Smoke and Fire(9)By: Donna Grant
“It’s a long story.”
“I’m a good listener.”
Of that he knew for sure. They could talk about anything and everything, but there had been times they were content to just sit quietly in each other’s company.
Ryder blew out a breath. “You know I’m millions of years old and immortal. What you doona know is that the dragons were the first inhabitants of this realm from the beginning of time.”
“How many dragons?”
“Millions. Billions. I doona know for sure.”
“Do they all look like you?”
He was happy she was asking questions. That was a good sign. At least he hoped it was. “Nay. Imagine the colors of a rainbow. That’s how many hues of dragons there were. As for sizes, there was a wide range of sizes. I’m one of the largest.”
“And the king part?”
“Each dragon group, or color, had a leader. The strongest and the one with the most magic. I was such a dragon.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Kinsey said.
He frowned slightly. “Why does that no’ surprise you?”
“Because you have that look about you.”
“A look?” he asked with a slight grin.
Kinsey shrugged. “That look that says, ‘I’m in control. Don’t fuck with me.’”
He laughed, and she found herself smiling. Kinsey had always loved to hear him laugh. He did have that look of a man that others knew not to mess with, but she had also seen the boyish part of him who liked to chuckle at the silly things and have a donut in his hand at all times.
His smile died though as his gaze grew unfocused, as if he had gone deep into his memories. “The Kings of each faction held absolute law. But even we answered to someone—the King of Kings. The fiercest and most powerful of the Kings reigned over us. Constantine.”
Con. The name Tristan had mentioned earlier. Kinsey wasn’t keen on meeting this man. She had a feeling that no matter what, he would see her as a threat, just as Ryder had done at the beginning.
“As strong as each of us Kings were, there was only one who could’ve challenged Con for the title King of Kings.”
Ryder’s voice trailed off. For several seconds Kinsey waited for him to continue. When he didn’t, she prodded him. “Who?”
He blinked and focused on her. “Ulrik. He and Con were inseparable.”
“Did he challenge Con?”
“Nay,” Ryder said with a twist of his lips. “Ulrik was happy as a King. He didna want to fight his friend or have that kind of responsibility.”
Kinsey tucked a leg under her. “But something happened?”
“Con didna believe Ulrik. I doona know everything that happened, but their once solid friendship was cracked. Ulrik never wavered in his faith in Con as King of Kings. He was always the first to follow Con in whatever he asked of us.”
“Was that enough for Con?”
“It seemed to be,” Ryder said with a shrug. “Things slowly returned to normal. The mortals appeared then. Before any of us could figure out where they came from, we were transformed into humans. We learned we could shift at will, which made it easier to converse with the mortals.”
Kinsey wondered what the humans thought of all the dragons around. Had they been as frightened as she?
Ryder continued his story. “Each King made a vow to protect the mortals since they had no magic. We set them up in territories and ordered the dragons to leave them alone. For a time, it actually worked.”
“The humans. They populated at a rapid rate. We had to continue to move dragons out of lands they’d always inhabited to make room for the mortals. Every once in a while, a human would go missing, and everyone blamed the dragons. After one of those occurrences, a small dragon would be found dead with nothing but bones and wings left.”
Kinsey winced at the brutality. “That’s … awful.”
“We Kings managed to work around those difficult times to keep the peace. Some females had been taken by Kings as lovers by this time. Ulrik was one of those. He loved a mortal deeply, and didn’t just bring her, but her entire family into his home. He protected them, giving them anything they could want or need.”
“But?” Kinsey asked when a muscle ticked in Ryder’s jaw.
He glanced at the monitors, his face darkening when he spotted more MI5 agents. “Just days before Ulrik was to take the female as his mate, Con discovered she was going to betray Ulrik and attempt to kill him.”
“Because you can only be killed by another Dragon King,” Kinsey said with a nod. “She would’ve failed. Why not let her fail then?”