Blood Feud Page 49

She smiled, licked a drop of blood from her fingertip.

“I’m offering, Logan.”

I snarled when my fangs won the battle with my gums and clenched jaw. I grabbed her elbow and dragged her toward the lake.

She giggled.

Definitely not the real Isabeau.

The smoke fol owed us. Her blood trailed pink ribbons in the milky water.

“What are you doing?” she asked nervously. She shifted, bared her leg invitingly.

bared her leg invitingly.

But I’d already remembered what she’d told me earlier, when we were in spirit form. The trio of fat candles flickering on my left sent just enough light skittering on the pearly surface of the lake. I jerked her a little closer, angling her so I could see her reflection.

The lake might not be an actual mirror, but it was close enough.

I saw the smoke in the vague shape of a woman. It was the first time I’d come this close to the old myth of vampires not having a reflection.

I let go of her with a stifled curse, jerking back so quickly I would have spun her off her feet if she’d been real. I was alone suddenly in the smoke, grinding my heel in the dirt as I turned to glare at the Hounds. They weren’t standing in the shadows anymore.

Kala didn’t smile but she looked faintly pleased. “Last test,” she murmured.

“Which is what exactly?” I asked suspiciously.

“Trial by combat.”

I nearly sighed. “Of course it is,” I muttered, unsurprised. I might have been more worried if I hadn’t been defending myself against six brothers my whole life. And if I didn’t have a mother who thought she was a ninja.

“Morgan.” Kala motioned a woman out of the crowd. She looked barely sixteen, wearing a gray velvet dress that fel to her bare feet. Her hair hung to her knees in three fat braids, al clattering with bone beads, some painted blue, some gold. She was graceful, dainty, smal as a bal et dancer.

I wasn’t fooled.

Especial y when she leaped at me, without even a warning battle shriek—even the tel tale sound of her sword scraping its scabbard as she pul ed it free was nonexistent. I wasn’t going to be able to dance my way out of this one. I went low, rol ing under her feet before she landed. When I flipped back up into a standing position she was already spinning to face me.

I had to leap backward so the tip of her sword didn’t take my nose right off. The bracelets around her wrist jingled prettily.

Since I happened to like my face where it was, I turned into my lean and kicked out. I got her in the solar plexus but not with enough force to actual y cause any damage. She’d anticipated me and was fast enough to avoid the ful punch of my heel. She grabbed my boot as it passed and yanked hard. I fel back, smashing my elbow and shoulder into the uneven rock. The flames of the candles by my head trembled.

This was ritual to the Hounds; they didn’t hol er or clap, only chanted and shook the occasional rattle.

It was both annoying and creepy.

When she came at me again, I stuck out my leg and tried to trip her. She stumbled but didn’t fal . It did give me enough of a pause to get back up though. I flicked my hair out of my eyes.

Blood smeared over my back from the rocks, dripping down my arm. Double and triple sets of fangs extended al around me.

Morgan’s nostrils flared.

And then there was just no escaping her attack.

She jabbed at me like a hornet, her sword drawing blood at She jabbed at me like a hornet, her sword drawing blood at my wrist, arm, chest, thigh. I fought her off as long as I could, landing a few blows but nothing definitive enough to win me the fight. And then, somehow, I was sailing through the air. I landed at Isabeau’s feet, her boot digging into my ribs.

So much for proving myself to her.

The tip of Morgan’s sword, already stained with my blood, rested on my Adam’s apple. I froze and tried not to swal ow. It seemed to take forever before Morgan stepped back, sheathed her sword, and glided away. I swal owed convulsively. Isabeau crouched down, half smiling.

“That was bril iant.”

It almost made my total humiliation bearable. I pushed up out of my sprawl. “Did you miss the part where she kicked my ass?” She shrugged one shoulder. “Morgan always wins. She’s our champion.”

I frowned. “I don’t get it.”

“It wasn’t about winning. Only two Hounds have beaten her in the last one hundred and fifty years.”

“Then what the hel was it about?” I held up my hand. “You know what, never mind. I don’t think I care.” Kala approached us. “Wel done, Logan Drake. We now consider you a brother.”

“Yeah? Cool.”

She handed me my shirt and jacket, and a leather thong with a dog’s tooth wrapped in copper wire. “This was one of Charlemagne’s baby teeth. It marks you as one of us and has magic worked into it.”

I slipped it over my head as the Hounds traded rattles for drums. The bruises around my right eye pulsed. “Thanks.” The drumbeats echoed al around us and a fire was lit in the center of the cave.

“Ordinarily we would celebrate and dance until dawn.” Kala lowered her voice. “But I understand you have matters to attend to?”

I nodded. “I’m sorry.”

Isabeau turned to me. “Yes, we should go.” She slanted me a glance as we climbed the rough-hewn steps to the balcony-type ledge. “Logan?”

“Yes?” I pul ed my clothes back on even though the fabric stuck to my wounds. So much for trying to keep them clean.

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