To Crave Deeply by Bailey Grayson

Prologue

CASSIAN – Fifty-four years ago

The pale light blue of her dress flashed between the trees as I chased her, and my heart pounded in my chest. I’d get close, but then she’d slip through my fingers like wisps of smoke. She loved to play this game, loved to keep me on my toes and make me work for the privilege of kissing her. I could hear her laughter caught on the breeze as she pulled me deeper into the wood and further away from my responsibilities. I should be in a stuffy meeting with my father, discussing terms of trade with another clan, but I couldn’t stand those.

I didn’t want to be a king. I just wanted to be free.

Sanna helped me break free from the confines of ruling. She pulled my rebellious side to the surface, and with that alone, I knew she was the one for me. If I could run away with anyone, it would be her. We dragons were given an opportunity once a century to find a soulmate, and I was convinced Sanna was mine. I’d never felt this way about anyone. Never wanted anyone more.

I intended to ask her today to choose me as her partner. To choose me to love and have a family with. Father wouldn’t approve, but I couldn’t change how my heart soared at the sight of her. She was the daughter of an enemy clan and, as such, she was off-limits. Our love was never meant to be, but to me, she was the one. If she refused me, I’d have to wander the earth for another century looking for my soulmate. And even then, it was entirely possible I would never meet another.

Her laughter stopped. I knew she was hiding somewhere now, waiting for the moment that I would capture her and claim her mouth in a kiss that would steal her breath. I closed my eyes and strained my ears until I pinpointed the soft beat of her heart.

I’d recognise it anywhere.

I crouched low and stepped slowly through the snow, trying to make as little noise as I could, but this was all a game. She knew exactly where I was, and she was merely playing along. I waited another moment before leaping from behind the tree and capturing her in my arms. She squealed in delight and tried to break free from my arms, but I pinned her between the tree and my large frame. Her lips stretched wide in a glorious smile and her green eyes shone brightly in the morning light.

I captured her mouth in a kiss that she returned with a passion that rivalled my own. I slipped my thigh between her legs and my hands worked their way into her fiery red hair, fisting the strands and pulling them until I could taste her moans on my tongue. I lost myself in her.

And that was my biggest mistake.

White-hot pain flared in my shoulder as an arrow speared my flesh. I broke the kiss, my mind instantly finding the combat skills I’d honed to perfection over the years. My senses flared to life as I quickly spun around to protect Sanna from our attacker.

“Stay behind me, Sanna,” I whispered as I blocked her body with mine.

I grabbed the head of the arrow that had pierced my shoulder and broke off the tip. I examined the design and instantly knew it belonged to Sanna’s clan, the Berglands. They were the ones my father was currently having the trade talks with. We’d always been enemies, but they’d reached out asking for a trade deal, and I was hoping that a more prosperous union between our two clans would allow me the freedom to take Sanna as my mate.

Sanna’s fingers clutched tightly at my waist. I’d never forgive myself if I couldn’t protect her.

“Come out!” I shouted. “Stop cowering behind the trees.”

A manic laugh echoed through the branches. “I’m not cowering, I’m just holding your attention.”

I hadn’t even seen it coming.

An intense sting sliced across my skin. Sharp agony ripped through me as a knife was plunged deep into my ribcage. I looked down and found Sanna’s hand wrapped around the hilt of a Hellfire blade.

A knife wound I could recover from, but a Hellfire blade… I might as well say goodbye to the world now. They were like poison to Ice Dragons, and they were ridiculously difficult to get hold of. You literally had to go to Hell to get one.

But that wasn’t what hurt the most. It was the manic look of joy that blossomed across Sanna’s face as she twisted the knife in my side and brought me to my knees.

“You really think she loved you?” a deep male voice crooned from the shadows.

Sanna let out a bubble of laughter as she skipped around me and over to the man who’d shot me. “Did I do well, brother?”

“Yes, little one. You did.”

My limbs started to turn to lead as the poison took hold in my bloodstream, but I managed to find the strength to lift my head and stare at the two who had caused my downfall. They were a perfect match. Both with the same fiery red hair and green eyes. Not only was he her brother, he was also her twin and heir to the Bergland clan leader.

Von looked down at Sanna with a mad gleam in his bright eyes. In one hand, he held a crossbow, and his free hand wrapped around Sanna’s waist possessively. His mouth claimed hers, and disgust roiled in my stomach. She’d played me like a fool. She didn’t love me. I could tell by the way she was sticking her tongue down her brother’s throat. She’d never kissed me like that, with such wanton abandonment.

Revulsion burned through me as I watched them. The pain from the Hellfire blade paled in comparison to the shame, hate, and rage that was fuelling me now.

“Why?” I asked, venom lacing my tone.

They broke off their kiss to look at me. Von stepped forward and knelt in the snow with me.

“Because we want the throne. And everyone knows that you don’t, Cassian,” he sneered. “You were so set against ruling that now you’ve lost it all.”

An explosion rang through the air and the ground trembled with the sheer size of it. My heart plummeted and my stomach sank. No. They couldn’t have. “What have you done?”

Sanna squealed with glee and clapped her hands manically. She was mad. How could I have been so taken in by her? Was I so willing to run away from the throne that I’d ignored all the warning signs?

I looked over to the horizon where my town was situated and saw smoke. Horror burst to life within me, its icy grip clutching my heart. Oh, God. I could hear the screams on the wind, taste fear in the breeze, and I was helpless. I couldn’t move, could barely think. There was no way I could save them.

My people would burn because I’d been a fool.

“I’ve taken what’s rightfully ours. And you made it so easy,” Von goaded as he patted my cheek carelessly.

There was nothing I could do. The Hellfire spreading through my system stopped me from calling my dragon to me. It rendered me no better than a mere mortal.

“Can we go and see?” Sanna asked her brother.

“Hmm, what do you think, Cassian? Do you want to see the massacre we have brought down upon your people? Your parents? Your sisters?”

I couldn’t even look at him. There was such a manic joy radiating in his green eyes at the terror and devastation he was raining down on my people that I thought I was going to throw up.

He laughed. “I don’t think Cassian wants to take a look, dear sister.”

Sanna pouted and whined like a spoiled child. “But Von, I want to go and see.”

How could I ever have thought this woman was my mate? She was nothing more than a spoiled brat.

“I’m only teasing him, little one,” Von chuckled as he stood from the snow. “Of course we’re going to see it. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

There was a sharp thud against my left temple, and the world went black as unconsciousness claimed me.

***

I flitted in and out of consciousness. The acrid smell of smoke stung my nose and the smell of burnt flesh choked me. I saw flashes of men wandering around, joking, laughing, jeering at the horrors they had brought to my people. I could feel the snow beneath me, the coldness seeping through my clothes and cooling the toxins that had my blood burning me from the inside out. Von had tied me to some wooden post. Not that it mattered. I didn’t have the strength to breathe, let alone run away.

I succumbed to unconsciousness again and the next time I awoke, darkness had settled along the horizon and the stars glinted in the distance through the dying plumes of smoke. It was quiet now. The screams had stopped. The fires burnt out. And the laughter had vanished. I was alone.

I looked to my left and screamed at the sight that greeted me. They hadn’t just murdered my family. Those bastards had left them hanging from posts for all the world to see. Tears filled my eyes as I looked at them, their beauty marred by the violence I had brought into their lives.

Me and my stupid selfishness had killed them. This was all my fault.

I looked away, unable to bear the sight of my failure as a son and brother. My eyes fell to a scrap of paper that someone had nailed to my thigh.

“Cassian. Now you’re free to run away like you always wanted.

Thanks for all the fun,

Love, Sanna x.”

My throat burned with bile, and I spat it out. Hate and rage ignited in my core and, as I sat there, watching the crows turn my family into carrion, I vowed I would never let myself fall into the clutches of a woman again. Because of this day, my heart and soul would be forever stained, just like the blood of my family had forever stained the crisp white snow of my homeland.