Trial By Fire – Chris Cannon

She must’ve been insane when she’d planned this. Sure it had seemed like a good idea at the time. Let’s throw a Welcome Back to School party so students injured in the attacks on campus would receive a formal invitation to return to school. This was meant to circumvent the Directorate’s policy of suggesting injured students stay at home with a private tutor. The Directorate’s sucky rationale? Something about culling the weak from the herd, which was total crap since the Directorate had failed to protect the students in the first place. So, this may have been her plan, but it was her grandmother and Jaxon’s mother Lillith’s idea that she host with him. She didn’t know what his problem was, but he was being more obnoxious than usual. “Jaxon, I swear to God, if you don’t stop bitching, I will set your hair on fire.” Bryn spoke through clenched teeth as she smiled and nodded at the students streaming past her into the Welcome Back to School Gala. “Aren’t you supposed to have this fake socialite crap down to a science?” “It’s not the greeting people I mind.” He nodded at a group of students who entered the dining hall. “It’s your proximity.” That was it. She didn’t care what her grandmother and Lillith wanted. If she had to listen to Jaxon make one more rude comment, she was going to lose it and roast him like a marshmallow.

“Bryn.” Garret walked toward her, his dark complexion a bit pale for a Green dragon, his brown eyes appeared wary, and his injured left arm hung limp in a sling. And now she remembered why she was doing this. “I’m so glad you came.” Only half of all the students injured during the attacks at the Institute for Excellence, aka shape-shifting dragon school, had been willing to return. The other less-than-perfect dragons had allowed the Directorate, the governing body of Dragon society, to bully them into private tutors. A ghost of a smile crossed Garret’s face. “I told the Directorate my left arm may not work and I may not be able to fly, but my mind was still functional, and they owed me for failing to provide adequate protection. You should’ve seen the looks on their faces.” “Good for you.

” Garret headed toward the tables where the Green dragons sat. The color-coding still threw Bryn sometimes. All the Greens had the same dark hair, eyes, and skin as Garret. All the upper-class Blues, like Jaxon, had golden-tan skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. The artsy Black dragons always looked a bit Goth with their ivory skin, black hair, and dark eyes. The middle class Reds seemed Irish with their red hair, green eyes, and freckled skin. The two lone Orange dragons with their bronze hair, skin, and eyes, looked Hawaiian. Since her mom had been a Blue and her dad a Red, Bryn didn’t fit in with any group of dragons. She wasn’t as thickly muscled as the Reds and not as graceful and lithe as the Blues. She’d changed her blond, red, and black striped hair to blond, to make peace with her grandfather, but she still didn’t blend in with the Blues.

Far from it. She envied the greeting Garret received from his Clan and loved that they acted like nothing was wrong. Then again, they were the smartest dragons, so it made sense they’d figured things out. Now, if only the rest of the Clans would catch up and realize the injured students didn’t reflect badly on them, life would be good. “You think this is a positive development,” Jaxon said, “but you’re wrong.” “That’s it.” Fire crawled up the back of Bryn’s throat. Smoke drifted from her lips as she spoke. “Get the hell away from me.” “Gladly.

” Jaxon stalked off to join his Clan-mates. Bryn’s best friend, a Black dragon named Ivy, bounded over with her boyfriend Clint in tow. “I won,” Ivy announced. “You won what?” Bryn asked. “She bet you’d try to roast Jaxon within the hour.” Clint ran his fingers through his Mohawk. “I bet within the first thirty minutes.” “You made it forty minutes.” Ivy grabbed Bryn’s hand. “I declare your door greeting duties officially over.

” Once they were seated at their usual table, Bryn sighed. “Finally, I can relax.” Ivy’s eyebrows went up. “Maybe not.” Bryn heard the click of high heels on the marble tile. She cringed. That had to be her grandmother, Marie Sinclair. “Bryn, why aren’t you greeting people at the door?” Turning to face her grandmother, Bryn gave a tight smile. “Most of the guests are here, my feet hurt, and I was five seconds from setting Jaxon’s hair on fire.” The woman could choose whichever reason she liked.

Her grandmother frowned. “It’s inappropriate to leave the entrance unless you find someone else to greet your guests.” “This isn’t my party. It’s a school party.” “That’s not what we discussed,” her grandmother said. “I didn’t realize you meant I had to stand at the door all night.” Marie Sinclair appeared unswayed. Bryn pushed to her feet. “If I find someone to greet people, will that make you happy?” “No.” Her grandmother said in her cold, upper-class Blue dragon tone.

“But it will do.” “Fine.” Bryn scanned the room. Who did she want to dump door duty on? Better yet, who could she convince to do it? Rhianna stood on the outskirts of the Blue Clan, clutching a glass of punch. Coming back to school after her injury was one thing. Playing hostess was another. Still, it didn’t hurt to ask. Bryn approached Rhianna and spoke in a quiet voice. “I have a favor to ask. My grandmother won’t let me sit down unless someone else takes over greeting guests.

Do you think you’re up for it?” “I’m not sure.” She nodded at her classmates. “My reception hasn’t been what I hoped for.” “Idiots.” Bryn frowned. Where was Jaxon? And then it came to her. “You could ask Jaxon to go with you. He’d be far happier standing up there with you than he was with me.” “Maybe.” Rhianna caught Jaxon’s gaze and waved.

He said something to the group of males he stood with and came over to hold Rhianna’s hand. “What’s wrong?” “Bryn needs someone to take over greeting at the door. Would you do it with me?” “Of course. We should have done it that way in the first place.” Okay, he was being nice to Rhianna, but did he have to be such a jerk to her? Not wanting to deal with him, Bryn clamped her lips shut and rejoined her friends at their table. Clint pointed to her hair. “I see you decided to go native.” She rolled her eyes. “My grandfather interpreted my red, blond, and black-streaked hair as lack of pride in my Blue Clan heritage. So I went blond to appease him.

” She reached up to touch the inchwide red streak by her temple. “He still hates this nod to my father’s Clan, but I refuse to change it.” “I miss the black stripes.” Ivy said. “Me, too. But my grandparents took me in, so I’m trying to keep the peace.” With her parents gone, it’s not like she had anywhere else to go. If she alienated her grandfather, she’d be homeless. “Let’s talk about something happier.” “I got my driver’s license,” Clint said.

“That’s great.” And it gave her an idea. “Maybe you could teach me how to drive.” Ivy shook her head. “Not a good plan. He drives like a maniac.” “I do not.” Clint puffed out his chest. “I’m a fabulous driver.” “You took out the bushes at the end of my driveway, on both sides.

” Ivy laughed. “I don’t know who gave him his driver’s test, but they must’ve been caffeine deprived.” “If I could have your attention.” Mr. Stanton, the Elemental Science teacher and head of the Green Clan stood near the punch bowl holding a microphone. “I’d like to welcome all of you back after the Christmas Holidays. I’m sure the new year will be an exciting time for all of us. The Directorate has taken security measures to protect the campus from any more disturbances.” Disturbances seemed like an understatement given the severity of the attacks that had occurred on campus before Christmas. “Please enjoy your friends’ company but remember, classes start bright and early tomorrow.

Make sure you rest up this evening.” “Please.” Clint threw his arm around Ivy’s shoulders. “I’ll be a zombie no matter what tomorrow. We might as well stay up tonight and have fun.” A growl echoed through the room. Bryn whipped around to see Jaxon facing off with a male from his Clan. “Rhianna does not reflect poorly on our kind.” The other male narrowed his eyes. “Really? Then why did your father void your marriage contract?” Uh-oh.

Jaxon wouldn’t speak against his father or the Directorate, which left only one option. This was about to get ugly. The air around Jaxon shimmered as he shifted to dragon form. The other male shifted, but backed up a step. Big mistake. Ceding ground showed weakness. Jaxon lunged, blasting frozen flames and striking out with his talons. The coppery scent of blood filled the air. Jaxon backed the boy up to the wall and pinned him there with his talons digging into the boy’s neck. “That’s enough.

” An all too familiar voice boomed through the room. Her grandfather, Ephram Sinclair, was here. Great. Jaxon released the boy’s neck, but didn’t retreat. “Shift back,” her grandfather ordered. “Now.” Even though he shifted back to human form, Jaxon never took his gaze from his opponent. “Jaxon Westgate, what do you have to say for yourself?” her grandfather asked in a voice that rang throughout the room. “What I have to say, sir, is that the members of my Clan will treat Rhianna with respect.” “Not just me.

” Rhianna stepped forward. “My injury wasn’t my fault. Neither was Garret’s or any of the other students who were injured in the attacks. We have every right to be here. Don’t you agree, Mr. Sinclair?” Holy crap. Rhianna had just called her grandfather out in front of all these people. Bryn wasn’t sure if she should cheer, or duck and cover. “You raise an interesting point, young lady. It was brave of you and the other injured students to return to the Institute,” her grandfather said.

“I would like to think your classmates would recognize that bravery and treat you accordingly. Now, I believe it’s time for everyone to retire to their dorms.” The injured Blue slunk away, blending in with the other members of his Clan. How many of them felt Rhianna didn’t belong? Would they act on that feeling? Jaxon couldn’t fight all of them. Then again, if he went all Westgate on them and proved he was the alpha male, he might not have to. “Is it me,” Clint said, “or did your grandfather wiggle out of answering that question?” “He’s a master of Directorate double-speak,” Bryn whispered. Chapter Two Bryn headed toward the door with her friends. She’d had enough drama for the evening. If her grandmother thought she was going to play the polite hostess by hanging around at the entrance and thanking everyone for coming, she was about to be disappointed. The noise of chairs scraping on the floor and students gathering their things was a familiar, comforting sound.

Who knew she’d miss school? “Incoming,” Ivy said. Now what? Bryn turned to greet her grandmother. “I don’t suppose you’re just coming over to give me a hug good-bye?” Her grandmother appeared at a loss for words. “Well, that would be nice, but I thought I’d accompany you to your new room and say my good-byes there.” “New room?” Bryn hoped she’d misunderstood. “Yes. Your grandfather and I discussed it. Since you’ve been legally recognized as a member of the Blue Clan, it’s only right you stay in the Blue dorm.” Bryn sent a mute appeal to Clint and Ivy for help. “We like having Bryn in our dorm,” Ivy said.

“We’d be happy to move her things back,” Clint offered. “I appreciate the kindness you showed my granddaughter when she first came here. I see nothing wrong with you continuing to be friends, but her grandfather and I believe her place is with her Clan.” “Is this more him than you?” Bryn asked, knowing the answer already. “I mentioned you might not want to be uprooted from your current location, but your grandfather felt strongly about the issue. There is a silver lining. Since Rhianna’s roommate asked to be reassigned, you’ll be able to move in with her.” “Oh, that part I like. I don’t suppose Rhianna could move into the Black dragon’s dorm with me?” That way they’d be farther away from the people who weren’t so friendly toward both of them. “No.

” Her grandmother’s answer was succinct and gave no opportunity for argument. Bryn groaned and turned to Clint and Ivy. “I’ll call you with my new room number, and we’ll figure out some way to mark my terrace, so you won’t land on the wrong one and have to deal with anyone’s attitude.” “I’ve always wondered if their rooms were fancier than ours,” Clint said. “I guess now I’ll find out.” “All right. That’s settled,” her grandmother said. “Let’s join Rhianna and tell her the good news.” Rhianna stood outside the dining hall with Jaxon by her side. Crap.

Rooming with Rhianna would mean more exposure to him. “Hey, roommate,” Bryn said with a grin. “Oh, good. Your grandmother talked to you. I wasn’t sure how to bring it up.” “You’d be better off on your own.” Jaxon spoke like Bryn wasn’t standing right there in front of him. What the hell? “You can turn back to your non-asshat self any time now.”

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