Blood Feud Page 5

And I might have been taken by surprise, but I wasn’t an idiot.

I was, however, armed to the teeth.

The guards outnumbered us. I’d only traveled with two others, Magda and Finn, since it was difficult to find a Hound who had the temper to deal with the vampire royal courts and the associated unrelenting arrogance. Magda’s temperament was hardly stable, but she was beautiful and just, which mostly balanced everything else out. Finn was as serene as the cedar woods he loved so much. And I was just me: lonely and vengeful but stil as polite as the French lady I’d been raised to be. I was both eighteen years old and more than two hundred years old.

As if this wasn’t confusing enough, I’d been pul ed out of the grave by a pack of witch’s dogs.

Kala preferred shamanka to witch. Most of the princes and lordlings respected her and since she’d been the one to send me to the meeting, no one had argued or offered to take my place. I was her apprentice and that was enough for the others, even if I wasn’t sure it was enough for me. I’d have been happier fading into the background, but I owed Kala my life, such as it was. She’d pul ed me through the madness and made sure I didn’t turn feral or fal prey to Montmartre. She claimed if I was strong enough to last two hundred years in a coffin, I was strong enough not to go savage too. I didn’t remember the centuries in the cemetery, only brief images before I lost consciousness. But I definitely remembered the pain of being pul ed out and reawakened. And it wasn’t strength of character that had seen me through, or even Kala’s considerable magic.

It was the need to find the Earl of Greyhaven and my thirst for revenge.

For the sake of outsiders, I’d been labeled a Hound

“princess” even though we didn’t have princesses or other royalty. It was a useful title though, since the new queen would be more apt to listen to me, even if they were probably expecting a savage girl with mud on her face who ate babies for dinner.

That was why Kala had sent me to the courts for the coronation of Helena Drake and her husband, Liam Drake; that and the fact that I and the other Hounds had kind of saved their daughter’s life. Unfortunately Montmartre had gotten away, so I didn’t consider the mission a complete success, even if everyone else seemed to.

I was here to represent the best of the Hounds, and I had a wolfhound puppy to present as a gift. Kala’s wolfhounds were legendary; I had a ful -grown one as a companion: Charlemagne.

And he was growling low in his throat, muscles bunched under his wiry gray fur.

“La, ” I murmured, pointing for him to stay behind me. I had no problem releasing him to attack, but only if I knew he wouldn’t be hurt. And right now there was an arrow aimed at his throat.

“Hounds.” One of the guards sneered. I knew that half-disgusted, half-fearful tone intimately. We weren’t exactly famous for our elegant table manners. It hardly mattered that half the rumors weren’t true. We used them to our advantage.

The more the others disdained us, the more they left us alone, which was al we real y wanted in the first place. Let them worry about politics and hunters. We only wanted the caves and the quiet.

Wel , most of us.

The puppy in the basket slung over my shoulder barked and I set him down. I drew the long slender sword strapped to my back, which the guards hadn’t noticed yet. The moment I touched the hilt, both Magda and Finn sprung into action.

Learning to fight was no different than learning to waltz or dance the quadril e, in my opinion. It was al about the tension between you and your partner, about footwork and balance and timing.

And I preferred the long deadly sword to any silk bal gown I’d ever worn. I wasn’t sure what that said about me, but I had bigger worries.

Like the polished mahogany stake flying through the air toward my heart.

I leaned back as far as I could. It passed over me, close enough that I could see the wood grain. Trust the damned royals to polish their stakes to a high gloss. We just sharpened sticks.

I popped back up again to crack my opponent on the side of the head with the hilt of my sword. I might have stabbed him into a pile of ash but Kala had warned us time and time again that we were here for negotiations.

Someone might try tel ing the guards that.

Magda took one out before I could stop her. It was hard to feel regret since he’d been about to snap her neck.

Charlemagne whined with the need to jump into the fight.

“Non,” I told him sharply. “We were invited!” I added, shouting as I cracked my boot into the guard’s heel. He stumbled, dropping his stake.

“Stop!” Someone else hurled himself into the melee. Great, just what we needed.

He leaped between us, lace cuffs fluttering. He was pretty, like the boys I’d known at my uncle’s parties, but not nearly as soft, even in his velvet frock coat. His fangs were extended, gleaming like opals. I didn’t know who he was but the guards eased back, weapons raised respectful y even if they were stil snarling.

“She kil ed Jonas,” one of them spat.

“Because he was trying to kil me,” Magda spat back unrepentantly.

The guard snarled. The boy turned to him, speaking blandly.

“Don’t you recognize them?” He pointed at me. “This girl saved your life not too long ago.”

That hardly got the snarls to subside.

He looked about eighteen, same as Magda and me—though technical y I was real y 232 years old. Only Finn looked to be in his thirties, though he was nearly eight hundred years old. Kala had sent him to keep us level-headed. He wasn’t real y a Hound, just an ordinary vampire, but he’d been with us for so long that we treated him as if he was one of us, especial y since he hated Montmartre as much as we did.

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