Authors: Lindsey Piper
Tags: #Dragon Kings#1
She responded instantly, spun and dropped low. The dagger stayed embedded in the leather,
yanked out of Leto’s grasp.
He was far less winded than she, but his breath still echoed through the dark cell.
Leto nodded tersely. “The armor hugs the arm you use to hold your weapon. The exposed
arm. An attack would need to be incredibly forceful to pierce so many layers.”
Audrey glanced toward her bare left shoulder. “And
this one is free to maneuver with the shield. I guess that lesson was ‘don’t lose
your Dragon-damned shield.’ ”
Admiration flickered across his features. The thrill of their sortie had momentarily
obscured her true goals. She hadn’t even wanted to best him.
She’d only wanted his approval.
What the hell did that matter? She needed this condescending brute for what he could
“But you,” she said. “You can fight equally well with both hands.”
“Honing my gift—my reflexes—helped guide me. Now my muscles react before I do.”
“A Cage warrior acting with brawn instead of thought? I wouldn’t have guessed.”
“You would do well to keep from taunting a man who stripped your shield.”
She grabbed the hilt of her knife. Pulled it free of the leather layers. Settled it
into the palm of her right hand. “I’m not defenseless.”
He stalked toward her. She stared at the movement of thighs forged of pure muscle.
Looking up his body sent an ancient shiver of awareness to her fingers and toes. His
features were perfectly symmetrical, with a decisive brow that probably revealed more
than he realized. Straight nose. Surprisingly wide eyes rimmed with thick lashes as
dark as his hair. There was no telling his age. Few lines creased his smooth, flawlessly
And his mouth. Lower lip just this side of full. Upper lip slashed by that old, silvery
scar. It was the only hint of imperfection on an otherwise captivating face.
Her awareness shot inward, deeper than fear or hunger
or vengeance. A shiver settled low in her belly. To admit she was aroused seemed tantamount
to betraying Caleb’s memory and Jack’s innocent struggle to survive.
Yet he was sexy in the basest, most primitive sense. Weapons and armor and strength.
Unequaled skills. He possessed confidence she doubted could ever be matched. Rather
than wanting to divest him of that confidence, she wanted to get closer, soak it up,
know what it was like to look at the world with such unabashed certainty.
She truly couldn’t remember what certainty felt like.
He crossed his arms. Default stance. Proving a point, marking his territory, and ready
for attack—all at once. Power coiled there, barely leashed. Dark eyes glittered. The
lights bathed him in garish bronze that shadowed his features and accentuated his
blunt, prominent muscles.
“Do not get cocky, Nynn. This is still training. The first
of your training. Admit what you must and I will give you one ration.”
Inhaling deeply, she looked down at the ground. She realized she was bowing. It didn’t
matter. She needed food. Whatever he wanted her to admit would be worth what he offered.
Energy for another round. Maybe he could break her after all, beyond the physical.
The journey between pride and submission had shortened.
Again, she wanted his confidence.
One day. Soon.
“Admit what, sir?”
“Stand. Lift your head.”
She did as she was told. Limbs that should’ve been weak from exertion had recovered
in record time. The
feeling of inhabiting a body that wasn’t her own added to her disorientation. Dragon
damn, she wanted to remember what had happened in that Cage.
Leto stripped the knife from her hand and tossed it behind him. Metal slid across
concrete. He took hold of her wrists. Vises and manacles had nothing on his incredible
grip. He could snap her hands clean off. Her shudder must’ve traveled between them
because his lips parted. That was new.
She liked it.
“I wear new armor and a bandage because I was not at liberty to kill you,” he said
quietly. “Your skills are already impressive. I cannot say I’ve trained your like
before. I’m twenty years a Cage warrior, but this is only the beginning for you. To
survive, you must admit that I could’ve bested you at any moment. You would be dead
now had I not refrained.”
The truth of his words hit her like a blast of cold water. His grip slid from her
wrists to her hands. Squeeze. His hypnotism wasn’t limited to his voice. She could
barely detect what subtle devices he used to manipulate her body and mind.
But he was right.
“Yes, sir. I would be dead now had you not refrained.”
He nodded tightly. “Retrieve your dagger. We have hours to fill.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Two weeks later, Leto stood outside the locked gate that led to Nynn’s training cell.
To his left, one guard’s chin drifted tellingly toward his chest. His eyes were closed.
The other flipped through an old issue of
. And why not? It was nearly midnight, and they
knew Leto’s purpose was to check in on his new charge, as he’d done several times
a day. That he brought an extra ration as reward for a good day’s work didn’t matter
Soon, after her first match, Nynn would be ready to meet the rest of the Dragon Kings
in the compound. She had already faced a half dozen during practices in the training
Cage, but that wasn’t the same. He wanted her to bond with them. To see this place
as an unexpected haven that could provide security and purpose. Yet custom had it
that neophytes didn’t associate with proven warriors until after a first victory.
Knowing her, as he was beginning to, she would use any such interactions as a means
of resisting him. He could imagine her crafty enough to foment rebellion and form
new alliances. Leto wanted his domain just as it was.
He’d spent years aligning patterns and relationships to his advantage.
Only when Nynn knew victory would it be time to fit her into the hierarchy. In the
meantime, he was the center of her world.
Even with the collar in force, his senses were remarkable. He’d perpetually developed
the blessing. Once experiencing the rush of what he
be, he refused to let it go. He worked at it. Fought to keep what the collars stole.
Trained until muscle memory followed him out of the Cages. Because of those senses,
he knew she was still awake.
He also knew the habits she’d developed. When she managed to sleep. When she cleaned
her body. When she trained.
Which was almost always.
Since those first contentious days after her arrival, she ate regularly and followed
the regimen he dictated. Stretches. Weight training. Cardiovascular. She’d even found
a way to do vertical sit-ups by hooking her legs over the top of the door of the cage.
She’d progressed from a weak creature into a woman on the verge of untold boldness.
He peered through the gate bars and down the corridor that led to her dank, dark quarters.
He shut off the bulbs at night—though, on occasion, he kept them on. Her training
included being able to adapt to any situation. Only with his keen sense of sight could
he discern her movements. He narrowed his eyes and concentrated. Scant glimpses of
her body at work were erotic, dancing shadows. Every panting breath wove into his
chest. She grunted. Gasped. Cursed.
Too faint for humans to hear, those sounds were for Leto alone.
Without the details of light, he recalled how she looked naked. Audible proof of her
determined physical labor laced into his nearly perfect memory.
He could make her sound like that.
. Hard. Aggression and combat layered over a fierce coupling. Afterward, they would
lie together in a tangle of naked, sweaty limbs, as after twelve hours of training.
Tenderness was for softer people in softer places.
He craved the release not even combat could provide.
Another of her determined grunts stirred his cock. He remembered bare flesh. Sensuous
hips and pert breasts. A flat stomach. Long, graceful legs.
And scars. Scars she had not earned in combat.
The intensity of that memory spiked down to the base of his skull. What had been done
to her was disgraceful and disgusting.
He blew out a sharp breath.
Past torments meant nothing when preparing for the Cages. Enduring the unknowns of
Dr. Aster’s laboratory had likely made her stronger. He would use her past to forge
her into a warrior, not wonder at the abuse she must’ve suffered.
She was a survivor, which made the mystery of her gift even more frustrating. How
could she be so dedicated to martial training, yet refuse the most powerful asset
at her disposal? She might as well be a human in a boxing ring. The Asters’ guests
didn’t venture underground for anything so mundane. Their disappointment would be
Leto’s failure to bear.
Clenching his fists into tight balls, he put the night’s goal ahead of every other
consideration. He would push and push and push until something broke. Or until they
forged into a single unit.
“Checking up on me?”
Nynn had walked down the sloping corridor to meet him on the other side of the gate.
That she’d done so without his sensing her approach caught him off guard. Was she
that good, or had he been lost in thought? Sweat glistened on her supple, golden skin.
She’d stripped down to her underwear and tank top. Simple white cotton. Damp. Clinging.
Her breasts and stomach and lush hips were his to admire, overlaid with new mysteries.
“Because you’ve given me cause to think you need
to be observed,” he said. A brush of cool air against his forehead revealed he was
sweating, too. Leto nudged the guard who stared at a flexible blond centerfold. “We’re
going to the practice Cage.”
It wasn’t a request.
The guard only shrugged, although his bulkier, full-body armor nearly concealed the
movement. They dressed as part SWAT team goons and part medieval warriors. The two
might as well be the same thing. Things Leto hadn’t seen in person were difficult
to comprehend. Refusing to be left alone, his mother had followed her young husband
into the cartel’s complex in the hope of starting and raising a family. Leto’s father
hadn’t believed in educating his son in the ways of the outside world. After all,
Leto would become a Cage warrior. His future was set, while Yeta and Pell were prepared
to emerge from the dark and find husbands from among the Five Clans. Yeta had succeeded;
Pell had never been afforded that chance.
Yet their mother had been adamant in teaching each of her children life aboveground,
including Leto. She had insisted that he understand all that existed beyond the cartel’s
dark walls. A deep, edgy corner of his mind still doubted any of it. They were words,
not concrete facts accumulated by his senses and his experiences.
Guards from the Townsends and Kawashimas wore their own distinctive uniforms, although
Leto rarely noticed the details. He only thought about the other cartels’ Cage warriors
when the Grievance pairings were announced. That was when he called in favors from
the likes of Kilgore. Leto learned all he could about the opponent he would take down.
Nynn dragged her hand along the back of her neck, slick with sweat. “
we train? I was just about to sleep.”
“I can leave you here. But I thought you might appreciate an extra ration.” He held
up a wrapped tray.
After banking her obvious surprise, Nynn stood a little straighter. “What’s on the
She no longer called him
A trivial thing when she was obeying. He wasn’t sure what to make of her mood that
evening. Or his. In all other respects, she should have been the perfect neophyte:
a quick study, skilled, and with a powerful motivation to success.
Should have been.
Just like he should have been able to keep his gaze off her breasts as a guard wrapped
her wrists in metal. She lifted her chin—that distinctive gesture she must’ve learned
among the humans. It accentuated the elegance of her neck, the pout of her lower lip,
and the width of her soft, round cheekbones. She glared at him with pale, narrowed
eyes, as if she were ten feet tall. That lithe elegance didn’t stop with her neck,
but trailed down a body that was tempting. So tempting. She was strength and curves.
Power and femininity. Nynn of Tigony would be as much a challenge to bed as she was
to battle in the Cages. Leto wanted his hands around her bare waist, down her sinuous
back, between her thighs. He would find her wet. He would taste her. And she would
taste him, making use of her stubborn mouth.
The guard dragged her into the open and roughly guided her toward the arena. Leto
found it more disconcerting than arousing to see her bound and hauled like an animal.
He liked her best when she blazed with
confidence, because the last thing he wanted was to pity her. Or to sympathize with
His own pains burned hot enough.
The guards left them alone in the Cage facility and locked the doors. One of them
handed Leto the keys to Nynn’s manacles.
They were alone.
“Now what?” she asked.
With calm and patience, his sensual thoughts banished, Leto set the plate on a bench
against the wall. He walked closer. He unbound her wrists. And he grabbed the pale
gold hair at the top of her head, where the strands were longest. “Tonight, Nynn of
Tigony, we see how you react to complete unknowns.”