A beautiful dragon general. A vampyr rockstar with a double life. The traitor who reveals a decades-long secret hidden by the Dragon Court…
Mateo uses his celebrity rockstar status to hide his secret life as a contract spy and killer. His latest assignment sends him to the heart of Patomas, the island of the dragon shifter court, to capture the First General herself. But he doesn’t expect attraction that hits him like lightening once he’s spirited her away… feelings of flight, freedom, and a heady desire he’s never before known. He’s a vampyr…
…so why does he feel like there is a beast inside him waiting to be set free?
Calla’s instincts are hardened from years of defending her queen’s rule from rebellious clans who believe dragons should rain fire and destruction on the lower, flightless races. And her instincts tell her that if she can turn her captor’s loyalty, he would be a valuable asset in their war. However, she recognizes the growing desire between them as something more than an inexplicable attraction between warriors…
… but how can a vampyr be her mate?
Mateo lurched off the couch, the half-naked groupie's arm in one hard hand. She stumbled against him, giggling, high. Higher now that he'd put his mouth to work on her body. That had been a mistake. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and thrust her ahead of him, towards the doorway. Out.
She didn't get the message. Her limp hair tangled in her eyes as she tried to entice him to follow her. "Let's join the rest of the party," she yelled over the music. She dropped one hand down to her bare stomach.
Mateo kept his eyes strictly on her face. She'd mistaken him for something he wasn't. More to the point, he'd played his role too well and it started to chafe. He needed space. Air.
"Get out," he said, brusque, rough hands emphasizing his tone. "You're a boring lay anyway."
She resisted his attempts poorly. Even if Mateo hadn't been physically trained, she was drunk and uncoordinated. She took two rough steps back and her giggling expression dropped into a sneer. "So, it's true what they say. The big, cocky rock star can't get it up—"
Mateo slammed the door in her face. He didn't need to hear rumors about his virility. Especially when they were true. He rested his forehead on the door. He could feel the thump of the after party just beyond. Thankfully there was no yelling or door-pounding from the groupie. He'd had to fend off worse.
Mateo sighed and turned to brace his back on the door instead. He was frustrated with the pattern his life had found. Stuck in a rut, trapped by family loyalty and his own lack of direction. He didn't know what he needed, but he yearned hard for something every day. Something different. It had driven him to tour across the world this year. Constantly traveling helped scratch some of that itch. He'd also demanded more room. A bigger touring bus, bigger hotels, more space. The walls of his life were closing in and Mateo couldn't stretch out far enough.
Nothing seemed to help.
In his pocket, Mateo's cell phone jangled a tune. He fished it out and frowned at the display screen. His foster-father was calling. The only father he had, really. A man who had taken him in against a lot of common sense and stayed loyal despite Mateo's growing restlessness. A man he owed more than his life to, but his very soul.
He answered the phone. "Sire. I trust you're well."
"Ah, Mateo. My Descent. Are you alone?"
"Yes." Mateo shrugged off the door and walked briskly to the back of his dressing room where the pounding music wouldn't distract him. Estophen was a man of direct action and Mateo had become much like him in the intervening years since they'd met.
"I have an assignment for you."
Mateo stiffened. "I can find a flight back tonight." Anything less than immediate action was unthinkable. The cognate took its work seriously, and were known for their results. Mateo had much reputation to uphold as a member of the vampyr family.
"That won't be necessary," Estophen said. "You are already ideally placed. Now attend my words…"
Mateo focused as Estophen outlined his straightforward mission. Capture, detain, and wait for instruction. He was to prepare himself to assassinate his target when given the word. It wasn't unusual for the rich and powyrful of the world to manipulate or blackmail their way into position and they often used Estophen's cognate to do it. Their success rate was unmatched and their client list completely confidential.
Mateo asked only for clarifying details that didn't include the why of things. It wasn't his job to play politics. He was merely the hired knife.
His sire closed the call and Mateo sat heavily on the couch, phone in hand. An assignment like this wasn't what he was looking for. In fact, he'd taken the rock star persona on a world tour in part to get away from the stifling law of cognate life. Estophen had indulged him at the time, but clearly, he'd reached the end of his leash.
Mateo flipped his phone idly. He was tempted to burn down the public identity he'd forged for so long. He could take a bottle of booze out to the party and run the whole thing into the ground. Start a fight. Win. Kick everyone out. It was a tempting idea. The very physical nature of a fight attracted him.
But the cognate wouldn't appreciate burning that cover. So few of them interacted with mortals now. After hundreds of years in their lives, humanity was just an idle distraction. Mateo was young enough, by comparison, that he still remembered life as a mortal. As human. He remembered college frat parties and cram study sessions. And he remembered, intimately, the night he submitted himself to Estophen's will and joined the cognate for eternity.
Mateo's gums itched. He rubbed his lips with the back of his hand, struck by the lingering sexual scent of the groupie he'd kicked out. With a soft growl, he shoved his phone back in his pocket and escaped the after party via a side door. His body thrummed with heat and Mateo felt the first cascade of change come upon him. It was too late now to burn the party down, he had to find a vein, and fast.
He usually had more warning than this. Maybe the phone call had been more than just an assignment. Mateo knew much about the way of vampyrs, but Estophen was nearing his first millennium and possessed many skills. Drawing out Mateo's vampyr was just one of them, though he'd never done it without clear intent before. Had he pushed his sire too far with his wandering?
A door down the alley slammed and a woman laughed, her voice pitched high. Mateo turned towards the sound. His fangs descended and his vision sharpened. The night held no secrets from a vampyr.
Two mortals, tangled in each other, stumbled down the alley. In a blink, Mateo was there, his hot palm on the male's cheek, forcing direct eye contact, pressing his will inside.
"Watch as I please your woman," Mateo growled. The man's mind and body collapsed. He sat in the alley, eyes glazed with Mateo's spellbinding.
Mateo turned to the woman. At his touch, her curved body melted into his. He heard her pulse race with adrenaline as he spelled her into submissiveness, her head falling back. Mateo took a deep, fortifying breath. Then he plunged his fangs into her throat and drank deeply.
The itch in his gums immediately subsided. It took several more seconds for his heat to abate. He regained control of his senses, dulling his hearing and smell against the thumping music and mix of perfume and beer. The woman in his arms arched, her breathing short. She moaned with each swallow he took, the pitch rising steadily.
Mateo growled against her throat. She clung to him, shifting her body for more contact even as he tried to distance himself. His bite was euphoric, sexually intense, and Mateo had always disliked it. The few vampyrs in the cognate he'd spoken to indicated he was the only one who had a problem. But then, immortality tended to change a person over time.
The woman seized against Mateo suddenly and he ripped himself away before the iron taste of her blood could shift with her climax. She shuddered with ultimate pleasure. Mateo unceremoniously dumped her beside her be-spelled date.
With his vampyr satisfied for the night, he could focus on his assignment. Mateo was aware he was replacing one empty life for another, but he had an obligation, and a loyalty, to the cognate. He'd been allowed to roam free and he'd still been unable to find whatever purpose drove him. It was time to return to the fold. There was one final show to perform.
* * *
Calla adjusted the diadem pinching her temples again. A perfectly clear jewel hung from the center, low on her forehead, and she kept catching glimpses of it. The thing was elegant and impractical. It wouldn't last ten seconds in a decent fight.
"You're certain every member of Clan Sanabee is accounted for?" she'd asked her soldier, Annika, earlier. This would be a perfect opportunity to strike the court, when they were relaxed and dressed for play and not combat.
"As certain as we can be," the younger female said. "We have Clan Sillas under surveillance as well. They've shown signs of shifting loyalties."
Of course, this was supposed to be a wedding, not a war. Calla forced herself to leave the head decoration alone, resting her hand instead on the pommel of her dress sword. It was also a show piece, but at least the sword could gut a man. Not as well as Calla could with her claws, but—
Focus. Wedding. Calla frowned at herself and cast her attention around the expansive hall one more time. The court wasn't as full as she'd seen it in the past. Their numbers had been dwindling from years of fighting and even more time under the unsteady claws of the Delphina, ruler of all dragons on Patomas, whom outsiders had dubbed the Mad Queen. But she spotted Oskan and her mate Daedrik standing together and nodded to herself in satisfaction. They had lost three offspring in battle and Daedrik was permanently grounded, yet they found the strength to be here.
Dragons were nothing if not strong both in will and body. Sometimes it was only the stubborn streak of their Khepreian ancestors that kept them going. But still they carried on.
General Takoda stepped up beside Calla and nodded in deference to her station. As the Delphina's lady-in-waiting, Calla answered to very few. As their race's First General, she dictated the lives of most. He was her second, and if she fell in battle he would control the Delphina's armies. Older than her, more politically savvy, he'd been an asset in her stint as First General. And she was damned lucky he was unflinchingly loyal, or else she'd be spending most of her time watching her back.
But with the war with the Sanabees, no one had time for court intrigue.
General Takoda straightened his shoulders and glanced at the ongoing wedding ceremony. "It's good that some of us can find love in this time. I think it gives us all a bit of normal to remind us what we're fighting for."
Calla gazed softly at the officiate and the two women standing before him, hands clasped together. Their eyes shined with pleasure and hope. Calla had been missing both lately.
"It's really too bad," Takoda continued, "that we're too old for that, now. I suppose we warriors were never cut for the more delicate things."
Calla grunted some form of acknowledgement, but dropped her widening eyes to the floor. Was she truly too old for a life outside of war? Had the opportunity passed her by while she served the Delphina and fought for their people? She frowned. Her position gave her status and responsibility, but Calla hadn't set out to build her life this way. Years ago, she wanted to be a doctor. Maybe a physical therapist. But fate had drawn all of them into conflict and Calla's sharp, analytical mind was good at that, too. Did their forty plus years playing war games close her door to romance and family?
She glanced at General Takoda. He was twenty years her senior and every inch a soldier. From his short-cropped hair to the perfect polish of his boots, he lived and breathed for battle. And she was the same, wasn't she? The diadem and the sword were for show, but her hair hadn't flown free over her shoulders in years and the cut of her jacket was pressed perfectly to the curve of her chest. A shield in wool and cotton. She was a daughter of war as much as Takoda was a father of it. She hadn't realized how far she'd traveled from the life she thought she'd have.
Calla took a deep breath to keep calm. General Takoda was wrong. He had to be. Her duty was sacred and Calla would never abandon her Delphina, but there had to be more for her life… right?
She hadn't come to a wedding prepared for a mid-life crisis and thankfully the officiate announced the women before him as Wife and Wife, mated for life. The distraction was welcome. The court applauded and cheered, and dancing broke out in the middle of the floor. General Takoda offered his hand to her and Calla took it quickly, eager for a change of pace.
Unfortunately, the measured pace of the dance couldn't draw her attention. She stepped and spun in time with Takoda's lead, but as he turned her on the floor, Calla spotted the Delphina in a cut-away recess along the wall of the court. She looked sad. She'd taken the crown off her head and cradled it gently in her palms, leaning heavily against the marble wall.
Calla's heart broke for her queen. For fifty years, their people had been at war, defending their right and their title to the land of their ancestors. And for thirty of those years, the royal family had been devastated and scattered. The Delphina's own dragonlings, kidnapped from their cribs, were still missing. Much of the court presumed them to be dead. Their enemies had stolen into the court itself and wrought more damage than they'd ever know. The queen mourned, her madness persisted, and Calla knew it was because she still hoped. Her children were out there somewhere, adults now, and one day they would come home. There were days her sanity held on by a thread—and often Calla was the one on the other end, keeping it from unraveling. The court knew—if anything ever happened to the Delphina's First General…
The dance ended and before General Takoda could hand her off, Calla made her abrupt departure. It was rude, but no one called her out. Instead, she approached her ruler. The woman wore her grief like a shawl. It wrapped around her shoulders and weighed heavy on her brow.
Calla flowed gracefully to one knee, head bowed low, and murmured, "The Delphina rules." It was a formal show her monarch disliked but they were in a formal setting and damn if Calla wouldn't be an example for the rest of the court to follow. War and madness might take their kingdom, but not without a stubborn fight.
She rose without being acknowledged. "Is there anything I can get you?" She pitched her voice low, striving to create some space of privacy in the open ballroom.
The queen's pale eyes shifted slowly to her. She lifted one hand from the crown in her lap, but it fell again without any direction. "It's like a sunset," she said softly.
Calla pressed her lips together. In recent years, the only times she'd seen the Delphina lucid was in the heat of battle. Though it drooped now, her body was hard and powyrful in its prime. Her wings were whole and hale. And her claws could tear the scales off their enemies. In battle, she had a purpose. But here in the court she was haunted by the ghosts of her missing children.
"I'll take her from here, First General."
Calla startled back at the Pythian's deep voice. She bowed before him, as usual in awe of his perfectly pressed suit and the line of his warrior sash across his chest. The queen's co-ruler suffered more acutely than any of them, and yet his resolve never wavered. He put a soft hand on his mate's shoulder and guided her to her feet. "Come, there's a light meal waiting for you in the hall."
The queen stood, though never seemed to notice her husband beside her. It had been so since their children had disappeared. Another facet of her madness that the court couldn't understand but had come to accept.
Calla watched them exit the court without fanfare, unwilling to interrupt what should have been a joyous day for their people. A marriage in the middle of an unending war. She gripped her hands into tight fists. Something had to change. Soon. They couldn't go on like this forever.