Authors: Karilyn Bentley
“I know enough to realize she denied you,”
the stranger growled at Lord Simon, his voice gentling as he turned to Keara. “She will take me though, won’t you?”
Keara locked her gaze on the stranger, drawn by his green eyes that looked so much like her own. She had never seen green eyes on anyone else, but knew what they meant. Remembered what her grandmother had told her about them.
“Green eyes are the mark of evil, girl,” the old woman liked to say. “Be wary of them.”
The wind whipped the stranger’s hair about his face. A chiseled jaw topped by firm lips that whitened around the edges and a long straight nose comprised a face tightened in anger. His compelling eyes bored into hers.
She couldn’t stop staring at those eyes, all the while his fingers continued their steady pattern against her mark, sending sensuous feelings coursing through her veins.
A stranger or Lord Simon? The man whose touch sent zingers of pleasure throughout her body, or the possibly crazy but socially acceptable man who might have her best interest in mind.
Did she actually think that?
There was no choice. It took two tries to get the words out of her dry mouth.
“I’ll take you.” She lifted her chin toward the stranger and said a silent prayer he would spare her life.
sweeps you away to a rich, fantasy world filled with magic, mystery and unforgettable characters."
"I didn't want the story to end. It's a magical blend of romance and fantasy!"
“Sexy and spellbinding!
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
2011 by Karilyn Bentley
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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The Wild Rose Press
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First Faery Rose Edition, 2011
Print ISBN 1-60154-962-8
Published in the United States of America
To my wonderful husband for all his support.
And to the world’s best critique group:
you guys are the greatest.
“Thoren and Enar,” Alviss’s voice resonated with a power and strength that belied his withered appearance. “The task chosen for you is to travel to Cautasia. We’ve had reports of a Halfling boy who needs to be brought to us.”
Thoren schooled his face into a mask of indifference. Thank the Goddess he would be leaving the Draconi lands for a while. Spending an entire season placating his father’s desire for him to find a lifemate had worn on his nerves. Not that finding a mate was bad, but he’d prefer to find her in his own time.
Didn’t his father understand he enjoyed reconnaissance missions? That if he found a mate he would have to abandon what he loved doing? Maybe the old male understood and just didn’t care.
Sometimes he wondered.
The Goddess smiled upon him when none of the females in any of the villages had tested as his mate.
Just when he’d become resigned to meeting more fawning females, Alviss, the leader of the Council and the oldest living Draconi, saw fit to telepathically call him and his best friend, Enar, to the Council’s Chambers and give this latest assignment.
Judging by Enar’s expression, his best friend would rather fight an army alone than have anything to do with the males that sat on the Council.
Unlike Thoren, Enar had enjoyed the Draconi females’ charms a bit too much.
“Cautasia?” Thoren crossed his arms, bunching his biceps. “Why would a Draconi plant their seed there?”
“I do not know why any Draconi male would choose to lie with a non-Draconi female and have offspring, but so many of them do. Which is why we need you,” Alviss looked between Enar and Thoren, “to bring these Halflings back to us. Draconi cannot live without other Draconi.”
“My son needs to find a mate. He is nearing his Change. This mission will distract him from that search,” Balthor clenched the arm of his carved chair, thin lines forming around his mouth.
Thoren held his breath.
Father only wants the best for me
Maybe repeated use of that phrase would stop steam from building in the back of his throat every time his father insisted he find a mate.
Honoring his father by consenting to his request was one thing. Having to like it was another.
If only that old Seer hadn’t told his parents on his hatching day that his mate would be special, Balthor might not be so insistent about the search. And with his thirtieth hatch-day come and gone, Balthor stepped up the mate-finding crusade, fearful Thoren’s Change would come before he found one.
He should worry about that logic. Draconi males generally found their females prior to Changing. Prior to the doubling of their magical abilities. If he didn’t find his own mate, he’d have to use a priestess for the ritual. The problem came if no female could be found. That unpleasantness he refused to think about.
But most males didn’t go through the Change until their mid to late thirties, which meant he still had a couple of years left. Plenty of time to make his father happy by settling down.
Maybe by then he’d be more in-touch with the find-a-mate program.
“It shouldn’t take two of our best spies long to discover the location of a Halfling child, who his father was, and bring him back. Your son may continue his search when he returns. Any other concerns?” Alviss’s stare could have melted ice.
Thoren released his breath as the chamber remained silent. His father didn’t look too happy, but he’d get his way in the end. According to the now-dead Seer, Thoren’s mate was out there and he had no choice but to find her.
A Draconi male was nothing without his mate.
Even Thoren knew that truth.
“Good. It is settled. You two will leave immediately and may the Goddess bless you on your journey.” Alviss dismissed both Thoren and Enar with a nod.
Thoren returned the nod to the thirteen males, both Draconi and Watchers, who composed the Council. Alviss and six males from each of the two races were sworn to oversee the safety of the Draconi people.
Thoren enjoyed serving his people. Traveling to different lands, meeting new people, and discovering plots to attack the Draconi all ranked as some of his favorite things.
So far, no plots.
Lately, though, his missions centered on the recovery of Draconi Halflings—those children left behind by a liaison with a Draconi male and a woman of a different race. Seemed like the males in recent generations had become bored with Draconi females and rested their scales in someone else’s cave.
That he’d never understand. But without irresponsible males, he’d have no job.
Smiling, he strode out the door, squinting at the sudden change in light. Even a dragon’s eyes took several seconds to adjust to changes in lighting.
“Finding Halflings can go bugger itself.” Enar strode across the stones paving the walkway. “I was beginning to enjoy myself trying to find you a mate.”
“I feel bad for you, I really do.” Thoren placed a hand over his heart. “Bedding forbidden females in secret is such hard work.”
“Stop being such a wit.”
“Why? It’s my specialty.”
Enar snorted. “We’ll go back on the hunt one day. Then you’ll see females prefer me.”
“You know what they say about forbidden fruit. That’s the only reason you’re able to turn their heads. Really though, how do you convince them to bed you? They know non-Draconi males are forbidden.”
Enar shrugged as he continued to move forward. “It’s nothing.”
Thoren shook his head at his friend. Tall, with blond hair that fell to his shoulders and a physique that would scare a seasoned warrior, Enar nonetheless possessed something that caused Draconi females to chase after him.
And the females knew better than to hope for any lover other than a Draconi one. Enar knew better too. Not like that knowledge stopped the Watcher.
Thoren let a lot of societal rules slip when it came to Enar. They both knew that Draconi females were revered. That their magic was often stronger than the males’, and for this reason they needed to be protected, and kept from all males except Draconi.
Societal law insisted Draconi females only choose lovers from among the Draconi males and not other races, including the Watchers. Talk about a double standard. No one cared if the males bedded and impregnated non-Draconi females. Provided the offspring came back to live with the Draconi.
“What if someone finds out about all the Draconi women you’ve bedded?”
Enar waved a hand. “Don’t trouble your puny little mind over it.”
“It means small.”
“Uh-huh. We’re not discussing my mind. We’re discussing you.”
“You’re discussing me. It’s lonely having a conversation by yourself.”
“I’m not having a conversation by myself. I’m trying to tell you to watch your step when it comes to Draconi females. They should be cherished.”
“I never said they shouldn’t be cherished. I cherish them quite well while they’re under me. It’s just when you get them upright that I have a problem.” Enar laughed, slapping Thoren on the back.
Thoren shook his head. “Fool, you keep talking like that and it’ll come back to bite you.”
“Ooow, a throw down between me and the Fates. Who do you think will win?”
Thoren shook his head. “Sorry, but I’d have to go with the Fates. They’ve been around longer.”
Enar threw a hand out toward Thoren. “I see how you are. Are you ready to go conquer Cautasia? Who knows? They might even have women I’ll like.”
. Shallow streams of sunlight whispered across grasses. Leaves tinted red-orange, glistened with dew. The stench of raw sewage permeated her senses as she strode through the alleys, heading for the town gate.
Keara coughed. Someone really needed to do something about the sewers. For the past week, the town of River’s Run had smelled like a dump, but no one made a move to do anything about it. Didn’t they know all that backed up sewage caused disease?
A glance behind her showed Jamie, her apprentice, walking the same way, hand over mouth and nose, but everyone else seemed unaffected by the stench. Why did smells bother her so much? If the people lingering about were any indication, no one but the two of them noticed the sewers had sprung a leak.
Once through the gates the air improved enough for Keara to stop holding her nose.
“What are we looking for, Keara?” Jamie walked along beside her, hands stuffed in his pockets, staring at the ground.
She ruffled his hair. He shrugged his shoulders and grinned, turning his steel gray eyes to meet her gaze. Point accomplished.
“We’re just replenishing our stock.”
Why she bothered remained a mystery. Few came to her apothecary shop since her grandmother died, and as a result, most of her supplies remained unused. But her grandmother had always taken her out during autumn to gather herbs, and old habits died hard.
Jamie nodded, kicking stones as he came upon them.
“Are you bored?” Keara smiled, touching his shoulder.
His eyes met hers, full of hope. “Well then, why don’t you run on ahead? Just don’t run out of my sight.”
“Thank you!” He took off, running as fast as his little legs would carry him.
She had found him not far from this very place the day her grandmother died. Half starved and frightened, he lifted scared gray eyes to her face, raking his gaze over her clothes as if taking in her worth before throwing himself into her arms.
Keara had always wanted a child, a wish she knew she’d never have. Few in the town could stand being around her. Truthfully, most thought her a witch and only abided her presence out of respect for her grandmother.
Respect that fizzled with the old woman’s death.
Walking through these woods and discovering that filthy child had been the best moment in a day filled with grief.
First thing she did was march him to the town square and claim him for her apprentice.
Then she insisted he take a bath.
“Hey, Keara! Watch!”
She looked up at Jamie’s call and caught her breath.
Oh my Goddess, he’s going to fall!
Jamie hung from a tree limb by one hand, swinging toward the trunk, then away, toward it, then away.
Keara held her breath as he let go of the branch he held and hurdled through the air until he caught another tree limb. Her breath vacated her lungs on a wheeze.
“Did you see me? I flew—” his words ended in a scream as the branch he held snapped, sending him falling to the ground.
Praise the Goddess he didn’t fall far. She raced to him, dropping to her knees, running her hands over his body. He blinked, mouth working like a baby bird as he tried to draw breath into stunned lungs.
The only injury she saw was on his hand from where the branch skinned it. Holding his palm, she ran her other hand over it, drawing his injury into herself, changing it, until his skin smoothed out, not even a scar remaining.