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Prologue - Dragon Council Proclamation

In order to remain undetected by mundane humans on Earth, The Dragon High Council has decided peace between the Sídhí races is critical.

Therefore, all Sídhí Valleys will participate in a summer camp hosted by Dragon Valley. It is believed the unique blending of races within the summer camp will achieve the first step toward peace.

Participants shall include the eldest two teenage children (or direct descendants) of each council member. Participation in the Peace Camp is not optional. If any Sídhí Valley refuses to participate, all known gateways within that valley will be shut down immediately.

NOTE: 1.) A copy of this proclamation has been dispatched to the governmental bodies of all known valleys. 2.) Valley is defined as a second dimensional area not accessible to Earth or other valleys except through gateways (aka portals) or teleportation. 3.) This will be your only warning!

Chapter - Dragon Fury

Sarah leaned against the damp cave wall, hoping her rocketing blood pressure didn’t rupture a blood vessel. She pressed her thumbs against her throbbing temples, moving them in tiny circles. It didn’t help, all she could hear was the bass boom of her heart pulsing in her eardrums, repeating word-for-word Nick’s parting words as he stormed away.

Why did she allow him to upset her? Upset? Ha! Infuriated was the more accurate emotion. Of all people to have as a cabin mate, she had to get stuck with a lifeMate who couldn’t make up his darn mind! One minute he wanted her protected and safe, and then the next minute, he believed she was an evil Exile.

A sigh of frustration hissed out of clenched teeth. She hated getting so angry; things (or people) tended to die when her temper dropped over the edge of no return.

“Sarah! Help us!” Katie’s terrified words burst into Sarah’s brain, along with the image of a dragon shapeshifter, the size of a Grey Hound bus, diving straight at them and belching deadly dragonfire.


Gloom surrounded the underground lake, mirroring Clarabelle’s grief. Rage turned her soft hazel eyes ruby red. Deep in her throat, deadly dragonfire sparked to life.

“The life of a dragon, any dragon, is worth ten thousand of the filthy interlopers,” the mighty dragon muttered to herself. Her bone-deep growl of fury emphasized her words. Smoke trickled out of her snout. The gut-deep hatred, which had simmered through her blood for years, blazed through the dark gray dragon.

Clarabelle’s beloved half-sister no longer answered her mental touch. Among hundreds of half-siblings, Ella had been her favorite. The powerful dragon had not only been her sister, but a key player in Clarabelle’s plan to return dragons to their rightful glory. Reality was a bitter pill to swallow. Ella had been a dragon with the ability to make her human body appear young or old. Replacing such a powerful ally would prove difficult.

Her roar of pain echoed across the vast underground cavern, demanding vengeance for the loss of her sister.

Clarabelle swung her head around, searching for her prey. A single, slow beat of mighty wings kept her hovering high above the brackish lake. The tips of her wings brushed the ceiling, waking the glow moss. A splotchy carpet of moss, covering the stalactites, bloomed to life filling the cavern with a bright pink glow.

A hundred feet below, on the edge of the shore, stood her enemies, uncaring to the hideous crime they had committed against the Khr'Vurr, dragon-kind’s greatest warriors.

Determination flowed through her body, enhancing her bloodthirsty vow of vengeance. She couldn’t wait for their screams of pain to begin. She swore the teenagers would not receive a quick death at her hands. She wanted them to suffer, just as she was suffering.

“I’ll rip them into pieces for what they’ve done," she insisted passionately to herself, hatred toward the teenagers and the Dragon Council crashed through her like a surging river of fire. Her mind replayed her sister’s final scream, the agony filled sound echoed through her.

Clarabelle’s body trembled. She fought to pull herself together. Now was not the time to lose it, not in front of the ones who were responsible. Later, in the safety of her mate’s fortress, she would allow herself the time to grieve. Not now.

Along with the horror of the day remained a single glaring question.

How could her sister have died at the hands of a couple of teenagers?  It seemed impossible that two brats cuffed in silver had killed a full-grown Sídhí, much less a dragon.

The answer was blatantly clear. The brats must’ve had help.

She surged forward as warm liquid gushed up her throat. Dragonfire, the most glorious weapon of all dragon kind was incredibly unstable. It was the deadliest weapon in a dragon's arsenal. All Sídhí races feared the destructive fire. The fire’s incredible molten heat burned through nearly anything it touched, including solid rock and even steel.

Flame exploded from her gaping jaws, burning a reddish-orange with the faintest of blue laced throughout. The deep colors hinted at her age, growing stronger year after year.

The teenagers screamed in fear, running toward the unforgiving wall of the cavern.

Clarabelle’s eyes sparkled with a combination of unsuppressed glee and hatred, gloating over their screams of terror. Excitement, as the hunt began, rippled down her back, causing the black spikes buried along her spine to burst upward, quivering in anticipation.

She grieved for her sister, but Clarabelle’s heart sang in joy over the fear she produced within the young Sídhí. Their screams created a fuzzy, warm glow within her, reminding her of the numerous villages she torched during earth’s medieval age, a time before the Dragon Council destroyed the dragon’s true place in the world. 

She missed the old days so badly. The depressing thought actually perked her up, because if everything worked out as planned, the summer camp would be the first step toward returning to those joyful years of terror, but not on Earth. That was truly the sweetest part. Why should dragons be stuck on a world the mundane humans had mucked-up with billions of offspring?

She surged forward. Black spikes running up her back quivered under the cave’s soft light. Her burning red eyes sparkled with cruel anticipation.

The teenagers ran faster, darting farther away from the shoreline toward a tumble of rocks, trying to escape her retaliation. They wouldn't succeed.

Then she noticed what, or rather who, they raced toward. A man sprawled on a ledge. She snorted her ridicule. Instead of seeking shelter, they stopped to help a third person, destroying any chance of escaping her. Only Clan fools would do something so ‘honorable’ as risk their life for another.

Clarabelle narrowed her sparkling red eyes as the pink light of glow moss glinted off the man’s smooth head. 

The image stuck in her brain, repeating itself. The injured man did not have any hair.

“Filthy, wretched dragon guardian,” she growled in recognition of the man. Somehow, the brats had freed her prized prisoner, the arrogant Guardian Alexander. He was a prize she had planned to use in her bid to overthrow the stagnate council of elders.

She roared her displeasure. Dark fury splintered through every inch of her body, erupting in a burst of flashy dragonfire. Before she could contain it, fire spewed from her throat in a torrent of burning flame.

A third teenager suddenly appeared on the rocky shore, teleporting into the cavern without warning.

The new arrival, a tall, young woman, seemed overly calm. The absurd over-sized t-shirt didn’t detract from her beauty. The man’s shirt actually enhanced the girl’s unearthly appearance. Her long hair swung around her as she stepped between Clarabelle and her prey.

The mighty dragon was very familiar with the third girl who ported into the cave. Sun-reddened vampire eyes and shocking pale hair gave the lethal freak an edge at frightening her intended victims that Clarabelle’s human form could never achieve.

Clarabelle grinned suddenly. Eagerness filled her at the thought of killing this particular vampire, a stuck-up half-breed from the Dhark Valley. Half elf, half vampire, the Lady Sarah Trellick was an oddity among the teenage campers. The weird combination of the girl’s youth combined with ancient eyes made the gray dragon nervous, not that Clarabelle would ever admit that to anyone.

Honestly. The girl was a freak of nature, moving with the grace of someone several thousand years old as if the very act of walking was a dance. Even the other teenagers, straight from the Dhark Empire, gave the freak a wide berth. The white-haired witch knew things no simple vampire had the right, or the ability, to know.

Clarabelle tilted her head, highly amused as she watched Sarah raise a useless clear shield. The big dragon snorted in contempt.

The girl held a small piece of flimsy armor made of a semi-translucent substance against dragonfire. What a laugh.

Though, Clarabelle had to admit, the shield probably wasn’t flimsy. The little shield had to be synth crystal if the girl was trying to protect herself with it. The shield itself would be impenetrable, even to dragonfire, but hiding behind it was an act of supreme stupidity. Only an idiot would think a shield that small could provide any protection against the deadly fire Clarabelle carried within her.

The shield began to grow.

Shock slammed through Clarabelle’s body, raising the short spikes along her spine to stiff attention.

The small shield expanded outward, growing thinner as it shaped itself into a dome, enclosing Sarah and the three people positioned behind her within a protective shell of living crystal.

Impossible! The mighty dragon hissed to herself. No one had the ability to shape synth crystal, the world’s purest form of energy.

That’s when reality smacked Clarabelle in the snout. Had she been in her human form, she might've collapsed to her knees. As it was, the air froze in her lungs and fear burst through her massive body. She shuddered, sucking in a huge gulp of stagnate air as fear morphed into something darker, more terrifying than she ever dreamed possible.

Still, her mind shied away from the obvious conclusion of who, of what, Sarah had to be.

She surged forward, bellowing her anger and her fear in the form of burning dragonfire, expelling the flame as hard as she could.

The curling flames hit the translucent dome. The strong blast of dragonfire encased the surface, surrounding the globe. The volatile weapon of fire melted rocks on either side of the paper-thin dome, turning the ancient boulders to lava. Liquid rock streamed across the sand.

Seconds later, Clarabelle stopped blasting them. Sucking in a breath of air, she readied herself to hit them again.

The teenage couple showed the appropriate fear of her magnificent dragonfire. The boy roared in helpless anger, putting his body in front of the girl. The girl screamed in terror.

Sarah? Well, the long-legged freak appeared arrogantly pleased.

Clarabelle waited too long before launching her second attack. Later, she realized the length of time she wasted had made no difference to the outcome. Clarabelle had been screwed from the very beginning.

The achingly cold features of the beautiful, young woman changed slowly, morphing from bored aristocrat to enchanting ice princess. A slight smile graced Sarah’s elegant features. Her vivid Caribbean blue eyes sparkled, reflecting the pink glow of the ceiling. Flushed with excitement, the half-breed looked straight into Clarabelle’s eyes.

Sarah's reaction turned Clarabelle’s blood to ice.

The dragon soon understood why no person on Earth could have evaded the swift attack.

Sarah moved with the lethal grace of a born killer. The teenager formed a single javelin out of a source of synth crystal Clarabelle couldn't detect.

The simple act confirmed the dragon’s fear. Only a single person had the ability to manipulate raw synth crystal. Sarah was Chi'Kehra, the long awaited supreme ruler of the elves. She could pull synth crystal from any source, whether it was from the earth or from the girl’s own blood. 

Sarah reared back and threw the spear at Clarabelle. The dome never wavered. The spear travelled through the dome and arched across the cavern.

She didn't have time to dodge the missile. The sharp projectile slammed into her chest, breaking through a thick layer of dragon scales. The spear sank into her chest. A second and third shaft of crystal followed. Razor-sharp tips ripped through her body, rupturing vital organs.

She roared. Pain consumed her. Dragonfire uselessly scorched the air as she twisted madly in midair, trying to rip the javelins out of her chest.

With her last coherent thought, Clarabelle focused her mind, searching frantically for the mental signature of her mate.

Through their lifeBond, his terror slammed into her, distracting her for a heartbeat.

Her mind latched onto his mental signal and she ported to his location, not caring who might see. She appeared under the brilliant, blue sky less than thirty feet from him.

Her mate's fury scorched Clarabelle’s mind, rushing through her like a living flame, hotter than her own fury had been.

She bellowed in agony, clutching at the spears jutting out of her chest. Blood gushed over her claws. Her body constricted. Her failing heart fluttered, skipping unevenly. Her gaze dimmed and she crashed to the ground. Pain exploded through her.

Terror, not her own, flooded her as her mate caressed her mind with his urgent demand for her to hold on, ordering her not to die.

He released a burst of burning dragonfire toward the people he spoke with, destroying them in an instant.

She felt no pity for the filthy people. Their mere presence kept her mate from helping her.
Chapter - Underground Tsunami

Sarah's clear blue eyes never betrayed her inner turmoil. Over the span of nineteen years, she had perfected her ice queen charade. Even her best friend, Mac, who knew her better than anyone, had trouble guessing her moods.

Standing beside the underground lake, she glanced toward the empty space above the large body of water. She should have gone after the injured dragon when she had the chance. Now, it was too late.

A body slammed into her, knocking her backward several feet.

“Thank you. I knew you’d come,” Katie said as she hugged Sarah.

Returning her young aunt’s embrace, Sarah couldn’t stop the soft chuckle as it slipped past her lips. “I think you’d best go to Jared, before your mate has a stroke,” she said, giving Katie a gentle push in the vampire’s direction.

She couldn’t find fault with the young man’s protective attitude. As Chi’Kehra, Sarah was the monster-under-the-bed for most full blood vampires like Jared.

Katie turned to Jared, acting like a kitten with a huge bowl of cream.

It was obvious Jared adored his new mate. Sarah could only dream that Nick, her supposedly perfect mate, would ever look at her with such unconcealed love.

She sighed silently. She knew her decision to protect the two teens had been the right thing to do, but now, the wounded dragon presented a serious problem. The dragon had witnessed Sarah creating a dome and javelins from the synth crystal in her blood. No doubt, the dragon would soon piece together who Sarah really was, if she hadn't already.

It didn’t take a detective to know the bloody dragon had to be a member of the terrorist organization known as the Khr'Vurr. What a screwed-up mess. Once the Khr'Vurr realized Sarah was the first Chi’Kehra in four-thousand years they would not stop until she was recruited or dead.

Tasting the truth of her thoughts, her eyes narrowed in thought. Assassination or recruitment into the terrorist organization was not a major concern to her. Both were minor details compared to the third possibility and the single risk that really concerned her. The Khr'Vurr might consider selling her identity to the highest bidder. If they sold the information to the elves, the purebloods would stop at nothing to destroy her. As a fragmented race, the elves were not currently a problem, but if bickering elvish houses set aside their differences and joined forces, the united elvish nation would become a massive headache.

Until then, she dismissed the elves from the equation, because the Dhark Empire was the immediate concern. If the Khr'Vurr's connection to the lords of the Dhark Empire was strong enough, she was in deep trouble.

The Khr'Vurr and elves she could handle, but the Dhark Empire's armies were massive. If they realized she was Chi’Kehra, the dhark lords would not simply stop at killing her. The empire would crush Trellick Valley, her family’s ancestral territory. Abandoning the second dimensional valley was not an option, not with the dangerous secrets contained within the vast area. Secrets she would die to protect.

She stifled a growl of frustration. She had hoped the peace camp would provide her a way to nullify the threat of the Dhark Empire. No such luck. Nearly a week had passed since the first day of camp and she still didn't have the critical information she needed.

If she could just convince the dragons to help her, she might have a fighting chance against the empire. As it stood, the dhark lords could attack at any moment and crush her home.

Over the next hour or so, Sarah and the teens stood in the dank cave arguing with Guardian Alexander, trying to convince him that she was not the boogieman he thought her to be.

Arguing with the recently tortured shifter was turning out to be an impossible task, but she refused to give up. In order to keep the Dhark Empire out of Trellick Valley, she needed the secret of how to close a gateway, and only the dragon council knew that information.

As a guardian, Alexander was her best hope to contact the dragon council, a group of elderly dragons stuck in the past. The dangerously stagnated council had refused to change with the times. The denial to change had brewed the perfect atmosphere for the Khr’Vurr to step in and stir up a rebellion.

 To gain Alexander’s trust, and to make him believe her, she even sliced her hand and placed the bleeding palm in a bowl of liquid crystal, the Sídhí version of a lie detector.

Unfortunately, the move didn’t help as much as she had hoped. Arguing with the wind would’ve been easier, because Alexander refused to cooperate. Deep in thought, her eyes narrowed. If the guardian - and the stubborn council - needed a little incentive, she was more than willing to give it to them.

Her tactics changed, turning her voice syrupy sweet. She watched Katie shiver. It was good to know that someone had enough sense to be terrified when Sarah turned too sweet for words.

“Having seventeen hidden gateways that open into Dragon Valley, and other dragon dominated valleys, might be the turning point toward change. Don’t you think?” Sarah asked, bluntly laying facts on the table. Her voice was pure sugar, holding the barest hint of sharp steel as she threated the dragon council, referring to the deadly secret that Trellick Valley possessed.

Alexander hissed his fury, staring at Sarah in disbelief. Specifically, at her hand that lay submerged in liquid synth crystal, not only was synth the root of immortal life on Sídhí, but a powerful lie detector. Had she lied, the semi-clear liquid would have turned black.

“Impossible,” Alexander snarled, glaring at the translucent liquid, pure energy no matter the form.

Sarah smiled and watched Katie cringe. She supposed the girl was correct: the lifting of Sarah’s lips - that exposed her fangs - was not a nice smile. “I am aware of seventeen gateways leading into dragon dominated valleys. Gateways the dragons are completely unaware of. If the dhark armies found those entrances, Dragon Valley would be destroyed. At the very least, the dragons would be in a war more horrific than the last Great War on Sídhí,” Sarah said, watching Alexander’s face for the slightest change as she mentioned the Dhark Empire, a sprawling network of second dimensional valleys ruled with blood and terror.

By the time she finished, the dragon had turned from red, to white, and back to a mottled red. His growl made her want to grin with satisfaction. She withheld the telling emotion, keeping an ice-perfect appearance.

He opened his mouth to speak and abruptly snapped it shut. Smart man.

When Alexander finally found the right words, his voice sounded nearly defeated. “I’ll say it again. The Dragon Council will never trust you. I wish I was wrong, but even if you show them one of the gateways, they’ll scoff and call it pure happenstance. I believe you, but they... they’re old.” He stopped again. His skin took on a greenish sheen, looking like he was about to be sick.

Katie surprised Sarah by asking the dragon, “What if Sarah proved she is trustworthy? Would that help?”

Sarah stifled her growl. The girl needed to learn to keep her mouth shut.

Seeming to sense her distaste for Katie’s suggestion, Alexander glanced at Sarah. “In order for them to believe, you would need to save Dragon Valley single-handedly and even then, they might take years to agree with your demand.” He sighed, raising his hand as if he were helpless. “I personally know a high councilor and I swear to you, on my word of honor, I will do everything in my power to sway her opinion, but only if you swear not to reveal the location of those gateways to the dhark lords.” He hesitated. “But I would like to know how you found the gateways and how you are keeping them secret from your father.”

“My dad showed them to me,” Sarah said with a soft snarl. Pausing, she considered his offer. It seemed to be her only choice, because as much as she wanted the information she knew she’d never give the dark lords access to Trellick Valley’s gateways, not that the dragon needed to know that. “Let’s compromise. In exchange for your oath of assistance, I won’t betray the location of the gateways to the dhark lords, but I want an introduction to your council contact.”

Alexander growled. If he clenched his teeth any harder, he might shatter his jawbone. “She’ll never trust you.”

“What if Sarah helped you catch the traitors?” Jared asked.

Sarah groaned. Why had she helped them again? Right, Katie was family. She was beginning to think the two teens had it in for her. Stopping the traitorous Khr’Vurr would not be easy, nor was it her job.

Alexander slowly nodded his head. “That might work. She’s furious over this whole screwed-up mess.”

Well, great, just fabulous, she grumbled to herself, quickly suggesting yet another alternative, “All right...”

The cavern rumbled with an aftershock. A shower of grit drifted down, covering her with a second layer of grime. The baby tremor stopped her words.

The vast cavern shook again with a bit more strength. She waited for the movement to stop. After the earlier explosion, that destroyed half the mountain, aftershocks were inevitable.

Her eyes landed on Guardian Alexander. An idea crept through her mind. It would be simpler to make him disappear. She shook her head, refusing her plan before it took root. She couldn’t make the dragon guardian disappear, not when the man posed a problem and a possible solution, at the same time. 

She needed Alexander’s help, but heaven help her, she didn't know how to reach an agreement with the stubborn dragon when the mountain’s foundation kept shaking. It was the third strong tremor in as many hours.

She stood still, waiting for the mountain to cease its bucking, but the gentle trembling turned into a violent shudder. She glared upward at the swaying stalactites.

Gunshot-like cracks filled the dank air as several dangling rock formations snapped. With little warning, the entire ceiling collapsed, crashing toward them with the destructive force of an upside-down tsunami.

Sarah rolled her eyes in resignation.

Honestly, the entire day had been a disaster. What else could go wrong? Her cool demeanor didn't flicker. She mentally ordered a thin cord of synth crystal around the ankles of the three people in front of her. A split-second later, she ported Jared, Katie, and Guardian Alexander to the teenager's cabin, which was located inside the summer camp's main campground area.

She didn't wait to see if they faired okay. She instantly ported to where she had left her obstinate mate, the mate who refused to bond with her, who essentially hated everything about her.

Every Sídhí had a single chance to find his or her mate, the one person who was their perfect soul mate. Nick was hers. Too bad, he didn't want her.

Less than a heartbeat later, she appeared below a steep cliff, next to a cave. The rocky tunnel appeared empty. Pebbles and dirt rained down the side of the mountain, bouncing and tumbling across the clearing.

Sarah sucked in a deep breath through her nose, smelling hundreds of scents in the mountain air. She searched for a single scent, Nick’s spicy, mouth-watering scent. She got a nose full of dust for her troubles.

She sneezed and backed hastily away from the small cave as a thumb-sized pebble hit her in the thigh. Fear trembled in her belly, making her hand shake. After she left to help Katie and Jared, Nick might have gone back into the dark opening. Snarling, she mentally reached for the synth crystal, planning to build a protective covering over her head and search the tunnel for her missing mate.

A deep voice, coming from the tree line, stopped her in her tracks. "Dang it, Sarah, get away from there."

His voice, harsh with anger, sent a tremor of longing through her. From the bottom of her soul, she strengthened her resolve. She refused to spill her guts to him. She prayed her resolve held. She couldn't reveal her secrets until he bonded with her. Too many lives depended on her steel control.

At that moment, she hated what she was. She hated being the long awaited Chi’Kehra. All powerful, except where her mate was concerned.

For several months, long before summer camp started, Nick had unwillingly invaded her dreams. The Sídhí scientists called it Mate Dreaming, shared dreams between two un-bonded mates, dreams that pulled destined mates together.

Sarah’s nightly mate dream with Nick didn’t have the same outcome as most Sídhí couples, not when each dream had ended with Nick’s claws ripping her throat out.

Freezing her face into a mask, she turned calmly toward him.

In a familiar gesture of frustration, he shoved his hand through midnight colored hair. The rough movement created an oddly spiked style. The harsh scowl on his face registered in her gut like bits of glass cutting her to pieces.

Her heart twisted. She clenched her teeth, obstinately refusing to let him see how much she loved him. She would’ve spread the world at his feet if he’d let her. The very thought frightened her, sending a shiver of dread racing down her spine, because if anyone was capable of conquering the world, it was her. The power she controlled was terrifying, even to her, especially to her.

His face, clenched in anger, filled her vision. He grabbed her arm, pulling her away from the falling debris. The sun beat down on them as he hustled her away from the tumbling mountainside. After several minutes of silence, they neared a smooth flowing stream.

"That's far enough, don't you think," she said softly.

He jerked her to a stop.

Raising her hand, she automatically shielded her face, which was burning under the scorching rays of sunshine. As a blood-drinking vampire, an Exile, the sunlight not only turned her vivid blue eyes ruby red, the yellow ball of flame also burned her pale skin at an incredible rate.

"Tell me you weren't stupid enough to even think about heading back in there," he demanded, waving his free hand toward the mountain. "I'd say a little sunburn is better than getting crushed. What the bloody hell were you thinking?"

Her face flushed with anger. Unconsciously, she angled her hand to better shield herself against the sun, not too sure that she agreed with his assessment. The brilliant ball of fire gave her the mother of all migraines. Leave it to Nick to belittle every move she made. She was so sick of his attitude. When he wasn’t snapping at her, he was taking a swing at her or calling her vile names.

Of course, he didn’t know the type of person she was really like.

He only knew her reputation, a rep she had spent a lifetime building, a vile rep that included death and torture. Creating such an evil rep had not been easy. She had her family and loyal guard to thank. Without them, setting up intense torture sessions would have been impossible. As it was, the memories made her blood run cold, memories that included her insane laughter as victims screamed in agony. Each performance built her guise, creating her evil mask to the world.

Looking into Nick’s face, she realized that perhaps she had done too good of a job.

She sneezed again. Keeping a haughty demeanor and sneezing didn't go together, ratcheting up her frustration over the entire situation. One thing at a time was her motto, but today had been one irritation after another.

Nick’s attitude shouldn’t bother her, but it did. For pity sake, how could her own synth-laced blood not attract a loving mate to her side? Instead, she ended up with a gorgeous young man who hated her.

He was the most frustrating, hardheaded… a third sneeze interrupted her internal monologue.

At the constant sneezing, Nick’s hand loosened its steely grip on her arm.

She jerked her arm from his grasp, quickly putting several feet between them. She glared at him through the tumble of her hair and sucked in a calming breath. Three little sentences and he brought out the beast in her, a nasty temper she preferred not to have.

Oh yes, she had a temper, not that anyone except her closest family and guard ever guessed the truth. Her reaction to Nick bordered on insanity.

The word ‘insanity’ stopped her cold. Could she be falling into a psychotic state? It was a well-known fact that older Sídhí, those wretched souls without bonded mates, often went insane. She was only nineteen, but she wasn't what anyone would ever describe as normal. Synth crystal flooded her body like no other person alive. She was a walking, talking synth spring of pure energy.

She couldn’t fail, but the thought of insanity frightened her. She wanted to scream at the injustice of it all, not that screaming or crying ever helped.

She fought a silent struggle to regain her inner peace. It wasn’t easy, but as always, her desires, her emotions didn't matter. From her first shaky steps as a toddler, people submitted to her demands, her leadership. She simply had too many people depending on her mental stability.

She stiffened her spine, knowing she didn't have the luxury to feel fear for herself, much less take time for a pity party.

Shoving the palest of blonde hair out of her eyes, she glared at him. Looking him in the eyes, she refused to let him see exactly how much his words had hurt her, cutting into her spirit. Like a synth crystal knife that cut through metal, his hurtful words and actions destroyed her soul a tiny bit more each time they clashed. She wasn't about to tell him how terrified she'd been that he was in the cave, that she’d rather die roasting under the sun in the Sahara desert than to lose him forever.

"A bit of dust and pebbles, the after-shock wasn't that bad." She flipped her slender hand carelessly toward the mountainside. Arrogantly tilting her head, she reinforced the callous image of a cold, heartless exile. If he didn't want her, she couldn't risk his seeing her true face. "You, Mr. Self-Righteous Clan Vampire, always overreact."

He hissed, baring his slightly lengthened fangs. "And you don’t consider the consequences of your actions or how many innocents die because of them," he said in a growling voice, glaring at her with solid black eyes as the sun beat down on them. The black eyes of a clan vampire, a valley full of vampires who refused to drink blood except as a type of recreation. 

He thought the worst of her.

Grief clenched her heart in an unrelenting knot, and she barely concealed a body-length shudder. Clan vampires were the poster children of do-good vampires. They had fought against the Dhark Empire for thousands of years.

Arrogantly, she raised a single eyebrow in question. "I always consider the pros and cons," she said coolly, intentionally misunderstanding his statement. Before she could ease him away from the topic of high morals that every clan vampire boasted about, he plowed ahead.

“And the people you kill? What do you consider? That you killed some innocent person who questioned the powerful dhark lords? Do you even consider the grieving families? That you’ve committed murder?” he asked in a rapid fire of heated questions.

For a second her heart stopped. From his heated words, he might have guessed one of her darkest secrets.

The memory of her first assassination target was vivid in her mind. Nick had been there. She didn’t know if he recognized her from that day at the fairgrounds or not. She prayed he had not, hoping he had been too far away to see her clearly.

She tried slowing her rapid heartbeat, knowing that even if he had seen her, it had been nearly seven years earlier.

She would never forget that night, one stamped vividly in her brain for all time. Dusk fast approached as she slid behind her assassination target. She glanced around. Her eyes landed on Nick who was a dozen yards away. Her body’s synth crystal sang for a solid hour after seeing him. Without a single doubt in her mind, she knew Nick was her destined mate. It made confronting her assassination target so much harder, but she steeled her nerve and completed the critical mission.

She thrust her sword through an innocent man’s heart as the beautiful synth mating song hummed through her body. The man’s life-blood poured over her hands, condemning her actions.

She shuddered, once again praying Nick had not clearly seen her that day.

Jerking herself back into the present, she shrugged her shoulders. She knew the movement was jerky, but grace wasn’t possible as fear pummeled her body. “I do what must be done for my people.” She looked him straight in the eyes and sucked up her courage. “If you'd promise, on your honor, not to breathe a word of what I say, I'll tell you every secret I have even before we bond.”

He glared at her. The strong lines of his face clenched. A few seconds turned into a minute. She was losing him, but she was at a loss. She didn't know how to win him over. If she told him outright that she was Chi’Kehra, every full-blooded vampire’s boogieman, he’d try to gut her right then and there.

She grimaced against the sun’s sharp glare but maintained eye contact with him as the burning ball of flame seemed to grow brighter every second.

“I’ll be so glad when your eyes are a normal black,” he said, moving to stand between her and the blazing ball of fire, contradicting his harsh words with the simple act of kindness.

“For me, my eyes are normal,” she said quietly. She continued holding his gaze, hoping this once he'd listen to reason. She took a deep breath and tried to reason with him one more time.

“Nick, you’re everything to me, but my people’s lives are in my hands. If you said one wrong word, even in joking, your words could end up getting thousands, possibly millions of people killed,” she said earnestly, lightly touching his bare arm with the tips of her fingers. A ripple of electric recognition surged through her body.

His eyes narrowed into black slits. “If you have to hide behind lies why should I listen?”

She sighed with a pent-up hiss of exasperation, throwing her hands up in the air. “Because this isn't just about you and me, my lies, as you put it, keep my people safe.”

He glared at her, but she refused to go any further. If he wanted her then he could bend at least a little bit.

“Safe? An exile worried about keeping people safe? What about the people who die?” He demanded in a snarl. “Did you know a filthy exile killed my brother?”

Blood drained from her face.

The loud roar of a dragon drowned Nick’s rumbling growl of fury.

She'd never been so glad to see a dragon in her entire life.

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