Munro (Immortals After Dark #18) by Kresley Cole

            It pained her ears and hit her stomach like percussion. Outside, the lions roared alongside him, the bears growling their upset. The corralled horses neighed with fear.

            Shoulders sagging, he finally fell silent. He shot her one last betrayed look, then crashed backward in a cloud of sawdust.

            Out cold.

            She and Jacob traded an uneasy glance. The hunters’ gazes darted. These were brave women and men, but that primal sound must’ve awakened the entire forest. Would it bring the newlings early?

            Making her demeanor brisk, Ren announced, “The banquet will have to wait. Björn, radio the scouts to be on alert, and set up a perimeter watch of the fairgrounds. Six hunters in each direction.”

            “Ja, boss.” He hastened away.

            Ren retrieved her knife, then swiped the bloody blade across the Lykae’s pants. Though she had hunted all kinds of “Loreans,” as immortals called themselves, she didn’t often kill human-looking ones. Still . . . “Will somebody lend me a sword?”

            The sound of a dozen weapons being freed from scabbards filled the big top.

            Jacob said, “If we behead the Lykae here, it will get messy.”

            True. Decapitated immortals were often slow to relinquish life, making executions a grisly business. At best, the creature’s jugular would spray for dozens of feet, soaking everyone around. At worst, a headless Lorean might make a final kill.

            As she debated what to do, Ren absently twirled and flipped her knife with one hand, a series of moves so practiced she could do them in her sleep. “Right, then. Take him to the trench.”


            “Best wedding I’ve ever attended!” Vanda’s grin lit her eyes. “And what exciting entertainment.”

            The tent had cleared out, leaving only Ren, Jacob, Vanda, and Puideleu.

            Though Ren’s nerves were jangling as the four made their way to the exit, she cast Vanda a warm smile. “Puideleu’s going to take you back to your wagon now. You two leave early in the morning.” Ren had ordered them to evacuate the fairgrounds ahead of the battle.

            Puideleu nodded, the pleated wrinkles on his face deepening as he scanned the blustery night. “The woods are stirring.”

            As the wind gusted, the great trees surrounding the fairground swayed. But Puideleu wasn’t referring to the weather.

            At any given time, the Cursed Forest was a hotbed of supernatural activity. Invisible spring-trap portals slammed shut behind the unwary, vanishing travelers forever. Rocks wept blood and trees whispered. Monsters haunted every valley and ridge within it.

            Yet tonight, the forest seemed alive with movement. Howls, yips, and screams carried from the Carpathians. “I’ve never heard so much activity before.” She flipped and twirled her knife to allay her uneasiness. “Puideleu, after you take Vanda back, check with Björn for scout reports.”

            He nodded. “Of course.”

            A breeze toyed with the colorful headscarf atop Vanda’s silver locks as she crossed to give Ren a hug. Her familiar scent of lavender and liniment enveloped them. This woman had been her mentor since Ren’s parents had died nearly seventeen years ago.

            Vanda pressed a kiss into her hair, saying, “You will always be a little wild, my fierce Ren. As wild as that wolf you captured.”

            Before Ren could ask about that puzzling comment, Puideleu escorted Vanda from the tent.

            Alone with Jacob, Ren lifted her dress to holster her knife. The weapon was perfectly weighted to her hand, its edges as pure as devotion. Esoteric writing had been carved into the bone hilt, the surface worn down through centuries of her family’s use. Wood-grain patterns adorned the crucible-steel blade, but it still shone like a mirror.

            She considered changing from her mother’s dress, but she didn’t dare take that much time. Though the effects of her blade lasted for hours, a Lykae in the camp equaled a live grenade.

            Ren caught Jacob’s gaze on her legs before he glanced away with a blush. She frowned as she smoothed her dress in place. When the wolf had leered at her body, Ren’s senses had flared to life. Now, she felt awkward.