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Burning Bright (Going Down in Flames) by Chris Cannon (1)

Chapter One

It had been three months since the Rebel dragons had attacked campus…three months since Rhianna had died…three months since Bryn had released Valmont from being her knight…three months since it felt like she’d had her heart ripped out of her chest…three months since anything had seemed normal or right or good in the world.

Summer had passed by in a flash. There had been far too many funeral pyres and not enough contact with her friends or her parents. Despite Bryn’s intentions to hang out with Clint and Ivy, her grandparents had kept her hopping from one Blue event to another. And the singular constant at these events had been Jaxon. Not that she hated her former nemesis, but she didn’t want to spend all her free time with him, either. Whenever they were together, her grandparents constantly mentioned their impending marriage of doom. She had finally mastered the art of not flinching when people brought up her marriage contract to Jaxon, although she sometimes experienced a tic in her left eye.

Then there was the problem of her parents, or rather, how the Directorate was dealing with her parents. All hybrids and disenfranchised dragons had been shuttled off to a town on the far side of the forest. Sanctuary seemed like an ironic name for the old mining town with rundown cabins. Of course they were building better housing, but that would take time. It was a place where mixed-Clan dragons didn’t have to hide their true identity, so maybe the name wasn’t a bad choice after all.

Once her parents had settled in, she’d hoped to spend time with them. That hadn’t happened because until the Directorate decided that all the dangerous rebels had been rooted out, the citizens of Sanctuary weren’t allowed to leave their new town. Which made the place more like a free-range prison. Bryn had been allowed to call her parents, but not visit them in person.

“Bryn, are you ready?” Her grandmother pushed her bedroom door open. “We leave for the Institute in fifteen minutes.”

The Institute for Excellence was a school for shape-shifting dragons that masqueraded as an expensive boarding school.

“I’m all packed.” Bryn pointed at the suitcases by the door. “But I’m not sure I want to go.”

“It’s your senior year,” her grandmother said. “Not that you’ll understand this at your age, but enjoy it, because the older you become the faster time flies. It feels like these past three months went by in the blink of an eye.”

“They did,” Bryn agreed.

“I know you’re disappointed about not being able to visit your mother, but I think that might change in the next few weeks.”

“Really?” It was about damn time.

“The Directorate has finished their background checks on almost all of the dragons living in Sanctuary. The students have been cleared to return to school.”

That was great news. For the first time, she wouldn’t be the only hybrid at school. Of course, she might still be the only Red-Blue hybrid because the middle class and the elite didn’t mix very often. On a different note, her parents should have been cleared of suspicion from day one. They hadn’t had anything to do with dragons since they’d run away to escape their arranged marriages. Bryn found it ironic that she was legally bound to marry the son of the man her mother had rejected all those years ago. Not that she faulted her mom, because Jaxon’s father, Ferrin, was the most loathsome asshat on the planet. Still, fate seemed to have a twisted sense of humor.

“We should go,” her grandmother said. “You don’t want to keep Jaxon waiting.”

Bryn managed not to roll her eyes. but couldn’t help muttering, “I’m sure he’s counting the minutes since he’s last seen me.”

Bryn was thrilled to find Clint and Ivy, her best friends, waiting for her outside the Blue dorm. After spending all summer with the golden-skinned, blond-haired Blue Clan, it was refreshing to see her friends from the Black Clan—dark-haired, ivory-skinned dragons with tattoos and wild hair. She hugged Ivy. “I missed you guys.”

“We missed you, too. You were hardly ever there when we called,” Ivy said. “What in the heck were you doing?”

“Socializing,” Bryn said. “Which means networking, and smiling, and nodding while trying to keep up the facade that I fit in with the Blue Clan.”

“Sounds dead boring,” Clint said.

“There was usually food, so that was the one saving grace.” Bryn opened the door of the Blue dorm. “Come in with me while I put my things away.”

“Now that you’re all upper class, shouldn’t you have a maid do that for you?” Ivy teased.

“I volunteered to take care of this myself,” Bryn said. Her grandparents had maids, and cooks, and staff who took care of normal everyday life activities. “I’d rather put my own things away so I know where they are.” Plus sitting back and watching someone do something she herself was capable of made her uncomfortable.

Clint and Ivy followed her inside. Most of the students in the first-floor lounge glanced her way and nodded in acknowledgement, which was weird. Last year at this time few of them would have spoken to her except to insult her.

“That was different,” Ivy said as they climbed the steps to the second floor.

Clint yawned. “Less talking and more coffee…and bacon. I feel the distinct need for bacon.”

As if on cue, Bryn’s stomach growled. “Breakfast sounds good.” When they reached her room, Bryn unlocked it with her key. She stepped across the threshold and stared at the couch where she had spent so much time with her knight and former boyfriend Valmont. A spot in her chest ached as the bittersweet memories assaulted her. “I wonder if my grandmother would care if I bought a new couch.”

“I could accidentally electrocute that one for you.” Clint produced a ball of lightning in his hand.

“I might take you up on that.” Bryn carried her suitcases into her room.

“Have you heard from Valmont?” Ivy asked as she followed Bryn.

“No and it’s probably better that way.” She pointed at the room across the hall from hers. “I still think of that as Rhianna’s room.”

“When you add Valmont and Rhianna together this dorm room has way too many emotional memories,” Ivy said. “Why don’t you ask if you can move to a new one?”

“I couldn’t do that, because that would show weakness. At least that’s what my grandfather would say.”

“Blue Clan logic is weird,” Clint said.

“You have no idea. The day after all the funerals, my grandmother scheduled me for this whirlwind of events where I had to spend time with Jaxon. When I asked why we were acting like we hadn’t just lost people we cared about, she said that was the point. It was our job to show we were strong enough to go on and the Rebels hadn’t won.”

“That is some screwed up logic,” Ivy said. “Black dragons binge-watch television, eat ice cream, and cry their way through several boxes of Kleenex.”

“That’s what I did after all the stupid parties…when I was alone in my room,” Bryn said. “I’m betting that’s what all the other Blues secretly do but they’d never admit it.”

“I never thought I’d ask this question,” Clint said. “But how is Jaxon coping?”

“For the first month after Rhianna’s funeral, he barely spoke to anyone, which I understood. Then he went through a robot phase where he talked but showed zero emotion. As of a few days ago, he’s sort of back to his normal self but with a hair-trigger temper which makes him loads of fun to be around.”

“I wish life would go back to normal,” Ivy said.

“I’m not sure what normal is anymore.” Bryn’s stomach growled.

“You need to be fed,” Clint said. “and that is normal.”

A knock sounded on Bryn’s door.

Please don’t let that be Jaxon. And that thought made her feel like a bad person. She opened the door and, of course, there stood Jaxon. “Hello, what’s going on?”

“If you’d invite me inside, rather than leaving me standing in the hall, I could tell you,” Jaxon said.



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