The Blood Spell (Ravenspire, #4)(9)

Nothing said romance like being the fox at the wrong end of a hunt.

The Gaillard mansion was set on a gentle rise at the western edge of their quarter. Kellan disembarked from the carriage and was immediately greeted by their butler.

The man bowed low and said, “My Lady Genevieve is waiting for you in the gardens.”

“Thank you.” Kellan pivoted away from the front door and headed to the southern side of the house, where carefully manicured bushes, flowers, and trees were neatly arranged along paths of glistening white sand. He was nearly to the garden’s entrance, his eyes on the ground, his thoughts full of navigating the betrothal season, assuming the crown, and protecting his family, when he ran full tilt into someone. His head snapped up, and his hand shot out to grab on to Genevieve Gaillard’s arm as she stumbled.

She laughed. “You certainly know how to make an entrance, Your Majesty.”

He grinned. “It’s one of my many talents.”

The late-afternoon sun glinted against her long red curls and shone against her golden skin as she gave him a proper curtsy. Her blue eyes danced with amusement as she cast a quick glance at the house and then whispered, “I’m positive my parents are huddled in front of my papa’s bedroom window right now, taking notes. Why don’t we stroll around the house instead of the garden? I don’t feel like being on display.”

They walked in companionable silence for a moment, and Kellan’s headache receded. Technically, he wasn’t supposed to be friends with any of the girls who qualified for the betrothal, as it would give them an unfair advantage, but he’d met Gen the previous summer when she snuck out to meet up with one of Kellan’s friends and ended up spending plenty of time with their entire group safely away from the prying eyes of their parents. He might have felt bad about the brotherly affection he already held for Gen if she wasn’t madly in love with one of his best friends. In his mind, that took her firmly off the list of contenders for the betrothal.

Leaning toward her as they rounded the corner of the house and headed toward the front drive, he said, “I assume you and Alexander are still . . . ?”

Pink bloomed on her cheeks. “We are.” She cast him a swift look. “But of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t . . . I understand the law and what’s at stake, and if you need to . . . if you decide to choose—”

“I’m not choosing you.” He gave her arm a friendly squeeze. “I would never come between my friends. But we have to keep this quiet. If anyone suspects that I’ve already ruled you out, there will be trouble with your parents and their allies.”

She nodded and then her face broke into another smile as she looked past him. “Oh, look! Blue is here. I guess she’s making deliveries for the shop. Must have lost her errand girl again.”

Kellan followed Gen’s gaze and stopped walking. Blue de la Cour, the daughter of one of Kellan’s father’s dearest friends and the bane of his existence, was walking up the drive, her arms full of packages.

“Come on, Kellan.” Gen pulled on his arm.

“I’d really rather not,” Kellan said, but Blue had already heard Gen. Looking up, she made eye contact with Kellan. Her face twisted as if she’d sucked on a sour shirella.

“Hello!” Gen called, pulling Kellan forward with her as Blue reached the top of the drive.

“Ugh, this is happening,” Kellan muttered as Blue came to a stop in front of them, her dark eyes full of faint contempt when she looked at him.

Gen let go of Kellan and reached for the packages in Blue’s hands. “Let me help you, Blue.”

“There’s no need.” Blue blinked as Gen whisked the packages out of her hands and turned toward the house. “Really. I can deliver them to the butler myself.”

“There. You heard her. She can deliver them herself.” Kellan turned toward Gen only to find that she was already halfway up the steps to the front door.

Silence fell between Blue and Kellan, and he couldn’t think of a single courteous way to break it.

She arched a brow at him and said, “Nessa was excited to see you again.” Her tone of voice made it clear she didn’t share his sister’s sentiments.

Fine by him. He could’ve gone another ten years without seeing the know-it-all, always-on-a-crusade-against-him Blue, but sometimes life gave you what you wanted, and sometimes it kicked horse manure in your face.

“I was happy to see Nessa too,” he said, and dearly hoped they were done talking.

She tapped her fingers against her legs impatiently, opened her mouth, shut it, and then opened it again.

Kellan’s words were rushed. “Before you say anything—”

“Try not to do anything foolish this summer,” she said as if she hadn’t heard him.

He glared. It was one thing to have to sit through her interminable lectures when he’d actually done something to deserve them. But to have her preemptively decide he was going to be a fool—never mind the fact that several very tantalizing and possibly foolhardy ideas had already occurred to him as the noose of his responsibilities tightened—was too much to bear.

“Try to give me a little credit, Blue,” he snapped.

Her lip curled. “I give you exactly as much credit as you deserve.”

He folded his arms over his chest. “You don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

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