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He is as cold as ice.She is the salvation that will melt his heart.
When Endora is faced with her daughter’s terminal illness, she takes the only chance she’s got. She braves the potential risks and signs a mating contract with the Delradon Draekon Lords, intent on using the payment to buy the aliens’ cure to save her daughter’s life.
Lord Aldric Darragon rules over his land with an iron fist until one day the only woman who is genetically compatible with him agrees to his offer of mating. As his all-consuming passion for Endora explodes, an ancient threat looms heavy over humans and Delradons alike.With the lives of everyone he cares about hanging in the balance, Aldric has to fight the demons of his past if he wants to defeat the enemies of the present.
Publisher’s Note: This gripping sci-fi alien romance has it all: dragons, passion and tension. It also contains explicit themes and is intended for adults only.
Endora paused at the doorstep to her home, suddenly reluctant to go inside. She hugged the coin pouch to her chest, fighting the paralyzing fear that prevented her from opening the door. Her breath came in tiny puffs of white condensation in the frigid mid-January air.
The pouch, cold and small in her hand, seemed to weigh a ton.
The decision to sell her last sow hadn’t been an easy one, but she had no choice. They would just have to make do with the chickens for the rest of the winter.
Holding on to the last few moments before entering the house, Endora braced her forehead against the wood of the door, closing her eyes against the sudden surge of tears. Not a sound filtered through. Everything inside was so damned silent. There used to be squeals of joy and laughter, but now, quiet had made its home in her house. And it wasn’t just any kind of silence. No, this one had a sad quality to it. Like it was waiting for something to happen.
Stop it. Everything will be fine.
Endora stiffened her resolve, knocked the crust of ice from the hem of her dress and stepped inside the cozy kitchen. The air was thick with smoke from a healthy fire and the powerful aroma of food slowly cooking on the wood stove. At the back of the room was the seated figure of Dr. Leniard. His back was turned to her, but Endora could see him working on the small figure of the child lying in the bed.
The noise attracted Henriette’s attention, and she got up to walk toward Endora. Her frail silhouette was shrouded in the moving shadows from the fire, and she looked older than her seventy odd years. She looked defeated and tired, used by life.
Tallie’s sickness had taken a toll on her. It had taken a toll on all of them.
“You can sleep now, my dear. I’m going to have a word with your mother.” Dr. Leniard turned to face Endora, and her guts twisted in angry knots at his expression. Pity. Pity and something else were painted on the old man’s features. Something that made her want to punch the wrinkled, kind face until blood trickled down his nose. Yes, she knew what it was. It was contempt. Contempt for her ignorance and her denial of the obvious. Contempt for her refusal to accept the facts for what they were.
Her fingers clutched the coin purse so hard they hurt.
Endora stayed where she was as if her feet were clad in stone, as Dr. Leniard walked up to the table then sat down. He was silent as Henriette poured him a searing hot cup of tea. Tea they couldn’t afford anymore. Tea that would run out before the cold season ended.
The coins clicked between her fingers, reminding her of everything that had gone wrong since the Fall. Since Tallie started getting sick, fading away week by week, her small body covered in bruises and her bones showing under too-pale skin.
“I’m afraid the news isn’t good, Dora.” Dr. Leniard took a noisy sip of tea, the sound obscene and loud in the smoky atmosphere. “Tallie has leukemia.”
“Leukemia?” The word didn’t hold any meaning for her, and Endora blinked through the confusion. “How do we cure it?”
“You don’t.” Dr. Leniard took another sip, wrapping his long, liver-spotted fingers around the white cup. It was the last cup from Henriette’s wedding, the one they brought out only for important visitors. “Leukemia cannot be cured. All we can do for Tallie now is to ease her way.”
Silence wrapped its icy fingers around Endora’s throat. She couldn’t breathe, and the room started spinning. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense anymore. There was a loud thump before her teeth clenched together and pain shot through her knees. Voices rang out, filled with concern, but they were far away.
“It’s not true.” Her voice sounded wrong. Too small, too tired. “There’s a way.”
Hands grabbed her elbows and a chair found its way under her.
Leukemia can’t be cured. All we can do is ease her way.
“I’m so sorry, my dear. After all you’ve been through…”
“Liar.” The word came out no louder than a whisper, but Dr. Leniard recoiled as if Endora had thrown acid at him.
“Dora,” Henriette cut in, her voice full of reproach. “Tallie’s sickness isn’t Dr. Leniard’s fault. It’s nobody’s fault.”
Henriette’s tone softened the anger, clearing away Endora’s desire to throw her boiling cup at the doctor’s face. Her grandmother was right. Dr. Leniard wasn’t responsible for Tallie’s sickness.
All he was responsible for was taking the money she offered, time after time, on call after call; when Tallie came down with a fever that wouldn’t let go, when Tallie couldn’t keep food down for days on end. When Tallie’s body hurt so much she couldn’t walk anymore. Every time, his wrinkled old hands took the coins as he gave her a smile and soft words.
Their slow descent into poverty. The animals sold, one by one, to pay for his visits. Henriette’s wedding silver sold in the marketplace for half its value, to pay for his ineffective medicine. Dr. Leniard wasn’t responsible, but he had profited from it.
“I want you out of my house.” Endora lifted her chin and met the older man’s stare. “Get out.”
“Dora,” Henriette protested, but stopped dead when she caught Endora’s glare.
“Take your money, and leave.”
Endora snatched four of the ten coins from her purse and threw them across the table. They clinked and rolled merrily towards the doctor’s hands, then lay flat on the rough wood surface. Dr. Leniard stared at the coins, then successively at Endora and Henriette. The coins stayed on the table as he got to his feet.
“Keep your money. You’ll need it when Tallie’s pains return. I’ll come back whenever you need me.” His voice was sad, but there was comprehension there too. Like he’d known he would be the target of Endora’s anger and wasn’t holding it against her. It only made her angrier, and hot tears of rage burned her eyelids. She gripped the wooden table and stared at the coins as Dr. Leniard packed up his black leather bag, full of antiquated, useless tools. Tools from another age, when humans weren’t at the bottom of a very short food chain. When human life still held meaning.
“Thank you, Dr. Leniard.” Henriette walked the old man to the door before closing the house to the outside world again.
“Thank you?” Endora’s voice grew louder, uninhibited now that the doctor was gone. “For what? He did nothing for us. Nothing for Tallie, nothing for Grandpa. He’s as bad as the Delradons, feeding off our pain until we have nothing.”
“You can’t push everyone away,” Henriette countered in a rare display of temper. “Who will we call when the pain returns? There is no other human doctor in Helbon.”
Just like that, Endora’s anger faded and despair flooded her mind, leaving only a blank space behind. Henriette’s hand closed around hers, and Endora’s gaze latched on to her soft, knowing brown eyes. So strong. Henriette was so strong under her demure, sweet exterior. She lived through everything the world threw at her. Her only daughter’s death—Endora’s own mother—at the hands of a Draekon Lord. Her husband’s sickness and death. The hardship of working the farm alone with Endora. Henriette stood through it all, never complaining, never wavering. She was like a soft, wrinkled rock.
How Endora wished she could be like her.
“Maman?” Tallie called.
“Yes, I’m back.” Endora walked to the bed by the fire and sat down. “How do you feel, little weed?”
“Tired.” Tallie smiled, and despite the painful fragility of her face, she looked so strikingly beautiful that Endora felt tears sting her eyes. She fought them back, fast. Tallie didn’t need to see her pain. She needed her to be strong, and strong she would be. “I didn’t want to take Dr. Leniard’s drops, but Grand-maman made me.”
“I know.” Endora made a scrunched-up face that immediately made Tallie laugh. “Grand-maman always made me take Dr. Leniard’s medicine, too.”
Tallie’s laugh was short lived before her innocent features contorted into a mask of pain. Endora’s heart constricted to a pebble in her chest. She was so powerless against Tallie’s suffering, it made her want to scream and bite. It made her want to fight. Only there was no enemy, just this pain, and that insufferable, slow fading.
“Sleep now.” Endora wiped a stray strand of dark brown hair from Tallie’s brow. “Dinner will be ready in an hour. It’s your favorite, chicken with cabbage. And Grand-maman baked a cake, just for you.”
“Is it true you sold Sallie?” Tallie’s eyes were too wide, too dark. Too knowing. “You shouldn’t have. Now we won’t be able to sell piglets at the market.” She bit her lower lip, and tears filled her dark green eyes. “Am I going to die?”
Behind Endora, Henriette gasped, then stifled a sob. The blood drained from Endora’s face and all she could feel was a cold, all-encompassing void.
“No, little weed.” Endora heard her own voice, but didn’t recognize it. “I’d never let anything bad happen to you. Nobody matters like you, remember? You’re my tough little weed, and you’ll grow so big nobody can pull you out. You’ll be the queen of the garden.”
Tallie smiled, then reached for the heart-shaped pendant that hung around Endora’s neck on a fine gold chain. It was the only precious possession she hadn’t sold.
The small fingers moved over the smooth surface. “You’re wearing my necklace,” Tallie said.
“Of course.” Endora closed her hand over Tallie’s, enclosing both the small hand and the heart pendant. “I swore never to take it off, remember?”
Tallie nodded, then let go of her mother’s hand. Her arms closed around her old blanket, pulling it close to her face. She was asleep in less than a minute, her chest rising and falling in slow, regular movements. Endora’s fingers closed again on the heart-shaped necklace. It had been her birthday gift, two years ago. Tallie and Henriette had saved for an entire year to buy it.
Endora had been so touched by the present, she had cried.
“Nobody else matters like you.” Endora whispered the old words, the ones she said like a mantra when times were hard and she was bordering on the dangerous edge of despair. A hand closed on her shoulder and Endora turned to stare at her grandmother.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll get help.” Endora swallowed. “The Delradon hospital. They can cure her.”
There was a pause, then Henriette withdrew her hand, twisting the ends of her shawl between her protruding knuckles. “Don’t do this to yourself,” she said. “You know there is no way to get the kind of money those treatments cost. Even if Wilmer had answered your letters, we’d never have enough.”
“I don’t need his money to care for my daughter. Tallie never had use for a father. I won’t rely on the man now.”
Endora got up and walked to the wooden box where she kept her most sacred possessions, rummaging through the contents. There it was. Faded and old, folded four times, was her genetic compatibility letter. She unfolded the letter, careful not to break the delicate, aged paper. So much time had passed since the day she received it. The same day she’d found out she was pregnant with Tallie.
“There is a way.” Endora didn’t need to look to know Henriette’s expression. “I can do it. It’s going to be more money than we can spend in a lifetime.”
“Don’t. You know the dangers.”
Yes, there were dangers in becoming a Draekon’s mate. The alien race that called themselves the Delradon had taken control of Earth and all its resources at the end of the Great War, a little over a century ago, when Henriette’s grandmother was a young woman. When humanity had been on the verge of destroying itself, along with all life on Earth. Disease and war decimated the population, pollution had poisoned the land and the sea. Earth had been a dying world, on the brink of collapsing on itself under humans’ greed.
Then the Delradon had come, all powerful with their mysterious alien weapons, riding beasts straight from long-forgotten folklore. Dragons, huge and terrible, ridden by Draekon Lords, took to the skies, while armies took control of the land. On every continent, peace was restored, the land was healed.
The humans were cleansed of power.
Those humans who were left were put under the Draekon Lords’ rule. The new masters of Earth were powerful, but their fertility was low. They tested every young woman for genetic compatibility when she turned eighteen. One woman in about a thousand carried the genes necessary for conceiving a Draekon’s child. While they didn’t force the women to breed with them, the sum they offered for a living child was so large, most took the chance.
And many died. The pregnancy had a great potential to become toxic, and only half the human women survived it.
Endora’s mother had carried the gene, as Endora did. Irene took the chance and signed a mating contract when Endora was still young, a few years after her father had died. Irene lost her life in the process.
Still, they were better odds than Tallie had. Endora watched her daughter’s soft face and she knew she would do it. Even if her odds of survival were one in a hundred, or one in a hundred thousand, she would still do it.
“It’s Tallie’s only chance.”
Henriette walked to face Endora and took her hands in her own old, wrinkled palms.
“What good will it do if you die?”
“I have to try.” Endora folded the letter again. She didn’t need to read it. The passage of ten years hadn’t erased the words. “I might die trying, but anything is better than doing nothing.”
She turned and locked gazes with Henriette. Her grandmother’s frail shoulders stiffened and straightened. New hardness filled her soft brown eyes. Henriette glanced at the paper, then back at Endora. She gave a single nod. That was all the permission Endora needed.
Her hands shook as she put the old letter into her leather bag.
Endora kissed Tallie one last time, then walked out the door. Snowflakes, large and wet, fell over the frozen landscape like tears from the Gods.
Snow fell with an unrelenting fury, blanketing the early evening with the smell of things cold and pure. Aldric watched as the air filled with the large snowflakes, lost in his thoughts.
Under his palm, Rhyl’s scales shivered with withheld excitement. The beast wanted to take to the skies at least as much as Aldric did. Soaring in the middle of a snowstorm was the only luxury Aldric awarded himself, the only time he allowed his own personal pleasure to come before his responsibilities as High Lord of Katanie. As long as the flight lasted, there was only the sky, him, Rhyl, and the connection between man and dragon that ran deeper than a cellular level.
Only he always had to come back.
The sound of a door opening made him turn and he stifled a growl of annoyance at the sight of Dalgo. His old friend’s face was set in familiar grim lines, and he walked briskly toward Rhyl and himself. Aldric was tempted to ignore his friend’s presence and fly away on his dragon, but as his gaze locked with Dalgo’s silver eyes, eyes he shared with every Draekon, something in them made him stay. It looked like it could be important enough to postpone his flight.
“Don’t tell me we had another disturbance on the northern border? I thought those thieves had been properly scared away.”
“What I have to tell you has nothing to do with some low-life human thieves.” Dalgo stopped walking and stared straight at Aldric. He never bothered with the proper greetings when they were alone. “But before I tell you, you have to promise to listen to everything I have to say before you make your decision.”
Rhyl turned his massive head and took a long, hard look at Dalgo. The beast was obviously annoyed at having to wait for his flight, and showed his displeasure by fuming, two steady columns of steam rising up from his nostrils.
Dalgo glanced at the dragon, then shook his head. “Sorry, my friend. You’re not going out tonight. You should go back to the lair with Myral. Her wing is still recovering. She had to stay down there today. Her foul temper might just cheer you up.”
Rhyl growled and shook his head, then blew a hot cloud of steam in Dalgo’s direction. “Go, before I tell her you’re the reason she won’t get any flying with me tomorrow, either.”
Aldric chuckled and patted Rhyl’s shoulder. A wave of annoyance made its way into Aldric’s mind, the dragon’s feelings imprinting on him, clear as words. Aldric shook his head in answer. The dragon snorted his disapproval, but slowly made his way to the long, dark hallway that slithered deep through the mountain to where the dragons had their lair.
“What is it, then?” Aldric turned to face the large opening in the mountainside that was the dragon’s landing and departing strip. The open sky called to him, and his mood worsened at the knowledge he wouldn’t get to enjoy the freedom of the flight. When Dalgo didn’t answer, he turned back to stare at his friend. Dalgo’s eyes were determined but his mouth was closed. He seemed to be at a loss for words, something that never happened to Aldric’s usually loquacious captain of the guards.
Dalgo took a deep breath, then squared his shoulders. “She came forward this afternoon at the Human Liaison Office in Helbon.”
“Who?” Aldric frowned, not bothering to hide his irritation. What woman could be worth wasting a perfect snowstorm like this?
“Her. Your match.”
Comprehension dawned and Aldric suddenly wished there were chairs to sit on near the landing strips. A flash of a young woman, laughing and flipping long, dark hair came to his mind. He was surprised at how vivid his memory was, how well he remembered her face. Those large, dark velvet brown eyes, those full lips stretched in an easy smile, that luscious body with a woman’s full curves. He remembered everything about her.
“Endora.” Aldric tasted her name on his lips. He hadn’t allowed himself to speak that name in a decade. “She accepted the offer?”
“Yes.” Dalgo smiled. “She’s waiting at the office of human liaisons as we speak.”
“She refused to even meet with me. What changed?” Aldric frowned, incredulity mixing with the burgeoning of a stubborn hope.
“What can I say? Women change their minds.” Dalgo opened his palms in exasperation. “The reason isn’t important.”
Aldric frowned, the memory of the day he received the news of a compatible woman as vivid as the one of Endora’s face. Closing his eyes for the briefest moment, he allowed it to come back to his mind.
He left Rhyl a good two miles away on the top of a steep mountain, not wanting the beast to attract the villagers’ attention. Blood ran hot through his veins as he walked through the thick woods in the direction of the woman’s house, in the tiny human village of Helbon.
How dare she refuse him? Didn’t she understand what was at stake? He raged against the grasping fists of ferns and blackberry brambles tearing his riding clothes.
She was the first woman to have ever been found compatible with him. He finally had a chance to produce an heir for his bloodline, one of the most powerful and ancient ones in Draekon history. To have that hope snatched away on some female’s whim? Unacceptable.
The peasant woman hadn’t even deigned to meet with him.
He’d offered her everything. A life of complete luxury, the protection of a Draekon Lord. He laid it all at her feet in his letter, but she’d returned it unread. Nor had she accepted the coffer of precious stones he’d sent along with it. Everything had been returned unopened, without even a word of explanation.
This was why he was struggling through the forest, alone.
She wouldn’t dare to refuse him in person, he was sure of it. He was prepared for everything—even if he had to use his considerable power to coerce her into accepting the contract, she would be his mate. There was no place for weakness when it came to securing an heir, not for those of his blood.
His temper flared as he beat back the last of the blackberry thicket and finally arrived at the clearing in front of Endora Papineau’s house.
It was a typical human farmhouse, small but cozy, with a thatch roof and a large chimney made of field stone. The family wasn’t poor, with the fields a luscious green in the early summer, and plenty of animals grazing in the pasture. They were hard-working farmers and lived in relative comfort. This would complicate his task if the woman was stubborn in her refusal, but he could still entice her with the promise of Delradon technology, which no human farmer could afford to buy.
He was still hidden by the deep shadows of the forest, considering the best strategy to bend her will, when she stepped out of the house.
His heart lurched at the sight of her. His superior vision gave him every detail of her face, even from the distance. He found out he couldn’t move, couldn’t formulate a thought. All he could do was watch.
She was more beautiful, more alive, than any other woman he’d ever met. Her laughter filled the air and her smile etched a permanent scar in his mind as he watched her work, feeding fat chickens and plucking vegetables from her garden. Possessiveness and desire gripped him, the feelings so alien he didn’t recognize them at first for what they were.
This woman was his. Their very genes were interconnected in a way only fate could forge. He wanted her like nothing he’d ever wanted in his long, lonely life. A savage lust filled his veins as he watched, committing to memory each one of her gestures, the tiniest facial expression.
His woman. His mate.
He was ready to step out of hiding and prowl toward her when a young human man walked out from behind the house.
Endora twisted and ran to him, jumping into his arms with joy erupting from her throat in sweet, pure laughter that tore at Aldric’s heart like a hook. The young man kissed her, a deep, possessive kiss that spoke volumes of hidden secrets and shared intimacy.
Jealousy almost made him come out of the forest and rip this young man to pieces with his bare hands for daring to touch what was rightfully his.
Then Endora pulled her head back and stared at the human man, her expression etched in lines of pure bliss. She caressed his cheek with a tender gesture, her happiness so obvious it hurt Aldric’s eyes.
This woman—who was by all the rights of the universe his down to the bones in her body, the genes in every one of her cells—was in love. It radiated through the pores of her skin and shone in her dark velvet eyes.
Aldric froze and stifled his possessive impulse.
For a long time, he watched Endora and her lover, until his boiling blood turned to ice in his veins and passion made way for the cold reason of the High Lord once more. He wouldn’t disturb her happiness with his demands. He would allow Endora to live a happy human life, no matter the cost to him or his bloodline.
With one last look at the dark beauty, Aldric turned around and went away. He pushed Endora Papineau out of his mind, buried himself in his work as the High Lord, and never again summoned her memory.
Aldric opened his eyes, surprised to see Dalgo still staring at him. He might have been lost in his memories for longer than he’d thought. “What changed? Why now?”
Dalgo shook his head, exasperation plain on his face. “Do I need to remind you that she is the only woman they ever found who was compatible with you? Because I haven’t forgotten.”
“I am aware.”
Aldric turned and walked away from Dalgo. He paced back and forth in a parallel line to the edge of the mountain. Emotions coiled inside him where there usually was only a frozen resolve. The unfamiliar chaos made him irritable and he fought the loss of control. He knew what his friend was going to say, but he still didn’t want to hear it.
“You need this to work.” Dalgo wasn’t backing off. “Your entire hold on power depends on it.”
“I don’t need you to tell me I need an heir,” Aldric countered, not bothering to disguise his irritation. “I’ll get that peasant girl pregnant soon enough. Then I’ll send her on her way home with a small fortune.”
Dalgo snorted. “You know it doesn’t have to be like this. You have a real chance here. Don’t let it pass without even trying.”
Aldric walked away from the edge and into the depths of the cave. His own footsteps echoed inside, and it was the loneliest sound he’d ever heard.
“Your life doesn’t have to be your parents’.” Dalgo called from behind him. “Think of Shari. That child needs more than just growing up in an ice castle.”
Aldric stopped and turned around, suddenly angry. “Endora is not coming here to find happiness,” he said, more forcefully than he intended. “All she wants is money, and as soon as she’s done her duty, she’s going to leave.” His anger deflated, and he shook his head. “Your parents were true Draekon mates, in soul and in body. I don’t expect you to understand. She is my only genetic match, but she’s only that.”
“All I’m asking is that you give this a chance. You don’t have to live your father’s life.”
Aldric stared at his friend for a long time before nodding once. He turned around and walked away, the ghost of Endora’s laughter in the back of his mind.