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Authors: Michelle Howard

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BOOK: Rylin's Fire
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Chapter 2

10 years later

 

“Are you sure you want to do this, Dara?” Her mother asked.

“I’m certain, Mom.” Dara placed the last item into her carry on. The lone duffel bag didn’t allow for many belongings, but the government held strict to the one bag requirement for all participants in the Singles Program.

Honor McDaniel twisted her fingers together in front of her, drawing Dara’s attention. Dressed in simple drawstring pants in a neutral tone with a short sleeve white top, her mother could have passed for her twin. “I can’t believe you’ll be so far away from me, honey.”

Dara slid her luggage to the floor, then crossed the small space of their living room, skirting around a scuffed coffee table with its chipped corner. The imperfection in the otherwise flawless piece of furniture came from Dara’s attempt to fly from the cushioned sofa as a child. She’d taken a header and had the small scar beneath her hair as proof.

“I’ll only be out of touch physically. Technology on Vovin will allow us to still talk and see each other on the view screens.”

Honor huffed out a sigh. “It’s not the same as hugging my baby when she’s having a down day.”

Dara squeezed her mother tight. “Everything will be fine. You’ll see. Now are you going to give me a ride and drop me off?”

Honor rolled her green eyes. “You know I will. You’re moving to another world, an alien planet, and you’re not coming back. I want to soak up every moment possible.”

Relieved, Dara smiled and let her mother go. “Alright. Thanks, Mom. I know you don’t all the way agree with this, but I’m grateful you haven’t tried to talk me out of it.”

“No matter what,” Honor said, expression intent, “you’re my little girl. That means when everyone else is against you, I’m always in your corner.”

Dara could recite those familiar words by heart because her mother had been saying them from Dara’s earliest memory. “Even if it means I’m a space flight away?”

“Even then,” her mother agreed, and the two of them shared a look. “Alright, let’s get my baby a man.”

Dara snorted at her mom’s unexpected humor but gathered her things. If they blinked back tears during the rush to the car, neither of them mentioned it. During the drive they kept up meaningless conversation, as if they weren’t about to be separated for the first time in their entire lives.

When they arrived at the space station, her mother whipped into a small parking spot in front of the main entrance. Horns from disgruntled drivers blared behind them. Not that her mother paid any attention. Silence settled in the car. Dara inhaled and released the breath slowly.

“Promise me.” Her mother reached over and gripped her hands tightly. “Promise me you’ll be happy. That you’ll find someone who makes you happy.”

Dara swallowed. “I promise.”

They both exited the car and Honor came around to meet Dara when she rounded the sidewalk. Her mother’s mouth trembled but she held on to her smile as they hugged one more time and Dara entered the glass gliding doors, toward her new future.    

 

***

 

Death had a definite look. Ry stared at the body on the ground and knew the female was dead. His head tipped to the side as he studied the area for signs of a struggle. Nothing. A young woman out and about with no concerns. Perhaps another Dracol approached, someone she recognized. Had they argued?

“She hasn’t been dead long,” Mikal stated.

Ry looked up from his kneeling position beside the body of the female. “Tosh claimed Leila didn’t reach for him until the very end, and only with a scream of pain and cry for help before the mate connection broke between them.”

Why hadn’t she reacted sooner? Fighting back was in their raptor nature.

“She just went missing this morning.” Mikal’s gold eyes flickered. “How could someone strike so quickly without leaving a trace?”

The very question Ry wondered. Out of respect, he closed the lids on the empty eyes of the dead
lira
. With utmost care, Ry tilted the female to the side, looking for any clue on who did this. Shifting the body revealed a circular symbol with an odd design in the middle carved onto the back of Leila’s shoulder. The intricate wound looked as if it had been made prior to death.

Ry frowned. “What do you make of this mark on her back?”

Mikal leaned closer. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

 “I’ll speak with Tosh.” Ry rose to his feet, not looking forward to the difficult conversation. News of his
lira’s
death would destroy the male.

 Mikal stepped back and Ry took one last glance at a woman who’d never harmed another. Leila spent more time laughing and teasing those in their sect than she did anything else. And now, because of an act of violence, she’d go to the flame long before her time.

“Do you want me to do it, my King?” Mikal deferred to his title, knowing how difficult this part of wearing the mantle was for Ry.

“No. It’s my duty and my honor.” Ry closed his eyes and pulled on the mantle.

The first stirring of power caught him off-guard as usual. He stumbled and braced his weight before managing the stream of energy pouring into him. Bright lights exploded beneath his lids and his essence rose in a rolling wave.

Time stood still as Ry struggled to balance the forces gathering within him. Vibrations shook his entire body, as the precursor of what was to come. Then the thoughts of every Dracol in his sect slammed against the frame of a fortified mental filter that had taken Ry months to build.

There was no gradual escalation. Only the immediate onslaught of noise. Wide open to the connection, Ry worked at a steady pace to block all of the mundane chatter coming at him until he could focus on the core of being a Dracol. The King. Deep within his center, the source of the mantle and the fires of the Black burned.

With an abrupt tug, Ry reached forward and ripped free what he needed, then rammed shut the connection to stop the flow of information flooding his brain. His eyes snapped open and smoke puffed from his mouth. The familiar bite of ash coated his tongue.

Ry extended his arm toward Leila. Flames burst from his flexing palm and shot forward. Moments later her body was ablaze.

“From the fire, go now in peace, little one. It is as the Goddess of Fate decreed.” The ritual words fell from his lips.

When Ry’s fingers locked into a fist to extinguish the fire, nothing remained of Leila except a pile of ash. A strong breeze swept by and the ashes whisked away on the wind.

“Ash to fire, fire to ash,” Mikal murmured and bowed his head.

Panting, Ry staggered forward a step. His arms trembled from dispensing of the body in such a potent manner. He took a deep breath and waited for the ragged beat of his heart to settle.

“What do you want to do next?” Mikal asked when he lifted his head.

What Ry wanted to do was tear into whomever did this to Leila. Instead, he faced his friend. “I’ll speak to Nolan, but for now we keep this between us.”

Once word got out, panic would ensue.

 

     

 

 

Chapter 3

 

‘Make your dreams for family and commitment come true. Marry an alien and begin a new life. New opportunities.’

Well, Dara had paid for the Singles Program deal alright and loved the idea of spending her life with the mythical dragons the planet she selected was known for. Unfortunately, she’d been here a month and not one man had expressed an interest in courting her. It was so pathetic Dara could cry.

She was starting to think it might be better if she cut her losses and returned to Earth in defeat. Dara sipped her wine and savored the sweet taste as it sizzled on her tongue. The Dracols, as they were called, had one thing right, they made the best wine she’d ever had. Better than anything she’d tasted back home.

And that summed up her night. Here for several hours, and the highlight of her evening was the fruity white wine. Dara sighed heavily and emptied her glass in one swallow.

“Why the sad look?”

She spun around and came face to face with a Dracol. The distinctive gold eyes reflecting like coins even outside on a moonlit night gave it away.

“To match my sad thoughts.” Dara set the glass on the edge of the stone railing she’d been leaning on while pondering her fate.

“Unusual when many ladies are making merry and laughing inside.” He arched a dark brow in her direction and came to lean on the rail next to her. “A room full of males vying for favor, all looking for a
lira
. You should be having the time of your life.”

Dara snorted. “If only. My luck sucks tonight.” She gave a mirthless laugh. “It’s sucked all month, in fact.”

He leaned back, elbows propped on the lip of the stone behind him and extended long legs encased in leather pants. His black booted feet crossed at the ankle and he dipped his dark head in her direction. “Care to share the reason?”

Dara shoved a hand through her hair, surely messing up the short curls she’d spent hours artfully arranging. “Trust me. You wouldn’t be interested.”

Full lips twitched and Dara’s gaze sharpened. He was attractive, as with all the people on this world. His muscular build was emphasized by the tight black shirt tucked into his leathers, a wide belt emphasizing his narrow waist. Chiseled features, a strong jaw line, and those damnable gold eyes protected by lids tipped with ridiculously long lashes only made him all the more potent.

Her mystery guest folded his arms over his broad chest. “Trust
me
, I might.”

 

***

 

Ry wasn’t often drawn to these types of events, but even he got lonely at times. Coming to a mating party offered him an opportunity to flirt with females in hopes of finding another
lira
. So far he’d had no luck. He’d been propositioned, groped and forcibly kissed by one of the aggressive females of his kind.

In the past, Ry would have had to compete, like many of the males here, but since receiving the mantle a decade ago women threw themselves at him. No longer could he tell if it was the man, the raptor, or the ruler they desired.

He glanced at the woman from the corner of his eye as she pretended to study the dancing couples visible through the partially open balcony doors. The woman before him didn’t hold the same classical beauty as others but the cant of her dark head and the wicked humor in her green eyes attracted him.

She sighed heavily and angled a seductively curved body in his direction. Her mouth tipped up in the corner, eyes glinting with mischief. “Alright, since you insist.”

Ry chuckled, surprised at the sound.

Her eyes widened and she winked at him before continuing. “I came from Earth as part of the SP about a month ago and it hasn’t worked out so I’m thinking of returning home. Are you aware of this program?”

Inward, Ry groaned. The blue planet Earth had agreed to allow their women to relocate or participate in mating ceremonies throughout space on other planets to find men and life partners. Apparently this woman had chosen Vovin.

“I’m aware of the Singles Program.” He grimaced at the weak name for something designed to assist females in such an important endeavor.

His conversation partner’s mouth twisted wryly. A pretty mouth, pouty and full. “Yeah. By your tone, I bet you’re aware. So tell me, how many Earth women have come here?”

Ry’s smile widened and he knew when her lashes fluttered as she stepped back that she had caught a glimpse of his very sharp teeth. “There were four Earthlings.”

She pressed a hand to her chest. “Did they find…men?”

He chose his words wisely. “None of them decided to stay.”

Truthfully, the Dracol had not been interested. The first Earth woman a year ago had explained the mythical nature of dragons as she referred to them on her world. On Earth, raptors did not exist and the woman seemed more interested in their sexual prowess than a permanent bonding. It defeated the purpose of events like tonight where the males and females of his race searched for life partners or
liras
.

The other Earth women who came after the first revealed similar mindsets and his people concluded that Earthling females were to be avoided at all cost. No wonder she’d found no male interested in her tonight. He’d lost interest as well.

Ry straightened as a sense of disappointment weighed on him. He wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t as if he knew her. He’d simply observed her standing outside for several minutes. Her curious behavior and solitary choice compelled him to join her beneath the moon bright night. Dracol were nothing if not inquisitive.

He hadn’t recognized her and assumed she visited from a rival sect. Now he realized his luck wasn’t that good. His mood soured.

“Well…I take it there’s a story there. Can you at least explain what the others did to make me a pariah before I had a chance?”

Reluctantly, Ry found himself battling another smile. Her humor was refreshing. “Not a pariah.”

“Hmm.” She grinned and wiggled her fingers in his direction. “Fess up. What did my fellow humans do to turn off your people?”

And with that Ry chuckled again, relaxing against the railing. “Truth?”

She nodded firmly. “Always.”

He leaned in her direction as if revealing a great secret and whispered, “They told us of dragons.”

Her eyes widened, and for a moment Ry worried he’d scared her off. Then she pressed her hand to her lips and laughed. “Jeez. Are you serious? I’m being banned because dragons don’t like being called dragons?”

Ry shrugged, not bothering to correct her. They were Dracol. Raptors even, but not dragons. “Is it true that we’re mythical creatures…animals on your world?”

Her heavy sigh spilled on the air. “Yeah. Crap. Well, that sucks.”

From his position, so far it didn’t…suck, as she put it. Unless there was someone she was interested in. “Did you find anyone that caught your eye?”

Her rounded shoulders curved beneath the blue sheath she wore. “No. I mean, your people are gorgeous and I’ll admit to being vain and using that as part of my criteria for coming here.”

Her candor and easy going nature surprised him. The other Earthlings had turned everyone off with their selfish mannerisms.

She interrupted his thoughts. “What about you? Any ladies here catch your eye?”

The look in her dark green eyes invited him to share, and somewhere deep inside a part of him shifted in his original perception of her. “None until now.”

Her head bobbed up and down then froze as the meaning of his words sunk in. She blushed prettily and ducked her head. She didn’t allow the silence to linger for more than a second before her head snapped back up and her lips pursed. “Let me guess. You were overcome by my beauty until you realized my origins.”

Dracol females were the most beautiful creatures Ry had ever seen. The Earthling didn’t compare physically but the pieces of her personality that she slowly revealed made her more attractive by the minute.

“No, but I’m fascinated by this enlightening conversation we’re having. Dracol love to be fascinated.”

She laughed loud and long, the boisterous sound lifting his heart. Then she glanced around to see if anyone noticed. No one would disturb them since he’d signaled his guards before coming outside. He’d longed for a moment to himself with the woman who was obviously avoiding the ball room and its occupants.

“What’s your name?” he asked, needing to know.

A smile still played about her mouth as she extended a small hand in his direction. “Dara Fletcher. Formerly of Earth and outcast on Vovin.”

Another grin stretched his lips and Ry shook her hand, amazed by the softness of her flesh in comparison to the roughness of his own. He kissed her tiny knuckles. “Rylin.”

She arched a brow. “Just Rylin? Like a celebrity with one name.”

He didn’t know what a celebrity was. “Rylin, King of the Black Dracol.”

She pressed her lips together, mirth dancing in her eyes.

Ry’s lips twitched in return. “This means nothing to you, Dara?”

“Nope.” She snickered.

The sound relaxed tensed muscles. Since he’d received the mantle of the Black Dracol from the prior King, many females sought him out. The same females who had wanted nothing to do with him after his prior
lira
dissolved their relationship. Ry’s lips firmed at the thought.

It wasn’t his fault that his raptor’s essence failed to rise for Sana during their year together. No male had control over that. But Sana hadn’t given them or the mating a chance.

The shame of it had almost driven him to act on his rage and disappear for a deep sleep, but ultimately it was his Dracol’s will, and his other half did not wish to gift Sana with children. She belonged to Mikal now, shrewish nature and all.

“I do know Kings are important where I come from but not sure how that works here. With dragons being mythical and all.” Her teasing warmed him.

“Come.” Ry straightened, surprising himself by waving her over toward the opening in the balcony railing a few feet away. The large stone ledge only extended along one side of the building.

Dara followed him, her nose crinkled in curiosity. His raptor stirred within, catching Ry off guard since his other half had remained dormant at the last few functions like this. His dual nature was reserved for battle or sex. Strip back the layers of humanity and you were left with a Dracol’s raw, fire-breathing base nature. But this Earth woman nudged at his senses. Sex had been off the table for months, much to Ry’s frustration. But perhaps that was about to change.

Ry shook off the unusual yet pleasant feeling and walked right to the edge of the precipice before he noticed she’d left quite a gap between them. Doubt clouded her jewel colored eyes.

 “Afraid, Dara?” he taunted.

She rose to the challenge beautifully, straightening her spine and aiming her dainty chin high enough to reach the purple clouds above.

 

BOOK: Rylin's Fire
11.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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