A Court of Frost and Malice Chapters 1 – 3


I rushed down the vampire-infested streets of Sangrael, my heart thrumming wildly. 

Most days, I’d take care to move more slowly, to not draw a predator’s attention. But this week, I just couldn’t. I craved my weekly hot bath like a leprechaun craved gold, and my desire to soak away the pain shooting up fingers and forearms made me act rashly. Even if the relief wouldn’t last long.

Tomorrow night, Palais Immortael would host a ball. Hence, the noble vampires of the court required new gowns, tunics, and jackets, and Master Aldéric would happily accommodate them. As one of his best seamstresses, I’d been working double-time for the past three weeks, and tomorrow would probably be the longest day of them all.

Working day and night would be bad enough, but the noble vampires didn’t only require fashionable attire. A royal party meant the many bloodletters in the city also stayed quite busy.

In fact, mere hours ago, I’d parted with two full cups of blood. Though I’d eaten a small lunch since then, I continued to feel the effects of the letting. 

I did try to thank the stars for my few blessings, though. 

My master, Aldéric Laurent, a lesser member of the royal family, was wealthy enough to forgo the extra coin that sending his slaves to the ball would bring. Of course, he only refrained because he didn’t want to risk losing skilled seamstresses and tailors, but whatever his reasoning, I supported it. Other masters planned to send their property directly to the palace rather than donating blood ahead of time. I already had to be punctured and robbed of my blood every two weeks, but to offer my life-force from the vein to anyone and everyone who desired it at the Blood Ball? 

What a nightmare. 

Closing in on the bathhouse, I avoided a large group of gossiping vampires hogging the sidewalk by swinging a tight corner around a newly built tavern that still reeked of paint, only to nearly run into a particularly hungry-looking vampire. He eyed my wings hungrily, making me tense as I sidestepped him and ran on. A few paces later, I glanced back. A shiver darted down my spine. 

The vamp continued to watch me, his eyes trained on me like I was a mouse and he the cat, but he was not pursuing. Clearly he’d noticed my red collar. The symbol of my oppression sometimes also saved me from lower-ranking vampires attacking in the streets.

Finally, I reached my destination, the very normal looking door to bathhouse 9. This one was one of many slave bathhouses in the city of Sangrael. Mostly, very wealthy masters sent their slaves to number 9, and despite hating my general position in life, I counted myself lucky to get to use this bathhouse in particular. For one, the pools in number 9 were heated–not always a given at other establishments. Secondly, while the front of the bathhouse resembled a regular business, it was not. Natural thermal pools nestled in a vast interconnected cave system awaited inside, making bathing here a more soothing experience than at the lower end houses.

I opened the front door, and immediately the steam and tang of minerals from the natural pools deeper in the caverns calmed me. I exhaled, relieved to have arrived without incident. 

“Your master’s name, girl?” asked a red-haired human guard behind a single desk. All day long he stood in a small business front attached to the mouth of the cave and deemed if others were good enough to enter the caverns. A second bald man was present today too, rifling through paperwork. 

I ignored the condescension in his tone when he’d called me ‘girl’. At twenty-three turns, I was a fae female grown, probably no more than three years this human’s junior. But he had to make himself feel bigger somehow, and all I cared for was a bath.

“Lord Aldéric Laurent.” I waited for the first man to check the ledger, while the bald one peered up from his papers to look me over. His gaze lingered on my wings for many uncomfortable seconds, and a hard glimmer sparked in his eyes as he licked his dry lips. I recoiled.

The humans given the job of regulating the bathhouses and other establishments used by blood slaves were a nasty sort. Because the House of Laurent gave them a uniform and a sliver of authority, they thought of themselves as better than the rest of the slaves. As if they weren’t another spoke in the wheel, one that often abused their power.

“His account is in good standing.” The guard gestured to the door behind him. “You have an hour to clean your bits.” 

An exhale parted my lips. One blissful hour of no one telling me what to do, an hour of quiet. Of true rest. I darted through the door, officially entering into the cave. 

The disrobing area was right before one reached the first cavern dotted with pools and thank the stars it was empty, just as I had hoped it would be. This time of day was slow. 

I threw off my pants, tunic, boots, and, more carefully, removed the red collar, marking me as my master’s property. I retrieved my small wedge of soap from my pocket, set the collar on top of the folded pile, and tucked my garments under a bench in a place where they wouldn’t get wet. Threadbare towels waited on a table by the door. I plucked the freshest looking of the bunch and wrapped it around my curves before entering the bathhouse.

Now in the first of a dozen interconnected caverns, the scent of lavender grew stronger. The purple flower was sprinkled throughout the pools. One less accustomed to vampires might consider it a kind gesture meant to calm the bathers, but that was certainly not the case. Vampires had sensitive noses, and lavender shrubs grew wild and abundant in the Vampire Kingdom. Not every master provided soap for their slaves, and many slaves worked in physical labor to build the city. The plant provided a cheap and effective way to reduce their workers’ stench. Just like the source of hot water came naturally and cheaply, but it also looked fairly nice, as far as bathhouses for slaves went, anyway. 

I scanned the first cavern. Light from a witch-light lantern illuminated a single pool, which made it particularly inviting. I padded over, weaving carefully between other springs as I went, so as not to slip on the damp ground. When I reached it, I dropped my towel, set the soap on the rocky edge, and slipped into the warm waters. 

I sighed and dipped beneath the hot water, allowing it to cover my head and soothe the tension in my shoulders. This one went so deep that I couldn’t touch the bottom.

Upon surfacing, I slicked back my long silvery-white hair, draping it over my wings. Stars above, the water melted so much of my tension and eased the ever-present ache in my mutilated wings. I could already feel my strength returning.

Though I rarely felt cold, even in the dead of winter, after a bloodletting, I grew weaker. In those hours, sometimes for days, depending on how much blood the letter took, I became more susceptible to a chill. Partaking in the mineral waters, the heat rising from the ground to fill me, felt like being reborn.

If only claiming a new life were that simple.

I grabbed the soap and began scrubbing my body, face, hair and wings. Unlike the more frugal masters, Lord Aldéric provided us with rose-petal soap. He favored the scent, as did I. Soon enough, I smelled of a rose bush in full bloom. I dunked once more, trying to get all the soap out of my long hair. Once completely clean, I could lounge for the rest of my hour. No one was getting me out of this pool a second before my time was up.

The moment I surfaced, however, whimpers filled my ears. I stiffened, but before I could be sure of what I’d heard, the sound fell quiet. The cavern I’d claimed still appeared empty. Had I imagined the noise?

I treaded to the side of the deep pool, content to sit and rest for a while, but I had just reached the stone bench when the whimpers came again.

They sounded fainter, drifting from deeper inside the bathhouse. Thinking someone might have slipped on the damp stone floor, I hopped out of the pool and wrapped my towel around my body. Following my keen ears, I entered the next cavern. Empty. As was the one beyond. I moved deeper into the cave system, and my blood chilled when the whimpers abruptly turned to sobs. 

I stopped. Should I leave the person alone? Most people who frequented slave bathhouses were miserable. But a niggling voice inside told me I had to check. The cries weren’t morose but rather, frantic. Someone needed help.

When I entered the fifth chamber, my blood froze. 

No one had fallen. No one sobbed because the Fates had forsaken them. Actually, the person wasn’t even conscious any longer, thanks to the vampire drinking from her neck. 

Bastard! My fists clenched into hard balls. 

I had no idea how the monster had gotten into the bathhouse. The only vampires allowed on the premises were the masters with accounts in good standing, and judging by this male’s disheveled attire, he could not claim that status. And even if he could, drinking from the vein was forbidden in the bathhouse. It was one of the only places in all of the city where blood slaves were safe.

No. This vampire had to be a newblood if he dared sneak into the bathhouse and assault someone’s property.

He hadn’t noticed me either, which all but confirmed his status as a  newblood. Once a newblood found a target, their focus didn’t waver. They were death personified, and as far as I knew, newbloods had only one downfall. Compared to older vampires, they were clumsy—having not had time to adjust to their super speed and strength yet. 

I debated what to do. It would be all too easy to slip through the bathhouse and retrieve the guards. But would they do anything to help the woman?

I doubted it. Newbloods were always ravenous, and once this vampire finished his meal, he might need another one right away. The guards knew that as well as I, but I also couldn’t just leave the woman. 

Pivoting, I scanned the area for a weapon, and my attention caught on a rock dislodged from the cavern wall. Moving as light as a feather, I scooped up the rock and tiptoed closer to the vampire. He remained hunched over the woman, oblivious to everything except the slave hanging as heavy as wet silk in his arms. Her legs floated in the pool she’d been bathing in, lifeless. 

Terrified that I might be too late, I got as close and pulled back my arm to strike. Using all my strength, I slammed the rock into the back of his head, hoping to knock him out. 

The vampire dropped the woman and a loud crack resonated through the bathhouse as her skull hit rock. Then the vampire spun my way with a monstrous hiss, making my heart stop.

Burning moon! It hadn’t worked. He hadn’t dropped, nor gone unconscious. 

Panicking, I struck again, slamming the rock into his face and knocking him backward a few paces.

“Worthless shrew!” he screamed. 

“You shouldn’t be in here!” I yelled back. “If the masters—”

My words died on my lips as the vampire jumped, arms extended for me. I spun out of the way in time, thankful that the potion Lord Aldéric force-fed me each full moon to extinguish my fae magic could not dim the natural speed and strength of my kind. 

“Help!” I screamed, hoping the guards at the front would hear. “Someone fell! They’re bleeding out!” 

The guards wouldn’t help if they knew a vampire had attacked. They might even run. But if a blood slave fell and lost what made them valuable, the guards would come.

“Soon, you’ll be bleeding too.” The vampire darted toward me a second time. 

I spun out of his grasp again, and as I did so, I clocked him in the back of the head with the rock. The vampire stumbled, his own great speed driving him straight into the uneven stone wall. 

A roar rang from his throat, and I darted backward as far as I could into the next chamber. The vampire twisted, focusing on me once more. 

“You little—” 

“Take a step back!” a voice shouted behind me right as a blast sounded, and air blew by my right shoulder. I gasped as a wooden bullet slammed into the rock wall, so far from the vampire. Had the guard even been trying? That had been closer to hitting me than the vampire!

The monster’s eyes burned a deeper crimson. 

With heat pummeling through me, I twirled and ran toward the red-haired guard standing on the precipice of the room. His eyes widened when he saw the threat behind me and realized what he was really dealing with—a vampire who had lost all sense of logic and law. One that wouldn’t be scared off by a poorly aimed wooden bullet.

“Give me that.” I ripped his weapon out of his hands. The device had been fashioned after a weapon in the human world. Its official use was to dissuade vampires of lower status from harming a lord’s property. 

But the weapon would kill too.

“Bleeding skies!” the guard snarled. “Give it back.”

Instead, I took aim at the vampire blurring my way and released a bullet.

The monster shrieked as the bullet buried itself deep in his heart, stopping him in his tracks and dropping him to the ground. 

I sucked in a breath as the weapon fell from my fingers. By the stars—I’d really killed him.  

“Get out,” the guard spat, coming up around me and scooping up his weapon.



“No. There’s a person in the pool. I need to check on her.” 

The guard opened his mouth to argue, but now that no one would rip my throat out, nothing could keep me from the woman. I ran back to her, slipping on the slick floor as I went. 

Her torso lay on the stones, arms splayed against the ground, keeping her nose and mouth out of the pink-stained pool. Blood seeped from her head from when the vampire had dropped her, but it wasn’t too much. Maybe she was actually fine, just passed out.

My hope dissolved as I fell to my knees and gripped the female’s shoulder. No magical imprint that I’d expect from a witch or other magical order leapt out at me. Nor any warmth. My throat tightened, and with a shaking hand, I searched for her pulse. 

I found nothing. 

“Are your ears broken, fae?” The guard shouted and stomped a foot. “I said, get out!”

“Did you even want to hit him?” I pivoted to the guard, gesturing to the vampire on the ground. “Or is your aim really that atrocious?”

“Killing one is against the law.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t hit their arm or leg!” Had I been thinking more clearly, that’s what I would have tried to do. But I hadn’t thought at all when I pulled the trigger.

 “I scared him off. He didn’t deserve to die.” 

What a lying piece of dragon dung. A poorly flung bullet had no chance of scaring off an enraged newblood. It would only piss them off more.

“You’re weak,” I spat as I pulled the woman away from the pool so that she lay on the rocks. “And a traitor to your own kind. How could you side with that monster? How could you say that he didn’t deserve what he got after this?” I gestured to the woman.

“I’m sending a messenger to your master,” the guard retorted, his face turning as red as his hair. “And the vampire’s sire too. They’ll know what happened, and that I had nothing to do with this. That I—” 

“Do what you must,” I cut him off. “And if you can find it in your shriveled heart, take care of her body, too.” I gestured to the woman and marched by him to prepare for the punishment sure to come my way.


I spent the long night wondering if Lord Aldéric had received the guard’s message. When the sunlight broke through my windows, I felt like I had not slept at all. Dressing and eating breakfast passed in a blur. There was no telling what my master would say or do.  

I swallowed as I crossed the threshold into my master’s workshop. Blood slaves in uniform—drab gray dresses, tunics, and trousers—worked tirelessly at their tables. They sewed, beaded, and cut luxury materials into gowns and suits fit for royalty, each one a beautiful work of art. My fingers itched to touch one particularly lovely chiffon gown I passed. 

Even though I did not get paid for the work , I had to admit that I loved creating elaborate gowns. Often, I’d spend the hours dreaming that one day I’d get to make something so beautiful for myself. My daydreaming was foolish, but it passed the time. One had to make the best of their situation. 

Anna, my human best friend, appeared at my side and leaned against the wooden cane she used to ease her mobility. “Are you scared?” 

Out of those in our slave complex, she alone knew of the events at the bathhouse. Being such a good friend, Anna had held my hand until I’d fallen asleep. But when I woke that morning, she had already left. 

“Yes,” I whispered. “Is Lord Aldéric here?”

“He is. That’s why I arrived early. To gauge his mood.” 


She looked away.  

I closed my eyes. A part of me had hoped that my master would call me to his home last night. That way, my humiliation and punishment wouldn’t be so public. But vampires rarely rushed. They had eternity to as they wished, even longer than the fae. Sometimes, the vast span of time I had ahead of me made me wish I were human.

“Maybe I should—”

“Neve! In my office!” my master’s voice bellowed over the workshop. At his tone, many seamstresses and tailors froze, though they didn’t look up. They didn’t dare. 

“I think the vampire’s sire was important,” Anna whispered as she grabbed my hand. Tears gathered in her slanted eyes. “Be ready.” 

I squeezed her hand. “I’ll see you later.” 

Dozens of eyes followed as I shuffled through the busy workshop to the back office. When I arrived in his office, I found Lord Aldéric in his large leather chair, reviewing his books. 

“Leave it open,” he said as I made to shut the door behind me. “This won’t take long. I heard of what transpired in the bathhouse.” 

“It was self-defense.” 

In the case of slaves, the law said nothing about self-defense, but if it saved me lashes, I would use any reasoning possible to penetrate my master’s stone-cold heart. 

“Are you aware the vampire you killed was Prince Mylan’s latest conquest? A lover turned child, I’m told.” 

A cavernous pit opened in my stomach. He’d been a prince’s child! That was worse than I could have imagined. “No. It is difficult to keep up with the ever-growing royal family.” 

The Laurent dynasty ruled the vampire kingdom. While the king and his mate were the ultimate authority, the princes and princesses held great sway. Prince Mylan had been born into the royal line, a third-generation natural-born Laurent. His generation became the first one descended from King Vladistrica and Queen Narcisa that did not possess the ability to bear children. Rather, if they wanted offspring, the third-generation had to turn another creature, be they human, mage, fae, or other, into vampires. 

Some said that made the third-generation princesses and princes all the more savage. Unstable. 

“There are two things saving you from my princely nephew’s direct wrath.” My master, a turned relation to the Blood, held up a finger. “That my sire and outranks Prince Mylan and therefore I am not forced to hand you over right away. And two, that the offending vampire was in the wrong.” He dropped his hand. “However, I’ve decided that your offense is more trouble than you are worth.” 

My lips parted. My great skill as a seamstress aside, as fae they also considered me a prized blood slave. Bloodletters paid more for my blood and could resell it at a higher price point. I’d even heard that Lord Aldéric received offers to purchase me weekly. 

“What does that mean?” I asked. 

“I will put you up for auction in two days’ time. The day after the Blood Ball.” 

My knees buckled, and I barely caught myself on the door. My master, however, remained calm, cold. He stood and poured himself a goblet of red liquid from a crystal carafe.

He planned to sell me. At auction. The highest bidder would win.

My heart began to thunder. 

Far worse masters lived in Sangrael. Ones that drank from their slaves, beat them regularly, kept them chained, and sexually abused them. Lord Aldéric was no hero, not even a person to admire, but he fed his property well, gave us comfortable beds, and kept us warm. After all, it benefited him to keep us in good health.

“You may go, Neve.” 

I sucked in a breath. “Isn’t there another way?” 

He froze. Only his eyes flashed up to me. “You dare to challenge me?” 

“No—but what if the prince purchases me?” 

My master glanced away. “You should have thought about that before you killed one of our kind.”

“I should have let that newblood kill me?” 

“You have work to do.” 

A lump formed in my throat. Some slaves could trick themselves into believing that their masters cared for them. I’d never been among them, and yet, this cut to the core. The work I’d done to build his wealth, the pain he’d inflicted on me by smothering my magic and handicapping my wings—it meant nothing to this vampire. 

I meant nothing. 

Deep inside me, something sparked. Defiance. My hands formed fists, and I spun on my heels, storming out of the room. 

In the workshop, humans, witches, and even one elf who’d strayed too far from his kingdom stared at me with sad eyes. No doubt they wondered what had transpired. 

I paid the onlookers no heed as I stomped toward the door. Master Aldéric was going to sell me! I refused to spend my last day working only to be cast out, no matter what I did. Who knew what sort of situation I’d find myself in next? I swallowed the potent fear rising inside me. 

Screaming stars. I could end up dead by the end of the week. 

Chilled autumnal air blasted me in the face as I hurled open the workshop door and stepped outside. Angry tears came like a waterfall, and I rushed around the corner, desperate to be out of sight. I didn’t want anyone under Lord Aldéric to see me break down. 

And yet, much to my dread, the door to the workshop opened again. I opened my mouth to tell the person to leave, but the sound of their footsteps stopped me. Their distinct footfall pattern told me it was Anna. I’d welcome her alone  at my side.

“Neve! What happened?” She approached and placed a soft hand on my shoulder. I focused on a red thread lodged in her raven-wing hair. 



I took a deep breath. “Lord Aldéric is putting me up for auction. Tomorrow.” 

Her hands clapped over her mouth. “No!” 

“He doesn’t need a slave as troublesome as me.” 

“He fears his own family,” my friend replied, wide-eyed. 

“I’m scared of who will purchase me,” I admitted. Many bloodsuckers would be happy to own me, to drink from me. Magic that I couldn’t use filled my blood. They loved that flavor.

“Someone can talk to Master Aldéric.” Anna’s soft voice fluttered with fear. “Perhaps Rose?” 

I snorted. Rose was our master’s oldest slave. She worked in his household and traveled to his country home when he did. Occasionally, Rose even spoke to lower ranking vampires on our master’s behalf. Rose wore silk dresses and held her head up high. And yet, she remained a collar-wearing slave—drained like the rest of us and held no rights of her own. 

“That won’t work. I killed one of their own.” My tone rose with the words as my blood boiled hotter. “And I’d do it again!” 

Anna looked about. “Don’t say that.” 

“I would! The newblood tried to kill me. He deserved it! He—” 

“Was quite poorly watched,” a smooth, deep voice cut me off, and the hair on my arms stood on end. “Even my family will admit to that.” 

Judging by how all the blood had left Anna’s face, someone of importance stood behind me. How important, I couldn’t have fathomed until I turned. 

My mouth dropped open. Of all the bad luck! 

Prince Gervais, twin of Prince Mylan, and if the rumors were true, as cruel as his brother, sat before me on horseback. The wind tousled his dark curls and stained his pale cheeks pink. Had I not known him to be a monster, I would think he looked quite handsome. Behind him, four others rode.

I took them in. Judging by their style of dress, they hailed not from Isila but from the human world. And as they weren’t chained, they clearly weren’t being taken as slaves. One, a woman about my age with one blue and one green eye, watched me with particular interest. 

“Apologies, my prince.” I fell into a deep curtsey. “I allowed my anger to get the better of me.” 

Gervais’s lips pulled up at the corners. “You were loud enough for everyone on this street to hear, which I cannot take lightly. It is treason to speak of any Laurent, newblood or not, in that manner. As my brother turned the human, I might have you drained right here.” 

The woman with the two-toned eyes let out a strangled sound. As if he’d anticipated her reaction, the male vampire she rode next to, placed a hand on her arm. Perhaps he’d hoped to silence her. 

It didn’t work. 

“You wouldn’t!” the woman blurted out, and in her indignation, an odd sort of magic pulse from her. She was no human. Was I seeing a witch? Rumor had it that a few worked at the palace, though I’d never seen them. “She said she would have died! That sounds like self-defense.” 

“Meredith.” The male let out a low growl. His shoulders tightened as Prince Gervais turned to take them in, his expression one of astonishment. The other male scowled at the prince, but added, “my mate, it is their way.” 

“Well, it’s stupid!” The woman, Meredith, narrowed her eyes. Behind her, one male and one female, respectively, with black and white feathered wings, marking them as non-fae, nodded their agreement. They too wore human style clothing, so I assumed that their opinions meant little here. And, yet, their combined opinions gave me strength. 

“It is!” I spouted, and immediately, I wished I had not as Prince Gervais resumed his attention on me. 

He studied me with amusement that I did not understand. “You believe that as property, you should be able to take justice into your own hands?” 

“When my life is on the line. Or that of any blood slave.” 

Meredith gasped. “Blood slave. What the fuck, Tobias!”

She said no more, however. Or if she did, I didn’t hear, for Prince Gervais urged his horse closer. Behind me, Anna shuffled to press herself into the building. Shame crashed over me. I could not hold my tongue, and for that I could legally be killed. But Anna was innocent. I should have considered her. 

“My friend did nothing,” I added, hoping that when the prince ended me, he’d spare Anna. 

“That mouse? No, I don’t expect that she did.” He leaned over the neck of his stallion. “But you, you’re a wildcat. I like that—and wouldn’t you know it—my two fae recently died.” He licked his lips. “I wonder if your master might be persuaded to part with you?” 

If a notion more terrifying existed, I couldn’t think of it. I held no illusion that this prince’s fae died from natural causes. 

“Hey! Back off!” the woman, Meredith, yelled, and nearly swung off her horse. Again, the vampire she rode next to, Tobias, stopped her from getting too close to the prince. “You’re terrifying her.” 

“What of it?” Gervais asked, not taking his piercing eyes off me. 

“Well, don’t you have a job to do?” Meredith’s chin jutted out. “Like taking us to the palace? Isn’t your father dying to meet me? To show off how powerful he is at some ball?” 

This mystery woman was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

“Alas, you’re right, witch.” Gervais let out a frustrated huff and backed his horse up. But before the prince left, he met my eyes once more. “I’ll find you later, wildcat.”


I spent the rest of the working day in my bed, shaking and crying so hard that the day’s end bell barely registered. Nothing did. Not until Anna burst into our room and swept over to me. 

“I’ve been so worried about you.” She perched next to me, the ancient straw mattress sinking beneath her slight weight. “Master Aldéric was furious that you didn’t stay and finish your garments.” 

When I stormed out of the workshop, I hadn’t been thinking clearly, but of course my master would have been upset. He wanted to squeeze that last bit of sweat and skill from my fingers. 

“The only reason he didn’t come here is because we were so busy. Important vampires kept stopping by.” She paused. “Rose had to finish your dress.”

“Well, that’s why he was mad,” I said, only half jesting.

With a needle and thread, Rose wasn’t as talented as me. No one in Lord Aldéric’s workshop could sew like me, save for Anna, but she had her own dresses to finish for affluent vampires. 

“Luckily, the patron came in as she finished and seemed very pleased with your work. Rose’s hemming too.” Anna added the last bit as though an afterthought and cleared her throat. She was veering off to unimportant side stories, which meant that she wasn’t telling me something. 

I frowned. “What are you too scared to tell me?”

“Master Aldéric’s clients are wealthy, and many of them came in today. He told them all about the auction, Neve. Many appeared interested in purchasing you.” 

“He has to recoup what he can,” I spat. 

“Three who expressed interest are staying at the castle, dining with the king and the royal family.” 

My blood froze. She spoke subtlety, but the meaning became clear. How could it not be? For hours, I’d been terrified that Prince Gervais would sweep into the slave quarters and that he’d kill me as I wept in bed.

“I doubt they’d gossip about a slave auction,” I replied. 

“Not to buy humans. But you’re fae.” 

Outside, the dinner bell sounded. Though I wasn’t hungry, Anna surely was, and I tired of sitting in my room, alone and fearful. 

“Let’s get dinner.”  

Anna blinked. “Are you sure?” 

“No, but I need to get out of this room.” 

Together, we left our quarters and ventured down the hall to the common areas of the slave complex. The U-shaped stone building housed over two hundred blood slaves, and I seemed to run into all of them, each with pity in their eyes. I knew all of them and this place like I knew every rod of metal stuck in my wings. 

We  slept and ate in this complex and had semi-private chambers, where the slaves of breeding ages produced new slaves for Lord Aldéric. I shuddered at the thought. When I thought about being bred, I was very glad to be my master’s only fae. No vampire lord would breed a fae with a human because it diluted the fae blood. Rather, the lord would wait until they could get their hands on another fae. Thankfully, Lord Aldéric had never managed that feat, though I suspected that it was not for trying.

When we reached the dining hall, more people stared at me. I kept my head down as I fetched my bowl of pottage, vegetables, roll, and a small portion of meat. 

“They gave us more than normal,” Anna commented after we’d received our rations. 

“Cook pities me,” I said.

Normally, I’d delight in the generous portion. As food sources for the vampires, they never starved us, but in the same vein blood slaves weren’t allowed to overindulge. Our overlords aimed to keep us healthy but slightly too thin. Weakened, I often thought. Not that my body complied with their wishes. My body held more fat than most others’ frames and my muscular thighs supported me through all the trials of life. I suspected Lord Aldéric would use my strong physique to boost the bids tomorrow. 

Side by side, Anna and I ate. In two hours, we’d have to be in bed. In what time we had left, I wanted to converse with my best friend, to relish her company. Come tomorrow, I might not live in the same city as her. 

I might not even be alive. 

I stiffened and shoved a spoonful of the hot pottage into my mouth. 

“Don’t think about it,” Anna whispered. 

“How can I not?” 

Lord Aldéric kept me alive because he recognized I was more valuable alive than drained for pleasure. Bi-weekly, he sold my blood, which earned him more profit than the more common blood. When I’d shown natural skill with a needle and thread, he prized me even more. As the years went on, I’d become his best seamstress, which only added to his coffers. 

But Lord Aldéric wasn’t all vampires. It would be asking a lot for my next owner to recognize that I was worth more than my blood. Many vampires were greedy and had more coin than they could ever spend. They might simply want to drain me for their own pleasure.

“Did you hear that Simon and Yvette are engaged?” Anna asked, trying to pull my mind from my impending demise. 

My heart leapt at the good news. “Since when?” 

“Last night.” 

The pair had been together for as long as I’d been alive. Separately, they’d come from the human world and had to remake their family here. As they were also among the oldest of Aldéric’s slaves, they often saw the younger generation through troubled times. 

Yvette had helped me celebrate every passing turn and sang to me on my name days. She had also been the one I’d gone to when I’d first bled. Four turns on the wheel of time later, she wiped my tears when a male I’d been so taken with broke my heart. She’d taught me to read in High Vitralic, the ancient language of vampires, Old High Fae, and her native language, English. The last language had also morphed into the tongue of the nine kingdoms as travel to and from the other realm became more common. As far as I was concerned, Yvette was my mother. In any case, she was the only one I’d ever known.

Yvette and Simon deserved nothing but whatever happiness they could seize from this life.

“When’s the ceremony?” 

“Two weeks.” Anna bit into her roll. “Yvette asked Aldéric if she can use scraps to create a dress, and he agreed, so she wants time to whip something up.” Anna’s lips curled up in a soft smile that I felt in my soul. At least, until I remembered that any union between blood slaves only lasted for as long as they had the same owner. 

If Yvette and Simon ever pulled something like I had, they’d be sold. Separated. 

Bleeding skies, this life is rubbish. 

But I wouldn’t say that. Not when Anna looked so happy for the older human couple. We had it hard enough to find someone to trust in our positions. To find genuine love and a person who desired a wedding? Most never even tried. 

The clanging of the front doors announced a late arrival. I looked past Anna and gaped. “New humans!” 

Whispers shrouded the room as a vampire soldier led a trio of people, two men and one woman, to Cook’s station. They wore clothing from the human world and held the dazed expression of the compelled. 

They all arrived that way. Human blood slaves were either born in this court or they showed up with no knowledge of how they got here. 

“Your replacements,” a soft feminine voice said from behind. 

I twisted to find none other than Yvette looking down at me, smiling softly. The corners of her eyes crinkled with age, and though she smiled, I could see the sadness in her body.

“We’ll miss you, Neve.” 

“Thank you.” I tried to keep my chin up. I wouldn’t ruin her day with the horrors of my own. “So, I hear congratulations are in order?” 

A sweet blush crossed her cheeks. “Thank you. Simon and I are quite excited.” 

I patted the table. “Tell us what you have planned.” 

Yvette took the seat next to me. Her aura enveloped me and eased my nerves. Our trio devolved into chatting about how Yvette wanted her marriage ceremony to go. It all sounded quite nice, very human with traditions that I knew nothing of. All of that distracted me for a while. At least, until Anna froze and her eyes widened. I didn’t dare turn, but when an icy hand clamped on my shoulder my stomach sank. 

“Neve, stand up,” my master commanded. “Prince Gervais wishes to get a better look at you.” 

I stiffened, hoping I’d hallucinated those words. But one glance at Anna’s tense shoulders told me I had not. The prince and our master must have entered through a side door. Gervais already made good on his word to find me. 

Slowly, I turned and rose. Lord Aldéric stood next to a smirking Prince Gervais. He wore finery I recognized as coming from Lord Aldéric’s workshop. Anna had done the gold embroidery on the jacket. Clearly, he’d stopped by here before going to the Blood Ball. 

As his appearance was even more intriguing than the new humans, everyone watched us.

“That’s the one who caught my eye,” the prince said, as if he didn’t want to pounce at that very moment and stick his fangs into my neck. “You truly are selling her?” 

“Due to the events related to your brother’s child.” My master cleared his throat. “I thought it prudent.” 

“I’d like to purchase her. Now. I wish to have her waiting in my rooms after the Ball.” 

Aldéric’s eyebrows twitched, the only tell that Prince Gervais had not mentioned this before. “I’ve already entered her at the auction.” 

“I’ll win, Aldéric.” The prince smirked.

“Of that, I have no doubt.” Light sparkled in my master’s eyes. “However, I have spoken to other interested parties. I will keep her entered—see how the most motivated buyer is.” 

Gervais snorted. “A shrewd businessman. Lucky that you’re family, too.” His eyes traveled over me hungrily. “Fine. I expect she will be worth the wait.” 

“Now that business is done, shall we make our way to the palace?” 

“We shall.” Prince Gervais gave me a wink before he allowed my master to escort him to the door. 

I didn’t breathe until they disappeared from sight. At once, the entire room came to life again—slaves whispered over what had transpired and my ill fate. 

Tears fell down Anna’s cheeks. She too had heard the horrid tales of Prince Gervais and his twin, Prince Mylan. 

“Perhaps someone will compete with the prince?” Yvette laid a soft hand on my forearm and pulled me back to sit.

“Unless it’s another Laurent, that’s doubtful,” I said. 

Yvette frowned, sat up straighter, and looked around. When she faced me again, her expression had hardened. “I have an idea. Something that might help you.” 

“I’m listening.” 

Yvette did another scan of the room, and in that time, Anna threw me a look of concern. What did Yvette have to say that required so much discretion? 

“The ball is tonight. Any vampire who is anyone wants to go, including soldiers. Most of the city gates will be closed for the night.” Yvette leaned closer. “Only one remains open, and it’s being guarded by humans.” 

“How did you learn this?” I breathed. 

“Simon is friends with one of the bathhouse guards. Not the one that ratted on you, mind. His friend said that five men from the bathhouse are to watch the wall tonight. The vampires want their revelry on their holy night.” 

I couldn’t believe that—nor what she was implying. 

Anna shook her head slowly. “Are you saying that Neve should . . .?” 

“I would try,” Yvette whispered. “The humans will be armed, but it’s the best chance you’re ever going to get. The Winter Court is closest to the east. You could run for that border. Once there, you could travel through the mountains to the south.”

“To the Autumn Court?” 

“Or the Dragon Court.” Yvette nodded. “It is directly south. If it were me, I’d aim for there, rather than taking the longer route to the Autumn Court. Fae or not.” 

Stars above. She was suggesting I make a run for it. But could I? Did I dare? I’d never stepped foot out of Sangrael before, and the journey would be perilous, more likely to end badly.

I’ll find you later, wildcat.

Prince Gervais’s face flashed in my mind, and the way his hard eyes promised pain made me recoil. He would not fail to purchase me. I would take my chances with escape and maybe survive, or I faced a fate worse than death. 

I met Yvette’s eyes. “Please, help me plan.” 

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