Vanquished (The Blood Trail Chronicles Book 2), page 1
The Blood Trail Chronicles
A novel by Tara Brown Writing as AE Watson
The YA side of Tara Brown
Copyright 2015 Tara Brown
This ebook is a work of fiction and is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. No alteration or copying of content are permitted. This book is a work of the author’s crazy mind—any similarities are coincidental. Any similarities are by chance and not intentional.
Cover Art by KC Designs
Edited by Andrea Burns
Other Books by Tara Brown writing as
TL Brown, AE Watson, Erin Leigh, and Sophie Starr
The Devil’s Roses
The Crimson Cove Mysteries
If At First
The Born Trilogy
Born to Fight
The Light Series
The Light of the World
The Four Horsemen
The Blood Trail Chronicles
The Single Lady Spy Series
The End of Me
The End of Games
The End of Tomorrow
Blood and Bone
Blood and Bone
Sin and Swoon
Soul and Blade
The Long Way Home
In the Fading Light
For Love or Money
White Girl Problems
The Seventh Day
A man once told me that there are infinite places love will take you, but revenge is the business of hate, and there is only one place hate will take you—the end. The end of you and the end of everything you once stood for.
But I welcomed my end.
The cold breeze coming off the garden and forest swept against my back as I spun around in a slow circle, taking in the view of the cottage. It was strange for me to look upon it and know it belonged to the witches.
It was like seeing everything without the veil that had been over my eyes. A veil of lies and deceptions.
My mother’s death and the witches’ confession about my family’s troubled past were nothing compared to the loss of my virtue, along with any possibility that I might be able to be with the man who took it—Grayson. The man who reached over and took my hand in his as we walked in the witches’ garden. The man who I was starting to love in a way I didn't want even him to see, especially considering his thoughts for our future. It was a type of love I had never felt before, based on feelings that were tied to being an adult and sharing something intense.
I strolled along, glancing about, letting Grayson lead me toward the witches’ cottage. There was no stopping my future, though it was not the one I had planned. It wasn't even the one I feared. This was an unknown life—one I couldn't even have dreaded or made up in my wildest imaginations.
My future was likely not going to be with him because I would always be on this blood trail homeward, seeking vengeance and retribution for my family, until the very end of it all. And maybe even the end of me.
I looked up abruptly, still sort of lost in thought, to see the stoic face of Maddox who was standing in the doorway. I bit my lip and offered a small wave.
His dark-blue eyes were filled with concern. “You all right?”
Grayson glanced back casually, giving me a strange expression. I furrowed my brow at them both. “Fine.” What was he really asking?
Maddox eyed me up a little before he turned back to walk into the cabin. He paused just as a breeze swept past me. His back went rigid, like he had just realized something vexing. I cocked an eyebrow as he turned back to us but glared at Grayson. “What did you do, you fool? She’s ruined!”
“I told you it was a bad idea,” Grayson whispered and slowly stepped to put me behind him. I didn't know what he meant for half a second until the words “she’s ruined” rolled about in my head. Grayson placed his hands behind his back, gripping to me and preventing me from moving.
Was he protecting me from Maddox?
“Not here.” Grayson shook his head. “Maddox, we need to talk about this like civilized gentlemen.” I could hear a smile in his voice, like he was taunting and not sincere. “You need to keep the beast in check, Brother. Or it will likely enrage mine as well.”
“Don't call me brother.” Maddox spit and I could see a subtle tremor in his skin. “You have defiled something to which you had no rights and she is ruined.”
“Defiled? Really?” I stepped in between them both. “What are you two doing? Are you going to fight because—”
“Stop!” Maddox snarled, “Go in the house.”
“You don’t tell me what to do! You can’t fight one another like boys.” But they ignored me and stared each other down instead. I shook my head. “Please, don’t do this.”
Grayson gazed at Artan. “Get her out of here.”
“Artan, don't. Grayse, just stop,” I pleaded but Grayson didn’t even flash his grin when I called him Grayse. Artan snorted and leapt, his talons grabbing like they had done before when he was angry with me. He lifted me into the air, and no matter how hard I kicked and screamed, he continued to fly. I watched below as Maddox shifted into a wolf mid air just as Grayson grabbed him, throwing him to the ground.
A sigh slipped from my lips as I hung limp in my dragon's feet and let him fly us around in circles, as everything below got smaller. But even smaller I could tell Grayson was the superior fighter. “Artan, please take me back down,” I begged as my insides ached. Unable to tear my gaze from them, I forced myself to watch the battle between the two men.
It ended only when the witches came running out and the cottage, firing magical sparks made of color. Artan growled and snorted as if he were telling me what a fool I’d been.
“I know,” I muttered and watched as everything got larger again the moment Artan sailed over the garden and the cottage. Katy was hauling Grayson off by shooting magic at his feet while Mani had Maddox going in another direction doing the same.
Artan didn't land, but soared over the cottage and kept going until we reached the top of a large hill next to the sea. He plopped me down like I was a sack of potatoes and landed roughly on the rocks. He grunted and snorted, clearly dissatisfied.
“You’re disappointed in me, aren’t you?” I reached up, running my hand over the warm orange scales. “I love you, Artan. Even if you are angry with me.”
He didn't look at me right away, his anger showing just a little. But when he did, his green eyes softened and he lowered his head. He rubbed it against mine. We sat there with the cool breeze coming off the ocean and the port city just below us.
“You know we will have to start taking
He grunted his answer. I suspected he had wanted me to obey them from the beginning.
I sighed mine and we sat for a long time, me leaning against him for warmth and support.
When he did finally take me back to the witches, I was no less upset. Everything felt bigger, including my desire to have a life of my own. It nearly matched my desire for revenge.
As we landed Grayson was sitting under the tree, Artan’s tree, waiting for me. His face was healing from obvious wounds, but it didn't diminish his smile. “Milady, I was worried you might just leave and never come back.”
I smiled back with half the effort I would normally have. The conversation we’d had about never actually being able to love one another in the light of day still hung heavy in my heart. As much as I wanted to stay and grin like a fool at Grayson, I didn't. I had something else I had to do before I could do anything else.
I walked past him, nodding at Maddox who was in the doorway of the cottage with Mani. She was still scolding him the way she always did me. His eyes caught mine and he glowered, but I ignored it and asked for the thing I needed, “I still want to see my brother. I demand you take me to him.”
“No.” Maddox sighed and nodded, ignoring Mani’s berating completely.
“You have to,” I commanded him, almost testing him to see if he would.
His gaze narrowed for a moment before he glanced at Mani and muttered, “Make me a door to go home, please, Mani.”
Reluctantly, Mani made the door, sputtering under her breath. She didn't fight him the way he had argued with me.
Maddox entered the forest through the doorway first. As I was about to enter it, I looked over at Grayson and Artan, both clearly worried. I could see it on their faces from where they were standing next to the tree.
I ignored them and followed Maddox as we crunched our way through the forest. We were silent until he gave me the warning again as we got closer. “You remember what I told you. No running or getting excited about anything. Ed is one of us. We think like a pack. The others will move against you to protect him.”
“Max, can we just talk?”
He walked faster, not listening to me at all. “He's probably staying with my sisters. This is the place wolves come to be hidden. This is where they live to be away from the other vulkodlak and the humans.”
“You have sisters?” Instantly, the beautiful girl’s face flashed in my mind. “The pretty girl with the baby, whose house you came out of the last time I was here?”
He looked back, confused. “Yes.”
As we approached the village in the woods I grabbed his huge hand, turning him to look at me. I needed to say something, even if it meant staring into his accusing eyes. “Grayson is a royal like me. You can’t be angry with him or me for wanting to be together.”
He squinted his eyes. “You can't marry him. He isn’t the right choice and he has no army. And he is a vulkodlak.”
“Everyone in the seven bloody kingdoms seems to have a little vulkodlak in them! How in the gods do you suppose a princess avoids that?”
He snarled, “The army is the important part of my statement.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. “And why is it all you care about is that army? What about my heart?”
He smiled bitterly. “Your heart is pretty fickle these days, Millia. How do you know you won't love the man you're intended for?” Realizing he had said something so cruel aloud he chuckled softly. “You are young and malleable with love. You don't even need to be worrying about love. You’re young still.”
It was a slap in the face, even if he had tried to soften the blow, but I tried not to show it. I looked down, hiding my eyes. “I still love you in many ways. My fickle heart never changed in that, except to refuse to be rejected by you any longer.” I dropped his hands and walked away. I felt sick. I did still love him, in a way that would never change even if I wanted it to. It was old, as old as I was, and deeply ingrained in me. I couldn't fall out of the love quickly because it had taken me my lifetime to fall into it. But even with all of that, I had come to terms with the fact that we would never be together.
I glanced up to see my brother Ed walking up to me. He looked better than the last time I had seen him. More healthy and fit. The happy reunion lasted me but a second as the image of my mother flashed in my head. I had to tell him. “I found Mother.”
Immediately, he looked down and his mouth hung open, as if he wanted to offer an explanation but I didn't let him.
“She wasn’t at the castle with Roland, Ed. Did you know she was a prisoner?”
His face pinched. “She made me tell you that. She made me swear I would if I saw you again.” He paused but the weakness in him enraged me. I leapt forward, shoving him. “YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME! SHE IS DEAD AND HER BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS! YOUR HANDS AND NOW MINE TOO!”
Maddox spoke from behind me, “Calm, Millia.” He pulled me back but Edward grabbed me, shaking me slightly but then hugging. He smelled like Maddox—woodsy. His tense body trembled as he whispered hoarsely, “I wanted to tell you, but she made me swear I wouldn’t. They hauled her out of the cell at the same time as me. Herrick took her and she screamed at me that I had to protect you.” My confident and cocky brother had been broken, and I feared he would never be put back together. He looked ghostly white as he paled, clearly remembering things he didn't want to relive. He spoke like the words were killing him, “Herrick—is he dead then? If you’ve found Mother, Herrick must also be dead.”
“He-he is. Grayson killed him, smashed him until I didn't recognize him.” I didn't like saying it, contrary to the fact I liked him being dead. Perhaps it was the next words I had to say. “Mother died as well.”
He lifted his gaze, his lips trembling. “No.”
“She died from—they killed her. I got there just in time. She died free.” The words didn’t feel like they came from me. They were too disgusting for me to speak them.
My brother shook slightly as the silent sobs spilled from him. He had no tears, as if he had cried them all away. He dropped to his knees but still gripped my waist and sobbed, “No! No!”
“Ed, you should have told us she was alive,” Maddox spoke softly from behind me, not even letting my poor brother grieve. I turned and glared as Ed nodded his head into my stomach. “It’s all my fault.”
“This isn’t your fault.” I shook my head. “There is no one person to blame this on. Herrick and Roland and their wicked father are the evil in our world, but the fault belongs to all of us. We should have known Roland was up to something and that Herrick was more than he seemed. We underestimated them and they bested us.”
“I should have told you Mother had been taken.” Ed sniffled, attempting to calm down. I hugged him fiercely.
“You couldn't have known what was going to happen. But I am done with any of our family members being held captive. I'm going for Michael and Grandmother—today.”
Ed lifted his face. “Do you believe he's still alive?”
“I don't know. I came to ask you that. What was happening when you left there?”
Ed’s eyes lowered again as his face fell. “The last time I saw him he was in the dungeons with Grandmother and the loyal staff. He might still be alive.” His voice suggested otherwise. My brother had lost hope.
“Will you come back to the kingdom with me when this is over? I plan to go there and kill Roland and take back our home.”
“I don't know.” He sighed and rubbed his face with his big hands, standing and averting his eyes from Maddox’s. “I pray to the gods each day that we will all go home.” His eyes darted to Maddox’s. “Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the chance I have been given here. It's been wonderful, but I can’t stay much longer. I miss the world outside and the thought of Roland in our father’s seat makes me ill.” His
I didn’t understand what was happening. My brother followed Maddox like he was his pup and asked him for permission? My brother who could be king in our land asked Maddox for permission?
Maddox cleared his throat, his eyes getting shifty. “I would say a fortnight at the least. The full moon is days away. You need to ensure it goes smoothly.”
“The full moon?” I was confused. “What?”
“Just a small measure of care is taken then with the newly turned. Our change is forced by the full moon if we are weak. Our wolf needs become greater. We must ensure he is able to keep his craving for the hunt in check.” Maddox said it as if it were nothing at all.
I furrowed my brow at Ed. “Have you been killing things? People and animals?”
“Not in a long time, and no people.” He pulled me into him again. “I have missed you.”
“We have to go. You know she isn’t allowed to be here.” Maddox glanced at the village.
“They have come here to be away from the things like you, Amillia. It isn’t anything personal.” Ed nodded and kissed my head again. “Don't go in the castle on your own. Let someone else go for you. Be safe and choose your paths wisely. Don't just storm in. Roland will be expecting it because of your history of aggressive attacks.” He turned to walk away but glanced back at me. “Did she die badly?”
“No.” I shook my head. “In my arms under a beautiful tree. She was smiling and telling me she loved us all. When she passed we burned her and sent her off with respect and love so she could join Father.”
He looked as though he was fighting something as he nodded again. “Thank you, Millia.”
“I love you, Ed.”
He smiled weakly. “Me too.” He turned and walked away from me. My favorite brother was like a stranger to me.
Maddox started back into the woods where Artan waited for us. He didn't offer me a single word so I said the thing I needed to, “Thank you.”