The Dragon’s Heart by Eden Ashe
The dragon-shifter king will do anything to keep his mate alive…even if it means war.
“We’re dragons. We don’t do the mushy friend thing.” – Daniel
Dragon Lore, #1
After millennia as king of the dragon-shifters, Daniel Ashborne wants a little peace and quiet, especially from the beautiful Hollywood starlet who haunts his memories. His escape tactics end abruptly when he is called to the ER to save the one woman he wants to forget, but who now bears his mark.
Shelby Kincade’s life and movie career were nearly destroyed when Daniel vanished a year ago. Now he’s back, claiming they have been accidentally mated. Getting over him once was hard enough, but she must choose either the life of her dreams or the man she can’t live without.
With peace finally on the horizon between the dragon-shifters and the Hunters, an assassination attempt on the dragon king and his mate shatters everything. Tensions rebuild as Daniel and his loyal team of shifters try to discover who put out the hit. Enemy and ally lines are crossed, but in the end–after the battle ash has settled–no one could have foreseen who has plotted for their own gain.
CONTENT WARNING: Graphic fight scenes, lots of great sex, and hot, hot, hot dragon men.
A Lyrical Press Urban Fantasy Romance
All rights reserved, Lyrical Press, Inc.
“In entertainment news, Shelby Kincade is expected to make her first public appearance tonight at the premiere for her new romantic comedy, Love Games. It’s been almost a year since the night that still baffles police, when two men were found torn apart and bloody inside the A-list star’s bedroom…”
A low catcall came from the end of the bar, droning out the rest of the talking head’s voice.
“Look at her.” A man whistled. Shelby Kincade’s face filled the flat-screen television set high on the wall above the dozens of bottles of alcohol.
“I’d rather not.” Daniel Ashborne downed the beer he’d been nursing for the last hour. Just her name made him want to get plastered. “Can you turn this shit off?” he asked.
The brawny bartender braced his stocky arms across his chest. “Fuck off. I’m watching this.” He grabbed the remote, cranking the volume as he turned his full attention back to the television. “I like Shelby.”
“Of course you do,” Daniel drawled as he got to his feet, scooping his change off the bar. He dragged a hand over his face. So much for a biker bar being a nice, quiet place to get drunk. The task didn’t require all of his attention, but there was no way in hell he was looking at the television screen. He knew from experience the second he let his focus waver, he’d get sucked in to whatever story was running on the woman, be it on the television or in a magazine or newspaper. No matter how toxic it was, she was an addiction he didn’t know how to kick.
It didn’t surprise him to see her face splattered all over the night’s news. It was why he’d decided to get sloppy drunk. After a year outside the Hollywood spotlight, the woman still demanded attention. And she got it in spades.
“Isn’t she the pertiest thang you’ve ever seen?” the biker asked, his gaze riveted to the television.
Daniel made the mistake of glancing up. She stared back at him through dark sunglasses, pale blonde waves framing a perfect, flawless face. He knew the photograph was taken soon after his last encounter with her. He knew it because her smile, the beautiful, radiant smile of hers that made everyone near her want to smile, too, strained around the edges. Too forced to be real.
He snorted on his way to the door. “Don’t let her fool you,” he murmured as he passed the biker. “She’s a shark. She’d eat you alive.”
The biker’s grin went hungry. “Hey, she can eat any part of me she wants. Fuck, I’d give my left nut for five minutes with that mouth–”
Daniel’s fist shot out before he realized he’d moved, slamming into the guy’s jaw. The power behind the punch sent the bastard flying backward into the pool table.
“What the fuck!” the idiot roared, too ignorant to realize he was only alive because Daniel allowed him to be. Bracing a hand against the table next to him, the biker managed to get his considerable weight back to his feet.
Though the biker was six foot of pure brawn, Daniel was eight inches taller and outweighed him by nearly a hundred pounds of muscle. He could tear the man apart by the limbs if he wanted to, even without his alter ego making an appearance. He didn’t need to unleash the beast tonight.
Daniel took a step closer to the burly human. Maybe a fight was what he needed to take the edge off. He needed his head in the game where it belonged, not on the woman who’d caused him nothing but grief for the last year. “Let’s do this.”
The idiot came barreling at him like a freight train, hooking Daniel around the waist and carrying him backward into the wall behind him. The biker bared his teeth as his fist shot out aiming for Daniel’s stomach, but Daniel’s reflexes were quicker. He grabbed him by the shoulders, slamming his head into the man’s nose. Blood exploded everywhere. Daniel stepped back, snorting as the biker let out a high-pitched, girly wail before scrambling to his feet again, a switchblade gripped in one meaty fist.
Around him, the other bikers left their tables and drinks, forming a loose, threatening circle around Daniel. As he rolled his shoulders, preparing to do some real damage, the sound of a shotgun slide being racked into place echoed through the suddenly silent bar.
Unease prickled along Daniel’s spine. He raised his head slowly to see the bartender braced behind the bar, the shotgun resting on the counter. “Keep it down,” the man snarled. “I’m trying to watch this.”
Well fuck. Even her face on television brought out every lunatic in the area.
The woman really was nothing but trouble.
“You have two seconds to take it out the door.” The bartender sneered, turning his attention back to the television. Grabbing the remote, he cranked the volume. “I will shoot someone if I miss seeing Shelby.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Daniel muttered, subtly shifting his body to take in the danger surrounding him. He counted six men with various weapons, none of which worried him. The bartender with the shotgun, though, he could be a problem. Not even Daniel could withstand a blast from it at pointblank range. Even with normal ammunition, he had no doubt the idiot would use it if he felt provoked. Shelby had that affect on men. A smile from her brought out every protective instinct a man possessed, triggering a homicidal rage if anyone dared to threaten her.
Trying to use the distraction against him, the first of the gang rushed Daniel from behind. Daniel spun at the last second, using the biker’s forward momentum to his own advantage. He snapped the wrist holding the switchblade and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground until his feet dangled in the air. With a flick of his wrist, he sent him barreling into idiots two and three. Number four tried to get a knife past his defenses as Daniel unarmed the two with guns, but Daniel was quicker.
He moved with inhuman speed. He grabbed the fucker’s head and shifted, driving the man into the wood of the pool table.
As Daniel stepped back, the bartender’s voice boomed out. “Leave the weapons. I’ll clean ‘em up with the rest of the garbage.” Daniel turned around slowly, and saw the big man shrug. “It’s not a Friday night around here if I’m not tossing out an unconscious body or two, though I have to say you’re the first to take on six of this particular gang and not leave on a stretcher.”
Daniel let out a snort as he headed for the door.
He didn’t bother to check the wound until he’d hoisted a leg over his Ducati at the back of the deserted parking lot. Wounds never bothered him, but with Shelby’s face all over the fucking news tonight, at least the pain would be a distraction. The slash wasn’t anything he couldn’t heal on his own, but his heart felt like it was on fire, and panic was starting to seep into his brain.
Brushing the fear off, he stopped to buy several bottles of hard alcohol. If the pain failed, he’d drink himself comatose.
He dug his phone out of the back pocket of his jeans when it chirped, snapping it open without bothering to see who was calling. Of the five people who had his number, his sister was the only one who ever used it. “Yeah.”
“Daniel. You need to get to the hospital right now.”
He pulled the phone away from his ear, scowled at it for a moment, before he glanced down at the wound. “Seren, it’s not that bad.”
The hellion of an ER doctor let out a growl. “How would you know?” she yelled. “I’m the one who’s been trying to save her life for the last ten minutes.”
Daniel went still. The fire in his heart intensified, leaving him gasping. If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear he was having a heart attack. “What?” He snarled, hoping he was imagining things. “Who?”
“Who?” she asked. “Your mate, you idiot. Someone shot her. So whatever the hell is going on with you, forget it and get your ass here. Now–before she dies on my table.”
“My what?” He roared. “Seren, what the hell are you talking about?”
After a full minute of silence that grated on Daniel’s every nerve, the woman finally spoke again, the fury in her voice turned to utter confusion. “Wait. You really don’t know what I’m talking about?” she asked.
“No,” he snapped, not in the mood for shit. “I don’t, and I don’t care. Now if you don’t mind, I have plans with a couple bottles of vodka.”
“Daniel!” She shouted his name before he could hang up on her. “I have no more idea of what is going on than you do, but you need to get your ass here, or I’m sending Cage after you. Whoever this girl is, it’s not good. I am warning you, if she dies on my watch I will cut your heart out myself and feed it to Adrian for breakfast.”
The line went dead. He had no idea what the hell the woman was talking about, but as the pain over his chest intensified, he started his bike and roared out into traffic.
* * * *
Daniel didn’t bother with the parking lot as he pulled into the hospital emergency bay ten minutes later. He still didn’t know what he was doing there. For fuck’s sake, he’d know if he had a mate. It couldn’t happen without his express participation. He was always sober and coherent during sex. Because he knew the rules, he’d made sure never to sleep with the same woman more than once, just in case. Even with Shelby, the only time he’d broken his own rule, it had only been twice, one short of the needed three for a mating.
He’d barely made it in through the automatic doors before Dr. Seren Cage stepped into his path. She glared up at him–all the way up at him.
“Thank the gods,” she muttered as she grabbed his hand and started walking, leaving him no choice but to follow her if he didn’t want to yank her arm out of its socket. “I have no idea what is happening, but I know it’s your mark.”
At four-foot-eleven and a hundred and ten pounds of pregnant, heartbreaking beauty, Seren wasn’t anyone’s version of a hard-core emergency room doctor, but people only made the mistake of underestimating her once. What she lacked in physical size, she more than made up for in attitude and ability.
“Okay, whatever prank you’re pulling on me, it’s not funny, Seren. I don’t have a fucking mate, and it’s the only way a woman would have my mark.” He knew Seren worried about his isolated lifestyle, but this wasn’t funny. He raked a hand through his hair. “I think I’d know.”
She shook her head, appearing as confused as he felt. “Come on. We can figure this out after we save her life.”
As she led Daniel through the ER bay, it wasn’t Seren or the mystery woman that worried him. It was the massive male leaning against the window next to one of the secure rooms, his scarred face furious and deadly as he watched them approach.
“What the hell is your husband doing here?” Daniel demanded, as the odd pain in his heart started to intensify. He raised his fist to rub at it again.
Seren noticed the action with a cant of her head, her face softening. “Your mate was shot, and she needs your energy to fight. It will leave both of you vulnerable, and no one will get past Cage.” She grabbed the clipboard from the box next to her husband, while bumping the door open with her hip. “Now come on, we’re wasting time.”
As Daniel followed her into the room, he was sure Seren had lost her mind, until he saw Shelby lying on the bed. His heart simply failed. Pain that had nothing to do with his chest wound tore through him, and his body started to shake violently.
Her shoulder was a mangled mess. Her face was pale beneath the ventilator, her body too still to be the vibrant she-devil he remembered.
“What the hell happened to her?” He roared. “Why are you just standing there? Goddamn it, Seren, fix her!”
Seren’s voice softened as she put her pregnant body in front of his. “I can’t. I’ve done everything I can. Only her mate can save her now.”
Daniel swallowed hard as the pain in his heart threatened to split his chest open. “I’m not her mate, goddamn it.” His hand shook as he shoved it through his hair. “It’s not me.”
Seren turned to her husband. Adrian simply nodded, putting his massive body in the doorway, blocking Daniel from leaving.
“Take your shirt off,” she ordered. Instead of giving Daniel time to obey, she simply laid her clipboard on the bed and moved in, yanking at his jacket. When she saw the gaping wound in his chest, she inhaled a sharp breath. She didn’t hesitate. She shoved his black Henley shirt up and moved in closer, poking around the inch-deep gouge.
“Oh, Daniel, why do you do this to yourself?” she asked as she stepped back.
He kept his mouth closed because he didn’t have an answer for her. At least not one he felt like sharing. He’d been trying to escape thoughts of Shelby for a year, and yet his only option some nights was a fight. The physical pain was much easier to bear than the mental.
Her touch was gentler as she pulled the sheet covering Shelby down, exposing the tell-tale marking over the swell of her left breast.
Daniel staggered back a step as he felt his entire existence shift beneath his feet. Ryuu, what had he done?
“Okay, good,” Seren breathed. “Now I need you to help me fix her.”