Red dust covered Valentine’s aviator glasses, and he wiped the jutting lenses with a tired hand. Dallian veered without warning, diving toward the plains. The glasses whirred, heavy on Valentine’s face. The internal mechanism realigned the lenses to change focus as he and Dallian spiraled down at a faster speed than was safe.
His winged stallion had been cooped up in its enclosure for too long and was now acting out, eager to show off for the females. Several iridescent draglets were observing its aerial maneuvers from the corral. Their coos filled the peaceful silence. With more than half of the draglet stable in season, it was no wonder the handlers had asked Valentine to take Dallian for a ride.
Valentine patted the stallion’s ridged neck. “Just be patient. Lannan is worth waiting for.”
His draglet had bonded with one of Dragon Sol’s mares, and it was restless, looking for its mate day and night. The week before, Dallian escaped the animal barn in the middle of the night to reach Lannan. Once the mare was freed from the guest enclosure, they took off and went for a joyride. A few draglets were liberated as well in the process. The destruction left behind took a team of five a whole day to repair. While the other draglets didn’t stray from the barns and were found right away, the two lovebirds were caught frolicking over the Great Plains only after several hours of frantic search.
Amidst attacks from an unknown enemy and Mirella’s pregnancy, Valentine didn’t need to worry about his impetuous draglet as well, but he could understand the animal’s urgency to be reunited with its mate.
Spurring Dallian toward the manor, Valentine took a moment to center himself. Recent events had turned his life upside down, and he was still getting used to his new reality. Two months had passed since his wedding, a negligible amount of time compared to the span of his long life, and yet a mere sixty days had changed him into a different man.
Mirella, his sweet Blessed Bride, was the reason for his transformation. How wrong had he been that first night when he visited her in the Wedding Chamber. He thought to mate with her, fill her with his Vital Essence, repeat his visits to the Vestal House until she was with child, then forget about her. Since childhood, he had decided to avoid attachment to women. As was the fate of every Blessed Bride, his mother died giving birth to him. His father, Marcellus, never forgave Valentine for killing his bride, and Valentine never let himself forget. Marcellus’s hateful words echoed in his ears long after his father was gone. The last thing he ever expected was to respond to Mirella’s scent with a primal hunger that left him dizzy and craving more.
In retrospect, the attack against Mirella at the Vestal House gave him the excuse he needed to spirit his bride away and take her to House Lobo. From that moment forward, their lives tangled and spiraled out of control. A plot orchestrated by his former head courtesan led Valentine to believe Mirella was having an affair with his friend Dragon. The catastrophic result of that horrific misunderstanding was that Valentine challenged Dragon in a duel to the death. Mirella saved both from killing each other by exposing the truth. Valentine’s shorn head and the brand on his arm were reminders of how close he had come to making a tragic mistake.
His subsequent decision to never bed Mirella again to protect her from dying in childbirth didn’t work as planned. Weeks of abstinence were all for naught. While being kidnapped and fighting for her life, Mirella was already expecting his son. Valentine had rescued her from the clutches of Ronda and Mester Rado, but he would lose her in a few months. Unless he could find a way to save her and his child.
Saving Mirella was Valentine’s predominant thought. The task occupied his mind even when he made love to her. He filled every waking hour with a continuous stream of thoughts, because otherwise he would have to contemplate a reality where she wouldn’t survive. His hopes were pinned on his visit to the Brotherhood Library on Sidera Prime. Among the hundreds of ancient texts, he would find what he was looking for, a hidden truth that would keep Mirella alive.
The night before, Aretius, one of his brethren, had finally contacted Valentine to give him permission to visit the space station where the Brotherhood of the Wolf resided. Valentine had been waiting for two days already and was about to jump on the first space-bound freighter when the ancient werewolf finally appeared on the mirror in his studio.
At the memory, sharp pain held Valentine hostage for a moment, and he pressed his free hand against his chest as if trying to stop an imaginary bleeding. After having lived for so long, all of a sudden, time was of the essence.
Dallian sensed his master’s emotional state and slowed his wings, turning toward the manor’s entrance.
“I promise I’ll take you out again as soon as I’m back,” he whispered to his draglet.