Home > Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(2)

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(2)
Author: Ilona Andrews

“That’s not important,” the leader said. “What’s important is that there are three of us and one of you.”

Well, look who learned to count.

“If you want to cross the bridge, you have to give us the password,” the shapeshifter said. “If you don’t know it, you’ll have to pay the fine.”

The smaller shapeshifter on his right grinned and let out an eerie cackle. Boudas. Of course.

Boudas, the werehyenas, belonged to one of the smaller of the Pack’s seven clans. There weren’t many of them, but they were dangerous and utterly nuts. Wolves, jackals, rats, all of them could be reasoned with. Boudas did things like climb into a captive polar bear’s enclosure and tickle it with their claws to see what would happen.

Fine. I’d go around.

I tensed my right leg a fraction. Tulip turned, more anticipating the command rather than obeying it, the sound of her hooves clopping on the pavement too loud in the night. Two more shapeshifters stepped out of the shadows, blocking my exit.

Right. The story of my life.

“Did I say three?” the bouda called out. “I meant five.”

A normal Pack patrol had two shapeshifters, three if it was on the border with the People, because necromancers made a dangerous enemy. Five shapeshifters meant a strike team. They had run some sort of mission in the city, and it was my bad luck to run into them as they were coming back. They saw a lone woman in faded jeans, old boots, and a tattered cloak riding a horse late at night, low threat and an easy target. If they’d been wolves, jackals, or Clan Heavy, I’d be halfway across the bridge by now. But they were boudas and they liked to play.

I guided Tulip into continuing the turn until I faced the bridge again. Five boudas would be a tough fight, and the moment they realized that I wasn’t playing, it would escalate into real violence. I really didn’t want to kill anyone. I didn’t have time to play games either.

“Still waiting for that password,” the leader of the boudas said.

“May 15th,” I said.

“What’s that?” the shapeshifter on the left asked.

“Andrea Medrano’s birthday,” I said. “Good enough?”

The shapeshifters paused. It was a funny thing to watch: one moment, they were oozing arrogance, the next they simultaneously lost their steam as if someone popped them on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. To them Andrea Medrano was Boss, Judge, and Executioner. They called her Alpha. I called her Andrea. Or Aunt Andy when I was sucking up to get her help for some nefarious deed.

The trio by the bridge eyed me, their expressions cautious. If they kept blocking me and I turned out to be someone Andrea knew, there would be hell to pay. The only way to check that would be to call the Bouda Clan House and talk to her, which meant they’d have to answer uncomfortable questions about why they stopped me in the first place. The Pack took pains to maintain a cordial relationship with humans in general, and the city of Atlanta in particular. The punishment would be swift.

A tall shadow stepped out of the ruins, as if congealing from the darkness, and glided forward with easy grace. Broad shoulders, long legs, a large guy, same grey Pack sweats. He took another step and I saw his face. It was a face that wouldn’t just stop traffic, it would cause a pileup.

His eyes caught the moonlight. A blood-red sheen rolled over his brown irises.

“Now, that’s an interesting development,” Ascanio Ferara said. “Please, tell me more.”

Damn it all to hell.

Ascanio glanced at the boudas by the bridge. All three promptly looked down. So, stopping me was an unsanctioned bit of fun.

When I left, Andrea and her husband Raphael, the alphas of Clan Bouda, were grooming Ascanio for the beta spot, which would’ve made him second in the chain of the clan’s command. He’d wanted that spot more than anything. Apparently, he’d gotten what he wished for and all the headaches that went with it.

Ascanio turned back to me and looked me over, slowly.

I made a conscious effort to not hold my breath. Ascanio knew me. We’d met when I was fourteen and he was fifteen, and we’d spent a lot of time together.

We haven’t met.

His nostrils fluttered slightly. He was downwind from me, and the night breeze had brought him my scent.

I’m a stranger. You’ve never seen me before.

Ascanio inhaled deeper. His eyes narrowed.

My heartbeat sounded too loud in my ears, but it was slow and steady. He wouldn’t know me. Sometimes when I looked in the mirror now, I didn’t know me.

Time stretched, slow and viscous like molasses. He stared at me, and I had no choice but to stare back.

Ascanio had been beautiful as a teenager, almost androgynous. The beauty was still there, in the bottomless eyes under the sweep of dark eyebrows and in the perfect lines, but his face had gained strength. His features had broadened slightly. Time had contoured his jaw. No traces of softness remained. It was a man’s face now, with harsh edges and defined angles, and eyes that radiated authority and power. If I didn’t know him, he would’ve knocked my socks off.

“You dropped my alpha’s name,” Ascanio said. “Care to explain?”


Red flashed in his irises. “You know confidential information about my alpha. I need to know how, because I’ve been with her for over a decade and I’ve never met you.”

“And what will you do if I don’t tell you?”

“I’ll have to insist.” His voice told me I wouldn’t like it.

The first time we’d met, he’d decided it would be a brilliant idea to kiss me. I’d shoved a handful of wolfsbane in his face, dumped him on the floor, and tied his arms behind his back. And then I’d asked him if the spoiled bouda baby lost his bottle and his teddy.

“So, let me get this straight,” I said. “Five of your shapeshifters detained me without cause outside of the Pack’s boundaries, demanded that I pay a fee to cross a public bridge, and now you’re threatening me with assault.”

His eyebrows furrowed slightly. All of those would’ve been a violation of the Pack’s policies eight years ago.

“I haven’t threatened you yet.”

“I feel threatened. I’m trembling with fear.”

“I see a distinct lack of trembling,” Ascanio said. “This is very easy. Tell me how you know Andrea Medrano’s birthday, and you’re free to go.”

“You’re missing the point. You have no right to detain me in the first place.” To escalate or to back down? That was the question.

“You seem suspicious. I’m not sure you should be wandering around unsupervised.”

Ascanio would require nothing short of complete submission to let me go. Once I took a step back, he would want my name, my reason for entering the city, and, once he saw my face, my address. Backing down would cost more time and require too much lying.

“And you seem like an idiot, yet somehow nobody prevents you from wandering around free.”

One of the boudas by the bridge giggled and clamped his hand over his mouth.

Ascanio raised his eyebrows. “An idiot?”

“One human woman in the middle of a tech wave against six shapeshifters. Only an idiot can’t understand how that math will look to civilian law enforcement or your alpha. Does she generally encourage you to hassle lone women late at night?”

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