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Ravenous Innocence: Tritan Evolution, Book I

Ravenous Innocence: Tritan Evolution, Book I

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He's been tasked to hunt me down and dress me in chains—a mission he relishes, for with one taste of my lips, he knows what I am. What I might be capable of...

A dog of the state unaccustomed to being refused, Asher feeds me whispers of a coddled life kneeling at his feet.

Only one thing is certain—he'll either put me on my knees, or I'll kill them all.

Main Tropes

  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Primal Hunter/ Prey
  • Rejected Mates
  • Villain Obsessed with Heroine
  • Non-Con/ Dub-Con
  • Dark Fantasy

Synopsis

The Caledonian forces come armed, yet offer peace. Spouting claims that they can deliver a new era—one of luxury and ease—they think to seduce. They promise our countries will thrive together, that they will save us from ourselves in exchange for Tritan's secrets, our expertise in the mystical arts of wielding ki. Partner with warmongers unaccustomed to being refused, or fall beneath their boots.

These conquerors fool no one.

They seek to leash my people and claim our priestesses for their own sick uses.

But I will not kneel.

Especially not to him.Captain Asher Rawlings.

Powerful... Elite... Relentless...

He's been tasked to hunt me down and dress me in chains—a mission he relishes, for with one taste of my lips, he hungers for my submission above all else...

In an instant, the deadly secret I've been keeping for years is exposed to his attention. He knows what I am, what I might be capable of, and he's drawn to my fire... my ki...

With a kiss, he feeds me whispers of a coddled life kneeling at his precious feet, his offer nothing more than the life of a cherished pet.

But he won't have me or my ki, for his betrayal has given me strength even he didn't expect.

Only one thing is certain—he'll either put me on my knees, or I'll kill them all.

Sample of Chapter One

I wasn’t supposed to be here.

Wasn’t allowed to walk amongst my fellow citizens, enjoying the beautiful, sunny day. I’d been forbidden to stroll through the over-crowded market, unattended and unprotected. To do as I wished without the express permission of my father—and the accompanying escort—was to invite dire, world-altering consequences.

It wasn’t safe.

I smiled, soaking up the sun and watched a jewelry merchant hawk his wares. Watched as he snared the attention of a tall, willowy woman, seizing her elbow before she could pass his display. Tugging, he pulled her into the shade beneath his tent and the flapping azure awning, thumb stroking the pale skin of her upper arm. Directing her gaze to follow a trinket with his free hand, he bedazzled her with glittering stones and polished silver that danced in the shadowed half-light.

I pressed my palm to the pendant perched on my breastbone, torn. As of yet, I hadn’t actually done anything deserving of consequences. Had, in fact, done nothing but watch, enthralled by the market’s chaos. Thrilled by the colors and scents of the Tritan people, I watched from the sidelines. Pretending I was just another face in a sea of silver-blonde, Tritan heads, to whom words like ‘consequences’ and ‘unsafe’ did not apply.

But I wasn’t one of them, blood or not.

My fingers tightened around my pendant, considering as the precious, ugly stone glittered in the sun, tossing distinct shades of blue, green, and purple onto the street before me. Simply being here was a risk to everything my father and I had sacrificed over the years, surrounded by the crush of unsuspecting masses, each more sightless than the last. Most unable to sense the ki burning thick and sweet in the air. That such a power could go unnoticed by so many was a blessed curse from the Goddess herself, drowning me in the temptation to reach out and touch them… to blend in. To taste the living flames of their ki and know normal. To be normal, if only for a few stolen moments.

I clenched my fist, letting the tarnished family heirloom bite the meat of my palm. At once concealing the scatter of blues, greens, and purples before they were recognized, and letting the stone drink deep of my life force. It feasted with greedy abandon, starving for ki willingly given. Storing my excess in its stony, cold heart in return for blessed, numbing calm.

A service only the Glaith could provide to one such as me.

I shuddered, drained, for now, but conflicted. There wouldn’t be another chance as perfect as this, what with my father occupied by some important State Senate meeting and my target already marked. In fact, everyone who might take an interest in my actions was in that meeting. The rest, the Priestesses with their keen ki-sense, were locked away, deep in the heart of the temple.

No one would recognize me here. None could sense what I really was beneath the Glaith.

And yet, I hesitated, eyes fixed to the merchant conducting his business. Fingers tight about my pendant, keeping myself firmly in check. My father had given everything to keep me free. Free to live and make mistakes. It was a debt I could never even begin to repay, and yet, in this, he was wrong. The man was blinded by his need to protect and coddle. Couldn’t see the raw potential simmering in my veins… desperate to be set loose…

I grinned.

If it were possible to harness my birthright, I alone would decide how it would be used. Not my beloved father. Not a faceless, tyrannical High Priestess, moored in tradition and secrets, who would claim me for the temple simply because of what I was.

Me.

Alone.

And if I failed? Consequences were only for those foolish or weak enough to get caught.

Finished with his sale, the merchant kissed his customer’s wrist and tucked a handful of coins into his purse, setting pale eyes to scan for his next conquest before he’d finished with the last.

This was it, then. My moment. I let the pendant fall. Let it settle above my shift, separating its numbing influence from my skin and leaving myself vulnerable—for in its absence, the rest washed in.

Ki.

My accursed birthright.

Awareness burst inside my skull. The ki of every man and woman in the market—of Tritan blood or otherwise—called to me, whispering their secrets all at once. Begging me to reach out and touch, to drink until I’d filled the bottomless, ravenous void. There was no bracing for it. No way to prepare for the kiss of the Divine. And here, in an overcrowded market separate from the Glaith for the first time in four years, I swayed, staggering under the weight of their ki. Knuckles white and jaw slack, suffering an endless, blazing inferno writhing just out of reach, I struggled to master it before it swallowed me whole.

The stone in my pendant was warm now, working to consume the flames I’d fed it, to store the ki I couldn’t contain alone. I could feel the heat through my shift, knew it would need time to cool before I could feed it again, lest it overheat and sear my skin. Four years, my pendant of Glaith had protected me, shielding me from any consequences my existence might provoke. Numbing.

Too long.

Knuckles white, I forced the whispers back, straining to bank the flames of their ki without reaching for the Glaith. And then, taking even, measured steps, I merged with the busy foot-traffic, letting my country-folk carry me toward the jewelry merchant. On my lips, a practiced smile. Careful to evade skin-to-skin contact with the press of the crowd, I focused on the pendant swinging between my breasts. Glaith was the only guard and escort I needed. A safety net giving me permission to meet the merchant’s eye and dance with a viper.

“Goddess be with us,” the merchant trilled, stepping into my path. “Such a beautiful young lady! My dear, you simply glow with youth! Come,” he said, butter-soft fingers finding purchase on my elbow, guiding and hustling me into his shaded tent. “I have just the thing to complement those striking eyes.”

I blinked, straining not to look at his fingers upon my skin. Swallowing a groan as his ki blazed through me, my focus narrowed to him and little else. Both a relief from the roar of the crowd and a painful, intimate burden, but I allowed him to lead me into the shadows. Listening to his ki whisper tales of false smiles and sharp instincts as that thumb traced a trusted pattern on my skin.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, miss…”

Insincerity oozed through my skin, and I knew he didn’t care. Knew it was a tactic to lure me into a false trust so he could relieve me of more coin. But my first name held no power, gave him nothing that could bring my father into this or lead the merchant to realize who I was, if my efforts here went sideways. So I smiled, and said, “Mila,” tapping two fingers to my temple. My tone light. Carefree.

“Mila,” he breathed, returning the gesture of respect. “Beautiful name for a beautiful girl, but”—he hooked a single, slender finger beneath the pendant’s chain, tsking—“oh, no. No no no! This simply won’t do. I cannot bear such an outdated, battered piece distracting from your radiance, my dearest Mila.”

“It—” I cleared my throat, taking a tiny conservative sip of his ki. Looking for deception, only to find genuine distaste for an outdated, battered piece worth more than everything else in his shop combined. “It was my mother’s,” I said, letting him taste old sorrows.

The grip on my elbow tightened, light eyes widening. “Ah. Well. The Goddess can be cruel, for all her wisdom. I’m so sorry for your loss, child. Come,” he said, fluttering bejeweled fingers. “Sit. I have the perfect piece to soothe such pain. Why don’t you take your dear mother’s pendant off, and I’ll have it cleaned? Perhaps we can replace the jewel in the center. How about a nice sapphire to match your eyes, hmm? I happen to have a selection of loose stones for just such an occasion.”

Pushing my ki through the pad of his dewy thumb, I trapped his hand on my elbow and directed his attention away from my pendant. Toward the case I’d seen a week prior while perusing the markets with my father, for I’d already chosen what I’d be leaving with today. “You are too kind, sir, but I couldn’t. I haven’t enough coin to—”

“Nonsense,” he breathed, pulling me deeper into the tent. Something akin to fatherly instinct lit up my senses when he dropped the hyper-cheerful sales pitch and said, “Everything is negotiable, darling. Everything. Remember that lesson, and you’ll do well in life.”

A tentative, fragile smile spread across my lips, no less effective for all that I’d rehearsed. “Thank you.”

“I won’t hear it,” he said, patting the back of my hand. Each pat landed with a burst of ki behind my eyelids. Dazzling. Enthralling. “Now let’s find the piece with ‘Mila’ written on it.”

I smothered the grin begging to be set free, allowing him to guide me around the tiny shop, hand in hand. Flitting from one display to the next, the merchant remained unaware as I slid beneath his skin. Drinking just a little deeper to learn him from the inside out, while he filled my every cell with power and confidence.

I’d been right. 

This was right, this Divinity thick in my blood was mine.

The light shifted, signaling the arrival of another patron, but I didn’t spare the newcomer a glance, instead driving my merchant to stop before a display of brooches. It took little more than a tiny push to make it his idea to open the case.

“Oh, darling, yes. This is it.” He lifted the brooch, letting it catch the gloomy half-light. “It’s far from the most valuable piece in my collection, but it was made for you. I feel it deep in my bones.”

Did he now? The Glaith hung heavy about my neck, the most innocent expression I’d rehearsed fixed to my lips. “It’s beautiful,” I whispered, inspecting the savage likeness of a snarling wildcat with tiny amber eyes.

“Isn’t it? But I’m selfish.” He winked. “I simply cannot go another minute without seeing it against your skin, my dear.”

I returned his smile, tilting my chin back as he pinned it to my shift. And yet, my fingers lingered upon his skin, maintaining the connection with that which had become mine. “Thank you,” I breathed, meeting his eye. Watching his pupils dilate. “It’s beautiful. It must also be… expensive?”

The merchant blinked, pulse pounding at the base of his throat, unable to tear his eyes from mine. Unwilling, for he too, could taste the Divine. Through me. “Ex-Expensive, yes. Yes. But for you,” he said, licking lips gone dry, “I’m happy to see it go.”

What would it hurt to take just a little… more? To drink just a little deeper from my merchant and celebrate this tiny victory? My fingers tightened on his wrist, mouth watering, hungering for his ki. He wouldn’t notice the absence, not really. How could he miss what he couldn’t sense? What he’d never sense, for he was not of the Blood.

“A fine choice,” came a voice from behind, making me jump. “Not sure it’s worth the risk, but a fine choice, nonetheless.”

Heat rushed to my cheeks, fingers jerking free of the merchant on a startled gasp. Fist crackling with stolen ki, I spun to face the fool who dared disturb me.

He caught my wrist, standing too close, fingers rough and warm—but utterly devoid of ki.

I blinked.

Blinked again, turning the full strength of my senses upon him. Nothing. Not a lick or whisper of ki. “Impossible,” I breathed, meeting eyes darker than pitch, trying to wrap my head around the contradiction standing before me. Every living thing had ki to some degree, for without it we were nothing but fuel for the next generation. And yet this man, obviously so full of life, possessed nothing of the sort. Unless…

My eyes dropped to his neck, absent a chain that might have swung with a pendant like mine. Dressed in formal black and gold, dark hair cropped close and kept neat, the man had the gall to smirk at me. Clean, sharp jaw framing a handsome face, his were not the features I was accustomed to seeing. Too dark, build too big to be of Tritan blood. My gaze dropped further still, to the hand on my wrist—and the chunky, masculine ring sitting proud on his pinky finger.

Glaith.

I knew without seeing those distinct blue, green, and purple shadows scattering the light. Knew what the ugly stone set in a foreign family crest meant. But… “Impossible,” I said again, though this time it was a dry squeak. This time, I pulled away, for he couldn’t be what I thought he was. The Glaith was coveted by Tritan’s Priestesses for its responsive reactions to ki. This man couldn’t possibly know what his ring was truly worth.

It was a coincidence, nothing more.

Trying to step back, I tucked my pendant beneath my shift, reuniting the warm stone with my skin, just in case. When the Glaith touched my breastbone, it pushed everything else out, deadening my forbidden senses once more. Turning my knees to water as it swallowed the Divine.

“The brooch,” he said, ignoring my attempt to free myself from his grasp, though those dark eyes tracked my every movement. Tracing the pendant beneath my shirt. “How much?”

The merchant blinked, still under my sway even without my touch on his skin or my ki thick in his veins. “F-For the lady, nothing. A gift, sir.”

“Take your hand off—”

“Nonsense,” the intruder returned, fingers tightening on my wrist. Near to bruising with the unspoken warning. “You have a living to make. To earn nothing from an item of such fine quality is a crime where I come from.”

I bristled with the implication, spluttering, the reprimand plain enough.

“Well,” the merchant breathed, each passing moment pulling him further from my influence. “If you insist—”

“I do.” The intruder dropped a few foreign coins into the merchant’s outstretched hand. “Besides,” he continued, full lips twitching when he met my bewildered scowl once more, “it’s my pleasure to part with the coin if it’ll buy me a few moments of the lady’s time.”

I wrenched my wrist free at last, pressing a trembling hand to my throat. “Do I look like a commodity?”

He turned those obsidian eyes down at me, invading my space with a single step. “You’ll have to excuse the presumption, but I rather think you’d prefer if I didn’t say what I think you are.”

“And I think you’ll excuse my rudeness, but I don’t care what you think I am—”

“Asher. Captain Asher Rawlings of His Majesty’s Imperial Army.”

A Caledonian.

The heat rushed from my cheeks, taking my breath with it.

A Caledonian. Goddess, with all my power, how could I have been so bloody stupid? So blind?

I swallowed the bubble rising at the back of my throat, and said, “Right. Well, Captain Asher Rawlings of His Majesty’s Imperial Army, I don’t care what you think I am. Because whatever it is, I can assure you, you’re wrong.”

Asher hummed, low at the back of his throat. Inky eyes glittering with something I couldn’t name.

And then, without speaking another word or breaking eye contact, he removed his ring.

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