Since he was a kid, Scott wanted to be an author and explored many genres through high school and college. Fantasy, though, captivated his soul. Tales of Knights and magic, dragons and elves filled his dreams. After greasing the gears of the corporate machine for many years, he escaped the Information Technology vortex to focus full-time on writing. The stories he’d envisioned years ago—of nobility and strife, honor and chaos—demanded they be brought to life.
Scott lives with his wife, two children, and a giant Chihuahua on the west coast of Florida.
Fire. The most chaotic of the primal elements. When wielded properly by the Knight of Flame, it burns like the sun. Otherwise, it slowly consumes the Knight, burning away his control, driving him towards dark deeds.
Stationed in Tampa, FL, Develore Quinteele, sixth Knight of Flame, waits impatiently for the predicted emergence of the last Gray Lord, his Order’s ancient enemy. Hampered by a centuries-old tragedy, Dev knows of only one way to control his elemental power—rage. It broils just below his surface, waiting for the slightest provocation to set it alight.
Anticipating Dev’s transition from asset to liability, his commander assigns a young guardian, Wren, to report on Dev’s actions. Torn between duty and love, Wren struggles to save her Knight; but, after a brutal attack by the Gray Lord’s minions for which Dev is wrongly blamed, he’s stripped of his freedom until he regains control.
With the help of his fellow Knights, can Dev regain his balance and unlock his full elemental potential in time to prevent the destruction of all life in Tampa?
Knights don't dance. Develor Quinteele wrung the leather-wrapped steering wheel and swallowed hard. The muted roar of the rented Jag's high-performance engine and smooth-as-silk ride did nothing to dispel his apprehension. Wren could have picked anything, but she chose dancing. He jammed a finger under the rigid collar of his first modern suit and yanked it away from his skin.
Great. Just great.
Dev stretched to adjust the rear-view mirror and ripped the seam of his jacket. Armani stretch wool, my ass. A growl rumbled in his chest and he glared at Wren, but she seemed oblivious to his distress.
"How much farther?" Wren's excitement tumbled out with each word. The sun's last rays reflected off the silver sequins of her micro-dress and sparkled across the car's dark chocolate interior. She shifted position, adjusted her dress, and crossed her legs. Despite her fidgeting, her head remained still, focused on the distant horizon, straining to get her first look at Club Mastodon.
Dev smiled through his growing unease. Though somewhere in her early twenties, Wren reminded him of a small child driving up to the gates of Disney World for the first time. Her usually tense and critical Japanese features were soft, eager and innocent. Seeing her excitement helped steady his nerves…a little.
"Just a few more minutes. You know I'm missing a Three Stooges marathon for this, don't you?"
"Whatevs." Wren brushed him off.
Dev checked his mirrors, vision in constant motion, and raked the hair out of his eyes. The thin, wavy strands felt foreign to his calloused fingers. He couldn't remember the last time he had more than a dark prickly shadow on top of his head, let alone mussed brown locks.
With a careless wave of his hand, he grazed the new bruise over his left eye. Damn, forgot about that. He prodded the tender skin, trying to gauge the size of the purpling evidence. So far, he'd managed to keep his fights at work from Wren. If she found out, he'd never hear the end of it. The last time, she went on and on about him being reckless, and jeopardizing the mission. Thankfully, she hadn't reported the incident to Stillman, his commander. It had been close, though. Cost Dev a night on the town. But it wasn't that big of a sacrifice. He loved her like a little sister, and enjoyed seeing her smile.
Brushing his hair forward, Dev tried to cover the injured area, and hoped for the best.
"This place won't be crowded, will it?" he asked. "You know crowds and I don't mix."
"Mmhm." Wren's arm shot out, pointed ahead and to the right. "There it is." The rest of her words blurred together, "I can't believe you got us on the list. I mean, like, I've never been to a place like this." She turned her sparkling green eyes on Dev. "Do you think a lot of movie stars will be here?"
"Breathe, Wren." Dev took the exit off I-275 south, just in sight of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and stopped at the traffic light across from the club. When Club Mastodon first opened he'd read about the local business leaders raising an uproar over how quickly the permits, zoning and associated building minutia were pushed through. But, when the club was bank-rolled by Alexander Gray, one of the head honchos at Daegon Gray, the normal red tape-covered bullshit disappeared.
Dev tilted his head as he caught his first glimpse of their destination through a ring of palm trees lining the property.
"Really? That's it?"
Wren didn't respond. Instead, she leaned forward, hands pressed tight against the dash, mouth open wide.
"It's just a big ass tent," Dev said. "I paid 10-K in advance to go to a circus?" His stomach rolled. "Wonderful."
The light changed and he pulled onto the gravel drive. Tires crunched on loose stones as they passed through the trees and drove the half-mile to the front of the club.
"I hate clowns," he murmured, "And elephants. I hate when they make those big bastards do stupid tricks."
Dev queued for the valet behind a sleek Mercedes SLR and waited his turn. The wait gave him a chance to assess the place without being obvious.
People. Damn. So many people, so many potential ways to piss me off.
A large number of the area celebrities milled about in front of the club's huge entrance. Beyond a set of giant wooden doors rose the three tall peaks of the monstrous Club Mastodon tent. Spotlights spaced evenly around the perimeter beamed on the white walls, causing them to glow. A smaller tent hung off the rear of the main, connected via covered walkway.
He couldn't see any exits other than the big main door, not even a window. They really weren't kidding about the whole privacy thing. The club was touted as the place to relax, a soothing oasis where the local aristocracy and visiting celebs could let their guard down and be themselves. In essence, society's elite could make fools of themselves without it showing up on the internet the next day. Absolutely no cameras were allowed, not even cell phones.
"It's not too late." Dev shook his head. "We could always go somewhere else." Please…anywhere else.
"Nope, we're good." Wren sounded distracted. Her gaze darted from one car window to the next. "Hey, isn't that Marcus Albright from the Bucs?"
"You know, the cornerback for the Buccaneers. Ooh, and that's the guy from that new show on AB—."
"Dennis Carlisle." The name rolled off Dev's tongue before she finished the station's call letters.
Wren oohed and ahed over a few other names he'd never heard of. Probably famous athletes or politicians or something, but he played along for her sake.
Movement. Out the window to his left. Dev tracked it out of the corner of his eye. A pair of security guards in black blazers and slacks marched down a row of exotic cars parked in tight lanes. Their heads swiveled every few feet so as not to miss anything.
More movement. Further out this time and a couple rows over. Another pair on patrol. Rent-a-cops didn't move like that. They had to be ex-military.
I bet the bulges in their jackets are compact automatic weapons.
"Geez, they take their security seriously around here." Dev spied more guards near the back tent. "Can you say overkill?"
"What are you babbling about?" Wren asked, flipping him an annoyed glance.
"Nothing…nothing." Dev moved up in line. Rhythmic burps of deep bass rattled the windows and thrummed through the steering wheel. Within seconds, the vein at his temple throbbed in time.
A valet approached the driver's side while another opened the door for Wren. Dev got out and shrugged at the tear in his jacket then met her on the curb.
"I feel naked in this." He whispered, running his hand over his chest and the expensive suit. "Out of my element."
"I feel like a princess." Wren, five-foot three, a smidgen under five-eight in her knee-high boots, twirled. Even with the added height, she only came up to Dev's chin. "Like the boots?" She modeled the right one—slick black leather that laced to the top—turning it enough to flash a red sole. "Louboutin. Got them yesterday."
Dev shrugged. "Nice, I guess. Not very practical."
She slapped his arm. "Dork. Not everything in this world is meant to be practical. I think they're gorgeous. Now, hold still." She straightened his tie and fussed with his hair, exposing his little secret.
Her eyes narrowed. "You've been fighting again." She spun on her spiked-heels, her expression blocked by the swish of her shoulder-length, ebony bob, and wound her way through the throng of socialites and celebrities.
Dev tried to keep pace, but she melted through the crowd toward the entrance. Impressed, he admired her agile dips and whirls as she put years of his hard-core physical training to unconscious use.
On her trail, he moved left and jostled the guy on his right, "Sorry," then bumped the woman on his left. "Excuse me." Anger flared, but he forced a tight smile. The shoulder-to-shoulder press of humanity reminded him of the battlefield. He slid between a pair of athletic-looking young men, but clipped one's shoulder. "Sorry, sorry."
High on alpha-male bravado, the kid tried to shove back, but Dev caught his hand before it made contact. With a deft twist, he bent the young man's wrist back and lifted him onto his toes. Dev leaned in close and bared his teeth. Anger boiled into rage, heating his body and fueling his need to fight.
"I said, pardon me." He spoke so only the impromptu ballerina could hear. Muscles tense, he wanted to yank this punk's arm off and beat him and the rest of the crowd with it, lay waste to everything around him until nothing stood between him and the entrance except Wren.
He straightened, took a loud breath through his nose, and found her off to the side near the entrance. Safe. Arms crossed. Hip cocked. Frown in place.
Crap. He'd lost control in front of her again.
"Today's your lucky day, skippy." After a last, painful wrench on his captive's arm, Dev released him and slogged his way through the crowd to Wren's side. People reacted to his rough passage, cast annoyed glances at his broad back then quickly went back to their own lives.
Every nerve, cell and fiber of Dev's being surged inside him. It didn't take much to get him going anymore. And sitting idle in Tampa for the last two years, due to a nebulous prediction of the Gray Lord's return, was not how an elemental warrior should live.
Daily skirmishes in the shipyard got him by, but he craved more. Primed for combat, he wanted a release. He wanted, no, needed, to fight. But this wasn't the time or the place. He needed to be strong, for Wren. This was her night.
"You promised the fighting would stop." Wren said between clenched teeth. "You stationed yourself at the shipyard to watch for signs of the Gray Lord, not play around. You don't see me getting in fights at the airport, do you?"
"It was just a minor disagreement," he said. "There were eight of them, jumped me behind the scrap metal piles."
A nearby couple turned to stare at Wren. Dev took her arm and pulled her further away from the crowd.
"Look, I screwed up. They usually attack in threes. I didn't see Little Mike hiding in the garbage can. He whacked me with a crowbar." Dev looked away from her accusing stare. "It's no big deal. Won't happen again." That you'll know of.
"But you —"
"Let it go. Please."
Wren opened her mouth as if to say more when her eyes opened wide. "You're hot," she whispered, "Smoking."
Dev wiggled his eyebrows. "Why, thank you, thank you very much. You're looking pretty good yourself."
"That's not what I mean."
Dev caught a whiff of burned hair. His hand shot to the top of his head and found it still covered. As his body cooled, he found the singed stalks of the little hairs on the back of his hands. The shirt cuffs were scorched as well. That was close.
"Maybe this was a mistake." Wren's tentative, quiet voice touched him. "We should go."
"No." Dev stared at his shoes. Black. Leather. Uncomfortable. "No. I'm okay. You deserve this."
Wren's face scrunched as she assessed his attitude. She nodded. "Yeah, I do. Don't screw it up."
She laughed, wrapped her arm around his, "Come on, come on," and pulled him to the entrance.
Up close, the imposing entry reminded Dev of a smaller version of the village gates on Skull Island built to keep out King Kong. A dense collection of palm fronds and exotic, big-leaf plants, surrounded a pair of giant double doors unevenly framed by thick, rough-hewn timbers. The presence of security cameras positioned within the plants did little to deter from the primordial setting.
Dev smiled and waved at the camera tracking his movements.
Another pair of guards, much bigger than those patrolling the parking lot, flanked the entrance. Clad in nothing but loincloths, with long, black hair draped over heavily muscled shoulders and square pecks, they looked like stand-ins from Conan the Barbarian. Both stared straight ahead, boulder-crushing arms rigid at their sides. If it weren't for the slight motion of their immense chests, they could be statues. A low mist crawled around their feet and billowed in front of and under the big doors. Capping off the primitive atmosphere, flames swirled and popped above their heads in a long trench dug out of the lintel.
Blessed fire. Dev focused on the flames. He felt their lure, their potential, and the fire's raw power. A taste. That's all he needed. A quick fix to steady his nerves and help him through the night. With a thought he called to his element, drew it into him. His body tingled. Invisible tendrils of heat trickled into his chest and coalesced into a fireball behind his ribcage. It churned and roiled and intensified.
"Dev." Wren's harsh whisper seemed to come from far away.
That's nice. With another thought, he capped the flow and dispersed the warmth throughout his body. It calmed his spirit, dispelled his rage.
"Dev." An elbow to the ribs punctuated her call.
Awareness rushed in as his wind rushed out. Damn, that girl knows right where to hit a guy. He wheezed, tried to refill his lungs, and ignored the curious stares of the other patrons.
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