Since discovering she is a shape-shifting dragon, Bryn McKenna has seen her world thrown into chaos. Being a "crossbreed"—part Red dragon and part Blue—means Bryn will never fit in. Not with dragon society. Not with the archaic and controlling Directorate. And definitely not when she has striped hair and a not-so-popular affection for rule-breaking…
But sneaking around with her secret boyfriend, Zavien, gets a whole lot harder when he's betrothed to someone else. Someone who isn't a mixed breed and totally forbidden. And for an added complication, it turns out Bryn's former archnemesis Jaxon Westgate isn't quite the evil asshat she thought. Now she's caught between her desire to fit in and a need to set things on fire. Literally.
Because if Bryn can't adapt to the status quo…well, then maybe it's time for her to change it.
The Going Down in Flames series is best enjoyed in order
Book #1- Going Down in Flames
Book #2- Bridges Burned
Book #3- Trial by Fire
Book #4- Fanning the Flames
Book #5- Burning Brights
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About the Author
Chris Cannon lives in Southern Illinois with her husband and her three dogs: Pete the shih-tzu who sleeps on her desk while she writes, Molly the ever-shedding yellow lab, and Tyson the sandwich-stealing German Shepherd Beagle. She believes coffee is the Elixir of Life. Most evenings after work, you can find her sucking down caffeine and reading or writing a fire-breathing paranormal adventure. You can find her online at www.chriscannonauthor.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Going Down in Flames Novel
By Chris Cannon, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Chris Cannon
All rights reserved.
On the drive back to school, Bryn reflected on how her life had recently gone to hell. It had all started when flames shot out of her mouth on her sixteenth birthday, proving she wasn't completely human. Since then she'd been shipped off to a secret school for dragons—the Institute for Excellence—where she was learning how to control her shape-shifting dragon powers. She'd faced discrimination, death threats, and poisoning. She'd been blown up and involved in a battle to the death with a radical Revisionist member—and she'd been there for only a few months.
Though not everything about her new life was bad. She had a sexy boyfriend, Black dragon Zavien Blackthorn, and two good friends, Clint and Ivy. Being a crossbred dragon meant she had both the Red and Blue dragons' breath weapons, fire and ice, and even though she was the only crossbreed, she could still outfly even the fastest Blue. Of course, that's why some of the other Clans hated her. She'd upset the natural order of things in this color-coded world, where the Directorate dictated what Red, Black, Green, Orange, and Blue dragon Clan members could do as a profession and whom they could marry. It was absurd. Yet most dragons didn't question it.
Part of Zavien's appeal lay in the fact that he headed up the student Revisionist group that petitioned the Directorate to change outdated laws. Bryn glanced at Directorate lawyer Merrick Overton, who was driving the Cadillac SUV hybrid she was riding in. Her classmate and former nemesis Jaxon Westgate rode shotgun. She and Jaxon no longer hated each other. Scratch that: he no longer hated her based on his father's vendetta against her mother, but that didn't mean they were friends. Funny how saving someone's life could turn you from enemies to ... what? Not friends. Frenemies, maybe? Who knew? It's not like she wanted to hang out with him, but there was a weird level of trust between them now that she didn't know what to do with.
God, what she wouldn't give to close her eyes and wake up at home with her mom and dad, sitting in the living room eating popcorn and watching bad television. But the Directorate would never let that happen. She was stuck. Stuck in this weird shape-shifting dragon world where she still didn't know all the rules. And half the rules she did know were total crap.
Time to concentrate on happier things. Zavien's black spiky manga-like hair and his dark eyes came to mind. The hypnotic buzz of the tires on pavement lulled her to sleep.
* * *
"Bryn, you're home." Merrick Overton's voice woke her. Her feelings toward him were mixed. He was a lawyer for the Directorate, yet he'd helped to protect her life. When they'd first met he'd offered to act as her benefactor, which meant keeping her as his mistress and supporting her after graduation. The reason he was still alive and breathing? She hadn't known what the word "benefactor" meant at the time.
"Home?" She sat up, expecting to see her parents' apartment. Instead, they were back at school. She covered her disappointment with a yawn.
"Good-bye. I hope we won't see each other again soon." Jaxon nodded like he hadn't insulted her and headed for his dorm.
"The feeling is mutual."
Merrick chuckled. "Come. I'll escort you to your room. I want to check the new security."
Not many students were out wandering the sidewalks or flying in the sky. It was Sunday evening, so everyone was probably relaxing or finishing up homework. She yawned for real this time. More sleep. That's what she needed.
Auburn-haired men with the muscular build of Red dragons walked the campus wearing uniforms that matched the guards at the front gate. That was new. The fact that her grandfather had swayed the Directorate to increase security on campus for her protection was amazing. Then again, most of the Directorate had family members at the school, because no one escaped attending the institute. Every single shape-shifting dragon had to attend from junior year of high school through college graduation, which sucked.
Not that the campus was ugly. Far from it. The old stone buildings and the meticulously kept grounds were almost too perfect—Stepford-creepy-level perfect.
A light wind ruffled the leaves, which looked like they were ready to turn. Bryn inhaled the crisp air. "It smells like autumn."
Merrick smiled. "Winter is around the corner."
"Do all Blue dragons love winter?" "We do." He winked. "It's in our blood."
"Maybe that's why I like fall. It's between the hot and cold seasons like I'm between the Red and Blue dragons."
When they reached their destination, Merrick opened the door to the dorm. A small camera above the door pulsed with a tiny red light. "The surveillance cameras appear to be functional."
Each hallway had its own camera. Good to know someone was taking note of who entered the building. Maybe that would cut down on people breaking into her room and leaving her poisoned carrot cake, because almost dying from a dose of Dragonbane was not something she wanted to experience again. Once was enough, thank you very much. When they reached her room, she opened the door with the key and flipped on the overhead light. Two wooden rolltop desks sat on opposite ends of the room with their uncomfortable wooden chairs. A black couch and gray chairs flanked the mahogany coffee table.
She wandered into her bedroom and saw the four-poster beds with the gray comforters, the armoires, and the dresser. More furniture than she needed, since she'd never have a roommate. She'd grown used to living alone because no one wanted to live with the only known hybrid.
Nothing appeared out of place. She breathed a sigh of relief and joined Merrick in the living room.
"You don't have to babysit me. I feel safer with the cameras."
"I believe you are safer since your grandparents recognized you. Anyone feeling vengeful will think twice about crossing Ephram Sinclair."
"I think my grandmother is scarier."
"That's only because you don't know your grandfather very well. Now lock yourself in. I'm sure Zavien will be by to check on you soon."
She followed him to the door. "Thanks for watching out for me and for knocking off the benefactor crap."
"You're welcome." A smile played across his lips. "It's for the best that I rescinded my offer to act as your benefactor, because if my sister and your grandmother have their way, and if your lineage check to Jaxon comes back compatible, I might end up your uncle."
"That's not funny." She might not hate Jaxon anymore, but she had no desire to be shackled to him in a Directorate-sanctioned farce of a marriage. She crossed her arms over her chest. "If they try to set me up with Jaxon I'm claiming lesbianism."
She might be worrying about nothing. "Now that I've been recognized by my grandparents, do you think the Directorate will really take me off the 'unfit to marry' list?"
"Your grandfather wants the Sinclair line to continue. He'll work toward that end, but it will take time."
"I turn eighteen in two years. What happens if I'm not approved by then?" "Fortune-telling was never my specialty. Concentrate on your studies and the rest will work itself out."
Once he was gone, she headed to the bedroom to change clothes. Dressed in her standard after-class attire of yoga pants and a tank top, she felt much better. Now what? A quick check in the mirror showed a tired girl with red, blond, and black striped hair. That wouldn't do. She focused her life force, or Quintessence, and imagined it as a ball of white light in her chest. She allowed the ball to drift upward, darkening her lips and cheeks, using it as makeup in a way that few students her age could do. It was a source of pride that she was so skilled at manipulating Quintessence. She couldn't wait to start her classes in Quintessential medicine next year. Becoming a medic, being able to heal other dragons, was her dream job. Once she was satisfied with her newly enhanced and far more alert-looking reflection, she wondered what to do next.
The new book bag Jaxon's mother, Lillith, had given her lay on the bed. And ... she had no books. How was she supposed to get new textbooks when she wasn't allowed to tell anyone about the explosion at her grandparents' estate that had incinerated her book bag and almost killed her? Maybe Zavien would know what to do. For now, she grabbed the spare notebooks and pens she kept in her room and tossed them in the bag. The final step was adding the silver pen with the tracking spell Zavien had given her the first night they'd met. The pen that had allowed him to find her at her grandparents' estate where he had helped fight off Alec, the crazy radical Revisionist dragon who had wanted to kill Bryn and make her a martyr for his cause.
Knock knock. She shot across the room and yanked the door open. Her best friends stood there grinning at her. Ivy greeted her with a hug. Clint walked in balancing several cartons of take-out food.
"We heard through the grapevine you were back." Ivy released her and headed for the couch. "Tell us everything that happened at the Directorate meeting."
She'd love to share with her friends, but by Directorate law, it wasn't allowed. "Did Zavien tell you anything?"
"He showed up at camp this afternoon and said you'd been officially recognized by your grandparents because you tried to help save Alec."
"That's the official version of the truth," Bryn said. "There isn't much else to the story. Although my grandmother did invite me to Christmas Eve dinner."
"That's great." Clint set the take-out boxes on the coffee table. "Are your parents invited, too?"
After running away to escape arranged marriages, her parents had been banished from dragon society, and her grandparents had refused contact of any kind since. They had even refused delivery of any cards or photos her parents had tried to send. Now she might have a chance to mend some fences. "I'm working on that. How was the camping trip?"
"The only good thing we ate was s'mores," Ivy said. "We're starved."
The savory scent of french fries filled the air. "That smells awesome."
"Cheeseburgers and fries from the dining hall." Clint offered her a white box. "I grabbed enough for Zavien. I'm surprised he's not here."
"I haven't seen him since he left to go back to the campground." Bryn sat on the couch and ripped open a ketchup packet with her teeth.
Ivy removed the pickles from her hamburger and passed them to Clint. "When we left, he was talking with Nola and some of those radical Revisionist dragons."
Nola was the friend the Directorate had decreed Zavien should marry based on lineage. Even though Zavien swore they were just friends, the dark-haired Barbie still got under Bryn's skin.
"Did they seem upset?"
"They seemed sad about their friend, but they weren't angry," Ivy said.
"Tell me more about the camping trip." Bryn didn't want to think about Nola or the radical Revisionist members. For a while, she wanted to pretend she was a normal person with normal problems and normal friends rather than a shape-shifting, fire-breathing dragon at the mercy of an archaic society.
"Sleeping on the ground in human form sucks," Clint said. "But sleeping as a dragon feels strange."
"Some of the extreme Revisionist guys spoke to us. They're intense and sort of scary."
Ivy dipped a french fry in ketchup. "The Directorate may have too much control over our employment and schooling, but I don't think they're evil."
Were they? Bryn remembered the men she'd pleaded her case in front of attempting to prove that while she was unique due to her forbidden Blue/Red dragon Clan heritage, she wasn't a threat that needed to be neutralized. "Some of them could pass for evil. Some are nice. It's the fact that they're so sure they're right about everything that pisses me off."
Ivy frowned. "I hate that there aren't any women on the Directorate, even though they claim women are allowed to be Directorate members. In the history book there is the occasional woman mentioned, but it's always as a footnote."
"I'd love to ask my grandmother how she feels about that." And then she remembered her grandmother's plan. "Right now, I'm glad she doesn't have a vote. She and Jaxon's mom have lost their minds. They want the Directorate to check my lineage to see if Jaxon and I are a match."
Clint laughed so hard he fell off the couch.
Ivy clamped a hand over her mouth and worked at swallowing her food without choking. When she achieved that feat, she said, "You can't be serious."
"Since my mom and Ferrin were a match, Lillith thinks Jaxon and I might match up, too. She's enlisted my grandmother in her scheme. That's what terrifies me. My grandmother is almost scarier than Ferrin. In a one-on-one battle, I'd give them even odds."
"What about Rhianna?" Ivy asked. "What would happen to her if you and Jaxon were paired up?"
"If fate hated me that much, then I guess Rhianna would be matched with someone else."
Clint shook his head. "She'd have to go with someone younger. Most of the top dragon families already have agreements in place. That's why Ferrin had to marry someone much younger when your mom ran off with your dad. All the contracts with females of his own age had already been worked out."
"Then I shouldn't have anything to worry about. Rhianna's and Jaxon's families must have their agreement in place. Nothing could change that, right?"
"For Red, Orange, Black, and Green dragons, nothing supersedes an agreement between families," Ivy said. "In the Blue upper-class circles, things change if a family loses its wealth or status."
"So, what was your grandfather's house like?" Clint asked, completely changing the subject.
"Huge and cold. My grandparents have their own separate wings."
"I guess if you marry someone you don't like you can hang out in your own wing."
Clint winked at Ivy. "We're going to have a small ranch house, so I'll always know where you are."
Ivy shook her head. "I want a two-story house like I grew up in."
A goofy smile spread across Clint's face, making Bryn chuckle. It had taken Clint years to make Ivy fall for him, even though they'd been friends forever. Before she could comment, another knock sounded on the door.
That must be Zavien. She hopped up, dashed across the room, and swung the door open. Jaxon and his friend Quentin stood there. Not who she wanted to see. If the way they were frowning was any indication, neither of them was pleased to be at her door.
"What's up?" She stepped back so they could enter.
Jaxon shoved a box wrapped in blue paper at her. "My uncle insisted I deliver your new textbooks in this ridiculous manner. The Directorate didn't want anyone to know why you needed the replacement."
She accepted the box and set it on the coffee table, but she couldn't help needling him. "Thanks for playing errand boy. What reason would you have for bringing me a gift?"
"My mother sent you an early Christmas present." He shrugged.
"That doesn't make much sense. And why is Quentin with you?"
"He missed me," Quentin said in a dry tone.
Clint cleared his throat. "What happened to your books?"
She hated keeping secrets from her friends, so she didn't. "I signed a paper saying I wouldn't talk about it."
Jaxon scowled. "You can't tell them that."
"It's not like I told them what happened. I kept my word. What did you tell Quentin?"
"That you can manipulate Quintessence. When Alec collapsed before the Directorate, you assisted Medic Williams." Quentin checked his watch. "Not to be rude, but I don't have a burning desire to know anything about your textbooks, and our dates are waiting."
"Thanks for the books." Bryn opened the door so they could leave.
Zavien stood in the hall with his hand raised to knock. His eyebrows went up at the sight of the two Blue males. "What are you doing here?"
Jaxon wore a serious expression. "I stopped by to talk to my future wife about names for our offspring. Sadly, your name didn't make the list."
Zavien's gaze darted back and forth between Jaxon and Bryn. "Tell me he's joking."
Before she could speak, Quentin said, "Sorry, it's true. Your name didn't make the cut. I believe they settled on Leonard and Beatrice."
"They were just leaving." Bryn pushed Jaxon out the door and then grabbed Zavien's arm and tugged him inside.
Excerpted from Bridges Burned by Chris Cannon, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2015 Chris Cannon. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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