Chapter 1

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The man sitting across from me in the romantic gloom of the restaurant was beautiful. Almost lethally so, especially with that aura of power he wore as easily as some men wore a suit. But he wasn't mine and the mutual understanding hung between us like a shroud.

Gray Santiago had made a valiant effort to hide his disappointment when he'd kissed my hand, but there was no mistaking the flicker of grief. He wasn't my mate and I wasn't his.

Better to simply get it over and done with then.

"Tell me," I purred, "what makes you worth losing my life for?"

The prince's eyes widened slightly, perhaps the only non-scripted reaction I would get from the dragon prince most known for his poise. Long lashes fluttered down to veil that piercing gaze, the sensual curve of his mouth flattening.

"Very direct, mi principesa," he murmured at last, lashes sweeping up again to reveal dragon bright eyes. Electric blue, unlike his human form's bitter chocolate.

"It is our way," I said, smiling to soften the edge I couldn't hide. I was so tired of playing nice with all the dragon males who thought I might be their mate, but it was simply not done to refuse a meeting. At least not when you were a princess and saying no to a simple meal together could mean nasty diplomatic snarls.

Near immortality meant that our race could give new meaning to the idea of feuds and holding grudges.

"We both know that we're not each other's mate. Why prolong the illusion? Things being what they are, there is little chance of our coming together unless we were true mates."

What did he expect? All knew of the prophecy Elianna had spoken over me at my Full Moon Feast. I would be mated by the end of my sixteenth decade and the first time I took a man within me would be the start of the end.

Funny, on so many levels.

Many dragons could fuck for decades, even centuries, without being blessed with a baby, but apparently I would not have that issue. It brought a whole new meaning to the warning of "it only takes once". And mated at the end of my sixteenth decade? Considering a dragon was still considered a hatchling until well into our fifth decade and a dragonlet until our first century and that many of our race were either centuries older than me or decades younger when I would be barely considered legal, it would be cradle-robbing either way.

I didn't even want to touch on the question of why someone still hadn't figured out contraceptives. My parents had set their minds to the task after the prophecy was spoken, but it was so simply not done that gaining traction had been difficult. Yet another thing I was very tired of. The questions of what was done and what wasn't. Whether a dragon female had the right to her own body and to decide whether or not she wanted children. Whether continuing the race was more important than personal desire.

Arguably, if someone did something, then it was done, no?

But fairly or unfairly, the reality was that most of dragon lore focused on enhancing fertility, not the prevention of hatchlings and human means didn't work reliably on the supernatural. A dragon's high temperature made condoms laughable and infertility charms were mere snacks for the magic-loving beast.

Gray bowed his head in deference to my rebuke. "Yes. I simply didn't expect your question. I thought your parents had the matter well in hand. You are their heir, after all, princess to an Ancient Territory."

Why in the world was he dragging things out?

"They have not declared success, as all know. The computer simulations are simply that, as non-fertility is a spectacularly difficult thing to prove in a subfertile race and there are no mated pairs willing to serve as experiment subjects." My parents had wanted to run the trials upon themselves, but I had won that battle. If I didn't prevail against what the Fates had ordained for me, I wanted every chance for them to try for another heir. That had been a fun conversation for all involved, even though I knew early on that my parents' passion for each other had not faltered in the least over their centuries together.

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