Home > Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(3)

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(3)
Author: Ilona Andrews

He took a step forward. Menace rolled off him like air from hot asphalt.

“Since I’m an idiot, perhaps I’ll pull you off your horse in my idiotic way, stuff you into one of our houses, somewhere with a deep basement, and wait until you decide to answer my questions. You can file a complaint if you ever get out.”

“Is this you threatening me? I’m checking so we’re both clear.”

“When I threaten you, you won’t have to ask.”

“In that case, do it. Pull me off my horse.”

He didn’t move. I’d called his bluff. Ascanio had many faults, but he wouldn’t hurt a random stranger, much less a human, without reason. If it got out that the Pack was kidnapping young human women off the street, the fallout would be catastrophic, and with five witnesses, it would get out. Shapeshifters gossiped worse than bored old ladies in church.

Frustration sparked in his eyes and died. I’d won.

Time to ease up. I didn’t want to antagonize him too much. “Why don’t we do this: you let me be on my way and I won’t file a formal complaint. It’s a win-win.”

Ascanio held up his hand to stop me and turned away, looking at the wall across the street. A moment later the rest of the shapeshifters turned and looked there, too.

A boy leapt out of the darkness and landed on the corner of the wall, the only spot free of razor wire. He was solid and corded with muscle, only half a foot shorter than me. Dark brown hair cut short, tan face, and grey eyes that were so light, they were practically silver.

Conlan.

When I left, he wasn’t even two years old. We’d seen each other hundreds of times over the years when visiting our grandfather in his otherworldly prison, but it’d been eight years since I’d seen him in person. If we were alone, I would’ve pulled him off that wall and hugged him so hard, he’d need all his shapeshifter strength to wiggle out of it.

Our stares connected.

He gave no indication that he recognized me. My brother, the master of subterfuge.

Ascanio heaved a mocking sigh. “The little prince graces us with his presence. You’re a long way from your parents’ territory, Your Highness.”

His Highness sat cross-legged on the wall. “You’re a long way from your Clan House, Beta Ferara.”

Ascanio smiled slowly, baring his teeth. “Run along now.”

“And if I don’t?” Conlan squinted at Ascanio. “Will you try to put me in your special basement?”

One of the boudas chuckled and choked it off before Ascanio could glare at him.

“This doesn’t concern you,” Ascanio said, his voice harsh.

“I’ll decide what concerns me.” Conlan rested his elbow on his knee and plopped his chin on his fist. “Don’t worry. I won’t get in your way. Please go on with your attempted extortion, robbery, and kidnapping scheme. I just want to see how it all turns out.”

“And then what?” one of the boudas behind me asked. “You gonna run home and tell your daddy?”

My brother turned his head and looked at him. Gold rolled over his eyes and flared into a bright glow. The bouda with the big mouth tried to hold his gaze. A tense second passed. The bouda looked down.

Ascanio couldn’t let that pass. Conlan had just alpha-stared one of his people into submission. I had to diffuse the situation before it broke into violence.

“So it’s not just lone women you hassle in the middle of the night. You also bully children.”

Ascanio glanced back at me.

That’s right. I’m still here.

“I’m going to ride across this bridge,” I told him. “You’re welcome to try and stop me. I’m pretty sure the kid and I can take you.”

“You should try to stop her,” Conlan called out. Flesh flowed over his left hand, snapping into a nightmarish half-hand half-paw, disproportionately large and armed with claws the size of human fingers. “It will be fun.”

“We both remember what happens when you go looking for fun,” Ascanio said. “Do I need to remind you?” He made a show of looking around. “I don’t have loup manacles handy.”

He didn’t have what?

Conlan’s face rippled. He was a hair away from going furry. “That was a long time ago. Why don’t we go find some and see what happens?”

Nothing. That’s what was going to happen.

I nudged Tulip. She lowered her head and stomped to the bridge. The boudas blocking it hesitated.

I fixed them with my stare and barked in the same voice I used when I wanted soldiers in the middle of a slaughter to obey me. “Move.”

The two on the left scrambled aside. The bouda on the right stood alone, not sure what to do.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ascanio wave him off. The bouda backed away.

Ascanio had crunched the numbers and didn’t like the result. In a fight with shapeshifters, there were no guarantees. If Conlan got hurt, or worse, if he hurt someone, there would be a lot of questions. I could just imagine how that conversation would go. “How did Curran’s son get hurt?” “Well, there was this woman…” “And what possessed you to detain a human woman in the middle of the night? Also, why is Bob missing an arm?” Ascanio was an ass, but he wasn’t a fool.

Ascanio flicked his fingers toward the city. The boudas shot past me, leaping onto the bridge, and broke into a run.

I glanced to the wall. Conlan was gone. Good job.

Ascanio turned to me. “You and I will meet again, soon.”

“No, we won’t.”

Blood-red eyes fixed me. “Think about the things I asked you.”

He sprinted past me onto the bridge, catching up to his crew with ridiculous ease. They dashed into the night with a speed that would make racehorses green and vanished from view.

For my first night back in Atlanta, it could’ve been worse. I still had all my limbs, and my hair wasn’t on fire.

What was that about loup manacles? I’d seen Conlan every week or two for years, and my brother never mentioned anything involving Ascanio and loup manacles. In fact, he never mentioned Ascanio, period. I’d have to get to the bottom of this next time we talked...

A ghost of a presence tripped my alarms. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck rose. Something waited in the depths of the ruins on my left. Watching me. I couldn’t see it or hear it, but I knew it was there, hidden in the darkness, the same way primitive people knew when a tiger lay in wait at the mouth of their cave.

I could get off the horse and say hello, but there was no telling what I would find, and every instinct warned me to back away. Tulip tensed under me. She didn’t like whatever was hiding in the darkness either.

There was no point in looking for trouble. I’d lost enough time as it was. I shifted my weight in the saddle, and Tulip trotted onto the bridge.

Nobody followed us.

 

 

I sat on a big chunk of concrete in the middle of the street. Around me the old bones of Midtown spread under the pale grey pre-dawn sky. Jagged corpses of skyscrapers jutted from the sea of rubble. Some had fallen whole; others broke off midway, and their husks stared at the world with black holes of empty windows. Strange lichens sheathed their walls, some coiling in ridges on the brick and stucco like ancient fossil shells, others drooping in long crimson strands that moved and shivered without any wind. Decorative hedges that once bordered sidewalks had grown foot-long thorns. Otherworldly vines, dotted with flowers, spilled from the gutted ruins.

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