The Blood Spell (Ravenspire, #4)(7)

The blood wraith that had terrorized the city sixteen years ago didn’t currently worry Blue. The poverty and desperation of the children who were conveniently forgotten by the city’s wealthy until they needed a job done, however, did.

A carriage rushed past her, the horse’s hooves clip-clopping briskly along the road as Blue pulled a square box tied with twine out of her tote and turned down a street of two-story stone homes with red doors and polished iron filigree.

She had to find the key to turning lead into gold. Every day she failed was another day the children in her quarter were at risk.


KELLAN RENARD, CROWN prince of Balavata, was in serious danger of losing his lunch all over the beautiful interior of the royal carriage, an offense his mother would be slow to forgive.

It wasn’t the fact that the road leading south through Balavata wound around the grass-covered hills like the curling sugar candy the cook made each Wintermass, though that certainly wasn’t helping.

It wasn’t that his mother had spent the past two hours lecturing him in great detail about the expectations on his shoulders now that he’d graduated from his boarding school in Loch Talam and would be permanently assuming his duties as heir to the throne, though that really wasn’t helping.

It was the hint of sea salt in the breeze and the distant roar of the waves as they neared the seaside capital city of Falaise de la Mer, where both his home and his memories waited to swallow him whole.

And all right, fine, it was also the five pints of cheap ale and the scant two hours of sleep he’d had the night before after sneaking out of the inn while his mother slept. He’d only meant to have a single drink at the local pub, but a boy’s best intentions could hardly stand up to the sparkling eyes and charming smiles of three pretty maidens who’d all wanted a dance partner. And if he’d needed more than one pint to face the idea of returning home to become king, who could blame him?

He’d made the long trip home from Milisatria Academy ten summers in a row. Each time, he’d been hit with a cold, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach once he got close enough to smell the sea, though a few ales, some pranks pulled on the castle staff, and a wild night or twelve in the more unsavory neighborhoods of Falaise de la Mer usually provided enough distraction to count as a cure. Or maybe it was simply because he’d known he only had to stay for nine weeks before he could head north again for another year at school with its rigid routine, his friend and roommate Javan, and so many glorious opportunities to break the rules and get away with it.

This time, Kellan was coming home to stay. This time, he’d have council meetings, power struggles, and worst of all—

“Are you listening to me, Kellan? Your birthday is a mere six weeks away. By law, you must be betrothed by then. We can do the betrothal proclamation at a ball, which we’ll hold a bit earlier than your actual birthday. I thought we’d announce the ball at a royal reception for the head families. Say, in one week’s time?”

Kellan sighed. Worst of all, he was bound by law to be betrothed by his nineteenth birthday to a girl from one of Balavata’s nine head families. The law was designed to ensure that heirs to the throne were produced consistently, and that the head families had opportunities to increase their influence while one of their own sat on the throne beside the heir. It didn’t matter if he liked any of the eligible daughters, or if they liked him. To be fair, Kellan rarely met a girl he didn’t like, but enjoying some harmless flirting was a far cry from promising to love someone until he died.

That thought had him wishing he had another pint.

“Kellan.” The queen’s voice was a sharp warning that had him sitting up straighter and looking her in the eye.

She had his tall, athletic build, though she was rounder and softer than she used to be. Her dark eyes and brown skin were a match for his, as were her long, slim fingers and the deep dimples in her cheeks, but the rest of him was his father, from his close-cut black hair to his big feet to the restlessness coiled inside him, always longing for another adventure. Another risk.

“I’ve done all I can to let you have your childhood,” his mother said quietly. His eyes flew open and found hers. There was a flicker of sympathy in her usually stoic expression. “I’ve let you be schooled far from home the way your father was before you. I’ve let you run wild in the summer months, ignoring all but the basic court functions that required your attendance.”

“I mean . . . wild is maybe overstating things a bit.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Do we need to have a discussion about who switched the kitchen’s sugar supply for salt before the midsummer banquet? Or why my prize stallion was seen participating in an illegal race with someone who looked suspiciously like my son on his back? Or perhaps we should revisit the lovely morning when our esteemed butler woke up on the castle roof in nothing but his unmentionables?”

Kellan laughed, caught a glimpse of his mother’s expression, and hastily pretended to be suffering from a coughing fit.


He raised his hands in surrender. “No further discussion needed.”

She leaned forward and wrapped cool hands around his. “You are the crown prince who will rule Balavata in the coming years. From the moment we step foot outside this carriage, you must act like it. One misstep, one appearance of weakness or vulnerability, and those who would love to take the throne for themselves, whether they have a girl of marriageable age or not, will not hesitate to pounce. They’ve only accepted me as their queen without your father for this long because they knew you, a true Renard by birth, would be of age soon enough.”

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