The Emerald Lily (Vampire Blood)(4)

By: Juliette Cross

“Who are you?” she demanded, voice cracking.

“No time, Your Highness.” He leaned close, and before she knew what he was doing, he lifted her against his broad chest and carried her to the open window. He set her on her feet. “You’ll have to forgive me, but we have approximately twenty seconds.”

“For what?” she asked, her legs trembling as he steadied her with a hand at her waist.

He lifted the end of a rope looped onto her window latch, tied it around her waist, and tightened it into a complex knot with deft fingers. He wrapped his hands around her waist, nearly spanning it completely. She hitched in a breath as he leveled his gaze on hers, lifted her, and slipped her out the open window. She should’ve been afraid, but some new powerful force inside her pushed all her fears away. Had it been him? This dark savior’s blood kiss?

“Hold onto the window ledge for a brief second.”

She gripped the ledge, knowing full well she couldn’t hold her own weight. No matter. As soon as he let her go, he grabbed the rope with a tight grip. “I won’t let you fall. Someone is at the bottom to carry you to safety.”

She felt no dread even as she dangled from the tower while the sound of combat filled the night air. She gave a confident nod. Then she was gliding fast down the side of the outer brick wall. The chilly wind lifted her hair and billowed her skirts around her bare ankles. When she expected to hit the ground with a thud, her descent stopped just short of her feet hitting the ground. A vampire lifted her, a burly beast of a man, while another unfastened the rope around her waist. Then she was passed from the arms of the mountainous one to the other, who smiled at her. Something about the shape of his eyes was familiar. He looked like the one who’d just dropped her out the window.

“Pardon me, Your Highness.” He tucked her tight against his chest. “I am Dmitri. You may want to close your eyes. My speed can be a shock to the system.”

“I am an Arkadian princess.” She heard the words come out husky but with confidence. “I can handle the speed of any vampire.”

His mouth tilted into an infectious grin. “Let’s get you the hell out of here then.”

Three Legionnaires stormed from an archway and rounded toward them. The big vampire engaged all three at once with moves too graceful for a man his size. Mina had one second to recognize the Legionnaires wore the livery of King Dominik of Izeling, not her own colors or the queen’s. Then Dmitri flashed into motion, moving in a head-spinning blur away from Briar Rose. Away from her home. And her prison.

Dmitri was right to warn her. Though all vampires had the ability of supernatural speed, even though she was too weak to do so on her own at the moment, he moved remarkably fast. She gripped around his neck and let her head fall to his shoulder rather than resist the force of the wind, too weak to do anything but allow herself to be taken away. While her body was weak, a vibrant pulse thrummed in her veins, shocking her senses with a potency she’d never felt in all her life.

She hoped these men weren’t brigands, and that she hadn’t exchanged one imprisonment for another. No. She reached out with her other sense, her vampire gift. The man who held her in his arms had no nefarious emotions swarming about him. Though the one who’d awakened her certainly kept company with darkness, he didn’t resonate with ill-intent, either. Not for her, anyway. Of that, she was sure.

She held on tight as he flashed them deeper into the wooded Novak Mountains. The mountains kept some of their foliage, even steeped in winter. For now, the snow only reached the tip-top of the range that swept in a horseshoe around the seat of the Arkadian kingdom, Briar Rose.

The air was crisp, nipping at her ears and nose. When the queen had exacted her punishment, the trees of the Novak region had just begun to turn red and gold. How long had she been under? It seemed like an eternity.

Within an hour, she heard other vampires running parallel to them, but Dmitri didn’t seem alarmed. It must be his brethren. She couldn’t help but wonder who’d hired them. Her first order of business was to discover who’d sent them for her.

After a chilling trip higher into the foothills of the Novaks, Dmitri slowed to a human pace. Barely winded, he walked toward a mound of heavy brush then casually stepped behind it, where the entrance to a cave was hidden.

“Stop.” Mina gripped the rough leather of his coat at the shoulder.

Dmitri stopped suddenly. “What is it, Your Highness?”

“I smell bear.”

“Oh, that.” He continued on, ducking his head at the entrance. The interior was much more spacious than it appeared. “Don’t worry about him.” He set her gently on her feet. “We moved the bear last night.”