By: Layla Heart
Sophia thought she’d be fighting the fae army, not her attraction to four handsome rebels…
Orphaned at twelve, half-blood Sophia, part witch, part water dragon, spent most of her life as a member of the secretive dragon rebel army, trying to protect kids like her. But now the war against the fae is won, the new kings have chosen her to rebuild the war-torn dragon lands.
First problem? She has no experience leading anyone.
Second problem? The area is dangerous, filled with renegade fae soldiers, still loyal to the old fae king.
Third problem? Or should that be her first problem? The team assigned to help her might be more of a distraction than an asset.
One spoiled fire dragon who won’t take orders from anyone. One broody air element witch carrying a lot of pain from his past. One soft-spoken werewolf with hidden strength. And one mysterious fae… Four very hot sources of trouble.
Can she save her people, rebuild what was lost, and protect her heart all at the same time?
If you don’t want to buy through any of the international stores, this story is also available in the Netherlands and Belgium as part of Fated Guards (Guarding Their Dragon Mate Collection 1). This features the first three novellas of the series and is available in ebook or paperback.
“Topaz!” Where the fuck is that guy?
I’ve looked all over campus and the tunnels under the forest are the only place where I’ve not been yet. Today, of all days, he has to disappear on me. Of course.
“Topaz! Get your ass over here! I’m not calling you again.” My voice bounces off the walls of the tunnel, echoes fading away slowly. I wait a couple of moments, but then give up. I have no idea where he might be, but it’s obviously not here. I tried calling him, his phone going to voicemail every time.
We have a meeting with the queen and kings. Our meeting was supposed to start half an hour ago, but here I am, still looking for the guy who was supposed to come with me.
Sighing, I turn around. I guess I’ll have to go by myself, find the guy after this is all over. Maybe he didn’t want this as much as he’s been saying and this is his way of letting me know. I never know with him.
I’m not even out of the tunnel when a loud crash and a gust of hot air make me spin around, followed by the bellowing of a dragon. What the fuck is going on? That sounds like someone is in trouble.
I run down the long downward sloping tunnel until I reach a crossroad. Looking to either side, I have no idea where the sound came from. Both tunnels go to the same place, but this sounded much closer, probably one of the caverns which have been used for storage. Only, which one, of the dozens of caverns that come out to the tunnel?
Then I hear it again, the loud roar, and one of the tunnels lights up red before the heat of the fire floods over me.
I break out in a sprint. I know that some people use the empty caverns to spar in, or do other clandestine things, since they’re empty and nobody really comes here anymore. But this doesn’t sound like a friendly sparring match, this sounds like serious fighting.
The sound of heavy wings and two dragons snarling at each other guide me to one of the biggest caverns that the tunnel system is connected to. This is a natural cavern, formed when they covered the old witch town and castle after the witch kingdom fell, the mountain is full of them. The new tunnels try to connect as many as possible, to make sure that they’re safe and won’t collapse because of the digging next to it.
I look up. Two dark red dragons are fighting each other, clawing, biting, roaring. They have no idea I’m here, they’re so focused on their fight.
The larger of the two, furthest away from the tunnel, opens his mouth, fire collecting between his jaws, before he lets out a roar and spits the large fireball at the other dragon. The smaller dragon swoops to the side, out of the way of the path of the fire, which means it’s now coming directly at me.
As quickly as I can, I pull my arm in front of me, creating a barrier of water around myself. The fire engulfs me, the heat still unbearable, but at least it can’t burn me in here. I hear the water bubble around me, the fire raging, until it’s suddenly over. My skin feels hot, like I’ve been out in the sun all day without protection, and that in just a couple of seconds, a couple of long seconds.
That… That… That asshole.
I drop my shield, glaring up at the two dragons. “Topaz!” What is he doing, playing around here?
The big dragon stills in mid-air at my voice and then lets himself drop to the ground, transforming back into his human shape before he hits the ground. He comes running at me, in all his naked glory, panic in his voice. “Sophia!”
The other dragon lets out a surprised sound and drops to the floor too, shifting into Topaz’ younger sister, Aideen, who also comes running towards me.
“Are you—” But before Topaz can finish his sentence, I swipe his feet out from under him.
With a thud, he falls onto his back and I jump onto his chest, grabbing his wrists and holding them over his head as I let out a low growl. Sometimes the only way to make sure this guy pays attention is when you make it very clear he won’t be able to escape you.
His eyes widen slightly, alarm setting in them while they seem to darken with something I really don’t have time to pay attention to. Our breathing is ragged, coming out fast, whether from exertion or from something more primal, I don’t want to know.
No matter how sexy he is, and his well-built body is a sight to behold, he’s been nothing but a headache today…
“We were supposed to meet the queen and kings half an hour ago. I’ve been looking all over the place, and now I find you here? Acting like the spoiled brat you are, battling your sister instead of showing up for the job you were supposed to be at?” I can’t keep the growl out of my voice, probably the most ‘dragon’ trait I possess, potentially the only one.
“Sophia…” Aideen is standing close by. “If I’d known—”
I shake my head, cutting off her words. “He was supposed to show up, not you. This was his responsibility. For fuck’s sake, Topaz.” I sit up more, letting go of his wrists, still looking down at him. Our breathing hasn’t slowed down, and it’s getting harder to ignore how his body is responding to me, or the heat building in my core. Not the right time. It’s hard enough to keep my feelings to myself when we’re this close, I don’t need him to find out how he makes my head all fuzzy.
“Don’t snap at my sister.” He glares, a different fire building in his gaze, his hands shooting up and grabbing onto my arms. “Leave her out of this. This is between us.”
“This is about you. You wanted to be on the team. You wanted to be a part of rebuilding the dragon kingdom. Then you have to show up when we meet our queen and kings.” I pull my arms from his grip and stand up. It’s easier to think when I’m not that close to him.
Aideen quickly throws him his clothes and he dresses, grumbling something under his breath that I’m pretty sure I don’t want to hear.
“When we have a meeting like this, they’re not your friends. I don’t care how long you’ve known them, or that your sister is best friends with the queen. When we meet them, as part of the rebel army, they’re our queen and kings, not our friends.” I feel like I keep having this discussion with him, he doesn’t seem to understand it.
“I know.” He growls, jerking his head in my direction. “I know. I should have been there. I was distracted.”
“You wanted this. You, not me, not any of the others, you. Our rebel rankings might not mean much here, but you’re still part of my squad, and I need to be able to count on you being there when I need you, especially when we’re getting our orders. If not for me, or for our queen and kings, then at least for the people who will be counting on us, who we’re going to help. We need to be professionals, not kids.” I’m getting way too worked up, but this means too much to me to let anything risk it.
We’re going to be rebuilding the area where I grew up, the town where I grew up. This goes much deeper than ‘restoring a kingdom’ to me, this is my homeland, the place I was born, to which I’ll always be connected.
The fae ruined everything, destroyed everything that was of value to dragon culture, leaving nothing in their wake, and I want to be there to restore it to its former glory, before it was defiled by the fae. I was once a kid in those streets, depending on the kindness of the people there, and now I can do something back for them, now I can help them like they helped me. I need to do this.
The people of the town are counting on us. Not just the people of that town, but all the towns in the area, they’re counting on us to help them instead of the slow suffering that the fae have been putting them through.
“I know. It won’t happen again.” Topaz’ voice is close and when I turn to him, his eyes are serious. “It won’t happen again.”
I nod. “I’m counting on that. Let’s go have this meeting.”
Because we still have to get our damn orders, still hear who we’ll be working under and how much supplies and other things we’ll be getting. What’s going to be expected of us.
And after that, I’m going to need a really cold shower, not just to get this burned feeling from my skin but also because of the heat pooling in my core every time I’m close to this guy.
“You’ll be heading the operation in the north-eastern quadrant of the old dragon kingdom, nearest to the werewolf border.” Finn, the Fae king, is looking at me, his voice clipped. “You’ll be in charge of the whole thing. The only ones you’ll be reporting to are the six of us, nobody else. Everyone else reports to you.” Finn looks stressed, which makes him sound even more strict than normal, and he’s not the warmest guy even at the best of times, at least from what I’ve heard.
I stare at him, then at the people at his side. Litha, the first witch queen in over a century, Rune, the first dragon king in over a century, Phoenix, the highest priestess of Litha’s coven, Bane, the werewolf prince, and Kit, the incubus prince. The last two aren’t technically kings yet, but from what I’ve heard, that will happen in another six or so months. Bane’s uncle and Kit’s mum are currently king and queen to their races, but they decided that it was probably better to ‘ease’ the six into ruling and focusing on only a couple of kingdoms to run at a time. The two have been acting as kings for all but the most day-to-day aspects of running their kingdoms after the short but intense war last fall.
I still can’t believe what Finn just said. They must be crazy to think that I’d be able to handle such a task? I knew I was going to be in charge of something but the most I’d hoped for was to be the leader of my own squad under Terra, my old commander, not to have my own fucking operation to rebuild a quarter of the dragon kingdom. “Me?”
Rune gives me a warm smile, he’s much more easygoing than Finn tends to be. “Yes, you. Terra actually put your name forward as soon as we mentioned the missions. She thinks that you’ll do great.” His eyes go to the side of the room and I follow his gaze.
Terra is sitting at a table with some other commanders and captains from the old rebel armies and she gives me a quick nod. My heart jumps. She thought I could do this? But at the same time, I’m scared of the responsibility.
Then something dawns on me. “What are they going to be doing?” I look to Rune and then back to the rebel leaders. “I thought they’d be in charge of rebuilding?”
Rune nods slowly. “They will be, but there are more things to rebuild than the towns and lands around them.”
“Armies. They’re going to set up a new army.” No way! “I want to be part of that too.” I step closer to Rune and the others. “I don’t want to be shipped off to some corner of the country, I want to be in the middle of the action. I want to do something.”
I thought I was going to be with my friends from the rebels, rebuilding together, bringing to reality all the things we would dream of in the darkest nights, but now that doesn’t seem to be the case. Now I’m going to be in some boring part of the country while they’re doing the cool stuff, now we’re all going to be in different places and I got stuck in the back doing the menial tasks.
“I want to join them. I’m a good fighter and a good trainer. Let me join them.” I want to help train people so that we’ll never have to worry about ourselves again.
“No.” This is the first time Litha speaks and even though she can sometimes look demure and soft, her voice is strong and so is her gaze when she looks at me. “We need you to become the captain of that operation because you’re a good fighter. The northeast isn’t safe. Lots of fae loyal to the old ways have fled into those forests and mountains, to the cave systems there.”
My stomach lurches. I’d forgotten about those caves. And if the fae have fled there, then the dragons are in real danger.
Litha continues. “We’re sending you as a rebuilding mission, that’s your primary goal, but that’s not the only reason you’re there. You’ll be guiding healers, teachers, people to run the towns. You’ll be overlooking the building of schools, hospitals, houses, shops. And you’ll be training people to protect them. You, and those who will be going with you, will be covertly training as many people as needed to protect those towns. What I’ve heard, you’re a great fighter and people in the area know you either from when you were a kid or from your work there when you were part of the rebels. Now you get to continue that work, but officially, with all the support we can give you.”
“And to exterminate the fae who fled.” Finn’s voice is ice cold. “We do not look kindly onto deserters, especially when they’re still spreading their terror wherever they go.”
Blood drains from my face as their words sink in, as the implications of their words become clear. I’ve been at the academy for too long. I got complacent. I didn’t think that things might have gotten even worse in my old town. But the looks Finn, Litha and the others are giving me, I underestimated how much damage could still be done.
Fuck. Hell no.