House of Dragons (Royal Houses #1) - K.A. Linde Page 0,3

visions. She’d been young and in love. That had been before he had taken over the Wastes… before everything. Then a year ago, she’d had another vision and ended up right back here. He’d gotten her into the fights to give her an outlet. She would thank him if their relationship hadn’t gotten even more complicated. If he didn’t think that he owned her now.

Kerrigan sighed heavily, pocketed the winnings, and went to her corner. She dropped to her haunches and opened up her bag, pulling out clean clothes. She hastily stripped out of her fighting gear and into a pair of loose pants and a crossbody jerkin that cinched tight at the waist.

Despite what Dozan had said, she tugged her headband back down over her ears and rebraided her hair. She had gotten too used to hiding her slightly rounded, telltale, half-Fae ears. She looked at her wan reflection in the faded glass mirror. She pinched her pale cheeks in an attempt to bring some color back into her skin, but it did little. Her freckles stood out in sharp relief against her complexion. The gash at her eyebrow had stopped bleeding, but… she couldn’t hide the fact that she’d been in a fight.

Oh, well. Nothing to be done.

She left the ring and hastened up the stairs. The Wastes had been built in a deep pit. The Dragon Ring resided on the bottom floor, and as she traveled up to the surface, she passed the spectator seating for the fighting ring, the floor full of addicts high on loch, through the haze of heavily perfumed brothels, and to the gambling levels.

Her bright green eyes scanned the smoke-filled room replete with table after table of card and dice games. Patrons desperate to make it rich threw away their last coins on a lark. The Wastes gambling hall was typically packed, but tonight, Kerrigan could barely move through the press of people. With one hand on her winnings, she finally meandered far enough in that she found her target, stopping before a packed card table playing a crowd favorite, Dragons Up.

The dealer was dressed in the typical red Wastes button-up, black vest and trousers. Her black hair framed her face, cut off severely at her chin, accentuating her brown complexion and wide dark-brown eyes. Her hands flew across the table, delivering green and gold cards.

She tapped her fingers twice as she waited for someone to make a move. But the tilt of her cherry red lips said she already knew they’d lost.

“Ah, dragons up,” she said, her smile turning into a frown. “Better luck next time.” She claimed the green and gold cards from the man in front of her. She pointed at the next man.

“Crows and scales.” He held his hand out flat.

The next man did the same, and on down the line, she pulled cards, added them, and laughed at their misfortune.

Because any loss went right back to the house. Right back to Dozan. And right back to Clover.

Clover looked up as she shuffled the cards by muscle memory. Her eyes lit up at the sight of Kerrigan. “You win?”

Kerrigan nodded, unable to hold back a smirk of triumph.

“All right, you heard the lady. One more hand, and then I’m on break.”

The crowd groaned as cards flew from her hands like magic. Which was amazing since Clover didn’t have a lick of magic. She was fully human. Not an ounce of the stuff in her veins. Not that it protected her from Fae hatred, but at least, she didn’t have to worry about accidentally revealing her magic in front of the wrong person like Kerrigan.

Half of the table won this round, and cheers went up all around. A few of those seated tipped Clover big. One man with a pointed wink. Clover just reshuffled the deck and nodded her head at the pit boss before hastening to Kerrigan’s side.

“Red!” Clover crushed her long, toned body against Kerrigan as she pulled her into a hug.

“Clove, are you feeling all right?”

Her brown skin was beginning to lose its pallor, and her big brown eyes were blood shot and red-rimmed.

Clover waved the questions away and fumbled in her pocket for a smoke she’d tinged with loch.

When Kerrigan had first met Clover a year earlier, she had been disgusted with the habit. Loch was an addictive drug on a good day, and she smoked too regularly to not be obsessed with the stuff. But then Clover had accidentally left the cigarettes behind and