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       Fire of Stars and Dragons, p.1

           Melissa Petreshock
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Fire of Stars and Dragons


  Stars and Souls Trilogy Book 1

  Melissa Petreshock

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the word marks mentioned in this work of fiction.

  Copyright © 2014 by Melissa Petreshock

  FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS by Melissa Petreshock

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Swoon Romance. Swoon Romance and its related logo are registered trademarks of Georgia McBride Media Group, LLC.

  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Published by Swoon Romance

  Cover Copyright © Swoon Romance 2014

  To the two dragons in my life:

  Dad for giving me wings, teaching me to fly on my own, and giving me the courage to do so.

  Jim for loving me, encouraging me, and always respecting me as your equal.


  Stars and Souls Trilogy Book 1

  Melissa Petreshock

  Chapter 1


  “You see fit to steal from others, so shall you have your right hand removed. Guard, imprison him until morning, his punishment to be carried forth at noon.” One of the elfin court guards dutifully drags the man away as he screams, begging for mercy, his attorney arguing against our king’s outrageous decision. “If you wish to join your client, I will have your tongue removed for your disrespect in my court,” exclaims the self-righteous vampire, seated on his ostentatious throne, elaborate golden Celtic crown atop his head.

  King Corrin took no time in agreeing with the minister of defense, Z Von Yalfayr, infamous elfin warlord-turned-politician. Our monarch’s medieval sense of justice certainly detracts from his physical appeal; however, Minister Von Yalfayr is creepy on every level with his ghost-pale skin, severe jet-black hair, iridescent silver eyes, and hideous malicious streak. The fact the two determined their harsh sentencing for theft in moments, I’m inclined to stand and remind them this is 2189, not 1289.

  But I have my own problems to worry about, my own case to consider, and bringing the king’s wrath down on my head now won’t deter this mess from becoming a full-blown disaster. Court has droned on for hours already, though it’s winding down. Soon it will be my case before King Corrin and the sovereign council, my attorney pleading, my life on the line… Perhaps not in the literal life or death sense, but it may as well be.

  Smoothing the skirt of my lace overlay sheath dress, I exhale, breathing out the self-pity, then suck in the air of confidence, and sit twisting my ring. I haven’t forgotten. Wealth means nothing if you believe such a life affords you the right to pity, Caitie. It affords us great responsibility.

  The herald steps onto a small platform, announcing, “The Court now calls upon Master Fitzgerald McCurdy III, Esquire to present himself before our High King.” Hearing my attorney’s name sends butterflies straight to my stomach, so many possible outcomes, too many of them undesirable.

  Undesirable is a far cry from deadly.

  Mr. McCurdy stands, approaching the dais where the king and his small entourage of advisors sit as if hiding behind the King’s Guard—but not just any of the King’s guards. Positioned along the front of the dais, creating a lethal wall between the public and our king, stand the prestigious Brothers of Pendragon in black leather brigandines, their chests emblazoned with the Celtic-styled trinity knot of the Goddess encircling a green dragon’s eye. Lush inky velvet cloaks, as black as their raven hair, flow from golden shoulder plates to the heels of their heavy leather boots, forearms accented by golden armor, famous Norse swords at their sides.

  He bows, waiting with patience while I fight urges to fidget, my heart jump-jiving and swing dancing in anticipation, though the four notorious Dracopraesi dragons elicit their fair share of pulse-racing excitement. King Corrin raises an eyebrow as he scans the electronic tablet in his hand, and the new expression in his features unnerves me.

  “You hold the estate of Sir Thomas Hayden Greyson in trust?”

  “Yes, Sire,” answers my uncle’s longtime attorney. “All corporate assets of Hayden Holdings, Incorporated and all personal assets of the Greyson estate, including temporary guardianship of his sole descendant.”

  Anything could be on his Sky Book’s screen: my birth records, adoption records, everything Uncle Thomas paid attorneys to ensure would stay out of the public eye. But as we sit in a crowded courtroom with spectators anxious for tidbits of gossip…

  The king looks at him with a studious eye, and my stomach plummets into my toes. “The sole human descendant of a vampire citizen in my sovereignty. Yet the province found her lacking proper care according to this report. Greyson’s death occurred over four months ago. Why is her neglected status listed as filed only two weeks ago upon tomorrow?”

  “In the recent past, vigilantes targeted her for their association. A vampire, a man of high-society standing and vast wealth, seen often in public with an attractive young human female led to certain anti-progressive groups making slanderous accusations of Sir Greyson’s blood kinship to her, and claiming the relationship illegitimate. He wished to keep her out of the public eye in the case of his demise, fearing sovereign guardianship and protection would be lacking given her societal status. Until the assault two weeks ago, her life maintained a relative state of normalcy.”

  “Bring her before me. I wish to speak with her.”

  Our monarch’s tone is curt and harsh, what I’ve dreaded this entire time. He returns to reading whatever his Sky Book says, the details of my life. Once I’m facing him, King Corrin could ask me anything, and anything could run in the tabloids tomorrow.

  I rise, smoothing my dress again and make my way to the stand, careful to maintain proper posture, the clicking of my heels on the marble floor the only noticeable sound outside my deliberate breaths—steadying, calming. The king’s reputation isn’t for patience and kindness, nor am I known for always responding as propriety expects in such circumstances. Goddess knows Uncle Thomas paid for every etiquette and socialite tutoring under the sun in his efforts to improve my life… and my chances of survival.

  Mr. McCurdy pats my hand once I’m beside him and gives me a reassuring smile, but he’s not my uncle. He understood me, championed my differences and even my… difficulties, yet taught me how to blend in when necessary.

  “If it pleases Your Majesty, may I present Caitriona Mary Hayden, descendent niece of the late Sir Thomas Hayden Greyson, heiress of Hayden Holdings, Incorporated.”

  His introduction of me meets with an unexpected silence. My chest restricts under the weight of impatience, worse than in Swan Lake auditions as I waited to see my name listed as “Princess Odette”.

  Glancing around, wishing one of them would say something, anything, my eyes lock with the King’s Guard standing nearest to me. Tall, but not the tallest of the four, he has glossy black hair that falls to his shoulders in soft waves, framing his dark angular features, accentuated by rugged black stubble; though it’s his eyes leaving me breathless, an unusual marbled green.

  Dragon eyes.

  Averting my gaze, steadying my breath, I find the king examining me head-to-toe. Here I am on display at his pleasure. Sheer propriety prevents eye-rolling on my part. Perhaps I should entertain him, kick
off my heels, hum what I remember of “Allegro Semplice,” and perform an impromptu ballet recital.

  “Miss Hayden, what is it you ask me to do for you?”

  I want to say I’m not asking King Corrin to do anything for me. I want to tell him to go stick his archaic laws up his ass and mind his own damn business, while I take care of myself. I want to remind him that many decades ago, before humans had any clue these supernatural species even existed, the legal age of adulthood was eighteen, so at twenty-one, I should be on my own perfectly fine. I want to give him an earful of my opinions regarding his many gender-specific laws. But I’m not stupid.

  “Your Highness,” I begin, imploring him with my finest façade of submissive woman possible. “I put forth a request the court pardon me from the female dependant laws due to my financial status. I have the means to hire personal security, if necessary, ensuring my safety after this incident and the reliable resources of Mr. McCurdy and his law firm to manage all inherited assets until the sovereignty deems me ‘of age’ in nine years.”

  I do my best to balance expected femininity while remaining confident and sounding professional, as though I have some experience in a courtroom setting rather than parroting what my attorney and I rehearsed countless hours the past few days, desperate to avoid a detestable arranged marriage of one-sided benefits. I need no help finding men who want to use me as a doorway to a high-society life.

  But given sovereign law, even making this request is a dangerous move. The king saying ‘no’ is not the worst that could happen.

  “My uncle wished for my safety and happiness, Your Majesty.”

  “Most certainly something with which I empathize,” says Cedric Corrigan, the king’s father, his tone reassuring. As he glances at his two sons on the dais, a twinge of jealousy creeps in, coiling around my heart. Such fatherly love and caring in his eyes. “However, I fear the remedy you seek to your situation is quite impossible.”

  America’s monarch appraises me again, expression thoughtful this time. “Do you have additional information regarding these targeted attacks? The assault?” My stomach catapults with my heart into my throat. Threat assessment review, determination of safety, call it what you will—these are standard procedures for cases involving women. Goddess forbid a woman attempt independence. One toe over the line of propriety, and the failing point is lacking a man lording over you.

  I glance away rather than glaring at the king, allowing Mr. McCurdy to answer. I don’t pay him to stand here doing nothing. The dragon catches my attention again. My breath hitches. He’s not obvious in the way he watches, but he is, intently, and there’s a frightening thrill to it, an excitement… an allure, everything the dragons themselves are. Refocusing on the dais, the distraction remains.

  He’s watching.

  “I transferred a file with the pertinent information regarding her case this morning. The harassment against Cait went on for several months, but the incident two weeks ago marks an extreme escalation in their violence. In an assault on her in the campus parking lot at the University of Massachusetts here in Boston, the attackers left her beaten and bloodied until another student found her, notifying emergency assistance.”

  Self-conscious of the healing cuts and bruises on my face, I’ve covered them with makeup the best I can. Any vampire’s eyesight will see past the cover, recognizing the tiniest discolorations, lacerations, and imperfections. They don’t miss much. With the way the king sits scrutinizing my every feature, I doubt he has.

  “Jennifer, send the file.” King Corrin demands, his tone sharp and authoritative, just as I expect from our monarch, a distinct contrast to his attractive physical appearance: the dark blond hair, blue-gray eyes, cleft chin, those dimples seen when working the PR angle. But there is nothing attractive about the king who sits on his throne.

  A dark brown-haired secretary at a desk off to the side responds to him. “You should have it now, Your Highness.” The five men holding court pick up Sky Book tablets, scanning quickly across the screens, and I focus on a mental review of the Fae adolescent development stages, preparing for my exam tomorrow… and hoping I’ll be there taking it.

  Deep growling reverberates throughout the room, but someone grabs my hand, pulling me hard, hiding me behind their back before I can argue, or even react, while those curious spectators packed into the courtroom now scurry out in a panic.

  The body pressed against mine isn’t Mr. McCurdy, protecting the heiress to his livelihood. Towering over my five-foot-four height, back-to-back, lean, hardened muscle presses against me, radiating unnatural heat. The hand holding me as he’s prepared to defend me from any attack is large yet elegant and powerful. I dare a glance. Glossy black hair brushes his shoulders. My heart races, but I take a deep breath and peek around to see what’s happening, finding he glances down at me, curiosity dancing across his features as his eyes meet mine.

  I grin and shrug. “What?” I whisper, mustering a sarcastic bite to the word.

  He grins back, excitement glistening in his green eyes, but says nothing. Maybe dragons are adrenaline junkies.

  Returning to my effort of peeking beyond him, the king stands, Sky Book crushed in his hands, fangs out, red-eyed in fury, and the obvious source of the ferocious growling.

  Damned if I don’t have to clap my hand over my mouth, stifling ill-timed giggling, but I can’t help finding our picture-perfect king losing his composure in public funny. His family and advisors on the dais, as well as the other three Brothers of Pendragon gather around him, speaking in hushed whispers. The dragon with me makes no move to join, though he casts amused glances over his shoulder as I pull myself together.

  After a minute or two, the tallest of the King’s Guard approaches us, and I come out from behind my unexpected protector, forcing a straight face. “Milady,” he addresses with an embarrassing yet flattering formal bow. “I am Sir Oliver Pendragon, Captain of the King’s Guard. His Majesty wishes to discuss this in private. Please follow me.”

  His beautiful intense green eyes hold me in a mesmerizing gaze for a moment, the same coloration as the dragon who came to my aid, though different somehow. Sir Oliver’s wavy black hair has less than two inches’ length to it, and his isn’t stubble but rather a well-trimmed beard. A devastatingly handsome dragon, as they all are.

  Turning his attention to his brother allows me to refocus. “What about my attorney?” I ask, gesturing to Mr. McCurdy, huddled behind a bench.

  Sir Oliver shoots a disappointed glare in my lawyer’s direction. “My apologies, milady, but this is a private matter, not sovereign business. The clan invites only you.”

  I’m not sure how to respond. We came here because of sovereign law broken, for a public hearing, but I don’t have the opportunity to say anything. “Give me a few moments, brother,” says the dragon still looming at my shoulder.

  “Of course,” he replies after a prolonged silence, and without another word, walks away.

  The long-haired dragon moves to stand facing me. “I am Theo Pendragon.” His deep voice and indescribably appealing accent quickens my pulse. “I apologize if my actions have alarmed you, Miss Hayden, or if my brother Oliver seems harsh.”

  Once Theo opened his mouth, speaking straight to me, I stopped breathing, wanting to catch every nuance without the slightest distracting sound. In his unusual accent, every word is the sexiest I’ve heard spoken, with ‘apologize’ gliding out as ‘ohpohloshize,’ his brother’s name rolling off his tongue in the sound of ‘Oohleevah,’ emphasizing the ‘vah,’ and ‘harsh’ a mere ‘ahsh’ breathed in a heavy sigh.

  Middle Eastern? Mediterranean? Some ancient Fae dialect? It’s unrecognizable, not distinctly British like Sir Oliver’s.

  Never have I heard an accent such as Theo Pendragon’s.

  Mr. McCurdy interrupts my thoughts, my dangerous attraction, playing with fire. “What’s this about her meeting with the clan alone? I cannot in good conscience allow her to go unrepresented into any negotiation r
egarding her rights and protection.”

  The dragon’s gaze falls to the balding man, his expression dark and serious. “I assure you, Miss Hayden shall remain under my protection. I will see to her care.”

  “She’s practically family to me.” I appreciate the sentiment, considering he worked for my uncle from his first day out of law school, but his voice shakes as he speaks, fear glaring in his eyes, averted from the dragon’s gaze. “Why should I trust her into your care?” he questions the King’s Guard.

  Hayden Holdings does not pay this man enough to do anything so crazy.

  “Dare you question the word of the Dracopraesi, the honor of the House of Pendragon?” Each syllable bears a fierce passion intense enough to burn a hole through any further argument, and my attorney shakes his head, giving me an awkward kiss on the cheek, mumbling about taking a cab home and leaving the car and driver for me as he hurries away.

  “So now what?”

  Theo looks at me, grinning. “You are standing in the royal courtroom with a dragon while the monarchal clan of vampires awaits you, yet you ask ‘so now what’ as if we are shopping at the Celtic Royal Galleria, and you cannot decide between the eatery market or a shoe store.” He shakes his head. “Are you sure you’re human?”

  “Are you sure you’re a dragon?” I counter. “If you read my soul, why ask questions you know the answers to?”

  I think he swears in something other than English under his breath.

  “So now we join them in the conference room and find out what they are offering. I will ensure negotiations work as much in your favor as possible and keep you safe.” He states this without taking his eyes off mine.

  “You’re going to do that for me, yet you’re one of the King’s Guard. And not just any of the Guard, but one of the elite four dragon brothers on the Guard.” Unbelievable.

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