Here’s a snippet from my upcoming release on Tuesday – the brand new novel in my Dragon Knights series – KEEPER OF THE FLAME.
A warrior, a maiden… and a passion that could set the whole world aflame.
Dragon Knights, Book 7
Despite the fact he is the largest of his half-dragon brothers and better suited to fighting, Hugh has been sent on an undercover mission. Forced to stay in human form, he must discover if the land of Helios is truly the Draconian ally it pretends, or something more sinister.
When he witnesses injustice in the form of a misshapen baby gryphlet kicked out into the cold, he cannot remain in the shadows and watch the child suffer. All he can hope for is that his act of kindness will go unnoticed so his mission can continue.
But someone does notice. When Lera cautiously approaches Hugh, she is drawn to his strange, foreign magic. She is entranced by its irresistible allure — until assassins come calling and reveal her true identity.
She is Valeria, queen of Helios, Keeper of the Flame. And she has been betrayed. Together they must risk everything to uncover the traitors and reforge the alliance between their lands. Yet beneath their blazing passion, both are still keeping secrets. Secrets that the Sacred Flame will reveal — if their love survives its cleansing fire.
Warning: When a dragon prince and a Flame Keeper come together, the conflagration is definitely too hot to handle!
KEEPER OF THE FLAME
Copyright © 2013 Bianca D’Arc
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“What’s wrong?” she asked in a low, urgent voice.
“Good question.” The words, spoken in an unfamiliar voice, made them both whip around to the left.
A black-clad man stood there, in the dark shadows of the vines. How had he approached without Hugh sensing him in some way? The lady shrank back in terror, crowding Hugh. Then he saw it. The snake eye tattooed on the stranger’s forehead and the deadly gleam of blackened steel in his hands.
“Eyes.” Hugh didn’t need to hear the lady’s frightened gasp to know what they faced. Another assassin. “Why didn’t you just stick her with your blade while you had the advantage?” Hugh stood in the darkened field between the rows of vines to face the man and put some space between himself and the lady. He needed room to maneuver.
“Terms of the contract,” the man replied offhandedly. “My employer wanted her to see it coming. There’s a bonus for terror. Plus, I find it personally more entertaining to make the target suffer.” He looked around at the dark vineyard. “And on her own land too. She’ll like that, she will.”
“In my land, assassins take pride in their silence.” Hugh tucked away the news that the lady’s cousin had put out the contract on her life, though he could tell by the way her face drained of all color that it came as a shock to her.
“It must be a very boring place, then.” The tattooed man moved, closing in as Hugh drew a short blade that had been sheathed in the leather strap over his chest.
“I would call it civilized,” Hugh replied with a small amount of disdain.
“I see you plan to act the hero.” The assassin sounded almost bored, but his eyes—the real ones, not the tattoos—missed nothing, actively watching Hugh’s slightest move. “I’m only being paid for her, but I suppose watching you die first will garner me that bonus.”
Without warning, the man engaged, closing with Hugh in a lightning fast move. Had Hugh been any less alert, he would’ve been dead within seconds. But he was a dragon and had supernatural reflexes even while in his human form. He could see better in the dark than a regular person and had the advantage of dragon magic that allowed him to harden his skin against the sharp metal blade.
While not exactly as strong as his dragon hide, Hugh’s unique magic allowed him to take blows that would leave normal people slashed to ribbons. The assassin moved like lightning, but few of his strikes landed and those few that did didn’t draw blood.
Eventually the man changed tactics, maneuvering Hugh around the darkened vineyard, almost herding him. Hugh tried to keep himself between the assassin and the lady at all times, but he hadn’t counted on there being more than one attacker.
A gasp from behind made Hugh spin. The lady was in the grip of a second assassin, this one with a matching snake’s eye tattooed on his forehead, directly between his real eyes. The blackened blade gleamed to Hugh’s sight as the assassin pressed it against her throat.
“That’s right, boyo,” said the first man, closing on Hugh’s unprotected back. Hugh could take him, but his partner would kill the lady without a second thought before Hugh could get to her. “Now, do we get one eye from this or two? Your choice.”
“You get an eye for each person you kill?” Hugh was sickened by the macabre practice.
The man nodded with seeming pride. “Twenty-seven I have today. My master there has double that number.” From the corner of his eye, Hugh saw something move in the darkness to the left. Something that blended with the night in gray and black stripes. “My master can make it quick for her or make her suffer. Which would you prefer?”
“Neither, actually,” Hugh said conversationally to the man. “We need your help, sweetheart.” He directed his thoughts toward the baby gryphon. “Remember how I told you about your claws? Unsheathe them and sink them into the man holding the lady. I will take care of the rest.”
A split second later, as if he’d timed it perfectly, though luck had more to do with it than planning, the gryphlet erupted from beneath the vines as Hugh sprang into action. Miss went for the man holding his knife at the lady’s throat, claws bared, sharp teeth flashing in the night as she hit the man from the side, raking his arm. She jumped upward, using her wings to bat him with air and feathers, claws and teeth, blinding him and making him let go.
But not before the sharp blade cut into the lady’s neck.
Hugh saw it in the split second as he shifted shape and slashed out with his much bigger claws, killing both assassins at the same time—one with his right hand, one with his left.
The lady was bleeding, but still standing when he dropped the lifeless men to the ground and beckoned to her.
“Get on my back quick as you can. We dare not tarry. There may be more of them.”
The lady climbed aboard and Miss bounded up right behind her. Hugh lurched into the air with less grace and even more speed than before, heading out, over the hills, toward the sand flats beyond. He needed a place to take them where they’d see an enemy coming. Someplace safer than the city or its environs. Someplace close.
The sandy wasteland beyond the foothills was the only place he could fly to fast that provided some of those tactical advantages. And it had to be quick. The lady was bleeding. He had to see how bad it was.
“How are you holding up back there?”
“All right,” she said in a weak voice. Was the weakness from shock or blood loss? Hugh needed to land in order to find out.
He looked around for a likely spot and found something usable not far. He landed more rapidly than before, with less finesse, but more speed, absorbing the shock of meeting the ground with his elbows and knees. The lady tumbled from his back, followed by the gryphlet who glided downward using her fluffy, baby wings. She would be fledging before long, Hugh thought absently as he shifted form and knelt at the lady’s side.
She was pale, blood flowing down the front of her dress. Hugh cursed and examined the wound, glad to see it was not as deep as he’d feared. He could heal this and in time, she would regain her strength.
All dragons had magic. Most had healing abilities. Hugh had trained his healing powers so that he could help humans and dragons alike should there be need. He blessed his teachers now for their preparation as he laid his hands over the lady’s neck, summoning his power.
A fog surrounded them as the Dragon’s Breath came at his call, enveloping her and healing her wound. Miss was sitting at her side and batted at the magical fog in curiosity but didn’t back away. She seemed to bask in the magic that Hugh called and he was glad for it. He hadn’t had a chance to see if any of the blood on the kitten’s fur was her own. He thought not, but he didn’t want to take any chances.
If she was injured, the Dragon’s Breath would work to heal her as well. If not, it would still be good for her to bask in the magic he’d been feeding her in much smaller doses since they first met. As a growing creature of magic, she should have gotten such influxes of magical energy from her parents. Hugh had been acting as a surrogate of sorts until finally the baby gryphon’s energy level was just about where it should have been for her age.
At length he drew back, recalling his healing power. The lady’s eyes blinked open and she stared up at him with confusion.
“Are you feeling better, milady?” Hugh asked with a small grin, hoping to calm her and ease the shock of the startling news she had learned in the vineyard.
“A little dizzy, but better. What was that?”
“The Dragon’s Breath. It is a healing mist most dragons can call. Some stronger than others.” He tried to shrug off his very potent ability.
He was very close to her. So close, he had only to lean in a little farther in order to touch his lips to hers.
Following the impulse he’d had since almost the first moment he’d seen her, Hugh did just that.