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Luther is also living a lie. One, if discovered, could lead to a fate worse than death. He's attracted to Victoria, but can't fully trust her, doesn't know if she's truly innocent or a true member of the Knights. It's not only his life at stake, but those of the people he loves.
As they're thrust deeper into the dangerous dealings of the Knights, they each have to share their secrets in order to survive.
Contains mature themes.
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The large creature hung its wedge-shaped head and huffed out a breath. There were no plumes of smoke. His fire had long gone cold. I was different once, wasn't I? So much time had passed that it was difficult for him to remember. Was that other life a dream? Is this? Is this a nightmare that will pass in time?
He didn't think so.
He concentrated, digging deep to find the part of himself that had been missing for so long. Human. Yes, he had a human side and a dragon one. He was a drakon, a son of a pure-blooded dragon and a human woman. He'd lived for thousands of years.
He opened his eyes and let his gaze travel over the small space he was confined to. The walls were made of thick metal of some kind. He struggled to remember the name, but the drugs his captor regularly pumped into him made it difficult.
He shifted position and chains rattled. They were wrapped around his forearms and hind legs, twined around his neck and body. Titanium. Yes, that's the word.
His captor had bragged many times about having the best security in the world. And it had been continually upgraded over the years. Behind the metal walls was five feet of steel and concrete. Arcane symbols were etched on the walls and pulsated with energy all their own, adding yet another layer of protection to his prison.
Still, he would have been able to free himself if it weren't for the drugs. Even though he healed quickly, he never quite had enough time to rid himself of the noxious chemicals they injected into his body and into the air he breathed. Whatever the drugs contained, they kept him weak and unable to shift back to his base human form.
He growled deeply in his throat. His captors wanted to keep him as a beast so they did not have to view him as partly human. As if that somehow made what they were doing acceptable.
A hissing sound distracted his attention. He craned his neck as far as the chains would allow and watched a thick smoke-like substance plume into the small space. He knew what this meant and fought against it.
But in his weakened state, he was no match for the drugged air. His limbs grew weaker until he was forced to lie down. He had to curl his tail around himself, as there was not enough space for him to sprawl his large body. He was over fifteen feet long without his tail, and double that when he was stretched out fully. His wings were folded tightly against his back. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been able to flex them.
It hurt, not just physically, but emotionally.
Metal struck metal as the large locks to his cell were released. The door slowly opened. He wanted to keep his eyes closed, to ignore what was happening. How did I even get here? Surely I should be able to remember an event so pivotal.
"Sergei." His head snapped up at the sound of the woman's voice. In spite of the drugs muting his preternatural senses, he knew that voice.
She looked gaunt and pale. Her normally lustrous light-brown hair lay tangled and limp. Her lips, which were usually turned up in a smile, were tight with pain. Lines radiated out from the corners of her eyes. Sadness, not joy, lurked in their pale-blue depths.
He narrowed his gaze. Streaks of gray ran through her hair. That's not right.
She tried to come to him, but a man held her back. At the sight of another man's hands touching her, Sergei went wild. He slashed his tail out, intending to kill the man, but his aim was off due to the drugs. He hit the woman instead.
She flew through the air and slammed against the hard wall, crumpling to the ground. The man swore and rushed to her side.
"I never thought you'd kill your mate."
Sergei froze. My mate. My Katherine. What have I done?
"Bring her to me." It was hard to speak after being silent for so long. His voice was rough and deep.
The man rested his fingers against Katherine's throat. "She probably won't make it."
Sergei pinned his captor with his steely gaze. "If she dies, I die." He had no idea if that was true or not, but it felt right.
His captor swore and yelled something out the door. More men with deadly guns rushed in. Sergei paid them little mind, all his concentration was on his mate. "Bring her to me," he demanded once again. Adrenaline pumped through his body, giving him strength.
His captor shook his head. "No." He beckoned someone forward, and Sergei snarled. The lab rat. That was what Sergei called him. The man in the lab coat was the one who always took his blood.
The lab rat scurried forward, deadly sharp knife in hand. It went against every instinct he possessed, but Sergei allowed the man to slit the more fragile skin of his throat open. Even then it was an effort. His drakon skin was thick, but not nearly as impenetrable as the scale-like plates that covered the rest of his body. Blood poured out into several containers. But he was a drakon and quick to heal. The gash sealed and the flow ceased.
"Give her my blood." He stared at his captor, the one who pulled all the strings, held all the power.
The man motioned to the lab rat, who hurried to Katherine's side, lifted her, and put one of the containers to her lips. Blood spilled out the sides of her mouth.
"Don't waste it," his captor admonished. "It's bad enough we have to use some of it on her."
Sergei renewed his vow that he would someday kill the man who'd captured his mate and used her to lure him into captivity. Because that's what had happened. He remembered now.
Minutes ticked by, and she didn't move. His blood began to freeze. If she was truly gone, he would not live in this world. He would will himself to die. And he could do it.
A gasp echoed in the chamber. She cried out, her pain like a spear to his heart. Her entire body spasmed. The lab rat and one of the armed men held her down so she didn't do more damage to herself.
Sergei concentrated on breathing in and out — slowly and evenly — otherwise, he might go mad. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Katherine opened her eyes. Her gaze sought his.
He expected to see fear after what he'd done. At the very least, anger. But there was only love and understanding. "Katherine," he whispered. She tried to crawl to him, still weak, still healing from her injuries, injuries she'd sustained because of him.
The lab rat and the soldier holding her looked to his captor. The man nodded, and they released her.
On her hands and knees, she dragged herself to his side. He lowered his head, and she placed her small palm on the side of his jaw. "I'm sorry," he began.
She shook her head. "No, my love, I know what you were trying to do."
And she did know. His Katherine knew him better than anyone in the world had for the past four thousand years. She'd come into his life a century ago and made the long years of loneliness worth it. He'd been waiting for her. He just hadn't known it.
Before his eyes, his blood continued to heal not only her injuries, but also all signs of aging. The gray disappeared from her hair. The faint lines in the corners of her eyes faded, her skin becoming smooth and supple.
Drakon blood was coveted because it could not only heal disease and trauma, it could also stop the aging process and keep a human alive indefinitely. In many cases, it also gave the person ingesting it a little something extra — deeper perception, better vision, more strength. It varied, so there was no way of knowing how it might affect a person until they'd taken it over a period of time. That was why it was so coveted by men like the one currently holding them captive.
Several guns clicked at the same time. Sergei raised his head and snarled. His captor mockingly shook his head. "It would be a shame to shoot her after wasting your blood to save her."
Katherine rubbed her hand over his arm. "I'll go. Stay strong, Sergei." She leaned in to whisper in his ear. "I love you. We'll find a way to escape and be together."
She nodded. "Forever."
Allowing her to leave was one of the most difficult things he'd ever done. When she was gone, he sometimes forgot about her. He forgot he was actually more human than dragon. He forgot the life he'd lived, the happiness they'd shared.
"Get the blood to the lab," his captor told the lab rat.
Sergei smirked. That was the thing about drakon blood. It started to lose its potency as soon as it left his body. Within hours, it would begin to lose its life-extending capabilities. Within a day or two, it would no longer heal. His captor needed him alive.
"Until next time." The man grabbed Katherine by the arm and dragged her out of the cell.
The door slammed shut, leaving Sergei alone. He roared. Fine cracks radiated up the walls of the cell, but the reinforced concrete held. He inhaled and caught the scent of Katherine's blood. He could still feel the warmth from her hands where she'd touched him.
He allowed anger to fuel him and not despair. He would not shed any tears. He would not give his captors any of his precious drakon tears. They were for his Katherine alone.
Drakons cried only for love, and only when their hearts were breaking. Unlike human tears, drakon tears turned to precious jewels. The type of jewels depended on the type of drakon.
He frowned, trying to remember why he'd shed them, because he had. He did remember the necklace he'd had made for her, remembered her wearing it for him and nothing else, her skin glowing in the candlelight. Finally, he shrugged. No matter. He would remember in time, or Katherine would remind him once they were free.
There was something else he was forgetting. Something important ...
Determination filled Sergei. He would escape and rescue his Katherine. He would destroy this place and everyone in it. Then he'd recover his memories.
* * *
Victoria Marshall sat upright in bed, gasping for air and clawing at her throat. The ambient light from the city filtered in through the bedroom blinds, but it was still too dark. She groped for the bedside lamp, swearing when she knocked her phone onto the floor.
With a click, a soft glow bathed the small room. It was spartan, with only the purple and green pillows piled on the chair and the patterned comforter covering her breaking up the beige of the walls and the carpet.
She was alone. But she hadn't been.
It was her curse to be drawn into the lives of others while she slept, to see what they'd seen, hear what they'd heard, live what they'd lived. On rare occasions, she was pulled into a person's present, like a ghost in the room watching their lives unfold. It usually only happened with those who were close to her, but not always. She never had a choice of where she went or what she saw.
Orphaned young, she'd grown up in an institution. All attempts to foster her out had failed. After all, who wanted a child who somehow knew things about them, often things they didn't want known.
She hadn't been old enough to keep her mouth shut about the strange dreams when they'd first struck. Caution and secrecy had come as she'd grown older. By the time she'd left the orphanage at the age of eighteen, the staff had forgotten about her talent, and if they did remember, they disregarded her dreams, assuming she'd overheard the things she'd repeated.
No one wanted to believe the truth.
Still breathing heavily, Victoria leaned over the side of the bed and retrieved her phone. Thankfully, it wasn't damaged. Not that she ever got any calls outside of work and telemarketers.
Alone my entire life and still alone.
She checked the time, flopped on the bed, and groaned. It was only five in the morning, but it was too late to go back to sleep. She had to get up in an hour anyway.
She shoved aside the covers and stood. As she stretched, the silky nightgown she wore brushed against her bare skin. She sighed and set her phone on the bedside table, ignoring the way her breasts tingled.
She didn't have a man in her life and couldn't afford to. Not only did her talent prevent a lasting relationship, but her current job was much too dangerous.
She padded into the bathroom and turned on the light. Her skin was pale at the best of times, but this morning it looked downright pasty. She'd need to skillfully apply makeup this morning if she didn't want people thinking she was ill.
She turned on the shower, slipped out of her nightgown, and stepped beneath the warm spray. As she shampooed her hair, she replayed her vision. Most would believe it was a fantasy. After all, dragons didn't exist.
She paused and took a deep breath before continuing to rinse the suds from her hair. She knew better. She knew dragons existed. Or rather, drakons. There was a difference.
He had told her so.
Again, most people would assume the creature she'd seen in the dense woods behind the orphanage all those years ago had been nothing more than a figment of a child's imagination. She'd stumbled upon him one day, and instead of being afraid, she'd been fascinated, enchanted.
And he'd talked to her, made her feel special. He'd returned several times, always ready to listen to her small problems, to encourage her.
When she'd asked where he'd come from, he'd explained that dragons had come to the world thousands of years ago, and that drakons were the children of those dragons and human women. It had been better than any fairytale she'd heard.
Then one day, he'd disappeared, and she'd never seen him again.
But that had been okay. Their connection had been enough for her to start dreaming about him. Not often, but sometimes. Usually when she was under stress and needed comfort.
The very early visions had been snippets of his life, of his past. She'd seen him with a woman who'd made him smile and had pretended she was a member of their family.
But the dreams had become nightmares like the one she'd just had.
Only tonight's vision was a revelation. It was the most in-depth one she'd ever had. Usually, she dreamed of Sergei alone and desolate, locked away. Alive but not free. Over the years, she'd caught glimpses of the man holding him captive. He didn't seem to age. Now she knew why. It was something to do with Sergei's blood. It seemed to be able to heal and to make someone young.
When she was clean, she turned the hot water down, gritting her teeth as the cold chilled her. Finally, she cranked the taps off and stepped out.
Victoria shivered and wrapped a towel around her hair and another around her body. Leaning against the vanity, she rubbed her hands over her face. Tonight, she'd seen her friend and the woman who'd made him smile. Only they hadn't been smiling.
They'd both been captives for years.
She wasn't crazy. She'd seen too much, knew too much, for her to doubt her gift. For twenty years, she'd been searching for her drakon friend. Since the day he'd disappeared when she was ten. Even before she'd known he was hurt and in trouble, she'd wanted to find him. It had shaped her life and led her to her current job.
She straightened and began the methodical task of drying and styling her hair, bundling it into a bun at the back of her head. Then she skillfully applied makeup. The ice queen, she was called by some — her blond hair and blue eyes adding to the image. She encouraged that perception.
She had no time for or interest in the opposite sex.
An image of a tall man in a tailored suit popped into her head, and she groaned. She would not think about Luther Henderson. She wouldn't.
He was always watching her. She wondered what he saw when he looked at her. He was a very dangerous man. He tried to conceal it beneath expensive clothing, but she saw the man hiding beneath. And he was a lethal predator, always wary, always ready to pounce.
Back in her bedroom, she pulled on underwear and a bra, both a combination of silk and lace. Pantyhose came next, followed by a dark-gray skirt and matching jacket. The only color was in the vibrant blue blouse she'd chosen. She completed her look with a pair of designer pumps, the heels high enough to give her some height, but still low enough that she could walk easily in them.
Professional armor, designed to make her fade into the woodwork and to keep men at bay.
She made her bed next, adding the colorful pillows once she was done. She liked her place neat and tidy. It was a habit she'd picked up at the orphanage. As a child, she hadn't had much, so she'd taken care of what she did have. Plus, having everything in its place made it easier for her to know if someone had gone through her belongings. She suspected her boss may have had her apartment searched. But there was nothing to find. She made certain of it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Drakon Unchained"
Copyright © 2018 N.J. Walters.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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