Munro (Immortals After Dark #18) by Kresley Cole



            His hands were warm against hers.

            Alfonso, the circus’s minister and sideshow barker, asked her, “Kereny Codrina, do you take this man . . .” His words grew distant as a wave of déjà vu swept over her.

            Damn it, not another one. All evening, she’d been feeling them. So much effort had gone into this wedding, and she didn’t want to ruin it now.

            She’d taken particular care with her appearance, combing her hair till it gleamed, then braiding flowers into the long waves. Her white full-length gown had been her mother’s wedding dress, fashioned in the traditional Transylvanian style, with wide sleeves, lace cuffs, and two formal aprons.

            The circus’s cooks had spent all day preparing a feast. Tonight spirits would flow, and musicians would play. A last hurrah before battle.

            Most of the members of the Circul Vân─âtorilor were part carnie/part hunter—stouthearted, foulmouthed soldiers in humanity’s Night War against monsters. They’d all flocked here to the vast Cursed Forest from around the world, drawn by tales of human freedom fighters turning the tables deep in the Carpathians. Of late, many had come to fight alongside a Transylvanian girl who’d become a reaper of immortals.

            But tomorrow’s battle would be one of the greatest challenges in the circus’s four-hundred-year history.

            And Ren was to lead them all.

            She inhaled the scent of the chipped wood covering the big top’s floor. That pine smell always fortified her.

            “. . . to have and to hold from this day forward, till death do you part?”

            Everyone seemed to be staring at her. Kindly Vanda, the ninety-six-year-old fortune-teller, cleared her throat just as Jacob squeezed Ren’s hands.

            Ah! “I do!”

            Worry creased Jacob’s brow, but she pasted on a bright smile. She wanted this marriage.

            He’d first asked her to wed him when he was nine and she was thirteen, and then every few months thereafter. She’d thought him too young for her, like a little brother. Yet over the years, he’d grown from a darling boy into an attractive man.

            Her right-hand man. While she managed the circus and oversaw the training of performers and hunters, he was their liaison with weapons dealers.

            A year ago, she’d finally told him yes, and they’d set this date. Now they refused to postpone the ceremony just because a deadly pack of Lykae newlings was making its way here.

            Another wave of déjà vu swept her up. She swiped a curl from her forehead, could have sworn she’d already experienced this moment.

            By the time Ren snapped out of it, Jacob had slid a ring on her finger. The ring was a touch ostentatious for her taste, but it’d belonged to his mother, some grand dame from Britain, a place Ren knew she would never get to see.

            In his Italian accent, Alfonso intoned, “By the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”

            As she stood on her toes, she wished her parents could have been here. She wished monsters weren’t prowling closer with every second.

            Cheers broke out when her lips touched Jacob’s. She sighed at the contact. His soothing kisses were always a pleasure—yet gentlemanly Jacob had made sure the two of them never progressed too far beyond them.

            He slanted his head, growing more ardent. So sweetly pleasant. She wanted to lose herself in this kiss, but a sense of awareness made her tense. A few seconds later the camp dogs signaled an alarm. The lions and bears roared from their cages.

            As the cheers in the tent died down, she drew back from Jacob with a frown. The newling pack wasn’t projected to arrive until tomorrow night.

            The animals fell silent, and the air grew still. Did some other threat dare descend on the circus? As she listened, she gazed at the faces of her loved ones.

            Vanda, a native Transylvanian like Ren, stood arm in arm with Puideleu, an elderly lion tamer from the Congo Basin. Inseparable for ages, the pair were like her grandparents. Swedish strongman Björn and Russian poodle-trainer Olga were the siblings she’d never had. Jacob had long been her best friend.

            Hearing nothing unusual, Ren asked Puideleu, “What was the status of the last scout check-in?” Their outposts dotted the forest in every direction.