Thank you so much for your interest in my ebook Dragon Shadows. I’ve provided this first chapter of my romantic fantasy for free so you can get a bit of the flavor of the story. Please be aware that the book contains explicit sexual encounters so may not be appropriate for everyone.
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Celeste was rifling through her lover’s desk when she heard him come home early. With careful haste she tucked back his research papers and softly slid the drawer shut until the lock clicked.
It took her a moment to quietly wrestle open the wooden door of his personal study as it had swollen due to the humidity. The resulting squeak seemed to shriek and Celeste held her breath, waiting. When no one rushed up the stairs to confront her, she finally closed it and waited in the hall another moment to listen to the sounds emanating up from downstairs.
Malcolm was in the front hall of his Kin House, still talking to his Kith house manager, so she quietly tiptoed down the hallway before descending the staircase to casually greet her lover with a tender kiss on his lips.
He had just returned from his daily walk to Seeton’s seaside market and was carrying a basket filled with vegetables that he handed to his manager, Cooper. As he did so, Celeste asked Malcolm’s man to bring in refreshments and when Cooper looked to Malcolm for confirmation of her request, she inwardly fumed. She said nothing aloud as this affront was a regular occurrence where she was treated as a guest, not mistress. Instead, she ignored Cooper’s slight and took the arm Malcolm offered.
Together they entered the main sitting room with its windows facing the street. It was her favorite room as it was the one place in Malcolm’s Kin House where she been given ownership to use as she wished. Malcolm had supplied a generous budget to decorate it as she liked and even his precious Kin-cousin, Julia, admitted that she had shown exceptional taste in the furnishings and accessories.
Celeste had taken exquisite care in selecting exotic hardwood furniture imported from the Outlands, heavy upholstery fabric patterned in lush, tropical prints, all accented with pillows embroidered in gold threads. Yes, even that twit, Julia, had commented that it looked as expensive as anything that the Duke might have in one of his Summer Houses.
The slats of the window shutters were tilted to block the harshness of the afternoon sun as the couple took their accustomed seats, in chairs located on opposite sides of the hearth. Seated, she carefully arranged the drape of her Avolo around her neck and positioned the traditional wrap so its ends trailed over the full skirt of her dress.
When the refreshment tray arrived, Celeste bent forward to reveal her bosom to good advantage and poured out for the both of them. She took her own drink with a bit of clover-infused honey but left her lover’s plain; he liked his stronger, with the almost bitter taste of the beverage on his tongue.
“How was your walk today?” she inquired, placing one of the pillows behind her before leaning back.
“The same, but the trees have buds.”
“Spring cannot come soon enough. Winter skies are so dreary.”
Of course, Malcolm was handsome, Celeste thought, as she observed him over the rim of her teacup. That dark black hair matched with flashing light blue eyes, his firm jaw and chin, and his broad shoulders had all made her gamble seem worthwhile when she had begun their flirtation two years ago.
When some gossipy nobody in the Seeton market had pointed him out to her as a wealthy eccentric, Celeste Wayfaire had made it her mission to find out more. She thought her informers had jested about his interest in Magick, as the Powers over Earth, Flame, Wind and Sea had vanished generations ago with their arcane masters, the dragons. However, her sources had reassured her they were not jibbing her: Malcolm Truvain had confided to others that he knew Magick.
He believed he had a preternatural luck which he could control to his benefit and this had charmed and entranced her at the time. Especially as Celeste instinctively felt this could be turned to her profit. She had always made her living by seeing the hidden gems and rarely was her instinct proved wrong.
She would seek him out and make him her own.
It had only taken a few well chosen words into the ears of Malcolm’s current lover, reminding her and her Kin of Malcolm’s well known aversion to signing lover contracts to rid herself of her rival. Afterward, he had been ridiculously easy to seduce but she found getting him to part with his knowledge and treat her like a confidant had been impossible.
When her initial attempts at pillowtalk about the nature of his work did not encourage Malcolm to confide in her, she had resorted to her more reliable, customary methods to gain knowledge. Celeste found the ancient lock to his private study easy to pick with her skills. She had always been careful about not disturbing the dust and removed nothing, only copying the information into her own journal which she took with her.
For over a year, she had continued her solitary education. She felt no shame or guilt over her deception. It was Malcolm’s fault for forcing her to such measures.
“Where will you be spending your day?” He asked, while he put his cup back into the saucer, watching her with an ambiguous look, one elbow on the chair arm with the back of his knuckles supporting his chin.
“Oh, I think I’ll join some friends down at the dock for a little gathering.”
“Indeed?” Malcolm raised his eyebrows but said nothing more. She had been spending far too much time with those disreputable friends of hers: shabbily dressed toughs who liked to lounge against the pier, but who never worked a boat. Surrounded by hard working Fisher Folk, their lackadaisical attitude irked him.
But, while he did not personally approve of these connections he kept his thoughts to himself: she was a free woman to go and come as she pleased. Certainly, Celeste liked to remind him she had a life before she had met him. And her absences this past winter she had never deigned to explain.
If she felt the prick of his unspoken condemnation, Celeste didn’t show it. However, when he later mentioned his cousin-Kin, Julia, she couldn’t hide her own annoyance and grimaced her full lips.
“Julia thinks she can walk in here and take over this house anytime she is in town. It insults us.” “Well, dear, that is Julia’s right as my Kin, this being a Truvain Kin House,” Malcolm
“Well, dear, that is Julia’s right as my Kin, this being a Truvain Kin House,” Malcolm
remonstrated her gently and Celeste bristled. Oh! How he loved to rub her face in the fact they had no contract; that Celeste had no claim on his property.
Julia’s highhanded possessiveness of Malcolm’s time had always been irritating. He always found an excuse for that girl: that piece of Free Society brainless fluff!
“I would have thought her punishment of staying in the country would have lasted longer. I doubt that your parents, Viktor or Maveena, would have forgotten already the debacle she made at the mayor’s midwinter party.”
“Foster parents,” he corrected her again, before continuing, “Julia can be a handful but many people are amused by her antics. Anyway, it wasn’t her fault that her little pet Nakki got loose, ran over the banquet table, and lit the curtains on fire. There were really too many open flames at that party. With the outlandish outfits people wear now there was bound to be an accident of some sort before evening’s end.”
“I wasn’t entertained at the party when she threw the entire contents of the punch bowl over me,” she countered caustically.
“She was just trying to put out the flames on the drapes. The fact you were drenched in the process was only an accident as I’ve said more than once.”
Being drenched in sticky punch juice and made a figure of fun by the other guests had added to the myriad insults she was collecting from Malcolm and his Kin. Celeste had found Julia’s exile to the country these last three months relaxing. Knowing that woman was returning soon only increased her feelings of displeasure.
At the party he had introduced her simply as his companion, not consort. It had sorely rankled a woman with her amount of pride. Of course, Malcolm liked her but not enough to offer a contract, giving her some sort of standing in Society, thought Celeste.
“I know you two are close…”
“We are. She is a sister to me, so please let us just forget the incident. I’ve compensated you for the dress.”
Like many of their discussions, Malcolm ended it and changed the subject to one that better suited him.
The next day, staring at a dead fish, she made the final decision to leave him.
They were standing in the middle of the town’s market center, where Malcolm was arguing loudly and vehemently with a Fisher Folk at a new stall that had opened that very morning. Of course, Celeste knew how Malcolm loved to argue and debate; it was one of the things that had first appealed to her. Surely though, he didn’t need to be conducting a vulgar shouting match at the busiest time of the shopping day about how recently a fish had died!
“You tell him, Truvain!” shouted another stall vendor, a red cheeked, flame haired Fisher Folk, who was in direct competition with the new shop stall.
“I’m just stating that your price should reflect the freshness of your catch. And this fish is not fresh by any means. Look at its eyes.”
“Show us! We need to see the eyes!” Encouragement was shouted out by an Elder, a gnarled crone seated on a barrel at the corner, puffing away on the long stem of her pipe. Her age, appearance and acid judgments about her neighbors ensured she was a well known institution among the town folk.
Before Celeste could think to stop him, Malcolm lifted the fish up over his head to the joy of the growing crowd of locals. Boots were stomped, hands clapped, and around the circle a chant grew in volume.
“Fish eyes! Fish eyes! Fish eyes!”
The worst part, thought Celeste, was that Malcolm had plenty of money to buy the entire cartload of fish. When she begged him to just pay the man, Malcolm stiffened. Didn’t she see it was the principle of the thing? Didn’t she see the man was wrong and needed correction?
“We live in a sea town. Fish should be fresh. I’m actually doing the man a favor pointing this out to him. I won’t be the first to refuse compromised goods like his. If he hopes to make a business of this, we have the moral obligation to let him know that falsifying his goods won’t do.”
Eventually, the matter was settled when policing guards, dressed in their black coats, came to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the argument. Almost sadly, the entertained crowd drifted away, leaving behind Celeste, her cheeks burning with embarrassment, to calculate how she would make Malcolm pay for this latest fiasco.
She opened her eyes slowly to see the furniture cast in the blue-white of moonlight. Yet, it was the utter quiet, not the light streaming through the window from the double moons, that had stirred her awake in their bed. Instinctively, she stretched a hand out to discover only empty space beside her.
Once again, Malcolm had risen to leave her after their lovemaking; this had been his habit from the beginning. He hadn’t waited till his seed had cooled before deserting her to creep off to his private study. Denying her. Shutting her out and treating her like he had all his other, silly lovers.
She felt the world was holding its breath in that unique stillness only found in the earliest morning hours. Revelers had long stumbled home and Fisher Folk had yet to begin rolling their rumbling hand carts to the docks. No, all those others were asleep, abed with their loved ones.
But not Malcolm, never Malcolm, Celeste thought bitterly.
Celeste had been warned by others what he was like, but she had thought her fiery passion would eventually melt Malcolm’s ice. She had always believed their love had burned too bright for that to be her reality. She never thought she would still be in this position, two years later, not knowing where their relationship stood.
Looking across the room, she found Malcolm buckling his belt and working his feet into leather slippers. Always, he was obsessed with his needs, his goals in this relationship, and her mouth twisted in finally acknowledging he would never change. The irritations she had felt yesterday in the fish market were now an angry acid burning the back of her throat.
Nothing but insults had been given to her by her lover. It was past time that masks were ripped off.
She felt the Power she had been secretly training over the last year spark with the intensity of her anger. It gave her a rush, making her light-headed as she pushed herself up from the covers. The sheets slid off to reveal a naked breast, still flushed and slightly swollen from their earlier adventures. Even her wet thighs gave witness to their recent coupling.
“When we met,” she began and he turned, surprised, at the sound of her voice. “I researched you. I knew about the revolving door of your bedroom, the whispers that you needed women for your Magick. Yet, still I was foolish enough to believe we had something special.”
Malcolm sighed in exasperation. He was always upfront with these women and it always ended the same way: hurt feelings and recriminations. Celeste, with her wit and brilliance, had made her own scoffing statements about society, fooling him into thinking they were on the same page. While enjoyable, he considered their relationship nothing more then a Whimsy love: a brief relationship with no ties, meeting both of their mutual needs for pleasure. He thought she had agreed to this.
“Now, Celeste, of course you’re different then anyone I’ve ever bedded,” he reassured her, as he continued tucking his white shirt into his breeches, still feeling inwardly exasperated over the delay that soothing the woman’s fit of pique would cause him. He had little time to use the short burst of magickal energy he gained from lovemaking. As it was, he was racing against the clock to get his spells powered before this opportunity faded away.
However, he did care enough about her to take a moment from his precious timetable to look her full in the face. Usually, the intensity of his shockingly blue eyes coupled with a lock of messy black hair falling boyishly over his brow, brought his lovers back to his way of thinking. He did not believe for one moment that it would be any different this time.
Warnings from his cousin, Julia, about incompatible natures, crossed his mind but this faint caution was not enough to stop words he would later bitterly regret. Perhaps, in hindsight, if he had delivered his words with playful warmth it might have calmed her mood, but Malcolm’s tone did not act as balm upon her injured pride.
“I mean look at you,” he said, and as he followed his own advice, a familiar shock of appreciation for her sensual beauty warmed his groin. “You are far more beautiful then any woman who has been in my bed before.”
The compliment caused her to jerk back as if physically struck and the motion caused the sheet to slip further, giving a hint of the full bush of her dark triangle and revealing the utter perfection of her thigh. Indeed, despite Malcolm’s haste to leave, her hourglass figure with that engaging curve of hip and slender waist, gave him a tight snap of aching desire in his lower belly.
Perhaps it was lust that caused his inattention to her mood, because he didn’t see the threat.
“Is it only my beauty that keeps your interest? I am just a thing to you. Something to be cast away when you obtain what you want.” Now, she was fully out of their bed, her fists clenched and her body held in a tense, fighter’s stance.
Malcolm felt his own irritation return, evaporating the bloom of desire.
“You’ve enjoyed my bed and more. Trinkets, status, connections. Let us both agree that your own paltry, magickal talents have increased. Oh yes, did you think I didn’t notice you breaching my study defenses? That I didn’t know you were snooping through things only meant for my eyes? I waited for you to share what you had done, but no, that dirty, scheming part of you just
eyes? I waited for you to share what you had done, but no, that dirty, scheming part of you just couldn’t stop itself from crowing over knowledge you thought secret.”
If Celeste had ever regretted not being able to make Malcolm’s emotions hot enough, she had finally achieved all she could have desired. He was now in a white hot rage: his eyes were silver-metal with an iron jaw.
“You didn’t have the decency to come to me, face to face! If you had shared with me and begged forgiveness for your trespass, perhaps we could have resolved the issues between us. But you have never understood my sacred quest for old knowledge. The dedication it takes for someone on my path.”
Before he could react, she lunged forward and gave him a hard, backhand slap to his face, causing the faceted ruby ring she always wore to slice his cheek. Contemptuously, using her palm she smeared the string of blood across his face and the heel of her hand shoved his unresisting head backwards.
If he had apologized, tried to moderate their argument into common ground, thought before he spoke, perhaps their relationship could have ended better. But Malcolm was not in the frame of mind to think rationally. His face was clean of expression and his next words freezing cold.
“Until you learn to control your emotions, you’ll never truly be any good with real Magick. Your lack of control, lack of learning, makes you infinitely inferior to me.”
“You have gone too far! Too far.” Enraged, she hissed like a serpent. How dare he call her uneducated!? She had the knowledge of a thousand books in her head; a thousand pages of his notes; a thousand of her own magickal experiments accomplished right under his long nose.
“You didn’t seem overly concerned about the state of my emotions when I was in your bed. Oh no, you enjoyed the the intensity of them, made your magick more powerful you said. But you’re always a hypocrite.”
Taking her hand smeared with his blood, she wiped it across the bedsheet still damp from their earlier love making. Marked with his fluids, she pulled the sheet off the bed and held it before her. Her hand shook with fury as she felt Power rush through her veins.
“Do you know what is real power? Emotion and feeling! Not being a fucking turnip but having passion, will, and fighting for life. The seed, the blood, the damn…fucking…. tears!”
She raised the bloodied sheet up and made a deliberate show of wiping away the dampness of her tears upon it. Celeste gave a crazy, hysterical laugh, her eyes wild, and masses of her dark curly hair seemed to stand out as if electrified by stormy weather.
Outside, the early dawn was rising, yet the twin moons were still visible in the paling sky. It was that ethereal time when night and day mingle, when anything could happen, a false dawn before the sun would appear.
When dreams and nightmares could become one.
“I curse you Malcolm. I curse you by air, by water, by fire, by stone, by a straight line, by a broken line, by a crown, by a sword, by a jewel. From sea to land, from sky to earth, you will hold no luck, no chance, no gift of Power.
Until you love a woman and offer her what you have refused all other women, defend her when you have defended no woman, and speak the apology to her that you owe all women, you will
you have defended no woman, and speak the apology to her that you owe all women, you will not find find peace nor rest on earth, air, or water.
I call on the Dragons who have Power over Earth, Wind, Sea, and Flame to witness.”
Malcolm felt the curse attach, a sticky, slimy mass, and the blow caught him fully, cutting him down to his knees. His hand flailed wildly, seeking balance, and it swept across the dresser’s table surface, throwing her hair brushes and cosmetic jars to the floor where the scent of her perfume overwhelmed the room’s air.
Laying on the floor, writhing in pain, he felt his vital Magick, hemorrhaging, draining out of him like life’s blood. Celeste smirked contemptuously down at her enemy.
“Tell me again who is the superior magician here. The student has replaced the master.”
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