Engaged to Prince Urbanus of Regalia, Gemma knows that her fiancé ordered the assassination of her best friend—but has been told that he’s her HeartKeeper. Caught between her destiny and her moral duty, she decides to take vengeance upon Urbanus after the wedding night. Gemma’s not counting on more dark revelations about Urbanus, much less his beguiling charm. Alone in his palace, Gemma can only rely upon herself to ensure her survival—or can she trust the mysterious stranger who pledges to aid her, for reasons unknown?
An excerpt from Wyvern’s Prince:
“I could mindbend Gemma,” Troy offered.
“You could, but I prefer you tanned and not toasted,” Drakina replied.
Gemma leaned against the wall of the corridor outside the new couple’s chambers and eavesdropped on their conversation. She had intended to make one last visit to her new nephew before her own wedding and Drakina and Troy’s subsequent departure for Terra, but hearing her name had brought her to a stop. She was glad of her keen dragon hearing, and her ability to remain completely still. An observer might have thought her struck to stone.
Fortunately, the serving maid who had left the chamber and failed to completely close the door was walking in the opposite direction. She hadn’t noticed Gemma at all.
Felice, Gemma’s pet pavofel, sat between Gemma’s feet and the wall, then wrapped her tail around herself. The pavofel was a feline creature, bred to splendor on Cumae, with blue and green fur that resembled the feathers of the peacock known on other worlds. Felice was particularly pretty, sporting two dozen ‘eyes’ in the fur of her wide and lush tail. It always amazed Gemma how Felice could seem to disappear in the shadows, given the bright hues of her fur. Once seated, Felice was completely motionless. Only the glow of her luminous green eyes revealed her presence.
It must be true that pavofels chose their companions and caregivers, because Gemma and Felice seemed to understand each other perfectly.
“But you can’t let her just marry Urbanus,” Troy protested. “We know too much about his nature.”
“I doubt we can stop her,” Drakina replied, her tone suspiciously temperate. “Gemma is determined to marry Urbanus, just as Father planned, and ensure the treaty is made between the two kingdoms. You’ll never change the thinking of two royal dragons.”
“And you’re not going to intervene?” Troy demanded. “Even if she’s stepping into a trap?”
“You do not know that.”
Troy snorted. “I don’t have to be a MindBender to know that Urbanus is a sneak.”
Drakina’s tone turned thoughtful. “It is for the good of both kingdoms to make the alliance. Gemma knows as much as we do and she’s agreed to marry him.”
“But Urbanus arranged for the death of Arista…”
“Gemma knows that. Arista was her best friend.”
“I know she knows that. It’s why she hates me.” Troy could be heard pacing. Gemma’s heart filled with disgust that her older sister’s husband had been the assassin who’d killed her best friend. Her argument, though, was with the instigator of the agreement, not the man who’d been given the job.
She knew enough about the Gloria Furora to understand that any choice Troy had been given wouldn’t really have been a choice. His own death would probably have been the only other option available.
She might not be able to blame him for what he’d done, but she didn’t have to like him.
How could Drakina have married a man, even her HeartKeeper, who could influence her thoughts? It was incomprehensible that Drakina was happy with a MindBender.
Maybe her big sister was more influenced by her husband than she realized.
“You should let me MindBend her about that, at least,” Troy said and Gemma bristled at the suggestion. “The way she looks at me makes me uneasy.”
“If you used your MindBending abilities, she would do more than glare at you. You would not survive the day.”
Gemma nodded agreement with that.
“But why is she going? Why did she agree?”
“Gemma must have her reasons.”
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Troy said. “She plans to avenge Arista.”
Gemma straightened, impressed that he was the only one on Incendium who seemed to have guessed her plan. Or at least said it aloud. It was possible her father knew.
“I do not know.” Drakina’s tone was so mild that Gemma wondered whether her sister had guessed as well.
“But she can do that without marrying him!” Troy insisted. “There’s a piece of the puzzle missing. Drakina, I can find it.”
“I learned early in this palace that whenever you have not been told some detail, it is because that information is not yours to know,” Drakina replied curtly. “It is folly to provoke tempers in a household of dragons.”
“Do you not understand that they are all on guard because they know what you can do? If you MindBend any of them, when I have vowed that you would not, even I will not be able to save you. Troy! Do not attempt this thing.”
“You promised them I wouldn’t use my powers?” Troy was clearly surprised.
“It was the only way to gain you access to my father’s court. You are Terran, a race he cannot tolerate. You are a MindBender, a kind he finds despicable. Even being Carrier of the Seed and my HeartKeeper was not enough for my father to allow you to step over the threshold given those credentials.”
“Go ahead. Build my ego a little more.”
“Troy! I love you. Is that not sufficient?”
Troy made an exasperated noise, evidence that Drakina’s love wasn’t enough. Gemma had always thought that the minstrels who insisted that love conquered all were taking a simplistic view. Here was proof. “I feel like my only value is as a stud.”
Drakina laughed, and her voice turned sultry. “Is that so bad? Come to bed, stud, and I will remind you of the benefits.”
“It’s not funny, princess. I need to use my powers. I need to do something.”
“And you will have plenty to do once we get to Terra. I have invited my father to come and hunt, and he will arrive within days of our return there. You will be more than busy ensuring that no Terran notices a dragon king in the vicinity.” Drakina sighed. “He is not accustomed to keeping a low profile, after all.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“Look at the upside. His visit might improve his view of Terrans.”
Troy scoffed, revealing his view of that possibility. Gemma was inclined to agree with him. Their father, Ouros, was slow to abandon any conviction. “Now, what about Gemma?”
“She can defend herself.”
“What kind of family is this?” Troy demanded. I thought you watched over each other!”
Gemma felt the air chill and could easily imagine the look her sister was giving her new husband. She was tempted to peek and see if he took a step back.
“We also support each other’s choices,” Drakina said.
“But nothing, Troy.” Drakina finally lost patience and her voice rose. There were probably sparks flying from the ends of her hair. “Gemma has chosen. I do not understand her decision. I have tried to talk to her about it, but she is determined. She must have a reason. She must have a plan. She clearly is not going to share it, and she would share it if she needed help.”
“She could be wrong.”
“It is less probable statistically that Gemma is wrong than any of my other sisters.”
Gemma smiled and nodded at that.
Drakina continued. “She did train with the Warrior Maidens of Cumae, you know.”
“And Prince Urbanus is one sneaky bastard. How can your father let her marry him at all?”
“He had his doubts. Gemma volunteered to secure the alliance.”
“Why? It’s nuts, princess.”
“Gemma is not crazy.”
“So, that’s it? You’re just going to let her go and if she’s wrong, well, you still have ten more sisters?”
“She is not wrong. Gemma is never wrong.”
Gemma heard Troy pacing the room. “And you won’t let me use my powers to find out her plan, even if it might save her,” he said with exasperation. “What’s the point of our being together if we aren’t a team?”
“Some would say our son Gravitas was the point.”
“Do you really love me, Drakina, or did you just want the Seed from me?”
Gemma winced and moved away, unwilling to hear the rest of their argument. Were all marriages compromises, even those between HeartKeepers? Was the promise of true love a lie? Gemma didn’t want it to be. Or was Drakina’s happiness compromised because Troy was a MindBender? Gemma wished she knew for sure. She wanted the kind of marriage her parents had, but didn’t think she’d get it.
She might as well marry Urbanus, conceive his son, and then kill him for his crime.
There was a good precedent for that in the mating ritual of her cousins, after all. They always killed the Carrier of the Seed once his precious burden had been delivered. She could raise the boy herself and manage it easily.
Her choice wasn’t really that hard to understand, or it wouldn’t have been if she’d told anyone of the master astrologer’s forecast.
Gemma had known her fate for years.
She’d told no one.
She’d sworn the astrologer to secrecy, and he had taken the truth to his grave.
Her HeartKeeper was the Prince of Regalia who would be king, the son of Queen Arcana whose true nature was disguised. She’d wondered about the prophecy when Drakina had been betrothed to Canto, but that prince’s death had made everything more clear. Urbanus was the crown prince, so would eventually be king of Regalia. Although she was skeptical that his true nature was better than what she’d seen so far, Gemma had to believe a master astrologer.
She had to trust in the prophecy.
Astrologers, after all, were inclined to put great value in nuance. Gemma assumed that Urbanus was slightly less wicked than she’d come to believe. Maybe he thought he had good reason for seeing Arista assassinated and for trying to have Drakina killed, too. Maybe he was trying to gain his mother’s favor so she ensured his succession, and he intended to mend his ways after her death and his coronation. Gemma might have been more inclined to help with such a goal if he hadn’t ordered the death of her Sword Sister and best friend.
Maybe the Carrier of the Seed for Gemma wasn’t the same man as her HeartKeeper. It didn’t happen often, from what she understood, but that didn’t mean it was impossible.
Either way, marrying Prince Urbanus was Gemma’s destiny.
For better or for worse.
Excerpt from Wyvern’s Prince Copyright ©2016 Deborah A. Cooke