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For centuries, they thought themselves alone at Darkfrith, but the arrival of a stunning letter from the Princess Maricara sent from the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania suggests the existence of a lost tribe of drákon. It is a possibility that the Alpha lord, Kimber Langford, Earl of Chasen, cannot ignore. For whoever this unknown princess may be, she's dangerous enough to know about the drákon's existence—and where to find them. That, as Kimber can't help but concede, gives her a decidedly deadly advantage. And, indeed, it wouldn't be long before Maricara breached the defenses of Darkfrith and the walls around Kimber's heart. But the mystery of the princess's real identity and the warning she has come to deliver, of a brutal serial killer targeting the drákon themselves, seem all but impossible to believe. Until the shadowed threat that stalks her arrives at Darkfrith, and Kimber and Maricara must stand together against the greatest enemy the drákon have ever faced—an enemy who may or may not be one of their own. They have no choice but to yield to their passionate attraction for each other. But for two such very different drákon leaders, will an alliance of body and soul mean their salvation, their extinction… or both?
Without taking his gaze from hers, he lifted her hand. His lips lowered, not touching her skin, just enough so she could feel the warmth of his breath across her knuckles.
"I had no idea you were such a flirt."
He brought her hand to his cheek, her fingers bent. He closed his eyes and released a shaky breath. "I think I have the remedy to your situation."
Mari rose up and pressed her lips to his.
"You were taking too long," she murmured, and that won a new smile from him, a taut curve against her mouth.
He buried his fingers in her hair. The kiss lengthened, deepened, until her chest went tight and her own breath was less than steady, and the dragon inside her that wanted to come was a jig and a fever beating quick through her veins. She pulled away, offered him her own dark smile, and at last—at last!—Turned to smoke.
The bed was only feet distant; even as smoke she could ruffle the blankets a little. She Turned to woman atop the mattress, gathering the crisp cool cotton in her hands, burrowing into the sheets. She tossed back the covers for him with a flourish as he stood by the chair, watching.
"My Lord Chasen. Would you mind very much just closing the door on your way over?" Maricara asked him.
He didn't mind at all.
The candles burned down to stubs. She was awake for that, although Kimber was not. He was stretched out on his good side, truly asleep, when the last flame smoldered into orange, and then black. For a few lazy minutes afterward the air carried a slight, acrid tinge that gradually dissipated back into more neutral stone and cloth and honey. And him.
She thought she'd never grow weary of that, his scent. Of how when she rubbed her face against his shoulder he was scented of her too, and that was a very fine thing.
"Lower," he said.
"Try that a little lower." Kimber rolled to his back, reaching for her, his palms skimming up her arms. "Dear Princess. I'm putty in your most capable hands."
"Hmm," she said, exploring. "I hardly think so."
His laugh was a pleasing rumble. "Well.so to speak."
She found his bandage again, sobering, feeling the ridges of his rib cage, the heat that rose steadily from his smooth skin.
"I don't know how these matters are supposed to go," she said finally, in the dark. "I was raised amid mountains and the Milky Way. But it seems to me that if a lady tells a gentleman she is in love with him, even if she's actually just a serf, he ought to either reciprocate the emotion or else leave the room."
"Oh? Is there not a third option? Perhaps, say, a thorough ravishment instead?"
"That is hardly gentlemanly. And I don't think you should call me Princess any longer, either. I'll be a countess, I suppose."
"No, beloved. Remember? A king."
"I'll settle for queen."
"Queen Maricara. I like it."
She found his shoulder, muscle and solid shape, a feathery caress up to his jaw. He turned his head and kissed her fingers.
"I'm still waiting," Mari said.
"I beg your pardon. Ahem. My sweet lady of grace, I do most devoutly admire, cherish, and adore—"
She pushed away from him. "Never mind. If you can't take it seriously—"
He stopped her with one hand, pulling her back down to him. Both arms lifted to keep her there, sprawled half across him, the sheets a tangled mess at their hips.
"I love you," he said softly. "Black dragon, so much. I do love you. I." She felt his fingers at the small of her back, restless, stroking up and down. "When you disappeared—when I thought they had taken you, and then when I found you there in that room, I."
She said nothing, only laid her cheek to his chest, listening to his voice come from inside him, hushed and deep.
"I don't remember as much of it as I should. All I really recall is your face. The fire. Those men." "You were very brave," she whispered.
He gave a short laugh. "Did you think it bravery? 'Twas only madness. The beast losing control." "I think," she said, "we were all a little mad back there."
His hands fell still, warming her back. "Things are about to get worse. You know that, don't you?"
"Yes, Kimber. I do."
"Nothing can happen to you. Not ever again. When I saw you on that bed—the chains, and those bastards—"
He did not speak for a long while. She lay hushed now, her body rising and falling with the force of his respiration.
"Nothing must ever happen to you," was all he said at last.
"It will be difficult." She lifted her face to his neck. "The delis are sly, and widespread. But you were right before. We're stronger together than apart."
"I don't want this war," he said, rough. "I don't want to fight anyone, not the Zaharen, not the Others. I want to live in a world with you like the one I grew up in, one with families and laughter and the very best of secrets to bind our hearts together, but that's gone now. Rhys is gone, and more of our kind than I care to count."
"We will win."
"Do you think so?" She felt him shake his head. "It seems all I dream of is blood and death, my brother's face. That missing girl. And when that happens, I awake wanting only vengeance."
"Justice," she said.
"Death." He pulled a pillow from beneath him, tossing it hard aside.
Mari pressed her hand to his chest. "This is who we are. This is how we survive. They hunted us first; it's always been that they hunt us first. But we will be the ones to end this, my lord. I promise you that."
"I want to believe you. I wake, every goddamned day—"
"Yes," she interrupted, serene. "I know very well what it's like to wake from nightmares. It helps, very much, to have the one you love at your side when that happens."
His sigh lifted her high; as he exhaled his arms wrapped closer around her.
"Say it again."
"I promise we'll win."
"No." He rolled them back aside and raised to an elbow, his face touching hers, his hair draping soft and aromatic against her throat. "Tell me you love me."
"I love you, Kimber Langford, Alpha of the drakon. I love you."
"Then that's enough," he whispered, his lips to her cheek. "That will keep me believing."
Letter from Maricara, Countess of Chasen to His Royal Grace the Prince Alexandru Of the castle Zaharen Yce Of the Zaharen Of the Drakon [Translated from the Romanian]
1 August 1782
Others come. Prepare for Invasion.
Smoke and war. Fire and betrayal. We've been rent into tatters, so much less now than what we once were.
I suppose you might say this is only what we've earned. That if we dissolve as a species into whirlwinds of dust, it is only what the civilized world requires.
Yet we do not trouble your lives without provocation. We dance at your edges, we drift and observe and lead our own silent lives. What right had you to come and hunt us?
Brothers and sisters gone. Our children taken. You've pierced our souls, and if we retaliate in kind, do not be so foolish as to think we'll grant mercy.
We are dragons. If we eat you whole, that will be your mercy.
And when we cry diamond tears for our young ones, when we weep for our broken hearts, you will never see.
Be ready. We're nearer than you imagine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shana Abe is the award-winning author of ten novels, including the bestselling Drakon series. She lives in Colorado with five rescued house rabbits and one big, happy dog. Please support your local animal shelter and spay or neuter your pets.
Visit her website at: www.shanaabe.com