The Dragon of Cecil Court (The Treasure of Paragon Book 5)-eBook
The Dragon of Cecil Court (The Treasure of Paragon Book 5)-eBook
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Old flames still burn hot.
Old flames still burn hot.
He’s only ever had one weakness.
Nathaniel Clarke has a secret. Before he became the owner of an occult bookshop on Bookseller's Row, he was a prince of the kingdom of Paragon. Now the dragon shifter is the high priest of the Order of the Dragon, a society of the most powerful supernatural beings in London. He’s only ever had one weakness, and he hasn’t seen her in a decade.
She’s only ever been good at one thing.
American pop singer Clarissa Black survived by singing on street corners before Nathaniel came into her life and unlocked the latent magic inside her. Despite their passionate affair, she refused Nathaniel’s proposal in order to pursue her music career. Her multiplatinum albums have made her a star but one with few people she can trust.
One curse will change two lives forever.
When Clarissa’s voice fails her during a show in London, it’s an excuse to reconnect with the man who remains her deepest regret. Nathaniel is reluctant to open old wounds but can’t refuse Clarissa’s plea for help or the passion her nearness awakens in him. But as he closes in on breaking the curse, Nathaniel learns the cause of what ails her is tangled with the deadly past he left behind.
Nathaniel Clarke lingered outside Relics and Runes occult bookstore, his pipe nestled in his palm. Not so long ago, he’d have fired the Turkish tobacco, loosely tamped within its bent rosewood bowl, in the comfort of his office, but smoking indoors was illegal these days in London. Bad for humans. He supposed when your lifespan was a mere hundred years or less, cutting it short by a decade or more for the sake of a smoke was reckless.
As an immortal dragon, Nathaniel couldn’t get cancer or any other human disease, and considering he could breathe fire, a little smoke was completely harmless to his composition. Humans, however, were important to Nathaniel, making up the majority of the occult book market. Plus he enjoyed the company of a few of them. He’d prefer to keep them alive.
No matter—it was early and Cecil Court had yet to suffer the tread of visitors’ footsteps, which gave him an opportunity to both enjoy his favorite smoke and make use of the enchanting properties of this particular tobacco blend. Specially developed by a friend—a wizard and master tobacconist—the heady smoke served a number of purposes. For one, it alerted him of imminent danger. This morning though, his use for it was far more mundane, to render his storefront irresistible to shoppers.
He flipped the top of his butane lighter and circled the flame over the tobacco, then let it burn out. A good false light. Ah yes, the scent was heavenly. He lit it again and took a ceremonious puff. The thick smoke curled along his tongue before he blew it out in a perfect, cloudlike ring that floated toward the summer sky.
“Honestly, Clarke, are you still flushing good money away on that dreadful habit?” Mr. Greene, owner of the neighboring bookshop, appeared beside him, broom in hand, and raised his bushy gray eyebrows. He stared pointedly at Nathaniel’s pipe. “You’re going to blow an artery if you keep that up.”
“Not everyone can be the picture of health as you are, Greene.” Nathaniel pointed a knuckle at the man and winked. “I’m of the mind to enjoy what years I have with a good smoke.”
“Because you’re a young chap. Wait until you’re old like me and regret comes to roost.” He straightened his sweater vest over his overlarge paunch.
“I daresay, I predict you’ll outlive us all.”
The elderly man chuckled. “From your lips to God’s ears.” He gave his doorstep a few half-hearted sweeps. “Speaking of regrets of the past and all that, have you heard the news this morning?”
“I haven’t had the pleasure.” Nathaniel puffed his pipe and blew a smoke ring over Greene’s head. Actually, he took no pleasure in current events. The world was in a constant state of wearying political angst. After three hundred years, he’d seen empires rise and fall. It didn’t matter to him which blowhard was in office or who was seen hobnobbing with whom. Nathaniel existed above it all. And if he didn’t like something, all he had to do was wait. Everything ended eventually, aside from him.
Greene wagged his finger. “Oh dear. I would have thought you’d be the first to know.”
“Hmm? What’s that?” He sent a tiny smoke ring through the center of a bigger one. The enchantment was taking hold. Already the brass around his door appeared shinier and the red paint that coated its wood gleamed as if he’d painted it yesterday.
“That fling of yours from a few years ago, the songbird from the States. You know, the pretty one.”
Nathaniel released his smoke in an uncontrolled and unattractive exhale. “You don’t mean…”
“The fish that got away, Clarke. You know the one. The woman. Ahh, I’ve lost my head.” Greene tapped the heel of his palm against his temple. “Can’t think of it. Something… Clarissa! That’s it.”
“Clarissa is in London?” An uninvited tingle radiated from the back of Nathaniel’s neck, down his arms, and made his hands go numb. For the love of the Mountain, he did not need to hear Clarissa was in town today.
“She is! But that’s not why everyone’s talking about her. It seems she was performing for a corporate audience, the people who make those home gadgets. Tanaka Corp. Anyhow, her voice gave out completely in the middle of her performance. She had to be escorted from the stage. The Tanaka people were royally cheesed off over it. And, well, there are all sorts of rumors now going round about why. Drugs or whatnot. People are suggesting she might have to cancel her concert at the O2 later this month.”
“Hmm.” Nathaniel ground his teeth. Clarissa was a witch, a powerful one, and if her voice had given out, there was a dark reason for it. He stared down into his pipe. Today might be a good day to close up shop and take a holiday. Bora-Bora sounded like a nice diversion.
“So you hadn’t heard. You two don’t keep in touch then?”
Nathaniel sighed. “No. It was a fleeting affair. She has her career, and I have…” He gestured vaguely in the direction of Relics and Runes.
“Righto! Dodged a bullet, I’d say. Bad luck to have a woman that beautiful, if you don’t mind my saying so. My Minerva, rest her soul, wasn’t a looker, but she was a dab hand in the kitchen. That’s the type of woman you can rely on. Good cook. Loyal soul.”
“If only there were more Minervas out there.” Nathaniel pictured the heavyset woman with wild gray hair who’d passed away a few years ago and carefully kept his expression reverential.
“God broke the mold when he made her.” Greene wiped a tear from his eye and glanced at his watch. “Is that the time? Oh dear. We’ll be opening soon. I’d better ready the shop. Good day, Clarke.”
“Good day.” Returning the man’s little wave, Nathaniel watched him disappear inside his shop, then leaned against the doorframe and closed his eyes. So Clarissa was in town. It didn’t mean anything. And her voice giving out could have a number of causes, perhaps a virus of the throat or a nodule on the vocal cords. She was probably visiting a doctor even now. With any luck, she’d be on a plane back to America in no time.
He opened his eyes. Bringing his pipe to his lips, he allowed the thick smoke to linger on his tongue before slowly and deliberately blowing a perfect ring… that morphed into a crimson heart as it floated toward the clear blue sky.
He whirled and fumbled with the door, setting his pipe on the counter and mumbling incoherently as he passed the books on witchcraft, Jungian theory, the tarot cards, the crystals, the grimoires and the yoga magazines, to the small greenhouse of magical herbs at the back. He plucked two potted rosemary plants from the sill and hurried to place them on either side of the front door before ducking back inside again.
“With any luck…,” he mumbled. Where were his cards? He needed to read his cards.
The bell above the door rang.
“Jesus, Nathaniel, rosemary? It only protects you against those who would do you harm. When have I ever wanted to hurt you?”
Clarissa stepped across his threshold as if she’d been summoned by his earlier use of her name, like the devil or a demon. A real possibility now that he thought of it. Her blond hair was covered in a rose-colored scarf, and large dark glasses hid her blue eyes. But there was no mistaking her lithe figure and catlike grace. Or her scent. The floral and earthy notes of lilies and moss hit his nose.
She reached up and removed her glasses. “I think I’m being followed.”
“Then you’d better be on your way. Where’s your security?”
“Everyone wants to know what happened last night.” Her gaze roved over his face. His suit. “You look exactly the same. I mean, I knew you didn’t age, but my God. Is that the pocket square I bought you?”
“I hear footsteps in the alley. You should go before the paparazzi arrive.”
She shuffled closer to him. “Hide me. Please!”
The door opened. Cursing his own stupidity, he curled her into his arms and cloaked both of them in invisibility. He pressed a finger to his lips, although she of all people knew to remain silent.
Two men entered the store, one tall and suave, the other looking like he’d slept on the floor of a pub the night before. Both had cameras ready. They swept through the rooms, searched behind the counter.
“I know she came in here. I saw her,” the taller one said. He eyed the still-smoking pipe. “Hello?” he called. “Anyone here?”
The slovenly one squinted his eyes. “There’s a lower level.” The two jogged down the stairs to where Nathaniel shelved the books on fairies and druids among other things.
Nathaniel lowered his finger from his mouth, but not the invisibility that cloaked them both.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming back here after all this time,” he whispered to her.
“I need your help.” Her lips were red. He had a strong desire to smear her lipstick.
“Believe me, if I had any other choice, I would have made it. You’re the only one who can help me.”
“No.” It was out of the question really. Not after how they’d left things.
The two men jogged back up the stairs, visibly baffled. “Gone. Just gone,” the tall man said. “Into thin air.”
“Are you sure it was her?”
Tall Man rubbed his chin. “Could’ve been a decoy, I suppose. It was odd she had no security.”
“There’s a back door,” the short man said, pointing with his chin.
They rushed into the courtyard. Nathaniel waited until he could no longer hear their footsteps or their voices before he dropped the invisibility.
“Next time I’ll let them find you.” He dusted off his hands as if holding her had filthied them.
“That hurts, Nate. It really does. After all we’ve meant to each other.”
“But a pleasant one. As pasts go, I’m happy with ours.”
“Speak for yourself.” He smoothed the sleeve of his jacket and moved behind the counter. Better. He’d prefer a lead wall between them, but the counter would have to do. “Enjoy the pleasant weather.” He gestured toward the door.
“There’s something wrong with my voice.”
“See a doctor.”
“It’s not that type of problem,” she whispered.
The bell above the door dinged and the first customer of the day strolled in. Nathaniel greeted the man, who beelined straight to the section on witchcraft.
He shrugged. “I don’t know anything about vocal performance. But best of luck to you.” He gestured toward the door again.
She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, then approached the counter. “Please… Nathaniel… If you ever cared for me… If what we had ever meant anything to you… I need your help.”
He narrowed his eyes on her. “You can do it yourself.”
Slowly she shook her head. “No. I. Can’t.”
Realization dawned and he leaned forward to sniff her throat. As usual, she smelled of lilies and moss, but the magical tang that always accompanied her scent was missing. Clarissa’s magical Bunsen burner was on the fritz. Interesting. Not interesting enough for him to feed his heart into a meat grinder by allowing her back into his life, but interesting.
Still, it was impossible not to remember the good times what with her standing right in front of him. He met her gaze and held it.
“Nathaniel?” she pleaded.
“No,” he said again. And he meant it.
- Dragon magic
- A rockstar who's lost her voice
- Dark curses
- British myths & legends
- Family saga
- Witches & magic