Authors: Michele Bardsley
you to steal Giselda’s Egg.”
Garrett Stone, reformed thief and exiled dragon, stared at his mother in shock. “You want me to steal? Isn’t that the reason I was shunned from our kind?” He lifted his hand. “Giselda’s Egg is a myth, Mother. How am I supposed to abscond with a non-existent object?”
“It’s not mythical.” She sighed. “As you know King Kearney has mated once more.”
“Didn’t he marry the human who was the reincarnated soul of his murdered wife?”
“Yes, darling. But they still had to have another wedding. Besides, she’s now our one and only dragonwitch. Together, they are powerful rulers. Do you remember Clíona?
“I was barely a hatchling, Mother.”
“She was good for him. She softened the rough edges of our king. And she has done so once more.”
Garrett waited. What was his mother up to now?
“I asked the king to review your case, and he has agreed to lift your banishment—if you are able to perform one task for him.”
“Find Giselda’s Egg?” He shook his head. “That’s like asking me to change the color of the sky. It can’t be done.”
“What if I told you that the egg exists and we know where it is?”
Garrett mulled over his mother’s words. More than a 1,000-years-old, Syneca Stone looked as gorgeous as ever. Blessed with high cheekbones, sparkling blue eyes, and alabaster skin, his mother remained a classic beauty. Her only concession to age was the monthly coloring appointments she kept in order to oust the gray from her honey blonde hair. He knew the one thing that vexed his mother about her human appearance was her lack of height—she was just shy of five feet tall. She was dragon royalty, so she had learned to be imposing at a young age. However, when she was in her human form she often commented that she felt like a Lilliputian railing at giants. Mother’s dragon, however, was a sight to behold. The jeweled tones of blue and silver marked them as part of the Stone clan, but her coloring was especially vibrant.
Tonight Mother wore a crème-colored pantsuit—Versace if he wasn’t mistaken—and four-inch open-toed stilettos. The staggeringly high heels were a sure sign she felt less than confident. Added to that, her usually benevolent gaze held both determination and trepidation.
“What do you say, Garrett?”
“I’m on the straight and narrow. I’m only halfway through my 100-year banishment.” As the second youngest son of Syneca and Riles Stone, he was never meant to inherit leadership. His older brother Liam had long been groomed for the post. After their father died, Mother essentially handed him the reigns of their clan. Liam and Garrett were never close. They were nearly a hundred years apart in age.
“If you know where the egg is, then why send me?”
“A proof of loyalty, perhaps. Bring him the egg, Garrett, and King Kearney will lift your banishment and proclaim your debt paid.”
His arrogance and ego would not let him resist the challenge of breaking into the king’s stronghold. He hadn’t actually intended to steal anything. He just wanted to do it to show that he could.
He’d lost everything after that foolish act. His standing, his home, his girlfriend. Fifty years had passed, and he still thought about Jessica Kearney. Yes, he’d been dating the king’s stepsister, very much in love with her, but not even that kept him from making the decision that ruined his life.
I miss her.
Yes, he missed her. Every time he thought he had moved on, a flash of memory—her laugh, her blue eyes, her wit—it brought the same ache to his heart.
Garrett grasped the brandy glass in both hands and sank onto the supple leather chair. He stared at the flames that popped and snapped in the copper-plated fireplace. The living room was cozy even with its vaulted ceiling, black-marble floors, and oversized furniture. His mother had a way of creating warmth and comfort where none existed. Despite her vast wealth and her position as a respected society matron, she always had time and energy to make those who had nothing feel as if they had everything. She was beloved in both the dragon and human worlds.
“Have you heard anything about Jessica lately?” It was the question he always asked. With the exception of his mother, he was forbidden from dragonkind, and visiting her skirted this side of impropriety. These days, he’d devoted himself to his mother’s favorite cause, that of StarSky Charities, an organization that catered to many different needs in both the human and paranormal worlds. She’d started it after his father passed away, pouring her grief into action. Garrett had been a mere hatchling when Riles Stone died from a brain aneurism. While dragons were generally long-lived, practically immortal, even their kind could be susceptible to rare conditions.
Throughout the centuries, images of his father faded into vague recollections—the sound of deep laughter, the smell of pipe tobacco, the tip of wing helping to steady his own. His mother mourned her departed husband every day, and Garrett sometimes felt like her grief was a separate living beast she shared her life with. This latest scheme, like so many in the past, was yet another distraction from the loneliness she felt.
“I’ve heard that Jessica is somewhere in America trying to find herself.” Syneca looked at him, her lips pursed. “Will you try to find her?”
“So she can suffer the penalty with me? No.”
“Garrett, any fool who believes the pain of losing the love of your life fades with the passage of time … oh, that damned fool has never really loved. “ She looked at him. “I want the same for you. I had wonderful years with your father, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in world. I want true love for you, too.”
An old conversation.
His mother believed so deeply in affairs of the heart that she had paired him with Jessica in hopes they were possible soulmates. He’d scoffed at the idea. What would he know about true love? The only mistress he’d ever enjoyed was thievery, and she was a clever, seductive one, at that. Of course, he could not deny his mother and father had experienced a rare love, but that did not mean he would be so lucky. Not even his brother Liam had married the woman of his heart. His lifemate had been carefully selected for breeding, nobility, and a host of other factors designed to keep royals, well, royal.
Why did he feel like his mother had ulterior motives? Syneca did not keep secrets. She believed telling the truth stymied the most vicious gossip. If someone hid nothing and admitted all, the world lost interest. Scandal was only scandal if the people involved lied, covered-up, and cowered behind their untruths.
Mother placed her own brandy glass on the table by his chair then knelt beside him. Her hand grasped his knee; he noted the fine trembling in her long, pale fingers. The only jewelry that glittered was the simple gold wedding band. “It’s important, Garrett. You know what Giselda’s Egg is?”
“It was created by the first dragonwitch, an object of magic and beauty that purportedly gives power to the one who holds it,” he recited from the texts he’d read as a schoolboy. He pulled his lips into a smile, though he felt more like growling. “And…it’s a myth. There is no discernable proof such an object exists.”
“Ah.” She patted his knee and rose, gliding to the fireplace to stare at the blaze. “This myth, my son, has been located. It’s in Las Vegas, Nevada.”
Garrett sipped on his brandy as he thought about what his mother told him and what she wanted from him. There was no question that he would go to Las Vegas and steal the damned thing. His mother could ask him for the moon and he would do everything in his power to snatch it from the sky. He owed her too much not to help her. She had never given up on him even when everyone else had turned their backs. Not once. “I’m sure it’s being held in the same vault as Jason’s golden fleece and Aladdin’s lamp.”
“Don’t be a smart aleck, Garrett. We have cause to believe this egg is the real one.”
“I have a problem with Las Vegas. On my last visit, I might have angered Red.” Garrett shrugged. “He sorta wants me dead.”
“The Blood wolf pack hates everybody. Red is just one of a half dozen leaders. He could be slain tomorrow and another ass will rise to take his place.”
“He’s managed to hang on as the alpha for a few months now. I probably shouldn’t have set his motorcycle on fire.”
“I’m sure you had a good reason.” She paused. “Didn’t you?”
“I saw him hassling a couple of human girls, so I thought I should distract him.”
“Sounds reasonable. Please don’t tell me you’re too frightened of a werewolf to go to Las Vegas?”
“Bite your tongue.”
Syneca laughed. “Well, then. That’s settled.”
The faint scent of mesquite burning in the fireplace infiltrated the air, mixing with the fragrant aromas from the abundant vases of flowers placed throughout. His mother loved flora—from the elegant rose to the lowly carnation. No room in the house was without fresh-cut blooms.
“When is the last time you had a date?”
“I don’t know.” What an odd segue. From stealing a fictional artifact to his love life. Or lack thereof. Even for his mother, it was suspect. “I’ve been too busy with the charity.”
“You should never be too busy for love.”
“I’m not having this conversation with you, Mother.” Discussing his love life with Syneca was only slightly better than discussing his re-entrance into burgling. “It’s bad enough that
talking about me stealing again.”
“How long?” she
“Long enough that I’m rusty.” He certainly wasn’t going to mention Jemma or Brittney or the half dozen other women who occasionally kept his bed warm since he was forced to walk away from Jessica. They were lovely ladies, but none of them were “bring home to mother” types.
“I doubt that.” She crossed the room, her heels clacking on the high-polished floor. Against the wall opposite the fireplace, with an original Monet hanging above it, was an antique roll top desk. He knew the desk had been his father’s, but he always thought she’d kept it around for sentimental reasons. He was surprised to that it was fully stocked with pens, notepads, check registers, and files. Extracting a scroll, she closed the desk and returned, unrolling and then thrusting a piece of parchment at him.
“I hereby declare Giselda’s Egg to be real,” he read from the paper. “I also say, with complete authority, that the egg’s true location is in Las Vegas, Nevada.” He shook the page at her. “Aiden Kearney wrote this?”
He read through the rest of it. “According to this document, I have to follow a series of clues in order to find the egg.” He held the parchment up for emphasis. “Is this some kind of game?”
“Who knows about the whims of a king? You see there? He said if you find the Egg, then your banishment will be lifted.” His mother sat in the chair opposite of his and pinned him with a narrowed gaze. “It would be nice for you to have someone by your side when that day comes.”
His mother random switch of conversation made alarm bells ring. What was she playing at? Yes, it was true. Garrett’s only real lover lately had been the charity—and she was a greedy woman with many needs. It was very satisfying, often exhausting work. Still, to have a mate, someone like Jessica, to come home to every night. To share his passions and dreams, it felt, much like the egg, to be a mythical fairytale. Not a life he was destined to live.
“Will you do it, Garrett?”
He couldn’t believe he was considering this insane plan.
“All right. I’ll get the egg…if it truly exists. Go Team Stone.”
“Wonderful! I’ve made all the arrangements. You leave tomorrow morning.”
Garrett laughed. “Of course, I do.”
She rose and took his hands. “If you get into trouble, love, go to Louisa’s Café. That’s where you’ll find help.”