Sophia circled Kahli once, her false smile looked more like a snake than a pleasantry. “Do you have a death-wish child? Or are you physically deformed, more so than you already appear?”
Kahli stared straight ahead, not blinking, not bowing, “There is nothing wrong with me. I will not bow to demons.”
Sophia laughed. The ballroom was utterly silent. “Demon? Is that what you think I am? How naïve. Do you really think I’ll pardon your insolence because you just fell off a farm and happened to cross paths with a Trader?”
Kahli eyed the queen, “I’d rather hoped not. And I didn’t fall off a farm. I was free, roaming the icy countryside, stalking your Trackers and slaughtering them. Did you never wonder why they didn’t come back? Or were they forgotten like the boy at your feet?”
Damn. She didn’t listen to a thing he’d said. Will wanted to punch Kahli in the leg and force her to bow, but it was too late. Her words were poison. She was a dead woman walking. And she dragged him down with her.
Sophia touched the crown of Will’s head. “Rise, young William and tell your charge how to behave.”
Before Will could speak, Kahli stepped closer to the Queen and retorted, “I already know how to behave. Honor is given where it is deserved. I do not bow to murderers.”
Will rose next to Kahli. She stood perfectly still, her eyes relaxed like she wanted the fate she was so wildly taunting. All those things he told her in the hall, she ignored. It was a brilliant display of defiance. He wanted to strangle her. There was no way to protect her if the Queen decided to rip open her throat. Yet, Kahli stood there, openly daring the queen to do so.
A new voice joined the conversation and his heart fell further.
“Prideful, isn’t she?” the King stated, walking up behind Will. Will tried not to react, but his stomach clenched. From the way things were going, he expected Kahli to piss off both monarchs before the evening was even started.
Kahli glanced at the King, the man Will told her to avoid. He was stunning. Tall and built with thick dark hair and eyes the color of sunlight. His smile melted into her, making her lips smile in return.
“To a fault,” replied the Queen.
“So, then end it, unless you’d like to gift her to someone.” The King spoke flippantly, but Kahli caught his meaning. His gaze lingered on the swell of bare flesh below her throat. The Queen also noticed. Her jealous nature changed her normal action. It threw off the King and Will alike.
“Gift her? Who would want such a worthless, defiant breed?” The Queen circled Kahli, her hackles raised. Her heels clicked on the cold floor with every step she took. The court watched the exchange on baited breath. “Just look at her. The only slender thing on her entire body is her neck. Her breast are grossly enlarged, her hips are far too wide to be considered becoming, and her waist—” she laughed pointing at Kahli’s figure, “it’s so tiny you could crack her in half. She looks nothing like the girls we breed here at the palace. Who would possible want her?”
Reginald perked up. For a moment he thought that his meal ticket was going to be slaughtered, but his sister seemed to have something else up her sleeve. Thinking fast he stood, and in two long strides, he was standing next to his sister. His long lean body stood before Kahli, his fingers scratching his chin. “I have a fun little idea. Why don’t we make a little wager? I bet she can be tamed, trained to be the most elegant of the humans at court.” Reginald’s eyes narrowed on her throat as he spoke.
Sophia laughed, “No, she cannot. She’s wild through and through. Defiant to her core. I can see it in her eyes. She won’t bend to anyone’s will, but her own.”
The king had been openly ogling Kahli’s curves. Distracted, he turned back to the Queen, “Then it sounds like you two have a wager. Give her to William. If he can tame her, then the girl goes to Reggie. If he can’t, then you win. Kill her then. In the meantime it should be rather humorous to watch poor William try to manage her.” With that the monarch turned and walked away. He plucked a champagne glass off a server’s tray and disappeared behind the crowd.
Sophia watched him leave, anger burning through her. This wasn’t what she wanted at all. The girl was hers, to do this as she pleased, but the King’s idiotic words put her in a bad place. She couldn’t refuse and save face. She arched a dark brow at her brother and smiled. “Very well. William trains her. If he succeeds, she’s yours. If he fails, she dies.”
They shook hands and a burst of excitement erupted around them. Kahli stood there waiting for the right moment. While they were deciding her fate, she had removed her shoes, hiding then beneath the long hem of her dress. No one noticed the difference in height. Even Will was distracted as he got sucked into their bet. Idiots. Kahli had no desire to enrage a room filled with vampires, but it was the only way out. Before they could utter another word, she turned on her heel and sprinted toward the door. Will turned to grab her, but she slipped through his grip.
There was no way she could outrun him. Even if the rest of the vampires were weak, Will wasn’t. Damn Bane. She rounded a corner and saw the gold gilded molding on the wall. She dug her nails under the piece of wood and yanked it off. The wood splintered in two, and cracked in her hands. Shards of wood embedded themselves into her palms, but she didn’t care. Just as the molding ripped off the wall, Will rounded the corner out of breath, his eyes huge.
“You couldn’t listen? Then you do this. What’s your plan there Kahli? Beat me over the head with a stick?” he shook his head like she was an idiot, but Kahli knew better.
She inched back toward the door. The Regent had flooded out of the ballroom and watched them from a safe distance. Vampires mumbled about Sophia losing control over her consort and her blood bank in the same night.
If Kahli backed down, she was dead. There was no tomorrow. Just right now. “You’re vampire, whether you like it or not. A piece of wood to the heart will kill you just like I killed the Trackers. And if you’re too human, well, you’ll die anyway.” She clutched the sharp piece of wood in her hand, raising it, threatening him not to take a step closer.
“Put it down,” he replied, not wanting to say her name. He didn’t want to force her.
“Can’t,” she shook her head. A red curl tumbled free and fell over her shoulder, “Step aside.”
“Where are you going to go? You’ll get caught as soon as you get outside, and if you don’t, you’ll freeze to death.” Will kept his voice calm and controlled.
“Better than dying in here,” she breathed deeply.
Will could see it in her eyes. She was acting like a cornered cat. She’d strike him if she had to. Will didn’t try talking to her anymore. She was too far gone. Her brain crossed over into survival mode. He didn’t know when it happened, but she couldn’t be reasoned with at this point. Will sighed inside. This was going to suck. No matter what she did, he would be reprimanded. For a second, he considered backing down and letting her run outside, but he didn’t.
Will moved fast, ducking behind Kahli’s arm as the make-shift stake swung at his head. He’d seen her fight the wolves. There was no way she would stop after one swing. Before he was past her, Kahli rounded on him, slashing the stake across his arm, drawing blood. There was a collective gasp from the vampires watching them. Kahli was fast. She crouched in her dress, wishing that she had pants. It was difficult to move in this thing without tripping, and she was certain that Will had noticed.
He dove for her again, noticing the Queen with her arms folded over her chest. She looked bored. Kahli screamed and tried to drive the stake into his side, but he clipped her and forced the stake from her hand. Grabbing her by the wrist, Will twisted her arm behind her back and slammed her into the wall. The aristocracy seemed to think that was the end of it. Will shoved her face into the wall, holding the hair at the nape of her neck. He nodded to the Queen, thinking he’d contained her outburst.
Just as they turned to leave, Kahli dropped to her knees. In a rapid movement, she extended her leg and kicked, knocking Will on his butt. Before he could recover, she grabbed her skirts and ran into the nearest room. A floor to ceiling window stood between her and freedom. Kahli grabbed a throw blanket that was on the couch as she ran past.
Will screamed behind her, commanding her to stop. She didn’t. Pulling the blanket in front of her face, Kahli hurled her body at the window. The sound of splintering glass filled her ears. Within seconds, she landed hard on the frozen ground. Some of the glass shattered in large planks. Reaching out, she grabbed one before jumping to her feet. She ran across the lawn, her foot catching on the hem of her gown and tearing it. Snow clung to the bottoms of her feet. Every step was agony. It felt like her feet were on fire, but she didn’t stop. Her hair tumbled down her back forming a red streak as she ran. Her lungs burned, but she didn’t stop. She could hear him behind her, getting closer and closer. Did he know she had the glass shard? She kept it close to her body.
Will tackled her, and Kahli fell to the ground, their bodies tangling together. Before they stopped rolling, before she knew which was up, Kahli slashed. The glass spike cut into her palm as it slid into Will’s stomach like a hot knife. He howled in pain. The glass punctured his stomach and ripped him apart as it sank into his gut. The pain, and the blood loss, slowed him slightly, but he was still capable of crushing her. Reaching between them, Will grabbed Kahli’s wrist, gripped her tight and forced her hand away from the stab wound. Blood flowed faster, sliding down his side and covering her body. The warm blood melted into the snow, leaving welts of color in the icy surface. Will gripped Kahli’s wrists and slammed them into the frozen ground above her head.
She sucked in sharply. Sweat covered her body with a soft sheen, her eyes locked on his, pleading. “Kill me. Don’t take me back in there,” she panted. Closing her eyes, Kahli rested her head in the snow.
Will hovered above her, pinning her in place. He didn’t let her move this time. He’d never underestimate her again. Desperation made people do foolish things, but this was beyond stupid. When Will didn’t answer, she looked up at him. Her eyes lingered on the hole in his shirt. Under the once white silk, she saw pale flesh, and something that shouldn’t have been there—runes. There was no way to get a good look at them. His shirt covered the markings and blood concealed the rest. But it was that tiny corner, the inking that wrapped around his toned waist. It looked like a name rune, like hers. She didn’t understand why she was seeing it now. The only way they became visible was during a union or a ceremony with oils and promises. Kahli’s eyes went wide as she watched his bare skin, not bothering to conceal her notice. Her lips parted, ready to ask why he had them.