Blood Moon Page 24

“Being strong, healthy. Nothing you can’t handle, love.”

Everyone else wanted to keep me safe, and I appreciated it, don’t get me wrong, but Constantine just wanted to make me powerful. His death wouldn’t be on my hands; I wouldn’t have to carry the burden that at any time he could be staked just for knowing me or for trying to protect me. He trusted I could take care of myself. There was something seductive in that. Well, for me anyway.

Besides, being with Constantine stopped me from obsessing over Kieran.

I missed him already. I could feel the grief howling inside my chest, like a wolf on the tundra. And I already knew I’d be checking the tree for messages even as I told myself I shouldn’t. He’d taken on the League, and his entire belief system, to be with me.

And then I’d tried to eat him.

Girlfriend of the Year, that’s me.

“You look positively maudlin,” Constantine said, slipping his arm over my shoulders. It sent a tickle through my throat. He leaned down so that his mouth was very close to my ear. “What you need is distraction. And I have just the thing, love.”

I knew exactly what Lucy would have done. She would have scoffed at what was an obvious line, would have elbowed him in the stomach and flounced away, secure in her disdain. That was, no doubt, the smart thing to do.

But she’d never met Constantine.

She didn’t know the way his dark voice sent shivers over the back of my neck, the way he was impossibly beautiful, all dark colors and romantic shadows.

And I was tired of doing the smart, responsible thing.

I wanted to have fun. Uncomplicated, unpolitical fun.

I smiled back at him, leaning in closer. “Let’s go.”

It was like a fairy tale.

And for once, not the kind where someone wanted to eat my heart.

The meadow was circled with willow trees, and a narrow creek cut through one side, edged with silver pebbles and frost. The grass was flattened under several thick Persian rugs in ruby reds and ink blues, all piled over each other. Candles burned in iron lanterns dangling from the trees and in standing candelabras. A table spanned the narrowest part of the river, and there were several chairs on either side, moth-eaten brocade armchairs with scarred armrests and cobwebbed feet. There were several chests and benches and thick incense smoke hanging like scented mist.

“It’s beautiful,” I murmured. It was like all the best parts of a storybook. If Constantine had traded in his jacket for a suit of armor I wouldn’t even have blinked. In fact, I felt as if I should be wearing velvet and lace-trimmed butterfly sleeves. Something in me sighed. I couldn’t tell if it was me or the strange inner voice I couldn’t seem to silence.

“This isn’t Chandramaa territory,” Constantine warned me as the other vampires turned to stare at us. “We’re on the other side of the boundaries here.”

Vampires lounged, drinking from old-fashioned wine bottles. A bloodslave sat on an overstuffed cushion with a smile of welcome. I looked away.

“Princess,” a girl about my age said in a thick Irish accent. She wore a long skirt with raggedy tulle at the hem and a tight, faded T-shirt. Her feet were bare, her toes painted turquoise and resting across the legs of another vampire with blond dreads. “You finally broke free of the gilded cage. Fight the man, Drake, even if you’re the man.”

“Marigold is our little anarchist,” Constantine drawled affectionately. “Don’t let her scare you away.”

Marigold grinned at me. I couldn’t help but grin back. It was hard not to like a girl with a name like Marigold who wore a candy ring on a chain as a necklace. Constantine’s hand smoothed down my shoulder, resting on my lower back. It was distracting, as if all of my nerve endings congregated under his palm and sparked. I had to force myself to concentrate on what he was saying.

“That’s Toby and Elijah, and, over there, Ianthe. There are others lurking about.” Toby abandoned a purple velvet couch, which Constantine led me to. “I don’t know that one; he’s new.”

The guy with dreads smiled easily. “I’m Spencer.”

The name sounded vaguely familiar. When I stared at him, he added, “Hunter’s friend.”

He’d been turned by one of the doctors at the Helios-Ra Academy after being infected with Hel-Blar saliva in the infirmary. He might be a vampire now, but he still looked like a surfer. And his friend Hunter was dating my brother. Neither of us mentioned any of the above.

“What is this place?” I asked, sitting down. A broken cushion spring poked me in the hip.

“We call it the Bower,” Marigold explained. “When we get tired of the bleeding royalists—no offense—and the Chandramaa breathing down our necks, we come here.”

“Think of it as an exchange of ideas and customs,” Constantine added smoothly. “A safe place. The people here have traveled far to be a part of the Blood Moon. Marigold is from County Clare, Elijah is from Morocco.”

“We don’t know where Toby’s from,” Marigold said, grinning. “He doesn’t speak a lick of English.”

“I’m Solange,” I introduced myself, although Marigold had already outed me as a princess.

“You are dhampir,” Ianthe said in a thick Greek accent. I blinked at her matter-of-fact tone. “Vampire father and human mother, yes?”

“Originally, yes.”

She shrugged. “It is not so uncommon.” The ancient families of the Raktapa Council usually garnered respect or suspicion, usually both.

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