Tempted by Fire Dragons of Bloodfire 1
Tempted By Fire is the first in the enthralling new Dragons of Bloodfire series by New York Times bestselling author Erin Kellison.
Dragon shifter Thane Ealdian has waited six hundred years to avenge the loss of his family, and finally a clue has surfaced that implicates an old adversary. Thane will stop at nothing to seek his revenge, but to prevent violence between the clans, the Bloodkin Triad has forced a mediator on him. Some upstart named Emerson Clark...
Emerson is fed up with all Bloodkin and how they've managed to control every aspect of her life. While she doesn’t believe that Bloodkin can shift into dragons—because, really?—she has to admit, they are exceptionally nice to look at. But once the mediation is over, she wants nothing to do with them ever again.
When Thane discovers that the clever and beautiful Emerson is the key to uncovering the truth, he has no intention of letting her go. Although she wants to run, she can’t turn her back on Thane or her intense feelings for him. His quest pulls at her heart, just as his nearness sparks something dangerous inside her. With evil in hot pursuit, sooner or later everything will ignite—the mediation, the shifter within her... and their passions.
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"I love Tempted by Fire! I have found a new author to follow!"
- W. Montes
"This story was wonderful and had me glued to the pages from start to finish!! Can't wait for this series next book!"
"Tempted by fire was FANTASTIC and I look forward to reading more of this series. Funny and dynamic characters."
- Dusky Path
"AWESOME! ... My only hope is that Erin Kellison writes more either in series form or to continue the story of Tempted by Fire because it was just that damn good."
Excerpt from Tempted by Fire
The bones of a six-hundred-year-old skeleton lay on a wide, black laboratory table. Browned with time, they provided only a partial reconstruction of the individual’s form. The feet were missing, the ribs were broken, and the long bones were splintered. But the characteristics that had drawn Thane Ryce Ealdian from his long seclusion were the extreme curvature of the spine, elongation of the phalanges, and the ridges along the frontal bone of the skull.
Dragon shifter. Absolutely.
A single glance at the bones and heat seared through Thane’s body, so he looked away, giving his attention to Dr. Buckley, the head osteology expert on the Kingman Hills archaeology project.
“We’ve become quite fond of her,” Dr. Buckley said as he put on a pair of latex gloves. “Named her Anna after one of our team members who we lost during the dig.”
Not Anna. Carreen. And Thane didn’t care who they’d lost during the dig.
He swallowed his anger. Sometimes evidence of wounds survived the ages, even if the recipient did not. “Can you tell me how she died?”
“With remains this old, it’s impossible to be sure, but there are a number of clues that help illuminate her last days.”
Illuminate? Yes. With fire, if you please.
“She suffered a blow to the head near the time of death—there are no signs that any healing took place.” Dr. Buckley lifted the skull to show a circular depression. “Blunt force, but I don’t think it killed her. She was also struck here”—he indicated a rectangular hole, just to the side of the nasal cavity—“by a dagger or some other sharp implement. It too could have occurred near or shortly after death, to humiliate her or disfigure her face.” Buckley looked up and met Thane’s gaze, paled at what he found there, and quickly averted his eyes. He swallowed hard before continuing. “At the time, her deformities would’ve made her a pariah in her community. The fourteen hundreds were particularly rough on shifters of all kinds. I’m surprised she lived to adulthood.”
Thane took a deep breath through his gritted teeth. Not deformed. Carreen was clearly mid-shift when she died, therefore stronger, but also more vulnerable. Why she had attempted shifting at all, a woman who’d always denied the dragon within, was the mystery.
Dr. Buckley pointed to a long, thin indentation on the inside of her pelvis. “She also sustained a sharp force trauma here, most likely from a sword or dagger.”
The room went hazy red. A slice like that to a woman of high birth could have only been intended to make absolutely certain she would bear no more heirs.
Thane looked up at Dr. Buckley, who took an immediate step back.
“Tell me about the infant.”
“Of…of course.” Dr. Buckley turned and retrieved a small metal tray from the shelf behind him. In the tray was a piece of skull, darker than the amber color of Carreen’s remains. The few pieces of bone—what looked like a bit of spine, rib, and possibly leg—were splintered like driftwood.
“We can’t determine the sex based on what we were able to retrieve,” Dr. Buckley began.
Boy. It had been a boy named Rinc Ealdian. And now he was reduced to bones in a little metal tray. The child was six hundred years gone—six hundred years—and Thane still felt anger sparking the change in his blood. He breathed against it, concentrating on the chill of the laboratory and the smell of dirt that lightly permeated the air. Shifting now would solve nothing.
“The condition of the infant is even worse than Anna’s—the female’s, I mean,” Dr. Buckley said. “These bones were burned, though it’s impossible to ascertain if the burning occurred before or after death. As to the reason, the anthropologist on our team assures us that, again, the people of the time and their bias against shifters were likely responsible.”
Thane didn’t think so. The bias was more likely against the Ealdian bloodline. “There were objects found at the site, yes?”
There was one object in particular upon which everything hinged.
Dr. Buckley retrieved another tray. Inside it, a narrow white ruler separated the objects within. On one side rested a copper sigil, corroded brown and green, of entwined flying serpents. It clearly belonged to the Heolstor family, who were also claiming the remains as their own. On the other side of the tray were some bits of gold that Thane knew used to be earrings.
“The brooch was found in the female’s hand,” Dr. Buckley explained.
In her hand. Not merely near the body.
For the first time since Thane was alerted to the discovery of the remains, their provenance, and the fact that Heolstor was claiming them as kin, he cooled to ice. The brooch placed a Heolstor with Carreen at the time of her death. And if she had been mid-shift into a form she’d long repudiated, then something had awakened the dragon within her. Sometimes it happened that way for mothers defending their children.
“I still have to meet with the Heolstors”—Dr. Buckley paused to gulp, seeming to get his courage back up—“so I know that this might be a little premature, considering the claim hasn’t been settled… But I’d like to take the opportunity to request that the remains stay with the university for the time being. Before the Bloodkin became involved, several research projects were started. Very little is known about dragon shifters, and the significance of finding any shifter remains that date this far back is more valuable to the historical record than I can say.”
Dr. Buckley’s historical record thus far was worthless. “When will a determination be made?” Thane asked.
Dr. Buckley frowned. “I really wish you’d consider—”
Dr. Buckley sighed heavily. “The infant’s DNA was too decayed to test, but we’ve extracted a few of the female’s teeth and are hopeful we can find some intact there. Although, as she’s apparently not a direct ancestor of yours, it will be the Heolstor mitochondria that we’ll be attempting to match. Should be just a few days. No more than a week.”
If there was no match, then Thane’s claim would prevail. That he had to endure this charade was offensive in the extreme. Heolstor would pay.
Dr. Buckley leaned slightly across the table, as if begging. “I want you to know that I deeply respect the connection, regardless of how distant the kin, that a family has to its forebears. We would treat, and have treated, the female and infant with tremendous care and consideration.”
“No,” Thane said, failing to swallow the growl that followed the word up his throat.
A muscle in Dr. Buckley’s cheek twitched.
Thane sought the finality and release of her death that was long ago robbed from him, but he was met by the guilt that he’d ever doubted her. He braced himself to look at the remains again. “She’s not distant kin. She was my wife.” He then regarded the tray with the darkened bones of the infant, found himself reaching out to touch the skull. “And he was my son.”
Emerson Clark paused in front of the massive doors to the Empire Suite at the Santa Barbara Randolph Hotel. She smoothed her skirt at the waist and checked the tuck of her silk blouse, finding her clothes none the worse for the few hours of travel from her office in Seattle to Santa Barbara, where the university leading the Kingman Hills project was located. First class was definitely the way to go. Too bad the job took such a toll on the rest of her life.
She leaned forward, rang the bell—a hotel room with its own doorbell?—and had a polite smile at the ready.
Do your job. Give notice after.
A man answered the door, casual in jeans and a T-shirt—the quality of the clothes suggested they cost a small fortune. He was tall and fit, with a dazzling smile spreading across his face, making his blue eyes twinkle. Early twenties? The younger son, she guessed. Locke Heolstor.
His forehead creased in confusion. “Can I help you?”
She held out her hand for a shake. “The Heolstor family is expecting me.” She’d practiced the pronunciation of the name in the limo on the way over. He-ol-stor. “I’m Emerson Clark, the mediator requested to negotiate the Bloodkin claim on the Kingman Hills remains.”
“You’re the mediator? Emerson Clark?”
She smiled. “That’s me.”
He held up an index finger. “Can you hold on a minute?”
When she nodded, he shut the door again, not quite in her face, but close enough. She pursed her lips and waited. She was paid very well to take such treatment, and Locke had the perfectly highlighted hair and tanned skin of someone who could afford the fee.
She’d just checked her watch—now three minutes past the hour—when the door opened again.
A different man this time, but just as good-looking. Eyes and hair a shade darker, build just as promising, snugged into a perfectly tailored gray suit. She pegged him for the older brother, Ransom.
“Emerson Clark,” she repeated. “I’m here for the Heolstor family.”
“You are Bloodkin?”
“That’s what they tell me.” Just as long as they didn’t ask her to prove it. Because dragon shifters? Really?
“Would you like to see some identification?” She pulled her briefcase around and lifted the flap. Maybe then he’d invite her in.
“Emerson,” he said.
She glanced up. “Family name.”
“Indeed.” He touched her arm, stopping her scrounging. “That’s really not necessary. I was just taken aback.”
“By what?” Dropping her wallet back inside, she closed her briefcase again.
He opened the door wide and gestured for her to enter. “I thought I knew all the Bloodkin.” He inclined his head. “All the Bloodkin women, that is.”
That right there. That’s why she was quitting. The money was not worth the utterly cultish control the Bloodkin had over the members of their community. It was either in—with all the luxury she could ever desire—or out—with a life of her own. At least she hoped there was an out.
She stepped into a gleaming atrium, a chandelier of crystal and gold overhead. “Well, I’m here now. Shall we begin?”
“Absolutely,” he said, though questions still lurked in his eyes.
He’d just have to deal.
The sitting room of the suite—elegant in ivory, pale blue, and gold—was larger than her childhood home. Sunlight diffused to a warm, calming glow through the tall windows that flanked the far side of the room, and an oversized fireplace hulked at the center of the wall, a large bouquet of white blooms on the hearth.
But it was the seductive aroma of coffee that caught her attention.
Please, pretty please, offer me some.
She flicked a glance at the younger brother, who was on the phone. “I see. Yes. Thank you.” He gave his older brother a short nod and hung up.
Checking up on me?
Big brother gestured to the tufted white sofa, which turned out to be hard to sit on.
“My apologies, Ms. Clark. I’m Ransom. And this is Locke.”
“Pleased to meet you both.” She set her briefcase on the floor next to her feet.
“Everyone knows everyone in the Blood,” Locke said. “Where have you been hiding?”
Emerson sat up a little straighter. “Not hiding. I’m here, aren’t I?”
She hadn’t known she was so-called Bloodkin—the term applied to all dragon shifters—until a few years ago, and even now she was certain there’d been a mistake. But she had happily—gratefully—taken Bloodkin funds for school tuition, thinking she’d hit the jackpot. And this job had been waiting for her when she’d graduated, offering her a salary she’d been embarrassed to compare with others from her graduating class. It’d seemed too good to be true…and it was.
“Can I ask about your family?” Locke sat down across from her. “What is your bloodline?”
It was none of their business. “Convoluted.”
Consternation tensed Ransom’s brow.
Still no offer of coffee. Okay. Might as well jump in.
“I’ve been working with the Kingman Hills project,” she said. “I think they’re being extra cooperative because they should’ve informed the Bloodkin immediately that they’d found a possible dragon shifter.” Probably someone who had scoliosis. “I’ve lodged complaints with both the university and the companies that donated the funds for the research, stating that due to their waiting four months to notify us, the site was paved over for the new shopping center, which impacts our own investigation. Any data, photographs, and samples they’ve taken of the remains will have to be turned over to us, in their entirety, right away.”
Ransom sat down next to his brother. “That sounds excellent.”
She nodded. “I’ll be repeating the same to Thane Ealdian when I meet with him while you speak with Dr. Buckley at the university.”
The brothers exchanged glances.
“Is there a problem?” Please say no.
“Have you ever met Mr. Ealdian?” Ransom asked.
She blinked at him. “No. Not yet. Is there something I should know?”
Ransom opened his hands. “You might wonder why we requested mediation in the first place when the law is so clearly on our side…”
“I thought you might be anticipating trouble from the university as they’ve initiated several research projects since the discovery. I’m taking steps to ensure the research team’s full cooperation with regards to the return of the remains.” A female in her twenties, with marked deformities, and an infant, who’d been burned. They’d been dug up only to be buried again. She actually kind of felt for Dr. Buckley, who’d seemed devastated at the prospect of losing the remains.
Locke turned his head to his brother in a silent question.
Ransom glanced at him, nodded, then sighed and narrowed his eyes at Emerson as if he were searching for the right words. “We’re more concerned about trouble from Thane Ealdian.”
Emerson raised her eyebrows. “What kind of trouble?”
“He’s been known to be very difficult.”
“Will he contest the findings?” The female had been found with the Heolstor sigil, and the family had claimed her. DNA should solve this neatly.
Then she could quit.
“He’ll do something,” Locke mumbled under his breath.
Emerson cocked her head. “What can he possibly do? Unless the remains are not Heolstor? In which case, I’m sure you’ll give up your claim.”
Please don’t draw this out on me.
The brothers were silent. They weren’t telling her something. Her hopes were sinking like a two-day-old helium balloon. Well, crap.
Locke scooted forward on his seat. “I’d like to accompany you when you meet with Thane.”
Emerson smiled slightly. “That really won’t be necessary.” And it wasn’t appropriate.
“He can be very aggressive,” Ransom said.
“So can I,” she answered.
“He has a reputation for treating women badly.”
She smiled broader. “He does so with me, and he’ll have hell to pay.”
Locke seemed like he was holding his breath.
She scooted forward, too. In order to leave. “Any other questions?”
Locke scratched his head and went all golly-shucks, which didn’t seem like his thing at all. “I have one.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“I’m wondering if I have to wait until this Kingman Hills business is over before I can ask you out.”
Ransom turned his head to glare at his brother as heat flooded her face. “I’m very flattered, of course,” she said, “but I’m already in a relationship.” Which was a lie, but she was not going to entertain the idea of dating anyone from a Bloodkin family. Nope. Nuh-uh. No way. But they sure were nice to look at. This one was a little young for her anyway.
“Lucky guy,” Locke said.
Emerson stood, as did the brothers. “If you have any concerns about the remains following your meeting with Dr. Buckley, please don’t hesitate to call me. I’ll contact you as soon as the results are in. I’m sure everything will work out just fine.”
A girl can hope.
“We’ll do that,” Ransom said as he walked her to the door. “My father wasn’t able to fly in, but I know that this dispute weighs heavily on his mind. Finding lost kin and having its identity in question has been intolerable for him. And communication with Thane Ealdian has been…less than civil.”
That would be Gerard Heolstor, patriarch, philanthropist, and statesman before his retirement.
Maybe the whole dragon thing was metaphorical? Fierce negotiators, or ruthless in the boardroom. Maybe it was hype. And then at some point, maybe when the other shifter clans were organizing politically, the so-called dragons jumped on the bandwagon. There was a big difference, however, between a person shifting into an animal that actually existed—like a wolf, bear, or panther—and one that was entirely mythological.
The remains of one deformed woman did not and could not confirm the existence of dragons, no matter what Dr. Buckley hypothesized. And Emerson very much doubted that the Heolstor brothers could prove anything, either. She certainly didn’t have a dragon lurking inside of her. Well, maybe without coffee.
With a hand to her shoulder, Ransom kept her from exiting. “Could I trouble you to visit us at our family home while we await the results? Hearing first-hand what steps you’ve taken might settle my father somewhat.”
Emerson fought back a sigh. She was supposed to be at their disposal for the duration of the mediation. She just hadn’t considered that she would be settling a dispute between the families themselves, rather than merely between the families and the university.
“I’d be happy to meet with your father,” she said, though she had a feeling this was less about the old man and more about getting the edge on Thane Ealdian. “You have my contact information. Just let me know when is convenient for him.”
She held out her hand for a good-bye shake, but Ransom took it and held it. “If not one of us, will you please consider taking someone with you to meet with Mr. Ealdian?”
She nodded. “I’ll do that.” Consider it, that is.
The door was just closing behind her when she overheard Locke tell Ransom, “Good thinking. Keep her away from Thane.”
Dragons? She'd worked for them for a year, kept her eyes and ears open, and she still didn’t believe it for a minute.