There was an army of vampires encamped on the outskirts of my father’s kingdom. The black tops of their tents looked like an ocean of sharp waves and seemed to stretch for miles, melding with a red horizon that was the sky that extended over Revekka, the Empire of the Vampire. It had been that color since I was born. It was said to be cursed by Dis, the goddess of spirit, to warn of the evil that was birthed there—the evil that began with the Blood King. Unfortunately for Cordova, the red sky did not follow evil, so there was no warning when the vampires began their invasion.
They had manifested west of the border last night, as if they’d traveled with the shadows. Since then, everything had been quiet and still. It was like their presence had stolen life; not even the wind stirred. Unease crept through my chest like a cold frost, settling deep in my stomach as I stood between the trees, only a few feet from the first row of tents. I could not shake the feeling that this was the end. It loomed behind me, long fingers gripping my shoulders.
Rumors had preceded their arrival. Rumors of how their leader—I hated to even think his name—Adrian Aleksandr Vasiliev had leveled Jola, ravished Elin, conquered Siva, and burned Lita. One by one, the Nine Houses of Cordova were falling. Now the vampires were on my doorstep, and instead of calling arms, my father, King Henri, had asked for a meeting.
He wanted to reason with the Blood King.
My father’s decision had been met with mixed emotions. Some wished to fight rather than succumb to this monster’s reign. Others were uncertain—had my father traded death on the battlefield for another kind?
At least in battle, there were truths. You either survived the day or died.
Under the rule of a monster, there were no truths.
“I should not have allowed you to come so late or get this close.”
Commander Alec Killian stood too near, just a hair behind me, shoulder brushing my back. If it were any other day, I would have excused his proximity, attributing it to his dedication as my escort, but I knew otherwise.
The commander was trying to make amends.
I took a step away, turning slightly, both to cast him a sullen look and to create distance. Alec—or Killian, as I preferred to call him—was commander of the Royal Guard, having inherited the position when his father, whose name he also shared, passed unexpectedly three years ago.
He returned my gaze, gray eyes both steely and somehow gentle. I think I’d have preferred only the steel, because the tenderness made me want to take two more steps back. It meant he had feelings for me, and any excitement I’d once had at catching his attention had now evaporated.
Outwardly, he was everything I thought I’d wanted in a man—ruggedly handsome with a body forged by hours of training. His uniform, a tailored navy tunic and trousers with gold embellishments and a ridiculously dramatic gold cape, served to accentuate his presence. He had a crown of thick, dark hair, and I’d spent a few too many nights with those strands wrapped around my fingers, body warmed, but not alight with the passion I’d really longed for. In the end, Commander Killian was a mediocre lover. It had not helped that I did not like his beard, which was long and covered the bottom half of his face. It made it impossible to detect the shape of his jaw, but I guessed he had a strong one that matched his presence—which was beginning to grate on my nerves.
“I outrank you, Commander. It is not within your power to tell me what to do.”
“No, but it is within your father’s.”
Another flush of irritation blasted up my spine, and I ground my teeth. When Killian did not feel like he could handle me, he defaulted to using the threat of my father. And he wondered why I did not want to sleep with him anymore.
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