Home > No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1)

No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1)
Author: Miranda Honfleur

Chapter 1

The raven leered down his long black beak at Aless as she twirled, his gaze so intense it burned.

A blur of bodies in jewel-toned silks and brocades circled her and her sister, Bianca, in three-quarter time. Ravens, cats, bears, peacocks, wolves… The animal kingdom had come to their king’s call beneath arched ceilings and canopied swaths…

Or maybe to catch a glimpse of his infamous daughter back from her worldwide hunt.

She was pleased to be home again. It would give her another opportunity to tackle Papà about finally building the public library Mamma had always wanted. He’d barely spoken to her since she’d arrived.

Tonight she’d donned a lion mask with a full, voluminous mane and a grotesquely painted facade. If she was to be gawked at anyway, the least she could do was make it count. Besides, if she could catch Papà’s attention—good or bad—perhaps he’d have her dragged to see him and she’d finally get a word in about the library.

Signore Raven leaned against a pillar and raised his chin, peering at her through his mask. Oh, he’d been looking at her all evening with those hungry, dark eyes. And not in the aghast gawking of most of the nobiltà. He wanted something—and considering he definitely wasn’t royal, he wasn’t a man Papà would approve of.

All the more tempting to give Signore Raven what he seemed to want so badly.

Signore Cat next to him was the same, ogling Bianca as if she were a plump, unwitting canary. Bianca hadn’t been sent around the world by Papà in offering, so she would no doubt know who these courtiers were.

“Don’t look now,” Aless whispered from behind her lion mask, “but the cat and the raven have been struck dumb.”

Bianca giggled and spun, her slippered feet clicking on the parquet floor to the music of the harp, the flute, the drums, and rebecs, amid a chorus of practiced laughter and effusive tones of conversation. All of the palazzo’s ballrooms dazzled, but this place, the Sala di Forza, was a tribute to one of the Terran faith’s greatest heroes, Forza, son of Nox and a mortal woman, a demigod of great strength. Painted with his exploits, great hunts and battles celebrating strength, war, and masculinity, it was Papà’s favorite.

It was suffocating.

With Papà, it was always strength, war, and masculinity. Lorenzo was a master swordsman and could hit a target with his throwing knives from thirty yards—so no matter his shortcomings, Papà favored him. And since Papà didn’t allow her to learn any of the martial arts—and she loved books as Mamma had—there was just no way to win with him.

Her only option was to lose. And to lose so boldly and so notoriously that Papà couldn’t ignore her. But no matter the spectacle and gossip, Bianca could always be counted on to stay by her side. A loyal sister, and a trusted friend.

Bianca adjusted her elaborate tabby-cat mask and tucked a lock of shining onyx-colored hair behind her ear. “The Belmonte brothers.”

Ah, so the raven and the cat were none other than Luciano and Tarquin Belmonte. Their reputations preceded them. Especially Luciano’s—Bianca hadn’t stopped talking about him for months. But that was her way—no, the family’s way. Once an Ermacora made up her mind, there was no dissuading her, and pity for anyone foolish enough to stand in her way.

And Bianca had certainly made up her mind about Luciano.

The taller of the two, Signore Raven, had to be Tarquin, the younger brother and general of the Belmonte Company of mercenaries; the older of the two, Signore Cat, was Luciano, and after their father’s passing, now visconte of Roccalano.

Morally fluid, physically fit men, who were good dancers and—if rumor held true—skillful lovers, but lacked the blood and moral obligation of royalty.

Aless guided Bianca off the dance floor to the nearest trestle table heaped with marzipan torte, custard tarts, and colorful berries. She popped a grape in her mouth and held out a goblet until the telltale splashing of poured wine ceased. After a sip of the bubbly white, she handed the goblet to Bianca, all the while keeping her gaze locked on the Belmonte brothers.

“Maybe Luciano will finally become your latest entertainment?” she asked Bianca, who hid her face in a goblet of wine. “Not that I’m complaining,” she whispered, giving Tarquin a slow—very slow—once-over, “but what are they doing in Bellanzole?”

Bianca leaned in. “The Belmonte Company has been handling our… issues with the Immortali. The army didn’t have the expertise to clear the harpy nest in the cliffs, but ever since Arabella Belmonte, their sister, disappeared a couple months ago, Luciano has been studying them and Tarquin has been handling them. They’ve become experts on the Immortali, so Papà hired their company.”

The Rift had torn the Veil a few months ago, and the Immortali had re-entered the world as if stepping from the pages of myth and legend. Some were peaceful here in Silen, like the light-elves, the dark-elves, and the fae, and others were monsters who killed with impunity—harpies, wyverns, basilisks, and more. Papà had deployed many of his forces to combat the piracy ravaging the coasts and his trade routes, and so the reserves had to be stretched thin fighting enemies no one understood—no one except the Belmonte brothers, apparently.

“Say a prayer for me, Aless.” Bianca gripped the goblet tightly. “I think I love him. I think I want to… marry him.”

Marry? With talk like that, Bianca would be the one directing Papà’s attention, whether she wanted to or not. To any woman of the Ermacora royal line, Luciano was forbidden fruit when it came to marriage. Still, in her wistfully recounted daydreams, Bianca always seemed to find herself in an orchard of forbidden fruit anyway, with a ladder just tall enough to reach anything she wanted.

“I know you have your heart set on him,” she replied, “but maybe you could… adjust your expectations a little.”

Bianca gulped the wine, then upturned the goblet and drained it entirely. Liquid courage? She glanced over her shoulder at the Belmonte brothers.

“I’m already twenty-three,” Bianca insisted, “with no other prospects, so perhaps Luciano could be more? Papà may be keen on sending you to every eligible royal bachelor in the region, but not me.”

“Three. Three royal bachelors in this past year—”

“In this past year alone.” Bianca raised her chin. “And those three are all the eligible royal bachelors. All the others are already married or betrothed.” She frowned, her eyes meandering up and off to the side. “Or little children.”

“Papà is only keen on sending me around because he wants to get rid of me. Unlike his favorite daughter.” Since Aless had reached marriageable age, Papà had sent her to maybe… a dozen or two royal bachelors. Although this year, he’d only sent her to two princes and one king. Maybe it was a sign that he was giving up and would finally leave her in peace with her books.

Bianca set down the goblet. “It’s only because he finds you so meddlesome. Once you decide something must be, you don’t let up. It can make you… difficult. This public library thing of yours has been a thorn in his side.”

She straightened. Mamma had spent her life teaching the paesani to read, and when she’d died, all that had stopped. For nearly a decade, Papà hadn’t just stalled Mamma’s plans to build a public library—a center of learning for all—he’d actively avoided it. It was meddlesome to want to dedicate her life to seeing the library built, to want to teach any and all who wanted to learn, just as Mamma had wanted? She huffed.

“I want to do more than just be foisted onto royal bachelors,” she declared. “Is it so wrong to have dreams of something more?”

Sighing, Bianca shook her head. “Difficult. Your spine may be healed now, but you’re still the Beast Princess.” With a final shrug, she sashayed back onto the dance floor.

Heat spread across Aless’s skin, climbing over every inch until she burned. Beast Princess? It had been some time since someone had called her that, at least to her face.

Trying to ignore the rapid pulse in her ear, Aless popped another grape into her mouth and stormed toward the door. Whispers followed her, but she didn’t care. This was only a stupid party, and her time would be better spent studying the Immortali in her books.

Her chest collided with someone—a woman in a rabbit mask, who curtsied quickly.

“Pardon me,” Aless blurted, inclining her head. A circle had formed around them, no doubt waiting for yet more gossip fodder. But she hadn’t been the Beast Princess all her life without learning to tame her temper… at least a little. But perhaps this would be enough to earn a meeting with Papà.

The rabbit woman didn’t reply, but looked on toward the food.

Odd. But Aless cleared her throat and gestured in the direction of the trestle table. “Please, help yourself. I promise I don’t bite,” Aless joked with a toothy grin, tapping her lion mask. At least not anyone who didn’t bite first.

The woman curtsied again. A man in a fox mask approached, curling an arm around the rabbit woman’s waist.

“Ah, forgive my darling fiancée, Saverina, Your Highness. She’s taken the Vow of Silence.”

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