Authors: Joely Sue Burkhart
But then he turned and walked away. I stared after him, straining my weak human eyes against the darkness, hungering still for his touch, his body beneath mine. Shadows swallowed him.
Gone, he was gone.
I was alone once more.
Yet his blood pulsed in me. I tasted his regret, his sorrow, his respect for me, Chanda the White, who cursed the Gods. She whose heart was Riven. She who murdered her own tribe, and desert
seekers by the hundreds.
Jalan tal’Krait ached for me. Even now, he touched me through his bond, phantom fingers trailing down my spine until I shivered in the suffocating heat.
On the last Krait Well, I will do all in my power to break your curse before I sacrifice you.
For three nights, the full moon’s silvered light would transform me back to human.
Hope burned in my dragon heart.
Maybe I wouldn’t eat him after all.
The clash of weapons woke me before sunset. Bleary-eyed, I crept to the opening of my lair and surveyed my domain. With dreams of Jalan fresh in my mind, his touch stirring Fire even in my dragon prison, I feared the smell of him in my nostrils was only a lingering dream.
But no, he’d returned despite my threats. I had no time to contemplate the surge of emotion in my hateful heart, though, because he returned with company.
Unfriendly company if the battle was any indication.
Two black-robed warriors fought at the base of my cliff. Jalan held the scimitar in one hand and a short blade in the other, both whirling and striking as fast as his tribe’s namesake. Through his bond, I felt blazing fury, a Fire to match my own.
Rage poured over me, a crushing betrayal that seized my mighty lungs before I could bellow my flames. He lied to me. He tricked me. He betrayed me. He never meant to break my curse.
He was just as cursed as I. Worse, in fact. He was nigh to losing his humanity entirely.
I could see his beast just beneath his skin, a roiling energy of shadowed rage and smoke. Black and red hovered like a second hide of scale and leather. The invisible promise of massive wings swept above him, driving his opponent back.
Now I knew what
meant. All of his Krait warriors must have already turned feral. He was terribly close himself. No wonder my stone warrior held his emotions in such fierce check.
Simmering with rage, I lay there on my rock ledge and watched as the sun set.
I watched him dance the blades, his
a shadow as dark as his near wings, his blood burning. I watched him slit his opponent’s throat. I watched him attempt to leash his own beast, no easy feat with blood and meat before him.
With his head thrown back and his weapons bare in his hand, he roared to the twilight sky.
A call I could not refuse.
I barreled down the slope at him, wings tucked tight to my back. Silent, swift, I slunk behind him, jaws gaping. He knew, though. The blood bond betrayed me.
Fighting his rising dragon, he whirled away from my claws and retreated.
Not because he was scared of me, no.
He feared becoming me.
I don’t know what I would have done if I’d caught him. I was so furious—at him, at myself, for daring to hope an end to my curse might be near. But spilled blood overwhelmed my senses. Blood, fresh blood, fresh meat.
Glaring at Jalan with my baleful eyes, I hunched over the dead warrior and feasted. Deliberately, I ate messily, slinging a severed hand in his direction, licking blood from my jaws, crunching the skull like a rotten melon.
Jalan watched me, silent, his rock face hardening with each jagged bite I took.
His control returned somewhat, and the raging beast retreated. Power settled beneath his skin, but his eyes blazed at me in the dying sun. His blood still burned, but with a different need.
A need all male dragons felt in the presence of an unmated female.
Domination. Aggression. Lust. He wanted to subdue me.
Somma damn me for all eternity, I wanted him to try.
Tail lashing, I dared him to interrupt my feast. I would be more than happy to eat him for dessert. I felt him through the bond, vibrating with tension and urgency. His dark eyes gleamed, locked on my every move. The more I tried to revolt him with my eating habits, the darker his eyes burned. Snarling, I munched on a femur and wished it was his.
The rising moon cast its glow on me. My scales itched and crawled, my bones cracked and convulsed. And then he slammed into me, pressing my very human body into the sands.
Too much of the dragon still burned in me to go gently to his embrace. Too much hurt in my Riven heart, too much disappointment to accept his caress.
Outweighed by nearly ten stone and armed with only human teeth and nails, I didn’t have a chance against him.
Fighting like a dragon only inflamed him—and me—all the more.
My human body wanted him. Even my shriveled dried-up broken heart wanted him. More, my dragon wanted him. I wanted his wild male dragon to force me into submission, and if he failed, I wanted to kill him. I would not accept a male who couldn’t fight me with tooth, claw, and wing—and win.
With a knee in the small of my back and a hand fisted in my hair, he pinned me face down in the sand while he shrugged out of his clothes. Not a word from him, not a curse, not a muttered endearment, merely the whisper of cloth, the deep pant of his breath, the musk of aroused warrior and male dragon rank in my nostrils.
My agonized whimper drove him to
oh please hurry.
He lowered his body against mine, straddling me. Growling, his chest rumbled against me, strumming my spine, tightening my body even more. I whimpered again while I hid a cruel smile in the red dirt. I arched my hips for him, grinding against his groin, seeking relief. And as soon as he shifted to accept my invitation, I slammed my head back into his face and exploded upward with all the raging Fire in my body.
Somma cursed me well—Her blood was rich in my veins. I didn’t need wings to soar. I didn’t need teeth to shred. I had Her magic, and I blazed with power like Her accursed moon.
But Yama the Black flowed in his. Jalan rode me, pinned me, his body massive and strong and unmovable, his rising power a heavy cloak of shadow I could not escape. Jerking my head around, he forced my face up into his neck. His scent drowned me, sweat and leather, sage oil, roasted spices.
His voice was thick, growling with aggression. “Take my blood.”
I tore into his throat, even while I pressed back, aching, needing him to take me just as hard. Even with my teeth in his neck, though, he refused me. Writhing beneath him, my body begging, I couldn’t win this fight.
He wanted words. Words I refused.
“I survived your teeth. I survived your claws. I survived your blood, your curse, your hatred. You know what I want, Chanda.”
“My heart is Riven!”
“No longer. I would give you mine to make you whole.”
Terror washed over me and blackest, bitterest hope. Drowning in flames, I barely heard my own words over the frantic drumming of my heart. So close, the curse was so close. My voice shook with hope. “Can you survive my Fire?”
He sealed his mouth over mine.
Kiss of Fire.
He dared to share Fire with me. Or maybe he took Fire from me.
Either way, flames exploded inside us both, magical and overwhelming, so intense my skin felt charred. Purified in Fire, I felt all my shames and failures crumble away. Nothing survived that fiery furnace.
Nothing but him.
He surged into me, one hard, deep lunge that wrenched my mouth from his in a vicious scream of joy. I hauled in air, gasping, and screamed again, every inch of my body on flames.
“You took my blood. You took my Fire. You took my body.”
My ears roared, my dragon wailing in ecstasy, in dread.
“Now take my heart. I am Given to you, Chanda the White. My heart beats for you.”
Buried to the hilt, Jalan gritted his teeth and waited for the magic to cease ripping his heart out of his chest. For a moment, he couldn’t feel his heartbeat at all. He couldn’t breathe. All his senses were deaf and mute to everything except Chanda. Her fierce body beneath him, the heated grip of her inner muscles, her lush scent of green dreams, magic rolling from her like moonlight.
Finally his heart leaped, thumping hard and frantic, his chest banded in iron flames. She commanded his heart, now. If she wished it to stop beating, she could order his body to drop dead. A risk, but he knew her fearsome pride, the strength of her heart, the depth of her hatred and pain. If she wanted him dead, his bones would already be cracked open and baking in the noonday sun.
At worst if she refused him, he would be incomplete the rest of his life.
Unable to love another woman, unable to take pleasure ever again, bound to mourn her loss, just as she mourned
after hundreds of years. Since he didn’t plan to outlive her long, such dire possibilities didn’t concern him.
His heart was Given. When he sacrificed her to Yama, he would sacrifice his own soul. What more could the Black Dragon demand in order to lift the Poison of Despair from his tribe?
Not the words that would bind her likewise to him, but significant just the same. A permanent mark in her flesh—a ring of his teeth branded by magical Fire—was the beginning, a physical sign of the blood bond they shared. A heart as Riven as hers might take years to heal completely. Years he didn’t have. Not when his tribe died before his very eyes. Not when Mamba warriors tracked him, laid in wait for him, and swore to take the White and give her to their Red Dragon, son of Agni, come to slaughter the last of his people.
At the though of the other dragon touching her, rage boiled his blood, seared his lungs, destroying the last vestige of control. Sinking his teeth into her shoulder, he held her pinned to his chest while he hammered into her as hard and fast as he could. If she refused his heart, he would meld her body to his for all time. He would destroy all memory she had of the long-dead
who refused her.
Releasing the Fire pent inside him, he blazed into her as hot and wild and fierce as her dragon.
He would kill any who tried to take her from him.
Blood filled his mouth, rich with her spirit, smoldering with her magic. In her blood lay the secret rivers of Keldar, the rains that never fell, the fertile fields that lay dead and blasted with heat. So close, salvation. Just a few beats of her heart away.
Without lifting his mouth from her flesh, he used the blood bond to command her.
:Say my name.:
When she hesitated, he growled, biting deeper, shifting against her to drive her harder into the ground.
:Who has conquered you?:
Simply uttering his name tightened her body around his. Pleasure hummed in her, so close. She fought the climax, deliberately trying to temper her response. Ah, his fierce dragon mate would deny him even her pleasure if she could.
:With my tribe, my honor, say it!:
He slid his palm from her hip, down her abdomen, beneath her pelvis.
Moaning, she tried to escape his touch, his body, but he drove her closer to that soaring height.
:Fly for me, Chanda.
Soar higher than the moon.:
She tried one last time to throw him off. Spine arced, hands scrambling for purchase in the red sands, she came roaring with all the Fire blazing in her veins.
Magic exploded in starbursts around them, blinding him. His back burned, split as though wings burst from his flesh.
Releasing her shoulder, he threw back his head and roared an answer.
:I am Given!:
I lay beneath him, trembling and shaken to my core. My Riven heart bled.
Oh, yes, still Riven. Still cursed. Too much of the dragon lived in my heart to forgive. Too much of the dragon raged in my soul to completely surrender my hatred. Love made me weak before, begging a warrior to love me when I knew it was impossible. Even knowing his heart beat for another, I couldn’t convince my own to release him. Love crippled me, ruined me, cursed me.
Jalan whispered in my ear. “Surrender to my love, Chanda, and break this curse imprisoning you.”