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Authors: Chelsea Luna

A Forest of Wolves

BOOK: A Forest of Wolves
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Praise for
Lions in the Garden
by Chelsea Luna
“Fast-paced—a tense read perfect for YA readers and adults alike.”
—Serena Chase,
USA Today HEA
 
“The setting, the plot, the characters, and the romance all built to a dramatic climax that begs for a sequel.”
—
Zerina Blossom's Books
 
“The story was well paced and kept me interested until the very end.”
—
NeverCat Books
 

Lions in the Garden
doesn't end on a cliff-hanger, but the story is nowhere near complete and will leave you ready for the rest.”
—
CJ Burright
 
“I was drawn into the story by the premise, read it all in one sitting and I held my breath until the very end.”
—POTL: All Things Books, Reading and Publishing
Also by Chelsea Luna
The Uprising Series
Lions in the Garden
A Forest of Wolves
 
 
The New England Witch Chronicles Series
New England Witch Chronicles
Conjured
Wicked Betrayal
All Hallows Eve
 
 
Zombie Apocalypse Trilogy
Love & the Zombie Apocalypse
Death & the Zombie Apocalypse
Revenge & the Zombie Apocalypse
 
 
Angels & Sinners Novella Series
Torment of Shadows
 
 
Monster Club Series
Monster Club: Case of the Ivy Hollow Werewolf
A Forest of Wolves
The Uprising, Book Two
Chelsea Luna
LYRICAL PRESS
Kensington Publishing Corp.
www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book.
 
LYRICAL PRESS BOOKS are published by
 
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
 
Copyright © 2016 by Chelsea Luna
 
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
 
 
Lyrical Press and Lyrical Press logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.
 
First Electronic Edition: September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-6018-3511-6
 
ISBN-13: 978-1-60183-512-3
ISBN-10: 1-60183-512-4
To Jax,
with all my love
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This series would not be possible without the help of the following people. Thank you all so much:
My parents for their love and support. I am lucky to have you both in my life. And I am happy that we all finally live within a five-mile radius of one another!
My son, Jackson; I love you! Everything I do is for you.
My brother, Chano, again; thank you for venturing all the way to the Czech Republic with me to research this novel. I will never forget the memories we made on that trip.
My agent, Brianne Johnson, at Writer's House. I am extremely fortunate to call you my agent. Thanks so much for all your support.
My editor, Norma Perez-Hernandez; thank you for caring about this project as much as I do. Your enthusiasm for my characters is humbling.
To everyone at Kensington; thank you so much for making this dream a reality!
Chapter One
Outside Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia
May 22, 1610
 
“W
here are we going?” I slipped the cloak on over my body.
“To Kladno,” Henrik answered. “My father and uncle are there. It's become headquarters for us this past week. I arranged for all of our weapons to be transported there. The plan was that once we freed Marc, we'd go there to regroup.”
“Headquarters?” I asked, but I already knew the answer. I was walking in my mother's rebellious footsteps. I would finish what she started.
Marc Sýkora brought our intertwined hands together and kissed the back of my hand. “People are waiting for us there. Allies. Peasants. Protestants. Defectors of the Crown and the Catholic Church. It's the headquarters of the rebellion.”
Rebellion.
This was it. I'd officially joined the Protestant rebellion.
I was now a defector from the Crown and the Catholic Church. A traitor to the Kingdom of Bohemia. What would King Rudolf think? Was he still alive? By now my father, Václav, the high chancellor of Bohemia, and the others had found Radek, the Duke of Prucha, beaten and tied up in his bedchamber.
My cheeks burned.
I had married Radek under the eyes of God in the beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral only last night. I was now officially Ludmila Nováková, Duchess of Prucha. That lying murderer, Radek, was my husband. A frigid chill ran down my spine and I shivered in my cloak.
What had I done?
“Are you cold?” Marc's strong blacksmith's hands slid under the garment and rubbed my arms. His fingers trailed down to where the short satin nightgown grazed the top of my thighs. “Your skin is like ice.”
Butterflies fluttered in my stomach at his touch, but nervousness quickly replaced the feeling of excitement. My mother's letter was hidden in my cloak and I still didn't know the contents of the letter. Not yet. I would read it when I was alone. When I was ready. The letter held the only words I'd ever have from my murdered mother. I had to protect them at all costs.
“I'm all right.”
“You don't seem so.”
“It was a stressful night,” I said.
“We're safe now—”
“Maybe.”
“Don't worry about Radek,” Marc said. “It's all over.”
I shook my head. “It's not over. You don't understand how Radek's mind works. He's manipulative and prideful. He's not going to take what happened lightly. Radek won't stop searching until he finds me. He'll be relentless in his hunt. In his eyes, we are husband and—”
“No.” Marc's arm slid around my waist. He drew me against his chest. “You are not his wife, Mila. The marriage was never consummated. You were forced to say those vows in church. It doesn't work that way.”
“But—”
“You are not married.”
I sighed. There was no sense in arguing with him. He was a Protestant. He didn't understand the Catholic view of marriage. Marc was right in that the marriage had never been consummated, but we had said the vows in church in front of a priest and under the eyes of God. It had to mean something....
“And you have to forget what Radek told you about King Rudolf and your mother,” Marc said.
“That I might be the heir?”
“Shh.” Marc twisted in the darkness to see if anyone had overheard.
“What?”
“If it's true—and I doubt it because Radek is a liar—that means you are heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Do you understand the significance of that? Both sides of this rebellion will want you dead. The Protestants will kill you because you're next in line. The Catholics will want you dead because they want Matthias of Austria on the throne. We must keep this rumor a secret.”
“You think it's only a rumor?”
“It's possible Radek lied to keep you loyal to the Crown. He'd say anything to accomplish that.” Marc kissed the top of my head. “Let's not speak of Radek anymore. We're away from Prague Castle and that's all that matters now.”
We rode in silence. The dark blue sky lightened to shades of orange and pink as the sun lifted from the thick tree line. It was a breathtaking view, but one I barely noticed. I was mentally and physically exhausted from the night's events. Too many thoughts swarmed my mind.
Was my maid Branka safe? Were my father and Radek already hunting us? Was I married to Radek or was the ceremony a sham, as Marc believed? Was King Rudolf's life in danger? Were we on the brink of war?
I squeezed my eyes shut and inhaled. I counted to ten before I exhaled. How did my life become so complicated? The days of lounging in the royal library reading books on ancient Rome seemed so far away.
So safe. So innocent. So boring.
“Not much farther,” Henrik announced to the caravan behind us.
Marc's older brother resembled him, except for the shoulder-length blond hair and the slight crookedness of his nose. Henrik didn't look like his normally happy self. Lines deepened in the broad plane of his forehead whenever he stole glimpses at Marc's back.
Bloody gashes of skin peeked out from Marc's torn shirt.
The whistling of the guard's leather whip as it lashed through the air and snapped across Marc's back would be engrained in my mind forever. The sights and sounds of his public whipping in Prague's central square were the single worst act I'd ever borne witness to.
What was almost as bad as witnessing the actual torture was the look of complete indifference on the face of my father as he doled out the barbaric punishment to the man I loved in front of a crowd of hundreds. He had tortured an innocent blacksmith whose only crime was that his religion differed from my father's.
It was a frightening ideology, but one that had taken root all around the kingdom for quite some time.
Henrik patted his horse's neck. “Dad probably thinks you're dead.”
“I assume as much.” Marc shrugged. “From what I hear, no one escapes from Daliborka Tower.”
A huge grin claimed his face. “Unless your big brother's name is Henrik Sýkora and he orchestrates the logistics behind a daring escape.
He
could definitely pull off the most skilled prison break in Prague's history.”
Marc laughed. “Of course he could.”
“I'm just pointing out the facts.”
“You're so modest.” Marc turned to Stephan. “Are you feeling well? You don't look so good.”
Stephan, a former high-ranking general in King Rudolf II's Royal Bohemian Army, rode to our right. Brown curls escaped from the ribbon secured at the base of his thick neck. He slouched over on his horse, looking pale and clammy; a deep gash bled freely from his left thigh. He had suffered the injury during our escape from the castle.
Stephan groaned. “I need some ale.”
“Don't fall off,” Henrik said. “I'm not carrying your big ass on my horse.”
“I see you're concerned about my well-being.” Stephan grinned and made an obscene gesture at Henrik.
“You are my main concern. I have no others but you.”
“You think I can get one of those girls to care for me?” Stephan wiggled his eyebrows at the caravan of people following us.
“Not with that ugly face.” Henrik laughed.
“Not even taking into consideration my pitiful injury?”
“Well . . . maybe with the pitiful injury.”
I leaned back against Marc's chest. The strong rhythm of his heartbeat soothed my anxiety. “I'd assumed Stephan was another one of my father's henchmen,” I whispered.
“No. He's been a clandestine rebel for years. Henrik and Stephan have been friends since they were children. According to Henrik, he couldn't have freed me from Daliborka Tower without Stephan's help. I owe him my life.”
“We should do something nice to thank him,” I said. “And make sure his wound is taken care of. It doesn't look good from here.”
“That's a thoughtful idea.”
The caravan of people we had met in Rika after our escape from Prague Castle walked silently behind us. Men, women, and children blindly followed Marc as we trudged through the forest en route to Kladno.
The look of hope and trust on their faces was uplifting. How did Marc inspire these people? Why did they believe in him? What was it that made strangers give up everything they'd ever known to join a rebellion?
I knew the answer.
They had no choice. Their lives as peasants under the Crown were so miserable, so awful, that anything was better than their current state. These people would rather follow the blacksmith's son, all of nineteen years old, on his quest for freedom against the stronger, better equipped Crown backed by the Roman Catholic Church, than go another day in their present, unhappy existence.
Something stirred inside me. Was this what my mother had experienced when she fought for the peasant rebellion? Is this what it felt like to do the right thing? To fight for what was right?
“Halt!” Marc's voice cut through the forest.
The sharp words caught me so off-guard that I flinched and almost fell off the stallion. The entire caravan stopped behind us. Marc's command was so unexpected that I imagined people slamming into the backs of the person in front of them.
“Sorry.” Marc kissed the top of my head. “I didn't mean to startle you.” He slid off the horse but must not have contemplated what the movement would do to his injured back. He groaned.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
“I'm fine.” Sweat beaded his forehead. “Henrik, will you come with me?”
“What's going on?” I asked.
“Stay here,” Marc said. “Stephan, stay with them.”
Stephan nodded. Sweat glistened on his pale face. He needed a healer; his wound was extensive and this long ride was taking a toll on his health. Earlier, he'd joked and laughed with Henrik, but when Stephan thought no one was watching him, the pain was clear on his face.
Henrik dismounted and unsheathed his sword. He followed Marc on the trail without asking any questions.
I had too many to ask. What was going on? Why had Marc stopped the procession? Had he seen something? Were we in danger? Were Marc and Henrik walking into a trap?
I slid off my horse.
“My lady,” Stephan said.
“I'll be all right, Stephan.”
“But Marc said—”
“I'm fine.”
Stephan sighed, but he didn't argue. Maybe he was in too much pain. Or maybe he didn't care enough to stop me. It was a good decision on Stephan's part because I was going after them whether he liked it or not.
Marc and Henrik were ahead on the trail, which curved to the left. They disappeared around the bend. Something blue flapped between the trees.
What on earth?
I squinted, but I was too far away to see clearly.
Nerves coiled tight in my stomach, I quickened my pace. For once I didn't have multiple skirts hindering me. I wore only my wedding nightgown and a cloak, so I moved easily despite my bare feet crunching over the dried grass.
Marc and Henrik had stopped ahead.
They stood in front of a wooden display erected in the middle of the trail. A massive piece of wood—the size of three doors connected together—sat oddly out of place in the forest.
What was it? Who would put that there?
The answer followed directly. The strange blue color between the trees was now clearly two blue flags flapping from the top corners of a wooden contraption.
Royal blue.
The official flags of the Kingdom of Bohemia. The flags were once so familiar to me that they were practically invisible. Now they only produced the feeling of dread and fear inside me.
Something was attached to the wooden contraption, but it was hard to determine what it was from where I stood. My stroll had quickened into an outright jog. A queasy sensation flipped in my stomach. My palms were sweaty.
Marc frowned when I approached. “Mila, I told you to stay back with the others. You don't need to—”
“What is it?” I asked.
The burned smell hit me.
I covered my nose with my hand to ward off the repulsive odor.
“Marc's right, Mila.” Henrik gripped the hilt of his sword like a lifeline. “You should go back to the horses. You don't want to see this.”
I stepped around the brothers so I could see what it was—what I wasn't supposed to see.
I wished I hadn't.
A person—or what used to be a person—was nailed spreadeagled to the wood erected in the middle of the trail. I couldn't tell if the deceased was a man or a woman. Charred black skin covered the corpse from head to toe. No features were identifiable.
Written on the board beside the body were four words scrawled in blood: “Death to All Protestants.”
BOOK: A Forest of Wolves
12.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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