Sneak Peek At...
300 Years Later
“Is that what you’re wearing?”
I glanced away from the mirror outside my closet to the bed, where a man with auburn hair and light brown eyes lounged. Demetri’s lips twisted in a concerned frown as he waved towards the dress I’d just put on.
“What’s wrong with it?” I turned my attention back to the mirror. The deep royal blue color complemented my golden-hued brown skin. Twisting around so I could see it from the side and back, I peered over my shoulder at him. “Everything is covered up, and it’s not that formfitting. Not a hint of cleavage to be seen,” I teased.
My husband of three years rolled his eyes. “I think you look perfect, but you know how things are around here.”
Boring. That’s how things were at House Laurent. Fucking boring.
I plastered a pleasant smile onto my face and sauntered over to the bed. Demetri’s eyes lit up as he watched me approach but he didn’t bother getting up. “I’ll see what else I can find in the closet,” I told him. “I’m meeting with your mother and her council today, so it’s probably for the best that I don’t offend anyone by reminding them that I have curves.”
He snorted a laugh as I placed my hand on my chest dramatically. Demetri wasn’t nearly as conservative as the others of House Laurent, but he also wasn’t the type to push for change. It was also easy for him to follow the unspoken fashion rules of this place. Unless I wore a shapeless sack, anything I wore would be obscene by their standards. Even then, I’m pretty sure my large chest, wide hips, and luscious ass would still make whatever I wore too scandalous for my husband’s House.
“I’m sure you’ll find something.” Demetri’s gaze went a little distant, his mind clearly already moved on from our conversation. I held in my sigh as he rolled out of bed and gave me a chaste kiss on the lips. “A friend of mine is visiting from one of the other Houses today. I’m going to catch up with them and probably plan a trip to go to their House and a few others this month.”
“You’re going to leave again?” My hand froze on the dress I’d been about to shove aside. “But you just got back.”
“You know how the life of an Heir is,” he said loudly enough for me to hear. A moment later, I heard the door to our suite open and shut.
I knew exactly what the life of an Heir was like. I’d grown up as the Heir of House Harker and had only given up that title to marry into House Laurent… where I was supposed to be an Heir alongside Demetri. Every time I suggested that I should travel with Demetri to other Houses, I was shot down for one reason or another.
For a long time, I’d been determined that I could make this work, that eventually Demetri and, more importantly, his mother, would realize they were wasting my potential. But now I was starting to wonder if I made a serious mistake coming here.
“Are you happy?”
Those three damn words had been bouncing around in my mind since one of my best friends had asked the question during our weekly check-in. I was the daughter and former Heir of House Harker and now I was the wife of the Heir of House Laurent. Both Houses were made up of some of the strongest Moroi bloodlines and I now represented them both.
It had never been my decision to marry into House Laurent; it had been arranged when I’d been very young, but just because it hadn’t been my decision, didn’t mean I hadn’t wanted it. The marriage between our two Houses was an important alliance for House Harker. I was happy to serve my House in such a way and had worked hard my entire life to be the perfect wife and partner.
Though in the decade I spent studying and training for my fated role in life, I never thought to question if it would be something I would enjoy. In the three years that I’d been married to Demetri and living in House Laurent, I’d never really thought about whether I was happy or not. This was my life, and it was important for me to be successful. My happiness shouldn’t matter.
Yet that moon-damned question was all I could think about. Fucking Rynn and her pointed questions. Cali would never have asked such a thing, but I’d gotten the distinct feeling over the years that she was very much thinking about killing Demetri. I had to make her swear to me that she wouldn’t harm a hair on his head. As Heir of House Laurent, Demetri’s death wouldn’t exactly go unnoticed. My two best friends were the opposites of each other in so many ways, but they loved me as much as I loved them.
Even when they asked questions that sent me down an emotional spiral.
I chucked the dress I’d chosen off and put the new one on, frowning as I looked at myself in the mirror. Demetri’s mother would likely hate this one too, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Hopefully, I’d be able to impress her enough with my trade proposition that she’d overlook my appearance.
Thoughts about the conversation with Rynn and Cali and my time at House Laurent clouded my mind as I absently made my way down the long hallway outside our suite. Servants scurried by with their eyes firmly on the floor. When I had first come to House Laurent, the opulent decor and meek servants had thrown me off. It was so different from the understated elegance of my own family home and the humble furnishings of Drudonia where I’d studied in my teenage years.
Happiness was something I could seek later. At least, that’s why I told myself these past few mornings when Demetri gave me a dutiful kiss and a charming smile before disappearing for his various House responsibilities. It was what I repeated throughout the day as I sought out knowledge of what was happening outside these fortified walls.
“Do you need anything, my lady?”
I tore my gaze away from the painting of some distant relative of Demetri’s great uncle, perhaps, and looked at the girl. Despite my attempts to befriend the household staff, because as a good friend had taught me, the servants always had the best gossip, they treated me the same as all the Laurent family. I wasn’t used to failing at anything so I kept at it, hoping I would win them over one day.
The servant girl’s blonde hair was neatly tucked away in a braid and her eyes were firmly fixed on the tips of my toes.
“I’m fine, Rose. Thank you,” I said kindly. Her pretty green eyes peeked at me before hastily looking away. “My mind is just a little adrift this morning. Perhaps I’ll swing by the kitchen for a second cup of tea.”
“I can bring you some,” she said quickly. “Black tea with honey.”
“That would be lovely,” I lied. While the tea sounded fantastic, I’d really been wanting to get it myself like I often did in the morning. The kitchen was one of the few places the staff relaxed enough to talk, and I’d been hoping to maybe overhear some gossip, but it was probably for the best. I should be preparing for the meeting later today, anyway. “Would you mind bringing it to the study on the third floor? I have some paperwork I’d like to review.”
She nodded once and hurried away. I frowned after her departure. Demetri and Marvina, his mother, always treated the staff fairly. They may not be kind in their orders, but I’d never seen anything to explain why there was such an undercurrent of fear amongst them. Shaking my head, I continued on the way to the study that I had taken over as an office of sorts. I hadn’t been lying about feeling off-kilter today. Rynn’s simple question had hit me when I was already in a weird mental state, and I hadn’t been able to snap out of it. After years of being shoved to the sidelines and playing the role of smiling bride, I was finally making headway in getting involved in House politics. Demetri’s mother ruled House Laurent with an iron fist and was pleased that her son had zero interest in taking over one day. She was less pleased about my interests in ruling, or at least co-ruling.
Though, for the last six months, she had allowed me to sit in on meetings with her advisors. I wasn’t entirely sure why she had offered this but I suspected it was my Aunt Carmilla’s doing. She ruled House Harker and was close friends with the Sovereigns who ruled over all the Moroi, she wasn’t shy about flexing her political power when she needed to. If she had stepped in on my behalf, I was grateful… but also a little annoyed that I’d needed her help, which was probably why she hadn’t told me about her interference.
I’d been working on a trade proposal for the last week with some of the Velesian packs, mostly of the Narchis Order. It wouldn’t bring us in any great riches, but it would help the tension that had been growing between the Moroi and Velesians for the last decade. I just had to present it in the right way. It had taken some time, but I was beginning to know the right way to manage Marvina. Now, if only I could figure out the same with my dear husband.
Maybe then I could get a goddamn orgasm out of my sex life. I didn’t count the one I gave myself every morning before I rose from bed after Demetri had already gotten up and left. I laughed softly to myself, earning a few wayward glances from a servant girl as she hurried by. Cali had quickly pointed that out after Rynn had asked about my happiness, which summed up my two besties rather accurately. We might come from different species and backgrounds, but we each knew each other well. Far better than anyone else could claim.
“Give her a break, Rynn,” Cali had said. “Her husband might be easy on the eyes, but he’s clearly as boring in bed as he is in conversation.”
“He really doesn’t have a lot going on upstairs.” Rynn’s golden eyes had sparked with the mischief that she hid from everyone but us.
“Not a lot going on downstairs either,” I’d drawled wryly, getting a laugh out of them.
It’d been a bit mean of me, but I knew that they’d never share anything we talked about, so I tended to let my inner catty self out around them. I needed the break from having to constantly measure out my words and watch my tone every day. Besides, they knew I was joking. During one of our many chats via shadow magic, Demetri had walked in from the washroom completely naked, unaware that I was talking with Rynn and Cali, and gave them both an eyeful. There wasn’t anything wrong with Demetri. He’s a perfect specimen of a Moroi male in every way.
Unfortunately, he was rather uninspired in how he used that perfection. There’d never been any kind of passion between us, but at least we didn’t outright hate each other like some of the other married couples I knew. Maybe once I get Marvina to take me seriously, I could spend more time with Demetri and we could figure out how to get some spark in our relationship. Give my poor fingers a break.
I breezed into my study, pleased to see that everything was exactly as I left it. Chaotic. I knew it made the servants nervous to leave the room in such a state, but I knew where everything was, and that was all that mattered. Settling into my favorite chair by the window, I picked up the thick tome from where I’d left it on the windowsill and plucked out several papers. The musky smell from the pages made my nose twitch as I carefully unfolded the map and stretched it out on the low table in front of me.
House Laurent was located on the coast and had the most mines out of any of the Moroi Houses. At least half a dozen deposits of gold, silver, and iron wound their way under the house itself before stretching far out, and the coastline that was less than an hour’s walk from where I was sitting was lined with basalt. It was these metals and minerals that allowed us to safeguard our territories against the monsters that roamed these lands, but there was one crucial resource that House Laurent didn’t have. Malachite.
The Velesian packs in Narchis territory had plenty of it though.
I wasn’t able to get the exact numbers, but I was reasonably sure that our stock of malachite was running low. Likely running out within the next year. In the past, House Laurent had gotten the resource from other Moroi Houses, but it made far more sense to go to the Velesians because they had so much of it, and the few Moroi Houses that had it would demand far more in trade.
The wards that were used by the Houses to keep out the wraiths were created with blood magic and various metals like gold or silver, but minerals were required to keep them powered up, and malachite was the best. Other minerals like quartz could be used, but they had to be replaced every few weeks, whereas malachite could be powered up to last for almost a year.
Footsteps sounded from the hallway and a moment later Rose entered with a steaming cup of tea in one hand and a plate of pastries in the other. “Thank you,” I murmured as she placed everything down on the table, taking care not to disturb the map or the teetering stacks of scrolls and books.
“Can I get you anything else, my lady?” Her eyes studied the map curiously, but she didn’t ask about it. When she felt my attention on her, she quickly cast her eyes to the floor and hunched in her shoulders.
“I realize that telling someone you can trust them doesn’t mean much. Trust is something that can only be earned through actions and time.” I reached over and broke a piece off one of the pastries. “But if there is ever something… amiss about how you or any of the staff are treated here, please find a way to let me know and I will help.”
A slight tremble ran through her and she opened her mouth, only to snap it shut. “All is well,” she said after a long pause before turning to leave the room. As she arrived at the doorway, she slowed and rotated her head slightly, not completely turning towards me. “Thank you for your concern.”
Disappointment weighed heavily on me, but she was gone before I could respond. I popped the pastry morsel into my mouth and chewed thoughtfully. Rose seemed like a naturally shy person so it was hard for me to get a read on her. The servants here were much more reserved and timid than the ones at House Harker, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything was wrong. Maybe I was just looking for something that wasn’t there and they were all intense introverts who wanted to retreat to their rooms and read.
Perhaps my being nosy all the time was what set Rose on edge. A smile tugged at my lips. If only I had Kieran’s charm. My childhood friend could talk to anyone and put them at ease.
I sipped my tea for another hour, the floral blend my favorite because it was good even after it had cooled. My argument for why we needed to improve our trading with the Velesians was sound and my proposals were perfectly reasonable. Confidence firmly in place, I rose ten minutes before the meeting was due to start and made my way to the second floor. There was a large room dedicated for meetings, but that was mostly used when representatives from other Houses or from the Velesian packs visited. I strode past that room and instead, headed to Marvina’s study where she ran all the meetings with her advisors. It was easily four times the size of the cozy one I preferred to work in.
Almost everyone was seated when I entered. There were six chairs with thick cushions and tall regal backs spaced out in a half-moon shape, all facing a massive desk with a single chair behind it. I strode over to the desk with my chin held high and placed my proposal on it.
Hestia and Gaelin, who were the closest to my age and also originally from other Houses, nodded to me in greeting, but the others dismissed me. They took their queues from Marvina and until she took me seriously, they didn’t consider me worth their time. Rather than take a seat and wait in awkward silence as everyone tried to pretend I didn’t exist, I did the same thing I always did—toyed with them.
I aimlessly walked around the room, studying the various paintings on the wall as if I hadn’t already looked at them a hundred times. Although, I did pause with genuine interest when I reached the large map that took up almost a quarter of the wall space. It was beautifully painted, showing not only Moroi territory but that of the Velesian’s and Furie’s as well. Every city and stronghold was carefully placed on the map, along with all existing trade routes. As I studied the map, I felt several of the male advisors’ eyes on me as they hungrily took in my flesh and my lips curled in satisfaction.
House Laurent was different from the House I’d been born into. House Harker was well respected both because of our age and because my aunt was close friends with the ruling Moroi Queen and her Consort, known collectively as the Sovereigns. But my birth House still retained a bit of our wild side, and I’d grown up amongst Moroi who dressed with most of their flesh on display. We thought bodies were things to be worshipped and celebrated. It’d been quite the shock when I’d visited House Laurent for the first time, shortly before I’d married Demetri, and seen everyone wearing conservative clothing that played down their curves rather than enhanced them.
Marvina had arranged for an entirely new wardrobe to be made for me, and it had awaited me in my suite when I’d visited for a second time. The message of how I was expected to dress while in the walls of her House was quite clear. I’d added different pieces to my wardrobe over the years that were slightly more risqué than what most wore here, but nothing too daring. Not that it mattered. My full-figured body was nothing but enticing delicious curves, regardless of what I wore.
Absently, I trailed my fingers down my soft belly and then rested on my hips. One corner of my mouth tugged up in a smirk as Gaelin caught the movement and gawked openly before Cazimir cleared his throat and Gaelin quickly looked away.
Cali always teased me that I had a body for sin and it was a waste for me not to use it to my advantage. I always rolled my eyes when she said it, but I had to admit that it was fun to mess with Marvina’s advisors and see how close I could get them to outright drool over me. Before I could think of more ways to torture some of the advisors, Marvina swept into the room and took a seat in her chair. With its wide back made of rich dark wood and grooves inlaid with obsidian and silver, I always thought it was more throne than chair.
I took a seat in the remaining empty chair and folded my hands across my lap, then I swept my gaze over her while the rest of the council settled further into their seats. Demetri had taken after her, sharing the same dark auburn hair and beautiful light brown eyes. I didn’t know what his father looked like as he had died over a decade ago and his portrait was oddly absent from all the walls. When I’d asked Demetri about it he’d just shrugged and said he had no idea. Marvina’s skin was a few shades lighter than Demetri’s lightly tanned skin and the sharp features that were charming on my husband always gave off a haughtier expression on Marvina. I hid my smile as I noticed the conservative cut of her dress with its high neckline and loose-fitting waist. The same style of dress on me would still come across as obscene thanks to my generous curves.
I gave her a polite smile when her piercing eyes fell on me before she flicked her fingers towards my proposal. Then she plucked the pages up and skimmed through them; her face unreadable. I forced myself to remain calm and fixed my features into a neutral expression. My proposal was sound and made both financial and political sense. Rynn was technically supposed to join the Alpha Pack, who belonged to the Order of Avala, but she’d been born into the Order of Narchis, which meant she had experience with both Orders. Like me, she had been training her entire life to serve in an elevated position and she’d been an excellent resource to help smooth things out from the Velesian standpoint. I was confident in my proposal and hopefully, Marvina would finally see me as the asset that I was.
“Well, Samara, I have to say that it’s fascinating to me that in the three years you’ve been residing in my House, you never once displayed such an interesting sense of humor,” she said in a light, airy voice. My breath caught in my throat as several of the advisors snickered in their seats.
“I’m sorry,” I said tightly with a false smile. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“You want us”—she placed a hand ordained with rings of gold and glittering jewels on her chest—“to trade with the mongrels? What could they possibly want with gold and silver? They spend half their lives in fur.”
Anger flashed through me then, vibrant and hot. For a second, I felt my bloodlust rise. I should have known that Marvina belonged to the group of Moroi who thought they were better than the Velesians. She’d never been so obvious about it in the past, but she’d made little comments here and there. It was one of the reasons why I’d never invited Rynn here, despite her hinting that she would like to come and see me.
We were all Moon Blessed. Our human ancestors had performed a ritual to make themselves better able to survive in a world full of monsters. The Moroi, Velesians, and Furies had just as much in common as we had our differences, but some refused to see it that way.
“While they have no need of gaudy jewelry,”—my eyes flicked to the rings on her finger—“gold and silver are used to lay enchantments on weapons so that they can fight against the wraiths. We need malachite. Everyone wins in this trade.”
The advisors who had been snickering at my expense earlier were now completely silent as their eyes darted back-and-forth between me and Marvina. Tension filled the room as everyone waited to see how Marvina would respond to my refusal to back down.
“House Laurent is one of the oldest Houses in existence,” she said coldly. “I agreed to the marriage between you and Demetri because it was in the best interest of our House at the time. I have made sure you remained in these walls because I refuse to allow you to represent us to the other Houses. Not with the way you are and the way you dress. You should have been grateful that I allowed you to sit in on these meetings but instead, you bring me this ridiculous trade proposal.”
I bristled as rage and humiliation warred within me. House Laurent might be one of the oldest Houses, but House Harker was the oldest. My ancestors had been the first of the Moroi to claw back their humanity. As much as I wanted to rub that into Marvina’s face, it wouldn’t help anything and it would cause a problem for my aunt and House Harker. I knew Marvina thought poorly of the Velesians, but I thought she’d been smart enough to at least see the value of this trade. I had miscalculated badly, and I was annoyed at myself for such a misstep.
“My apologies,” I said tightly as I rose from my chair, barely managing to keep my emotions off my face. “I will work on a different trade proposal that is more befitting for House Laurent.” You stuck-up, arrogant bitch.
“That’s not necessary. I have my advisors to help me with such endeavors. Your only job here is to make my son happy, and you can’t even do that right.” She gave me a cutting look. “I suggest you spend your time trying to rectify that situation.”