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Blood & Honey
Author: Shelby Mahurin

Part I


Il n’y a pas plus sourd que celui qui ne veut pas entendre.

There are none so deaf as those that will not hear.

—French proverb



HarperCollins Publishers






Dark clouds gathered overhead.

Though I couldn’t see the sky through the thick canopy of La Fôret des Yeux—or feel the bitter winds rising outside our camp—I knew a storm was brewing. The trees swayed in the gray twilight, and the animals had gone to ground. Several days ago, we’d burrowed into our own sort of hole: a peculiar basin in the forest floor, where the trees had grown roots like fingers, thrusting in and out of the cold earth. I affectionately called it the Hollow. Though snow dusted everything outside it, the flakes melted on contact with the protective magic Madame Labelle had cast.

Adjusting the baking stone over the fire, I poked hopefully at the misshapen lump atop it. It couldn’t be called bread, exactly, as I’d cobbled the concoction together from nothing but ground bark and water, but I refused to eat another meal of pine nuts and milk thistle root. I simply refused. A girl needed something with taste now and again—and I didn’t mean the wild onions Coco had found this morning. My breath still smelled like a dragon’s.

“I’m not eating that,” Beau said flatly, eyeing the pine bread as if it’d soon sprout legs and attack him. His black hair—usually styled with immaculate detail—stuck out in disheveled waves, and dirt streaked his tawny cheek. Though his velvet suit would’ve been the height of fashion in Cesarine, it too was now sullied with grime.

I grinned at him. “Fine. Starve.”

“Is it . . .” Ansel edged closer, wrinkling his nose surreptitiously. Eyes bright from hunger and hair tangled from the wind, he hadn’t fared in the wilderness much better than Beau. But Ansel—with his olive skin and willowy build, his curling lashes and his genuine smile—would always be beautiful. He couldn’t help it. “Do you think it’s—”

“Edible?” Beau supplied, arching a dark brow. “No.”

“I wasn’t going to say that!” Pink colored Ansel’s cheeks, and he shot me an apologetic look. “I was going to say, er—good. Do you think it’s good?”

“Also no.” Beau turned away to rummage in his pack. Triumphant, he straightened a moment later with a handful of onions, popping one into his mouth. “This will be my dinner tonight, thank you.”

When I opened my mouth with a scathing reply, Reid’s arm came across my shoulders, heavy and warm and comforting. He brushed a kiss against my temple. “I’m sure the bread is delicious.”

“That’s right.” I leaned into him, preening at the compliment. “It will be delicious. And we won’t smell like ass—er, onion—for the rest of the night.” I smiled sweetly at Beau, who paused with his hand halfway to his mouth, scowling between me and his onion. “Those are going to seep out of your pores for the next day, at least.”

Chuckling, Reid bent low to kiss my shoulder, and his voice—slow and deep—rumbled against my skin. “You know, there’s a stream up the way.”

Instinctively, I extended my neck, and he placed another kiss on my throat, right beneath my jaw. My pulse spiked against his mouth. Though Beau curled his lip in disgust at our public display, I ignored him, reveling in Reid’s nearness. We hadn’t been properly alone since I’d woken after Modraniht. “Maybe we should go there,” I said a bit breathlessly. As usual, Reid pulled away too soon. “We could pack up our bread and . . . picnic.”

Madame Labelle’s head jerked toward us from across camp, where she and Coco argued within the roots of an ancient fir. They clutched a piece of parchment between them, their shoulders tense and their faces drawn. Ink and blood dotted Coco’s fingers. Already, she’d sent two notes to La Voisin at the blood camp, pleading for sanctuary. Her aunt hadn’t responded to either. I doubted a third note would change that. “Absolutely not,” Madame Labelle said. “You cannot leave camp. I’ve forbidden it. Besides, a storm is brewing.”

Forbidden it. The words rankled. No one had forbidden me from doing anything since I was three.

“Might I remind you,” she continued, her nose in the air and her tone insufferable, “that the forest is still crawling with huntsmen, and though we have not seen them, the witches cannot be far behind. That’s not to mention the king’s guard. Word has spread about Florin’s death on Modraniht”—Reid and I stiffened in each other’s arms—“and bounties have risen. Even peasants know your faces. You cannot leave this camp until we’ve formed some sort of offensive strategy.”

I didn’t miss the subtle emphasis she placed on you, or the way she glanced between Reid and me. We were the ones forbidden from leaving camp. We were the ones with our faces plastered all over Saint-Loire—and by now, probably every other village in the kingdom too. Coco and Ansel had pinched a couple of the wanted posters after their foray into Saint-Loire for supplies—one depicting Reid’s handsome face, his hair colored red with common madder, and one depicting mine.

The artist had given me a wart on my chin.

Scowling at the memory, I flipped the loaf of pine bread, revealing a burnt, blackened crust on the underside. We all stared at it a moment.

“You’re right, Reid. So delicious.” Beau grinned wide. Behind him, Coco squeezed blood from her palm onto the note. The drops sizzled and smoked where they fell, burning the parchment away into nothing. Transporting it to wherever La Voisin and the Dames Rouges currently camped. Beau waved the rest of his onions directly beneath my nose, reclaiming my attention. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like one?”

I knocked them out of his hand. “Piss off.”

With a squeeze of my shoulders, Reid swept the burnt loaf from the stone and cut a slice with expert precision. “You don’t have to eat it,” I said sullenly.

His lips quirked in a grin. “Bon appétit.”

We watched, transfixed, as he stuffed the bread into his mouth—and choked.

Beau roared with laughter.

Eyes watering, Reid hastened to swallow as Ansel pounded on his back. “It’s good,” he assured me, still coughing and trying to chew. “Really. It tastes like—like—”

“Char?” Beau bent double at my expression, laughing riotously, and Reid glowered, still choking but lifting a foot to kick his ass. Literally. Losing his balance, Beau toppled forward into the moss and lichen of the forest floor, a boot print clearly visible against the seat of his velvet pants.

He spat mud from his mouth as Reid finally swallowed the bread. “Prick.”

Before he could take another bite, I knocked the bread back into the fire. “Your chivalry is noted, husband mine, and shall be thusly rewarded.”

He pulled me into a hug, his smile genuine now. And shamefully relieved. “I would’ve eaten it.”

“I should’ve let you.”

“And now all of you will go hungry,” Beau said.

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