Authors: Juliette Cross
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Series, #Young Adult, #New Adult, #9781616505615
By JULIETTE CROSS
An imprint of Kensington Publishing Corp.
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
beloved niece, kindred spirit, and constant muse
Jessen Judice, thank you for being my go-to girl for every insane idea that pops into my head. You were right, Jess; this one was a keeper. To my ridiculously supportive beta readers and friends—Rebekah, Brooke, Rachel, and Amber. You ladies rock. A special nod to my writing group partners—Margaret, Anne, and Lisa. To Cheryl Freyou, for always being there. Julie Reece, my dear friend, you’ve become my compass on this tumultuous journey, always pointing me true north. To my agent, Brittany Booker, who believed in me from the first, unwaveringly. Great appreciation also goes to Lyrical Press director, Renee Rocco, who is truly a rock star of the industry and the best cheerleader we could have. And to my editor, Corinne DeMaagd, whose skills blow me away. Your tireless dedication raised
to a place I never could on my own. Finally, to my husband and children, you will always be my first love. I appreciate you allowing me time for my second.
Thousands of years ago, Radomis, the dragon king of the North, took flight on the last full moon of winter. Beating great, black wings, he soared away from his mountainous kingdom, lured by some unknown force to the sultry lands in the west where humans dwelled. Dragons and humans had always lived apart.
On this same night, Princess Morga honored the fertility rite of bathing under the full moon the night before her wedding. As she stepped from the natural steaming pool, rivulets of water glistened over milk-pale skin, ebony hair slicked over her breasts and down her back. The dragon king saw her. Instant desire ensnared his beastly heart. He descended.
Shifting into human form, a man of might and beauty, he murdered her guards and handmaidens. Horrified, Morga could do nothing when the dragon king took her in his arms, hard lust in cold eyes. The moment his tongue licked into her mouth, she felt the burning of soulfire—the dragon elixir meant for his one and only mate. Golden heat melted through blood and bone, filling her with euphoric pleasure, bonding her to him forever.
Radomis took her on the ground among bloody bodies and moon-shadows, intent to sate his hunger. One night would never be enough. Shifting into dragon form, he carried her in his claws back to his kingdom. She would be his queen, trapped in a gilded cage of opulence as the object of his endless desire.
From their union, a child was born—an abomination. A human body with dragon wings and dragon strength. The boy, Larkos, was outcast among dragonkind, including his father. Only Morga showed him any love.
When Larkos reached manhood, he wielded his rage with an avenging sword, tracking and killing all of dragonkind. Even in beast form, his father could not match him, finally falling to the forgotten son’s sword. What Larkos did not know was that soulfire bonded his loving mother to the beast in such a way that when his dragon-heart stopped beating, so did hers.
This is the tale I’d been told when my body began changing from child to woman, a warning for young girls to beware of Morgon men.
“Never stray from your own kind, Jessen,” my mother would say, “or you could end up like Princess Morga, a slave and outcast to be abhorred.”
The problem was, I’d never been a very obedient daughter. Never the one to do exactly as I was told. And fairy tales have no meaning when the stars align and Fortune spins her wheel, weaving her own story for your heart.
I swung one leather-clad leg over the balcony railing and froze. Straddling the stone balustrade, I gazed upward, willing my heart to still. A crescent moon cut a half-smile in the starry night as if mocking my rebellion. Or perhaps encouraging it.
Don’t look down.
A smudge of cloud blurred over the moon, nudging me into the darkness. Deep breath in, I swung the other leg over and shimmied toward the ivy trellis. My long legs helped me maintain balance on the stone balcony, making it easier to climb down. Of course, I had to have the villa suite on the top floor—an obscene luxury for a college student.
Only the best
, my father would say. I knew the truth. He tucked me away in an ivory tower, complete with armed guards, imprisoning me to watch my every move. It had nothing to do with protection. Not mine, anyway.
My maroon silk blouse snagged on a tendril of ivy. I slipped it loose and dropped the final few feet to the grass below. I peeked around a manicured shrub toward the front of the complex. One of the guards leaned against the entrance, nearly dozing. Smiling to myself, I crept across the shadowed lawn to the side street.
I jumped into the sleek, black coupe waiting at the curb and turned to Sorcha. “Let’s go.”
She grinned and tore off into the night, away from Cade Heights.
“I don’t get it.” Ella leaned forward from the back seat. “Why can’t you just walk out the front door like everyone else, Jessen? There’s no curfew or anything.”
I flipped down the compact mirror above the passenger seat, checking my hair. I plucked a leaf from the black waves falling past my chest. “Ella, have you actually met my father?” I wiped away a streak of dark liner from below one eye. “Sorcha, where’s your eye shadow?”
“Check the glove compartment.”
I touched-up the tawny shade of color on the outside corners and smeared a glossy cream on the bottom lids, setting off my light brown eyes. Pleased my hair and makeup looked fresh, and not like someone who just crawled down an ivy trellis, I flipped the mirror shut.
“Yes, I’ve met your father. You know I have.” Ella didn’t get the concept of rhetorical questions. Her glazed look, as always, made her pretty features more child-like. “So?”
“So!” Sorcha careened around the next corner, veering deeper into the city. “That man could suffocate a person with a glance.”
I sighed. “Forget about him. Don’t you ladies want to know our destination tonight?”
“Oooo, I do love it when you’re sneaky, Jess. So what’s the big secret? Why am I decked out in my highest-heeled boots and shortest skirt?”
I pulled the glossy flier from my back pocket and handed it over.
“Oh, yeah. That’s what I’m talkin’ about, baby.” Sorcha turned down a side street, heading for the farthest edge of the Gladium Province.
“What is this?” Ella snatched the paper from Sorcha’s hand. “We can’t go there. It’s a Morgon club, Jessen! We’re not allowed.”
“Oh, Ella. Relax.” I snatched the flier back and pointed at the headline. “Do you see who’s playing tonight? We have to go. For moral support.”
“Yeah, for moral support,” agreed Sorcha with a mischievous grin, tossing her dark red locks over one shoulder. “And to play with a little fire.”
I laughed. Ella didn’t.
“You two are crazy. Out-of-your-minds crazy. I don’t care if Jed’s band is playing. He knows we’re not allowed on that end of town, much less in one of their clubs.”
“Calm down.” I twisted in my seat. Ella looked like a wide-eyed doe frozen in the headlights. “First of all, that’s not true. It’s not illegal to go to a Morgon club.”
Ella needed a refresher course on desegregation laws, and how it was illegal for either race to bar anyone from a public place. Of course, my father might let a Morgon come into his place of business, but he’d never let one step foot in his house. Not unless there was money riding on it. Unlawful or not. Ella’s parents also fell into his line of thinking.
“Look. Other humans go all the time. Jed told me. I mean, why the hell would they hire a human band to play if it were against the law? Times are changing.” I wanted to believe it was true, whether or not my father was stuck in the dark ages of bigotry and discrimination.
Ella heaved a small sigh, voice almost a whisper. “But, my mom, she told me never to go to their side of the city.” I glanced over my shoulder. She twisted a blond curl around her index finger, a sure sign of distress for my timid friend. “It’s dangerous, Jessen. Your dad would kill you.”
“Hence, the very reason I snuck out of my apartment rather than let his henchmen tail me all night long, as usual.”
Sorcha zoomed into the Morgon district, the buildings transformed to suit the dragon-hybrid race—sharper, wider, taller, like mountains made of glass and steel.
“I don’t approve,” protested Ella.
Sorcha squeezed her car into a parking spot on a street where glittering clubs lined the block, then popped open her purse and applied a fresh coat of cherry-red lipstick in the rearview mirror.
I gave Ella my reassuring expression while Sorcha primped. “I know. Don’t worry. Jed wouldn’t invite us if he wasn’t sure it was safe. Now, come on. Let’s have some fun.”
“Wait!” Sorcha passed me the lipstick. “You look good in this.”
I applied and handed it back. “Better?”
“Luscious.” She winked. “Look out Morgon men.”
We walked the block in silence, taking in the towering sight of Acropolis at the end. At least ten stories of Gothic stone with wing-like buttresses and spires stabbing into the darkness above. Grotesque gargoyles glared down. The stone creatures drew my eye with their long limbs, sharp claws, wings spread wide, and gaping mouths, tongues lolling. Was this some kind of subliminal warning to beware of winged beasts?
Sorcha glanced up at one particular fiendish gargoyle, seeming as if it would leap off its pedestal at any moment. “Mmm. I’m feeling like a damsel in distress. How about you, Jess?”
“Um, isn’t this owned by the Nightwing clan?” asked Ella, sandwiched between us.
“Yep,” I replied.
Sorcha added more sway to her walk. “Awesome.”
Though the exterior reeked of an ancient time, an electric blue sign burned above a black door—
. My heart skittered at the sight of the man checking IDs. I’d never seen a Morgon this close. We’d had a guest speaker in my Multicultural Literature class, but the Morgon woman, a poet, stood on the stage a good distance from the audience.
This guy was huge, a wall of bulging muscles. His brawny physique wasn’t what kept the three of us riveted to the spot. Massive wings—leathery, jagged, and magnificent—held us spellbound. The man cleared his throat to get our attention, gesturing inside with a crooked smile. “Welcome, ladies.”
“Such a gentleman,” said Sorcha, batting her bedroom eyes. As we stumbled into the club, she grabbed my shoulder and leaned in. “I think I’m in love.”
“Slow down, Sorcha. There are plenty more inside.”
Sure enough, there were. Sorcha bee-lined for the bar. I followed, scanning the décor. I’d never been inside a Morgon building. Maintaining the Gothic style in black leather seating, low-lit sconces, and wide, gold-trimmed mirrors on every wall, the space didn’t feel stifling or closed-in as expected. Rather the opposite. The bar lined one side of the ground floor, the stage the other. The center of the room was the dance floor that opened all the way up to the tenth floor. The skylight in the ceiling framed a deep, inky night. On both sides of the club, wide stairwells spiraled upward. Wrought iron railings barricaded each floor, maintaining the sense of open space. I was standing at the bottom of a giant birdcage. I smiled to myself. Of course I was.
“Jess! Come here!”
I’d stopped midway to the bar, stunned by the vast and opulent interior. A throng of Morgon men surrounded Sorcha and Ella.
Oh, hell, Sorcha.
Ella looked like she was about to bolt, a frightened rabbit hemmed in by wolves. I sauntered up, well aware my body drew attention. Though not as voluptuous as Sorcha, I stood much taller. With black wavy hair brushing my hips, I straightened, thankful for my gift of height. In a biology book on Morgons, which I’d smuggled from the library in my teen years, I’d learned the average height of an adult Morgon male was six-foot-seven. The average. Just like the one with platinum blond hair currently raking me with hungry eyes.
“This is my friend, Jessen,” Sorcha introduced. She turned to the two chestnut-haired Morgons on her other side. “This is Conn and Corbin Rowanflame. They’re twins.” Sorcha winked. They nodded in unison with identical expressions of my-mouth-would-make-your-knees-buckle. I didn’t doubt it. I nodded in greeting, examining the deep russet hue of their wings. Sorcha turned to the platinum blond whose ravenous gaze didn’t waver for a second. “This is—”
“Slade Silverback,” he interrupted, taking my hand and sweeping a kiss across the knuckles. His wings shimmered silver-gray under the lights.
“Is it true each clan is named for their wings?” I asked.
He kept my hand in his, pulling me closer. “Yes. It’s true. The coloring is distinct to each clan. The dragon inside us is patriarchal.” He puffed up his chest. “Children always have the wings of the father.”