Excerpt for Dragon Mate by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.


Dragon Mate

Supernatural Bonds


Jory Strong



Copyright 2009 by Jory Strong

Smashwords Edition


Cover design by Syneca Featherstone



* * * * *

Table of Contents


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Thank You!

About the Author


* * * * *

Chapter 1


Kirill paced. First the length then the width of the lair's outer chamber. Every few turns, flames erupted from his mouth and engulfed the collection of gems piled in the center to serve as a bed.

Centuries of being a dragon's target had shattered the weakest of the stones and napping on them had done the rest, further reducing the inferior ones until they were a powdery dust that incinerated or blew from the chamber with each fiery breath.

If such hard usage had destroyed all of the jewels making up his daybed, he wouldn't have cared. They were baubles really, except to humans. Like most of his kind, he kept his priceless treasures in the hidden depths of his lair.

Color reflected off the silver of his torso scales. The blue of sapphires and green of emeralds. The red of rubies and black of onyx as well as the sparkle trapped in opals and diamonds.

Kirill roared and blasted the stones again with dragon fire. The deep blue of his tail swished in aggravation and the matching crest along his neck rose and fell as he cursed the fate that had landed him in the position he now found himself in.

Another stream of flame followed, heating his bed of gems into something even a dragon would find uncomfortable to lie on. And as one of the outer gems gave up the battle and broke apart, Kirill cursed one long-dead sorcerer in particular, then sorcerers in general.

He stalked to the lair opening and looked at the portal building in the distance. It sat on top of a narrow column, high above the ground and accessible only to those who could transport magically or were winged. A ledge surrounded it, allowing dragons to arrive and depart in their first form, though the dimensions of the chamber itself required them to shift into a magical construct making them appear human before entering it.

The portal chamber taunted him from its position in neutral territory. It mocked him for his delay, his past mistakes, his reluctance to admit to himself that even cursed as he was, he would never walk away from the treasure of a human mate—the one whose image he'd seen centuries past in the sorcerer's mirror.

He exhaled through his nose. Only this time the flames were the venting of lust and not anger, the eruption of a heat that boiled through his veins though his cock remained sheathed and frozen inside his body.

There were ancients who never shifted from their first form because they loathed the weakness inherent in the human one. Kirill wasn't one of them even if he could count on two hands the number of times since he'd been cursed that he'd focused his magic into constructing the second shape and containing him in it.

In dragon form his penis remained retracted within his body, enabling him to hide the truth from himself—his inability to harden and claim a female with the thrust of his cock into her waiting channel.

Without having to confront the horror of his always flaccid penis, he could lose himself in the study of his various treasures. He could pretend that collecting and possessing a wealth of rare books and priceless gems were all that mattered to him.

In human form there was no such escape. His mind strayed constantly to his limp penis and the woman who was his perfect mate.

His inability to take her taunted him, becoming an ever-present reminder of his youthful foolishness and the spell that had rendered him impotent. Virgin. Without hope…until his soon-to-be-named heir Xanthus returned to the dragon realm with a Drui mate.

By the Great Shared Ancestor, how had Xanthus managed it?

The Drui were originally a nomadic people of magical bloodlines. They'd hidden the truth of their natures by blending in and traveling with human tribes known as the Galatai.

Because of their ability to draw poison and disease from human bodies, they'd been viewed as great healers. The Drui could also use their abilities to restore supernaturals to health.

All this was before the dawn of religions and priests who felt threatened by the Drui ability to heal, and the influence they held because of it, men who'd labeled them evil and urged those in power to round them up and kill them. In their fight for survival, some of the Drui used their ability to heal supernaturals, not to draw away poison and curse-born afflictions, but to draw power—the magical lifeblood—of those beings who weren't human.

As soon as the supernaturals realized what the Drui were capable of, they began hunting them as well. Enslaving some, killing others, and mating with a few in the hope of gaining control over such a powerful ability.

From time to time Kirill had heard rumors of a Drui living among elves, and another among the Sidhe. He'd believed the first telling but not the latter.

The elves were the first to see a future where the humans not only walked in the same world as the rest of the supernaturals but took it over. They'd fled and carved out a home for themselves in an alternate realm. The dragons followed later, and lastly, the most powerful of the fey and those allied with them, leaving behind a magic-poor world for the humans to rule.

He'd thought the Drui extinct in the human realm. Otherwise he would have parted with every gem and pearl, every piece of gold and bar of silver, every book of magic he possessed in order to be cured of the curse centuries ago, with plenty of time to regain his fortune and collect his mate.

Kirill swept his tail across the floor of his lair in aggravation. The tip of it struck the edge of his bed and sent gems scattering across rock and bouncing off walls.

He couldn't fathom why Xanthus would entertain the notion of allowing Marika to return to the human world. But then, there was fey in Xanthus' bloodlines. Perhaps that was what had corrupted his thinking. It certainly explained Xanthus' taking of both a male and female mate. Then again, perhaps Xanthus had come to prefer the human realm over this one as many of the younger dragons did.

I will never understand it, Kirill thought, glancing around his lair and thinking of all the treasures it contained.

Dragons hoarded and guarded. It was their nature, and nothing was more priceless to a male than a human mate. With or without magical ability, such a mate was to be kept in the lair, nestled on a bed of gems preferably, or, if she insisted, allowed outside, but never out of sight and rarely any further than the boundaries of a male's territory.

Whatever Xanthus' reason for thinking otherwise when it came to his mates, could no longer matter to Kirill. Learning that the Chalice of Enos had been found and would be made available to any male and his mate without discrimination or price, changed everything.

Kirill roared, cursing sorcerers yet again. This time directing his anger at Enos, the wizard who'd crafted a chalice then tied the fertility of the dragon race to it.

While the wizard lived and maintained possession of the chalice, dragon-kind had been held hostage, forced to turn over vast amounts of treasure in order to drink from the cup. Then afterward, until the chalice was lost in the mortal realm, it had been in the possession of Queen Otthilde, one of the Sidhe fey.

Cursed as he was and without hope of mating, much less siring offspring, Kirill had agreed to name Xanthus as his heir on the condition Xanthus' Drui mate remain in the dragon's realm, where she could be guarded as the treasure she was.

He'd planned on collecting the female who was to be his mate and bringing her to his lair then finding something—besides coming and going between realms as she pleased—to offer the Drui, Marika, if she could undo the sorcerer's curse. But in the wake of Marika's arrival and his agreement with Xanthus, he'd learned of the Dragon's Cup recovery, adding complication to his situation.

Kirill hissed, sending a wall of flame out before him, finally accepting the only course of action possible for him. He would trust the Drui to heal rather than kill him. He would renegotiate with Xanthus. There was no other way.

If Xanthus was foolish enough to allow his mates the freedom to choose where they went and do as they pleased, then so be it. That was Xanthus' problem and his failure.

I won't make the same mistake with mine, Kirill thought, launching himself from the lair's rim and flying, his silver wings revealing an underside of the same blue as his tail and neck crest.

Once, the entire valley had belonged to his ancestral lair. They'd guarded it fiercely and managed it wisely so despite the scarcity of game, the harsh landscape and cold climate, they'd thrived. But slowly, as the effects of the sorcerer Enos' curse had diminished their numbers, feuds erupted and boundary lines were drawn.

Things would change now that the Chalice of Enos was in dragon possession—in male possession. Even in the days when it was possible to find a submissive female dragon, many males preferred human females. They were deliciously fragile, the rarest of treasures, made more so in those times because so few of them survived the shock of being taken away from their families by creatures they saw as terrifying beasts.

Those who did survive and accept a dragon lover were guarded fiercely because it was generally believed if a human female could accept one dragon male, then given enough time, she would respond to a new mate. His kind were acquisitive and competitive. Stealing a treasure added to the satisfaction of acquiring it, though Kirill was glad their culture had evolved so physical possession no longer equaled right of ownership when it came to a human mate—not that he intended to put such a thing to the test with his female. He wouldn't allow her to stray far enough away for another male to carry her off.

He would go to her realm and collect her from the location where he knew he'd find her, where centuries earlier his future mate had been revealed as he looked into a sorcerer's mirror. He would return to his lair with her immediately, and once there he would proceed to couple with her until he was certain he'd claimed her so completely that she had no desire to leave him.

Despite the size attributed to his kind by human legend—a size made bigger not only with each telling but because of dragon illusion magic—he could mount her both in human and dragon form. He might be larger and heavier in his first form, but with care he could still penetrate his mate. He could still pleasure her to orgasm and impregnate her while he was dragon.

Thinking about it built up such heat that Kirill exhaled flames and increased his speed, anxious to get to Xanthus' lair and speak with the Drui.

At the edge of his territory he stretched out his neck and trumpeted a call. Xanthus' grandfather responded, both acknowledging Kirill and granting permission to pass through claimed lands.

The valley narrowed further. Occasionally there was movement on cliffs seeming too sheer to navigate. Kirill caught glimpses of pygmy goats and scurrying rodents but the hunger driving him had nothing to do with the prey animals below.

His shadow marked his passage along red and gray rock. The cold light made his dark reflection seem deadly and sinister. It reminded him of the fear that used to erupt in villages and fields when dragons passed overhead in the days his kind shared the same realm as the humans.

He trumpeted again. This time Xanthus answered, not bothering to hide his irritation at being interrupted from his mating, though he granted permission for Kirill to enter both his territory and his lair.

When they'd last met, they had agreed Xanthus would come to Kirill's lair when he was ready to finalize the details naming him heir and spelling out his responsibilities as well as his rights. But given the news of the Dragon's Cup, and Kirill's own decision to trust Marika, Kirill couldn't wait any longer.

As a courtesy he forced himself into a human form at the entranceway. He was surprised to encounter a huge cougar in the lair along with Xanthus and the Drui. Shapeshifter? he wondered, even as beast became man and another word formed in place of the first. Sjen.

How had Xanthus managed it? But then Kirill's gaze settled on the hair-woven collar around the Sjen's neck, matching the color and texture of the strands to the Drui's, and he knew.

He bowed low to Marika, seeing compassion and curiosity in her face and gaining confidence that his decision to trust her was the correct one. "May I have a word in private with you?"

Had he not already agreed to name Xanthus his heir, it would have been a dangerous, outrageous request for one male to make of another. Despite their tie by blood, they were essentially strangers to one another.

The answer came in a growl from the Sjen along with a matching one from Xanthus. Marika touched both of their arms, soothing them automatically, and Kirill could tell they spoke in the way of bonded mates, mind-to-mind.

The Sjen took the form of a cat no larger than a rabbit then left the outer chamber by way of a small fissure in the rock. Xanthus released the magic holding him into a human form and launched into the air to glide and circle above the canyon as a dragon.

"Thank you," Kirill said, spine stiffening to counter his sudden awkwardness over the nature of his problem.

"Would you care to sit?" Marika asked, a wave of her hand indicating a museum-quality Oriental rug on the floor.

Kirill nodded and followed her deeper into the lair. The carpet was littered with plush cushions but she pushed them away in favor of sitting cross-legged. He matched her pose, though he couldn't mimic her calmness. For the first time in memory, his tongue felt tied to the bottom of his mouth, held useless there like a fledgling whose wings were still too weak for first flight.

Thankfully she took pity on him. "You've been cursed?"

Kirill only barely resisted the urge to look down at his flaccid cock. Was it obvious despite the clothing created by his magic?

Of course it was. Marika would stir any male to life.

He felt heat rise to his face, shame and embarrassment and dragon fury. If he hadn't already incinerated the sorcerer…

Kirill took a deep breath then exhaled carefully to ensure only air emerged. "Yes."

The Drui nodded. "I thought so. Granted, I haven't met many dragons, but all of them except for you have carried what I think of as a signature energy pattern around them. What was the curse?"

Kirill closed his eyes, almost preferring to have the Great Shared Ancestor call him home in that instant rather than be forced to say the word.

The image of his waiting mate gave him the strength to proceed. "Impotence."

A heartbeat passed. Then a second and a third. Plenty of time for the Drui to compose her features before he opened his eyes and looked at her again. "Can you undo the curse?"

"I need to know more about it first. Was witchcraft used, or sorcery?"

"Sorcery."

"How was it cast?"

"With words delivered on lightning bolts shot from his fingertips."

Kirill's nostrils flared as he remembered them striking him in the region of his hidden genitals, icy cold spears that caused him to drop the mirror he clutched into the ocean surf and very nearly follow it into the water.

Centuries of reading ancient magical tomes in the vain attempt to locate a counterspell allowed him to anticipate her next question. "The sorcerer wasn't known to me personally, nor was I known to him. It was a chance encounter."

Marika held her hand out, palm up, and he obeyed her silent command, placing his own palm down on hers. Feminine lips pursed in contemplation. Her eyelids lowered and he hardly dared to breathe as he waited for her verdict.

A slight nod made his heart leap. Dark eyes met his. "You've heard that the Chalice of Enos has been claimed and is being kept at Drake's Lair?"

"Yes."

"Then you won't really need an heir, will you?"

Heat coursed through his bloodstream as he envisioned his mate swelling with their offspring. Hope blossomed further in his chest. "You can cure me of the curse?"

"Yes." She met his eyes directly. "It's weakening. Two hundred, three hundred years from now and it will probably be gone."

Surprise took his breath. A dragon female never would have given up such a powerful bargaining chip.

Of course, he had no intention of waiting two or three hundred years. By his calculations, he would soon have only barely enough time to get to the human realm and the location where his mate would be. If he missed her, then she would become the subject of a hunt that might last for years.

"I have agreed to name Xanthus my heir. I will honor my word though our agreement hasn't yet been formalized by blood-oath."

"Xanthus said you intended to travel. Do you mean to leave this realm and remain in another?"

Kirill shuddered at the thought of living in the mortal world. "I plan to leave, but only long enough to collect the treasure waiting for me and return."

Marika's smile said she easily guessed the exact nature of his treasure. Her fingers curled around his and she leaned forward, unconsciously forcing him to do the same so their faces were only inches apart.

"Family is important to the Drui. When the time is right, I'll have children. They would enjoy the company of cousins in this realm, your children, Kirill, companions to fly and climb and explore with.

"You know Xanthus doesn't covet your treasure or your land. He wants only to ensure that his grandmother can pass to and from the portal at will. This isn't my world, nor is it Tallis', or even Xanthus' any longer. Our life is among humans. My days of wanderlust are done with and it's time for me to do what my kind has always done, serve the land by healing its people."

Kirill inhaled, taking in the scent of magic. He had known it would come to this.

Dragon instinct railed against letting a Drui leave this realm. And yet the vision Marika's words evoked, not only of a cure allowing him to sire children but a connection allowing him to be part of an extended family, made him ache with longing. He'd been alone for centuries, self-exiled because of his search for a way to break the curse.

"I will let it be known that I no longer seek an heir. I will enter it into the pledge records that for as long as I, or any of my blood, hold the land at the end of the valley, Xanthus' direct ancestors, mates and descendants may pass unhindered and without payment of tribute."

"Thank you," Marika said, her hand tightening on his before she released it to remove a small oak seed from her locket. "Xanthus is bringing soil from the valley. When he gets here, we'll begin."

The Sjen slid through the crevice he'd disappeared into. Cat form gave way to human form. Kirill acknowledged Marika's introduction of Tallis as Xanthus landed at the edge of the lair and also shifted, being careful not to lose the dirt grasped in his fist.

He joined them, kneeling on the carpet and transferring the earth to Marika's cupped hand. She placed the seed into the dirt then took Kirill's hand once again.

"Since the spell cast on you has slowly been dissipating, I'm not sure how obvious my drawing the rest of it away will be to you. It might be best if you concentrate on your upcoming journey and the treasure you intend to return with so we will both be confident the curse has been removed."

Kirill nodded. Fantasizing about his soon-to-be-claimed mate came easily to him though he didn't look away from Marika.

She closed her eyes and at first he felt nothing. Saw nothing.

Then slowly there was a tingling in his nether regions, a thawing that had him wishing he'd returned to his first form, where his penis was sheathed inside his body and wouldn't emerge unless pressed to an opening or forced out by thrusting. As he thought of mounting his female from behind, a sharp spike of heat stabbed through the center of his cock, making him gasp.

A tendril emerged from the bed of dirt in Marika's hand. It grew upward, into a seedling, mirroring the stiffening and thickening of his shaft as hot lust roared in to fill his penis.

Pride kept him from taking himself in hand. An iron will along with the determination not to spend his seed until he could give it to his mate kept him from coming, though desperation to get to her made his departure abrupt.

He took his first form as soon as Marika signaled she was done. His thanks and formal oath to Xanthus were trumpeted as Kirill launched himself into the air and sped toward the portal chamber.


* * * * *

Chapter 2


Jazzlyn McCabe stopped outside Inner Magick and nervously rubbed her palms over the material of her skirt. Through the glass she could see the store's owner. Aislinn was an artist in her own right when it came to using stones in jewelry and small statues, though that wasn't what brought Jazzlyn to the shop.

Now that she was there, the prospect of going in and asking someone who might not even remember her for a favor made Jazzlyn's chest feel tight and her stomach roil. But what choice did she have?

Despite her cousin's penchant of hooking up with the wrong type of man, and despite the fact Caro had failed to show up for their great-grandmother's ninetieth birthday party, no one else was concerned about Carolyn except for her. No one was willing to file a missing person report. And even if they had been, a call to Carolyn's unhelpful "oh, Caro comes and goes all the time, I'm sure she's okay" roommate would have sent the report right into the police department trashcan.

Jazzlyn's instincts said differently. But then, she'd been the one Caro stood up the day before the party. And that was another part of the problem. Carolyn had a reputation for standing the women of their family up, and almost always because of a man. She'd just never done it to Jazzlyn before, though they'd also never had a fight that left them estranged for six months either.

A sharp pain slid through Jazzlyn and she quickly closed her mind to Caro's hurtful parting words. An internal voice chided, So get this over with already. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can get back to work.

Imagining the tiny studio apartment that also served as her workshop did a lot to calm Jazzlyn. Polished and unpolished stones could be found on every surface, including the tiny kitchen counter and her bed. Books were often stacked in the same places, or left turned to relevant pages. They were heavy on pictures and light on text, but all of them were invaluable when it came to providing inspiration in creating the pieces of jewelry she made.

Her actual living space claimed only about ten percent of the apartment, most of it accounted for by the king-sized bed she'd imagined herself sharing with a significant other—only so far one hadn't come along. My fault, Jazzlyn thought, accepting the blame.

Despite how often her mother and grandmother told her that with her looks she should be married by now, meeting people wasn't easy for her. It still didn't come naturally.

She'd been nearly paralyzed by shyness when she was younger, introverted to an extreme. She was better now, especially one-on-one. But holing up in her apartment and losing herself in her work was still her "default setting".

Going out took a conscious decision and an act of will. What socializing she did usually involved rock hounds and gem dealers, or other artists, people she'd come to know in the course of making and selling jewelry. And Alexandria, of course, her closest friend, whose two passions were hunting rare books and carving fetishes.

"You're stalling," Jazzlyn whispered, feeling her heart start to race at the prospect of going into the shop and asking Aislinn for a favor—especially this kind of favor, especially when only desperation made her consider the possibility Aislinn might be able to help.

All you can do is ask, she told herself.

Jazzlyn forced herself to take a step forward, then another. Her palms grew damp again as she reached for the door and opened it.

Gentle chimes sounded, announcing her presence. Aislinn looked up from whatever she was working on and Jazzlyn's imagination took off on its own flight of fantasy. For an instant Aislinn resembled an elf. The delicate jeweled butterflies perched at the top of her ears gave her a fey appearance, and in the shop's light there was something otherworldly about her, something making it easy to believe she had a supernatural talent.

Aislinn smiled. "It's Jazzlyn, right? Sophie introduced us at the gem mart in Miami. You made a necklace for her to award as a prize when her latest fantasy story releases."

Relief poured into Jazzlyn, clearing her mind of whimsy. "Yes."

"Do you want to look around? Or is there something in particular you're searching for."

It was the perfect opening though Jazzlyn's stomach still cramped when she took it. "I'm hoping you can help me. My—"

The chimes and a whoosh of air announced another arrival. A breathless woman's voice said, "Sorry I'm late. Today's been crazy. I've been behind schedule and racing all day to catch up. Is it ready?"

Aislinn gave Jazzlyn an apologetic glance. Jazzlyn waved it off. "I can wait. I'm not in a hurry."

"Thanks. I'll be right back."

Aislinn ushered the woman through beaded curtains and into a back room. A flash of color caught Jazzlyn's attention, drawing her to the counter where a round, antique wall mirror lay flat.

Intricate symbols swirled on the frame, curling around one clear stone then another, as if linking them in a complex spell. The thought made Jazzlyn smile and shake her head slightly. Until desperation compelled her to seek out Aislinn, she'd never spent much time contemplating magic. Well, not magic in general. She smiled ruefully. Alexandria's fetishes were a different matter altogether.

Jazzlyn traced the sigils and was surprised at how warm the stones felt against her fingertips despite their ice-cold color. Her eyebrows drew together in concentration as she studied them more closely.

Not diamond. Not quartz. She didn't recognize the gems used in the mirror frame.

The longer she looked, the more she thought she saw hints of color, the more intrigued she became. Some kind of hypnotist's gem? she wondered, picking up the mirror and studying it more closely, trying to determine if it was one of Aislinn's creations, made to look antique.

Aislinn and her client emerged from the back room. The woman left as Aislinn joined Jazzlyn at the counter.

"This is beautiful," Jazzlyn said, feeling more confident talking about a craft they shared an interest in. "Is it your work?"

"In part. I restored it. The original jewels were stolen, probably hundreds of years ago. Thankfully the frame survived and wasn't melted down for the silver."

Jazzlyn rubbed her thumb over one of the stones. "What are these? I've never seen or felt anything like them. I thought they'd be cool but they're warm to the touch. And the longer I stare at them, the harder they are to look away from."

The mirror captured Aislinn's surprise and Jazzlyn started to put it back on the counter. Aislinn stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Hold on to it for just a few minutes longer, please. You're the first person it's reacted to."

Aislinn's smile was infectious, further putting Jazzlyn at ease. "Forgive the personal question, but are you involved with anyone?"

Jazzlyn felt her face heat up. "No. Why?"

Aislinn touched one of the crystal-clear gems. "These are called heartmate stones. Or sometimes simply heartstones."

A jolt of surprise speared Jazzlyn. "They exist?"

Aislinn startled. "You've heard of them?"

"I've got a friend who collects and sells rare books. She showed me a passage in one of them, and the pictures accompanying it since she knows I'm interested in old jewelry designs. There were two rings, each supposedly set with a heartmate stone."

"Does she still have the book?"

"Probably. It was written in a language she didn't recognize. I think she was going to take it to the university and see if one of the professors there could identify it so she'd know exactly what she had in her possession and who the likely buyers might be. There was a penciled in caption under the pictures, someone's translation."

"What'd it say?"

Color rose in Jazzlyn's cheeks as she thought about the conversation that had ensued, the private hopes she and Alexandria had shared about meeting Mr. Right, as they'd sat on the balcony of Alex's apartment watching the sun set and drinking piña coladas while Jimmy Buffet sang about being wasted away in Margaritaville. "It claimed heartmate stones were incomparable when it came to finding true love."

Aislinn nodded. "If you're sensitive to them, they react in the presence of your perfect mate. Usually they're placed individually in pieces of jewelry. Most people wear them in a ring or a pendant. They're very rare now, but once they were widely used. They can be any color, though they can only be worked successfully by those with a certain heritage."

Jazzlyn was reminded of the flight of fancy she'd had when she stepped into the shop—Aislinn as a fey being with supernatural powers—followed by the odd thought she'd had about the symbols and stones on the mirror's frame being part of a spell. Her sense of humor came to her rescue, allowing her to dip her toe into the waters of magical belief without losing her balance and being submerged in it. "So how does this work? Should I say something like 'Mirror, mirror in my hands, where's the man I'm meant to land?'"

"Like reeling in a fish?" Aislinn's asked, eyes dancing with mischief.

Jazzlyn couldn't suppress an answering smile. "In my case it's more likely to end up a fish story, about the big one that got away."

Aislinn's laugh ended with a slight shake of her head. "Only if you allow him to get away. The next time you see Sophie—after she and Severn return from their honeymoon—you can ask her about the heartmate stone she wears."

"She's married?" Jazzlyn asked, surprised. Less than a month ago she'd overheard Sophie joking about the lack of available men.

"For all practical purposes. All that remains is an official ceremony. Severn will probably insist on it the minute they get back."

Jazzlyn glanced down at the mirror, half hopeful and half afraid, and not completely convinced the magic Aislinn apparently believed in was real. Alexandria would love this. "Nothing seems to be happening."

Almost as soon as the words were out, Jazzlyn thought she saw a flash of silver streak through the stones. Aislinn's quick smile made her ask, "Did you see that?"

"Yes."

Jazzlyn worried her bottom lip as her courage started to desert her. Asking Aislinn to find Caro was one thing, even police departments sometimes used psychics, but holding a magic mirror and believing in heartmate stones…

She took a deep breath to steady herself. "How does this thing work?"

"I'm not sure," Aislinn admitted. "If the mirror is the same one I found referenced in an old book, the original gems set in the frame were sorcerer stones."

It was too much of a journey into the surreal. Jazzlyn lost her nerve and started to put the mirror down on the counter. Aislinn's hand on her arm stopped her.

"Please, hold on to it for a minute longer. It's safe, that I can promise you. If it'll help, we can talk about what brought you here. Before my client burst in you started to say you wanted my help with something. What can I do for you?"

Jazzlyn looked at the mirror she continued to hold and felt a confusion of emotions, all of them making her uncomfortable. How could she accept one possibility—that Aislinn could help her—without accepting another, that this could be real too? How could she accept that Alex's fetishes became something more than just carved stone, and completely discount this?

Maybe because this was a lot riskier to her heart.

Jazzlyn took another deep, centering breath. She'd come this far, she'd think less of herself if she didn't follow through. But that didn't mean she intended to ignore the conversational lifeline Aislinn had tossed out.

"Sophie told me once that you have a gift and can sometimes help find people who've gone missing. My cousin Carolyn didn't show up at our great-grandmother's birthday party. I've looked and I've asked around, but no one has seen Caro or knows where she is. I'm afraid something's happened to her."

"Have you talked to the police?"

"No. I'm the only one worried about her. Her mother and mine both say she'll show up eventually. But I can't shake the feeling she's in trouble. No one in my family will back me up if I ask the police to look for her and I don't have the cash to pay a private detective, not without selling some of the gems I need for my jewelry. You know how that is. Unless it's the right buyer, I'd take a loss on them. If you can help, I thought maybe you could look through my collection—"

"If I can help, you don't owe me anything." Behind them the chimes announced another visitor to the shop. "Or better yet, consider the debt paid in full by your humoring me and holding on to the mirror so I can determine if using heartmate stones instead of sorcerer stones achieves the outcome I hoped for."

Before Jazzlyn could think of a response the stones flared, becoming liquid silver spiked with dark blue. The change was so obvious Jazzlyn couldn't deny seeing it.

For a split second, just as a man's face was captured in the mirror, she would have sworn he was outlined in the image of a silver dragon with a blue neck crest. A blink and he was only a man, the stones clear again but still warm to the touch.

He can't be real, she thought, her stomach doing a somersault and her throat going so tight she doubted she could get a word out with a crowbar.

There was gorgeous, and then there was raw, primal beauty. He could have been conjured right out of one of her most decadent fantasies. The kind where a dominant male—one who deserved her trust—took possession of her and never let her go.

Dark blue eyes bored into hers intently, causing her channel to spasm and drench her panties in arousal. Embarrassment flooded into her with the realization he could probably see her expression in the mirror and read her thoughts.

She hastily set the mirror on the counter and turned as Aislinn did. Her breath caught at the full impact of the stranger who'd entered the store, the very one whose image in the mirror had sent desire racing through her, and who—if what was claimed about heartstones was true—was supposed to be her perfect mate.

Dark hair cascaded to his shoulders in waves she wanted to touch. A broad chest and muscular arms begged to be caressed. And his lips…

Pleasure. They were made for it—both giving and receiving it.

Jazzlyn shivered as she realized her perusal of him was chaste compared to the one he gave her. He stripped her with his eyes. Bent her over the counter and fucked her where she stood.

The heat in her cheeks deepened. Escaping the shop was impossible.

She couldn't move. Couldn't utter a single word.

She was drowning in lust and confusion. She was totally out of her depth.

"I am Kirill."

His name rumbled through her saying something more. You are mine.

Her nipples tightened painfully and her channel clenched. "Jazzlyn," she managed, amazed she could even remember who she was given the intensity of his stare and the effect he had on her.

She licked her lips and he stepped further into her personal space, swamping her with his heat and scent, making her lightheaded with it. She yielded, stepping back involuntarily only to have her escape blocked by the counter.

Movement, Aislinn's hand settling on Kirill's arm, reminded Jazzlyn of where she was and why she was there. More color slid into her cheeks, though her embarrassment didn't deepen. If anyone could witness what had just happened between her and Kirill, and accept it as perfectly normal, it was Aislinn.

"I promised Jazzlyn safety from whatever came of holding the mirror," Aislinn said.

Kirill only barely resisted the urge to roar and breathe fire. The hope he'd nurtured even after journeying from the portal and realizing his soon-to-be mate was going to be found in Inner Magick went up in flames and left him cursing sorcerers, elves, and his fate in general.

By the Great Shared Ancestor, was it so much to ask that after centuries of suffering a thing many males would prefer death rather than endure, that coming to this magic-poor realm, collecting his mate, and returning home would be an easy task?

Oh, he'd known the coordinates of the location where Jazzlyn would hold the mirror, but he'd had no reason to venture here until now.

Of all the places, why this one?

True, he'd never been here, but he knew of it from the reports he'd gotten when he was seeking an heir and considering Xanthus.

Marika worked here and called Aislinn her friend. And now the half-elf had offered Jazzlyn a promise of safety, a guarantee that would no doubt be enforced by the three dragon lords who had guards posted outside the shop.

Kirill suppressed his fire by will alone, pushing it deep inside where it melded to that scorching through his cock at being so close to his mate. Think, he ordered himself, forcing his eyes off Jazzlyn because it was nearly impossible to consider anything other than gaining possession of her when he looked at her.

The mirror came into focus. It was a match to the one he'd held centuries earlier, except for the gems. Once they'd been sorcerer stones, now they were something else entirely.

A closer look and satisfaction purred through him. Heartstone.

They were clear now where moments earlier they'd been blue and silver. Dragon colors. His colors.

He turned his head and met the soft lavender of the half-elf's eyes. She knew Jazzlyn belonged to him. So why had she chosen to meddle?

As if guessing his thoughts, Aislinn said, "It's good you arrived when you did. I recognize your name. If I'm not mistaken you're related to Xanthus."

"I am," he said, wondering what game the half-elf was playing.

"Jazzlyn came for my help. She's afraid her cousin is in danger and—"

"No!"

The denial was out before Kirill could stop it. And in its wake came the cooling of his soon-to-be mate's scent.

A single glance at her expression communicated his error clearly. Determination and distance had replaced desire. A rigid posture had replaced an accepting one.

By the Great Shared Ancestor, despite the Drui's healing, he was still cursed when it came to his mate! But at least he understood the half-elf's game now. She knew he intended to whisk Jazzlyn back to the dragon realm immediately and sought to ease the way by reducing his mate's anxiety.

A small flame of appreciation sprang to life in Kirill's chest. No wonder Marika was so fond of Aislinn.

"I meant only that such a state of affairs can't be allowed," he said, forcing an unnatural calmness into his voice even though the words tasted like ash. "I will ensure this cousin is located and made safe."

There, that should take care of the matter, he thought with great satisfaction. What good were treasure and the reworking of his agreement about Marika's returning to this realm if they couldn't both be put to use? Xanthus and Tallis could easily see to this matter on his behalf.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-20 show above.)