They were almost thirty miles from the palace, in the area of the forest where she’d spent most of her life as a rebel, before she’d married Braith and become queen. That tree over there was the one she and Max had climbed in order to avoid a group of vampires on the hunt for rebels. The two of them had stood in those branches, afraid to even breathe, as they watched Caleb and Braith pass beneath them. She recalled Braith stopping below them and tipping his head back to look at her. He’d still worn his dark glasses at the time, but she’d known the instant he’d spotted her standing above him and Caleb.
The remembrance of Braith’s younger and extremely twisted brother, Caleb, gave her chills. However, those chills were nothing compared to the ones currently consuming her as she looked around the sparse woods.
She focused on the many evergreens within the forest. Their pine scent tickled her nostrils as it drifted through the air. Normally it was a comforting, constant aroma, but now it was too sharp. Someone or something had trampled some of the smaller pines, or torn away their branches, which made their smell more potent.
“Thank you,” Aria replied and the man left the room.
“What if something happens before the week is over? If this woman attacks the palace or the nearby towns?” a man at the back of the room asked.
“There is nothing we can do about that,” Aria replied. “The palace will be able to fend off any attackers for a time, and I’m sure the towns closest to it have either been evacuated or informed of the risk to them.”
“If this woman has more vampires on her side, how will we ever be able to defeat them?” the woman before her inquired.
Don’t look at her neck. Don’t look at her neck.
“The vampires may be stronger than humans,” Aria said as her fingers dug into her palms. “But we rebels survived in these woods for a century. We are lethal, fast, and best of all, we know these woods better than they do. She, and many of the vampires following her, underestimate humans, and we’re going to show them how wrong they are to do so.”
An excited murmur ran through the crowd. “Damn right we will,” the woman beside her said.
Despite her every intention not to look, Aria’s gaze fell to the woman’s neck. Thump. Thump. Thump. Every beat of the woman’s heart pulsed within her vein.
She had to get out of this place, soon.
“I don’t think that’s the cavalry,” Ashby said.
“Our quiet is about to end,” Gideon said.
A rock lodged in her throat as she watched the vampires cloaked in brown slipping from the trees. They moved with the determined step of those who believed they had a right to be here and believed they couldn’t lose.
“What if she’s found Braith?” Melinda whispered.
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