Unraveled, p.59

Unraveled, page 59

 part  #2 of  Intertwined Series



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Page 59


  “Well, there’s a new guy in charge and I have a very good feeling he’d tell you to tell me what I want to know. So, backtracking. I thought vampire skin couldn’t be penetrated. How was Vlad staked?”

  Riley frowned, hesitated, but eventually said, “Did you hear me tell Aden that when we tattoo wards on the vampires, we have to prep the needle with a little je la nune first? That’s what allows the ink to penetrate. It’s the same principle with a staking. You cover a blade in je la nune and stab the heart. The poison melts the skin and infects the organ. ”

  “Maybe he heals faster and from more severe injuries than anyone else. ”

  Head tilting to the side, Riley stood there for a long while, silent, pensive, grim. Finally, he sighed and held out his hand. “There’s one way to verify this. ”

  She shook her head, already knowing what he planned. “Feel free to go alone. ”

  “No way. Let’s go check the crypt. ”

  Her eyes widened. “A very much alive, very hungry, very angry dethroned vampire king might be down there. That’s dangerous, and I’m not supposed to place myself in danger. Remember?”

  “You’re my very capable backup. Now, come on. ” He waved his fingers. “Afterward, we’ll go back to the cabin, find out whether Aden has left the witch’s body and whether he learned anything. ”

  And if he hadn’t? she wanted to ask, but didn’t. Time was ticking away, no solution in sight. She was trying not to let nerves overwhelm her, wasn’t letting herself think about how significant tomorrow was. What better way to distract herself than to pay a visit to old Vlad? A man who’d once enjoyed removing human heads and displaying them on pikes.

  Shaking now, she took Riley’s hand and he pulled her upright. Why did he want her to go with him, anyway? The real reason, and not the “capable” crap he’d spouted. Riley was a protector first, and a flatterer second. Because he still didn’t believe Vlad was alive? Because he wanted to prove to her that Tucker had lied to her?

  Instead of leading her out the room, he dropped her hand. What, she was supposed to walk behind him now, like a good little inferior human? She was not disappointed—except that she was very disappointed. Only, he didn’t leave. He strode to his closet and dug out a coat, then wrapped that coat around her, pulling her hair from underneath. Okay, she really wasn’t disappointed anymore.

  He reclaimed her hand. “Just…stay behind me and do what I tell you, when I tell you. Got it?”

  “Got it. But I’m really not a dimwit when it comes to my safety. ”

  “Let’s not get into a debate right now. ”

  Funny. They strode into the hall. Going from Riley’s normal bedroom to the all-black hallway was a bit of a shock, but she soon grew used to the drab surroundings. The black walls, the black windows, the violent tapestries, the swirling circles—wards—etched on everything.

  “Do you think Tucker plans on ambushing us?” Even as she asked, she deduced the answer. If he thought that was a possibility, he wouldn’t take her. Unless he wanted her to see Tucker’s “evil” firsthand. She barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. “Never mind. Don’t answer. Just listen. I. Want. To. Survive. I won’t do anything to place myself in unnecessary danger. ”

  “Good. Because your survival is my goal, too. ”

  See? A protector.

  Two vampires, both female and pretty, suddenly snaked a corner. Both slowed their steps, giving Riley a long, lingering look, practically eating him up. That always happened at school, too, with the human girls. He was just too hot for his own good.

  He waved to them with his free hand. Apparently, they interpreted that wave as an invitation to chat because they homed in like heat-seeking missiles, barely flicking Mary Ann a glance.

  “Riley,” the brunette said, tone heavy with familiarity.

  The redhead just smiled, her lashes dipping flirtatiously.

  I’m not jealous or angry. Really. Mary Ann’s time with him was almost over, anyway. So why did she suddenly long for a giant bucket of vampire poison and a knife?

  “We’re kind of in a hurry, girls, so…” Riley tried to slide around them, tugging Mary Ann with him, but the brunette jumped in his path.

  “Not so fast, wolf. I have business to discuss with you. ”

  “Draven,” he said on a sigh. “Not now. Please. ”

  Draven. A pretty yet dissolute name. It fit its owner. She was as delicate as an angel, yet there was something…depraved in her eyes. Something cold and calculating.

  “I’ll only take a second,” the vampire continued, “and you’re the one wasting time right now. ”

  He nodded stiffly, and his grip tightened on Mary Ann. “Very well. What do you wish to discuss?”

  She lifted her chin, all attitude and self-confidence. “As you know, I was one of the females chosen to tempt the new king. ”

  Riley nodded again, wary this time.

  “As you probably do not know, I issued a challenge. ”

  “You wish to be king yourself?” Riley laughed, suddenly relaxing. “Good luck with that. Now, if you’ll—”

  “Actually, no. I don’t wish to be king. ” She smiled, yet there was no humor in it. Only satisfaction. “I went before the council and challenged Victoria. For rights to Haden Stone. ”

  “What?” The single word was a roar and a gasp blended together.

  Why was Riley so furious and shocked? Aden was king, and he’d never allow another girl to have “rights” to him.

  Draven raised her chin another notch. “Challenges can be issued to anyone at any time about anything. You know this well. If a challenge is not accepted, the challenger automatically receives the prize. ”

  “The princess is mine to protect,” Riley growled, “which means your challenge is directed at me. And I accept. You and I shall—”

  “Oh, no. ” Laughing now, Draven shook his head. “That is not how our law works, and you know that, too. If Victoria accepts, she must fight me. And you, her guardian, are not allowed to interfere. ”

  A muscle ticked below his eye. They’d entered dangerous territory, though Draven didn’t seem to care. “Aden will change the law,” Riley stated.

  “He may do so, yes. After my challenge has been met. Otherwise, everyone will know of my challenge, and of Victoria’s refusal to meet it. Everyone will know that Aden belongs to me, and Victoria will then be condemned by our people. ”

  Condemned. What did that mean in vampire terms? She wanted to ask but held her tongue. She didn’t exactly know the protocol for asking a vampire bitch to explain something. And if Mary Ann had thought Riley furious before, she’d had no idea how deeply he was capable of feeling the emotion. Rage rolled off him in great waves, palpable, stinging, even heating the air around them.

  “I will tell her,” he said through gritted teeth. “She will accept. The match will be set for sometime next week. ”

  For the first time, Draven frowned. “I wish to get this done today. ”

  “No. You will wait until next week. If those terms are unacceptable, you will have to forfeit. The king can choose the time of the match, and will insist on watching. This I know, as well. He won’t be available until next week. ”

  “Very well. Accepted. ” Draven inclined her head, her smug satisfaction as strong as Riley’s fury. She tossed a quick sneer at Mary Ann. “Until then. ”

  The vampire pair floated away, talking and laughing now, as if the bombshell they’d just dropped on Riley was insignificant, without consequence.

  “Is Victoria a decent fighter?” Mary Ann asked quietly as Riley jerked her back into motion.

  “Yes. I trained her myself. ”

  “Is Draven?”

  “Yes. Regrettably, I trained her, too. ”

  “Who’s better?”

  His jaw clenched.

  Mary Ann would take that to mean Draven was the better fighter. Her stomac
h clenched. “What will happen if Draven wins? To Aden? To Victoria?”

  “They won’t fight to the death, but until one of them admits defeat. The winner will own Aden. ”

  “Own. How? He’s king!”

  “Yes, but he is also human, and there’s the loophole Draven is using. We’ve never had a human king before, and our laws regarding humans were designed with blood-slaves in mind. And blood-slaves may be passed around like baseball cards. Aden will have to change the law, but Draven was right. He cannot do so until this challenge has been met. Otherwise, Victoria would look weak. ”

  “And be condemned. But what does that mean, really?”

  “It means that everyone will see her as easy pickings and challenge her for every single thing she owns. For the rest of her eternal life, until she has nothing left. No guardian, no clothes. No room, no furniture. No food. Until she’s forced to strike out on her own to survive. ”

  What a harsh reality these vampires and werewolves lived in. “And what happens if Draven loses? Seems unfair that if she wins, Victoria will lose everything she owns on top of losing Aden. Yet if Draven loses…”

  “She will become Victoria’s property. Which is why this kind of challenge isn’t issued often. No one wants to chance such an outcome. ”

  Draven was utterly confident of her success, then. Great. Another worry. Would they never stop piling up?

  “Come on, pick up the pace. We have a task to complete. ” Down the winding stairs they finally pounded.

  Several other vampires passed them along the way, grouped in twos and threes. Each group was discussing Aden and his taming of the beasts. They were clearly awed, shocked and a little frightened. Thankfully, though, no one else stopped Riley for a chat.

  Outside, the air was colder than it had been that morning, and a dreary mist dampened her hair. She was immediately grateful for Riley’s coat. There were no vampires out here, no wolves either. Too cold and wet for them? Riley didn’t seem to mind the weather. He wasn’t wearing a coat, just a thin T-shirt, but he wasn’t shivering. Or were they too busy? If so, what were they doing? For that matter, what did they usually do during these daylight hours?
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