An out-take from the prologue of Winter Kiss.
Magnus was confident.
He stood in the courtyard of his Ohio residence and admired it. He had bought the property because it included the access to the sanctuary of the Elixir, and had build this gated house upon the land. He liked that he could feel the vibration of the Elixir from the house and sense the arrival of any of his kind in the vicinity. He wasn’t that concerned with defending the Elixir from intruders, since any who entered the sanctuary came for only one thing.
That first sip of the legendary substance.
But Magnus knew that one sip never sufficed. It was simply the beginning of an addiction, the commencement of a dependency upon Magnus allowing that particular Slayer to have more. Like a crack dealer, Magnus was liberal with introductory samples.
He thought of it as marketing.
As a result, there was only the most cursory dragonsmoke perimeter mark around the sanctuary of the Elixir. The defenses against human intruders were much more serious.
This house felt keenly his own, because it was the most evocative of his properties of the gracious homes of his childhood. Ancient Rome was no more, but it lived on in Magnus’s memory. This house had a large central courtyard that was open to the sky. The way the house wrapped around it secured that atrium from curious eyes. There was a large shallow bowl in the middle of the courtyard, one that had never been used before this morning.
It was overcast and snowing on this Monday morning, the conditions obscuring the penumbral eclipse that would otherwise have been visible.
Magnus didn’t need to see the moon to know the truth. He felt a shudder slide through his body as the eclipse began. It didn’t matter where the eclipse was or how complete it would be – Pyr and Slayers felt it right to their marrow. In this final phase of the moon’s node, as the Dragon’s Tail demanded compense and balance, each Pyr and Slayer felt the moon even more keenly than before.
Most were compelled to change shape under the influence of the eclipse, driven to take their dragon form even against their will. Control over the timing of the change could be learned in time and was a measure of mastery over the body, but these times challenged even the most disciplined among them.
Magnus had always prided himself on his control.
But the Elixir had changed his metabolism, too. Once the Elixir ran in a Slayer’s veins, the eclipse drove desire for the Elixir to a fever pitch. The dragon side became stronger and more unruly, its savage impulses harder to control. Most Slayers who had consumed the Elixir shifted shape violently and without any semblance of control, then were desperate for another sip.
The eclipse fed the hunger in those who had drunk of the Elixir. There was no hard and fast rule as to how long any given Slayer could go between sips, as each succumbed to the addiction at his own level. The eclipse, though, teased the twinges of hunger to starvation.
The involuntary shift was graceless and inconvenient, and the only downside of the Dragon’s Blood Elixir, in Magnus’s view. His pride in his own carefully cultivated self-control made it a pricey concession, one that might have kept him from that first sip if he’d known the truth.
As it was, he fought his body’s impulse with every eclipse, determined to conquer this primal urge. He remembered that the Wyvern had been able to deny the impulse to change shape with the eclipse – since many of her abilities became possible to those who drank the Elixir, Magnus intended to conquer that skill.
To Magnus’s satisfaction, Mallory and Balthasar shifted to dragon shape as soon as the moon fell under the shadow of the eclipse. Magnus was still holding his own shift at bay. The pair almost dropped the large container of Elixir that they had brought from the sanctuary under Magnus’s command.
Fortunately for their own survival, they didn’t spill a drop. Magnus’s rage would have been uncontrollable then.
They poured the Elixir slowly into the large shallow bowl, staining its pale stone interior with the dull red of the Elixir. Magnus felt a quiver within himself and saw the two Slayers tremble more vehemently.
Mallory licked his lips, then flicked a desperate glance at Magnus. Neither had been allowed to sip the precious nectar as yet. They had only smelled it, yet their desire was almost overwhelming.
They wouldn’t be the only ones.
Magnus knew the Slayers would come to the Elixir, would come to him. On this day, he would fortify his army – and for once, he’d do it without conditions. He tipped his head back and considered the sky.
Watching for volunteers.
He was ready for anything except the ring of the doorbell.
Much less the plaintive voice that carried through the intercom.
Magnus recoiled from the childish tones of his current human lover, then anger ripped through him.
Mona’s tone turned pleading. “Magnus, I know you’re in there. Won’t you please let me in?”
Balthasar chuckled, then fell silent at Magnus’s glare.
“You will remain out of sight,” he hissed in old-speak, then strode to the door. Mona had many charms – including her willingness to do anything in exchange for the ability to shop without restraint – but her increasing demands were definitely not welcome.
Mona was a mongrel of a human, an eclectic mix of ethnicities that had come together surprisingly well. She was blond, but her skin was tawny. Her eyes tipped upward like Asian eyes, but were a vivid blue. She was as slender as a boy, but buxom, and he had immediately sensed that she was a slave to pleasure.
He’d seen her first in Azerbaijan, begging in the street, prepared to barter anything for a single coin. Her desperation had meant that he had had to possess her without delay.
That had been three years before. She could shop with gusto and a startling indifference to price, had learned to maintain herself fastidiously, was an enthusiastic lover and an excellent hostess.
She might have been a perfect consort, but unfortunately, Mona had developed a tendency to nag.
Magnus ripped open the door to find her on the threshold, looking uncertain of herself. And well she should. She smiled, ever the optimist that she could charm her way out of trouble.
Not this time.
Magnus scowled. “You know better than to trouble me here.”
She pouted, looking vulnerable and attractive, then flicked a sly glance at him. “I thought I might make it worth your while.”
When Magnus said nothing, Mona closed the distance between them and laid a tentative hand on his chest. She smiled up at him, fluttering her lashes in the way that fed his desire. She let her voice rise. “I just wanted to be with you, not alone in that big house.” She touched her lips to his throat, confident that she could bend him to her will.
His body responded with predictable enthusiasm to her plea, maybe more enthusiasm that usual given how close the dragon was to ascendancy. Mona was alluring, Magnus would give her that.
But she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And her affect upon him was irritating.
“Can I come in, Magnus?” she whispered.
Her gaze flicked past him to the bit of the foyer she could see, and Magnus again appreciated the Roman desire to clearly delineate between private and public. She couldn’t see a thing.
Mona’s lips tightened. “She’s here, isn’t she?”
“Aurelia.” Mona spat the name, a name that Magnus hadn’t heard in centuries, and he took a backward step in his astonishment. “Don’t give me that look.” Mona’s eyes flashed with rare anger. “Don’t pretend to be innocent. I know all about her and I won’t put up with it any longer.”
Magnus was cautious. “Whatever do you mean?”
“You talk about her in your sleep. You moan about her golden perfection.” Mona sneered, marring her own beauty. “You whisper in another language, but I can tell what you’re saying.” She jabbed a finger into the middle of his chest. “And I know that she’s the reason you don’t want to have a baby with me. Go ahead. Admit it.”
Magnus blinked. Despite all the things Mona had wrong, she had that detail right. “I don’t have to admit anything to you.”
“Yes, you do. She’s here. I know it.” Mona made to push past him but Magnus caught her elbow in a tight grip. He lifted her slightly from the floor and held her gaze, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to miss the signs of his pending change.
He’d hidden his truth from her, but maybe it was time to fix that. He let himself shimmer more vehemently and knew his eyes became reptilian.
She stared back at him, her horror obvious.
“Magnus,” she whispered. “What’s wrong with you?” She flicked a look over him. “You’re glittering. It’s weird…”
“I’m angry,” he said softly. “I don’t like being interrupted at this house.”
His voice dropped lower. “I told you to stay in Washington.”
“You had everything there, right at your fingertips.”
“I warned you.” He let his voice become a growl. “But you defied me, Mona. Now you have to pay the price.”
“Magnus?” Mona’s voice rose in fear, teasing his desire to a fever pitch. “That doesn’t sound good.”
Magnus laughed. “No, it doesn’t.” He bared his teeth and loosed the change, letting his body revel in the shift it did so very well. Mona screamed and struggled, but he held fast to her arm. His talons dug into her skin as she fought him, but he was deaf to her pleas.
She had dared to ask him about Aurelia.
Magnus would fry her for that audacity.
He saw the terror in her eyes, saw it give way to madness as she tried and failed to make sense of his truth. He saw her panic and heard her incoherent pleading.
Then he breathed fire, watching Mona’s hair light, her skin burn, her earrings melt. She screamed for mercy, but he ignored her pleas. He held fast to her arm and incinerated her, breathing dragonfire until there was nothing left of Mona but ash crumbling from his claw to the floor.
It made a regrettable mess.
The ash stirred as a dragon landed on the threshold of the house. Jorge, even more splendidly golden now that he was taking regular sips of the Elixir, surveyed the mess.
“Mona?” he asked in old-speak, his indifference clear.
Magnus nodded minutely.
“A task long overdue.” Jorge gestured to the sky behind him and his tone became more animated. “They’re coming. Just as you said.”
Magnus smiled that his new acolyte was showing such promise. “Come with me and watch.”
Jorge’s eyes glittered. “My sip?”
Magnus smiled. “Awaits only your arrival.”
No sooner had the pair entered the central courtyard than the first Slayer came spiraling out of the sky, claws extended. Magnus knew from the lacquer red of his scales that it was Chen, whom Magnus had befriended recently outside Beijing. Chen landed gracefully on the lip of the stone bowl, his scales glittering, and looked enquiringly at Magnus.
His hunger was obvious.
Magnus, ever the gracious host, inclined his head in assent. Chen dipped his head and drank greedily, the red Elixir running over his teeth and chin.
“Just as you said,” Jorge murmured.
“Of course.” Magnus couldn’t help but smile.
Jorge drank then, Mallory and Balthasar watching him with jealousy and malice. Jorge drank deeply, to Magnus’s delight, then raised his head abruptly. He narrowed his eyes and scanned the roofline, peering into the night sky. “I smell Pyr.”
Magnus’s smile broadened as he recognized the scent.
Not at the house but close.
His experiment had come to him, just as he’d hoped. Magnus would be able to finish what had begun.
“Perfect,” he murmured, almost to himself.
Excerpt ©2009 Claire Delacroix, Inc.