A prequel to the scorching paranormal romance, The Boss.
Maddie Thompson’s life just fell down a rabbit hole. Finding out she's a dragon shifter was one thing—she never quite fit into the human world, and this new reality feels…strangely right. However, discovering the next step is to choose a mate, and if she chooses wrong she'll die, is the other side of crazy. Especially when she already left a piece of her heart with someone who didn't want it.
To say dragon enforcer Fallon Conleth was shocked when the Mating Council summoned him as a potential mate for a newly found dragon doesn’t quite cover it. A mate is rare and precious and many dragons never find theirs. Fallon isn’t sure he’s worthy of the honor, not when so many deserve it more. He’ll just go through the motions and return home alone…until he sees Maddie. The human woman he reluctantly let walk away.
Fallon already broke Maddie's heart once, but if he can't convince her that they're meant to be, she'll die... and he won't be far behind.
Each book in the Fire's Edge series is STANDALONE:
* The Mate (prequel)
* The Boss
* The Rookie
* The Enforcer
* The Protector
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What the hell am I doing here?
The thought crossed Fallon's mind for the thousandth time since the Mating Council had notified him last week that his family brand had shown up on a new mate ... and he was one of the possible matches.
Hands stuffed in the pockets of his pants, feeling like a puffed-up tool in his designer suit, Fallon strolled down the lavish, gold-gilded hallway. His uncomfortable dress shoes tapped against the marble flooring with a loud, echoing click, click, click.
A mate. For him?
No fucking way.
A mate was a precious gift, one Fallon took seriously. One every dragon shifter took seriously — not just because finding your destined mate lengthened your life span, but because dragons were compelled to, like a biological imperative only a thousand times stronger. The urge was more about becoming whole once your soul bonded with your mate's than the need to procreate. Hell, men were known to fight for mates, steal them, even kill or die for them.
However, Fallon had serious doubts that this particular woman was meant for him. Only one woman in all his centuries had caught his attention. A human he could never have. Plus, with his own soul and the new mate's life on the line, no way would he risk it unless he was sure. Not after witnessing his brother go through picking the wrong woman. That kind of pain broke a man.
Besides, he was too young, nowhere near the time his search for his mate would become desperate. Not like most of the guys. The HuracÃ¡ns, the team of enforcers he was part of, patrolled the western parts of North America. They had been there for centuries and not one of the men was mated. All those facts and more put Fallon's chances somewhere between laughable and not a shot in hell.
Not that he could've refused to come.
A refusal would've been taken as an insult at the least, as a sign of dissent against the clans and the kings at the worst. He was an enforcer — hand selected by the king of his clan to bring law and order to the colonies — an honor he'd earned, dammit. Given his role, Fallon was expected to set the example of allegiance. The ultimate loyalist. Besides, no dragon turned his back on an opportunity at a mate, even if he didn't believe it.
So, he'd flown his ass to France.
A set of double doors loomed at the end of the hall. Beside him, Macon scurried to keep up, huffing and puffing. The North American Alliance representative for the Blue Clan — the clan they both hailed from — had accompanied him across the pond as a chaperone of sorts. As a dragon shifter, Macon should be in better shape, but he was a politician. Soft. All talk and expensive cologne.
"Finn should be here," Fallon muttered, more to himself.
As the leader of the Huracán team, Fallon's older brother held a position of greater importance. Finn also shared the same family brand on the back of his neck. The brand that matched the new mate just waiting inside those doors.
Macon's head bobbed like a bird as he glanced over. "Trust the mating process."
"I'm a low-level enforcer," Fallon argued. Not that his position should matter. Mated couples were destined by the fates. Every dragon shifter only had one.
"You're a healer, too," Macon pointed out. "They know what they're doing. This process has been in place since before your birth."
Ugh. That nasal whine of his voice. Fallon would be glad to escape it. He just had to get cut from the list quickly, then he could return home. His team needed him there, fighting the traitor Rune Abaddon, keeping the colonies safe, not gallivanting across Europe on a fool's errand.
"Yeah," he agreed.
Except this process isn't perfect. Fallon kept that thought to himself. Things could go wrong.
Finn was evidence. He'd been selected once, and even got all the way to trying to mate the woman, pushing his fire inside of her to turn her. The mating failed, burning her up from the inside and leaving his older brother an empty shell of the man he used to be. A part of a dragon's soul burned, too, if he chose the wrong mate and killed her. His brother had certainly turned colder and harder afterward, and Fallon suspected Finn's fire wasn't what it once had been either.
Fallon gritted his teeth as he reached for the ornately carved door handles on one of the massive double doors. The mating ceremonies were held in a palace of all places. A real life, with turrets and a moat, goddamn palace. A property the King of the Red Clan — High King Pytheios — had bought, restoring the splendor of the original building, which had once been burnt to a hollow shell thanks to dragons, and bringing the dwelling to a whole new level of overdone glittered finery. The place even smelled opulent, like gardenias and argan and old furniture.
Let's get this over with. Let some other poor sucker deal with this crap.
As soon as he stepped inside, a red dragon — easily identified by his reddish-brown eyes — approached. He held out his hand. "Jagar Agni."
Fallon knew him on sight. The man in charge of Mating Council and all dragon shifter matings for the last five hundred years.
He clasped Jagar's hand. "Fallon Conleth."
Jagar smiled, though the action reminded Fallon more of jackal about to pounce on its prey. "I'm glad you were able to make the journey. I'm pleased to see that most blue dragons are still loyal to the High King."
Political rumblings about a power struggle within his clan had led to rumors that potentially cast all blue dragons in a shadow. Living with the other enforcers on his team, a mixed group of shifters from every clan, Fallon hadn't heard much about it.
Fantastic. One more reason to bugger out of here.
It must've made it difficult for the Mating Council when a woman showed up with a blue brand glowing on the back of her neck. They had no choice but to bring blue dragons here for the mating ceremony.
Beside him, Macon cleared his throat. "Some rumors have reached us, but King Thanatos has assured us none are true. Our king is fully in charge. If Fallon is selected, you can be sure this new mate will be taught where her loyalties should lie."
Jagar's smile held, but Fallon didn't miss the glint that entered his eyes. Dragons shifters were nothing if not suspicious fuckers, not to mention vengeful. Not a good combo at the best of times.
Fallon kept his expression carefully neutral, despite every instinct honed by years as the enforcement arm of the clans within America screaming at him that he was under some kind of scrutiny. Had they invited him here only to gauge the loyalty of some of the higher ranking blue clan members in the colonies, knowing he wasn't this woman's destined mate?
Shit. Maybe this situation was more dangerous than he'd anticipated.
Jagar turned that slick smile his way. "What about you, Fallon?"
"The members of my team consider it an honor to serve our kings." That answer was as neutral as he could get. Politics had never been his thing. He'd be happy to be flying home by tonight and away from this mess. That was for damn sure.
Jagar smiled, though warmth continued to remain absent, making his expression appear more like a facial tick. "You are the last to arrive. Come. Let me introduce you."
Fallon hadn't even looked for the new dragon mate. As he turned in the direction Jagar indicated, he caught sight of a woman standing on a dais at one end of the long room, probably once a ballroom.
Every part of him froze as shock ricocheted inside him like buckshot, shredding his insides with a direct hit.
"Maddie." Her name felt punched from his lungs, though he only whispered. Jagar still caught it, turning his head sharply.
"Do you know this woman?" Macon demanded, beating Jagar to it.
Fallon couldn't pull his gaze from Maddie. Her lips were pinched closed, a sure sign of her emotions. Usually, she never let any hint of her thoughts show.
"She was one of the humans I came into contact with for my job," he owned reluctantly, deliberately keeping the more intimate details of their relationship to himself. "She moved away several months ago. I haven't been in contact since."
Deep, a red dragon who'd retired from the team, was their liaison with humans, posing as a fire marshal and working to help cover their tracks. At the time, Deep had been busy with a bigger fire, so Fallon had stepped in to work with a new arson investigator on a series of smaller fires locally.
The woman who'd consumed his thoughts for the better part of a year stood alone. Chestnut curls cut to her chin framed a heart-shaped face, a familiar face that haunted his dreams and woke him every night aching and hard. Only she didn't look like Maddie.
His Maddie was a no-nonsense, plain-speaking, arson investigator, tough as dragon steel and soft as a kiss, who was more comfortable in jeans, funny T-shirts, and beat up sneakers. This elegant creature in a deep purple dress of some shimmery material that begged to be touched, sky-high heels, and lips a crimson red, was more like a Madeline than a Maddie.
She observed the men in the room. He could see her wariness in the way she held herself rigid, hands clenched in fists at her side, and how her gaze darted around the room.
After that first immobilizing jolt, his next instinct was to hold her, to tease that nervous expression from her eyes as he'd done in the past.
How was this possible?
She glanced his way as though the pull of his stare drew her, and her eyes flared wide, the blood leaching from her face.
"Fallon." She barely whispered, merely mouthing his name. His enhanced hearing would've caught the sound otherwise. He knew the sweet tones of her voice as well as his own, even strained to hear his name on her lips.
For a second, he thought she might faint, but Maddie shook her head and pulled her shoulders back in way that struck him as hauntingly familiar.
There's my Maddie.
Her combination of resilience and vulnerability had grabbed him by the gut from day one. A need that had only grown as they'd worked together, spent time together. Especially after he kissed her. He'd pumped the brakes after that kiss, even though he'd craved more. So much more.
After that, she'd disappeared from his life without a word, leaving less of a trace than a ghost that she'd ever been there. Yes, she'd texted him a month or so later to let him know she'd moved, but he'd forced himself to wrestle his emotions into check and let her go. Against all his instincts. Pursuing her would be unfair to her when he knew it could never end the way they wanted. Not when he'd believed her to be human.
Anticipation lit in his chest as realization sank in under the shock. Maddie wasn't just a human — she was a dragon mate.
And she would be his.CHAPTER 2
Beside Fallon, Macon frowned. "And she showed no dragon sign when you knew her?"
Fallon spared the two men a glance, only to find suspicious faces watching him closely. All he wanted was to get to his mate. He didn't have time for this. "Not at the time, but that doesn't mean anything."
Be damned if they were going to hold that against him. Maddie was his. They couldn't stop him from claiming her.
He returned his gaze to Maddie and swallowed as her stare turned imploring as well as accusatory. She obviously had no idea what to think. Knowing her — Ms. Everything-Has-An-Explanation — she had to be struggling with her new reality.
Without another word to the men at his side, Fallon crossed the room, only one thought in his mind. Help Maddie.
He'd never considered the mating process from the woman's side before, but her body was telegraphing distress for a damn good reason.
Nothing had ever thrown this woman when he knew her. Now she'd been tossed into the world of dragon shifters with no prior knowledge they existed. Not only that, but to then be told she was rare and important and needed to mate one of their males to keep from lighting more fires, and bigger fires, until she was out of control, had to have rocked her world.
And then finding out Fallon was a dragon? That accusatory look was warranted.
When had she started showing signs?
Dragon shifters were almost entirely born male. The few born female were sterile. Dragons found their mates among human women who showed dragon sign after being exposed to dragon shifters — accidental fires, the scent of smoke, small shifts to dragon-like eyes or nails, and things along those lines were considered signs. Those signs grew in frequency and severity until she mated and was turned dragon shifter herself.
She'd shown none around him. None that he'd caught, dammit.
She could refuse to mate, of course. The longer she waited, the stronger the compulsion to mate would grow ... as would the deadliness of her growing dragon signs.
To his knowledge, no woman had said no. Every dragon mate he'd ever met had been blissfully happy in the role, but he'd never asked how they felt when they first learned of it. If they were as independent as Maddie, he couldn't imagine that the news went down well initially.
Still, if she chose hastily and chose wrong, she'd die.
Which was why his older brother had warned him off. The woman Finn had believed was his mate had died a blistering, screaming death when they'd tried to mate, and his brother had vowed to never try again.
But this was Maddie, and she needed him.
Ignoring the voices around him, Macon and Jagar trying to snatch at his arms to stop him, the others in the room watching, he walked straight to her.
"Maddie." Unable to stop himself, he reached for her hand, needing the contact as fire needed oxygen to breathe.
In his periphery, the increased level of noise in the room — voices of varying levels of concerned, questioning, and angry — registered in a vague way, but he ignored it. Intent on the woman in front of him. Hell, she was cold as granite in a snowstorm, though she stood steady as a mountain. This close, her wildflower scent hit him hard.
The need to protect this woman roared through him, his dragon writhing inside of him, pissed as hell.
"Are you okay?" he asked, his voice already dropping to the smoky tones that indicated his dragon wasn't far from the surface.
She regarded him with wide eyes. He'd never been able to identify the color. Somewhere between grey and green and gold, rimmed in black. Glorious.
"Did you know?" she asked through white lips.
Fallon shook his head. "No. If I did, I swear —"
A hand clamped around his wrist, dragging his touch away from her. "Hands off."
The man who got in his face was about the same height as Fallon, over six foot. He was also a blue dragon based on his faded blue-jean colored eyes as well as his leaner stature. Dressed in all black, including a cliched black leather jacket, he didn't back down under Fallon's glare.
"Listen, pal —" Fallon snarled.
Macon stepped between them as a buffer, clearly trying to diffuse the situation. He narrowed his gaze on Fallon. "You're not allowed to touch or talk to the new mate until later in the process, and only with her permission."
"Except I already know her." Fallon flung out a hand, indicating Maddie, who watched silently from her elevated position. A woman he hadn't even seen earlier had stepped up beside her and put an arm around Maddie's shoulders. Like she needed to be shielded from him. Fallon frowned.
"You missed a dragon mate under your nose?" the other blue shifter still standing between him and Maddie sneered. "Your loss. My gain, asshole."
"Who the hell are you?" Fallon demanded.
"Cole Hughes. I'm the man who found her." He suddenly smiled — a triumphant gleam Fallon wanted to wipe off his smug face.
That's when the name sunk in. "Hughes? Aren't you the one with the half brother a different color?"
Cole's smirk disappeared. "He's dead."
So he was the one. The only recorded instance of that happening. Fallon didn't know the details. Something about Cole's father, a blue dragon, having a relationship with a woman he thought was human and getting her pregnant. Humans never survived the pregnancy. Turned out, though, that she was something else — Fallon couldn't remember what — but the combination of her genes with dragon genes had resulted in dragon shifter of a different color than his father — gold maybe, or black.
"He has nothing to do with this anyway," Cole snapped. No sign of regret or sadness, if anything satisfaction rimmed his words. And I'm distantly related to this asshole? Hopefully very distant.
"I'm the one who found Madeline." That smug sneer returned and Cole took Maddie's hand. No one stopped him though. "I'm the man who's going to mate her."
Excerpted from "The Mate"
Copyright © 2018 Abigail Owen.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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