Next in line for the Drakon throne, Theo Masters is the most powerful half human, half dragon in the world. Royal power is the last thing he wants, however. He lives as a human and runs the Legion Security Company. But his new client—a mysterious, beautiful human from a small African village—and the unknown danger she faces may forever change the quiet life that he’s chosen.
Shola N’Gara exists to kill the dark spirit that is attempting to demolish her people. It’s her purpose and her destiny. The gorgeous protector who taunts her with his sexy voice and body is not—especially after he shifts into a magnificent black dragon with turquoise eyes.
A rise in demon activity and the brutal murders Theo’s agents have been reporting start to add up. Someone is making a play, and it’s big enough to change the course of the world as they know it. Now Shola must choose between her destiny and her heart. And Theo must decide if standing by the woman he’s fallen in love with is worth facing his father in a battle to the death.
This book is approximately 77,000 words
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The glass doors to the building ten feet away slid open slowly. That feeling, like a breeze lifting fall leaves off the ground, swirled in the pit of his stomach. Theo Masters eased off his bike and held the helmet between his arm and his hip as he continued to stare at that door. He considered removing his sunglasses since the sun had set hours ago, but decided against it.
Seconds later, three women stepped out. His gaze fell quickly over each one, noting bare feet, long legs and deep green material swaddling their bodies before stopping inches above the knees. Red-and-gold stripes slashed across their forehead and cheeks coupled with long gold spears held tightly in hand announced their warrior status while his wish for a quick pickup and drop-off dwindled.
The Odò Guard.
Or, the river guards. They were foot soldiers from the River Tribe that lived in a village located along a portion of the Niger River, which flowed through western Nigeria. Theo had visited the area close to one hundred years ago.
Three more women exited the building approximately two feet behind the first trio. And then three more, until nine in total were now in a triple-file line in front of him. At some other time, in some other place, he might have been impressed. As it was now, their grand entrance was making his last minute task take much longer than he'd anticipated.
"You are the guardian we hired?" The middle woman in the first row spoke to him, her voice loud, strong and heavily accented.
"I'm from the Legion Security Company." Even his voice sounded tired, deep and raspy, as it did when he woke in the mornings.
In unison, each woman holding a spear clanked the metal ends to the ground. The tight formation parted with each of the side lines stepping away so that only the woman standing directly in front of Theo, and another woman a few feet behind her, remained in the middle.
"The ceremony is in two weeks. The accommodations are listed here, as well as the location for the ceremony, where you will deliver her safely. Joku N'Gara and the River Tribe thank you for your services." Her words sounded rehearsed.
With a crisp movement, she extended an arm in Theo's direction. A large white envelope was clutched between her fingers until he slipped it away.
The woman stepped to the side, standing in line with the other guards, leaving only one woman in the middle.
But this was no ordinary woman.
Those leaves that had begun stirring in the pit of his stomach now swirled and twisted up into a funnel. His chest tightened, and his gums itched, as the beast within that had long lay dormant began to stir. Theo's fingers clenched into fists, the envelope crackling beneath his natural strength.
She appeared ethereal, her silhouette wavering slightly as with the rhythm of the wind. Her eyes were like ice, clear white but for the irises that were singular black dots, and she bore similar markings as the guards on her face, only hers were all white. Atop her head was a gold-and-diamond-encrusted crown that sparkled against the night backdrop.
"You will transport me on that?"
Her voice was like the sun rising, glorious and breathtaking. It was also stabilizing. He caught the slow easing movement beneath his skin. With practiced strength, he pulled the beast back. His body once again still, he fixed his gaze on her. Only now that his vision had cleared, the woman standing in front of him looked different than she had just seconds ago.
A rainbow of brown hues, the Odò Guard were different complexions, their hair either cut close to the scalp or twisted intricately. On the surface, the woman before him initially appeared different from the others, but now there was no crown and no markings on her face; her skin was the deepest brown and hair a kinky mass circling her narrow face. All things easily noted by sight, but it was the languid stretch of muscles and tendons in his body that made the real point.
"That is a bike, and yes, it will accommodate two." The tilt of one perfectly arched brow said she did not like the accommodations. That made two of them, and Magnum was going to feel his wrath first thing tomorrow morning.
"I have seen a bike before. This is bigger, but not as big as a car, which would have been more comfortable for such a trip."
Not at all what she appeared. The thought played in his mind like a song on repeat, and his gaze eased over her once more. High cheekbones, pert chin, reddish-brown eyes and a muted colored dress belted high at her waist — just another client.
Except there'd never been a client who clawed along his flesh with such urgent fervor before.
Theo shook himself free of thoughts that had gone deeper than they should have and stepped forward. The Odò Guards took a quick, succinct step to close the space between them and her, but not enough to hinder her progression forward. She came toward him slowly. "There was a change of plans," he snapped, edginess and annoyance now plaguing him. "I promise to get you to your hotel as quickly as possible."
Each step she took felt as if she were already beside him, brushing slowly against the scaled skin of his beast. It was eerie, and yet ... comforting.
"If you have luggage, I can send someone back for it."
"My things were sent ahead. They should be already at the hotel."
Her voice, each word was spoken in a melodic tone, thick with her accent, yet as clear to him as his own dialect.
"You can wear this. Then we should get going," he said because this wasn't normal.
Or at least the version of normal Theo knew humans accepted. He was three hundred years old and came from the Far Realm. There was no doubt the people of Burgess, Pennsylvania, wouldn't find that normal at all. Still, there was something odd happening here, and he wasn't sure he liked whatever it was.
He closed the small space she'd left between them and resisted the urge to touch her cheeks where he knew those tribal stripes had been before. Clenching his fingers on the helmet, he thrust it toward her and turned away. Tucking the envelope inside his jacket, he moved to his bike and tossed a leg over the seat. His palms burned with the urge to touch, caress, explore, so he grabbed the handles. "Get on." Shifting from just moments ago, his voice was now deep and stern, his mood decidedly darker even though he couldn't explain why.
The Odò Guard also hesitated, looking ready to use those spears and whatever other defensive devices he was sure they had against him at any second. He didn't move. He'd been paid a hefty deposit for this two-week assignment, and when it was over, his company would collect another large payment. It was a simple job — keep an eye on this woman until the day she would be delivered to her wedding. That was it. Even one of his lower level agents could have done this.
But as Theo watched her arms slowly lifting to settle the helmet over the poof of her hair, he knew that wasn't true. She was not just a bride. No ordinary bride required a personal escort like the Odò Guard. And no normal bride had a soul identity that looked like hers. She stepped closer to the bike, eyeing it suspiciously for a few seconds before letting her fingers tug the material of her dress up. She lifted her leg to cross over the seat.
Theo started the engine.
"Just go." Her reply was curt and she did not put a hand on him.
With a shrug, he did what he was told, peeling off from the spot at a modest speed before picking up the moment they hit the open road. He had to hurry to get her to the hotel and in the hands of his other agents because the beast inside, the one that had lay dormant for the past two hundred years, had awakened at the sight of her spirit. Theo didn't know why, nor did he care. All he knew was that this could not happen. Not here and definitely not now.
The air was different here.
Still warm, like at home, but rubbing along her face and bare arms with a sense of newness that almost made Shola smile. Almost.
Instead she sat with her back board-straight behind this man who was hired to be her bodyguard for the next couple of weeks, as he rode fast through dark streets. In the distance, she could see light, so much light in an array of different colors amidst the near black backdrop. There were tall buildings in that distance. A city. A place she'd never been before. Her home was nestled along the river, in a small village full of Yoruba people who looked and spoke like her. They were the reason she was here. The reason that she lived.
Shola rested her fingers on her thighs. She sucked in this new and different air, releasing it slowly through partially parted lips. Glancing down at the material of her dress bunched between her legs, her bare knees pointing outward toward the night filled her with a weird yearning. It was an odd position to be in with a stranger, one that caused a rush of warmth to spread throughout her body. That was new as well. So many new things in such a short span of time.
The dress was ridiculous. She had known that the moment her mother brought it into her bedroom.
"It is proper attire for where you will be going," Ejaita told her only child. "There will be other ceremonial preparations you will experience once you arrive in the Western World. Your baba and I will arrive the night before the wedding."
Like Shola, her parents had never been anywhere else in the world. They were part of the River Tribe and had no intention of being anything else. She was only one of a couple hundred in their village who had received an education in African and Western studies. So she knew of some things that she would find here in this world and of the basic meaning of this union between her and Warrick Camden. As long as it meant her people would live safely on their land forever, Shola was up for learning more. She was ready to do more.
"Your baba and I are very proud of you, Shola. We know you will make an excellent wife, and we are very happy for you," Ejaita continued.
The tears that welled in her mother's eyes were a direct contradiction to her words. While her parents had always been proud of her educational achievements and when she became a teacher, Shola knew they were not happy about this arrangement. No one in the village was happy the day that Warrick appeared and made his pronouncement.
"It is what is meant to be," she had replied to her mother, because it was the truth.
She was promised to this marriage before she was born, and now it was time to live up to that agreement. Now, riding through the streets of this new city, she told herself she was closer to the time she had waited for her entire life.
"We're almost there," the bodyguard yelled over his shoulder.
His very big, squared shoulder. The man was huge, tall, broad and more ominous than any of the warriors she'd seen back home. She had noted that the moment Monife, general of the Odò Guard, had stepped out of the way and Shola had her first glimpse of him. He'd stood in front of a large and imposing bike, which seemed to match the rider as he was over six feet tall and easily two hundred and fifty pounds. Jeans covered muscled thighs, and a fitting T-shirt stretched over a broad and formidable chest like one of the shields designed for the Odò Guard. His skin was a much lighter tone than hers, almost the color of straw, and his hair was dark and curled tightly to his scalp.
"Thank you." It seemed like the right thing to say even though he had only used a gruff tone with her since their meeting.
He was doing her a service for which she should be grateful. She did not know her way around this place called Burgess, nor did she know where the wedding or any of the other ceremonial events would take place. Monife had given this bodyguard the envelope with all that information. She did not mind not knowing the details; all that mattered was what she was sent here to do.
The bodyguard leaned slightly to the side as he turned the bike around a corner, and they rode down a narrow street. Buildings stood on each side of the street, clubs of some sort. She could tell by the signs above the entrances and the names that these weren't clubs she would ever frequent. Ballers, Twilight, Siren and Swingtime were lit up like Christmas trees, lines of people outside each door, cars pulling up on the street adding more people to the crowd. The bodyguard drove straight through. Noise was all around, vehicles whizzing by, music blasting from one place to the next. People laughing and talking. And the wind, a low hum like a pulse against all the commotion.
She focused on the wind.
How it felt warm against her skin. The way it pounded rhythmically in her ears. Steady, intentional, warning.
She looked from one side of the street to the other, counting the people on each side, watching the steps they took, the way they appeared to fly by in a blur as the bodyguard drove faster. Demonic laughter came in those moments, amidst the sound of the music and the bike's engine, a quick eerie chuckle that told her they were coming.
Demonics with long gangly legs stepped out of the line at the last club the bodyguard passed. They were dressed in jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes, like everyone else waiting to get into the various buildings. But they were not the same. Their golden skin and orange eyes set them apart. The loud screech they made in the seconds it took them to break into a run and propel themselves through the air until they landed in front of the bodyguard's bike, an alarming confirmation.
The bodyguard brought the bike to a quick stop that should have jolted them out of the seat, but neither moved. Six demonics stood in front of the bike, forming a line that would prohibit the bike's passage. The bodyguard moved his neck to one side until it cracked and repeated the action in the other direction. She drummed her fingers on her thighs. Shifting her eyes from one demonic to the next, and then the next, thoughts of how to protect them rolled quickly through her mind.
She had been warned of the demonic presence in the world, but had not seen any up close back home. The Western World was very different from her secluded village. She was getting an early glimpse of just how much.
"Listen to me closely," the bodyguard said. "I'm going to get off this bike, and when I do, I want you to run into that building to my right."
She saw the building less than ten feet away, but she had no plans to run.
"Do you understand?" His tone was condescending and instantly annoyed her. But now was neither the time nor place for her to address that.
She did not get a chance to offer a pleasant retort either, because the demonic in the center of the line lifted his hands to show blue rays of light shooting from each finger.
When the other demonics lifted their hands to send streaks of blue light filtering through the air, the bodyguard cursed. Power pulsed through Shola's veins as training scenarios played in her mind. This was not her job, not what she had been sent here for, but something needed to be done, or she would never make it to fulfill her destiny.
With moves that were faster than the light cutting through the air, the bodyguard kicked one demonic until it dropped to the ground. He never looked behind, but reached an arm back to punch the next demonic coming for him. Then he pulled a dagger from the back of his pants and stabbed the first demonic in the center of its chest. It disappeared in a puff of blue smoke. The next one bold enough to approach him from behind caught the dagger in the throat, his body also going poof.
Although he fought like a highly trained warrior dressed in all black, his body whisking through the night in powerful motions, she didn't believe he could stop the demonics. Not by simply using hand-to-hand combat. She had to do something. Her mind centered on the earth and all that surrounded it before she slowly lifted her arms to call for the wind. It tickled along the line of her fingers, easing up toward the tip where it stung with urgency to be released. Wiggling her fingers sent the air around them into a frenzy, paper from gutters rose to twirl on the breeze, windows on all the buildings rattled and a soft whistle shot through the night.
The blustery air threw the remaining demonics off balance while the bodyguard continued to pounce and strike them down as they tried to attack on wobbly legs. With each swing of his dagger, blue smoke swirled into the whistling wind. And when they were all gone, she dropped her arms to her side just as the bodyguard turned to face her.
"I told you to get inside the building! Did you not understand that?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Awaken The Dragon"
Copyright © 2019 Artist Arthur.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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