The Emerald Lily (Vampire Blood)(8)

By: Juliette Cross

Dangerous. This was dangerous. He needed to protect her if he was to avenge his family for what the evil queen had unleashed. But now, he wasn’t sure he could stand to be in her presence without the need to feel her pretty fangs in his flesh, without wanting to put his own in hers. Without putting himself inside her.

“Stop,” he snapped, turning on his heel back to the cave.

Unaccustomed to feeling out of control, he needed action to dislodge this edge of uneasiness. They’d rested long enough. Time to move on to the next stopping point, where they could all feed and rest up for the last stretch of the journey to Silvane Forest.

He stepped through the cave, his gut clenching at the sweet silhouette of the princess lying on her side, the orange embers glowing on her flawless skin. Tearing his gaze away, he sought his men. Finding Dmitri first, sleeping in a sitting position, something they’d done time and time again, he shook his shoulder.

“Brother, it’s time to go.”

Dmitri’s eyes snapped open, alert as ever. His brother’s vampire senses were remarkably acute. The others stirred at the sound of movement. He returned to Vilhelmina, still sleeping, a golden-haired beauty, an innocent temptation he needed to keep at a distance. And yet, here he was, lifting her in his arms to carry her to the next stop.

“You got her, Captain?” asked Gregoravich, the physically strongest of the five of them.

Tamping down the desire to growl his response, he cleared his throat and replied softly. “Yes. Let’s move.”

She stirred in his arms as they exited the entrance. “What…?”

A pall of gray light rose in the east. The smell of a storm pressing down from above.

“We’d best move quickly,” said Aleksei, nose to the wind.

“Agreed. Lead on, Aleksei.” Mikhail finally met the gaze of the wide-eyed princess. “I know you have some strength back, but it’s best if I carry you to be sure. Plus, you don’t know the way.”

When he thought she would protest, she didn’t. Rather, she linked her arms around his neck and tucked her head in the crook of his shoulder. He knew it was for practical reasons, to hold on and to keep from injuring her neck against the force of the wind, yet a raw emotion swelled in his chest, an unfamiliar, indefinable emotion that gripped him hard. He might have called it possessiveness, but that would be foolish.

He took off after the others, moving through the gray haze, letting his instincts guide his swift feet, and chastising himself for wanting something, someone, he couldn’t have.

Foolish, indeed. The blood oath he’d made as Captain of the Bloodguard doused his desires with icy finality. He recited the words in his head to stave off the lure of the woman he held in his arms. The promise to sacrifice marriage and family for the sake of the Guard and his brothers at arms.

He would not, could not allow himself to form an attachment beyond duty and service.

And yet, the blood kiss still haunted him, his lips against hers, his tongue stroking inside. Even worse, the feeding. Fucking hell. When she sank her slender fangs into his flesh, he’d nearly lost his mind with the primal need to take her. This fair-skinned, golden-haired beauty who appeared to be molded and created and divined by the stars for him.

He sped faster, willing his inane thoughts away and focusing on the task at hand. To get the princess to the safety of the Silvane Forest and the Black Lily.

They descended out of the Novak Mountains and crossed the vast plains to the northeast, skirting around villages. After a few hours, they slowed and dipped into an open valley with wide fields and sparse woodlands. The trees were naked now in the dead of winter. The heavy clouds pressing down promised sleet or snow sometime today. Having moved out of the deep south, the temperatures had dropped markedly.

Aleksei led them to a paved road lined with tall oaks, their thick branches stretching out like arms welcoming him home. None of them had been home since before Mikhail had sought out their role as guardian to Friedrich Volya, the Duke of Winter Hill. That plan had worked out just as Mikhail had hoped, forming an alliance with the one royal, other than Prince Marius, who was covertly working with the Black Lily against Queen Morgrid and her son King Dominik.

They slowed to a walk as the paved road widened at a tall wrought-iron gate.

“You may put me down now,” said the princess, jarring Mikhail from his thoughts.

He’d forgotten he was holding her.

“Of course.”

He set her on her slippered feet. He’d have to find her warmer attire before they ventured to the Silvane Forest. The winter had curled a colder hand around Varis than usual, as if the queen herself controlled the weather with her wicked intentions and black magic. The heavy snows made it more difficult to assemble their armies and train. Deep cold made no difference to healthy vampires. But for humans, which the vast majority of their army was made up of, it did.