He’s one of the last of a powerful but vanishing bloodline …
Grigori Barinov is the eldest in an ancient line of dragon shifters and the guardian of his family’s lands and fortune. Sworn to protect their history and magic, he won’t rest until he neutralizes any threat to their existence. When he discovers an ancient manuscript that exposes his family and their dragon lineage has fallen into a mortal woman’s hands, he knows he must get the book back by any means necessary. If that means seducing a nosy American woman with an intoxicating scent, he is more than willing to carry her off to his palatial home deep in the heart of Russia.
She’s the one woman who could expose him to the world…
Madelyn Haynes has never fit in. As an adopted child she grew up in a loving home but never felt as though she belonged. Plagued by mysterious dreams she’s had of a silver scaled beast ever since she was a little girl, she is convinced dragons are real. While in Russia working on her PhD in mythology in order to escape the ridicule from fellow professors, she unexpectedly crosses paths with the sexy and dominating Grigori, and after just one night with the man whose eyes seem to burn, she starts to change inside. Isolated in the Russian wilderness Grigori calls home, Madelyn can’t help but fall under his sensual spell, yet something deep inside her calls out that she can’t trust him. She has to show the world dragons are real to salvage her academic reputation, even if it means costing her the heart of the dragon she’s falling in love with.
Grigori is exactly what a dragon should be. Smoking hot, sexy, and wickedly dangerous. You're going to love this book!" - New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Ivy
"Twilight meets Game of Thrones…we've just found ourselves a new PNR series to fawn over." - Totally Booked Blog
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 by Lauren Smith
Cover Design by The Book Brander
All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitutes unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.
This book was previously published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
ISBN: 978-1-956227-04-8 (e-book edition)
ISBN: 978-1-947206-19-9 (trade paperback edition)
About the Author
“Here there be dragons.”
—Note on a map from the Age of Exploration, regarding Terra Incognito.
Blue and silver scales whispered against grass as the giant beast crawled across the field toward Madelyn Haynes. Rain lashed her skin and lightning laced the skies. Smoke billowed from the beast’s nostrils, and his amber eyes narrowed to dangerous slits as it crept closer. There was no escaping. The creature had finally found her and would destroy her. It had already killed tonight and would kill again. Ash infused the air, the scent of smoke choking her. Fear and rage filled her, drowning her with the overwhelming sensations until she was torn between two instincts: fight or flight. Her skin tingled, the feeling building until it felt like she was on fire.
A man was shouting . . . “Run!”
The beast turned away from her, searching for the person who’d cried out a warning but it was no use. The creature would kill her too once it found her.
There was no way she would survive. She was going to die . . .
“No!” The word was a silent scream upon her lips as she tried to run.
Madelyn jolted upright, her mouth open in a strangled shout. The covers of her bed were wrapped around her legs, and she kicked out trying to free herself. Panting, she clutched her head as a dull throbbing ache beat behind her temples. She breathed in and out, focusing on each breath and the tranquility it gave her before the headache subsided and her heart stopped pounding against her ribs.
Then she turned on the light by the bed in her small hotel room and reached for her sketch pad and pencil. Using pillows to prop herself up she flicked to a fresh page and began to draw. The lines came easily, as they always did when she had the nightmares of the beast. It left such a vivid image in her mind that she had no trouble bringing it to life on the page. As the sketch began to develop, she knew what she would see. A serpentine creature with an elegant snout, two large wings and a long tail that could snap back and forth like a whip.
For as long as she could remember, whenever it rained, she dreamed of that same dragon. Rain, scales, lightning, and a crashing sonic boom that rattled her awake.
Madelyn studied tonight’s dragon. It was blue and silver with a deep sapphire underbelly. The webbing of its wings was a fainter, almost icy blue. It had a large, almost lizard-like frill that fanned up around its head like a lion’s mane which was that same glacial blue as its wings. It was an eerily beautiful creature with fierce eyes and sharp talons and was in a predatory crouch as though ready to hunt her down. Madelyn’s hand trembled as she set the pencil down and stared at the dragon. A part of her had hoped that leaving the United States—and changing her surroundings—would make her feel less trapped, less hunted. But the nightmares had followed her.
She was still being hunted.
She’d come all the way to Russia to save her career. As a professor in medieval mythology, she had been reading and researching dragons for the last five years. But lately she’d become convinced, as insane as it sounded, that dragons might have been real at some point in history. She was hoping to prove that some remnants of dinosaurs had remained alive into the time of humans, and that could explain the unique collection of global mythology around dragons. How else could dragon myths around the world have such eerie similarities? Something told her there was a kernel of truth to each myth she’d come across, but she had to find a way to prove it.
Or else I’m fired.
Ellwood University had given her a three-month sabbatical to either pursue her theory and prove it, or drop it and attempt to tie her research to more traditional projects. Madelyn had collected her meager savings and rented this hotel room by the month in the Tverskaya district of Moscow.
Outside her window she could see the distant lights of the city and hear the low steady hum of traffic. Moscow was so different from her small town of Shelby, Michigan. Instead of a Russian concrete jungle and tangle of complex cityscapes and police sirens at night, the Midwestern air was filled with the hum of crickets and the throaty songs of frogs in the ponds. Some nights the breeze from Lake Michigan would slip through the windows and soothe her as she slept. Even the winters in Michigan felt pure, clean, not like the dark, dirty snow-covered streets of post-soviet Moscow.
With a shiver of longing for home, Madelyn set the sketchbook aside and glanced at the clock. It was 6 AM. There was little point in staying in bed for another hour. She had to visit the Russian State Library and a few small antiquarian bookstores which could take up most of the day. She’d been here one week and had settled into a routine. Sleep. Research. Eat. Research. Home. Sleep.
She had come to Moscow alone and was hesitant about going out on her own after dark. She spent most of her evenings cuddled up in the armchair by her bed, reading. It was certainly safer than going out. Madelyn needed to feel safe. She feared the unknown, and what might be around the corner.
A therapist had once diagnosed her airily with a generalized fear of the unknown, citing trauma from her parents’ deaths. She had been two years old, too young to remember the details though she’d been with them when they’d died. Too young to know her own name or where she came from. Neither of her parents had IDs when the police found her in the wrecked car that had rolled into a ditch during a storm. Her name, “Madelyn”, had come from the name stitched onto her baby blanket. Her adoptive parents, the Haynes’s, had wanted her to keep that name.
Thoughts of her birth parents always made Madelyn sad and oddly helpless. She wished she could have done something to save them from the car crash. She knew that there was nothing a baby could have done, but it didn’t erase the helplessness. For a long moment, Madelyn watched the rain outside and rubbed one hand absently on her chest where her heart ached. And then, she did what she’d always done. She buried the memories and the pain and turned her thoughts to her research. It was the best distraction. There was nothing like wandering through the stacks of a library and letting the musty scent of ancient books overwhelm her. It was one of the reasons she’d been drawn to history when she was in college. Surrounding herself with the past, she knew what had happened, and couldn’t be shocked or surprised . . . was comforting.
Madelyn crawled out of bed and stripped out of her clothes before she jumped into the small shower, cringing as she expected the icy blast of the spray. There was only so much hot water before it turned cold she couldn’t stand a cold shower in October in Russia.
Two hours later, she was dressed and had filled her backpack with notebooks and other research related materials. When she stepped out on the street in front of her hotel, her nose twitched as it picked up the harsh scents of the city. People bustled past her in a frenzied haste to reach their jobs, and for a strange moment Madelyn felt rooted in place as humanity flowed around her. An eerie sense of being watched made the tiny hairs on the back of her neck raise up.
Of course she was being watched. This city was home to millions of people; someone would always be looking at her no matter what. The uneasy sensation inside her didn’t disappear, even when she hailed a cab and headed for the Russian State Library.
The State Library was a beautiful architectural cross between Soviet era design and classical design, which called back the days of the Czars. The smell of musty texts and recently cleaned marble steps were a welcome mix of aromas that always calmed Madelyn.
She walked up the white stairs to the upper decks of the library, her eyes dancing from the blue marble columns to the endless shelves.
17.5 million books were here . . . Her heart sped up at the sheer thought of having a world of infinite stories at her fingertips. But she wasn’t here to see their vast array of novels. She was here for one book. A heavily guarded tome that required supervision whenever it was handled.
She kept walking and left the modern rooms behind before reaching a wing of the library that housed antiquarian collections. One of the collection areas was a beautiful two-story room with gleaming walnut bookcases illuminated by hanging golden globes of light. A slightly domed ceiling was painted with scenes of Greek mythology, the gods on Olympus displaying their power and might.
A security guard stood at the back of the room by a small reception desk and he waved her over. He greeted her with a warm smile and spoke something in Russian which she thought sounded like hello. She was still listening to her Russian audiotapes and hadn’t picked it up as quickly as she’d hoped.
“Good morning,” she greeted back. He was different than the guard from yesterday.
“Ahh, English, I help you?” he asked in with a heavy Russian accent.
Madelyn smiled. She’d been relieved to discover that many of the guards were fluent in English to a degree. She knew enough of modern Russian to get by but her specialty was the rare dialect East Old Slavic which she used to read older Russian primary resources.
“I’d like to check this book out please.” She retrieved a small piece of paper with the name of the edition in English and Russian and its location on the shelves. The guard read the card and then his brown eyes looked from it to her face, studying her.
“This volume? You are sure?” he asked, his voice was oddly hushed and his face drained of color. He stroked his security badge on his chest with one finger as though he’d done it a thousand times when nervous. He glanced around the room, which was almost entirely empty save for another researcher, an elderly man, who was buried in a stack of what looked to be medieval texts. The man glanced up at them, squinted, and pushed his glasses up his nose before returning to his work. The guard stared at the man for a long moment before he turned his focus back to Madelyn.
“Please, miss, I could get many other books for you, but this one . . . Are you sure?” It was the second time he’d asked that question, and it made her skin prickle.
“Yes. That one.” Madelyn assured him. Why was he so protective of this one? This entire room was filled with ancient texts that with proper care could be viewed by researchers. The guard sighed slowly, his face turning red as he nodded to himself and muttered in Russian.
Now she was feeling really anxious. She’d checked out several tomes yesterday but hadn’t discovered this particular text until she was pouring over the ancient collection of card catalogues that looked as though they’d been written half a century before. There on the yellowed paper of the cards, in ink that was turning brown, she’d read the name of the volume My Year With Dragons. The library had been about to close and she only had time to scribble down the book’s information before a guard politely escorted her out of antiquarian collection area. Surely today this guard would let her check it out . . . it was just a book after all.
The guard stared at the card again and then nodded. “Dah, okay, we get you this one. Sit, please.” He pointed to a small research table near one of the vast glass windows. Then he took a card and walked over to the shelves on the opposite side of the room.
While he retrieved the book, Madelyn set out her notebook and pens with shaking hands before she donned a pair of library approved white gloves to handle the books safely. Why was the guard so hesitant to give it to her? From the text’s description in the card catalogue that she’d be able to translate, it was a memoir of an English man who had spent time in Russia. There was no political or social discourse in it that could prompt a Russian security officer to be concerned . . . But he had been. The man had looked ill at the thought of fetching that tome.
She peeped at the guard from the corner of her eye. He unlocked a glass case on one of the shelves, his head cocked to the side as he squinted at the titles on the spines. Then he used his index finger to gently tug a shorter leather-bound edition free of the case. Once he had it in his hands, he didn’t immediately come over to her. For several seconds he stood there, holding the book and staring at her. His lips were pressed tight in a grimace as he finally walked over to her.
“Please be careful. This is special book.” He held out the leather bound tome and Madelyn accepted it. Her skin tingled again as she felt the smooth leather in her palms but she hid her reaction. The guard nodded at her again and then walked back to his station.
Madelyn’s skin continued to tingle as she lifted the leather tome to get a closer look. The cover was made of thick leather, bare of any titles or identifying marks except the initials J.B. in the bottom right corner. Madelyn smoothed her fingertips over the initials and opened the front cover. The title was written on the front page in pen and ink. Not in typeface.
My Year With Dragons—A personal collection of observations about my time spent with the Barinov family, by James Barrow. Dated 1821.
Madelyn whispered the words. It was written in English, and James Barrow could be English or American. She held the text in one hand and made a note in her notebook before she turned to the next page.
Her heart stuttered to a stop in her chest.
Three pencil sketches depicted the faces of three different men. Names were scrawled beneath each intimate portrait.
Mikhail, Rurik and Grigori. The Barinov Brothers.
The first man, Mikhail, seemed more brooding, his hair dark and his eyes almost black. He seemed worried, but he was attractive and even the shadows that haunted his eyes were enchanting. In the second drawing, the man named Rurik had dark hair and mischievous eyes, with a playful, charming grin on his lips that outshone the white scar drawn from above his right eyebrow down to his cheek as though he’d been slashed. He looked like a bit of a troublemaker but the thought made her smile.
Her eyes lingered longest over the sketch of the man named Grigori. Something about him stilled her, like the moment she stood outside on the first snowfall of winter. There was a strange whispering at the back of her mind, a collection of hushed voices that she couldn’t seem to hear clearly enough to understand. She was fascinated by the man’s handsome face, the pale hair and light eyes. There was a melancholy beauty to his lips, and an almost rueful smile barely hinted in the drawing—as though he had sat still long enough to assist the artist but as soon as he was able, he’d move again.
While all three men were intriguing, it was Grigori that Madelyn’s eyes came back to over and over. Something about his face . . . Like a half-remembered dream. Deep inside her, there was a stirring, as though a part of her she never knew existed had awoken. The voices didn’t stop that whispering and Madelyn couldn’t help but wonder if she was going mad. Between the dreams at night and now this . . . She drew a deep breath in and let it out, slow and measured, calming herself.
Stay focused on the research.
“Grigori,” she test his name upon her lips, finding she liked the way it sounded, the syllables strong and yet soft.
She wanted this sketch. The compulsion to possess his likeness was too strong. She glanced about the room and saw the guard was on his phone, texting and not looking her way. Sneaking her cell phone out, she flicked on the camera and snapped a hasty picture of each of the brothers before she put it back in her purse. Hands trembling, she turned the page again, forcing herself to look totally calm and not like she’d been taking photographs of a protected manuscript.
The next page was a diary entry dated March 16, 1821.
“Dragons are real . . .” The first words of the entry made her body shiver and a sudden chill shot down her spine. She forced herself to keep reading and couldn’t help but wonder what James Barrow meant. Dragons weren’t real, at least not in the fire and brimstone sense. She was convinced that some extinct reptile species were behind the legends, but there was no such thing as real dragons.
“I met the Barinov brothers in Moscow and learned they were not mortal men . . . they were possessed of strange abilities. The touch of fire, the breath of smoke, the eyes that glowed . . .”
What the hell? Madelyn reread the last few sentences. What was Barrow saying? She’d expected the volume to recount tales of large serpents or lizards that Barrow must have encountered on his journey. As a naturalist, he would have been out in the field exploring different species of animals, and he could have easily glimpsed an ancient breed of reptile that looked dragon-like. The Komodo dragon was a modern example of what many rural cultures still believed were the descendants of dragons. It was part of her theory for her research. But Barrow wasn’t talking about Komodos or any other type of reptile. He was discussing men . . . Men who had powers. Perhaps the word dragon was simply a metaphor Barrow was using?
She glanced down the page and saw a smaller drawing of a man’s hand and what looked like an elaborate ring. When Madelyn peered at it more closely, she recognized the style. The metal of the ring had been formed into the shape of a serpent biting its own tail, the symbol for eternity or the cycle of renewal. An ouroboros. Another dragon connection, but still not the type of dragon she was searching for.
Rather than read the rest of the journal entry, she turned the next several pages and paused when she came across a full page sketch. The drawing of a sleek, serpentine beast perched on a rock outcropping overlooking the sea made her breath catch as much as Grigori’s portrait had. The beast sat back on its haunches and its large wings were flared wide, the clawed tips arching outward as though it was ready to fly. A barb-tipped tail curled around its legs. It was both a beautiful beast and a creature of nightmares, with gleaming teeth ready to snap. Reptilian slitted eyes stared straight ahead at her. The beast in her dreams came rushing back, the hiss of smoke escaping the nostrils, the puffs of breath as he prepared to spew fire, the lashing tail . . .
Beneath the sketch was one word. “Grigori.”
But the sketch was of a man, not a dragon . . . Was this one of the men with supposed powers?
Whatever this journal was, it was clearly the workings of a man prone to flights of fancy and not a real naturalist. Disappointment made her heart drop to her feet and her shoulders slump. She’d been so hopeful to find a book that could show an anthropological connection to the dinosaurs or explain the worldwide dragon mythology. But this journal was not the answer.
Even though she wanted to keep reading, it wasn’t a good idea. Many a good scholar who lost their way down a strange research rabbit hole had to find their way back to good solid research. She refused to let this one odd little book stump her. Better to put it back and move on. Still . . . she wanted just a few more photographs of the book; it couldn’t hurt to read it over as long as she didn’t use it for her research.
She surreptitiously took pictures of the next twenty pages before she hid her cellphone back in her backpack. Closing the book, she started at the leather surface, wishing she didn’t have to give it back. Indecision flitted through her, but there was no real choice. It wasn’t hers, and she couldn’t keep it. With a sigh, she rose from her research table and walked back over to the security station and held the book out the guard.
“Finished?” he asked, his eyes fixing on the book rather than her as though he was anxious to snatch it out of her hands.
“Yes, it wasn’t what I was looking for.” She almost didn’t let go when he tried to pull the book away from her. Finally the leather journal slipped through her fingers.
“Thank you,” she said to the guard. With a heavy heart, she returned to her study station and collected her notebooks and papers before removing her gloves and tucking them back in her bag. Each step away from Barrow’s mysterious journal left her feeling cold and distanced in a way that made little sense. A soft feminine voice, like the hum of a murmur from a dream teased her mind.
He has the answers but you’re too afraid to see . . .
Madelyn shook off the thought. The notes in Barrow’s journal were impossible to believe. He clearly didn’t know what he was talking about. He was rambling on about men with powerful abilities and drawing beasts more suited to a role-playing fantasy computer game than he was about creatures that tied to real mythology.
She would have to start back at the catalog again, but she had no energy to hunch over the little metal filing cabinets squinting at poorly scribbled titles and book descriptions the rest of the day.
Maybe I could take a day off. Wander around the library a bit and explore.
The architecture was beautiful and she hadn’t really had a chance to examine it before. As she exited the antiquarian room she glanced back one last time. The security guard was holding the journal, and he was speaking into his cell phone. He was also staring right at her.
That sense of being watched and being talked about was too strong this time to ignore. The guard said something into the phone and rather than put the book back on its shelf, he set it down and put a hand on his gun holster at his hip.
“Miss, please come back,” he said, taking a meaningful step in her direction. “My superior wishes to speak to you. You cannot leave.”
“He does? Why?” she asked, her muscles tensing and her hands tightening on her bag.
“The book you chose, he has questions . . .” The guard said, his gaze darting around her as though expecting someone to come and help him. “Sit down, now.” His tone was more forceful than before.
Madelyn knew she should stay put, talk to him . . . but her instincts suddenly roared to life and the only thought that flashed through her head was run . . . run fast. Body shaking, she stumbled on trembling legs to flee.
She shoved open the door and sprinted down the hall, hitting the top of the long set of stairs at a brisk run. Everything around her seemed to blur, and her heart was pounding hard enough to explode from her chest. Covering the steps in seconds, she forced herself to slow when she realized people were staring at her. That was the last thing she needed, people seeing a panicked woman fleeing a Russian library like a crazy person. It was a conspiracy theory in the making.
Her breath was labored and her body was shaking with a surge of adrenaline as she tried to walk calmly out of the library. The crowded streets were a blessing as she melted into the flow of people. She only looked back once and caught a glimpse of the security guard from the collections room. He stood at the top of the Russian State Library steps, his gaze scanning the crowd. He was still on his cell phone, talking rapidly.
Lowering herself by hunching over, Madelyn slipped down a side street to catch her breath. What the hell just happened? Sure, she’d snuck a few pictures of a text, but why would he chase her? She hadn’t seen any rules about no photography in that section of the library. Why had the guard chased her?
What about James Barrow’s book was so dangerous that men would look for her?
Grigori’s face and the body of the fierce dragon like beast flashed across her mind. What have I stumbled onto?
“Peace, Kent! Come not between the dragon and his wrath.”
—William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Lear
Grigori Barinov stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows in his executive office, staring out over the city of Moscow. Body alert, every muscle rigid, the expensive gray wool suit he wore felt tight as he shifted. Below him, people were passing on the streets. A flash of silver caught his attention. It was the wink of a diamond earring dangling from a well-dressed woman’s ear. With eyes that were ten times as powerful as a mortal’s, he scanned the streets, absorbing every detail.
Searching . . .
For the last few days, his senses had picked up on something in his city. A creature he didn’t recognize. It made him restless. Moscow was filled with supernatural beings—werewolves, vampires, shifters of all kinds, and magically gifted humans were all present—but none of them fired up his instincts. No, he’d never felt this before in his life, but he knew in his gut what it was. An enemy was in his city, a creature that posed a threat to him. As a dragonshifter, few creatures in this world could give him pause and put him on his guard. He only wished he knew what sort of beast it was so he could hunt it down and remove the threat.
The sapphire dragon tattoo on his forearm itched, but he didn’t scratch it. He knew the dragon inside of him was trying to warn him to stay on his guard. The phone on his desk buzzed and his personal assistant, Alexis spoke.
“Mr. Barinov, you have a call from the Russian State Library.”
Every muscle in his body tensed. There was only one reason anyone from the Russian State Library would be calling him. That damn book by James Barrow. He’d been too softhearted and Barrow had been so earnest. He’d gone against his better judgment and allowed the Englishman to spend a year studying him and his brothers. And he’d been paying for it for the last 200 years. He’d been lucky Barrow’s heirs had sent him the journal. Thankfully, it had never been sent to a publisher; Barrow had kept his word about his writings remaining a secret.
I should’ve burned it. But he hadn’t been able to. Barrow had become a friend and Grigori hadn’t wanted to destroy the memory. There was also something fascinating about reading an insightful human’s observations about him and his brothers.
He couldn’t leave it at his office or his home in the country. His enemies had frequently broken into both places more than once, searching for anything they could use against him. He’d thought he’d be clever and tuck it away in a library amid other obscure texts that no one ever looked at in a guarded collection. It had been safe all these years, hiding in plain sight. Until now.
“Mr. Barinov?” Alexis queried again.
“Put the call through.” He turned away from the window and walked over to his mahogany desk just as the phone rang.
He answered. “Yes?”
“Mr. Barinov, my name is Yuri. I’m a guard for antiquarian book room at the Russian State Library.” A man spoke, his voice hushed and anxious.
“Yes.” Grigori waited, his patience on a razor’s edge.
“When I first took over security for this room I was given strict and confidential instructions to call you if anyone ever came asking about a certain title in the collection. Someone checked out the Barrow book, Mr. Barinov.”
Grigori closed his eyes, holding his breath for a moment. “And?”
“I followed protocol. She did not leave the library with the book. But . . .” The guard hesitated. “She was taking pictures. I have no instructions regarding pictures.” The phone cracked as Grigori’s temper flared.
“Yes. She was using her phone.” The guard’s voice wavered as though he sensed Grigori’s building rage.
Pictures. Fuck, if any evidence of his existence was discovered and exposed in the world of mortals it would put a target on his back and that of his two brothers. The magical world knew of his family, the last three brothers in ancient bloodline of Russian Imperial Dragon shifters, but the rest of the world didn’t know . . . Couldn’t know.
“Can you detain her until I arrive?” he asked the guard.
“But she’s leaving now—”
“Stop her!” Grigori barked. The other end of the phone was full of panting, the flapping of rubber soled shoes on marble, a muffled shout for someone to stop. Grigori tried to picture the library in his mind, wondering why the guard couldn’t catch up with this woman. Finally the footsteps stopped, and Grigori heard the sounds of streets of the city muted beneath the guard’s gasping for breath.
“She ran—I couldn’t catch her before she left the library. She’s gone. But I have the book.”
Grigori sighed. “I will come to collect it. When I do, I want every detail you have about this woman. Her name, where she’s from, everything.”
“Yes, Mr. Barinov,” the guard replied, still breathless.
Grigori slammed the phone down and cursed. His hand was white-hot from his temper and he’d left burn marks on his expensive new phone. With a growl, he pressed the intercom button
“Alexis, please have someone replace my phone in the office. This one met with an unfortunate accident.”
A second later his receptionist opened the door, leaning against it to look at him in concern. His dragon perked up beneath his skin at the sight of the woman’s killer legs. She was staring at him, the perpetually hungry look in her eyes always an open invitation to share her bed, but he’d never once been tempted. Sure, he’d noticed, and his instincts, so close to the surface, never let him ignore a beautiful woman. But things had changed over the last hundred years. His skin didn’t prickle with awareness and excitement. His dragon didn’t growl with arousal the way it had in his youth.
No one had truly tempted him enough in a long time to let his bestial urges run free. Had he been in a better mood a smile would have curved his lips. As a younger dragon, he would have bedded several succulent mortals in a day, breaking bed frames as he gripped the wood to keep from harming the females while he fucked them into oblivion. Now his bed was empty of companions, but he wouldn’t sleep with just any woman. Not anymore.
“Another accident Mr. Barinov?” Alexis purred as she approached his desk.
“Yes, please order me a replacement.”
“Of course.” She held out a hand and he handed over the destroyed phone.
Her expensive perfume rolled off her in thick waves. The decayed floral aromas made his nose twitch even as she walked out of his office and closed the door behind her. He never liked perfumes. A woman’s natural scent was a heady thing and shouldn’t be ruined with perfumes.
He could almost hear his younger brother, Rurik, teasing him. “As if you know anything about women anymore. You haven’t had a woman in over a decade, brother . . .”
It was true. He found women less and less appealing these last few centuries. His urge to mate, to find the one female in the world that was truly his, had started to drive him mad with frustration. When a dragon reached a certain age, they stopped running wild and craved the closeness of a long-term companion. Most dragons never found their true mates and settled to simply breed with other dragons for the sake of children and to cure loneliness.
His gaze dropped to a framed photo on his desk. It was one of the few of his parents in existence, from thirty years ago, just a few years before they died.
If I could be as lucky as them and find a true mate . . .
No mere woman would suit him. It had to be the right one, one chosen for him by destiny. He would know her by her addictive scent that would send his pulse racing and his blood pounding. If he kissed her, he would catch glimpses of her memories and she would see his. A bond would form the longer they spent together, making them inseparable.
I want that more than anything . . .
He was not going to be tempted by Alexis or any other woman. They would only pale in comparison to a woman who would truly belong to him. He wanted a woman of his own, one to share his heart and soul with. Despite being alive for almost three thousand years, he still hadn’t found the one woman that was meant to be his.
The sad fact was he couldn’t wait any longer. His once great family, the Barinovs, had included almost a thousand dragons.
Now we are only three. We are a dying breed.
The loneliness he was facing was slowly killing him, an immortal creature. The idea was almost laughable but it was true. A longing for a true mate had haunted him to the point that he was dreaming about her and waking up in the dark, his arms aching for a woman who was never there. He might never find the woman destiny had made for him. It was time to settle, and find a dragoness who could bare him children and continue the line, even if it meant he’d never know true love and completion.
“Mr. Barinov, is there anything else I can do for you?” Alexis asked, her suggestive tone telling him in no uncertain terms that she was offering herself to him if he was interested, which again, he wasn’t. She wasn’t his type. He liked his women with soft curves, a little petite with sunny smiles and warm hearts. He hadn’t met a woman like that in Russian in over a hundred years . . . He was tired of Alexis throwing herself at him when he continually turned her down.
“No.” He almost growled the word. Frustration slithered beneath his skin making him irritable enough to snap at her.
Alexis blinked, her face pale as a sheet as she backed out of the room. Smart woman. Dragons tempers were nasty things and it was best to stay clear when a dragon was fuming.
He pulled out his cell phone and dialed one of the few numbers he called with any frequency.
“Grigori? What’s up?” His younger brother answered, his voice half-laughing as though he’d been chuckling when he’d answered the phone. The thought made Grigori’s temper deflate somewhat as affection for Rurik swelled in his chest.
“Rurik, we have a situation.”
“What is it? The Drakor family again?” His brother’s tone turned gruff and serious.
Grigori stroked his chin as he replied. “No. They are abiding by our current treaty and staying to the eastern half of Russia.” It was true enough. The Drakors were notorious for their egos, and if they had been causing trouble in his territory, he would have heard about it.
Rurik blew out disappointed breath. “I miss the battles. What I wouldn’t give for the Drakors to put one foot on our soil . . .”
“You battle dragons,” Grigori was torn between groaning and laughing. “Always wanting to start a fight.” He loved his little brother, but he was the first to jump without looking—which often put their family in tense situations when it came to matters of diplomacy with other dragons.
Rurik was the family warrior, the one best suited for battle and to wage single combat against other dragons when territorial disputes arose. The Drakors were the other Russian Imperial breed of shifters that vied for dominance of Russia against his family. The Barinovs and Drakors had been enemies for centuries.
“So if it’s not the Drakors, what’s the matter?”
“Remember James Barrow?” Grigori turned back to his window once again, searching in vain for the creature he sensed but could not see.
“Of course. The Englishman who visited us in the Fire Hills. He was always drawing and scribbling away in that leather journal.”
“Yes. A woman was taking pictures of his journal today at the Russian State Library.”
“Fuck. That can’t be good . . .”
“My thoughts exactly,” Grigori affirmed. The journal was almost a handbook on dragons—their powers, their weaknesses—and it had dozens of pictures of the three of them specifically. They might as well have put a neon sign above his building saying “Real Dragons Inside!”
“Do you think she believes what he wrote down about us is true?”
“I have no idea, but no reason she has could be a good one. I’m going to the Library to collect the book now and learn everything I can about the woman who took the pictures. I want you to help me track her down.”
“Meet me at the club once you have the book.” Rurik hung up and Grigori slipped his phone back into the pocket of his trousers before he turned away from the window.
As he left his office, he ignored Alexis’s hopeful wave and he took the elevator down to the first floor. Barinov Industries, the family company he created a hundred years ago, had withstood wars, famine, and the many regime changes of Russian governments over the years.
He was not going to let one woman with a cell phone camera destroy his empire. For the last eighty years especially, Grigori had suffered the charade of “retiring” every thirty years and leaving the company to his son, also named Grigori. He’d spend the next few decades pretending to age, dying his hair silver and having new passports and forged birth certificates. The intricate lies he laid in place to keep the company going had cost him time and energy. He would not let his work be ruined by some overly curious human female.
His car was pulled out in front with his driver ready to take him anywhere he wished.
“The Russian State Library,” he ordered as he settled in the black leather seat of the sedan.
“Yes, Mr. Barinov.” The driver pulled out in traffic and began to head towards the library.
Grigori barely looked at the passing scenery of Moscow, his entire being focused on this mystery woman. Why was she researching dragons, and how had she found out about Barrow’s journal? She shouldn’t have even been allowed to take it off the shelf. Grigori acquainted himself with the new library director and informed him that should anyone ask for the book he must be called immediately and they were not to check it out. The guard had clearly failed in his duties and Grigori would make sure the library director would have him fired.
The time had come to take Barrow’s book home and destroy it once and for all. While he had fond memories of Barrow, the details and personal histories of him and his brothers must be protected and that meant burning the book to ash. And dealing with this woman.
The only mortals who knew of his existence, aside from the ones in service to his family, were supernatural hunters. Namely the international organization called the Brotherhood of the Blood Moon. Pesky creatures, hunters. They rarely came into dragon guarded territories; it was simply too dangerous. Maybe this woman was a hunter, or they had hired her to find and retrieve any info she could on his family. If that was the case, he had a very nice dungeon she could rot away in for the next fifty years.
“Here we are, Mr. Barinov.”
Grigori climbed out and told the driver to wait for him. Then he quickly ascended the stairs and entered the library. The guard, Yuri, was waiting for him at the security desk.
“Mr. Barinov?” Yuri held out the faded leather bound journal and Grigori took it.
The leather was warm to the touch and he lifted it to his nose, inhaling. A lingering scent teased his nostrils, the feminine aroma inviting and enticing. For a long second Grigori simply drank in the rich smell . . . it was pure. The pheromone sweet, like ripe dragon fruit. He had not smelled something like that in some years. The woman was a virgin of childbearing age.
Must have her . . . Need to find her.
His body went rigid as the scent continued to plague and torture his nose with irresistible sweetness. If there was one thing besides a true mate that a dragon couldn’t deny himself, it was a virgin. A growl began to rumble at the back of his throat as he pictured himself finding this woman and curling his arms around her and breathing in her scent before he seduced her.
The old Grigori, the wild beast he thought had vanished this last century, was roaring back to life. His dragon was pacing inside him, ready to be unleashed. He wanted to sink his teeth into this woman’s neck and hold her still while he thrust into her over and over until she screamed with pleasure.
“Mr. Barinov?” Yuri interrupted the sudden lust and hunger in Grigori’s thoughts.
“Who is she?” he demanded in a low growl.
Yuri swallowed hard and held out a photograph, a print of a security camera photo of a woman.
“She is American. Her name is Madelyn Haynes. She’s a professor at an American university.”
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