The Secret-Keeper’s Choice Excerpt

Read An Excerpt from The Secret-Keeper’s Choice

By Suzette Rose Cauler


 

Book excerpt The Secret-Keeper’s Choice
Book excerpt The Secret-Keeper's Choice

The Stonehill mansion was so grand and brightly lit it could have been welcoming her to an upscale party rather than what Daria was expecting—a serious scolding from Christoph. She was surprised, though, that Joshua had brought her here. At this late hour, Christoph was typically at home. He usually hunted closer to midnight and then headed home to enjoy other pursuits.

“Christoph is meeting us here?” she asked as Joshua drove slowly up the driveway.

Obviously that was the plan, but her surprise led her to ask the question anyway.

“No, as far as I know, he’s not here.” Something in his voice made Daria uneasy.

“Well, then, why are we?” She’d been chastised by a few of the other elders as a teen, but it seemed unlikely that Christoph would let them tongue lash her alone. Not after she’d been away for so long.

Joshua didn’t take his eyes off the road ahead as he answered so quietly she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly. “We’re here for the dungeons, Daria. We’ve been looking for you for two long years. Christoph’s last orders were to find you, bring you home, and have you imprisoned.”

“You can’t be serious!” Daria couldn’t quite believe her life had come to this. She’d spent years as one of the clan’s most trusted, cherished members, and now she was to become its prisoner? “He can’t just lock me up like some common criminal!”

Joshua pulled his car over at the top of the hill and cut the engine, turning in his seat to look at her, his sad eyes meeting her confused glare. “For the first few months that we searched for you, Christoph seemed to feel your actions were simply rebellious. He even questioned whether you’d been forced to leave. Over time, though, the elders began to insist that you’d left willfully and pressed their opinion that you cared little for your duty. They argued that you deserved a more serious punishment. At first Christoph disagreed, but eventually he gave in—or maybe he just gave up. You could face The Cage, Daria.”

Her mouth dropped open in shock. She knew Christoph would be angry. She’d known the elders would demand some sort of punishment, but she’d never imagined he’d allow her to spend time in the dungeon. And The Cage? It seemed unthinkable that the vampire who considered himself her father would allow that.

“We don’t have to go right in, if you need some time…”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” She wasn’t sure she would have gone with him so easily if she’d known such a stiff punishment awaited her.

“The shackles didn’t tip you off?”

Daria could only shake her head. She didn’t know what she’d been thinking. The shackles should definitely have raised an eyebrow. She’d thought Christoph wanted her dragged home like a prisoner and brought to him for punishment. Maybe, she’d thought, the shackles were his way of shaking her up a bit. But the dungeons and a real trial? No, she hadn’t expected that, especially since she didn’t think the elders knew what she’d really been up to in Philadelphia—not the whole story anyway.

“If you tell me what this is all about, maybe I can do something to help. I hate the idea of you spending even a second in the Baldassare dungeons.”

Looking into his eyes, she could plainly see Joshua’s concern. It would be so easy to spill everything and ask him to find some way of fixing it for her. But Daria couldn’t do that. Her crime, at least the one she’d been planning, was serious enough to earn her time in The Cage, and if she asked him to help her cover it up, she’d be risking his neck as well. Besides, she couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t hear about Maharet’s proposal and decide The Cage was exactly where she belonged.

She reached up to touch his face, caressing the prickly beginnings of stubble there. Joshua had always preferred to be clean-shaven, but the hair always grew back faster than a mortal man’s. She liked the feel of his five o’clock shadow. “Thank you,” she said, touched that he still cared for her so much, “but it’s better if you don’t know.” She wanted to kiss him—to have something good to remember for whatever time she’d have to spend in the darkness of the Baldassare dungeons, but that didn’t seem fair either. Nothing had changed. They couldn’t be together, so why open that door all over again?

Joshua leaned closer, apparently having the same thoughts about kissing her, but Daria turned to face forward in her seat. “I think it’s best if we just get on with it.”

It seemed he would argue at first, but then he shrugged and got out of the car, closing the door a little too hard on his way around to the passenger side.


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