Have you ever wondered how Annabel's parents met?
I'm currently writing their love story and I can't wait to share it with you.
For now, I'll be leaving here the first teasing chapters.
Anna Santos present: "Forbidden Love", a spin-off novella in the Immortal Love Series.
Prince George stood on a branch, holding his sword against his chest, and tuning his senses to the forest surrounding him and his men. All he could hear were insects buzzing around, the breeze ruffling the leaves, and small animals searching for food.
“Shane, are you sure this is the best place for an ambush?” He questioned his commander and leader of the werewolf pack serving his family.
“We need to be patient,” Shane answered from below where he hid behind the vegetation.
Werewolves weren’t known for being excellent climbers. The vampires, on the other hand, were agile and fast. His men were trained, and those slave traders wouldn't stand a chance.
“The night is falling. They could have stopped and set up camp.”
“My man tells me that they are coming, but at a slow pace. The road is in bad shape, and it’s slowing down the wagons.”
George relaxed his head against the tree and closed his eyes. His body was sore and his patience short. For three days, they had chased down the gang who attacked a village near his kingdom borders and kidnapped the women and children. He knew the fate that awaited those who were taken. His men knew as well. His father was keen on protecting his people and so was he. As the crown prince, he had duties, but it wasn't in his core to let other people suffer at the hand of the vampire slave traders.
Shane's voice woke him up from his thoughts. "We have movement not far from here."
George rubbed his eyes to chase away the exhaustion. Three days with no rest. All worth it to get there before the enemy's trail disappeared.
His enhanced audition perceived the hissing sound of rustling bushes and horses throttling. His hand gripped the handle of his sword and silently unsheathed it. Looking down, he saw Shane signaling him to get ready. Then, his commander turned around and rushed to the trap they had set up. Branches and logs were placed in the narrow tree path, so the enemy had to stop and clear the way. Once the wagons halted and the men were on the ground, the prince's men would attack. Simple but effective.
The wheels of the wagons echoed through the forest, carried by the chilly wind. George took a deep breath and visualized the plan in his mind. The scouts would stop first to analyze the trunks that blocked the road. When they tried to free the way, the werewolves would attack first, and the vampires would jump on the horsemen to immobilize and prevent them from running away.
The sound of a sparrow sounded and made him open his eyes. The carriages stopped as planned. The first vampires inspected the debris and called the rest to move the trunks and branches.
The forest was silent until his men cut the ropes that held the sharp trunks and they flew to hit the kidnappers. The screams of pain and panic made themselves heard. Once the panic set in, they all pounced. The wolves attacked the men at the blockade, and George and the other vampires jumped on the horsemen, wielding their weapons and pointing them to their torsos and necks for an efficient death.
George waved his sword with precise movements, slitting throats and amputating arms. As a pureblooded vampire, he was faster than the turned ones. Centuries of experience and battles turned him into an eximious fighter.
The traffickers didn't have a chance, and the carnage was inevitable. When it was all over, George’s team ended up with only two fatalities on their side. They also managed to take prisoners whom would be useful to interrogate and discover who was behind the recent attacks. The prisoners were mercenaries, and the other vampires probably obeyed the vampire who had turned them.
It was time to release the abducted women.
No matter how many centuries the vampire prince lived, he would never be prepared for the desolate image and the terror in the eyes of those they released. Of course, they felt relief and gratitude for being saved. But the terror they had lived, and the abuse would always be marked in their souls.
Some of the prince's men had reunited with relatives, others with their wives. Nevertheless, some of the rescued women were from other villages and other races. It was not uncommon for traffickers to kidnap feline females. Their beauty and graciousness made them coveted prizes to be sex slaves to wealthy vampire lords.
Their campsite was half an hour away. After clearing the path, they returned before nightfall. Shane rode beside his master as the wagons followed behind their escort. "Tomorrow we need to decide what we're going to do with the werepanthers."
George cleared his throat. "The women are malnourished and frightened. Tonight, they eat, relax, and tomorrow we return home. We can find shelter for them while we discover where they are from and how to return them to their families."
"And the vampires who kidnapped them?"
"We will do what we always do. We question them and then bring them to our kingdom for a fair trial."
Shane came closer and spoke lower. "My prince, are you all right? You look disheartened. We were able to save our people. It's reason to celebrate."
"It didn't happen without casualties."
"Their bravery will be remembered," Shane said solemnly.
George nodded sternly. "They were too young."
"The gods will receive them with feasts and wine. They gave their lives to save the innocents."
"I'll personally deliver their bodies to their families."
Shane bowed his head. "They will be honored, my prince."
Cracking a smile, George proclaimed in a loud voice for all to hear, "The men deserve a party. I'm not against it. We will celebrate and drink beer until we lose our senses."
The shouts of joy echoed behind them.
The nights were getting colder, and George's men took comfort around the several fires where they had roasted their game meat and shared it with the famished rescued women and children. His rescuing team had brought extra tents to accommodate them, and they weren't lowering their guard. They were away from their territory, even if they weren't trespassing other pack’s or vampire lord’s lands, the dangers were everywhere. George would feel a lot safer once he returned home and debriefed his father. There was also the matter of the prisoners and their interrogation.
Easing the soreness in his shoulders, he got up and entered his tent. After disposing himself of his jacket, belt, and boots, he fell over the pile of furs and blankets that served as a bed. The happy sounds outside and the cracking of the fire made a dent in his loneliness. He had grown accustomed to it. After centuries of being mateless, giving the ones who had found their soulmates the chance to be reunited brought him happiness. His thoughts drifted into sleep where he dreamed of the mate he had never met. She was faceless, but fierce and kind.
Waking up with a blade against his throat was something new. Blinking to adjust his eyes to the darkness, he saw the enemy wearing a porcelain red mask that hid his face. Instead of feeling threatened, the scent excited him. That's new!
"Up!" the intruder groaned.
George used his elbows to sit up and assess the person inside his tent. He was somewhat small for a man, wearing a leather jacket, a hood over his head that covered the porcelain mask, and leather boots over cotton pants. Squinting his eyes, the prince was rather sure that it was a woman underneath those ninja-like clothes. He smirked sideways, watching how she pointed her gladius sword at him.
"How did you get here and what do you want?" the prince asked.
The woman’s heartbeat was steady. She was not a rookie, and she wasn't afraid of him.
"Get up and tell your men to release the women and the children." Her voice came out hoarse, but he knew she was trying to sound manly.
George clenched his jaw. "What do you want with them?"
His eyes searched for his sword.
"Don't even think about it," the attacker muttered, pointing the sword at his throat. "You may think you are fast, vamp, but I'm faster. I'll remove the head from your body before you can even move from that place."
Grinning, George mumbled, "Challenge accepted."
Using his speed, he pushed her sword aside, got up, and reached for his blade. Before the enemy could attack, he clashed his sword with the gladius blade, grabbed the attacker's arm, and turned her around. Slamming her back against his torso, George held his arm around her neck and smirked again when he felt the softness of her curves molding against his body. He had no idea why, but she turned him on, and he hadn't even seen her face. But her smell—it was something out of this world.
"What exactly was your plan? Enter here and use me to force my men to do what you want?"
The woman squirmed in his arms. "My men will kill you and your men. You are scum and..."
George put his hand on her mask, and it had the intended effect of muffling her insults. "Lady, I'm being nice because I don't hurt women, but you need to tell me why you came here to attack me. Will you indulge me in a reply or do I need to drag you outside... Wait. What did you do to my men?"
Freeing her and dragging her by the arm, he left his tent and encountered several of his men sleeping next to the fires while the guards sat against the trees and looked at the stars.
He looked back at her. "You entered here without them noticing you? Are you alone? Where are those men you've talked about?"
The sound of his voice created a frenzy around the campsite. His soldiers raised their heads and looked around while a few rushed from their tents with their swords in their hands.
"Your majesty, what's going on?" Shane asked. "Where did this guy come from?"
"It's not a guy. It's a woman. A skilled one by the look of it. She has mistaken us for the enemy. Remove your..." George grabbed the dagger she had hidden behind her back before she could stab him with it.
A woman's voice was heard from the forest. "Release her. You are surrounded. Any resistance will end in bloodshed."
Coming out from the darkness, several warriors dressed in dark-brown clothes with hoods over their heads appeared, aiming their muskets at George and his men. There were at least ten armed warriors, all wearing porcelain red masks.
Raising his hands, George released the intruder.
"Mother!" One of the rescued girls exited a tent and ran to the woman who led the warriors aiming their guns at George and his men.
George cleared his throat. "I believe there's some misunderstanding."
"Quiet, vampire! Anika, use the silver chains to restrain him," the leader ordered the girl next to George.
The prince turned his head to watch her when the commotion between the released prisoners began.
"No! They saved us. You are not going to harm them." The girl who had run to the leader protested first when the rest of the girls agreed.
Anika walked forward with fisted hands. "I saw other women sleeping in their tents. If they were really saving you, they wouldn't abuse them."
"They are their wives," George explained.
The woman spun around to face him. "Wives?"
George placed his hand against his chest and noticed her face lowering to follow it. His shirt was half unbuttoned. He fought the urge to smirk at her. "I'm Prince George from the Fairbanks Kingdom. We gathered a group of warriors to save the women and children that were kidnapped four days ago on our border. We are not the enemy."
"What were you planning to do with the other women?"
"Return them to their families, of course."
Her mask concealed any emotion, and he had no idea how she could see while wearing it. Yet he longed to see her face and understand why her scent was so enticing and her presence so soothing.
"Is this true?" The leader questioned her daughter.
"Yes. They have been nothing but respectful."
The warrior turned around and ignored George. "Where's Philippa?"
The girl lowered her eyes to the ground. "I'm sorry, Anika. They took her."
Anika shortened the distance between them and placed her hands on her shoulders. "Who took her? You just said that these men saved you."
"They chose a few of us, divided us into groups, and they took Philippa with them. She wasn't with us when we were rescued."
Anika shook the girl. "Where?"
The leader pushed Anika aside. "Enough! Lower your weapons."
Waving, the woman walked towards George.
Removing her mask and showing her yellow feline eyes and beautiful face, she introduced herself. "I'm Felicia, the sister of the leader of our panther group. I command this group of warriors. I'm terribly sorry for this misunderstanding, your majesty." She bowed slightly in respect. "We have heard all the good things that your king has done for the supernatural community. If we could set camp beside yours, we'll take our girls and get out of here first thing in the morning."
"And Philippa?" Anika inquired.
George arched an eyebrow, worried about the lack of respect that she just showed to her commander.
Felicia's face became solemn, and she turned her head to her warrior. "Anika, we are not giving up. We are just resting, and we'll continue our way after we send the girls home. They are in no condition to continue this pursuit. I want to find your sister as much as you do."
Anika walked forward and stopped in front of George. "Prisoners, did anyone survive?"
Felicia's hand fell on her shoulder as she pulled her back. "Forgive my niece and her lack of manners. When they attacked our community, her sister was taken, and we've been on the road for a week now."
The prince folded his hands in front of his torso. "We have prisoners. They are restrained inside of one of the tents. I had no idea there were other women, or I would have questioned them myself."
Anika's posture relaxed as she addressed the prince. "Can you show them to me? Please."
Her aunt's hand prevented her from moving. "It's late, and you are tired. It's time for us to rest, not to interrogate prisoners."
The werepanther warrior growled.
"Enough! Don't force me to tell your father that you disobeyed me. You'll never be a good warrior if you don't learn to obey. Nor a good commander if you keep being selfish and not putting the well-being of your warriors first. We are all exhausted, and we need to rest."
Anika lowered her head in respect.
George looked at his men and waved them to relax and stand down. "Go back to sleep," he added.
Everybody obeyed but Shane who stood outside his tent, resting his hand on the butt of his pistol.
Felicia waved her warriors to approach. Then, she turned to George. "Prince, could we camp next to your fire? We don't need much."
Prince George nodded. "Of course, but you and your family can have my tent. I'll sleep with my men."
"We don't want to impose," Felicia said. "We are used to sleeping on the floor."
"I insist. The night is cold, and you've been on the road for far too long. You need a good night’s sleep." Stepping back, George showed them the entrance to his tent. "I'll just grab my clothes, and you can make yourself at home."
Once George came out with his belongings, Felicia and her daughter entered the tent. Anika was still wearing her mask and fisting her hands. His muscles tensed every time he smelled her. He wondered if she would ever remove the mask to allow him to see her face and her eyes. Maybe she had yellow eyes like her aunt.
From the corner of his eye, he noticed that Anika hesitated in entering his tent.
She stepped back and turned around as she muttered. "I'll do the first watch. You can sleep."
Her aunt and her cousin ignored her.
Sitting next to the fire where other warriors had laid down to rest, Anika played with a stick and drew figures on the ground.
Inhaling sharply, she lifted her face. "What? Are you afraid that I’ll attack you in your sleep?" Her question was aimed at George as he stood near the entrance to Shane’s tent, watching her.
He smirked. "How old are you?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"You sound young."
"And you sound old."
George frowned. "Just get some rest. My men will patrol."
"Yes, because they did such a great job the first time."
Facing the fire, Anika continued to draw with the stick and ignored him.
The prince entered the tent and took his place next to Shane. His commander was already sleeping. For him, it wasn't that easy. He couldn't stop thinking about the girl outside, being unpleasant to him and mourning the loss of her sister. It didn't help that her enticing scent lingered on his clothes from when he had restrained her against his body.
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