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Things weren't going well, and they didn't look to be improving anytime soon.
V wearily ran a hand down his face. All he wanted was to go to his mountain and figure out why his sword wouldn't work. But he couldn't. If he did, every Dragon King at Dreagan would know that something was wrong.
Eons after having his sword stolen and then hidden from him, it was now back in his possession. But it did no good. And every King was counting on him to use it in order to check on the dragons.
He paced his room inside the manor, wondering if it was somehow his fault that his weapon wouldn't respond to him anymore. Had he done something to ...? That couldn't be it. The blade was his, part of him. All Dragon Kings had a sword that only they could use.
So, if it wasn't him, then what was it? What kept him from being able to use his blade to check on the dragons? Ever since the Kings forced the dragons to leave during the war with the humans, they'd had no idea if their clans were alive or not. The Kings didn't even know where the dragons were.
The dragon bridge was a manifestation of the combined magic of all the Kings, and it was the one and only time they had ever used such a thing.
V couldn't stay in his chamber any longer. He stalked from his room and made his way downstairs. As he walked across the vast expanse of Dreagan — staying far from the Visitor's Center at the distillery where people lined up to take tours — he was glad he didn't run into any of his brethren.
Only Cináed knew about his conundrum. If this continued, V would have no choice but to tell the rest of the Kings. After everything he and Roman had gone through in Iceland just to find his stolen sword, it wasn't right that he couldn't make it work properly.
V kept walking. He didn't care where he went. He just needed to burn off some of the anger and anxiety that churned within him like a raging storm. His first choice would be shifting into his true form and taking to the skies, but that wasn't something they could do during the day. The fact that they were hiding from the humans prevented it.
V could use his power. Every Dragon King was granted a special type of magic. For him, it was disguising his dragon form when he shifted. He was so tempted to do that, but he didn't. It wouldn't be fair for him to take to the skies while the others could not.
He had no idea how much time had passed before he found himself walking along a paved road. V paused and looked up to get his bearings. He was no longer on Dreagan, and with their land encompassing sixty thousand acres, that meant he had walked quite a ways.
V heard the roar of an approaching engine. He grimaced when he recognized the unmistakable sound of the Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale that belonged to none other than Constantine, King of Dragon Kings.
V watched as the bright blue sports car came into view. And just as expected, Con slowed when he spotted V. The Dragon Kings were the most powerful beings of the realm, but even they had someone to answer to. That someone for V was Constantine.
Con rolled down his window, his black eyes locking on V's face. He was attired in his usual — a suit, starched shirt, gold dragon head cufflinks, and no tie. "Everything all right?" he asked.
V nodded. "Just walking."
A blond brow shot up on Con's forehead. "Toward the village?"
"I needed to stretch my legs."
"And you couldn't do that on Dreagan? Or was it that you didn't want to run into any Kings?"
V blew out a breath and looked over the top of the car to the opposite side of the road where some sheep grazed on the steep hill.
"I see," Con said after a moment. "You know you can talk to me about whatever is troubling you."
"I know." V met Con's black gaze. "I just need some time. Finally having my sword back after so many millions of years without it is taking some getting used to."
Con blinked, his expression devoid of any emotion, but V knew him well enough to know that Con was trying to discover what V hid. It was one of the many reasons Con was King of Kings.
"You know where to find me," Con replied.
V gave a nod. Con stared at him a moment longer before he drove off. The last thing anyone at Dreagan needed was the knowledge that something was wrong with V's sword. With all he and Roman had discovered in the mountain on Iceland regarding the Others, there was much the Kings had to do.
The mere thought of them made V want to retaliate. The mysterious group was a mix of good and evil Druids, as well as Dark and Light Fae. Why such an alliance would form still confused the Kings.
Worse, the Others seemed to be after the Dragon Kings. And they had waited thousands of years before taking action. Though no one knew why the Others had been so patient.
Or what they were after.
V waited until he saw the taillights of Con's car disappear over a hill before he turned and resumed his walk. He couldn't think about the Others right now. He had to focus on his sword. Yet, the two were connected.
It was the Others who initially tried to get his sword. Fortunately, a group of humans that V had once protected discovered the Others' plan and used their skills to steal the weapon from V and hide it before the Others could lay claim to it.
V wished the gypsies would have shared their plan, but he knew he wouldn't have listened to them even if they had tried. He would've told them that he could take care of things himself. The truth, however, was that he would've underestimated the Others. The gypsies had not.
The Others spelled V so he lost his memories about when and how his sword had been stolen. But he remembered now. His memories gave him little insight into the group, however. What they did show him was the lengths that some mortals would go to in order to help the Dragon Kings.
That was in direct opposition to what the majority of humans had done to the Kings in the past, the transgressions which began the war between them. V still couldn't believe that the Dragon Kings — the strongest, greatest beings in the realm — had given up everything.
That was a road V didn't need to wander down. His mind returned to the Others. Despite the gypsies' attempt, the Others found the man who had taken V's sword. The gypsies made sure that the Others couldn't touch it, but the nefarious group put other traps in place throughout the mountain in Iceland to hinder anyone's attempts to retrieve the weapon.
It was with great difficulty and the help of friends that V and Roman were able to escape the mountain, not only with their lives but also with the sword.
This wasn't the first time the Others had set traps and deceptions for the Kings. Perhaps it was because of the tricks the Others used that V was apprehensive. First, it had been the wooden dragon carved as a replica of Con. One touch, and the figurine caused chaos to erupt.
Then there was the incident in New York with the black dagger and a fellow King, Dorian.
And now this.
At least, those were the only ones V knew of. There could be more. That in itself made his worry double.
It had taken all of V's considerable magic and strength to bust through the spells woven through his memories from the Others. For millions of years, V hadn't known that anyone touched his mind. But now, he knew what to look for.
His mind was clean of any enchantment from the Others, but he hadn't checked his sword yet. In fact, he hadn't held it since attempting to use it after returning to Dreagan.
For eons, he'd lived with the knowledge that he'd failed as a King because mortals had stolen his sword. While he now knew the truth, it didn't help him feel any better.
He was a Dragon King. No one should have been able to get to him through magic. No one. But they did.
With tragic results.
If he'd kept a hold of his sword, he could have checked on the dragons several times. And called them home.
V looked up and found himself standing in front of the medical clinic. Sophie, who was mated to another King, Darius, ran it. Many of the Kings hadn't been sure how Sophie could continue to work as a doctor and keep the secrets of Dreagan, but so far, she'd done admirably.
She wouldn't be able to do that forever, though. As a mate, she was given the gift of immortality. Sophie had a few more years before others started to notice that she didn't age. Then, she would have to close the practice for a few generations before she could open it up once more.
V's gaze swung to the parking lot as he heard the squeal of tires and a white Mini with black racing stripes pulled to a stop. He sidestepped to conceal himself behind a tree and watched as Claire got out of her car. V couldn't understand how she drove so fast and didn't worry about getting killed. He gave her credit for being an expert driver, but mortals only had one life. He really wished she would slow down.
Her blond locks were haphazardly pulled back into what he had heard Sophie call a messy bun — whatever that was. He didn't care what it was called. He just knew that he liked it on Claire. He liked it more when she left her locks free to fall down her back.
She was always changing her look. Some days, she had on vivid makeup with her long hair styled in various ways. Other days, she wore very little makeup and had a messy bun.
He liked it all.
The few times he'd happened to be near when Claire arrived at the clinic, she made her way into the office singing whatever had been blaring on her car radio. But today, she was subdued. Her oval face was pensive as if she were deep in thought.
She adjusted the big, black bag she carried on her shoulder before she pulled out her mobile. The moment she looked at the screen, she stopped. A second later, a smile broke out over her face.
V found himself grinning in response because her smile — even when not directed at him — was infectious. He didn't know what it was about the blond beauty that had first captured his attention, but it hadn't let go since.
His vantage point gave him a perfect view of her face. Whatever was on the phone lit up her expression. He'd seen the mated Kings do that to their women. V wondered if he would ever cause someone to smile like that.
The majority of his life after the war with the humans had been spent sleeping in his mountain. He hadn't had time to think about anything more than reclaiming his stolen sword. Now ... now, those who had something to occupy their time with regards to Dreagan were all around him.
Then there were those who had found love.
It was difficult to be around so many who were happy. Those like Vaughn, a solicitor for Dreagan, who had found his place in the human world. Then there were the pairs who were always together, always sharing secret words and looks. And touches.
The weight of eons of time spent alone crushed V. He'd thought sex would help. And it had. For a short while. Then, that haunting ache filled his chest again.
He wasn't stupid. He knew exactly what it was. Loneliness. He was surrounded by his brethren but felt utterly, completely alone.
V drew in a deep breath and watched Claire's pace quicken as she hurried into the clinic. He shifted around the tree to continue observing her, catching one last look before she walked through the door and disappeared into the building.
He'd spent a lot of time at the clinic lately, helping out when it was needed. Most of the Kings did from time to time. Sophie was part of the family, and as such, they were always there for whatever she needed.
Not that Darius couldn't handle things himself, but sometimes, it was just an excuse for them to be together. Just as everyone not only went to Laith's pub but also helped out there. The Dragon King had owned the pub for hundreds of years, legally passing it down to himself after disappearing for decades at a time.
Who knew how long such things would work. The people of the village near Dreagan seemed happy. Then again, so had the mortals before the war.
"She's pretty, is she no'?"
V closed his eyes at the sound of Darius's voice. He should've heard the King approach, and he would have, had he not been so engrossed in Claire.
He opened his eyes and turned to face his friend. He could try to lie, but there was no point. "Aye. She certainly is."
"Sophie and Claire are verra close," Darius stated.
V quirked a brow. "I'm aware of that."
"I know you've picked up Rhys's habits of a different woman every night —"
V was affronted by the charge. "It's no' every night."
"Somehow, despite everything that happened to her and Sophie in Edinburgh, Claire doesna know about us."
V crossed his arms over his chest. He didn't know the entire story about how Claire and Sophie had been taken by the Dark Fae, but he knew that it had been a close call for both women. "Are you sure she doesna?"
Darius glanced at the building. "She would've said something to Sophie if she did. You're welcome at the clinic anytime, but Claire is like a sister to Sophie."
"You want me to keep away from her." Somehow, that hurt V more than he'd expected.
"If you think she could be your mate, then I'll no' stand in your way."
"I didna say that."
Darius nodded slowly. "I just doona want Claire hurt."
V squared his shoulders. "I'm well aware that she is off-limits."
Darius gave a nod of appreciation. "Thank you. Since you're here, I could really use your help moving some more boxes. I never knew so much was needed to run a medical clinic."
V was slow to follow Darius. While he understood his friend's caution, he was nonetheless hurt by it. More than that, he wondered about the lie he'd told regarding Claire. And the consequences of not admitting what he'd known in his heart for some time now.
"I don't like him."
Claire grinned at Sophie's statement. The two had been friends for many years and had been through a lot together, which is why she wasn't taken aback by Sophie's blunt statement. "I know."
"He didn't text you at all yesterday. Not once."
Claire looked into Sophie's olive eyes and nodded. "I know. I'm the one who told you."
Sophie blew out a breath as she jammed a file into the hanging folder and shoved the cabinet drawer closed. She came to Claire's desk and stood before it, her golden hair in a loose braid. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to sound so harsh. I just want better for you."
"I like Calvin. He just ... he's busy."
Sophie gave her a flat look. "You're making excuses for him. Did he even tell you why he didn't reply to your text yesterday?"
"Are you going to ask him?"
Claire threw up her hands. "We haven't been seeing each other that long. Honestly, I don't even know what we are."
"Because you won't ask him."
"I ..." Claire stopped and shook her head, hating that her friend was right. "No, I won't ask him. It's not easy."
"Sure, it is. You send a text that says, 'Hey, Calvin. We've been talking for a bit, and while neither of us has said anything, I was wondering if we're exclusive or not.' Easy."
"Not for me."
"Want me to send it?" Sophie volunteered, holding out her hand for the mobile phone.
It was on the tip of Claire's tongue to take her friend up on the offer. But she was an adult. She'd had relationships. She was also a take-charge kind of woman, so why, why, did she get insecure and neurotic when it came to men?
Because she didn't want to do anything to upset them.
And how fucking wrong was that?
"You're doing that internal dialogue thing again," Sophie said with a twist of her lips. "Care to share?"
"So you can hear for yourself that you're right? Like always? No thanks."
"That reminds me. Did you read the last entry on the (Mis)Adventures of a Dating Failure blog? She has some great advice. You should read it."
Claire nodded. "I meant to read it last night, but I forgot."
When Claire tried to walk away, Sophie stepped in front of her. "I want you to have what I have. I want you to find someone who will move the very earth itself to be with you."
"I want that, too. But I hate to tell you this, I think you got one of the last of those. I don't think men like that really exist. At least not the ones I meet."
"Don't feel sorry for me. You're right about Calvin. We've been texting for a month now and saw each other three times. Both of our profiles said that we only dated exclusively, which is why I never actually asked him. But he didn't ask me either."
Claire paused and swallowed. "I hate that when I didn't hear from him last night, I lay in bed crying, wondering what I had done wrong."
"You?" Sophie gasped in outrage.
"I know, I know," Claire hurriedly said, lifting her hands to calm her friend. "It's stupid. He could have been doing any number of things. I'm not saying he was out with someone else, but the simple truth is, he could have taken two seconds out of his day to reply to my text. The fact he didn't. ... Well, it kinda says it all, doesn't it?"
Excerpted from "Ignite"
Copyright © 2019 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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