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By Donna Grant
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2015 Donna Grant
All rights reserved.
Rhys closed his eyes and stood atop the mountain listening to the wind whisper her name.
She walked in his dreams, teasing him with her black eyes and curtain of onyx hair. Awake, he never stopped thinking of her, longing for her.
Yearning for her.
Their all-too-brief kiss haunted him. He could still taste her, could still feel her in his arms weeks later. Lily had no idea of the feelings she stirred within him. She was gentle and shy. She lit up a room just by entering, and he ached to have her close.
He recalled the party weeks ago where he found her standing outside watching everyone through a window. She looked ... lonely. And it prompted him out of the shadows as nothing else could.
Then, her closeness and the way her eyes lit up when she saw him took away the last of his defenses. He'd had to hold her, kiss her. Taste her.
Rhys took in a shuddering breath. That one simple kiss slayed him as nothing in his very, very long life had ever done. It physically hurt him to release her and turn his back to everything she offered, but it was for the best.
"Well ... at least you picked a pretty spot."
His eyes flew open when he heard Rhi's voice beside him. He turned his head to the Light Fae to see her standing next to him surveying the land just as he had a moment before. Was it really her? Or was she a figment of his imagination? No one had seen Rhi since Ulrik carried her out of Balladyn's dungeons weeks ago.
"Rhi? What are you doing here?"
She turned her head to him and raised a black brow. "I'm here for you, idiot."
Rhys frowned. Perhaps it was Rhi's smartass quips or her saucy attitude, but they had become friends quickly. She had been there whenever he had needed her, and he made sure to do the same for her. But there was nothing she could do now.
Surely she knew that. "You've wasted your time then."
"You're still a Dragon King, handsome," she said with a saucy wink.
Not even her teasing could break the hold of desolation that gripped him. Only Lily could do that. Nor could he hold back his sarcasm as he said, "Am I? I can no longer shift into a dragon. That puts a crimp on things."
Her face softened as she put a hand on his arm. "You're still a Dragon King, shifting or not. You have your dragon magic, right?"
"Aye, but for how long?" Rhys ran a hand down his face and let out a long breath. "Everything I am, everything I ever will be, is a dragon. Do you have any idea how it feels to watch the others from afar, wishing I could be with them?"
Her reply was soft, barely above a whisper, and it held such sadness that he physically winced.
Rhys felt like the biggest ass. Of everyone, Rhi came the closest to knowing how he felt. She wasn't a dragon, but a Light Fae who happened to be in love with a Dragon King. The love between her and her King had flared quick and strong, until the King ended it out of the blue. Now, eons later, Rhi still carried a torch for her King. Theirs was a love of the ages, a love that would never diminish.
If only the fool would realize it and claim Rhi as his own again. But the King wouldn't.
"It's not the same though," Rhi said with a flip of her long hair over her shoulders as if she hadn't delved into dark memories that scarred her soul.
"Your wings were taken. Someone mixed dragon magic with that of the Dark to do this to you."
"Ulrik." As if Rhys had to guess who had condemned him to such a life. "To think I pitied that son of a bitch no' so long ago. I would've thought he might do this to Con, no' me."
Rhi crossed her arms over her chest and nodded. For the first time Rhys noted Rhi's attire. She wore a shirt that molded to her body in a black-and-white geometrical pattern. A white belt encircled the waist of her black pants, and black sandals with four-inch heels encased her feet.
His gaze lowered to her nails that were divided by a glittery gold line diagonally across the nail with one half white and the other black.
"Finished with your perusal?" she asked, no heat in her words as she wiggled her fingers before his face. "Unfortunately, the black is simply called Black Onyx. They could've done better, I think. The white, however, I couldn't resist. It's called Funny Bunny."
Rhys met her silver Fae eyes. "You wear your mood on your nails."
"Ah," she said and dropped her arm as she looked down at her hand while straightening her fingers. "What do you think this means?"
"I think you're still trying to work things out, which is why you continue to wear white and black."
Her smile was wide when she looked up at him. "So perceptive. Tell me, why aren't you as insightful in your own life, stud?"
"You mean, why did I no' know Ulrik would do this to me?" Rhys asked. He looked to the craggy peaks around him. "I remember flying these same mountains beside Ulrik. He was born to lead, just as Con was. It's part of who they are. The difference came in that Con wanted to be King of Kings. Ulrik was happy leading his Silvers."
"I know," Rhi said, her voice barely above a whisper.
"For some Dragon Kings, it was an easy decision to stand with Con when Ulrik began the war with the humans."
Rhi snorted. "He didn't start the war, Rhys. The humans did when Ulrik's woman tried to betray him."
"War is war," Rhys said in a flat tone. "We were meant to protect humans. From everyone," he said and looked pointedly at Rhi.
She rolled her eyes. "I know this story well, remember? I know all the Kings cornered Ulrik's woman and killed her. I know he found out about it later, and felt betrayed by his brothers. I know his betrayal cut both ways. He wanted, needed to lash out, and he did it to the only people he could—the humans."
"If he had only stopped the killing when Con asked," Rhys said. "Then Con wouldna had to exile Ulrik from Dreagan, taking his ability to shift into a dragon, and forcing Ulrik to walk this earth for eternity immortal."
"I think the ultimate blow came when the Silvers were caught," Rhi said with a twist of her lips. "How would you feel knowing the last dragons on this realm are being held beneath a mountain in an eternal sleep by your mortal enemy?"
"I'd do whatever it took to get to them."
Rhi cocked her head to the side. "Every Dragon King here would, and yet Con wants to kill Ulrik for doing exactly as Con would do himself."
"Look at me!" Rhys shouted angrily and held out his hands as he faced her. "Look at what Ulrik has done to me! How can I remain at Dreagan? I can do nothing to help the other Kings in this war. We've enemies battering us on every side."
Rhi put her hand on his face and looked deep into his eyes. "I didn't let you die when you were stuck trying to shift back into your human form. Do you think I would stand aside now and not help?"
Rhys dropped his arms and stepped away from her. "What can you do? You told Con you've done all you could."
"I can talk to Ulrik."
Now that Rhys hadn't expected. "Why would you?"
"You're my friend."
He shook his head, knowing there was more. With Rhi he had to be careful about gaining information she wasn't willing to share. "I can no' let you do this. Ulrik is dangerous. You can never forget that, despite his helping you."
"You think he wants something from me?"
She shrugged nonchalantly, the wind tugging at the long strands of her black hair. "You're probably right. It's fitting since I want something from him."
"You love to push the boundaries."
She cocked her head to the side and looked intently at him. "I also want something from you."
Rhys was instantly wary. There was no telling what Rhi wanted, and though he would gladly help her any way he could, he knew better than to agree before he heard her out. "What is it you want?"
"You to return to Dreagan."
She sighed and spread her arms as she looked around her. "What can these mountains give you? Will you hide like some of the Kings in your mountain? That's not the Rhys I know. The Rhys I know would never run from anything," she said and poked him in the chest with a finger. "Even a woman. He would face it head-on, laughing as he took the advantage."
Damn. He should've known Rhi would know about his feelings for Lily. Rhi always knew the very things he wanted kept private.
"Return to her," Rhi pressed in a soft tone, her gaze beseeching.
"I can no' protect her."
"Even unable to shift, there isn't a single being on this realm who could protect Lily as you can."
Rhys considered her words. He yearned to return to Dreagan to see Lily, to hear her voice. If he was close to her again, he wouldn't be able to stay away. She was in his blood now, a part of his being. He craved her like he yearned to take to the skies again.
"I willna drag her into this shite we've gotten ourselves into."
"She works for Dreagan, Rhys," Rhi said in a dry tone. "She's already in the middle of it whether she knows it or not."
He hadn't thought of it that way. Double damn. Now he was really in a corner. Rhi was right in that no one could watch over Lily like he could. He was the only one who knew how special she was, the only one who watched the sun rise knowing the day was going to be extraordinary because she was in it.
"When did you fall in love with her?" Rhi asked gently.
Rhys dropped his chin to his chest. It never entered his mind to lie. "Somewhere between the time I first saw her at Dreagan and today."
"Don't be a stupid asshat and push her away."
He looked over to Rhi when he heard the catch in her voice, but she had turned her face away. "I doona push Lily away to be mean. I keep my distance because I doona deserve her."
"You do deserve her," Rhi said and faced him, her silver eyes bright with unshed tears. "Love is rare, Rhys. You found it without even trying. I had that kind of love. It's a gift, a type of magic all its own."
"I can talk to him," Rhys offered. "He needs to know you still love him."
"No," Rhi said loudly, her face once more a mask of indifference.
Rhys bowed his head in acceptance. It was the same answer each time he'd asked through the centuries. "As you wish."
"Now," Rhi said and cleared her throat. "I'm going to go see Ulrik and figure out why he targeted you."
Rhys wanted to know that as well. Out of all the Dragon Kings, why had Ulrik chosen him? Unless it was because Rhys was always butting heads with Con. He recalled Shara's words about how the Dark would try to divide the Kings until they were fighting each other. It would make the Kings weak, make them easy to overpower.
Rhys turned to look at Dreagan. "Aye. I need to return home."
"Good," Rhi said and put her hand on his arm.
In the next blink, Rhys was standing in his room at Dreagan Manor. "What the hell?" he asked and jerked away from Rhi. "Dammit, Rhi."
She put her hand to her lips. "Shh."
"You did that easier than before."
"I suppose," she said with a shrug.
"Rhi," he said, concern filling him. He wasn't sure she understood just how much had happened to her while Balladyn held her prisoner with the Chains of Mordare. "How much magic do you have within you?"
"Apparently quite a bit." She glanced away. "Balladyn unleashed it."
Rhys shook his head back and forth. "Nay. You released it when you broke the Chains of Mordare. Those chains were unbreakable."
"You say that as if I didn't have them weighing me down, filling me with pain each time I tried to use my magic. I know exactly what I had on my wrists."
"What set you off? What was the final straw that made you break the chains?"
She turned away to look out the window. She didn't respond, because she couldn't lie without feeling great pain.
But her aloofness said it all. Balladyn had spoken about her lover, and whatever he said brought about a surge of fury within Rhi that shattered the indestructible Chains of Mordare and leveled the ten-story compound.
"If anyone finds out about how much more magic you have now they'll do anything to get you on their side," Rhys cautioned.
Rhi took interest in something outside the window. "Don't worry about me, handsome. You should be more concerned with things closer to home."
Rhys walked to her side and looked out the window. That's when he spotted Lily walking with Denae around the back of the shop. The manor was far enough away from the rest of the distillery that Lily would never see him, but Rhys's eyesight had no trouble soaking in every detail of Lily's too-large red sweater and ankle-length black skirt.
"Do you wonder why she wears those clothes?" Rhi asked.
As if Rhys paid attention to Lily's clothes. "Nay."
He expected Rhi to make another comment. A few minutes later he looked over to find her gone. Rhys turned back to Lily. She lifted her face to the sun and closed her eyes.
Her wealth of midnight hair lay straight and thick down her back. The sun seemed to shine a spotlight on Lily, highlighting her skin as soft as down. Her large eyes fluttered open, her long lashes and gently arching brows accentuating her eyes. She had wide, full lips that enticed, invited.
Did she have any idea how he fought not to go to her? How it went against everything he was not to take her and make her his?
He spent his many years bedding woman after woman with no other thought than his immediate needs and pleasure. The women were forgotten, their faces fading instantly. How many times had Lily seen him with those women? Too many to count. Though that wasn't what made his heart clutch in fear.
No, that was reserved for his greatest terror—that Lily would only want him for one night.CHAPTER 2
Lily loved her job. It was an odd thing, especially since she grew up with money. Neither she nor her siblings had ever wanted for anything. Yet, there was something fulfilling in doing a job to earn an income. Even when those jobs were terrible or dirty.
As soon as she arrived at Dreagan months ago, she knew it was a special place. Its beauty was unrivaled, and the people were unlike any she had ever come across. Perhaps that's why she liked going into work every day. While at Dreagan, she learned to forget the past a little every day. She also realized that she was the only one affected by what she couldn't let go of or face.
Lily walked out the back of the shop and stacked the crates that workers would pick up to refill with bottles of the world-famous Scotch. She lifted her face to the sun and closed her eyes. It was a perfect day. Her life was on track, and she was slowly gaining back her confidence. The only thing that could make it better would be Rhys.
Rhys with his charming smile and tantalizing body. She wanted to run her fingers along his hard jaw, square chin, and lean cheeks and feel the bristle of the dark stubble from his five o'clock shadow.
She wanted to trace his nose and his straight brows a shade lighter than his dark brown hair. She would then sink her fingers into the cool length of his long hair that hung to his shoulders. All the while looking into his aqua-ringed dark blue eyes, wondering when she would feel the soft touch of his lips again.
Ah, his lips. A man shouldn't have such a mouth. His smile could melt hearts, but his kiss could reduce anyone to ash. It was his bottom lip, fuller than the top, that made his mouth so irresistible.
She sighed and opened her eyes as she lowered her face. Who was she kidding? The women Rhys preferred were the exact opposite of her—tall, leggy, blonde, and big chested. Those women exuded sexuality, and she could barely muster a smile in Rhys's presence she was so nervous.
But she could still dream.
No one could touch her dreams. No one could take them away.
Lily looked down at her sweater and skirt. It was one of several outfits she had left over from a time she yearned to forget. Dennis had been a jealous boyfriend. He hated when anyone looked at her, and most times when it happened, he would get into a fight.
She sought to divert some of his anger by asking him what he wanted her to wear. Soon, her closet was full of loose, baggy clothes that were meant for someone six sizes larger than her. The clothes became a habit, but she hated them. She had changed her fate. It was time to do the same with her meager wardrobe.
Excerpted from Night's Blaze by Donna Grant. Copyright © 2015 Donna Grant. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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