Braith’s skin tingled, and the hair on his arms rose as waves of power crackled against him. He’d assumed William had exaggerated, or been mistaken, about the amount of power this woman possessed. Staring at her now, he realized William had been right.
She may be the most powerful vampire he’d ever encountered.
The sharp, ozone scent of her power permeated the crisp air as the woman’s gaze landed on Braith.
“She’s powerful,” William had said to him. “And old. She felt as powerful as you, perhaps more so.”
Definitely old and powerful. More so than him? Maybe. Where had she come from?
It didn’t matter; he’d destroyed other vampires that were more powerful than him before, he would do so again. This woman may be older and stronger than him—for the life of him he couldn’t figure out how that was possible when he was supposed to be the oldest vampire in existence. One thing was for certain, she didn’t have a bloodlink to strengthen her like Aria strengthened him. This woman had no idea who she was messing with, but she soon would.
Aria’s head tilted back to look up at him. Her rounded cheeks somehow appeared more hollow as she bit on her full bottom lip. The freckles on the bridge of her nose stood out starkly as she gazed at him.
“It will be okay, love,” he whispered.
She stared at him for a minute more before giving a brisk nod. A small tremor went through her and into him. He lifted his gaze to take in the woman across from him once more. His horse released an uneasy snort, a plume of air coiling up from its nostrils as the sun dipped behind the trees. The woman continued to stare at him as another vampire emerged from between the pines behind her.
If not for his red cloak, the man would have blended in with the snow around him with his white blond hair, pale skin, and eyes so light a blue they were almost white. His bushy white eyebrows nearly touched. He had a prominent roman nose, thin lips, and a rail-thin frame that made him look deceptively frail despite his six-three height and the aura of strength he emitted, though one not nearly as intense as that of the woman he stopped beside. The ruby rings on all the fingers of his right hand cast sparkling red flashes of color across the snow.
“Goran,” William whispered.
William had mentioned this man before, said he might be the false queen’s second-in-command, but Braith had never heard of him, and neither had Xavier despite his extensive knowledge of vampire history and lineage. Braith exchanged a look with Xavier who gave a subtle shake of his head. He still had no idea who either of them were either.
Braith turned his attention back to the woman. “I’m only going to tell you once to leave here, now.”
The woman lifted an elegant black brow and tossed back a strand of her midnight hair with her pointed, blood-red nails. Her air of superiority was one he’d encountered before, from the many royal vampires he’d known throughout his life. Aristocrat, without a doubt, but how did they not know of her?
“Awfully arrogant for someone who is completely surrounded,” the woman replied. The laughter in her surprisingly girlish voice rankled his nerves.
Aria shifted before him. His hand dug deeper into Aria’s flesh when the woman’s eyes were drawn to her. The woman’s lips skimmed back to reveal her fangs as loathing washed off her in waves. Braith nearly leapt from the saddle to attack the woman, but he couldn’t leave Aria exposed in such a way. They would kill her immediately if he did.
“We’ve faced far worse odds, yet we’re still standing,” Braith grated through his teeth at the woman. “Do you wish to add your name to the list of those who have fallen?”
Her head canted to the side in such a way that Braith saw a flash of something or someone in her features. Who was this woman? A tremor went through Aria; he felt her trying to take a hitching breath, something she used to do when she was first turned, but had stopped doing as of late.
Did she somehow know who this woman was? He didn’t see how that was possible when he didn’t even know her, but something about Aria’s demeanor led him to believe it was more than terror over their current situation rattling her right now.
When the woman smiled smugly at them, Braith managed to restrain his temper enough to keep from going after her. Something he suspected she was trying to provoke him into doing. Why was this woman not attacking? She couldn’t possibly plan to keep him alive and kill Aria? Did she think he would make her his queen if Aria died?