The Dragon’s Mark
Book One of the Faerie Crown Series
Neela, a castle servant in the Western Kingdom, has reached Faerie adulthood. When her attempt to escape her world with the prince she loves is shattered, she must adjust to the new passions and urges that come with reaching The Age.
Duty and desire conflict as she finds herself torn between three Royal brothers – Cabor, the youngest prince who stole her heart; Ranor, the newly crowned King, who wants her as his Queen; and Azor, the prince of her past, unwilling to let her go.
CHAPTER 1 – THE PHOENIX ESCAPES
Neela pressed closer to Cabor as the gale of woodland debris lifted from the ground, cycloning above them in the small glade. Leaves and rocks grazed Neela’s arms and legs, tearing at her damp clothes and whipping at her wings. She smiled as Cabor wrapped his wings protectively around her, cocooning them within his emerald and jade feathers. She cuddled into his warmth.
Neela shivered as his fingers stroked her silky, turquoise and magenta feathers. His pale amethyst eyes shined with emotion as he squeezed her hand, and his indigo hair brushed against his shoulders in the wind.
“Are you ready?” Cabor shouted as the hot gust of wind circled the clearing, trapping them within the wall of the windstorm and warming her chilled skin and clothes. The archway of braided trees formed the only entrance into the glade, hidden in the forest by the solid wall of evergreens stretching higher than the towers of the King’s castle. Above them, the treetops curved together, allowing only a small glimpse of the deep crimson Fire Moon that illuminated the dark sky.
Cabor’s fingers caressed her cheek, gently turning her face up to his as he brushed his lips against hers.
A sharp pang stabbed at her chest, and the pit of her stomach twisted in knots. Pushing him back so she could look in his eyes, Neela asked, “Are you sure you want to do this? To forgo being Prince Cabor?” Her gaze lowered over him, a small smirk pulling at her mouth. A wardrobe full of royal clothing, and all he ever wore were dark, tattered pants that looked like they belonged on a servant. No. A servant would never be allowed to wear such ragged clothing.
“I want to be me. Just Cabor. Free of my father.” Cabor cringed. “And his crown.”
Neela tightened her grip on their interlaced fingers. She swallowed, slipping one hand to stroke the piece of obsidian hanging around his neck – the official stone of the royal family of the Western kingdom. The smooth facets hummed under her graze.
Caressing his bare chest, her fingers traced the ridges of warm, hard muscle. She breathed in deeply as heat ignited in her middle, spreading in rippling tendrils through her body.
Cabor’s breath shook as he gripped her hips, pulling her more tightly into himself. His lips caressed her neck and nipped at the pointed tip of her ear.
Neela shuddered at the new sensation. Her eagle-shaped custos, the thing that had kept her hormones under control for far too many cycles, had released at daybreak now that she was of age. Twenty-two cycles. Finally. The lightweight metal cuffs had simply fallen off her ears while she slept. It was strange to feel the cool of the night on the bare skin of her ears. The touch of Cabor’s lips. It would take her ears a lifetime to reshape to normal – she had been bound longer than most.
Her fingers skimmed the tip of Cabor’s ear. His custoshad fallen off several moons prior. Every day since Cabor reached The Age, Neela had been terrified that he too would abandon her.
Cabor sucked lightly on her neck and stole her thoughts. Her breathing came in gasps as she allowed her eyes to close, enjoying the play of his tongue.
Cabor lifted her, his hands gripping her backside.
Wrapping her legs around his waist, Neela yanked him closer, pushing herself against him. Her moan matched his as she felt him harden beneath his pants.
He claimed her mouth, and his tongue pushed between her lips.
She slid her own tongue against his, sucking on the tip, tugging it gently between her teeth, then moved to his ear, biting at the point.
Cabor groaned, his fingers digging into her as his strong arms held her to him.
Neela’s hands dropped to skim Cabor’s ornuma, the sensitive area on his back where his wings connected. A deep shudder shook his body as she caressed him. Since Cabor had reached adulthood, she had thrilled in making him tremble and quiver as she stroked that special spot between his wings. It was supposed to be even more sensitive, more pleasurable, than her most intimate places.
Neela pulled her lip between her teeth, longing for Cabor’s fingers to touch her there. To stroke her and let her experience it for herself. She had been forced to wait too long.
His teeth bit just a little too hard on her neck, sending exquisite shivers of pain through her as his warm breath washed over her skin.
His chest expanded, and he slowly lowered her to the ground. “Not like this, Neela.”
She tried to sound confident, teasing, as she rubbed against him. “Are you sure?”
He groaned then pushed her back a little farther. His eyes closed as he tried to calm his breathing. After a wing’s beat, his eyes opened, and he took another step back. “Are you having second thoughts?”
Her eyes flicked to the blazing phoenix tattooed on his right shoulder. Lifting her hand to brush it, Neela’s touch was light, almost as if the blue and black flames of the firebird could burn her. She sighed and shook her head, looking back up at him. “It’s just so sudden.”
The wind gusted, swirling Neela’s black hair into her eyes. Her wings fluttered.
Cabor brushed a few strands off her face, tucking them behind her ear. A deep frown pulled at his lips, and his forehead creased. “If we stay, my brother will stop at nothing to separate us.” The muscles of his jaw flexed. “To claim you for himself.”
It was all happening too fast. She wished she had more time to ask questions. To say goodbye. “What about Sarayne? And Asenai?” Neela shouted as the wind gusted louder.
Pale blue eyes penetrated her thoughts, and her chest tightened.
Cabor shook his head. “Neela, there’s nothing you can do for Sarayne. And Asenai… she’s getting older.” His soft purple gaze met hers. “You have to think of yourself.” His lips caressed her cheek. “Of us.”
Neela tilted her head a fraction to glance at her left arm, towards the blue dragon tattoo hidden beneath the burgundy sleeve of her bodice. She took a quiet, steadying breath.
“Are you sure it’s not something else?” Cabor’s hand raised to cup her cheek. “Someone else?”
Neela lifted her head to look into his eyes and studied his face. It was so different from his brother’s, but she saw him there too. The smile that haunted her dreams. Her breath caught, and her heart quickened. Glancing away, she swallowed the dryness in her throat and shook her head.
Neela’s breathing faltered as Cabor’s fingers skimmed her chest, lifting the cut of obsidian he’d given her. “If it’s Azor–”
Neela’s gaze met Cabor’s, the gentle hue drawing her in, and the warm pull in her chest grew steadily inside her. “It’s not,” she said firmly.
He returned her smile. “Are you trying to convince me or yourself?” he asked, bringing the small chunk of volcanic glass to his lips and kissing it before settling it back over her heart. The brush of his knuckles against her bare skin sent liquid heat through her body.
A loud rumbling shook the ground around them. Overhead, the trees swayed as if a great storm was approaching.
Cabor smiled sadly, shouting to be heard. “I’ll miss your wings.”
Neela glanced over her shoulder at the vibrant hues of her feathers. Each feather tip looked like it had been dipped in gold. They shook in the wind, and she turned back to Cabor, looking behind him at the rich greens that colored his wings.
The Old World.
Like everyone else, she’d grown up hearing the stories. No wings. Yellow sun. Blue oceans. So very different from the violet light their own sun cast, and the lavender waters of this world. Few who crossed over had ever returned to tell of the other side. In the entirety of the Western Kingdom, she knew only of Nestau. Like all children, she had been enthralled by the Gatekeeper’s stories of his travels back and forth across the veil separating the worlds. But the old man hadn’t been seen or heard from in many cycles.
Cabor hadn’t shared with her how or where he had found the recluse.
She dropped her gaze to the clear crystal ring he gave her, the cool metal around her index finger. A copy of the ring he wore, and a necessity for crossing through The Divide. Without them, their memories of this world – of each other – would be lost.
A loud crack ripped through the trees, and the wind died, immersing them in an unnatural quiet – ominous silence enveloped the surrounding forest. An ink-black oversized ovoid revealed itself, hovering before them – its mirror-like surface reflecting Neela and Cabor.
Neela stared at the gateway between worlds. Countless hours she’d spent at Nestau’s feet, listening in rapt attention to his tales of the Old World. Of crossing between worlds. She never imagined she would actually see The Divide in person. It was like a myth. A very small part of her had thought it might not be real. Just a story made up by a crazy old man.
But, it was real. And, she was about to cross it. Into the Old World – where they had all come from. Millenia ago. She knew the history of her people well. The ancestors who had escaped a dying world by creating this one. Throughout the cycles, many had crossed The Divide, wanting to return home. Risking themselves in the hope of finding a healed planet. Now, Neela would see it for herself.
Her fear and excitement was reflected back at her in the floating portal. A small frown formed on Neela’s lips as she stared at their images. Their wings were gone. Her large, beautiful wings. She would never again glide on the wind.
And Cabor’s lustrous deep blue hair was darkened to dull onyx, his beautiful pale purple eyes clouded over like smoky quartz. Neela’s own brilliant sapphire eyes faded to an ordinary aquamarine.
Cabor turned to Neela, holding his hand out to her. “Don’t let go.”
His smile calmed her fluttering wings, and Neela placed her hand in his palm, her fingers brushing the clear stone of his ring. He took a step into the gateway, the surface molding to him as he passed through.
Cabor pulled her with him, and Neela stepped into the barrier. The surface wrapped around her leg in a warmth that felt like basking in the sun-soaked sand. Little sparks flashed against her skin, like thousands of miniature lightning bolts. Her head throbbed with the sting as she pushed through the portal, and she gasped at the oppressive heat.
The endless terrain of tall green, cylindrical vegetation was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. With waxy, urchin-like skin and crowns of white flowers – against the backdrop of a faded blue sky. Gone was the violet sky of the world she’d always known. A blue sky.
Cabor turned to look at her, his soft purple gaze shining at her.
Hands yanked Neela back through the gateway, her fingers pulled from Cabor’s.
“No!” She struggled against the arms that held her. “No! Let me go!”
The portal between worlds started shrinking.
Neela reached up, digging her nails into soft flesh.
She threw her head back, smashing into hard bone.
A loud groan erupted behind her.
The tight squeeze around her waist loosened.
She twisted and swung her elbow back.
He let go.
She fell to her hands and knees.
She kicked at the man’s groin.
She scrambled to her feet, sprinting toward The Divide.
He grabbed her ankle.
Neela crashed into the forest floor, her palms scraping on the ground as something tumbled from her hand. A ring. Cabor’s ring.
A second thundering crack broke through the trees.
The gateway vanished.
“No!” Her scream was loud and raw in the silence of the night as her stomach clenched. Hot, angry tears pricked at her eyes.
“Did you really think I would let you go?” The familiar voice called from the archway. Neela’s back stiffened. “Azor.”
READ THE REST OF THE DRAGON’S MARK –
BOOK ONE OF THE FAERIE CROWN SERIES