Authors: Lacy Danes
To my Mom and Dad,
Thank you for all your love and support.
Your opinion means so much. I love you.
A special thanks to my CPs Susan Lyons, and Renee Wildes.
Your honest opinions and fantastic feedback make all the difference.
Five hundred years ago, using her own vampire blood and ancient magic, the vampiress Carmen brought forth the birth of the 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, only one Zir has found his mate.
The Isle, off the east coast of England, 1790
If this part worked, Madoc would end the Zirs’ killing.
He stared at the charcoal drawing of his new inner clock working and held his breath. He fought the smile that wanted to burst forth. The design might not work.
The orange-and-red firelight danced along the cream-colored paper. He closed his eyes and leaned back, using his legs to remain upright on his stool. The stretch in his back and the fire’s warmth steadied him. Fire had always spoken to him, and the flames’ light guided him.
Each of the Zir had an element they could control. Madoc’s brother, Jordan, could become water, another brother, Ilmir, air. Ferrous could seduce a bit of everything, but magic was his lover. Madoc’s element was fire. All were otherworldly, yet they yearned for their mates. The urge to bite women consumed each of them and killed many. Ilmir yielded to that urge several times in a fortnight. For Madoc, one time was enough to unravel him. The curse of a bite that killed or brought them their salvation had brought peace only once. Jordan had his Celeste.
If his plan worked, Madoc’s new clock would allow them to wind back time, and avoid killing their lovers while searching for their life mates.
He opened his eyes and stared up at the warm sandstone arches that allowed the heat in his elemental room to escape out into the sky.
The stars twinkled down at him through the opening. The time grew late.
He grasped his sapphire-encrusted copper pocket watch and flipped open the lid.
One thirty-five in the morning.
Too late to send the drawing off to Franco the watchmaker this night. At the first light of day, he would journey to London and post the parchment to Paris. In one month’s time, a parcel would arrive containing the actual part. He bit his lip. He would not think of that now.
He stood and walked to the stone wall that separated his room from the hall.
He placed his palm on the heated surface. “Ilid.” The wall glowed yellow, and flames fluttered up between his fingers. The wall disappeared before him. He stepped out into the hall, steam rising from his body in the drafty castle air.
He would find his brothers, Ferrous, Jordan and Ilmir, and tell them of his departure on the morrow. One of them certainly still wandered the halls.
He strode down the long corridor, passing the elemental air and waters tapestries. The metal tapestry hung on the wall in the opposite direction. Each one was a door to a Zir’s elemental room. He had never seen his brothers’ spaces but knew they found the same solace in their home as he did in his cocoon of fire and warmth.
He entered the library, hoping to find Ferrous casting over the large wood table where he worked his magic. Bottles and stones cluttered the tabletop. A large clay pot sat in the middle. But no Ferrous.
“He has gone off to slumber.” Ilmir’s alcohol-slurred words came from one of the tall leather chairs that faced the fire.
Madoc walked forward. Of all his brothers, Ilmir, whose element was air, both frustrated and pushed him the most. Fire needed air, but still, Ilmir’s choices raised all the hairs on Madoc’s neck. His stomach tensed.
For Ilmir’s words to be slurred, he had to have downed quite a bit of whatever sprit he chose this night. This conversation would be with the devil.
Madoc rounded the table and stood before the fire to face Ilmir.
Ilmir’s white hair stood tousled as if he’d run his fingers through it a thousand times in anger.
“Is all well?” Concern rushed through Madoc’s mind. Had Ilmir killed another innocent woman? Or had he simply wallowed in too much of his own drama?
Ilmir stared up at him with glossy pale blue eyes. His high cheekbones jutted out, made white by the shadows created from the firelight. “Nothing new. Same pleasure, different year.” He pushed himself forward. “Have you come to share your latest soon-to-be failure?” He stared back at his hand and the empty glass that dangled there.
Madoc’s jaw tightened. “At least I am trying to do something to help us.”
Ilmir scoffed without raising his gaze to meet Madoc’s. “Help? You have been working on that bloody watch for decades. You are either the daftest of us all not to have figured out there is no escaping this delight of being Zir. Or you are simply lacking the skill to follow your ideas to completion.”
Madoc held back his words. He would not let Ilmir humiliate him. Yet he’d had those same thoughts himself. That sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that dissuaded him for hours or days after his design or creation failed.
Maybe he did lack the skill to create the tool to roll back time and save the women they’d bitten. “I am to London at first light to post to Franco. Is there anything you wish from Town while I am there?”
“Franco, in Paris. Why bother? London is a city of many watch and clocksmiths. Some Franco himself says are capital. Why not simply choose one and find out this week instead of next month of your inability to be useful?”
He spoke true. Madoc always followed his process, his logic, when creating his designs. Franco’s otherworldliness comforted him. He understood what Madoc tried to create. Any other smith, especially a human one, would not understand what Madoc strove for.
Ilmir pushed to standing, stumbled and set his glass on Ferrous’s casting table. “Maybe for once you should listen to other’s ideas, as we may be of greater intelligence than you.” His lips thinned, indicating he had better things to be doing. “
.” He shimmered a purple-silver and then vanished into mist. The cloud blew out the library doors into the hall and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.
Madoc walked from the room, a crease between his brows. Did all his brothers feel he was a failure but said nothing? He shook his head. He knew better than to allow Ilmir’s words into his head, but when those words matched his own defeating thoughts, how could he not listen and be humiliated? Cold sweat touched his brow.
He would never bite again without a way to undo the death. He had bitten once. That experience still haunted his dreams, the taste of acidic blood as the out-of-control feeling pulsed through him and the memory as he stood above her.
Caroline’s rosy checks had faded to white, and her breath stilled. He had dropped to his knees and sobbed. The fire his grief created burned her body and the house they had shared. He’d stood in the flames and watched her disappear to ash.
He could not give up on finding a better solution.
Although Ilmir had a point. London was closer and more expedient. Even though giving his design to someone new made him uncomfortable, finding a watchmaker in London was a logical, not emotional decision.
Logic had the appeal of control. He preferred control. So he would find the name of the smith Franco had recommended several years back. What would it hurt to investigate the shop more closely?
A journey to the city also meant he could pick up something for the women of the Isle on which he and his brothers lived. A smile curved his lips. Indeed. They needed a delight.
Celeste had been melancholy over the loss of a dream of a child. In the four years she and Jordan had together here in the castle, not one of their lying-ins had produced a live Zir. Ferrous believed the curse was at fault and that all the brothers needed their mates for them to be fruitful. That truth provided Celeste no comfort.
He would find fresh lemons for Celeste and that expensive bottle of cognac that Celeste’s grandmum adored. Chocolate always made Astrid smile. For his brothers and Hudson, the former Duke of Hudson, he would bring the hope that one day his watch would work, and they could live without distress.
Fina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her stomach. What now? She stepped into the narrow hall and squinted in the dim light. Her stepmother, Catherine, rounded the corner from her pa’s bedroom door. Her thick brown braid hung over her shoulder. As she whirled, her hair, like a snake, thudded against the thick wool on her back.
“I need assistance. Your father is not feeling well. You need to open the shop and stay until I can get him there.”
Of course he felt unwell. Catherine had kept him up until the wee hours, complaining about how little coin they possessed and how he needed to work harder on his next clever clock design. “Certainly, Stepmother.” She would open the shop for Pa, not for Catherine.
Fina pivoted on her heel and away from the woman who had taken possession of their home and made a mess out of everything good that her father had ever done. She wished Pa had never married again. Her jaw tightened.
Catherine did seem to provide him happiness. The way Pa gazed at her when she turned away said everything. He was besotted with her, but Fina simply couldn’t ignore the stress Catherine caused him and herself. Things had been so simple before Catherine had come into their lives. Fina just wanted that life back.
Darting into her room, she grabbed her journal. She would work on a new flower drawing to paint on the face of her pa’s next masterpiece.
Fina rushed out into the alley that separated their home from the next and headed toward the front of Wren Square. She trudged up the narrow path. A cat hissed and came at her from behind a wooden box.
She shied away, and the hem of her skirt caught on the tip of her boot. She tripped, stumbling toward one of the puddles. “Eek!”
Her sketch tablet toppled to the dirt, and she righted herself just before she splashed into one large divot that looked like water but overflowed with the vile who-knew-what that brewed in the bottom of the row.
She had landed in a puddle three days ago, and the dress still stank after four scrubbings. She wished she had more grace but had learned long ago she was prone to tumbling or knocking things over or, simply put…she struggled with her hands and feet. She picked up the cloth-bound book. Thank goodness her drawings had not landed in the bottom of the row. It would be months before Pa could afford to purchase her another one.
She hurried up the rest of the lane and rounded the corner to the front of the shop. She slammed straight into solid, dark heat. “Oh!”
Fingers wrapped about both her elbows and steadied her. She croaked into the froth of soft cotton brocade that smothered her face. The firm grasp released her. She stepped back into the man’s shadow, blinked and stared up and up into a sun-silhouetted face.
Gracious, how tall can a man grow?
“Pardon me.” The deep voice raised gooseflesh on her arms. “I am waiting for Peter Byron, clockmaker, to open his shop.”
Fina stepped to his side so she could see him better. “I am here to open the shop.” She smiled and stared up into warm amber eyes. Her stomach fluttered, and she shied away, shifting her hips to ease the unfamiliar sensation. Maybe she should have had more for morning repast, but she was not still hungry. She stepped to the shop door and glanced back once more.
He wore deep brown pantaloons and a long orangish-red-and-gold vest that hung halfway down his thigh. The white shirt beneath had lace at the wrist and ruffles that looked as if he’d a fake beard about his throat. An odd fashion. He dressed like no one she had ever seen. The clothes were tailored and pressed, though. He came from wealth, and he was here to see her pa. She bit her lip. Hopefully he would purchase a clock.
“You are a bit young to be a master clockmaker,” he said.