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Blood of stars and gods, p.1
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       Blood of Stars and Gods, p.1

           Melissa Petreshock
 
Blood of Stars and Gods


  BLOOD OF STAR AND GODS

  Stars and Souls: Book 2

  Melissa A. 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 © 2016 by Melissa A. Petreshock

  BLOOD OF STAR AND GODS by Melissa A. 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.

  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.

  EPub ISBN: 978-1-945107-62-7 Mobi ISBN: 978-1-945107-63-4

  Published by Swoon Romance, Raleigh, NC 27609

  Cover design by Earthly Charms

  To my sister Jen:

  For lighting the match that built the lighthouse when I couldn’t find my way in the dark.

  BLOOD OF STAR AND GODS

  Chapter 1

  *Cait*

  Hiding under the bar of the kitchen island, balancing on the balls of my bare feet, the sound of his heart beating faintly hits my ears, and I focus hard, concentrating every ounce of patience I have left on controlling my own pulse. Steady. Slow. Stealthy. Silent. Hidden in a veil of dragon mist in my mind.

  The fabric of his pant legs brush together as he walks, giving away his position, but I learned my lesson, dressing in fitted dance shorts and a tank top this time, pulling my hair tightly into a bun. His heavy boots fall softly with each step, though not soft enough, not with my increasingly sensitive hearing. “Cait,” he calls out in a sing-song voice, “come out. Come out, wherever you are. I promise not to hurt you.”

  I almost laugh as I slip the small blade from its sheath in my hand, prepared, feeling the cool mist creeping up my back. Jai becomes visible, taking human form at my side, crouching low, smiling, eyes wide and mischievous. The little Mage dragon and I have become a formidable team, though pranking others as a practice method isn’t popular with them. In times like these, we’re at an advantage. He gestures behind me, toward the front hall, and I nod.

  Thank the Goddess for years of dance lessons and excellent flexibility. It makes this easier, creeping along the floor from the kitchen, into the hall, and around to the living room the long way, approaching our enemy from behind. He’s still steadily seeking my location in the kitchen when I get just near enough. Jai disappears into an icy vapor the second I lunge, weapon aimed.

  “Ha! Got ya,” Liam yells, spinning on his heel and grabbing me lightly by the throat before I make contact with the blunt practice knife, but he’s mistakenly left my arms free, and I twist, stabbing low.

  “I’m not afraid to attack where it hurts,” I announce, laughing the second he flinches, frowning at me.

  My tactical trainer removes the knife from my hand, shaking his head. “Dragons don’t procreate. It would have very little effect other than wounding our pride. We condition ourselves to ignore pain until we have time. During battle, time is a luxury we don’t have.”

  Shrugging my shoulders, I slap his hand away from my neck, which he easily drops, knowing his comment serves as a too-sharp reminder of Theo’s battle injury; that damn arrow three weeks ago. “But I wouldn’t be defending myself from dragons, and any other man, or elf in this case, should drop from an injury like that.”

  A large hand covers my mouth, and a huge knife grazes my throat, not close enough to touch, but too close to ignore. “That may be true, but if you take time to gloat over a single victory at your feet, you open your back to unforeseen enemies.”

  With a great huff of implied defeat, I ball my hands into fists at my sides, running my thumb across the ring on my right hand as I do, the result nearly instantaneous. The flash of lightning fills my penthouse apartment, blinding my ‘enemies’, the knife yanked away from my neck by an unnatural magnetic force, its owner thrown backward across the room as I stumble from the sudden shift of weight, falling quite ungracefully onto the floor. In front of me, Liam is ensconced in a freezing mist to such extremes he drops to his knees.

  Their jobs done, Dante comes over, reaching a hand, gently assisting me to my feet, and Jai retakes his typical form of a small, starkly white-haired man, not nearly as young in appearance as in mannerisms. “My apologies, Caitriona, I most certainly did not intend for that. However, the intent of such a call does generally result in quite drastic harm done to someone. Regardless, the practical point is that you remembered to call me this time,” the demigod remarks, vivid blue eyes dancing with pride at my improvements. “Excellent. Of course, I doubt either dragon quite appreciated the result.”

  Shaking off the sensation of cold, Liam gets to his feet again. “Nonsense. Rather have her use you two against somebody than … you did it right, Cait.” The brusque dragon shoots a harsh glance at Jai, flexing his thawing fingers. “But I think I would have rather had my ass shocked by Dante than freezer burned by the little guy.”

  “Do not be so sure of that,” Theo mutters, slowly making his way back over to us, the entire sleeve of his shirt singed beyond saving, the unpleasant smell of burnt flesh hanging in the air around him. “Dante held little, if anything, back tonight.”

  At my dragon’s side in a moment, I take one look at the freshly healing pink skin on his arm and immediately scowl. “Holy hopping hell-bunnies, Dante, what is this all about?”

  “Perhaps I would not react so harshly if I did not arrive to find someone using a real weapon in these exercises against you.” Both demigod and dragon set their jaws tight, eyes intense, glowering dangerously, waiting.

  A growl rumbles from deep within Theo, rising to a guttural, threatening snarl. “If Cait must learn, most certainly I will not allow for another to come near her armed such. Who do you propose to wield a weapon against her in my presence, Dante?”

  “Exactly who do you disbelieve can be trusted, Theo? Am I a threat?” he questions, voice warningly low.

  Wrapping his unburned arm around me, Theo pulls me to him, kissing the top of my head, breathing in my scent. It’s something I know comforts my dragon when he’s tense, which I completely understand, but I’m sweating from the past few hours of rigorous training, and his elevated body temp isn’t helping.

  “I trust Cait can take care of herself. I believe none of you would harm her.” He rubs his nose in my hair, and I roll my eyes, sure he’s messing up my previously perfect, neat bun. “I do not believe my instincts to protect her can be trusted not to override my sensibilities should I see another approach my ward … my betrothed in such a way.”

  Dante lifts one brow, appraising Theo meticulously. “Fair enough.” He reaches a hand out to his side, and the knife flies off the floor, where he had discarded it before, and lands with the handle in his palm. “I shall return this to you,” he says, waving it in Theo’s direction, less a polite statement than a dare.

  With one finger, Jai pushes the blade of the knife toward the floor. “No. No. Not nice,” chastises the little Mage dragon softly, beautiful accent thick on even tiny words.

  His lips tighten into a thin line as Dante’s ethereal eyes land on Jai, wearing an expression as dark as his hair. There are no two beings more powerful in the Earthen Realm, to my knowledge, no two I would less like to see go head-to-head.

  “Jaiteru, please do refrain from sa
ying those words to me once again.”

  “Play nice.” Jai smiles broadly. “No need.”

  Eyes narrowing, Dante glances away for a second as he takes a calming breath, holding the knife toward Theo. Anger seeping through in his sharp, precise movements, he exhales deeply. “Play nice. That implies that we are indeed playing a game. I do not play such games, particularly not if said games involve Caitriona’s life or any matter of her welfare. I do not care for nor delight in violence; however, it seems our path is quite fraught with it at every turn, and in order to ensure her safety, this is necessary, but it is most definitely not a game. You may choose to refer to this exercise as ‘Hide and Go Seek’, yet that changes not the fact this is a tactical assault simulation, teaching Caitriona both defensive and offensive strategies for engaging her enemies, if necessary.”

  “Who started the party without me? Liam’s frosty, Theo’s toasty, and Dante’s waving around a knife,” announces Claaron, walking in from the balcony, arriving from perimeter patrol. “Clearly, I’ve missed some sort of grand fun.”

  “According to what Dante was just explaining, we aren’t allowed to have any fun,” I remark, rolling my eyes exaggeratedly toward the demigod. “Never mind that I enjoy doing this. Apparently, making a game of learning is against Demigod House Rules, even though it’s my house.”

  “The point is that you learn, Cait, and I agree with Theo.” Liam reaches over and takes the knife, though I’m surprised Dante relinquishes it quite so easily. “Using a real weapon ingrains defensive maneuvers as your immediate go-to response under such circumstances. We’re facing an enemy with no qualms about killing, and taking your life is at the top of their to-do list. You have no time to panic if confronted.”

  “However, you must practice maintaining awareness of everything around you, even when masking yourself.” My dragon holds me closer. “It should not be so simple for someone to attack you from behind, particularly not me. I expected you to recognize my presence sooner.”

  Jai nods, smile less wide now. “I teach,” he states, and Theo nods.

  “Ideally, Caitriona, you will learn to recognize all your dragons, not only Theo. Although it is quite helpful to be aware of him, I believe it to be to your advantage to achieve a general sense of each one.”

  “You just don’t want anyone having fun, sneaking up on her.” Claaron laughs. “I think the idea makes you far more anxious than the rest of us.”

  “Forgive me for not having quite the jaded view of war and potential death that dragons do. I hold rather great concern for Caitriona’s welfare.” Dante crosses his arms over his chest, and I can’t say that his defensiveness does anything to alleviate the growing tension in the room.

  “Do not think us jaded, Dante,” says Oliver, coming out of the front hallway and joining us in the living room. “We have simply seen more than our fair share of it in our existences. By no means do any of us lack concern for her welfare … Jai, Clifford has awoken and is asking for you.”

  Turning to me, Jai’s expression looks almost sad in his worry. “Return to mine now?”

  “Yes, of course, Smiley,” I answer; giving him a kiss on the cheek, hoping it helps some. “Tell him I’ll come check on him in a bit.” He wastes no time, practically disappearing with the speed he moves toward their room. “How is he, Oliver?”

  “Nearly recovered, I believe. Jai should better assess the state of his injury, but the shoulder seems to have reattached rather well. Full range of motion has returned, but with significant pain.” Oliver rolls his shirtsleeves down, buttoning them at the wrists again. It’s not often he goes without his suit jacket, and his muscular build is more noticeable. “I’m afraid this is simply a matter of time to heal, Caitie.”

  I grin, despite the circumstances with Clifford. Oliver had finally gotten used to calling me Cait after much teasing from Claaron for being too formal, but between the still-too-recent loss of my uncle and the impending loss of his longtime ward, the always-proper Sir Oliver grew to be anything but formal with me. ‘Caitie’ was something only Uncle Thomas ever called me.

  “And Corrin, is he sleeping again?” He nods, looking to the floor. “I’m sorry.”

  Theo runs a finger along my cheek. “There is no need to apologize, Cait. His time may arrive sooner than expected, but you have done all you can, all you should. To die with a clear conscious, knowing he has found atonement gives him an honorable death.”

  “The time is not his yet, Theo.” Oliver remains firm in his hope. “Once he rests, his energy should improve.”

  No one mentions how much Corrin has needed rest in the past few days, how pale he appears, or that we all know it might not be much longer. “If we have finished for the night, I shall go see my grandson.” Dante gives a slight bow to me and walks away. So much has changed over the course of the past few weeks, but I think the opportunity to see Corrin becoming a better man has been the best change for Dante.

  “If you have no need of me, I need to stretch out a bit,” Oliver says, gesturing to the balcony, clearly needing space and time to think. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to see his ward dying, to spend a thousand years together only to be incapable of doing anything for Corrin now.

  “Oliver, I’d rather you not go alone,” I tell him, pulling away from Theo to approach the towering First Brother of the House of Pendragon, who looks more like a lost child than the most respected dragon of their house’s brotherhood. “At least, let Liam keep you company, even if he doesn’t stay too close.” Taking Oliver’s hand, I squeeze it, and he reaches down to wrap his arm around my shoulders, pulling me closer. After his little ‘catnip’ talk with me, I understand somewhat better why the dragons enjoy my nearness, the soothing effect within my blood, what makes me their North Star has, the irrefutable draw I have, and the danger I’m in. “Just be safe. I may have several of you hanging around, but that doesn’t mean I want to lose any of you.” Abnormal as it may be, this dysfunctional family we’ve become is all I have that matters. The way I hold his hand tightly for a moment longer, I’m sure he understands what I said goes, at least, double for him.

  Nodding, he gestures to Liam, and the two head out the balcony doors, quickly shifting, taking to the sky in one fluid motion. “Well, it seems the second I return, everyone has somewhere else to be.” Claaron smirks, and I just shake my head. “I suppose with Clifford down, I should go check the security cameras. He’d rather have lost his arm completely than have anything happen to his dearest techy toys and gadgets.”

  As soon as he’s gone, Theo looks around the empty living room. “Alone with my love. Why does it seem this has not happened in far too long?”

  Returning to his side, letting my head fall against his chest as he engulfs me in his arms, I sigh. “Because it hasn’t. We’re never alone. Hell, I can barely walk through my own home without tripping over a dragon.”

  I voice it with humor, but it’s truer than I could honestly tell him. In their excitement over finding the North Star and desire to protect me in my ‘human to eternal’ transition, they seem to forget being a part of the supernatural culture rather than studying it in school is still a relatively new thing to me, as in weeks new.

  *Theo*

  “Cait,” I whisper, kissing her throat again, falling from the height of such passion she elicits in me, unlike anything I’ve known. “Are you angry with me?”

  Her eyes meet mine as I gaze down at her, hair splayed across the pillow, face flushed, lips pouty and slightly swollen. “No. Why would I be?”

  Rolling onto my back, I pull her with me, tangling my fingers into her hair as I hold her close. I do not want to tell her how complicated the question truly is. “You seemed … more aggressive.” Though I have no qualms with Cait taking control if she so desires, I cannot explain that is not what I felt from her.

  She runs her hand up my stomach, gliding her way to my chest, then back down, stroking the light trail of hair, almost as if she’s petting me, and I can
not withhold a grin, finding an endless source of amusement in the strange ways Cait shows her affections. “It’s not because I’m angry, you crazy dragon. I’m just feeling very full of energy. Maybe the practice tonight has me worked up or something.”

  “Perhaps,” I reply, wanting to sound as if I see no fault with that response. More than two weeks have we worked with her, training Cait to defend herself properly, yet she has not behaved such any other night. “You have nothing on your mind, nothing disturbing you?”

  “Why would I?” Her tone weighted by sarcasm I cannot ignore; I worry for her. “Clifford nearly lost his arm. We’re lucky those psychotic elves didn’t kill him yesterday. And Corrin … A month ago, I’m not sure I would have even cared if he dropped dead, not my problem to deal with, but now—now it’s different. I don’t see how you do it, any of you, live eternally and watch people you know, people you grow to care about die. I don’t know how I’m supposed to do it, how I’m supposed to be okay with it.”

  Gently kissing the top of her head, I hold her tightly. “You are not meant to be so unaffected by such things, Cait. Your heart is too beautiful to be uncaring.”

  “And what about you? You can just act as if it makes no difference?”

  “No, Cait. My brother feels great pain in this loss. Oliver has not had another ward for the length of time Corrin has been his. I cannot ignore the difficulty he faces. There may be some truth to Dante’s belief we are jaded to war, to death, but I cannot be so callous as to not see what comes with Corrin’s death.”

  “Aside from the obvious, the sovereignty will be lacking a king,” she reminds me. “I doubt this charade Cedric and Evan are carrying on can last too long. Something has to be done eventually. I mean, Cedric’s been more popular with the people for a long time, despite being Corrin’s father, and he’s got the political sway internationally to handle it, but at some point, the public will expect to see Corrin again.”

 
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