The Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves, #1)(7)

The first garden was Lust. Here, red flowers spilled from the hollow mouths of statues. In one corner, Cleopatra coughed up garnet amaryllis and pink-frilled anemone. In another, Helen of Troy whispered zinnia and poppies. Laila moved quickly through the labyrinth. Past Gluttony, where a sky of glossy blooms that smelled of ambrosia closed tight the moment one reached for them. Then Greed, where a gold veneer encased each slender plant. Next came Sloth, with its slow-moving shrubs; Wrath with its fiery florals; then Pride with its gargantuan, moving topiaries of green stags with flowering antlers and regal lions with manes of jasmine, until finally she was in Envy. Here, a suffusion of greenery, the very shade of sin.

Laila stopped before the Tezcat door propped up near the entrance. To anyone who didn’t know its secrets, the Tezcat looked like an ordinary mirror, albeit with a lovely frame that resembled gilded ivy leaves. Tezcat doors were impossible to distinguish from ordinary mirrors without, according to Zofia, a complicated test involving fire and phosphorous. Luckily, she didn’t have to go through that. To get to the other side, she simply unlocked it by pinching the fourth gilded ivy leaf on the left side of the frame. A hidden doorknob. Her reflection rippled as the silver of the Tezcat door’s mirror thinned to transparency.

Inside was Tristan’s workplace. Laila breathed in the scent of earth and roots. All along the walls were small terrariums, landscapes squeezed into miniature form. Tristan made them almost obsessively. When she asked him once, he told her it was because he wished the world were easier. Small enough and manageable enough to fit in the hollow of one’s palm.


Tristan walked toward her with a wide smile on his round face. There was dirt smudged on his clothes and—she breathed a sigh of relief—no sign of his gigantic pet spider.

But she did not return his smile. Instead, she lifted an eyebrow. Tristan wiped his hands down his smock.

“Oh … you’re still mad?” he asked.


“Would giving you a present make you less mad?”

Laila lifted her chin. “Depends on the present. But first, say it.”

Tristan shifted on his feet. “I am sorry.”


“For putting Goliath on your dressing table.”

“Where does Goliath belong? And for that matter, where do all your pet insects and whatnot belong?”

Tristan looked wide-eyed. “Not in your room?”

“Close enough.”

He turned to the worktable beside him where a large, frosted glass terrarium took up half the space. He lifted the cover, revealing a single, deep-purple flower. The slender petals looked like snippets of evening sky, a rich velvetine purple hungry for the light of stars. Laila traced their edges softly. The petals were almost exactly the same shade of Séverin’s eyes. The thought made her draw back her hand.

“Voilà! Behold your present, Forged with a little bit of silk taken from one of your costumes—”

When he caught her frantic gaze, he added, “One of the ones you were going to throw away, promise!”

Laila relaxed a bit.

“So … am I forgiven?”

He already knew he was. But she still decided to draw out the moment a little longer than necessary. She tapped her foot, biding her time and watching Tristan squirm. Then, “Fine.”

Tristan let out a whoop of happiness, and Laila couldn’t help but smile. Tristan could get away with anything with those wide, gray eyes.

“Oh! I came up with a new device. I wanted to show Séverin. Where is he?”

When he caught sight of her face, Tristan’s grin fell. “They’re not back yet?”

“Yet,” emphasized Laila. “Don’t worry. You know these things take time. Why don’t you come inside? I’ll make you something to eat.”

Tristan shook his head. “Maybe later. I have to check on Goliath. I don’t think he’s feeling well.”

Laila did not ask how Tristan would know the emotional states of a tarantula. Instead, she took her gift and headed back inside the hotel. As she walked, unease shaded her thoughts. At the top of the stairs, the grandfather clock struck the tenth hour. Laila felt the lost hour like an ache in her bones. They should have been back by now.

Something was wrong.



Enrique scowled as he held apart the bear’s jaws. “Remember when you said, ‘This will be fun’?”

“Can this wait?” Séverin grunted through clenched teeth.

“I suppose.”

Enrique’s tone was light, but every part of Séverin’s body felt leaden. The onyx bear held Séverin’s wrist between its teeth. Every passing second, the pressure heightened. Blood began to run down his arm. Soon, the pressure of the creature’s jaws wouldn’t just trap his wrist.

It would snap it in half.

At least the emerald House Kore eagle hadn’t got involved. That particular stone creature could detect “suspicious” activity and come to life even when its own object was not in question. Enrique nearly muttered a prayer of thanks until he heard a soft caw. Air gusted over his face from the unmistakable flap of wings.

Well, then.

“Was that the eagle?” Séverin said, wincing.

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