their eyes. The ground was swept clean of pebbles and broken chunks of stalactites but sprinkled with what looked like salt and dried herbs.

“Logan Drake, do you come to the rites wil ingly?” Kala asked me, her voice echoing in a way that wasn’t entirely a result of the caves.

I stripped off my jacket and my shirt. “These things aren’t cheap,” I muttered, folding them on a ledge. Someone sneered.

I could just imagine what they must think of me in my pirate-style frock coat and steel-toe boots. It was easy to assume a guy who was comfortable wearing lace cuffs might not know a sword from a toothpick. I was used to it. And I knew how to use it to my advantage.

Isabeau swal owed, sent me a look I couldn’t quite decipher.

She opened her mouth with a warning but the man next to her clapped his hand over her mouth. I scowled.

“You know the rules,” Kala told her sharply. “The bones and the dreams are not to be ignored.”

“I’l be fine,” I assured her. I raised an eyebrow at the Hounds stil muscling her into silence. “Get off her.” I couldn’t believe she was al owing it. These traditions must run deeper than I’d thought. “Now.”

He smirked and let his hand drop but didn’t move away from her. Charlemagne didn’t look as if he felt the need to bite the man’s face off so I supposed I shouldn’t either. It probably didn’t bode wel that a dog had better self-control when it came to Isabeau than I did.

Kala shook a seed rattle hung with dog teeth. The sound was like rain on a tin rooftop. Six other Hounds lifted their own rattles and joined the prayer. Kala was chanting in a language that sounded like Sanskrit accented with guttural Viking-esque sounds. If I closed my eyes I could have been in some beautiful desert temple … or about to be ripped apart by a Viking Beserker in bear armor.

Beserker in bear armor.

The song ended, the rattles trailing off into silence.

“Begin,” Kala barked.

I tensed, half expecting vampires to rush at me howling.

Nothing happened. There was the cold silence of the caves, the steady drip of water into the lake, the shifting of dogs. The unremarkable quiet moment was nearly worse than an out-and-out attack. That at least I had some vague idea how to handle.

This was unnerving.

It was meant to be.

I lifted my chin arrogantly, standing with loose knees, ready to spring. I could take what they threw at me. And hel if I’d let them see me squirm and sweat.

And then I heard it.

The growl was low enough that I nearly felt it rumble in the ground under my feet.

The dog was that big.

He had the heavy bulk of Ox-Eye, with a generous dash of Doberman and Rottweiler. Drool plopped into the dust as his lips lifted off teeth that would have done a Hel-Blar proud. It was al muscle, not an ounce of soft puppy fat anywhere. And he was trained to fight and kil , with a leather col ar armed with spikes to protect him from his prey. I’d heard they’d used dogs like this in the gladiator rings in ancient Rome and to hunt boar in the Middle Ages.

Knowing that hardly gave me an advantage though; just a shot of adrenaline in my veins.

I should have known they’d use dogs. And if I hurt it, even to save my own skin, they’d likely kil me for it anyway. The other dogs ringed around us in the dark growled in response.

Trial or trick?

Too late to regret my rash decision now.

I knew better than to back away or make eye contact. And I didn’t have a handy drugged slab of steak with which to distract it. Just my own pitiful self.

This whole tribal negotiation thing just sucked.

Not to mention crushing on a girl who came from a tribe of bloodthirsty lunatics.

The dog paced toward me, head lowered threateningly, stalking me.

I wasn’t going down like a damned gazel e. That would hardly prove my worth to Isabeau.

Very possibly this was the night my white-knight complex, as Solange put it, would get me kil ed. Someone had better write a poem about it. It was only fair.

I held my ground. There was nowhere for me to go at any rate, I was surrounded by warriors and their dogs. The light glimmered off the silver buttons of my coat on the ledge. If I was very lucky, I might be able to flip up and land on the narrow stone outcrop and climb out of reach. I looked back at the slavering war dog and bent my knees further, waiting.

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