Something banged into the back door of the truck and Kahli fell silent, “You said there wasn’t nothing illegal back there. Shit man! You stole a human?”
Reggie’s voice was eloquent and scary as hell. “I have stolen nothing. I am not hunting on the Queen’s property. Only a fool would do that. We’re passing through.” His voice was on the other side of the door. He spoke like he knew the man questioning him.
“You’re the fool. You’ve done that one times too many, already. I can’t let you pass without looking back here.” He tapped the roll down door. It echoed inside the rear of the truck making Kahli’s ears ring. “Open it up.” A moment of silence passed and he added, “Now.”
When the door slid open, Kahli saw another vampire—a guard. He stood right below her and stared at Kahli in her cage, slack-jawed, before turning back to Reginald. “Are you fucking crazy? You have a truck full of exotics and a human? And you strut right in front of the Queen’s place like you’re entitled? What the hell is wrong with you?”
Reginald’s dark eyes lingered on Kahli in her cage. He didn’t blubber or try to make excuses. No one was permitted to own a human. They were too rare. It finally felt like she could think a little. That’s what the truck was filled with—things that vamps weren’t allowed to have. He’d bought her for his collection, or some deranged variation of that idea. His black coat clung to the vampire’s long thin body. Kahli thought he was too tall. Too thin. His skin was as pale as the moonlit snow surrounding them.
When he spoke, Reginald sounded apathetic. “It would have been more out of character for me to go around. Come on, Bordon.” He addressed the guard like the man was an idiot. “You really expect me to trek a hundred and sixty miles to the south just to avoid my awful sister?” he laughed, shaking his head.
Bordon’s fat little eyes looked like they would pop out of his head. It made him appear rounder than he was. And standing next to Reggie made him appear shorter and less attractive too. His hands pressed into his temples. Shaking his round bald head, he looked up at Reginald. “You shoulda went the long way around. She’s not going to let this slide. Not this time. Not with a human in tow—”
“Then take me to the delightful woman, and let’s just be done with it.” Reginald seemed annoyed, like he had places to go, people to see, and this was an inconvenience.
The guard’s chubby chin flapped, hanging open, “You don’t want an audience with the Queen. Relinquish your cargo here, and I’ll tell them that you sent your apologies. I won’t say nothing about the girl. We’ll stick her back into one of the camps and nobody will know.”
“The hell you will,” Reginald leaned in close, his pointy nose nearly touching Bordon. He pointed back at the truck. “Those are my things. If you touch them, I’ll kill you. I’ll rip your throat out before you can even—”
Bordon rolled his eyes, ignoring the threats. “You know you can’t kill me. Queen’s protection sucks for the most part—except that. I may not be as powerful as you, but I’ve got her blood. If you decide to kill me, you gotta kill her first.”
Reginald’s nostrils flared before he straightened his back. He nodded once and plastered a huge smile across his face, “Excellent idea. Best thing you’ve said all night. Take me to the beast, and let’s be done with it.”
Bordon reached for the strap to pull down the rolling door at the back of the truck. He glanced at Kahli once and shook his head, muttering to himself.
Will managed to get back and was dressed in his best black suit before supper. The Queen demanded his presence. Taking out a comb, he smoothed back his tousled hair. Will looked in the mirror before heading down the back staircase. Some days he wondered what he was doing, if he was insane. Defying the Queen was a death wish. He shook the thoughts from his mind as he made his way through the building. The Queen’s mansion was sprawling. It stood on a lonely hill, covered in snow. There were a million passageways through the place and Will knew every single one.
Winding past the kitchens he heard a female voice call out, “Better hurry, Will! Her brother’s here again.” Will slowed and looked back at her. Rachel stood with a pot in hand, drying it with a towel. She was easy on the eyes, and completely forbidden, but it didn’t keep him from looking.
Gratefully, he answered, “Thanks. When?”
“Just now. Patrol brought him in with a truck full of exotics.” She leaned in the doorway, her slim hips curving into her jean-clad legs.
Will’s face paled. “Exotics?” She nodded. Fury exploded within him, but he bit his tongue. That fool. Will knew the Regent did exactly what Will told him not to do—piss off the Queen by traveling right in front of her house with a truck full of illegal animals. Will wanted to pull his hair out, but instead he smiled at Rachel and hastened his walk toward the dining hall. It was all part of the game, he told himself.
The palace was busy tonight. Servants bustled through the halls, preparing for the Queen’s party. Will didn’t know what the celebration was for this time. Maybe she got a new necklace, or maybe it was her birthday. Either way, the woman threw more parties than he cared to go to, but he had to. It was part of the agreement. Tension built in Will’s shoulders. Every step closer to the Queen made him want to scream, but when he rounded the corner he was every bit as dashing as always. A warm smile spread across his lips as he stopped at the grand archway into the dining room. The floors were white marble, and the Queen had decorated the vast room in draped turquois silk. Golden candles glowed softly, casting a romantic light throughout the room.
The Queen noticed him immediately. Though he was forbidden, she enjoyed looking at him. Her Majesty sat dressed in a formal ball gown at the front of the room on a gleaming dais. Her skin was like snow, cold and pale. She smiled softly at him, but the gesture had no warmth. It was the look of a monarch who was bored to tears and glad to see someone else to talk to.
Will approached her with his shoulders back, a confident swagger to his walk. Stopping before her throne, he bowed deeply, “Your Majesty.”
“Will Tatum,” Will looked up at her and she smiled sincerely, “it seems my idiot brother decided to provoke me at the worst possible time.”
“He usually does,” Will replied, carefully.
“Yes, well, this will be the last time. I’ll deal with this quickly. If he gets blood on my dress… ,” her voice trailed off leaving the threat hanging in the air. Her slim delicate fingers were gripping the arms of her dais so tightly that the wood began to crack. Although most vampires were in a weakened state from the blood shortage, the Queen was not. She’d suck dry as many humans as she needed to maintain her power.
Before Will could say a soothing comment, Regent Reginald stood in the doorway across the room. Guards flanked him on both sides. Will stepped back, moving to the right hand of the Queen. He placed his hands behind his back, expression blank, and stared straight ahead like he had no opinion on anything. Appearances were deceiving, especially in the palace. In his mind, Will was fuming. He trusted this idiot to do as he was told, and the arrogant fool did the exact opposite.
The Queen’s voice was frigid, her eyes narrowed on her brother, “This is beneath you, Reggie. It really is. Tonight is All Hollow’s Eve. You know it’s my favorite event of the year and you have to show up and ruin it.”
Her brother bowed low after crossing the room. The candlelight flickered in his dark eyes as he glared at his sister. A smile twisted his mouth in a way that chilled Will to the bone. Reginald had a reputation for leaving a wake of blood in his path, but his elder sister was the one to watch out for. This temper tantrum she pretended to throw was a rouse. Will knew the only color she was seeing at that moment was red. “Sister, every holiday is your favorite.”
Will groaned inside. The mindless banter between these two made his skin crawl. He wished one would just kill the other and be done with it. Then he’d only have one crazy vampire to deal with.
The Queen’s lips pursed into a thin line, her brown eyes narrowing, “How dare you cross my thresholds and behave this way. How dare you break the law and trample across my front lawn ridiculing me like a monarch that can’t even control her own family!” She stood and walked toward him. Long brown curls were pinned to the back of her head, her bodice hugging tightly to her narrow waist. She didn’t look a day over twenty, though Will knew she was at least a few hundred years old. She was one that survived the flood and the freeze, so did her wicked brother.
Reggie scoffed, turning as his older sister held her skirts in her hands and glared at him, “I was doing nothing of the sort. But you, Sophia Analese,” he stepped closer to her, his body towering over hers, “cannot control me.” As he finished speaking, his hand flew out, reaching for her neck.
Sophia’s instincts were notorious. Before his fingers hand a chance to wrap around her delicate throat, she’d grabbed his wrist and twisted. Hard. The sound of wood snapping made Will flinch, but he didn’t move. He wouldn’t move unless he was bidden. This was the Queen’s guilty pleasure. She liked exercising power over people. Though she acted like it ruined her evening, her confrontations with her brother tended to do the opposite. Her crimson lips were pulled back into a sinister smile as she twisted, showing her perfectly white teeth.
“I can and I will, little brother,” she hissed while smashing his wrist in her grip. When she felt his bones snap, she released him.
Reginald’s body shook with anger. As soon as Sophia released his wrist, he saw his opening and took it. His older sister’s side was exposed, her hand moving a stray hair from her cheek. A knife appeared and he jabbed it into his sister’s side. Blood poured from the wound, soaking her gown. Sophia’s gaze narrowed, the muscles in her arms flinching. She reached for his wrist and withdrew the blade, sending her brother—and the knife—sailing across the room into the opposite wall.