The first wave of arrows soared into the clearing, burying into the ground in front of Braith’s horse and causing the animal to reel back as the whites of its eyes became clearly visible. Aria bit back a scream when one of the arrows struck Timber in his shoulder. The mountain of a man nearly tumbled from his saddle, but managed to catch himself before he did.
Despite the wave of arrows that had flooded the small area they were in, Timber was the only one who had been hit. Those arrows had been meant to keep them where they were.
They want us alive, but why?
Braith enfolded Aria against his body, attempting to keep her as protected as he could from the figures moving through the trees toward them. The deep auburn strands of hair escaping her braid tickled his nose; her intricate, woodsy aroma filled his nostrils. Her scent was something he would never get enough of, much like the woman herself, and now someone was threatening her.
A snarl rumbled through his chest as his fangs slid free. He’d tear every one of them to shreds before he ever allowed one of them to touch her. She was his bloodlink, his wife, his queen, and someone was conspiring to try to take her away from him, again. It would never happen.
“Don’t move,” he growled in her ear when she tried to pull away.
“I need to be able to shoot,” she protested.
“Too many, stay still.” He couldn’t get full sentences out through the fury boiling within his veins.
She became immobile against him as more figures slid through the trees around them. They weren’t attacking, not yet. For some reason, they were waiting; Braith had a feeling they would discover that reason soon enough. Jack moved closer to Hannah; he extended his hand to her and pulled her from her saddle and onto his. William dragged Tempest’s mount closer to his and positioned himself so he was in front of her with his bow and arrow aimed at the figures closing in around them.
“Don’t shoot,” Jack said to William.
William scowled at him before focusing on the forest once more. “I haven’t yet, have I?”
Ashby pulled Melinda from her horse, tucking her against his chest as he surveyed the encroaching vampires with haughty disdain. Xavier tugged on the reins of his horse, positioning himself directly in front of Aria. The fading sunlight gleamed across Xavier’s dark skin and bald head, illuminating the tribal tattoos on his arms, hands, and neck. His deep brown eyes were troubled when they met Braith’s before falling to Aria.
Xavier had been the vampire history keeper for most of his life, yet he had stepped aside from taking his rightful seat at The Council table in favor of being Aria’s bodyguard when the war with Braith’s father ended. Braith didn’t have any concerns Xavier might have romantic feelings for his wife. Xavier would be far more likely to be attracted to him. However, Xavier did care for Aria, deeply. They had become extremely close and Braith knew Xavier would lay down his life in order to save hers.
Braith hugged her against him; he would do whatever it took to get her out of here. She had literally brought light and color back into his life. She was his everything, and he would not allow her bright soul to be taken from this world.
Max and Daniel moved closer to Timber as he broke off the shaft of the arrow embedded in his shoulder and tossed it aside. The king’s men moved closer to him and Aria. The other king’s men had remained with the residents of Chippman and the survivors from Badwin. They were over a mile back, awaiting word it was safe to progress.
They were going to be waiting longer than he’d anticipated.
“Braith,” William hissed under his breath. “It is her.”
Braith followed William’s gaze to a small grouping of pines where a woman leisurely emerged from between the snow-encrusted limbs. It was impossible to miss her, as instead of the white cloaks of her followers, she wore a blood red cloak that emphasized her pale complexion and vivid green eyes. Black hair tumbled behind her to brush against the snowy ground with every step she took. Her face was perfect in its beauty, but malevolence oozed from her pores, making her one of the ugliest women he’d ever encountered.
Braith’s gaze ran over her slender figure and refined features. He’d never seen her before, but as William had said, there was something familiar about her broad cheekbones and full lips. He felt as if he should know her, yet he couldn’t figure out how or why.
Aria’s hand flew to her mouth as some of the color faded from her sun-kissed skin. When she tried to sit up in order to see the woman better, he pulled her back, refusing to let her be more exposed in any way.