The Mate (Fire’s Edge Prequel) – Chapter 1 Excerpt
What the hell am I doing here?
The thought crossed Fallon’s mind for the thousandth time since the Mating Council notified him last week that his family brand had shown up on a new mate…and he was one of the possible matches.
Hands stuffed in the pockets of his pants, feeling like a puffed-up tool in his designer suit, Fallon strolled down the lavish gold-gilded hallway. His uncomfortable dress shoes tapped against the marble flooring with a loud, echoing click, click, click.
A mate. For him?
No fucking way.
A mate was a precious gift, one Fallon took seriously. One every dragon shifter took seriously—not just because finding your destined mate lengthened your life span, but because dragons were compelled to, like a biological imperative only a thousand times stronger. The urge was more about becoming whole once your soul bonded with your mate’s than the need to procreate. Hell, men were known to fight for mates, steal them, even kill or die for them.
However, Fallon had serious doubts that this particular woman was meant for him. Only one woman in all his centuries had caught his attention. A human he could never have. Plus, with his own soul, and the new mate’s life on the line, no way would he risk it unless he was sure. Not after witnessing his brother go through picking the wrong woman. That kind of pain broke a man.
Besides, he was too young, nowhere near the time his search for his mate would become desperate. Not like most of the guys. The Huracáns, the team of enforcers he was part of, patrolled the western parts of North America. They had been there for centuries and not one of the men was mated. All those facts and more put Fallon’s chances somewhere between laughable and not a shot in hell.
Not that he could’ve refused to come.
A refusal would’ve been taken as an insult at the least, as a sign of dissent against the clans and the kings at the worst. He was an enforcer—hand-selected by the king of his clan to bring law and order to the colonies—an honor he’d earned, dammit. Given his role, Fallon was expected to set the example of allegiance. The ultimate loyalist. Besides, no dragon turned his back on an opportunity at a mate, even if he didn’t believe it.
So, he’d flown his ass to France.
A set of double doors loomed at the end of the hall. Beside him, Macon scurried to keep up, huffing and puffing. The North American Alliance representative for the Blue Clan—the clan they both hailed from—had accompanied him across the pond as a chaperone of sorts. As a dragon shifter, Macon should be in better shape, but he was a politician. Soft. All talk and expensive cologne.
“Finn should be here,” Fallon muttered, more to himself.
As the leader of the Finn held a position of greater importance. As Fallon’s older brother, Finn also shared the same family brand on the back of his neck. The brand that matched the new mate just waiting inside those doors.
Macon’s head bobbed like a bird as he glanced over. “Trust the mating process.”
“I’m a low-level enforcer,” Fallon argued. Not that his position should matter. Mated couples were destined by the fates. Every dragon shifter only had one.
“You’re a healer, too,” Macon pointed out. “They know what they’re doing. This process has been in place since before your birth.”
Ugh. That nasal whine of his voice. Fallon would be glad to escape it. He just had to get cut from the list quickly, then he could return home. His team needed him there, fighting the traitor Rune Abaddon, keeping the colonies safe, not gallivanting across Europe on a fool’s errand.
“Yeah,” he agreed.
Except this process isn’t perfect. Fallon kept that thought to himself. Things could go wrong.
Finn was evidence. He’d been selected once, and even got all the way to trying to mate the woman, pushing his fire inside of her to turn her. The mating failed, burning her up from the inside and leaving his older brother an empty shell of the man he used to be. A part of a dragon’s soul burned too, if he chose the wrong mate and killed her. His brother had certainly turned colder and harder afterward, and Fallon suspected Finn’s fire wasn’t what it once had been either.
Fallon gritted his teeth as he reached for the ornately carved door handles on one of the massive double doors. The mating ceremonies were held in a palace of all places. A real life, with turrets and a mote, goddam palace. A property the King of the Red Clan—High King Pytheios—had bought, restoring the splendor of the original building, which had burnt to a hollow shell, thanks to dragons, and bringing the dwelling to a whole new level of overdone glittered finery. The place even smelled opulent, like gardenias and argan and old furniture.
Let’s get this over with. Let some other poor sucker deal with this crap.
As soon as he stepped inside, a red dragon—easily identified by his reddish-brown eyes—approached. He held out his hand. “Jagar Agni.”
Fallon knew him on sight. The man in charge of Mating Council and all dragon shifter matings for the last five hundred years.
He clasped Jagar’s hand. “Fallon Conleth.”
Jagar smiled, though the action reminded Fallon more of jackal about to pounce on its prey. “I’m glad you were able to make the journey. I’m pleased to see that most blue dragons are still loyal to the High King.”
Political rumblings about a power struggle within his clan had led to rumors that potentially cast all blue dragons in a shadow. Living with the other enforcers on his team, a mixed group of shifters from every clan, Fallon hadn’t heard much about it.
Fantastic. One more reason to bugger out of here.
It must’ve made it difficult for the Mating Council when a woman showed up with a blue brand glowing on the back of her neck. They had no choice but to bring blue dragons here for the mating ceremony.
Beside him, Macon cleared his throat. “Some rumors have reached us, but King Thanatos has assured us none are true. Our king is fully in charge. If Fallon is selected, you can be sure this new mate will be taught where her loyalties should lie.”
Jagar’s smile held, but Fallon didn’t miss the glitter that entered his eyes. Dragons shifters were nothing if not suspicious fuckers, not to mention vengeful. Not a good combo at the best of times.
Fallon kept his expression carefully neutral, despite every instinct honed by years as the enforcement arm of the clans within America screaming at him that he was under some kind of scrutiny. Had they invited him here only to gage the loyalty of some of the higher ranking blue clan members in the colonies, knowing he wasn’t this woman’s destined mate?
Shit. Maybe this situation was much more dangerous than he’d anticipated.
Jagar turned that slick smile his way. “What about you, Fallon?”
“The members of my team consider it an honor to serve our kings.” That answer was as neutral as he could get. Politics had never been his thing. He’d be happy to be flying home by tonight and away from this mess. That was for damn sure.
Jagar smiled, though warmth continued to remain absent, making his expression appear more like a facial tick. “You are the last to arrive. Come. Let me introduce you.”
Fallon hadn’t even looked for the new dragon mate. As he turned in the direction Jagar indicated, he caught sight of a woman standing on a dais at one end of the long room, probably once a ballroom.
Every part of him froze as shock ricocheted inside him like buckshot, shredding his insides with a direct hit.
“Maddie.” Her name felt punched from his lungs, though he only whispered. Jagar still caught it, turning his head sharply.
“Do you know this woman?” Macon demanded, beating Jagar to it.
Fallon couldn’t pull his gaze from Maddie. Her lips were pinched closed, a sure sign of her emotions. Usually, she never let any hint of her thoughts show.
“She was one of the humans I came into contact with for my job,” he owned reluctantly, answering Macon’s question.
Deep, who’d retired from the team, was their liaison with humans, posing as a fire marshal and working to help cover their tracks. At the time, Deep had been busy with a bigger fire, so Fallon had stepped in to work with a new arson investigator on a series of smaller fires locally.
“She moved away several months ago. I haven’t been in contact since.” Deliberately, Fallon kept the details of the relationship to himself.
The woman who’d consumed his thoughts for the better part of a year stood alone. Chestnut curls cut to her chin framed a heart-shaped face, a familiar face that haunted his dreams and woke him every night aching and hard. Only she didn’t look like Maddie.
His Maddie was a no nonsense, plain speaking, arson investigator, tough as dragon steel and soft as a kiss, who was more comfortable in jeans, funny t-shirts, and beat up sneakers. This elegant creature in a deep purple dress of some shimmery material that begged to be touched, sky-high heels, and lips a crimson red, was more like a Madeline than a Maddie.
She observed the men in the room with a carefully neutral expression. He could see wariness in her though—the way she held herself rigid, hands clenched in fists at her side, and how her gaze darted around the room.
After that first immobilizing jolt, his next instinct was to hold her, to tease that nervous expression from her eyes.
How was this possible?
She glanced his way as though the pull of his stare drew her, and her eyes flared wide, the blood leaching from her skin giving her a sickly pallor.
“Fallon.” She barely whispered, merely mouthing his name. His enhanced hearing would’ve caught the sound otherwise. He knew the sweet tones of her voice as well as his own, even strained to hear his name on her lips.
For a second, he thought she might faint, but Maddie shook her head and pulled her shoulders back in way that struck him as hauntingly familiar.
Her combination of resilience and vulnerability had grabbed him by the gut day one. A need that had only grown as they’d worked together, spent time together. Especially after he kissed her. He’d pumped the breaks and hadn’t let it be more, even though he’d craved more.
She’d disappeared from his life without a word. Leaving less of a trace than a ghost that she’d ever been there. Yes, she’d texted him a month or so later to let him know she’d moved, but by then he’d got a grip on his own emotions and let her go. Against all his instincts. Pursuing her would be unfair to her when he knew it could never end the way they wanted. Not when he’d believed her to be human.
Anticipation lit in his chest as realization sank in under the shock. Maddie was a dragon mate.