Sophia’s movements were too fast for Will too see. Before he could blink, the Queen had her brother by the throat with a razor-sharp strangle cord biting into his neck. Her white gloves were stained in blood, and protected her hands from the sharp wire. “Oh, how I’ve waited for this day.” She tugged on the cord and it cut open the skin on Reginald’s neck. “Mother always said you were more likely to make something of yourself. She had no idea how wrong she was.” Sophia was trying to control herself. She wanted to do this slowly. She wanted to hear him beg and listen to him suffer. A lifetime of torture wouldn’t heal what he’d done to her in their youth. It took every ounce of restraint to not pull the cord and lop off his head.
Reginald’s hands were on Sophia’s wrists. He shook, trying to pry his sister off his neck, but he was losing. She was stronger, better fed with a better blood supply. She would always be stronger, unless something changed. His mind drifted to Kahli and he wished he hadn’t left her, but it was too late now. Remorse didn’t help win wars.
Will remained still, watching, hoping one of them would destroy the other. It would make his life so much easier, but things never went that way for him. Life was always one hard knock after another, and most of those contusions came from the two vampires in front of him.
“You never let me finish saying anything. You’re like an old crown that dribbles on because she likes the sound of her own voice too much to shut up.” He spoke matter-a-factly, like his sister wasn’t trying to kill him. Sophia’s eyes blazed. She shook trying to kill him slowly, even though she didn’t want to wait anymore. Maybe that’s why he said it, maybe that’s why he offered, “I brought you gift upon gift, and instead of saying thank you, you sick your guard on me. I didn’t even get a chance to wrap anything.”
“You’re a bad liar,” Sophia laughed like a crazy woman and kicked him in the stomach. The cord cut deeper, drawing more blood, weakening her brother and causing his back to slump.
Reginald gasped, “If you destroy me, I won’t get to tell you the secret—”
She hissed in his face, “There is no secret. You’re a cat who has exceeded his nine lives.”
“Ah, there you’d be wrong. Tell them to bring in the girl and see for yourself. She’s filthy, but you’ll see what she is and what she’s not.” Will stiffened. His jaw tightened to keep himself from reacting. Reginald didn’t know why he had Kahli. No one did.
Sophia tugged the chains once more, tightly. A sadistic smile lined her lips, “I’ll see nothing, but another crass attempt at you trying to preserve your overly-long life. I’m bored with this Reggie. Really, I am. I expected more from you.” She smiled at him. Pressing her forehead to his, she said, “Say hello to Mother for me,” and tugged.
“She’s wild!” the words rang out before the Queen had time to pull the cord all the way, before she could severe her brother’s head and end his annoying life.
The wire slackened in her hands. Blood stained the front of her ball gown, but Sophia ignored it. “Wild?” She sat back, dropping the cord, sliding it off his neck. Her big brown eyes looked up at her little brother, his neck spewing blood like fire-hydrant spews water. “That can’t be—”
Her brother sat leaning against the wall, his dark eyes narrowed in hatred, hands clutching his throat. This was the closest she’d ever gotten to killing him, and the condition he was in now didn’t allow him to fight back. Giving up the girl was the price of freedom. Besides, he could steal her back at a later date. “It’s true,” he rasped.
The Queen stood, brushing the blood off her gloves onto the skirt of her gown. She turned to the guards. They watched the entire scene without blinking. This was old news to Will, but to outsiders it looked like the fight of the century. Pulling off a bloodied glove, she snapped at them, “Fetch the girl. Bring her here.” When the guard didn’t move, a dark brow shot up Sophia’s face—a look you didn’t want to get from her. “NOW!”
The two ran out of the room. Sophia eyed Will and glanced back at her brother. She tapped the glove to her lips, not caring about her blood-stained gown or her ruined party. “What do you think of this William? Could there be a wild human?”
Will answered factually, “They are extinct in the wild, Your Majesty.”
“I know that,” she snapped, “I meant do you believe him? Is it possible that we missed one? That a single girl could have survived this long on her own?” Sophia tapped the glove to the side of her lip, leaving a smear of blood on her face. Her slender figure moved slowly, pacing, thinking what it would mean if it were true. She turned to her brother, “You will die more horrifically than you ever dreamed if you deceived me tonight.”
Reggie’s wounds were healing slowly. He pushed himself upright against the wall, still sitting in his blood. “And since I want to live, I wouldn’t lie—not about this.” He spared a glance at Will, but made no appearance that they knew one another, outside of their relationship with Sophia.
“Do you know what this would mean?” Her eyes were wide, filled with wonder and promise of things long forgotten. Her power would be unending. A pure blood supply from a human not ridden by disease of weak blood. She was practically giddy.
“Of course I do—”
Sophia cut him off as she saw the guards drag in a girl between them. “This is it?” she asked. Her lips pulled into a sneer, like she was disgusted. Kahli’s clothes were still crusted with blood and hanging in shreds. Her hair hung in knotted clumps around a face that was stained with blood and dirt. She had stitches in her arm and her shoulder was still bandaged, reeking of ointment. “What’s wrong with her?”
Reginald, pushed himself off the floor and walked over, “Attacked by wolves, or so I was told. She was wandering up in the old Empire region. I bought her off a trader who patched her up.” He ignored Will as he spoke, acting like the man who sold her wasn’t standing right in front of them. Things had always been this way, for as long as Will could remember.
“What makes you think she’s wild?” Sophia’s eyes examined Kahli, sliding over her again and again, appraising the legend standing before her.
Kahli didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure what was happening. When they brought her inside she half expected to see Reggie had killed the Queen, but the Queen was still alive. Her Regent captor on the other hand, didn’t look so well. Her emerald eyes shifted between them, failing to notice one other person standing in shadow.
Reggie sighed, running his fingers through his black mane, “Her inking is wrong. Her coloring is wrong. Her build is wrong… Damn woman, look at her! Does she have muddy eyes and inky hair? Does she have that gangly build you used to find so appealing? The creature is all color and curves! We didn’t breed anything like that.”
Sophia listened as he spoke, knowing all the things he said were true. This human wasn’t bred from her camps. Everything from her shape, to her coloring was different. It made her wonder if her blood would be different as well. Hope swam inside of Sophia’s head. “And her blood?”
Reggie shrugged, as Kahli’s eyes darted between them. “No one knows. When I got her, she hadn’t been tasted. The traders who caught her said she had no marks.”
The Queen’s eyes went wide, “She’s pure? Nearly grown and never touched?” She reached for Kahli’s face, as if she were reaching for a dream. This girl could fix everything. Her blood could restore them to their former glory.
Before the Queen’s fingers touched Kahli’s cheek, she snapped. Kahli couldn’t stand it. She wrenched her wrists free from the guards holding her back, making her shoulder scream. Will shook his head, eyes wide, trying to tell her not to—but it was too late. The girl didn’t see him. Kahli had already ducked out of the guard’s reach, ready to run. The Queen grasped her neck, plucking her out of the air like a fly. Kahli gasped, her feet kicking off the floor as Sophia twisted her face one way and then the other. Kahli made a gurgling sound as her face turned red, her fingers clawing at the Queen’s hand.
Hastily, Will spoke without permission, “If you intend to keep her, you might want to let her breathe.”
“Oh,” Sophia giggled, putting Kahli’s feet on the floor. The girl gasped, her throat burning as badly as her shoulder. Will remained motionless behind her. Kahli turned her head slightly, eyes going wide when she recognized him. Before she could speak, the Queen said, “Good observation, William. Do me a favor…” she grabbed Kahli’s wrist and pulled the girl across the floor toward the dais, stopping before Will. Sophia thrust the girl at him, “Take her to be cleaned and then bring her back. I want to show her off.” The Queen clasped her hands together, nearly squealing with glee. “I want to show everyone the present my brother brought me!” Sophia turned on her heel, grinning widely at Reginald, who said nothing. The man smiled and bowed like a loyal subject who didn’t enjoy plotting to kill the Queen.
Will grasped Kahli by the forearms stiffly—as if she didn’t matter to him. Will eyed the Queen, asking, “Of course, but are you certain? She has never been at court. We don’t know how she’ll behave. This human could embarrass you.” This was a sore spot for Sophia and Will knew it. Bringing a wild girl to a party would make her the envy of every other vampire in the world, but if that wild human misbehaved, the Queen would likely drain the girl before sunrise. Will didn’t think the red-head would survive the night. Not from what he’d seen of her. Odds were that she was silently accessing every situation looking for a way to escape. The effects of the bread should have worn off by now, no matter how she was acting. It was a ploy, he decided. The girl was smart, she had to be intelligent and shrewd to survive so long on her own.
Sophia laughed at Will’s suggestion, her voice high and flirtatious. Reaching for Will’s chin, she turned his face gently. Her hands were freezing, and he repressed the urge to shiver as he always did when she touched him. Sophia’s eyes were like molten chocolate, “Nonsense. What’s the point in having something like this, and not showing it off?” The Queen snapped her fingers, and servants appeared to tidy up the mess she left behind.