Read Caged Warrior Online

Authors: Lindsey Piper

Tags: #Dragon Kings#1

Caged Warrior (2 page)

Leto loosened his grip. If he pulled any harder he would dislocate her shoulder. The
goal was not to impair his charges but to ready them. Instead, he added another incentive
for her to obey. With his free hand he grasped between her legs.

“No conscience,” he repeated coldly. “I will have my way.”

She stiffened. She stilled. But Leto realized his heart was beating far too fast.
Need had gathered in him for three weeks. Cage warriors were permitted female flesh
only after a victory—unless they chose to violate their charges, as he threatened
now. Some mentors indulged too often. Their neophytes became submissive, not resilient
and strong. Leto had never needed to use such crude methods. He had other means, including
stores of patience.

And he never lost a match. The regular reward of satisfying his sexual needs was not
something every Cage warrior could claim.

She bucked against his hold. “If you think worse wasn’t done to me in the Asters’
lab, then you have no idea what goes on there.”

“Doesn’t matter to me.” He gave her pussy a last, hard squeeze. At least this time
she flinched and tried to pull away. Any reaction could be twisted to his advantage.
“Maybe you’ll enjoy it. Pleasure can be another incentive.”

She slammed her head backward. Her skull smacked the bridge of his nose. Pain rocketed
through his brain. The woman scrambled from his arms and ran. Leto shook his head.
Part of him was dazed that she’d got the jump on him. Mostly he was amused. Where
did she think she could go?

From down the short corridor that led to her cell’s gate came a feminine shriek. Pure
frustration. She was certainly loud enough to use the sonic assaults that accompanied
the berserker rages of Clan Pendray. They annoyed the fuck out of him. Shaking off
a weeklong migraine was the price of victory over those Dragon-damned Reapers.

He took a strip of linen from beneath his chest armor and wiped his face. The gouge
in his cheek was nearly a puncture. The woman continued her tirade. High-pitched bellows
echoed up the corridor.

“She-devil bitch,” he muttered to himself.

Still, he was surprisingly eager to get started.

Leto set his shoulders and lifted his chin. The Aster family ran the most powerful
human crime cartel in the world. His victories over their cartel rivals—the Townsends
of England and the Kawashimas of Hong Kong—had earned him many privileges. First among
them was the right for his sister Yeta and her husband, Dalnis, to conceive a little
girl. Soon, with the Dragon’s blessing, his efforts would earn protection and care
for
his comatose younger sister, Pell. Up in the human world where they’d made their home,
Yeta and Dalnis had taken on the burden of Pell’s care for nearly a decade.

He would win the Grievance, year after year. To keep his family safe. To ensure Clan
Garnis would live on.

Confidence gave him extra swagger as he strode down the sloping corridor to retrieve
his screaming neophyte. She stood with her back against the gate made of floor-to-ceiling
wrought iron. Leto had no key. He was let in and out by the Asters’ human guards.
Cattle prods, Tasers, and napalm bullets kept even the most powerful Dragon King in
check. The collars made it so.

Leto had never fought back. Why would he? This subterranean complex had always been
his place of glory and purpose, where his father had fought. Where, in service to
his loved ones, his father had died.

Decapitated by a Dragon blade.

“Stay away from me!”

“I won’t.” His words were as assured as he felt.

She darted sideways. Though slender, she was wily and surprisingly strong. But she
would never be his match. He caught her around the middle. Momentum threw her onto
his forearm. Again he hurled her to the ground. He pinned her with his boot heel on
her collar, right over her larynx.

“You’ll only hurt yourself. Save this fire. You’ll need it for the Cages.”

She cradled her elbow and glared up with pale, pale eyes—maybe blue.

“I’m to train you for your first bout in three weeks,”
he continued. “Normally we’d have more time, but Old Man Aster wants you ready by
then. He’ll be hosting many important people.”

He removed his boot and grabbed a fistful of hair—a honey blond shade that trailed
down her back. He’d need to fix that. His actions were proof of how dangerous long
hair could be in battle.

“Let go of me!”

“No.” He dragged her back to the main body of the training room. He shoved her into
a crevice that had been carved by a steady trickle of water. “Wash yourself. I won’t
work with garbage.”

She hissed as cold water drenched her face, sluiced down her back. The thin paper
hospital gown clung to her body. Soon it would be as useless as wet tissue. He had
proper armor for her to change into. Eventually. First, she needed to learn her place.

“Soap?”

Leto crossed his arms. “What was that?”

She pinched her lips into a tight white line. That honey-colored hair darkened beneath
the water’s trickle. Her arms and legs trembled. She closed into a protective ball.

If the woman didn’t ask, Leto would have a despicable chore ahead of him. On a certain
level he would enjoy breaking her. Yet he craved a real opponent. She had that potential,
if she proved smart enough to know when to back down.

“May I have some soap?” The effort of asking contorted her features with fury.

“Perhaps.”

Slowly, he knelt before her. He’d trained enough for
the Cages to know when the appearance of gentleness held greater power than aggression.
She backed deeper into the crevice, but her fear was nowhere to be seen. Those pale,
almost silver eyes were visible through the water dribbling down her face. Already
she was cleaner. He could see more of her features.
Stubborn.
Every feature stubborn.

“I will not give much advice beyond techniques for fighting. But listen to me now:
Save your hostility. I am not your enemy.”

“Bullshit.”

She whipped wet hair back from her heart-shaped face. Her pointed chin was haughty,
but her lips were delicate. Thin. Tremulous. As with every Dragon King, her skin was
naturally tan. Hers was overlaid with a shimmering luster, like gold beneath a blazing
light. Wide cheekbones were streaked with freckles, not the dirt he’d assumed. The
water darkened her lashes and framed those nearly translucent eyes. Her gaze was canny.
She assessed every detail, even through her fury.

Intelligence in a trainee was a double-edged sword.

“Become a half-dead cripple for all I care,” Leto said with a shrug. “You know it
takes a great deal to kill a Dragon King. But the crowd loves when combatants bleed
and scream. No one mourns.”

“My son would mourn me,” she whispered.

“He already does. Dr. Aster will have told him you’re dead.”

“I was promised my son. One year more.”

One year.

He almost pitied the woman’s naïveté. She’d be lucky to stand or talk or chew after
her first match. Yes,
she would heal, as all Dragon Kings did, but the process was imperfect. Amputated
limbs never grew back. Minds cracked into mad pieces. Scars remained. His split lip
and lashed back were a testament to that.

He masked his pessimism and long-ago pains. This was his responsibility. He had yet
to fail the Old Man. He wouldn’t let this woman destroy the respect Leto had spent
years acquiring.

“Learn to fight,” he said. “Or you’ll suffer as others have.”

She shuddered. The hospital gown clung to her. She tucked her legs beneath her and
crossed shaky arms over her breasts. The water let her keep few secrets. “And you’re
here to teach me?”

“You would’ve saved yourself a lot of abuse had you asked that question twenty minutes
ago.”

“Bathatéi.”
The worst curse word in the language of the Dragon Kings.

Leto only laughed. “Your name. Now.”

She lashed out with a tight fist. He caught it easily, then the next one. The only
weapon she had left—one she might not have realized—was the surprise of her breasts.
The soaked paper gown outlined their lithe, luscious shape. Leto forced his gaze back
to her face.

“Your name,” he said with growing menace. “Unless you enjoy being called lab filth.”

“My name in exchange for soap.”

He grinned. This was going to be fun.

“Agreed.”

A swallow disappeared beneath the edge of her collar. She lifted her chin. “My name
is Audrey MacLaren.”

TWO

Y
our real name.”

Dragon be, his calmness was irritating. He let go of her fists.

Audrey had lost feeling in her fingers and toes. The hospital gown disintegrated into
little balls of paper along her shoulder.

“It is. I’m Audrey MacLaren.”

“Maybe out there with the humans. I won’t speak that dirt down here.”

“Sure, because this place is so pristine.”

“My rules.”

“You sound like my son. Petulant. Expecting to get your way.”

He stared down at her with abject condescension. “And I suppose he got his way in
Aster’s lab?”

“You piece of shit!”

“Call me what you like. That won’t change your situation.”

Everything about his raw brawn and arrogant posture said fighting back would be a
useless waste of energy. She was too weak with hunger and too shattered by pain to
resist with more than words.

But she
did
have words.

“I was born Nynn of Clan Tigony.”

The man flinched. She’d dented his arrogant exterior. “A Tigony? In the Cages?”

“You heard me. Malnefoley, the Honorable Giva, is my cousin.”

Malnefoley was the leader of the ten-person Council that protected the Dragon Kings’
ancient traditions.

“Your origins don’t matter down here.” The man recovered as quickly from mental surprise
as he did from physical attacks. “Here, we only fight for the Asters.”

She couldn’t read his eyes—eyes the rich brown of an antique book’s leather binding—but
she compensated with other clues. His shoulders were not quite as relaxed. Tension
had replaced the grace of his assured movements. Lines around his mouth tightened.

Just what power did he possess? If she could learn his clan, she would know. Each
had particular abilities, passed down through dwindling generations. The Tigony had
not inspired myths of Zeus’s lightning bolt by accident. They harnessed and concentrated
kinetic energy—which wound up looking very much like an electrical storm.

But her tormentor could be crossbred.

Though Audrey had been raised among the Tigony, few had let her forget her origins.
Her unknown father was Pendray, one of the vicious berserkers that had inspired Norse
and Celtic myths. Only Mal had forgiven her mother. Audrey’s place among the Tigony
had been granted at his discretion alone.

Crossbred children could possess extraordinary—and dangerous—gifts in unique combinations.
Or they
could possess nothing at all. Like Audrey. She’d never been immune to the rumors and
scorn.

So she’d adopted the name Audrey after hearing it in an American movie. She and Malnefoley
had agreed it best that she leave their Tigony stronghold in the high, craggy mountains
of Greece. She had received her education at a boarding school in the States. Money
and influence meant she’d eventually become an American.

She’d met Caleb at an innocuous college bookstore, amid used texts and supplies. Imperial
Russian history—turned out they’d shared the class, rolling their eyes at their slightly
insane Scottish professor. They wed before graduation, and she’d loved him with all
her heart.

But she’d kept secrets. She was a Dragon King. Life before boarding school was a lie.
He’d married an alias.

Despite her guilt, she’d protected her new life—and had buried the pain of her exile.
Now she would never return to either of her homes. Jack was not only her son; he was
all she had.

Standing, Leto glared down at her. “If you move from this spot, I’ll leave you for
the night. Cold. Wet. No soap, clothes, or food.”

Clothes and food. “Any other threats?”

“You’ll be confined to your cage instead of being allowed free rein of the training
room.”

“This is a training room?”

“For one such as you.”

His voice was almost powerful enough to force obedience. It was low and throaty, as
if wounds could speak. The collar might as well have fused with his larynx. She shivered
for reasons that had nothing to do with the chilly water.

He strode down the corridor. His swagger was as maddening as it was fascinating. Ridged,
well-built thighs powered his body with surprising grace. His bare back was a lacework
of scars. Leather straps crisscrossed below his shoulder blades to hold the chest
plate in place.

Sinew. Brawn.

Another shiver.

Audrey scrubbed the paper hospital gown from her skin. Naked, she turned away from
the cavelike room. Dragon be, the brute was right. She was filthy. Dirt and dead skin
sloughed off beneath her palms and fingernails. Although she was frozen through to
her bones, she relished the feeling of starting over.

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