Renege on a deal with a Dragon Lord, and become part of his hoard.
It isn’t easy raising three half-Fae girls in the Outlands. Her youngest gravely injured, Kailigh is forced to petition the dragon Lord Maddugh, King of Coal and Mountain.
Only he’s no fool—he knows Kai isn’t quite human. He’s not about to let a mate with magic in her blood slip through his fingers.
So she’ll have to strike a bargain. He’ll save her daughter’s life, and help her hunt the man responsible, but he has a price.
A price he demands Kailigh pay in flesh.
“What will be your next move, Kailigh?” He didn’t touch his food, watching her.
“I have some information I’ll follow up on.” Thunder cracked outside and she grimaced. “Evidently not tonight. The establishment wouldn’t take kindly to me tracking mud on the floors.”
“What shall we do to pass the time, then?”
Kai didn’t like the relaxed tone of his voice, or the now fully lidded eyes, as if he were hiding his slitted pupils. “I understand meditation is good for one’s soul.”
White teeth flashed, a little pointier than she recalled seeing before. “I’m sure. Tell me, why are you unmarried?”
Kai put her fork down, sipped on her wine. “My husband was a lazy lout and I had no desire to repeat the experience?”
His brow rose. “Why did you choose him then?”
“He was pretty.”
Maddugh’s eyes opened fully. “Is that all it takes to win your hand? A pretty face?”
Kailigh snorted. “I was twenty.”
“And since then? You raised children on your own under. . . trying circumstances. A husband would have been a help.”
“Maybe. Likely not. The pickings around here tend to be all of the same type.” And she had no desire to start over in a different settlement, or try her hand at applying for admittance to one of the cities. She didn’t have the temperament for that kind of lifestyle, anyway.
“So, here you are, a woman with Fae blood, unwed, and a proven child bearer.”
Kailigh frowned at him. “I don’t need any more children.”
She’d managed to raise the girls to adulthood, limbs intact. Why would she repeat the harrowing experience all over again? Of course, her mind whispered, this time would be different. What would it be like to raise a child in comfort, with a father to help, and no worries over food or lurking enemies? To actually take time and enjoy her child’s infancy and young years instead of constantly worrying?
She closed her eyes, listening as he spoke.
“There are benefits to you in our union. A rise in your living standards, companionship. Protection if at a certain point some fool thinks you vulnerable. Even a warrior can die by accident if surprised at the wrong moment.”
She knew that. If she were younger, she might resent him for pointing it out. “We all die, Maddugh.”
Meeting his eyes, Kailigh considered her options. Though not quite overbearing, he wasn’t a man who was used to being told no. He’d never really considered that she would tell him no—in anything. She owed him Cinvarra’s life, and had struck a bargain that gave him a kind of temporary ownership over their wombs. More than temporary, since any grandchildren of hers would be born his subjects.
“Do you know you never actually asked me to marry you? So, what is it you want from me? Sex, some amusement before you tell everyone it didn’t work out—it’s you, not me—and Kai is available after all?”
He didn’t move for a long, tense second, and then when he smiled. . . Kailigh stifled a flinch. His teeth were even sharper now.
“I don’t think you quite understand my purpose, mistress,” Maddugh said. “I don’t want a night from you.” He waited until she relaxed and went back to her meal, then spoke again. “I want forever.”
She couldn’t eat anymore, a kind of anxiety she hadn’t felt since she was a young woman in the pit of her stomach. “You don’t even know me.”
The push to challenge his decision drove her. She had to know he was trustworthy. Had to know this wasn’t a whim. He wanted her to bring a child into the world? She had to know that child would be protected.
He shrugged, and rose. “So? Even if I didn’t like you—and I do—you would still be valuable to me. And I would be a poor Lord if I allowed my men to take a treasure I found first.” Something flashed across his face, an emotion not quite human. “We are both old enough to know that unions aren’t always for love, Kai.” Maddugh reached out a hand, curled it under her chin. “Desire is a good start. I am tired of your doubt.”
Kailigh knew what he silently asked, demanded. His hand tightened on her chin, a subtle pressure.
“Try me,” he said. “If I’m not to your satisfaction, Lady, I will walk away and let you choose a better man.”
He stared down at her, his expression carefully neutral. Kailigh knew better. His shoulders thrummed with tension, his fingers on her face absolutely still. A predator who understood the wrong move would scare his prey. But she was no prey.
Kailigh stood, smoothing her hands down her skirt. “A night, and if I want no more of you, you’ll walk away.”
Maddugh smiled and reeled her in, an arm snaking around her waist. It was different this time. He wasn’t trying to woo her—he’d already won, been given permission.
“Is there anything I can’t do to you?” he asked, lowering his head so his lips hovered over hers.
Kailigh swallowed, the question telling. Her heart lurched, body tensing. It had been so long—she felt like a girl again. A damn shame, a grown woman like her, trembling.
“I’ll let you know, I guess.”
He laughed, then kissed her, lifting her into his arms at the same time to take her to the bed. She thought he would toss her down but instead, he lowered them both at the same time, cradling her as if she was precious. Then he stretched out on his elbow, continuing his kisses as his hand toyed with the buttons and clasps of her vest.
Kailigh’s leg moved, restless, when he’d unfastened the bottoms of her shirt, revealing a plain, serviceable corset covered in blue embroidery. She remained utilitarian on the outside, but she liked prettier things on the inside. Maddugh’s head lifted, and he stared at the cleavage pushed up from the tight lacing.
“Shirts on women should be a crime,” he said, a hand cupping her breast.
Kailigh snorted. It was such a boyish thing to say. Even a. . . centuries?. . . old Lord of the dragon Dwyrkin thought just like any other man.
Maddugh unlaced the ribbons, pulling the garment open to allow her breasts to spill free. She experienced a moment of discomfort—she’d nursed all three of her daughters and though she was often mistaken for one of them, she was still a grown woman old enough to have grandchildren. Certain things weren’t as perky as they used to be.
He didn’t seem to notice. Maddugh’s head lowered and he flicked a hardening nub with his tongue, his hand cupping the other globe. She hissed, hips arching a bit, and he trailed kisses down her ribs, pausing over the skin reddened from the flexible boning of the corset.
“May I?” he asked, hands on the waistband of her pants.
She lifted and he made quick work of unbuttoning and pulling cloth down her legs, taking her underthings with it.
“Beautiful,” he murmured, fingers trailing over her stomach, tracing each faint silvery mark of birth. “Three live births, all daughters.”
And he looked up at her, eyes smoldering and Kailigh knew a moment of panic. He looked like a man who wanted more than sex. Wanted. . .
“You can’t get me pregnant on purpose, can you? You don’t have magic that controls that?”
“Mistress, if we did. . . but if I get you with child, I won’t be sorry.” His hand spread over her stomach. “I’m tired of sons, anyway. They are defiant. I’d like a daughter.”
Kailigh snorted with laughter. “Ha! Girls are even worse.” She grabbed his hand as it cupped her breast. “Maddugh. . . I can’t bring a fatherless baby into the world. I won’t raise another child like that.”
Maddugh stilled, staring down at her. “Ah, sweet.” His head lowered, mouth brushing the edge of her lips. “You’ll learn to trust me, in time. And even if I went mad, and abandoned my woman and child, I have three adult sons who would take care of you both, and your daughters—after they took care of me.”
His teeth flashed, telling her what kind of ‘care’ his sons would show him. Kailigh relaxed, just a little. Objectively, she could trust in the honor of Amnan, even Hrutha. She didn’t believe they were the kind of men who would allow their blood to be abandoned.
Maddugh’s smiled deepened, and he moved down her body. Before she could demand what in the steamy hells he was doing, his mouth was on her. Again, as if the first time hadn’t simply been him trying to win her over.