Book 4 in the Dante’s Circle Series
As one of the seven lightning-struck women, Nadie Morgan knew that her fate would be forever changed and revolve around a certain dragon.
From the first time Dante Bell saw Nadie, he knew that she was the one for him. There’s just one problem: there’s another in his life Dante’s waiting on, as well.
When Jace Goodwin, a bear shifter and Mediator, finally comes back to the human realm after years away, his first stop is Dante’s Circle, where he not only finds his dragon but also the woman they’ve both been waiting for.
Once secrets are told, and the sparks fly, Nadie’s new life becomes something she never thought possible. However, there’s another realm at play, and Jace and Nadie’s dragon will have to fight against the realms themselves to keep the two mates he’s wanted and waited eons for.
Tangled Innocence is Book 4 in the Dante’s Circle series
- Book 1: Dust of My Wings
- Book 2: Her Warriors’ Three Wishes
- Book 3: An Unlucky Moon
- Book 3.5: His Choice
- Book 4: Tangled Innocence
- Book 5: Fierce Enchantment
- Book 6: An Immortal’s Song
- Book 7: Prowled Darkness
- Book 8: Dante’s Circle Reborn
- Boxed Set: Dante’s Circle Box Set
The full series reading order is as follows:
“I’m done with men.”
Nadie Morgan barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her friend Faith’s proclamation. She was pretty sure the woman had said something similar before in the exact same exasperated tone. Faith usually said things like that, considering she was trying to find a man to match who she was and who she wanted to be.
Not an easy thing when Nadie wasn’t sure Faith knew who she wanted to be in the first place. Well, Nadie probably shouldn’t be casting stones, considering she stood in an eerily parallel place.
Faith ran a hand through her blunt black bangs, leaving them in their perpetual disorder, then curled her lip up in a snarl.
“Don’t you roll your eyes at me, Nadie Morgan. If you’d ever get off your virgin ass and actually tell him you want him, maybe you wouldn’t be in the same predicament as me.”
Nadie froze, the sounds of the bar slowly faded away so she couldn’t hear her friends’ reactions—if there were reactions. An odd numbness settled in, tunneling her vision so all she saw was Faith and her wide eyes set in a pale face.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the rest of their friends stiffen as well, then turn toward Faith, their mouths opening, most likely to defend Nadie where they thought she would never be able to defend herself.
In most cases, they’d have been right.
“Well, that was blunt,” Nadie finally said, her throat dry. What else was she supposed to say? She was surprised she could speak at all. It wasn’t as if Faith was saying anything untrue or far from Nadie’s mind. It just hurt to hear it in the first place.
She’d rather have buried it forever and not looked back, but she knew that would have been weak.
Weaker than she’d been acting already.
“Oh crap, I’m so sorry, honey.” Tears filled the normally strong-willed woman’s eyes, and Nadie immediately forgave her. There hadn’t been any true damage, and all Faith had done was tell the truth.
“It’s okay.” She raised her hands at her friends, and they quieted whatever words they were about to say. “No, really. You just got dumped. It sucks, so you lashed out, and I’m a pretty good target at the moment.”
Faith shook her head then got up and walked around the circular table where they always sat when they came to Dante’s Circle. Normally, it was a place that had become a sort of home to them, and right then, it was nice to have that familiarity. Faith wrapped her arms around Nadie and Nadie hugged her back. Hard. “No, it’s not freaking okay. I’m hurt and in a pissy mood, but that doesn’t give me the right to act like a cruel bitch.”
“Just a normal bitch then,” Becca, deadpanned, then flipped her fiery red curls over her shoulders.
“Hey, don’t call Faith a bitch,” Lily added in then came up to wrap her arms around Nadie’s other side. “Well, she might be one, but we’re trying to change that. And Nadie honey, I love you. Don’t listen to what Faith said.”
Soon, Amara, Eliana, Jamie, and eventually, Becca moved to join the group hug. Nadie could feel Faith’s tears seep into her shirt and knew that her friends weren’t there to comfort Nadie, but Faith. The woman wouldn’t accept the comfort otherwise, and everyone knew it.
Sometimes she and her friends just had to be sneaky about things like hugs and showing Faith they loved her just as much as they loved the rest of the girls.
“Okay, break it up. I can’t breathe under all of you,” Faith snapped.
Nadie just shook her head as Faith wiped her tears, straightened her shoulders, and then sat back in her seat on the other side of the circle.
“So, we hate Chadwick,” Amara said as she pulled her auburn hair into a ponytail. She smiled prettily at Faith who rolled her eyes.
“His name was Chad, not Chadwick,” Faith answered. “Stop making him sound like some dweeb who loves his mom and the country club.”
Nadie tilted her head then took a sip of her lemon drop. “Um, but he did love his mom and his country club. Wasn’t that the whole point? That he wanted to be with mommy and her money rather than stand up for something more? I thought you said something about the snooty mommy and her leech of a son.”
Faith narrowed her eyes. “You’re not supposed to throw my words back in my face.”
“On the contrary,” Amara put in. “We’re you’re friends. If he’s a right bastard with mommy issues, that’s our job. You’re the one who told us that dear Chadwick was a limp neck—and probably had limp other things too—mommy’s boy. Or should we call him mother’s boy. He seemed like the guy who would raise his eyebrows all haughtily and call for his mother.” Amara tried and failed to use a British accent—which Chad, not Chadwick, did not possess, and the girls fell over in giggles.
“Oh sweet baby Jesus, stop making me laugh like that. I think I’ll start leaking,” Lily said as she pressed her hands to her breasts. The new mom had control issues sometimes. Lily. A mom. So weird yet perfect at the same time.
“Oh God, you leak when you laugh?” Becca asked, her eyes wide before she turned to Jamie. “That’ll be us in a few months.”
Nadie just smiled and took another drink of her lemon drop as her now-mated friends talked about babies, leaking, and growly mates. She didn’t want to feel jealous, but the little green monster wrapped its spindly arms around her, and she winced. It wasn’t Becca’s, Jamie’s, or Lily’s fault that they had met their true halves and something like a perfect life had actually stuck.
So much had changed in the short time since the world had grown around them that sometimes Nadie couldn’t run fast enough to catch up.
She frowned and thought about the date then sat straight up. “Well, hell.” The other girls stopped what they were doing and looked at her.
“Did you just curse?” Jamie asked, her hand on her baby bump. “You never curse.”
Nadie snorted. “I curse, you just never listen. That isn’t the point though. Think about what day it is and where we are.”
Amara’s eyes widened. “Well, hell,” she repeated. “It’s been two years, hasn’t it?”
Nadie nodded then sat back as she watched the reactions wash over her friends’ faces. It had been two years since the seven of them walked into Dante’s Circle like they normally did, but they’d left with something much more.
Something most of them still didn’t have a handle on.
Lightning had hit the building, or at least inside the building, on that day. Nadie, her six friends, and the owner of the bar…Dante, were struck by that same bolt of lightning. She could still remember the screams, the feel of her body rising from her chair then slamming down to the ground, and the heated sensation of something…else…flowing through her in an arc. It still haunted her nightmares sometimes.
After all of that, none of them had been the worse for wear, just a few cuts and bruises and, of course, Amara’s broken arm, but that was it. Amara had healed quickly, as had the rest of them. Too quickly, in Nadie’s opinion.
They had been forever changed though.
Lily had been the first to notice—though they all had in a way considering it was weird that eight of them had been struck by lightning and hadn’t been killed or injured beyond falling to the ground.
They’d discovered that their human world wasn’t quite human.
Every human who called themselves human, Nadie included, were diluted versions of supernaturals, and most weren’t in the know about the fact that hundreds of realms existed near and entwined with their own realm.
“I can’t believe it’s been two years since I met Shade,” Lily whispered then gave a little smile.
Shade was a warrior angel and Lily’s true half. Apparently supernaturals had another part of their souls out in the world, and they were lucky when they found it. Or at least they were lucky when they found it, and the other half actually wanted it, but that was another story altogether.
“And I met Ambrose around that time, though it took another year to meet Balin,” Jamie put in.
Jamie had not just one mate, but two. Nadie held back a blush at that thought. What on earth would she do with two men? She hadn’t even been with one let alone two. Oh no way, too much for her. That didn’t mean she couldn’t have her own fantasies though.
“That means it’s almost been a year since I met Hunter,” Becca said as she frowned. “It seems like so much longer, you know? I mean, Jamie and I are pregnant, and Lily just had Kelly. We’re bonded with our mates and have seen so…much.”
Nadie nodded, knowing what she meant—at least when it came to what they’d seen. That was the other part of being struck by that particular bolt of lightning.
Each of them had a new energy within themselves. It was as if the lightning had altered their DNA, which the scientist Lily said was possible, considering the paranormal worlds were so much different than the human one. Now, apparently, once one of them met their true half—or the other two-thirds in Jamie’s case—they started to grow weak, as if their body was rejecting itself. Then once they made love with their true half, they turned into a paranormal creature.
It was as if she were now in some sci-fi movie that she couldn’t quite wake up from. Lily had turned into a brownie; Jamie, a djinn; Becca, a leprechaun. Each of them had met with others of their realm and, in some cases, fell right in step with that part of their lives while others had fought for their right to live—at peace and in general. Not everyone in the realms was happy about the turn of events.
Frankly, Nadie wasn’t sure she was either.
The others were talking about how much had changed and how the rest of them still needed to find their true halves. Nadie, though, knew she was in a different place than the rest of them. While the others had hope for a future or were on the bliss side of happiness, Nadie knew she had nothing like that. No, she had nothing. She had a feeling she’d known her true half longer than the rest of them, longer than they’d even known what true halves were, yet he’d done nothing about it.
She closed her eyes, a sudden rush of something more powerful than herself seeming to wrench whatever energy she had left from her bones. Pain arced across her body, bile filling her throat as something clawed at her, her body growing weak. Her hand shook as she set down her lemon drop, but she didn’t think anyone noticed. Life was moving on for the rest of them, yet Nadie didn’t think she’d move on with her friends.
She swallowed hard, the truth slapping her in the face.
Her dragon didn’t want her.
Well, not her dragon, as he never would be hers. He’d seen to that. The tattooed, sexy bar owner, Dante, had known her for years and yet hadn’t taken one step toward her beyond being her friend. And he’d started to move away from even that since the lightning. They weren’t the friends they’d once been and the loss was almost too much to bear. She’d had a crush on him ever since she could remember and she’d never done anything about it, either.
He was a freaking dragon, meaning that even when she’d been human and ignorant of all that went beneath the surface of the human realm, he would have been able to feel her as his true half, would have been able to feel that pull, that deep desire not only to have the other person in his life for eternity, but to have them in all ways possible.
Yet he’d done nothing about it.
Well, that was just fine then. She didn’t need him anyway.
Another wave of pain drenched in power washed over her, and she closed her eyes, willing it away. Damn that dragon. No, damn her as well. If she’d had the courage to actually speak her mind, maybe she’d have been able to see what he wanted from her or, rather, what he didn’t want from her.
Now she was alone and too scared to do anything about it.
Honestly, she had only herself to blame for it.
She wasn’t weak, but she sure as heck was acting like it. Her fingers slid over the smooth wood on the table as she tried to regain some semblance of control. She didn’t want this to be the last time she came with her six girlfriends into the bar that had become their getaway, but it was looking more and more like that was what would have to happen.
She couldn’t come into the place that called to them and not think about the dragon who filled her dreams. Not that she’d ever seen him in his dragon form, but his human form was exactly what she wanted.
“Hello, ladies,” Dante said as he walked up to them. His piercing blue—not that blue was a good enough word for the pools of color she saw—eyes met hers for a moment before moving on to the rest of the girls at the table.
His attention elsewhere, she could do what she loved best—study her dragon. While she was the plain Jane with straight blonde hair and a way-too-innocent face, according to Faith, Dante was the exact opposite.
He’d tied his long black hair in a ponytail so the blue streaks stood out even more. She wasn’t sure if he dyed it that way or if black and blue just came naturally. Since he was a dragon, it could just be who he was. He’d chopped off a lot of it recently, something she wasn’t sure about, but she thought he was sexy no matter what. So it settled in the middle of his back. She knew that if he didn’t keep on it, though, it would grow so long that it touched the floor again.
God, she envied his hair.
He was built, but not too bulky, and wicked tall. At five foot three herself, everyone seemed a bit tall to her, but Dante was a couple inches over six and a half feet. She felt like a tiny fairy next to him, but she liked it.
If she ever wanted to kiss him, though, she might need to stand on a chair to accomplish it.
She blinked away those thoughts, knowing it was a lost cause.
There would be no kissing when it came to the dragon. He couldn’t even stand to look at her for too long.
Her eyes went to the tribal dragon-like tattoos running down his arms and the small black hoops in his ears and brow. When he spoke, she could sometimes catch a glimpse of the tongue ring he wore, but he’d never flat out shown it to anyone. Becca thought that Dante might have a few more piercings…lower on his body, but Nadie and the rest of them had never been brave enough to ask.
“Nadie, are you okay?” The deep voice broke her out of her thoughts and sent decadent shivers down her spine.
Nadie look up at Dante and swallowed hard. “I’m fine,” she croaked out.
He tilted his head, his penetrating gaze not leaving hers. She needed to stop looking at him because once she left the bar she wouldn’t be coming back. Yes, she’d come to that conclusion. She couldn’t force herself to live in the shadow of what she’d once been and think she wasn’t good enough for him anymore. It would make it only that much harder to leave him if she didn’t stop staring at him.
“If you’re sure,” he said, his voice telling her he didn’t believe her.
Well, it was his fault anyway she was feeling like this. He’d ignored her for years, so apparently she wasn’t good enough to be his true half. The thought that she wasn’t good enough in his eyes burned, but she’d get over it. She had to. Leaving might kill her, but she’d walk out of the bar with her head held high.
She might be rejected, but she wouldn’t be kicked while she was down.
“I’m sure. Thank you for asking.” She held back a wince. No matter how hard she tried to act cool and unmoved, those stupid manners her parents had droned into her never quite went away.
Dante frowned at her, his eyebrow ring moving delicately as he did so. She didn’t like to see him frown, even though she’d noticed him doing it more than usual since the lightning strike.
Not that she’d been watching him or anything.
Wow, she needed to stop this. Before she knew it, she’d be following him home, climbing through his bedroom window, and watching him sleep.
She looked up at the man she’d been trying to forget and gave him a small smile. Damn her, she just couldn’t stop doing that. His eyes brightened—or maybe that’s just what she hoped had happened—and he smiled back.
“Okay then. Well, ladies, you all are closing down the house tonight as the rest of my customers have decided to call it in early. And since I’m closing at ten anyway. Do you want another round, or are you done for the evening?”
The others talked, mumbling their words to each other, but Nadie couldn’t keep her eyes from Dante. Something was up with him, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. The strain in the corner of his eyes and the firm set of his mouth that he thought he hid so well didn’t escape her notice. Before the lightning strike, she might have gotten the courage to ask him as he’d always been a friend and had never made her feel insignificant. Now though? Now she was afraid, too afraid to do anything about it.
And that made her feel insignificant.
Something she’d have to change by leaving and never coming back.
She was better than this, better than the empty shell she was becoming.
However, right then, with the slight tension she saw creeping over Dante’s shoulders, it wasn’t about her but about the dragon who seemed to literally be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. She didn’t know how to help, or even if she could.
Another flash of weakness—the one that came with meeting her true half but not completing the bond—wrenched at her, and she gasped. Her friends turned toward her, but before she could lie and say she was okay, something odd happened.
It was as if someone siphoned the pain from her, inch by inch, and suddenly, she was fine. Well, not fine, but at least better than she’d been. It made no sense. It shouldn’t have been happening like that. Oh, she’d thought it had happened once or twice before, but never to this degree. The pain slid away, and Nadie swallowed hard, able to breathe again.
Dante let out a grunt beside her, and she blinked up at him through clear eyes.
“Dante? You’re pale. What’s wrong?” she asked as she stood up, worried. She put her hand on his upper arm then froze at her action.
He looked down at her hand then wiped the sweat that hadn’t been there before from his brow. “Just a little dizzy, my sprite. I’ll be fine.” He placed his hand over hers, squeezing, and gave a strained smile. “Thank you.”
She swallowed hard at his touch and smiled back.
He slowly slid his hand away and she moved back as well.
He’d called her my sprite. Well, that was different. Darn it, she had no idea what was going on with this man, but it was something. Something he was hiding. She needed to gain the courage to ask him. It didn’t matter that she was leaving for good. He was her friend, and it looked as though he needed one right then.
But if past experiences were anything, she knew she couldn’t be the friend he needed.
Not anymore, not with the fact he’d ignored what she was to him for so long.
“If everyone is fine then, I’m off to go to Shade and Kelly,” Lily said, and then she said her goodbyes. Faith got up and walked to Dante, whispering something in his ear, but Nadie wasn’t sure what it was. Soon the rest of the women left, either not noticing the tension or ignoring it altogether. That was exactly what she needed right then, and she was grateful that her friends seemed to know it.
She followed her friends out the door, letting herself take one last look over her shoulder at the man she wanted but could never have and then went to her car. The others left the parking lot as she got in and tried to start her car.
Try being the operative word.
The car made this annoying chugging sound then ticked before refusing to turn over. She slammed her hand on the steering wheel then cursed when she hurt herself.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Everyone had left her probably thinking she’d be right behind them, and honestly, she didn’t want to call them back just to leave her car there. She searched for her cell phone and cursed. Damn it. Where had it gone? Nothing was working right. She fought back tears of frustration, annoyed with herself more than anything. They’d all gotten in their cars together, not knowing hers wouldn’t start. It wasn’t her friends’ fault she was stranded, but she still felt alone.
She’d have to go back into the bar and call a tow truck or something. Maybe she’d left her phone at the table. This was not the night of eating chocolate while having a good cry she’d had in mind.
The knock on her half-open window startled her, and the scream that ripped from her throat at seeing the man outside would have made any horror movie heroine proud.
The blond man, his hair falling to his shoulders, held up his hands, his green eyes wide. “I’m sorry, honey. Didn’t mean to scare the crap out of you. I was just going to see if you needed help with your car.”
The man had to be taller and wider than even Dante, and that didn’t make her feel any less freaked out. The barrier of the car door would be nothing to a man like that, and all she could think about, despite his soft words, was an image of him ripping the door off, throwing her over his shoulder, and taking her away.
Damn it. Why didn’t she have a weapon of some kind in her car?
And why didn’t she know how to use said weapon?
“I’m a friend of Dante’s. I won’t hurt you. I promise.” Hands held out in a surrender position, he slowly backed up. “Why don’t I get Dante and get you some help? Okay? I’m Jace by the way.”
She blinked up at the man named Jace, unsure of what to do. He might have said he was a friend of Dante, but considering the bar’s name was in his line of sight, that could have been a wild guess and a pretty damn good lie.
Nope, she wasn’t getting out. She’d just call the bar from her car and have Dante—or the cops—come to her. She reached in her purse and cursed because she’d forgotten she didn’t have her phone to begin with. As she had just started to really panic, she let out a breath when she saw Dante himself walking toward them.
“Nadie? Jace? What’s going on?” He didn’t sound alarmed, more like curious.
“Nadie?” Jace rasped. This time there was something like awe in his tone, and she had no idea what he meant.
Had Dante told him about her? No, that would be stupid. There was no reason for Dante to do so. She was nothing to the dragon.
Dante walked up to Jace, cupped his cheek, and then gave a nod. Nadie felt as if she’d been slapped—she hadn’t known Dante had someone…let alone a man. No wonder Dante didn’t want her. He already had his mate. Oh Jesus. Fate really was that cruel to her.
Yet something important clicked inside her at the same time at the intimate sight.
“What’s going on?” she asked, her throat dry.
Dante moved, pushing Jace a step back then stood by her car door. “Come on into the bar, Nadie. We have a lot to talk about.”
She shook her head. “Tell me here. What’s going on?” There was something off about this, something she didn’t understand. It wasn’t fear running through her right then—no, it was something much warmer, something filled with undeniable promise. She needed to put a stop to it before it went anywhere…especially since it seemed Dante and Jace were an item—or something much more.
And once again, Nadie had been left on the outside looking in.
“Nadie, please,” Dante begged. “Come inside. For me?”
At that last word, she nodded. She’d never seen her dragon beg, and she didn’t want to see it again. He wasn’t the type to do so, and that meant something far greater than she could imagine was going on here.
“Fine, but you need to tell me what’s going on when we get in there.”
Dante nodded. “Yes, I’ll tell you everything. Finally.”
She got out of the car and swallowed hard. She looked at Jace and blinked. The feeling of being by his side was strangely just as intimate and heated as being by Dante’s. That didn’t make any sense, and yet she wasn’t sure she wanted it to. For some reason she wanted to move closer to them both, hold them and never let them go. The warmth in her belly wasn’t a mere attraction, no, it was something far greater.
Something tugged at her heart, her breath, her…everything.
She had a feeling she’d just taken a step toward a future she hadn’t thought possible, but this time, she wasn’t turning back.
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