|Play With Fire (Set in Stone)|
Princess Raen has lost everything -- her parents, her home and her kingdom. She places her life in the hands of the only person she can trust. Her hero wears armor, but he does not arrive on a white stallion. He flies and breathes smoke.
Arsdon finds the city of Tylis in ruin and the princess he secretly loves in mortal danger. Keeping the promise he made to the dying queen becomes a true conflict between love and duty. Protecting the princess is an honor. Loving her is easy. Suppressing his desire is impossible. Giving her up -- heartbreaking.
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Excerpt from Play With Fire
Arsdon circled the burning city. Black smoke billowed from the buildings, the acrid smell mingling with the stench of death and defeat. His wings spread wide, Arsdon glided downward and landed on the terrace of the palace. He'd been away on a secret mission and the moment he'd learned of the invasion, Arsdon had raced home. Fear gripped his heart. Had the royal family survived?
The once magnificent palace lay in ruin, its walls blackened and pitted and its tiled pools dirty and filled with debris. Had he arrived too late? He folded his wings and shifted, his large dragon body shrinking in size. Tail and talons vanished. Broad wings disappeared and dark green scales morphed into a thin black suit of flexible armor. In the blink of an eye the fierce fire-breathing dragon became a hard-bodied warrior.
Inside the palace dead soldiers and servants lay among the shards of glass and pottery. Sculptures were broken, paintings were slashed and tapestries were burned. War had come, swift and brutal to Tylis and the great city had fallen.
Arsdon raced through the royal residence, finding only silence and destruction.
"King Lidon. Queen Danela! Princess Raen. It is Arsdon, your servant."
Calling out to no avail, he searched the residence. The rooms were in disarray, vases shattered and furniture smashed. The door to the royal bedchamber was splintered. The drapes bearing the royal crest were torn down. The bed was messy and dark stains were visible on the white sheets. Arsdon swore and walked over to the floor mosaic of the Sarga family crest. The tiled mosaic was more than a decoration. Arsdon kneeled and grasped the artfully hidden latch and lifted the trap door. "Your Highness?"
Queen Danela looked up at him and smiled. "Arsdon. I knew I could count on you," she said, her voice barely a whisper. "The safe room was our last hope."
Arsdon offered his hand. The queen's face was deathly pale and the bodice of her gown was stained a dark red. "Your Highness, let me help you."
"I am beyond help. It is Raen you must save."
Another face appeared, a beautiful face that filled his dreams and made his heart pound. "Princess."
Her lips trembling, Raen reached up and touched his hand. "We'd almost given up hope."
Grasping the Princess' hands, Arsdon lifted her out of the safe room. Her dress was stained, dark stains that smelled of blood. "Are you wounded, Your Highness?"
She shook her head. "Mama needs your help."
Fear laced Arsdon's heart as he reached for the queen. Her hands were cold and clammy. Gently, he raised her, but Danela's cry of pain confirmed his worst fear. The swath of cloth wrapped around the queen's waist was soaked in blood.
Carefully, he carried the queen to the bed. Arsdon looked at the princess. "Call the royal physician."
Danela touched his arm. "He's dead. Everyone is gone."
Tears filled Danela's eyes. "Gathon betrayed us. He poisoned Lidon and fled the palace."
Arsdon was shocked. Gathon was a trusted advisor.
"We found Papa crawling up the stairs and managed to get him into bed. They came for him," Raen said. "He was in agony, dying, but they dragged him away."
"I'd never seen them before," Raen said. "They weren't in uniforms. Their clothes were filthy and their heads were partially shaved. The leader grabbed me and threw me on the bed. Mama attacked him with a pair of scissors and cut his face. He stabbed her with his sword."
The princess sobbed, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Arsdon touched her shoulder. "Tell me."
"Then they took Papa. The leader said he wanted to show the people their defeated king, but he promised he would return for me. As soon as they left, we hid in the safe room to wait for you. I tried to staunch the bleeding."
Arsdon looked at Danela. He knew death hovered over her.
"You must take Raen to Valitar." The queen reached up and grasped the golden coin hanging around Arsdon's neck. "When she is ready, you know what to do."
The coin was a gift from the queen. The gift came with a great responsibility to protect the treasury of Tylis. Who better to protect our gold than a dragon?