“Very much.” Tucking windblown strands of golden hair inside the hood, she started walking again. “You?”
He shook his head. “I can read, but I’m more of a video games and movies guy.” He offered her a hand to leap a narrow stream, but she waved him off and carefully stepped on stones to cross. “Do you like movies?”
“I haven’t seen many. Rasha brought a human movie device to the clan, but my father broke it.” Her voice took on a bitter note. “People were getting too many dangerous ideas, apparently.”
Using the opportunity to dig a little deeper, he asked, “And you don’t agree?”
She appeared to consider that. “I think,” she said slowly, “that when leaders control what their people see, hear, and do, they create an environment of fear and anger. Chained dogs turn mean for a reason.”
Either Aylin was a whole lot smarter than her father, or she was telling Hunter what he wanted to hear. In any case, he’d be wise to not underestimate this female. “That’s not much of a Raven way of thinking,” he pointed out.
“My clan follows the Way of the Raven. I don’t.” She glanced over at him. “Do you follow the Way of the Raven or the Way of the Crow?”
“Crow,” he said, but both were bullshit.
The myth of the raven and the crow had been fabricated by the original twelve vampires to explain their origins and hide the truth. To this day, many believed the story of how a raven and a crow battled atop the bodies of two dead Indian chiefs until the blood of all four mingled and the chiefs rose as vampires.
But those who thought the raven and crow fable was a load of crap sought answers in the scientific theory that involved a mutated virus within the Native American community. Which was true. Scientists just didn’t know that the virus had originated with a demon named Samnult.
“Rasha won’t like that,” Aylin murmured. “She’s as Ravengelical as my father.”
Not a surprise. That Aylin didn’t feel the same way was. Unless, of course, she was f**king with him.
“What can you tell me about your sister?” he asked.
Aylin jammed her hands into her coat pockets. “She’s older than me by seven minutes.”
“That’s not what I was looking for, but okay.”
She sighed. “Why don’t you just ask me specific questions instead of fishing?”
Well, she’d called him on that one. He wasn’t comfortable beating around the bush anyway, wasn’t sure why he’d even gone down that road. “Is she bitter about this mating?” he asked, putting it all out there. “Is she leaving a lover behind at ShadowSpawn?”
Aylin took a long time to consider her answer, which didn’t bode well. “Bitter? No. As for lovers… I don’t know.”
She was lying, but he couldn’t expect anything else from a sister trying to protect her twin. Or from a ShadowSpawn clan member.
“Are you bitter?” She scooped up a handful of snow and ate a bite. “Or giving up a lover?”
Fuck yes, he was extremely bitter. “I’m doing what I have to do in order to protect my clan.” Which meant giving up all his lovers.
He knew many clan chiefs, including his father, who either had multiple mates or one mate and multiple lovers, but Hunter had always believed that a leader was strongest when his attentions were focused only on one mate. And since he would never tolerate another male with his female, he couldn’t be a hypocrite.
No matter how much he despised Rasha.
Or how much he found himself liking Aylin.
“We’re almost there.”
“Great.” Aylin feigned a smile at Hunter’s announcement. She should be thrilled to get out of the cold, but for some reason, she dreaded their arrival at MoonBound.
“You must be anxious to see your sister.”
“Of course,” she said, but her response was more automatic than genuine. She cared about Rasha, but the thought of seeing her sister with Hunter made Aylin’s stomach sour.
They dropped into a narrow valley, and ahead, standing in a group near a cliff of moss-covered rocks, were several MoonBound warriors, including Riker. Draped in rich furs, Rasha stood apart from them like an ice queen, her expression carefully neutral, her posture stiff.
Riker acknowledged Aylin with the shallowest of nods, and she wondered whether he held his brutal treatment two months ago against her, even though she’d done nothing to cause him pain. In fact, she’d helped his female, Nicole, to escape.
Aylin hung back as Hunter broke away to meet Rasha. Rasha watched him approach, and Aylin didn’t like the calculation – and hunger – that gleamed in her sister’s eyes.
“Rasha.” He halted a couple of feet away, and Aylin experienced a shameful flicker of joy that Hunter wasn’t looking at Rasha the way she was looking at him, as if she couldn’t wait to see him naked.
Rasha inclined her head in greeting. “Hunter.”
Fat snowflakes began to fall from the featureless clouds above as he gestured to Aylin. “Obviously, I’ve met your twin sister.”
Rasha waved her hand dismissively. “Second-born.”
Hunter’s full lips curved into a tight smile. “Thank you for making sure I don’t mistake her for being firstborn. That would have been a disaster.”
His sarcasm was lost on Rasha, who nodded as if she’d just saved him from some sort of life-altering social faux pas.
“Did she tell you she’s staying until after the mating ceremony?” Rasha asked.
“She did.” Hunter gestured for them to follow. “Come on. The entrance to our warren is just a few yards away. We’ll have a celebratory meal prepared for your arrival.”
Rasha fell into step next to him, and Aylin took her place behind her sister as they moved toward a massive rock face. Three warriors remained outside, melting into the forest, while the other three brought up the rear, their hands hovering over the blades at their h*ps as if they expected Aylin or Rasha to attack Hunter.
“Will there be humans?” The eagerness in Rasha’s tone made Aylin cringe.
Hunter scowled. “Humans?”
“At the meal.”
“Ah. Fresh out. Venison is on the menu.”
“Disappointing.” Rasha sniffed with disapproval. “But I trust we’ll have humans for our mating celebration?”
“Why don’t you put in a request with our head chef. He’s very accommodating.” Hunter picked up his pace, but if he thought he could outrun Rasha, he was very mistaken. More than a century of living with Rasha had taught Aylin that lesson well.
He slowed a moment later, gesturing to a slab of moss- and vine-covered stone set deep into the side of the mountain. “You can’t see it, but there’s an opening here. The entrance is warded, so even if you know where it is, it’ll be invisible to you if you don’t have a MoonBound tattoo.” He glanced at Aylin, his gaze so much softer than when he looked at Rasha, and her heart fluttered stupidly. “I’m guessing you have a similar system in place at ShadowSpawn?”
“We do,” Rasha said. “If you’re lucky, you’ll see my access symbol soon.”
Aylin wanted to gag. Rasha’s tattoo was on her inner thigh, which meant that if Hunter saw it… yeah. Aylin didn’t want to go there.
Aylin hadn’t been as bold as Rasha. Or, more accurately, she hadn’t been given a choice about either the placement or the method of permanently etching the symbol into her skin. Her father had held her down and carved the raven’s skull into her back with a dull blade dipped in acid.
To Aylin’s surprise, Hunter didn’t respond to Rasha’s suggestive offer other than to say, “You’ll need to get a MoonBound glyph. I’ll have our mystic-keeper mark you on the day of our mating ceremony.”
A subtle tautness in Rasha’s jaw hinted at her annoyance with Hunter’s lack of interest in the location of her tattoo, but he didn’t seem to care about her irritation. He led them through hallways that grew wider, lighter, and cleaner as they went. Hard-packed earth gave way to stone and wood flooring, and the walls went from being little more than rough-cut rock and dirt to smooth surfaces made of sanded logs and polished stones. Native American artwork and carvings lined the walls, along with chalk drawings that looked like they were made by children.
Aylin trailed her fingers over the edges of a deer hide that had been used as a canvas for a painting of wild bison. “This is amazing,” she murmured.
Rasha snorted, no doubt preferring ShadowSpawn’s sparser and more gruesome decor, which, more often than not, included the bones and skulls of their victims – animal, human, and vampire.
“You like art?” Hunter glanced over at Aylin, and she couldn’t help but be pleased that he used a different tone of voice when he spoke to her than when he spoke to Rasha.
“No,” Rasha blurted, once again cutting off Aylin before she could so much as open her mouth.
“Somehow I guessed that of you. But the question was for Aylin.” Hunter didn’t even look in Rasha’s direction, his gaze fixed firmly on Aylin. She wondered if he could feel the daggers Rasha was staring into the back of his skull.
“I love art,” Aylin said, leaving it at that. Rasha already looked like she was on the verge of a volcanic eruption. She hated to be ignored, hated it even more when Aylin got attention that Rasha believed belonged to her.
A female Aylin recognized as Lucy, a youth ShadowSpawn had captured and held hostage with Riker and Nicole, crossed in front of them at a fork in the passage. Wearing baggy cargo pants and a bright orange hoodie that matched her short, spiky hair, she smiled shyly at Aylin, but when her dusky silver gaze lit on Rasha, she bared her fangs and scurried into the darkness.
Sudden tension bloomed, thick enough to burn her nostrils. Hunter wheeled around to Rasha, his sensual mouth little more than a grim slash. “What did you do to her?”
Rasha rolled her eyes. “We put her in her place. Simpletons are meant only for menial labor and pleasuring warriors. You can’t allow them to run free. It’s for their own good.”
Hunter’s expression turned thunderous, and a chorus of low growls echoed through the halls as Riker and the other two males inched closer. Anxiety spiked, and Aylin wondered if she was going to be made to pay for what ShadowSpawn had done to Lucy. Aylin had tried to help the girl, but Lucy had been held either in the dungeon or in the fighters’ quarters, and the best she could do was slip Lucy extra food and send her one of her own threadbare blankets for her bed.
Very slowly, Hunter moved toward Aylin’s sister. Rasha held her ground, chin up, shoulders squared, but it didn’t do any good when Hunter’s big body bumped up against her and backed her into the wall. The sounds of his hands slapping the wall as he slammed his palms down on either side of her head rang out like gunshots.
For the first time in recent memory, Rasha looked afraid.
“Lucy hasn’t spoken a word about what happened at ShadowSpawn,” he said, his voice as still and cold as a grave. “But eventually, she will. And if I find out that she was violated in any way, I will castrate and kill whoever did it.”
Rasha batted her eyes, all innocence and sugar, but Aylin knew her sister well enough to recognize genuine worry in the set of her mouth. “Do what you must. MoonBound is my clan now. ShadowSpawn deaths aren’t my concern.”
Snorting, Hunter shoved away from her. “We’ll see.”
They continued down the hall in strained silence until Hunter stopped at a huge oak door. “These are my quarters,” he said, still sounding like he’d eaten brimstone for breakfast. “You’re both welcome at any time.” He moved to a door a few feet away. “Rasha, this apartment will be yours.”
Rasha’s mouth puckered with disapproval. “I assumed we’d live together.”
“Our quarters are connected by a door between the bedrooms. I thought you’d want privacy until we’re mated.” He threw open the door, and Aylin nearly gasped.
Plush rugs covered the polished wood floors, and coffee-colored leather furniture created a cozy living space in the living and dining rooms. The kitchen was small but clean, and instead of traditional art, the walls had been decorated with colorful stones set into the plaster in wild circular patterns.
Not even her father’s quarters at ShadowSpawn were this nice.
“It’ll do,” Rasha said, sounding utterly bored.
“If it doesn’t meet your standards,” Hunter said, his voice as smooth and sharp as a velvet-covered blade, “I can arrange for a cell in the dungeon. I’m sure it’ll be closer to what you’re used to at ShadowSpawn.” Rasha’s face went crimson with fury, and Hunter smirked as he turned to Riker. “If you’ll show Aylin to her quarters, I’ll get Rasha settled in.”
“Roger that,” Riker said. “Their bags are already in their rooms.”
Relieved to escape the mounting tension, Aylin gladly followed Riker to an apartment a few doors down and around a corner. She expected him to drop her off and get away from her as fast as he could, so she was shocked when he came inside with her.
“I wanted to thank you for helping Nicole back at ShadowSpawn,” he said, inclining his blond head. “She was grateful for your friendship.”
Very rarely did anyone thank her for anything, and never had anyone called her a friend. At a loss for words, Aylin merely nodded.
Riker made an encompassing gesture around the room. “This was where Nicole stayed before we were mated. You should be comfortable here.”READ MORE >>