Authors: Lacy Danes
To my iceball partner and best friend,
Thank you for encouraging me to write again.
You are my world. My comfort. My passion.
Five hundred years ago, using her own vampire blood and ancient magic, the vampiress Carmen brought forth the birth of the last four elemental dragon princes, or Zir, from the last of the elemental dragon’s eggs.
Cursed by an enemy who wanted their power, they were condemned to take human form. There are no females among them, and so each is destined to live with an unrelenting urge to find his elemental mate. For she is the key that will unlock their history and their destiny.
To this day, no Zir has found his mate.
On the east coast of England, 1786
The water here churned angrily.
Black fog, thick as mutton stew, swirled around Jordan and blocked out the light of the moon. He pulled back the oars, feeling the rough wood chafe against his calfskin gloves. The lapping of water against the boat hull cried out to him. He closed his eyes tight, tensing as he reached out with all his soul’s power. He reached out to feel and be as one with the water’s thoughts. They had to be nearing land. The hairs on his arms stood up.
Pain, anguish and the specter of death scaled up his arms and sliced him deep inside. He gritted his teeth. He did not want to feel such agony. Something dreadful, he sensed, had happened since he had departed to retrieve his brother Ferrous from their Isle only the day before.
The band of blue scales surrounding his elbows itched in warning. “Damn it.” He sighed and dragged his fingernails across them through his wool greatcoat. Only three boat lengths of water remained before the red sand and pebbles of Blood Cove. He inhaled deep. Acrid blood mixed with a rotting sea-plant stench hung in the air. The scent of death. His stomach clenched in revolt. “Drop weight.” The words stuck in the humid air between him and Ferrous.
“The sky is so black. I hope I will not hit a serpent.” Ferrous leaned over the edge of the boat with the heavy twine-bound rocks in his hands. “Remember the first time we anchored here? That bloody thing nearly ate my arm.” With a splash, the boat slowly stilled.
“It was only a water snake, Ferrous.” A Zir afraid of snakes. Jordan shook his head.
Ferrous stood, rocking the boat. “So you say.” The whites of his eyes were the only thing visible on his dark face as he glanced back over his shoulder at Jordan. “It feels as if hell itself spit upon the shore here, Jordan.”
The fine hairs on Jordan’s body wavered with unease. Despite its name, the cove had always been peaceful. The pain and destruction fluttering inside as he reached out to the shore was not. “What lies ashore is not what we know as the Blood Cove.” Though maybe the cove was now literally named, he thought.
Ferrous leapt from the boat and splashed into the water, trudging toward shore. “That’s bloody cold.”
Jordan grasped the edge of the boat and threw his legs over, plunging into icy water that shot dagger-like pain up his legs.
Ferrous stepped out onto the rocks lining the shore.
“What do you see here, Ferrous?”
His brother moved from the water into the heavy mist and out of sight. “Wreckage shattered about the rocks and sand. Hell’s demons certainly spit here.”
Jordan stayed in the chilling water. He needed to know what it told. His eyelids fluttered, and he tightened his gut once more. In bursts of light, scenes vividly slashed through his mind. A boat hull burst open amongst screams, and blood spilled into the water like a shot-open wine barrel. A storm-colored bird with glowing green eyes flew above the mast as the wreckage dipped into the sea.
This was no simple run a’ rocks. There were no survivors here, and that was purposeful. He wanted no part in knowing this deed. With a growl, he spun toward the shore and Ferrous. Nothing but hell’s shadows played before him. He wanted to leave this cove and commence on the road to London with haste.
“Should we not anchor here?” Ferrous’s voice came from one of the shadows to the left. The glow of copper-colored scales peeked out from beneath Ferrous’s coat cuff as he leaned down and picked up an intact bottle. “Champagne”—he tucked the bottle beneath his arm, the glow disappearing again beneath his coat—“surely cannot go to waste.”
Jordan’s lips curved into a smile. How like his brother to be thinking of what they could salvage. “We have no choice but to anchor here.” He slogged through the water to shore. “To anchor elsewhere would prove a waste of time. We are needed in London with haste, as Ilmir will only listen to you.”
“A jest, that is. Our brother listens to no one.” Ferrous materialized out of the black fog. His steel-blue eyes glanced at Jordan. An untold emotion flashed within the depths, and Ferrous stepped past him, disappearing again into the mist. “We shall weave a cloak over this shambles until we return.”
They couldn’t have authorities finding their boat and then their Isle. “Quite. You shall.”
Ferrous’s power with his element, metal, inspired gaping jaws and bulging eyes, even for the four brothers Zir. Everyone listened to him, and he knew it. Jordan stepped carefully from the water’s edge onto the pebbles and rocks of the shore. Sadly, he didn’t possess the power to make this all appear null.
The murkiness thickened in a gust of foul, stinking wind. Jordan’s eyes watered, and the tip of his black boot caught. “Ugh.” He stumbled, caught his balance and then gritted his teeth. Debris tangled the path to the woods.
All this fuss to extricate Ilmir?
Jordan rolled his eyes. Who had his brother wronged this time? The daughter of a wealthy merchant who demanded payment? Or perhaps the wife of his favorite cigar maker, who now refused to sell him a toke? Now that would truly demand all Zir be present, as they all used the same maker. What a shame that would be. He shook his head.
More likely this urgency came from his powers abating. Selfishness defined Ilmir. All their powers had lessened over the past twenty years, and without their mates, none of them had any inkling of how to stop it. A half laugh, half grunt caught in his throat. No matter if Ilmir’s powers shrank. He would never change, and the women convenient to him would all die because of his brash ways. His jaw clenched. Ilmir was far worse than any human rogue could dream of being.
Carefully stepping around scattered, fractured boards, trunks and lengths of tangled rope, Jordan and Ferrous neared the last grouping of rocks at the trees’ edge. Jordan sighed. About time.
A faint heartbeat crawled out of the obscure shadows, stalked up his spine. Something lived from this bloody mess. Though barely.
Ferrous turned to the left. “I feel it too.”
On the opposite side of the rocks, jagged boards bumped, clattering against a boulder. A mass of tangled human remains bobbed and swayed with each lap of water against the shore.
From this mess, a heartbeat cried. Jordan closed his eyes and sighed as his stomach flipped. He would find it. He stepped into the water amid the carnage and shuddered.
I must move as hastily as possible. I can do this.
The sound of life grasped him as if a hand itself clasped his flesh. He flinched, then turned to the left.
An arm’s length away, half in the water, lay a woman. Her limbs were twisted and broken, as if made of nothing more than weeds. A man’s head, severed from the body it had once belonged to, floated close to her hand. Jordan’s heart pinched, and the scales on his elbows prickled anew.
No one deserved to be half alive after experiencing a tragedy such as this. He stepped up next to her, knocking the human debris away with his boot. He leaned down and wrapped one hand about her slim, bare shoulders. The other he slid beneath her knees, fisting up a handful of her full skirts. She should have drowned in such a garment. He lifted her, pulling her body up against his.
She hung like a sack of barley in his grasp. Her long, wet skirts and hair trailed cold water in a stream, trickling over the rocks and babbling down into his boots. He turned and stumbled along the slag toward the trees.
Ferrous turned after him. “She won’t live, Jordan.” He strode behind him. “Leave her.”
Her clothing, laden with seawater, soaked his coat in blood. Was it hers or the rotting blood of the pool in which she had lain? He shook his head.
Don’t think about the stench.
Think about her.
Ferrous was right. She would never live.
He fell to his knees and laid her on the high grass that bordered the trees. Her dress was that of an aristocrat, finely tailored with small pearls and embroidery now torn open down to her flesh in several places. Her hair had been swept up with the sun, golden rays that now hid beneath a cloud of red death. “I will end her suffering.” Yes, that was the correct thing to do.
“For bloody sake, Jordan. You are not to indulge unless you have an inkling she may be the one. There are no exceptions to our rules. Look what happens to Ilmir when he breaks one. Who knows what calamity awaits us in London.”
Jordan’s jaw clenched, and he narrowed his eyes, refusing to look at Ferrous, who stood behind him. “This is different, and you damn well know it. I am not Ilmir, and she is not a woman I am courting. She is dying.”
“Being chivalrous?” Ferrous threw up his hands, grumbled and walked through the trees back toward the shore. “Make haste. I wish to make this hellish scene vanish this hellish scene and be to London to deal with Ilmir.”
Did Ferrous truly think he wanted to do this? To kill another woman was the last thing he wished. Twenty years had passed… Jordan inhaled a deep breath and blew it out between tense lips. He ran his fingers down her pale cheek and around her chin, tilting her face toward his. A slender nose, full, angelic lips, and noble cheekbones. A beauty. “To a better afterlife, dear.”
He raised her chin, exposing her long, graceful neck and faintly beating pulse. Another death…
Dash it. He stared unblinking at the slight flutter of her blood beneath her skin.
He closed his eyes and exhaled.
All will be well
Prickling pain clawed through the roof of his mouth as his two pointed teeth extended into thin slivers of bone. He stared down at her neck. She had been floating in blood and seawater. He spit on her neck, twice. His saliva glimmered as it slid down her throat to the grass below. There, that should wash away the dirt she had stewed in. Or would it? His throat tightened.
Don’t lick her. Be done with it.
He leaned in and pressed his teeth to her vein. His mouth opened, saliva pooled heavily, and his tongue thickened. The pouches by his back teeth filled with poisonous blood, forcing his jaw still wider. He inhaled a jagged breath. His heart leapt and pounded, vibrating through his entire being…
Bite her, Jordan. Be done with it. Bite her.
Her faint pulse bumped against his teeth, willing him to take her as his
. Mate? Well, that urge was pointless. She would pass just as swiftly as the others. He rolled his lip back and hissed, then pressed, slicing through her soft, salty outer skin and into her tepid blood flowing below.
She didn’t flinch.
This was the first time he had taken a woman when he was not passionately joined with her. Odder yet not to have her scream. To have her do nothing but lie on the wilted grass.
He swallowed. Dirt be damned, he needed to taste her and know that one essence of the life he now took. He fluttered his tongue on her smooth skin. Warm, salty blood slid thickly down his tongue. Damn. His muscles quivered as his poisonous blood streamed from his pouches and down his teeth, twisting into her veins. His cock pressed painfully hard against his thigh.
The task was done. There would be no more. He would not take his pleasure in her. He would not know the feel of her flesh against his. He would never know her favorite color. This woman, like all the others who had come before, was not meant to be his. Enough!
He growled and opened his mouth wide. Her soft flesh slipped from his fangs. He pulled his head back, and their mixed blood trailed in streams down her neck and dress. His vision shifted and popped. Adrenaline mixed with power bubbled through his veins. This…this, he had missed.