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Love in the Time of Dragons

Katie MacAlister

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Teaser chapter

  Praise for Katie MacAlister’s Silver Dragons Novels

  Up in Smoke

  “Filled with action . . . yet there is also plenty of humor and affection.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “This zany paranormal, with its madcap plot and screwball characters, will work its magic with Mac Alister’s many fans and make some new ones along the way.”


  “An action-packed, never-a-dull-moment thrill ride.”

  —Romance Novel TV

  “Ms. MacAlister works her humor-filled magic to entertain readers with the action and scorching romance that keeps them glued to the pages.”

  —Darque Reviews

  “An upbeat, funny paranormal. . . . You won’t be disappointed!”

  —Romance Reader at Heart

  “Ms. MacAlister has done it again and provided me with an enjoyable and very entertaining series to read!”

  —The Romance Studio

  “Up in Smoke . . . may not be as laugh-out-loud hilarious as the Aisling Grey series but is no less fun, entertaining, or addictive.”

  —A Romance Review

  Playing with Fire

  “Fast-paced. . . . Kate MacAlister proves her skill as a magician when Playing with Fire; she places Aisling in a secondary role yet enchants her audience.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “Ms. MacAlister works her creative magic and adds a fabulous new layer to her world of sexy dragons. The dialog is as witty as ever. . . . Playing with Fire has all of the danger-filled action, steamy romance, and wonderful humor that fans know and love.”

  —Darque Reviews

  “It’s packed with all her signature hilarity and adventure, as well as many familiar faces. The cliff-hanger ending will leave you breathless.”

  —Romantic Times

  Praise for Katie MacAlister’s Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novels

  Holy Smokes

  “[A] comedic, hot paranormal caper.”


  “A wonderfully amusing relationship drama . . . a laugh-out-loud tale.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “Hysterical. . . . MacAlister hits the humor button dead-on.... This cast of wacky—if somewhat dangerous—characters makes for giggles galore, while also producing some hair-raising adventures. MacAlister has written a cure for the common blues!”

  —Romantic Times

  Light My Fire

  “Crazy paranormal high jinks, delightful characters, and simmering romance.”


  “Once again Katie MacAlister knocks one out of the box with the third book in the Aisling Grey series. Light My Fire . . . takes you on a nonstop thrill ride full of sarcastic wit, verve, and action right to the end. Clear your day because you will not put this book down until it is finished.”

  —A Romance Review

  “There is lots of enjoyment to be had. . . . This is a ‘staying up late to see what happens next’ story.”

  —The Romance Reader

  “Once again Aisling Grey will fire up readers. . . . Once again Katie MacAlister provides a humorous fantasy.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  Praise for Katie MacAlister’s Dark Ones Novels

  Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang

  “Ms. MacAlister entertains readers with a captivating romance, supernatural politics, and her always present touch of humor.”

  —Darque Reviews

  “The story line is fast-paced, filled with humor and action as Katie MacAlister balances the two nicely.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “Witty with a splash of romance and a dark puzzle to unravel, Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang is a sure-fire hit!”

  —Romance Junkies

  Zen and the Art of Vampires

  “A jocular action-packed tale . . . [a] wonderful zany series.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “Has all of the paranormal action, romance, and humor that fans of the author look for in her books. This is a fast-moving read with sizzling chemistry and a touch of suspense.”

  —Darque Reviews

  “Pia Thomason just might be my favorite heroine ever . . . an entrancing story, and a very good escape.”

  —The Romance Reader

  “I completely loved Zen and the Art of Vampires! . . . The chemistry between Pia and Kristoff sizzles all the way through the novel. . . . I don’t think I can wait for the next Dark Ones installment! Please hurry, Katie!”

  —Romance Junkies



  The Last of the Red-Hot Vampires

  “MacAlister’s fast-paced romp is a delight with all its quirky twists and turns, which even include a murder mystery.”


  “A wild zany romantic fantasy. . . . Paranormal romance readers will enjoy this madcap tale of the logical physicist who finds love.”

  —The Best Reviews

  “A fascinating paranormal read that will captivate you.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  “A pleasurable afternoon of reading.”

  —The Romance Reader

  “The sexy humor, wild secondary characters, and outlandish events make her novels pure escapist pleasure!”

  —Romantic Times

  Also by Katie MacAlister

  Paranormal Romances

  STEAMED, A Steampunk Romance

  ME AND MY SHADOW, A Novel of the Silver Dragons


  A Dark Ones Novel


  UP IN SMOKE, A Novel of the Silver Dragons

  PLAYING WITH FIRE, A Novel of the Silver Dragons

  HOLY SMOKES, An Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novel

  LIGHT MY FIRE, An Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novel

  FIRE ME UP, An Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novel

  YOU SLAY ME, An Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novel



  Contemporary Romances






  Published by New American Library, a division of

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,

  Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,

  New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

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  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:

  80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  First Printing, May 2010

  Copyright © Katie MacAlister, 2010

  All rights reserved


  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-19780-6

  Shortly after I finished writing this book, my beloved furry girl Jazi died. She was my constant companion for twelve years, and literally at my side for the writing of every book, curled up on a bed next to my desk while I tapped away on the keyboard. She was spoiled, demanding, and obstinate in her desire to have her own way. She also gave me more happiness and love than I could ever have hoped for. This book is dedicated to her memory, which will forever remain bright.

  Chapter One

  “You’re going to be on your knees saying prayers for hours if Lady Alice finds you here.”

  I jumped at the low, gravelly voice, but my heart stopped beating quite so rapidly when I saw who had discovered me. “By the rood, Ulric! You almost scared the humors right out of my belly!”

  “Aye, I’ve no doubt I did,” the old man replied, leaning on a battered hoe. “Due to your guilty conscience, I’m thinking. Aren’t you supposed to be in the solar with the other women?”

  I patted the earth around the early-blooming rose that I had cleared of weeds, and snorted in a delicate, ladylike way. “I was excused.”

  “Oh, you were, were you? And for what? Not to leave off your sewing and leeching and all those other things Lady Alice tries to teach you.”

  I got to my feet, dusting the dirt off my knees and hands, looking down my nose at the smaller man, doing my best to intimidate him even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good—Ulric had known me since I was a wee babe puling in her swaddling clothes. “And what business is it of yours, good sir?”

  He grinned, his teeth black and broken. “You can come over the lady right enough, when you like. Now, what I’m wanting to know is whether you have your mother’s leave to be here in the garden, or if you’re supposed to be up learning the proper way to be a lady.”

  I kicked at a molehill. “I was excused . . . to use the privy. You know how bad they are—I needed fresh air to recover from the experience.”

  “You’ve had enough, judging by the weeding you’ve done. Get yourself back to the solar with the other women before your mother has my hide for letting you stay out here.”

  “I . . . er . . . can’t.”

  “And why can’t you?” he asked, obviously suspicious.

  I cleared my throat and tried to adopt an expression that did not contain one morsel of guilt. “There was an . . . incident.”

  “Oh, aye?” The expression of suspicion deepened. “What sort of an incident?”

  “Nothing serious. Nothing of importance.” I plucked a dead leaf from a rosebush. “Nothing of my doing, which you quite obviously believe, a fact that I find most insulting.”

  “What sort of an incident?” he repeated, ignoring my protests of innocence and outrage.

  I threw away the dried leaf and sighed. “It’s Lady Susan.”

  “What have you done to your mother’s cousin now?”

  “Nothing! I just happened to make up some spiderwort tea, and mayhap I did leave it in the solar next to her chair, along with a mug and a small pot of honey, but how was I to know she’d drink all of it? Besides, I thought everyone knew that spiderwort root tea unplugs your bowels something fierce.”

  Ulric stared at me as if it were my bowels that had run free and wild before him.

  “Her screams from the privy were so loud, Mother said I might be excused for a bit while she sought one of Papa’s guards to break down the privy door, because her ladies were worried that Lady Susan had fallen in and was stuck in the chute.”

  The look turned to one of unadulterated horror.

  “I just hope she looks on the positive side of the whole experience,” I added, tamping down the molehill with the toe of my shoe.

  “God’s blood, you’re an unnatural child. What positive side is there to spewing out your guts while stuck in the privy?”

  I gave him a lofty look. “Lady Susan always had horrible wind. It was worse than the smell from the jakes! The spiderwort tea should clear her out. By rights, she should thank me.”

  Ulric cast his gaze skyward and muttered something under his breath.

  “Besides, I can’t go inside now. Mother said for me to stay out of her way because she is too busy getting ready for whoever it is who’s visiting Father.”

  That wasn’t entirely true—my mother had actually snapped at me to get out from underfoot and do something helpful other than offer suggestions on how to break down the privy door, and what could be more helpful than tending the garden? The whole keep was gearing up for a visit from some important guest, and I would not want the garden to shame her.

  “Get ye gone,” Ulric said, shooing me out of the garden. “Else I’ll tell your mother how you’ve spent the last few hours rather than tending to your proper chores. If you’re a good lass, perhaps I’ll help you with those roses later.”

  I smiled, feeling as artless as a girl of seventeen could feel, and dashed out of the haven that was the garden and along the dark overhang that led into the upper bailey. It was a glorious almost-summer morning, and my father’s serfs were going about their daily tasks with less complaint than was normal. I stopped by the stable to check on the latest batch of kittens, picking out a pretty black-and-white one that I would beg my mother to let me keep, and was just on the way to the kitchen to see if I couldn’t wheedle some bread and cheese from the cooks when the dull thud of several horses’ hooves caught my attention.

  I stood in the kitchen door and watched as a group of four men rode into the bailey, all armed for battle.

  “Ysolde! What are you doing here? Why aren’t you up in the solar tending to Lady Susan? Mother was looking for you.” Margaret, my older sister, emerged from the depths of the kitchen to scold me.

  “Did they get her out of the privy, then?” I asked in all innocence. Or what I hoped passed for it.

  “Aye.” Her eyes narrowed on me. “It was odd, the door being stuck shut that way. Almost as if someone had done something to it.”

  I made my eyes as round as they would go, and threw in a few blinks for good measure. “Poor, poor Lady Susan. Trapped in the privy with her bowels running amok. Think you she’s been cur

  “Aye, and I know by what. Or rather, who.” She was clearly about to shift into a lecture when movement in the bailey caught her eye. She glanced outside the doorway and quickly pulled me backwards, into the dimness of the kitchen. “You know better than to stand about when Father has visitors.”

  “Who is it?” I asked, looking around her as she peered out at the men.

  “An important mage.” She held a plucked goose to her chest as she watched the men. “That must be him, in the black.”

  All of the men were armed, their swords and mail glinting brightly in the sun, but only one did not wear a helm. He dismounted, lifting his hand in greeting as my father hurried down the steps of the keep.

  “He doesn’t look like any mage I’ve ever seen,” I told her, taking in the man’s easy movements under what must be at least fifty pounds of armor. “He looks more like a warlord. Look, he’s got braids in his hair, just like that Scot who came to see Father a few years ago. What do you think he wants?”

  “Who knows? Father is renowned for his powers; no doubt this mage wants to consult him on arcane matters.”

  “Hrmph. Arcane matters,” I said, aware I sounded grumpy.

  Her mouth quirked on one side. “I thought you weren’t going to let it bother you anymore.”

  “I’m not. It doesn’t,” I said defensively, watching as my father and the warlord greeted each other. “I don’t care in the least that I didn’t inherit any of Father’s abilities. You can have them all.”

  “Whereas you, little changeling, would rather muck about in the garden than learn how to summon a ball of blue fire.” Margaret laughed, pulling a bit of grass from where it had been caught in the laces on my sleeve.

  “I’m not a changeling. Mother says I was a gift from God, and that’s why my hair is blond when you and she and Papa are redheads. Why would a mage ride with three guards?”