An emotional, fiercely sexy paranormal tale of romance and rebirth.
JUNE 25, 2013
The Dragon Kings, Book One
Ten years ago, Audrey MacLaren chose to marry her human lover, making her an exile from the Dragon Kings, an ancient race of demons once worshiped as earthly gods. Audrey and her husband managed to conceive, and their son is the first natural-born Dragon King in a generation–which makes him irresistible to the sadistic scientist whose mafia-funded technology allows demon procreation. In the year since her husband was murdered, Audrey and her little boy have endured hideous experiments.
Shackled with a collar and bound for life, Leto Garnis is a Cage warrior. Only through combat can Dragon Kings earn the privilege of conceiving children. Leto uses his superhuman speed and reflexes to secure the right for his two sisters to start families. After torture reveals Audrey’s astonishing pyrokenesis, she is sent to fight in the Cages. If she survives a year, she will be reunited with her son. Leto is charged with her training. Initially, he has no sympathy for her plight. But if natural conception is possible, what has he been fighting for? As enemies, sparring partners, lovers, and eventual allies, Leto and Audrey learn that in a violent underground world, love is the only prize worth winning.
“Fans of gritty paranormal romance will appreciate the strong and emotional story, which builds to an exciting conclusion. ~ Publishers Weekly
“The tension and developing relationship between Audrey and Leto will keep pages turning at a fast clip, and the setup for future books is sure to have readers coming back for more.” ~ RT BookReviews, Four Stars
“If you’ve become jaded toward serial paranormal romances, you should give the genre one last try. CAGED WARRIOR is an excitingly fresh. The story is complex and demanding, the hero is both brutal and somehow innocent, and the premise, well, that’s just insane. Highly recommended.” ~ All About Romance
She wasn’t in the lab. That’s all she knew. The smells were different. Fewer sterilizing cleansers and less recycled air. More body odor. Piss and sweat. Dirt. Wet rocks.
Audrey opened her eyes and blinked. She pushed up onto her hands and knees. Pain banged at her temples–the ache of still-healing blows to the skull and her own frantic pulse. Lifting her head was an effort like swimming through wet cement.
Her fuzzy vision sharpened as she got used to the dim lighting. Just a pair of bare incandescent bulbs. A humid mist hung heavy in the cave-like room. Even when her eyes worked together, focusing, that mist ebbed away at details. She couldn’t tell where the algae-covered walls began and ended.
The bars to her four-by-four cage were a prison. Solid iron. She lifted swollen hands and grasped the cold metal. Frustration ate at her insides. Rattling the cage bars, she shrieked.
“Where is my son?”
At least in the lab, she and Jack had shared a cell. No bars. Only walls painted black. Just as disorienting. But that confinement had almost felt safe. She’d held her boy, thankful the darkness concealed the worst of their wounds.
Now she had iron bars, algae, and a black pit where her heart had been.
“Where is he? Aster! You son of a bitch!”
The hair lifted on the backs of her forearms. As her heartbeat jacked, she noticed her dirty body. Her vulnerability. She wore a paper hospital gown–no underwear, no shoes. Had she been dragged straight from the lab? The last thing she remembered was being strapped to an operating table, after having slipped the note to Reed. A mask had pumped anesthetic into her mouth and nose but she’d been hopeful for the first time in months.
Maybe that explained her grogginess. From surgery to a Dragon-damned cave.
Now she wore a damping collar. But why? Her powers had never manifested. Giving birth to the first natural-born Dragon King in a generation was the only remarkable thing she’d ever done.
She forced the distracting details away. Look for a way out. A way to survive. The iron bars were a lost cause, but the floor was pitted concrete.
With a crack in the corner.
Audrey picked where moisture had worn away a small crevice. Her fingertips bled. Aching knuckles stretched shadow puppets along the wall. She wiped sweat from her forehead. Her toes gripped for balance as she scraped harder, faster.
The steps echoed more loudly. Heavy. Determined. Certainly male. His footfalls hit too heavily for a lean man. A bruiser. One of the Aster cartel’s bodyguards. She didn’t stand a chance, but she kept clawing. Her breath became hot steam in her lungs.
A piece of concrete about the size of her fist gave way. One pointed end had promise. If she could strike just the right spot on the man’s temple…
She edged away from the bars until her spine pinched against the rock wall. After twisting her long hair, she shoved it down the back of the hospital gown. She balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to spring.
As a member of the Honorable Giva’s immediate family, she’d been instructed in martial training from an early age. She’d never wielded the powers of her kind, and she was seriously out of practice, but she was not helpless. The chunk of concrete rested in her palm. It was the difference between dying–and dying while fighting.
A flashlight’s beam penetrated the recess of the cave. Audrey narrowed her eyes. She watched through her lashes. The man had so many advantages. That realization should’ve cowed her. Should’ve turned her backbone to mud and left her weeping. But after having been a victim for more than a year–drugged, bound, helpless–she felt mighty. No manacles. No hallucinogens. Just a rock in her hand and a blaze of pure rage.
The man stepped into clear view.
Easily more than six foot, he was built for breaking bones and ripping off limbs. Brawn. Solid muscle. Powerful biceps and shadow-black hair. Plate metal covered his heart and vital organs, leaving his arms free. Calf-high boots were made of toughened leather. Bare, muscular thighs flexed with the slightest movement. But he didn’t seem the kind of man to make slight movements. Everything about him was overwhelming.
His jaw was fixed in an expression she’d learned to recognize: You will find no mercy here.
Audrey gave her flight instinct a hard shove. She pushed far into the shadows. Futile, really, when he aimed the beam directly at her face. She squinted and kept her right hand out of sight as the cage unlocked.
“Disgusting,” he muttered.
“And you’re a traitor,” she spat in the language of the Dragon Kings. A language she hadn’t used for nearly a decade.
Since meeting Caleb, she hadn’t given much thought to the old ways. Her happiness as a human wife had been too easy. Too good to last. But long ago, the ways of the Dragon Kings had been her entire life–the ritual and the covert power.
No matter her ostracism from her clan.
Years of rage came rushing back. The coiled ferocity in her legs exploded. She leapt. The cage door swung open on hinges that squealed a rusted protest.
Not even the momentum of her leap shifted the man from his kneeling stance. He only grunted. Audrey’s quick instincts brought that chunk of concrete up, up, in a violent arc. Her aim was true. The jagged edge struck the side of his face. Another grunt.
Then Audrey was thrown across the room.
Her shoulder hit the ground, followed by her head. A cry ripped from her throat. She slid three feet. Agony stabbed down to her marrow, as if pain had always been a part of her body.
He’d simply…hurled her.
The big man needed only two strides to cross to where Audrey sprawled. He stripped the chuck of concrete from her hand and tossed it down the tunnel.
“Can you hear me, lab filth?”
The old language rattled in her brain. Words passed down from the blessed Dragon. Nothing quite worked. Her lungs wouldn’t take in air. Something ground painfully in her hip socket. She nodded out of pure reflex.
“If you ever attempt to strike me again, I will snap your spine in two. Think you could recover from that? Our kind can endure a great deal–much more than humans. But we’re not immortal.”
“Where is my son?” Only a rasp now.
“He’s better off dead. Now get up.”
He yanked her under both arms and thrust her against a wall. Shots of fire spiked her joints. She gasped as panic set in. She wanted to fight. Wanted to. Yet just as when Dr. Aster had drugged her, or when her brain short-circuited because of his torture, she could not.
That didn’t stop her from snarling and spitting.
Because he spoke the language of the Dragon Kings, he belonged to one of the sacred Five Clans. But to actually work for that madman? He was the filth. Bile surged into her mouth.
“You’ve still got some spirit.” His muscles were tense, holding her immobile, while his breathing remained calm. “I can see why Old Man Aster has plans for you. We’re going to have quite the time.”
The flashlight had rolled across the ground until it illuminated her captor’s face. Blood streamed down from where she’d gouged a ragged hole in his cheek. He was smooth-shaven, and his black hair was shorn close to his head. Eyes the color of teak were fathomless, unreadable. Dark lashes cast shadows along his sharp cheekbones. A scar on his upper lip told stories of past battles. A damping collar encircled his thick, muscular throat.
A tattoo of a serpent wrapped around the back of his head. The tongue hissed toward one temple and the tail flicked toward the other. The Aster family icon.
Realization settled ice in her belly. He was far deadlier than a brute from the laboratory.
Part boogeyman, part myth–he was a Cage warrior.
“The Aster cartel owns you now, lab filth. But they’re done with experiments.” His scarred lip curled into a snarling smile. “You’re here to fight in the Cages.”