Read an Excerpt
The Red Lily
A Vampire Blood Novel
By Juliette Cross
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Juliette Cross
All rights reserved.
Sienna glanced over her shoulder for the second time since she'd entered the market of Hiddleston, the sense of being watched sending a tingle up her spine. Patrons bargained with farmers for their fall harvest — pomegranates, squash, and sweet potatoes. She'd passed the stalls of produce and cheese, her basket of pears, persimmons, and a fresh loaf of bread under her arm, and wandered along the lane of fineries. Pausing at a table of linens and fine quilts, she admired the patterns of interlacing rings and stars.
"Good day, miss."
"Hello, Alice." Sienna nodded a greeting to the quilt-maker she'd traded with on many occasions. Today, she needed no linens or fabrics. She strolled on, a sparkle catching her eye at the next stall. The jeweler was here today. He only ventured into the open market twice a year as he was the only jeweler from here to Dale's Peak. She couldn't help but meander toward his stall where a table was beset with all manner of intricate silverwork — combs, brushes, brooches, pendants.
"Hello, fair lady. Would you care for a new set of combs or pins for your lovely red hair?"
His speech was not as coarse as the local farmers, probably because his customers were of a more genteel breeding. He had kind, wide eyes, made wider by the round spectacles perched on his nose.
"These are quite beautiful." She lifted a brush, the silver handle and back molded into an exquisite design of the Glass Tower. The last thing she wanted was a reminder of where the vampire monarchy ruled on high and where her dear friend Arabelle nearly lost her life. As leader of the Black Lily resistance, Arabelle had fallen into one of the queen's traps. Fortunately, Prince Marius had saved her, and then they fled across the Cimmaron Sea to Cutters Cove, where they'd been building and training their army ever since. Sienna longed to see her friend again, but for now, she was happy knowing she was safely away from the wicked Queen Morgrid of the Glass Tower.
She set the brush down. "But I'm in no need of a new set."
The hairs on the back of her neck raised on end. She glanced over her shoulder. No one was even looking in her direction, the townsfolk bartering their wares like any other market day. Peculiar.
"Oh, I have something that would suit you superbly." The jeweler pulled her attention back to the table as he ducked beneath the skirt, riffled around, then popped back up with a square, red velvet box. "Now this," he said, opening it. "This is something to match your beauty."
Sienna sucked in a breath and touched two fingertips to the necklace pendant on a thin silver chain. "Oh."
Inlaid in the finest silver she'd ever seen was a running wolf, the body made entirely of tiny diamonds except for a ruby eye. The craftsmanship was beyond compare.
"So unique." She angled it toward the setting sun, the jewels winking like fairy lights. "So beautiful."
"Thank you, my lady. Much like you."
She smiled, having grown accustomed to such flattery over the years. But his compliment seemed genuine. She knew she could neither afford such a jewel nor did she need an adornment like this. She was no longer the fine lady of Dale's Peak, milling amongst the aristocracy and courting the gentlemen to find a good match. Still, she wondered at the cost.
"How much is this necklace?"
"For you, I could let it go for fifty sovereigns."
She nearly choked. That was higher than she could have imagined, and he was giving her a bargain. "Thank you. But not today." Not ever, actually. "You are a fine craftsman, sir."
He bowed. "It pleases me to hear you say so."
The sun slipped lower. The sudden need to be safe in her cottage urged her on. "Good day, sir."
"Good day, my lady."
Pulling up the hood of her cloak, she made her way back down the road toward Silvane Forest. Once more, she had the distinct feeling she was being watched. And, once more, she saw no one who seemed suspicious when she glanced over her shoulder. It was a brisk walk to the woods. Once there, her guardians would be waiting for her, and she would be safe.
Rounding the bend, she turned off the lane abruptly and quickened her pace. While she couldn't spot anyone behind her, a shiver raised gooseflesh on her skin, a foreboding she could not shake. The line of trees was just ahead, whispering of safety. Unable to control her growing panic, she tucked her basket closely and ran. The old, gnarled oak stood just ahead, the marker that she was only feet away from stepping into the shade of the forest. A shower of red-orange and gold leaves drifted down, creating a harvest gown around roots protruding across the grassy lane.
Sienna fled into a full sprint and tripped over a particularly knotty root, catching her fall with her hands. Her basket fell open, pears rolling away.
A familiar masculine voice sounded on her left. "Am I that frightening that you must run at my nearness?"
Adrenaline shot like lightning through her frame. Leaning back against the old oak was the man of her dreams. Quite literally. For the past few months, she would wake in the morning, sweating and breathless from the sensual pleasures he'd given her. She'd swear by heaven to never think of him again, and certainly not about the wicked things he was doing to her each night. Until the next night, of course.
And there he was, arms and ankles casually crossed, soft black leather pants fitting him all too well, blond hair falling partly over one eye, devilish smile in place. He looked like a mutinous pirate, taking a jaunt on land for a bit of pillaging.
"Lieutenant Nikolai. Have you been following me?" She sat back on her rump, gathering her runaway pears.
"Of course I was."
"Not very gentlemanly of you."
"I needed to speak with you."
"Well, the normal course of action is to walk up to a lady and say, 'Good afternoon. Might I have a word, my lady?' Not skulk about and frighten her to death." She slapped the top of her basket shut.
Vampire-swift, he was there, lifting her to her feet. She wobbled for it was too fast for her human senses, but his hands banded her waist underneath her red cloak, keeping her steady.
"I apologize, sweetheart," he said, voice low and intimate and entirely too close. "I did not mean to frighten you."
"I am not your sweetheart." She stepped out of his arms, quite sure he could hear the rapid beat of her heart. She hoped he presumed it was the fright he gave her and not the uncomfortable nearness of him. She bent to pick up the basket, but he was there, lifting it before she could. "Thank you."
"It's the least I could do after giving you such a fright."
She ignored the way his mouth ticked up in amusement and continued on the path. "Why were you hiding?"
He followed alongside her. "Because I'm a wanted man, as you know. And the Glass Tower has spies everywhere."
She laughed. "Even in Hiddleston? I don't see the likes of squash farmers and quilt-makers spying for the queen."
"You'd be surprised who Queen Morgrid would employ. Or seduce."
Sienna shivered at the thought of the queen. She'd only seen her from afar once, when she waved to the peasants of Sylus from the castle's terrace one harvest. Her black hair glistened like a raven's wing, her porcelain skin pale like winter's snow, and her regal beauty beamed like night's brightest star. She was a beautiful yet dangerous force. Even from a distance, the queen's evil seeped into her bones.
"I suppose you're right." She exhaled a deep breath, finally feeling at ease. Well, as much at ease as one could be in the presence of a man who'd seduced her nightly in her dreams. Not a man. A vampire. "So, lieutenant. What brings you here?"
They crossed into the shade of Silvane Forest. At once, a soothing tranquility washed over Sienna. A white flash zipped between the trees.
"I see your companions never stray too far," he said, noting the black hart wolf stalking on his right.
"No. They don't like it when I go to market. They grow anxious until I return."
"I don't think the black one likes me."
"His name is Luca." Sienna tossed a smile into the vicinity of the woods where the bear-sized wolf loped. "But don't feel bad. Luca doesn't like much of anyone. Except Duchess, of course. He worships her."
When she said her name, the snow-white mate of Luca appeared on the path up ahead. She glanced at the two walking side by side, then trotted farther on.
"Oh, and Arabelle," added Sienna. "Luca and Duchess both adore her."
"Where are the other two?" He sauntered along, one hand holding the basket, the other casually in his pocket, but he studied his surroundings keenly. One thing she'd noticed on her few encounters with the lieutenant, he never missed anything.
"The brothers? Kai and Hugo are off with the other hart wolves most likely."
"There are others?" This brought his attention back to her.
"Oh yes. Though I rarely see them. And when I do, they never come too close."
"Haven't you lived in these woods for many years?"
"I'm surprised you wouldn't run into the larger pack more often."
"Silvane Forest is wide and deep. I only live on this little part." Though Nikolai was certainly older than her, she knew he wouldn't know much about these woods. Vampires steered clear of them, not caring for the enchantment here. "The rest of the pack avoids my side of the woods. They're much more wild."
Nikolai laughed. A pleasant sound that drew a smile from Sienna. "What is so funny?"
"They're all wild, sweetheart. Quite so."
He was determined to use that endearment for her. Each time he did, her stomach fluttered, even though she knew it meant nothing at all. Ever since the first night she met Nikolai, he'd had this effect on her. She'd tracked him down in the pouring rain to bring help to Prince Marius, who'd been injured. She could remember the way Nikolai had looked sitting atop his gray horse in the downpour, capturing her with his supernatural gaze. Throughout the following few weeks, before he left with Arabelle and Marius to their training camp, she'd caught him watching her, sending a scintillating thrill through her body. Finally, at the midnight ceremony where she stood as maid of honor to Arabelle as she wed Marius in the small candlelit chapel, Sienna couldn't deny the sizzling heat of Nikolai's gaze. Many men had looked on her with lust, but none had looked on her with possessive need like the former lieutenant of the Crown's Royal Legionnaires.
"I suppose you are right," she finally answered. "They just don't seem wild to me."
"That's because they are so fond of you. But I can't blame them." A fallen branch crossed the path. He took her hand and guided her over it, shifting his body closer. "If I were a wolf in these woods, I'd gravitate to your cabin nightly."
His casual admission conjured the image of her dreams, Nikolai on top of her, kissing, caressing, stroking. While her attraction to him was undeniable, she kept hearing her grandmother's warnings in her head. Never fall for a vampire, dear one. There can be no future with the cursed.
She drew her hand away and quickly changed the subject.
"So tell me, do you bring news of Arabelle?"
His mouth twitched on one side as if he knew why she quickly changed the subject. "Actually, I do." He pulled a folded letter from within his vest pocket. "She was going to send it by post, but since I was heading here anyway, I am happy to be your courier."
"Oh!" Sienna snatched the letter from him, noting the black wax seal embossed with a blooming lily.
She ran a finger over the official seal of their resistance against the vampire monarchy, the Black Lily. The symbol of their cause to fight against the Varis Crown and their way of life that oppressed the poor and working class as little more than slaves to the human and vampire aristocracy. Arabelle had seen that only a revolution would break through the shackles of injustice, and so the Black Lily had been born. But they were a long way off from victory.
The shocking reality was that the vampire walking next to her had joined their cause alongside Prince Marius, now Arabelle's husband. He had once been a high-ranking lieutenant in the Royal Legionnaires but had given it up to fight alongside his best friend.
Sienna broke the seal and unfolded the letter, scanned the first few lines, then hurriedly refolded and stuffed it in the pocket of her mantle.
"The letter was longer than that," said Nikolai.
"Aye. But I want to savor it. I'll wait till after dinner." She glanced sideways, finding the very tall lieutenant studying her. "So if you're still a wanted man by the Legionnaires at the Glass Tower, pray tell, what are you doing here?"
"I'm on a mission to speak with my cousin who is still within the ranks of the Royal Legionnaires."
They crossed into the grove of black oaks, their sable trunks and silvery leaves looking like ghosts in the growing darkness. Thankfully, her cabin was not far off.
"How do you plan to get word to him?"
"Actually, you might want to read that letter sooner rather than later. I believe Arabelle has put a request in there for you as well. For the Black Lily."
Winding into the clearing surrounding her cabin and small barn, she tucked her hand into her pocket and drew out the letter again. "I see."
Her old goat with one broken horn baaed at their approach, craning her neck through the paddock fence.
"Quiet, Mildred," said Sienna. "Well, sir. Would you like to stay for dinner before you move on?"
Her heart tripped double when she realized what vampires preferred to eat for dinner. The lieutenant's blue eyes glowed with an unnatural luster. He said not a word at her invitation, his keen eyes assessing, dropping to her throat.
"What I meant to say was that you may rest here while I have dinner. Give me a moment to read the letter. If you don't mind." She opened her door, then turned back to him in the doorway.
His smile nearly buckled her knees. "I would love nothing more." Then he sauntered into her home.CHAPTER 2
She was the most exquisite creature Nikolai had ever seen. More so than he remembered. Since their all-too-brief meeting a few months ago before he was swept away to Cutters Cove with Marius, his new wife and leader of the Black Lily, Arabelle, and the rest of the resistance, he had been haunted by the image of this woman now moving about the room. When Marius had mentioned they needed more soldiers to stand against Queen Morgrid's Legionnaires, Nikolai had swiftly pointed out that they needed someone to recruit on the mainland, someone the Legionnaires would never suspect. Arabelle finally came around to the idea of Sienna, giving Nikolai the perfect reason to return to her. Just as he'd hoped.
And so here he was, examining her with a subtle eye while she pulled the stew off the fire and served herself a bowl. Yes, he was there to serve as her protector and to recruit for the Black Lily, but his primary quest was of a more personal nature. Her alluring scent had gotten under his skin, and he wouldn't be satisfied until he'd gotten under hers. His fangs ached at the thought. He shifted his cock in his pants where it strained against his trousers. He'd planned to tread carefully and slowly, but that idea fled the second he saw her.
What had he been thinking? The lie he'd told himself was that he'd serve as her guardian and keep her safe on this mission. For the Black Lily, of course. And if they happened to fall into bed together, then so be it. Fool that he was. What he'd completely forgotten was the maddening pull this woman had on him. She drew out his fangs too quickly. If he was anything in life, it was calm and controlled. Especially when feeding. Therein lie danger.
A flicker of memory — dark hair, a foul room, too much blood, distant laughter.
No. He mustn't lose control. Never with her.
He had refused dinner but accepted the hot tea she'd offered. She ate quickly, hopping up repeatedly for a glass of water, a napkin, or to refill his tea. Finally, she settled down in a chair opposite him to read the letter.
While many vampires ate and drank human food as a pleasure rather than sustenance, Nikolai had long since given up the practice. He was a vampire of efficiency. But he could see in her wary gaze and hear in her fluttering heartrate that he made her nervous. So he sipped the tea to assuage her fears. The truth was, she had every reason to beware of him.
She flipped the letter over to read the back. A thin line along her smooth brow showed concern. Her milk-pale skin and slender throat called to him like a siren song. Moss-green eyes darted up from the parchment as she flipped to the second page. Firelight danced on the auburn waves she left loose about her shoulders.
Excerpted from The Red Lily by Juliette Cross. Copyright © 2017 Juliette Cross. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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