Aria’s attention shifted from Braith to her brother-in-law. Ashby’s bloodlink and Braith’s sister, Melinda, sat on the horse beside him. Melinda’s normally fair skin became paler as she surveyed the woods.
Braith’s brother, Jack, nudged his horse forward to position himself ahead of his wife’s mount. Hannah shot him a disgruntled look, but refrained from protesting his protective gesture.
William cursed and rode forward so that his mount flanked her other side. Aria glanced at her twin’s hard profile, as his crystalline blue eyes narrowed to take in the woods. His dark auburn hair, so similar in hue to hers, shone in the fading winter sun. He’d shaved his beard off when he’d been in Badwin, but already the thick, dark auburn hair had grown in across his square jaw and over his upper lip. His nostrils flared as he scented the air.
“The pine,” he commented.
“Yes,” Aria said.
“Can we turn back?” Tempest asked.
Turning in the saddle, William looked back at his bloodlink, Tempest. He’d just found her; she was the one who had helped him to get past his anger over having been stabbed through the back by Kane. Aria had been able to give William her blood and save him before he died, but his mortal life had ended that day and his life as a vampire had begun. There had been a time when Aria worried she would lose William to his desire to destroy Kane. Now she worried she would lose him to whatever was in the woods with them.
“There is no turning back right now,” Daniel replied.
Aria glanced over to where her older brother sat on his horse with Max and Timber at his sides. Behind him, sat the five king’s men who had been picked to make this scouting trip with them. The king’s men rode forward, spreading out to flank her and Braith within a protective circle.
“If we can get to the caves, we can take shelter,” William said and Aria suppressed a shudder.
She’d gotten better with it over the past couple of years, but she hated being anywhere enclosed. However, they had no choice, not right now.
“Aria, go,” Braith said.
“I know these woods better than you,” she told him. “I’m not going anywhere without you.”
“I’ll be right behind you. Go.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but it was silenced by the motion she caught out of the corner of her right eye. Spinning in the saddle, Aria pulled her bow and an arrow from her back. With rapid speed, she nocked the arrow and released it. William jerked back when the arrow whistled past his ear and directly into the heart of the vampire who had been trying to slink from one tree to another.
The force of the arrow knocked the vamp off his feet and into the snow. Wearing a solid white cloak, the vampire would have been nearly invisible to anyone who didn’t know every subtle shift and flow within these woods. His now still form almost completely blended in with the mound of snow he’d been moving through only seconds ago.
Ashby spun in his saddle to face her. “You don’t know that he was an enemy!”
“Our allies aren’t going to be slinking through the woods trying to go unnoticed,” Jack replied.
“White cloak,” William murmured. “It’s them or it’s her.”
Another chill ran down Aria’s spine as she tugged a second arrow from her quiver. William had told them the vampires following the woman claiming to be the rightful queen wore white cloaks. It had been one of the reasons she’d shot without hesitation. Their allies wouldn’t be slinking through the woods.
Braith grabbed the reins of her mount and pulled her back. “Fall back,” he commanded the others as he pulled her closer to him.
Before she could react, he wrapped his arm around her waist and plucked her from her horse. The thick muscles of his biceps rippled against her as he swung her onto his saddle and tucked her firmly against his chest. He slapped his hand against the rump of her horse, sending it bolting into the woods as a distraction.
Gathering his reins, Braith spun his horse in one fluid motion. Snow kicked up from the horse’s hooves to splatter against the bottom of her boots. Out of habit, she tried to take a calming breath, but then recalled she didn’t breathe air anymore.
We’re not going to make it.
She hated the bleak thought the minute it crossed her mind, but she knew it was true.