“Will it freak you out if I finish this? I already poured blood on the floor.”

“No, no. Why let good undead blood go to waste?”

I pricked my forearm with a needle and let a single drop of blood fall into the puddle. Magic shot through the undead blood like lightning. The blood slid upward in a graceful crimson arch.

“Whoa,” Barabas murmured.

The blood touched my fingers and wound around them, gliding over my skin, elastic and pliant. A blood gauntlet sheathed my hand. It wasn’t pretty but it was functional. I pulled a knife from my belt and sliced across the gauntlet.

Barabas made a sympathetic sucking noise.

No blood. I felt the pressure of the blade but it didn’t penetrate. I bent my fingers, trying to make a fist. I made it about two-thirds of the way. About a year ago my aunt Erra had come to Atlanta intending to wreck it. I killed her. It was the hardest thing I’d done in my life. She was wearing blood armor when she died. It fit her like spandex. She had run and twisted in it, and she had no problem swinging an axe fast enough to counter me. I tried the gauntlet again. The blood refused to bend. I was clearly doing something wrong. This wouldn’t work. If I couldn’t hold a sword, I might as well sign my own death warrant.

I concentrated on thinning the blood, turning it into segments that sat on top of each other like the plates of armadillo armor. “So what’s up?”

“Two things. First, Christopher wants to talk to you.”

Speaking with Christopher was like playing Russian roulette: sometimes you got brilliance so bright it hurt and sometimes you got complete nonsense. We had rescued him from Hugh d’Ambray. He must’ve been exceptionally smart at some point and he definitely had knowledge of advanced magic, but either Hugh or my father had broken his mind. Christopher’s hold on reality frequently slipped, and once in a while we had to drop everything and run out on the parapets to convince him that no, he could not fly. I could usually talk him down, but if he was really far gone it took Barabas to make him stop.

“He’s been agitated for the last two days,” Barabas said. “I have no idea if he’s even coherent.”

“Where is he now?”

“Hiding in the library.”

Not a good sign. The library was Christopher’s refuge. Books were precious to him. He treated them like treasure and hid among them when the world became too much for him. Something must’ve really gotten under his skin.

“Did he say what it was about?”

“Just that it was important. You don’t have to talk to him,” Barabas said.

“That’s okay. I’ll speak to him after the Conclave.” I tested the gauntlet. Like having a can wrapped around my fingers. Ugh. What was I doing wrong? What? “What was the second thing?”

“Jim has assembled the Praetorian Guard and is waiting for your inspection.”

Oh joy. Jim must’ve pulled together a cutthroat crew of shapeshifters ready to protect me at the Conclave. “As I recall, the Praetorian Guard killed the Roman emperors as often as it protected them. Should I be worried?”

“Are you planning on setting the Keep on fire while playing thrilling melodies on a fiddle?”


Barabas flashed me a quick smile, showing sharp teeth. “Then probably not.”

“Anything else?”

Barabas looked at me carefully. “Clan Nimble inquires if the wedding date has been set.”


“Yes. They want to prepare and choose the appropriate present. You’re really throwing them off their game by refusing to set the date.”

I never pictured myself getting married. I never picked out my future gown or looked at a bridal magazine. That wasn’t my future. My future was surviving until I was strong enough to kill my father. But then Curran threw a wrench into those plans and asked me, and I said yes, because I loved him and I wanted to marry him. My future had made a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn. Now I had to think about the details. I wanted a small ceremony with as little ceremony in it as possible. Quiet, private, maybe a few friends.

As soon as the engagement was announced, the Pack Clans converged and shot the idea of a quiet ceremony out of the water and then kept firing at it until it stopped convulsing and died. They wanted the whole Pack to be there. They wanted presents and rituals and a giant feast. They wanted a Wedding, with a capital W. Clan Heavy and Clan Rat both owned bakeries, and the bakers almost came to blows over who would be doing the cake. Should it be a winter wedding or a spring wedding? Who would make my gown and what should it look like? Was it appropriate for me to wear white or should it be gray, the official color of the Pack? Argh.

Every moment Curran and I spent together was ours. Just ours. And so we kept putting off the wedding. We never conspired to do it. We both were just too busy to get married and when we did have a few free hours, we hoarded them to spend with each other and Julie.

“I have had it up to here with my wedding,” I said. “The other day Andrea tried to explain to me that apparently I am supposed to have a new thing, an old thing, a blue thing, and something stolen.”

“Borrowed, Kate,” Barabas murmured.

“Who the hell even makes up those rules?”

“It’s tradition,” he said.

“Even Julie talked to me about it the other day.”

“What did she say?” Barabas asked.

“She thinks I should wear black.”

Barabas sighed. “The clans will have a collective heart attack.”

The gauntlet still refused to bend. Screw it. I yanked my magic out. The blood armor turned dark brown and crumbled into powder. “I’m done with them hounding me about it. I’d rather be shot.”

“I understand. However, if you want them off your back, I have to give them something.”

I growled in his general direction. Sadly, growling worked much better when you were a werelion.

“Could you narrow it down to the season?” Barabas asked.

“Spring,” I said. Why not. We could always put it off later.

Barabas sighed. “I will let them know.”

• • •

CONTRARY TO POPULAR opinion, most shapeshifters weren’t hardened killers hungry for blood. They were normal people—teachers, masons, human resources specialists—who just happened to practice strict mental discipline and turn furry once in a while. Some of them learned enough control to maintain a warrior form, a meld of human and animal frighteningly efficient at killing. Of those, even fewer became full-time soldiers of the Pack. The best of the best among the soldiers became renders. Renders were weapons of mass destruction and they loved their job.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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