Authors: Angela Knight
“A terrific paranormal romantic suspense thriller that never slows downâ¦The action-packed story line moves at a fast clip.”
âMidwest Book Review
“Nicely written, quickly paced, and definitely on the erotic side.”
“Suspense and erotic romanceâ¦intense and compelling.”
âThe Romance Reader
“Lots of imagination and plenty of sensual momentsâ¦one of the hottest books out [there].”
âThe Romance Reader's Connection
“A powerful romantic suspense and sensuous tale all rolled into one alluring and explosive packageâ¦Twists and turns, fairies, vampires, and sex hot enough to burn,
Master of the Night
delivers them all.”
âRomance Reviews Today
The Best Reviews
MASTER OF THE NIGHT
MASTER OF THE MOON
MASTER OF WOLVES
MASTER OF SWORDS
MASTER OF DRAGONS
(with Diane Whiteside)
(with Christine Feehan, Maggie Shayne, and Emma Holly)
(with Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, MaryJanice Davidson, and Vickie Taylor)
(with Maggie Shayne, MaryJanice Davidson, and Jacey Ford)
OVER THE MOON
(with MaryJanice Davidson, Virginia Kantra, and Sunny)
BERKLEY SENSATION,NEW YORK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
MASTER OF DRAGONS
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2007 by Angela Knight.
Cover illustration by Franco Accornero.
Cover photograph and handlettering by Ron Zinn.
Cover design by George Long.
All rights reserved.
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Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY SENSATION is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. The “B” design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
There are always many more people than the author involved in the birth of a book.
In the case of
Master of Dragons
, I'd like to thank my editor Cindy Hwang for her unfailing patience and encouragement.
And, as usual, I owe my wonderful critique partner a debt. Diane Whiteside plays an invaluable role in every book I write, helping me past sticky parts and telling me when I screw up.
Then there's Roberta Brown, who is a friend as much as an agent. She, too, was particular help in putting this book in your hands.
On a more personal note, I'd like to thank some new friends for my new life. I had gastric bypass surgery last yearâwhich is one reason Cindy had to give me all that extra time on this book.
Surgeon Dr. Paul Ross did a wonderful job taking care of me at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, as did his nurses Diane Smith and Norma Gaffney. My personal trainer, Bethany Morton, helped me rebuild my strength after the surgery during the long process of weight loss.
Most of all, I'd like to thank my husband, Michael, who stayed by my side and took such good care of me as I recovered.
I'd also like to thank my parents for encouraging me to consider surgery, and my son, Anthony, for his love and support.
My deepest appreciation to you all.
Trapped by the Dark Ones' legions,
preserved by love in steel,
the goddess Semira will yet survive
Carried in battle by warrior kings
sustained by her Avatars' need,
she will lend her power
to rightful rulers.
Twenty daughters of her blood
will serve her in loyalty
until the last takes up her mantle
to fight beside the blue dragon knight.
Lost and burning in his fire,
shattered and reborn in Semira's power,
the Avatar will free her goddess.
The Dark Ones will be banished,
and the Two Kingdoms liberated
from he who would usurp them.
And the people will live in peace.
April 25, 1995
The first time
the knight walked in Nineva Morrow's dreams, he was too much for her. Young as she was, he was too male, too tall, too powerful in his midnight blue armor. He made her teenaged heart race with a combination of fear and yearning.
Even his face looked dangerous, hard-edged and fierce. His cheekbones were high and chiseled, his nose narrow, swooping down to a predator's flared nostrils. His mouth was wide and starkly sensual over the tough angular jut of his chin. Long cobalt hair fell straight as silk around the massive shoulders of a man who was no stranger to battle.
“You'll be mine.” It seemed she could feel his voice in her very blood. “When you're a woman, you'll feel my touch.”
“No.” She shook her head against her pillow.
Scarlet eyes narrowed in anger at her denial, then blazed so bright she could see nothing at all.
When the dazzle faded, a great winged figure had replaced hisâa dragon, its scales a shimmering blue, its eyes burning crimson. It roared, breathing a thundering gust of flame that poured over Nineva like napalm.
She screamed as the fire raced over her skin, accompanied by a wave of searing pain. Writhing, dying, she fought to escape, to extinguish the fire with her own magic.
A sword appeared before her eyes, its hilt in the sinuous shape of a nude woman. Blindly, she grabbed for it in the desperate hope it would somehow save her.
A woman's face appeared before her agonized eyes, inhumanly beautiful, hair floating in a pale nimbus around her head. Her irises glowed like opals in the moonlight, flecks of magic shining in their depths.
Nineva stretched one shaking, burning hand out to her. “Help me!”
The woman smiled, joy filling those incredible eyes. “Thank you for your sacrifice, child. You've freed me.”
She reached for Nineva, who instinctively tried to jerk away. “Don't!”
Too late. The goddess's delicate fingers closed mercilessly around hers.
Nineva couldn't even scream as Semira's magic ripped her apart.
Nineva jolted awake,
sweating, her heart pounding. Jerking upright, she threw the covers off and raised her shaking hands. The skin was smooth and whole, unmarred by burns.
As she fell back against her pillow with a gasp of relief, the alarm went off. She groaned and threw both arms across her face.
Time for school. She had a trig test this morning.
Eyes gritty, she rolled out of bed. It was just as well. She'd never have gotten back to sleep anyway.
Dressed and ready
half an hour later, Nineva clattered down the stairs, her book bag slung across one shoulder.
The air smelled of frying bacon and the delicate scent of scrambled eggs. She veered toward the kitchen as her stomach rumbled in interest. The shower had gone a long way toward washing away the last sticky wisps of the dream. She figured she had time to grab something before she went to school.
Like the rest of the rented ranch, the kitchen wasn't large. Its 1970s-era decor could have used some renovation, but there was still something homey and cheerful about its harvest gold appliances and sunny goldenrod wallpaper.
Nineva's mother stood at the stove, dark hair tumbling halfway down her slim back. Sarah Morrow was a lovely woman, despite her running struggle with the ten extra pounds she wanted to lose. Brown eyes dominated the pretty face so much like Nineva's, and her smile made even the grumpiest stranger smile back. Today she was dressed in a pink flannel nightgown and matching bunny slippers. She looked around as Nineva dropped her book bag by her usual place at the table. “Morning, honey. Sleep well?”
“Not really. I had a truly god-awful nightmare.” Shaking off the memory of it, Nineva moved around to press a kiss to her father's cheek. “Good morning, Daddy. How was work?” He and her mother worked second shift at the Drayton Textile Mill. Nineva was usually in bed before they got home.
“Fine.” Eirnin Morroc hugged her back with one arm, his expression unusually grim. A shaft of morning sunlight blazed in his short-cropped blond hair and pinkened the curve of a pointed ear.
Nineva dropped into her chair, eyeing him with a frown as she reached for the plate of scrambled eggs. “Is anything wrong?”
“Your father had a nightmare, too.” Worry flashed across Sarah's face before she forced a smile. She plated the bacon she'd just fried and carried it to the table. “What was your dream about?”
Nineva grabbed a piece of the bacon and crunched. It was perfectly crisp and smoky, the way her mother's always was. “I dreamed I freed the goddess.”
Her father looked up and gave her a tight smile. “That doesn't sound like a nightmare to me.”
“You know the legendââLost and burning in his fireâ¦'” She had to busy herself with the plate of eggs before she could bear to meet her mother's worried gaze. “The dragon burned me, and it hurt. A lot.”
Sarah sat down across from her. “It was only a dream, honey.” She smiled, but the curve of her pretty mouth looked strained. “Hey, I used to dream I went to school naked.”
“Yeah, I have those, too.” Nineva forked up a bite, then put it down again, unable to eat with her stomach knotted like fishing line. “But what if this one
a vision? The prophecyâ¦”
“You're the twenty-first Avatar, Nineva,” Eirnin interrupted, his tone unusually sharp. “It's your destiny to free the goddess. If there's pain, you'll be more than rewarded for enduring it.”
So they'd always taught her. She'd been able to recite the legend from the time she was a very small child. And yet she'd never considered the implications.
â¦Shattered and reborn
. Didn't “reborn” imply dying? And was it cowardly of her to even worry about that when the goddess had been imprisoned for so many centuries?
Of course, the Sword of Semira was a universe away at the moment. It wasn't as if she had to worry about it now. This morning's trig test was a much more immediate concern.
Nineva shook off the lingering worry to study her father with a troubled frown. He didn't usually snap at her like that.
Tall and athletic, Eirnin Morroc appeared a good ten years younger than Sarah, though he was actually far older. Like Nineva, his irises were swirls of opalescence; like her, he had to use spells to appear human. He called himself Ernie Morrow, but that was only the most recent of his aliases.
Eirnin had left the Sidhe kingdom sixteen hundred years before, when his murderous cousin became king. Like Nineva, he'd been born with Semira's Mark, which in his case meant he was destined to sire the next Avatar. It also made him a threat to King Ansgar, whom the Morven people considered the usurper of the prophecy.
Eirnin had wandered Mortal Earth ever since, dodging Ansgar's assassins and trying to father the promised daughter on a series of mortal lovers. When he'd met and married Sarah, he finally succeeded.
Nineva believed her father truly loved her and her mother, but she'd never had any delusions. His entire life was devoted to ensuring she fulfilled her destiny: freeing the goddess. As far as he was concerned, that was the reason both of them had been born.
He looked pale and tense today, worry drawing his sweeping brows down over those striking eyes. “What did you dream about, Daddy?”
Eirnin drummed his long fingers restlessly on the table. He hadn't touched his breakfast. “Hopefully, nothing that will come true.” Glancing up at the wall clock, he forced a smile. “You'd better get to school, baby. You're going to be late.”
He was right. Nineva scooped up a last piece of bacon, pressed kisses on her parents, and headed for the door. She bounded down the steps of their rented brick ranch and ran for the bright red Toyota that had been a surprise seventeenth-birthday gift. Her parents didn't have a lot of money, so they carefully saved every dime they could. She'd been thrilled to get the car, used or not.
Nineva's mind returned to the dream as she backed a little too fast down the driveway. She'd had prophetic dreams before. What ifâ¦
The car hit something with a soft thump. A canine voice yelped. She slammed on the brakes. “Shit!” Nineva shoved the car door open and jumped out. “Oh, no!”
The neighbor's Irish setter lay sprawled beside their mailbox, whimpering softly in pain. His eyes had already gone dull with encroaching death as she knelt beside him.
She'd killed him. She'd been so wrapped up in worry for herself, she hadn't watched where she was going.
Guilt and horror stabbed her as she touched his shoulder. His red fur felt so softâ¦Her eyes began to sting with tears. She thought of Johnny, their ten-year-old neighbor, who played with the dog every day after school. He was going to be heartbroken.
Nineva knew she wasn't supposed to do it, knew it could be dangerous. But she couldn't let Johnny suffer for her mistake. If she shielded the way her father had taught her, the king wouldn't be able to sense what she was doing. They'd all be safe, and the boy would have his dog.
As her heart began to pound, she cast a quick spell barrier around herself and the setter. It was going to be tricky. Sometimes her magic escaped her control, particularly when her emotions were running this high.
Sometimes being the descendent of a goddess was a pain. Yeah, she had plenty of power, but it was like manning a fire hose. Getting the magic blasting in the right direction could be a bitch.
Laying both hands on the soft, furred head, Nineva sent her power pouring into the animal with all the guilt and determination in her soul. The Goddess Mark grew warm on her breast. She found the broken ribs that had pierced his lungs, and she repaired them, healed the savage punctures, stopped the bleeding.
Abruptly the Mark flared into a white-hot blaze. Before she could rein the magic in, her shield silently exploded in a shower of sparks.
Nineva winced. “Dammit!” She'd blown out the barrier again. Had she given herself away?
The dog jerked under her hands, then leaped up. She looked up, startled, as the setter dashed off, yelping, tail tucked between his legs. His eyes were ringed with white as he stared back at her.
“Well, that's gratitude for you.” Nineva lifted her voice and yelled after him, “The least you could do is lick my face!”
The dog kept going.
The burn on her right breast was throbbing now. Hooking the neckline of her pink T-shirt with one finger, she looked down. The Goddess Mark blazed against her skin, a intricate swirl of gold and iridescence that glowed like a flashlight. Hastily, she drew her shirt up to cover it.
“Nineva!” Her father's stern voice rang from the garage. “What did you just do?”
She jumped guiltily and whirled to face him. “I hit Johnny's dog with my car, so I healed him.”
“Nineva! How many times have I told youâ¦”
“I shielded first,” she interrupted hastily, “but then I had this power surge, and the shield blew. I don't understand what I did wrongâ¦”
She broke off. Eirnin had gone sheet white as he stared at her, his eyes painfully wide with some horrible realization. He met her mother's gaze as she pushed open the kitchen door. “Sweet Semira, Sarah, this is why. This causes it.”
“What? What'd I do?” Nineva's heart started to pound even harder beneath the Mark. “Daddy, the shield just blew for a minute. The king couldn't have sensed it, could he? Do we have to move again?”
“Move?” Eirnin made a choked sound. “No, we don't have to move.”
She'd expected anger, not this black despair. “Daddy, I'm sorry! I know I shouldn't have done it, but I couldn't let the dog die! Johnny loves him.
It was my fault!
Without answering, he turned and walked back inside, his usually graceful gait stiff and robotic.
“Mom, are we going to have to move again?” Nineva hurried up the drive to her mother. Sometimes she could talk Sarah around when her father wouldn't listen. “I want to graduate with my class. That's in just three weeks.”
Her mother looked away, her mouth going tight. “No, moving's not going to help this time. It's too late for that.”
Nineva stopped in her tracks. “What do you mean?” The Mark throbbed like a wound, adding to her panic. “Mom, did I just really fuck up?”
“Don't swear, Nineva.”
The hopelessness on her mother's face chased every other concern right out of her head. She caught Sarah's wrist. “We can go. Let's just get Dad and run. Right now.”
Her mother turned and jerked her into a tight, fierce hug. “Baby, it's not your fault. You remember that, okay? You're a kindhearted, compassionate person, just like we raised you to be. And we love you.”
Nineva wrapped both arms around her and clung, cold, sick nausea flooding her stomach. “Momma, I'm sorry! I love you. It's not too late, we've got timeâ¦”
Her father walked out of the house carrying a duffel bag. Opening the Toyota's door, he tossed it inside. “There're several changes of clothing and six thousand dollars in this bag, money we've been saving for you. It's your rainy-day fund, so use it only when you absolutely have to. You'll need to get a job, which isn't going to be easy without a diploma, but you'll probably be able to obtain a GED later.”
She stared at him. “You want me to just drive off and leave you?”
The frozen determination on his face cracked into pain. He walked over and wrapped his arms around her. He felt tall and strong and warm. “You've got to, honey. They're coming now, and we don't have time to argue. Your only chance is if your mother and I can keep them occupied until you have time to get away.”
Nineva dug her nails into his broad shoulders. “I'm not leaving. I'm the Avatar, I can help! We'll fight them!”