Authors: Lindsey Piper
Tags: #Dragon Kings#1
“And you haven’t been hearing me,” Leto said softly. He was restraining her in the
most violent, most vulnerable hold he’d yet used, but he’d never spoken to her with
more compassion. “Nynn, you are
now. You will become a Cage warrior because you have reason to. Because they’ve taken
every other choice away from you. Because they will never let you succeed any other
She twitched her shoulders, then pounded her head against his armor. A sound of pure
frustration reverberated around the walls of that tiny room.
He beckoned Kilgore even closer. “The alternative is to let men like this use you.
To become a victim. You
were a victim when they killed your husband and took you and your son.”
A sob ripped out of her chest, but he didn’t think it was because of the situation.
“I tried,” she said, almost soundless. “Caleb was dead before I knew what was happening.
Blood sprayed across the refrigerator. Jack’s mouth was covered in masking tape. They
used a Taser on me, covered my head with a hood, and zip-tied it into place. Late
on a Thursday evening. We’d ordered a pizza. But in thirty seconds, they destroyed
my whole life.”
“Here, today, you put yourself in the position to be a victim again.” He nudged her
temple with his chin. “Look at him. The man is disgusting. You’re a Dragon King of
the Tigony, on her knees. How will this save your son?”
“You could let me go. You could
me find him!”
“That would mean the deaths of my sisters and my niece. I can’t let that happen. We
do this together. We fight as one. Or you open your mouth right now and take your
chances with this man.”
Kilgore was out of breath now. His eyes were glassy.
“Go ahead, Nynn. Give him what you were willing to give. Taste him. Let him thrust
“It’s what you were ready to do. Forget fighting in the Cages. Forget showing the
Asters exactly what you can do. No, instead, you’d let this toad fuck your pretty
face on the chance that he’d hand-deliver a letter to the Giva, or open a magic door
that set you and your boy free. Give it a try. Now’s the time.”
“What would you do if I did?”
Leto was swinging between the arousal of holding her trembling, infuriated body and
the revulsion of forcing her into such a position. All he knew was that even then,
as helpless as a woman could be, she was still fighting. She
a fighter. Forget her clan. Forget that she’d married a human. For Nynn of Tigony
to do anything less than destroy her enemies was an insult to her potential and their
“I would be disappointed,” he whispered. “And you’d make Kilgore very, very happy.”
She gagged when he tightened his grip on her jaw. “So open up. Show both of us what
sort of woman you really are.”
She snaked a leg out and around. Not the most effective angle, but it was enough to
catch her boot behind Kilgore’s ankle. One quick tug landed the man on his back. She
slammed her elbow toward Leto’s ear, and he let her have that small victory.
Quicker than any human, but slower than any member of Clan Garnis who remained free
of the collars, he jerked her to her feet. She gasped.
“Now,” he said, his breath rough against her cheek. “A trade.”
Kilgore writhed on the floor. She watched him as if keeping an eye on a venomous insect.
Dangerous, but vulnerable. She nodded slightly.
“You’ll walk out of here with me. Very calmly. No more fighting. Otherwise the guards
will wonder what the hell happened. Bribes and intimidation will only work for so
long.” He grinned. “And in exchange, you get to let loose one more kick.”
Sputtering, still dazed, Kilgore began a pleading sort of moan. He cupped his withering
erection and doubled
over himself. “Leto. No. Think of what I do for you! Your matches! You’d never know
who’s coming up next.”
“And won’t that make it more interesting.” He nestled a cold smile against Nynn’s
temple. Her pulse was manic, but she’d stopped struggling. “Do we have an agreement?”
“I don’t get a say?” Kilgore bellowed.
Nynn relaxed, then nodded to Leto. “Agreed. If you hold him down on the bed.”
Leto exhaled slowly. Trusted. And let her go. She didn’t run and she didn’t try to
strike him. The measure of faith they’d given one another in that moment was priceless.
Yanking Kilgore into place was no great task. Leto was happy to do it.
Rather than kicking the man, or stomping on his face, or whatever manner of violence
Leto could imagine, Nynn calmly walked to the chest of metal drawers. She retrieved
another syringe. Her expression was fierce. Only her silvery blue eyes gave her away.
Leto was surprised he could read her vulnerability so plainly.
“Time to go to sleep, Kilgore,” she said sweetly. The needle slipped so easily into
the vein on the back of his hand. “And when you wake up, you can wonder what
wondered for a whole year. Just what was done to me while I was drugged? I bet your
cock is the first thing you check.”
Kilgore thrashed and cursed . . . then slid into unconsciousness.
Leto raised an eyebrow. Not the choice he’d expected.
She met his gaze. “You gave me enough room to kick my leg free.”
“And you let me get the drop on you—when I hit your temple.”
“You’re still a sick fucking bastard.”
She wiped the blood from her lip. If anything, her posture was straighter, prouder
than Leto had ever seen.
Had she learned a damn thing?
She was impetuous and thought too far ahead of him. Her imagination was more developed
than his would ever be—except in matters of combat, when he thought three steps ahead
of every opponent. She had no sense. She showed no due deference to the tasks laid
out before her like a path. Why would she? Glaring, her wide-set eyes dared him to
try again, to make her a victim resigned to her fate.
He would never associate that word with her—his lethal neophyte.
Then why did the word weigh so easily, so heavily, in his own mind?
eto needed to be away from the woman. Instead, he led her through the corridors, as
if dragging a dog that needed to be put down. He gripped the chains of her manacles
as he led her toward the guards standing watch at her training cell. Both men raised
eyebrows. Nynn looked like she’d just endured two rounds in a Cage. May as well have.
The laceration on her forehead was raised on a bruise.
She stopped at the gate and turned. Blue fire sparked in her eyes—a quiet imitation
of the gift she couldn’t use. “I hate so much of my life and so many people, but you’re
the only one here to hate in person. Thank you for making it easier to do.”
“I’m tired of you.”
“You should’ve made the most of your chance,” she ground out. “Turning a blind eye
is easy. Let me show you.”
She presented him with her back and the guards with her wrists. One fumbled to find
the right key.
There, so close to where he would sleep that night, where the other warriors took
their meals and, in their own uneasy ways, socialized—Leto could almost imagine her
becoming part of his world. But she never
would. Her escape attempts would continue. Her barbs and insults. Hatred, no matter
how justified, was blinding her to the value of playing along.
The Old Man wanted them paired in matches, and Leto had never fought with a partner.
What a farce. It was hard enough to win without keeping a muzzle and chains on Nynn,
knowing she would knife him in the back at first chance.
“Well, now,” came a voice Leto couldn’t place.
Not at first.
Nynn whirled. Her eyes bulged. She tried to dart. Only Leto’s quick reflexes kept
her from bolting back down the corridor. He held on with all his strength, because
she’d gained the ferocity of a lioness. Vicious. Manic. A perfectly placed kick to
the back of his thigh gave her the opening she needed to break free.
Only, her features were contorted by abject fear.
“No,” she gasped.
She moved too fast for her own limbs. Spun away from Leto. Slipped. Fell backward
onto her ass, scrambling away. The manacle chains draped in a noisy clank around her
“Lovely to see you again, Mrs. MacLaren.”
Dr. Heath Aster.
Leto’s gaze was quick. He couldn’t keep both Nynn and the doctor in sight at the same
time, but he came very close. One placid smile. One expression of surprised fear morphing
into the most powerful anger he’d never seen.
Nynn surged to her feet. She grabbed the practice knife from Leto’s waist belt, spun,
and snatched the guards’ set of keys. He’d never seen her move so
swiftly, with precision and grace despite the fury warping her pixie features. Stance
wide, she edged away from the wall in a tight, controlled circled. Her attention on
the doctor. Knife in one fist. One key thrust between the knuckles of the other.
“Where the fuck is my son?”
“Where you should be, my dear,” the doctor said. “No matter what my father insists.
Leto, restrain her.”
Leto might have hesitated. He
have. A pause waited in the space between one breath coming in and another going
out. Nynn forced his hand by lunging at the doctor.
Leto lashed out and wrapped an arm around her stomach. Her makeshift weapons hit the
floor in quick succession. He caught her manacles and wrapped his inner elbow around
her neck. She shrieked as if he’d captured a Pendray animal rather than a woman raised
among Tigony royalty and lowly humans.
Sweat formed along Leto’s brow as he held her thrashing body for the second time that
night. Both times fighting. But this was a moment outside of his control. His neophyte
was his to command only as long as he was alone to make the decisions. Those decisions
were no longer his.
That knowledge grated up his spine.
“And silence her.”
Leto dropped from champion to slave in the span of three words.
He adjusted his grip to keep her immobilized and silent. Sharp teeth grazed the inside
of his palm—her tongue, her lips, her vicious snarls. When Nynn tried to kick, he
looped one thigh around both of hers. She still
tried. He’d known that about her from the first moment she’d stabbed his cheek with
a piece of concrete. She would still try. That didn’t mean she would win. Not against
him and not against the Asters.
Why did that make his stomach lurch?
The doctor stepped closer, his chin lifted, inspecting.
Likely mid-fifties, Dr. Aster was glossy as a photograph. His suit was immaculate.
Light brown hair was carefully combed back from a face that greatly resembled that
of his father. Hawkish. Predatory. With the same jester’s smile. Only, the doctor
seemed able to keep his smile just shy of unsettling. More contained. Nothing about
him said sadist. Madness. Brilliance. Just a well-ordered sense of competence.
His eyes, however, gave Leto pause. Dull gray. Slow to move. He took his time to linger
over every surface, especially Nynn’s face. Collecting details? Leto didn’t know how
to do that without racing at high speed, when he could suck up information as quickly
as slurping water from a glass. To move so slowly worked against every instinct he
had ever honed. It actually bothered him to watch the doctor’s careful, slothful movements.
He’d met the man only once or twice. With nothing between them other than a connection
to the Old Man, they’d had little to say. In fact, in his twenty years as a Cage warrior,
he couldn’t remember having spoken with the doctor. Now Leto’s skin was itching as
if bugs were crawling beneath.
“Cutting your hair hadn’t occurred to me,” he said. “Do you miss it, Mrs. MacLaren?
I suppose your husband must have enjoyed its beauty a great deal.”
Aster was tempting fate by taunting her. Leto caught
her renewed blitz of venom as if holding back lightning. At first he couldn’t identify
the wetness along the outside of his hand, but it was her tears. Two blinks of salt
water trailed down her cheeks and settled in the crevice between his skin and hers.
That lazy gray gaze returned to Nynn. “Greatly changed.” Aster wiped one of her tears,
then touched his finger to his tongue. “But still broken. I like to see even our champion
hasn’t been able to change that. Although you have tried, haven’t you, Leto?”
“Yes, sir. She’s a good fighter.”
Dr. Aster stared directly into Nynn’s eyes. Leto could almost feel the earthquake
her hatred was going to rip open beneath their feet. Had she been free of the collar,
she would have done just that. “True. But alas, her son . . .”
She shrieked. Leto’s arms were beginning to burn. They’d both have bruises from how
roughly he needed to keep her contained. And all the while, his anger lifted to new
heights. Nynn was
neophyte. This mental and emotional torture would set their training back by weeks.
Possibly longer. He’d only just determined that her anger stood in the way of greatness.
Now the personification of that anger was playing marionette with nightmare thoughts
of her son.