A skinwalker with a mythic imprint. A dragon gone to ground. A horrifying threat with ties that run blood deep.
For the second time in her life, Sanaa Chavez finds herself on the wrong side of the Elder Council. In a world where good standing with the tribe is a matter of survival, that is not a safe place to be. Things only get worse when a dark walker starts hunting Sanaa’s baby for the dragon blood that flows in her veins. To make matters worse, hunter happens to be Sanaa’s estranged mother, Niabe. Her daughter’s future, her position in the clan, her very life depend on secrets she swore never to tell. All of her hopes lie in the dragon who fathered her baby, but the Dragon in the Mountain’s aid comes with a price.
Ronin Nori took his leave from the world after the devastating loss of his wife, Evette. Now he lives a solitary life, playing god to the Bloodbone Skinwalkers. In ten years of solitude, only one woman tempted Ronin’s fiery Heat. To protect Sanaa and his child, Ronin must complete an ancient rite of passage and settle old hurts. His heart isn’t his to give, but a dragon doesn’t walk away from his spawn…or his mate.
When the kidnapping attempts intensify, Ronin and Sanaa use every tool in their arsenal to bring Niabe to justice. The only question now is which will take them first: the battle or the Heat?
Dragon Blood is a paranormal shifter/urban fantasy romance for readers who enjoy complex heroes, strong heroines and high-stakes actions. Standalone, HEA, featuring diverse characters and plenty of action and adventure.
For the better part of a year, everyone Sanaa Chavez met at her job told her to expect sleepless nights. They didn’t bother to fake pity when they said it. None of them looked her in the eye. They glanced at her swollen belly or at the snoozing bundle in her arms, with a devious twinkle in their eyes. The judgement was always the same, a lifetime of chronic insomnia. As if she weren’t already worried she would somehow fuck up her child beyond repair.
Sanaa could handle sleepless nights. She had lost more than a few hours of slumber to sillier things over the years. If her daughter was happy and healthy, Sanaa figured she could manage whatever life threw at them. The problem was nobody remembered to tell her the baby wouldn’t be the only reason she lost sleep. None of the would-be well-wishers warned her guppy demons might shatter her windows in the middle of the night. Of course, the only people who might have warned her weren’t speaking to her.
The six-inch, gray-bodied demons were twice the size of the fish her cousin Kane named them for. They moved in small groups like schools of fish, gnashing their teeth at their prey. A skinwalker, if they were lucky, could go their entire lives without encountering the little bastards.
Sanaa almost mistook the faint clacking against her trailer roof for rain. Lord knew they needed it. Reality slapped her in the face when one of the little red-eyed demons broke through the window. She grabbed her baby and the first thing she could find to swat the fucker back outside.
She would have given anything for a sharp knife. Even a solid bat would have done the job. Dozens of guppy demons streamed through the window. Sanaa snatched the nearest heavy object, a cast iron pan still coated in lard and bean mush. She backhanded a charging group of demons, sending them careening into the particle board cabinet.
There was no need to waste her brain power trying to figure out who sent the dark spawn after her. It could only be someone who knew where she lived, wanted something inside the double wide, and had no compunctions about using dark powyr to get it. Sanaa only knew one person who checked all boxes. But this was over-the-top, even for her.
The tiny powyr demons regrouped and rushed Sanaa. Pain ripped up the sides of her legs as they slashed her skin with their razor-sharp claws. More flooded through the window every second. Their gray bodies bounded from the floor to the ceiling with each leap. She swatted at them with her frying pan. Beans flew over the walls, but the guppies dodged every swing.
White-hot strings of pain tore through Sanaa’s skin, and she pawed at the trailer door. Her bloody fingers slipped over the metal latch, costing her precious seconds. The demons had numbers on their side in the small space. A few more seconds and they would overwhelm her. Like hell she was going to let the evil things take or hurt her daughter. Sanaa dropped the pan, which squished one of the guppies into a puff of black smoke, and grabbed the fabric sling from the table. She slid her daughter into it. Their only chance was to get outside where she could unleash her imprint form.
Relief washed over her as the door gave way. She could almost taste the pleasure she would get from nuking the fuckers with a lightning bolt. In large numbers, the guppies could do massive damage, but they had no will of their own. They couldn’t strategize or counterattack. In the open air, her powers would give her the critical advantage.
Sanaa set her baby down on the dirt. Changing forms so close to her infant would require more care than she was used to. The talons of her Thunderbird form could easily rip the baby to pieces, but Sanaa, at least, would take care not to hurt her child, the guppies wouldn’t be so kind.
But when Sanaa reached for her Thunderbird form she felt nothing. No movement in her muscles as the fibers stretched. She flexed her fingers, looking for the tell-tale stiffness as they hollowed and grew. Nothing.
The baby shrieked again. Sanaa looked down at her daughter, her small body sinking to the dirt. The baby lay undisturbed, eyes closed, her russet skin stained red in anger. The guppies snarled and gnashed their teeth as they lashed out with their tiny talons. The guppies attacked Sanaa with full force, sheering her skin apart with the ease of a surgeon's scalpel while their beady red eyes remained locked on her.
Panic set in, stealing her breath as her heart rate amped ever higher. She snatched the baby from the ground and ran. It wasn't a fight she could win on her own. Not with her Bird out of commission. Retreat was her only chance.
Damn those little demons and their poisoned claws.
Sanaa pumped her legs until her blood flowed battery acid through her veins. She ran until the pain spread across her skin, turning each appendage into a searing mass of nerves, red and raw.
Her daughter, usually fussy so late in the evening, wasn't shy about voicing her fear. Her cries reverberated off the canyon walls as Sanaa rushed through the plateau behind her trailer, guppies biting at her heels. The razor-sharp echo made Sanaa wince, but the pain was useful. She used it as a guide to find the canyon in the darkness. Only one man might take pity on her and offer her sanctuary. And she didn't have time to worry about what safety might cost her.
She tore at the buttons of her shirt with her fingers, tugging her engorged breast free and sliding a dripping nipple into her baby's mouth. The jostling of her legs made a smooth latch impossible. Her daughter's squeals grew shriller. Every cell in her body wanted to stop then and comfort the girl. What mother wouldn't want to soothe their baby, make them feel like everything was alright?
But everything wasn't alright. In the canyon, the shrill cries of the guppies were amplified, but reverberation alone didn't account for the increased volume. More of the creatures must have joined the horde at some point. Sanaa had long since lost feeling in her legs; they weren’t injured because she was still moving forward. The rocks along the path tore open the soles of her bare feet and stained the sandy dirt with her blood. If she stopped, she was dead, and her baby would be at their mercy.
She had come so far, and she didn't have much further to go. Just a few more feet...and if the gods were with her, if fate had any love for her at all...he would be there.
Leave. And if you value your freedom—if you value your life…do not come back.
Sanaa could hear the specter of the dragon whispering in her ear. But what did she care about her freedom or her life? Death had taken a liking to her, even he would see it. The dragon would still be in his roost, waiting for the people of Bloodbone Skinwalkers to worship him as they had for a decade. The Dragon in the Mountain would answer her pleas.
The rock formations on either side of the path kept climbing, blotting the sky from the landscape until suddenly falling away at the edge of a clearing. Something snapped in her legs, taking the last bit of strength she had with it. She barely managed to roll over on her side, curling around the infant and cradling her for protection. Her side collided with the dirt, knocking the wind from her.
She couldn’t make it to the summoning bell. The guppies were on her in seconds, tearing at her, clawing at every bit of skin with their dripping talons. She could taste the poison in her mouth, a tingling, sharp acid burned her tongue.
She rolled over and dug her nails into the dirt, scratching a path forward. She couldn't see. The bounding demons tainted the very air around them, filling it with their foul essence even as they blocked the fresh air from her lungs. Sanaa inhaled, taking the dank air deep into her lungs. It hurt like hell, but she only needed the one breath.
Sanaa leaned back and screamed, releasing the supersonic screech of her Thunderbird, letting it tear its way through her lips. The guppies stopped their assault, clamping their hands over the deformed stumps of their ears as the sound bounced off the canyon walls and rammed into them.
She wanted to stay awake, to make sure the evil things didn't get her child. To hell with what happened to her, just let the baby live. But the blackness was already overtaking her.
* * *
The thunderous shriek still echoed in Ronin’s ears as he flew toward the clearing. It was a pitch beyond what most creatures could manage, and tinged with desperation. Skinwalkers were scattered around the Southwest, and secretive by necessity. The local tribe, apparently, considered their willingness to summon him a sign of respect for his powyr. He found it more annoying, than endearing. They gave him what trinkets and valuables they had and asked favors of him. He took what they offered, spun some clever metaphor to make them feel better, and tried to be a good neighbor. A good, distant neighbor.
In the ten years after Adad released him from his training, Ronin made his home in the mountain near the skinwalkers, and a solitary home it was. He conducted most of his business from home, sending manuscripts and contracts to his agent over the internet. Over the last year, he’d managed to whittle his trips to town down to once a month, if Bandit was healthy. The skinwalkers in the valley south of his mountain home were the only people he saw regularly. He never answered a summons from them in his human form. Something told him the skinwalkers wouldn’t welcome the intrusion of reality into their mythical world. None of the Bloodbone had ever asked for anything more than the dragon.
Until her. The veterinary assistant from town. The only Bloodbone to see his human form, albeit briefly. The woman who would have been his mate, if his heart were still his to give.
If that was her plan, she was in for major disappointment. The raven-haired Bloodbone woman would find her beauty and fierce nature, both of which had locked his cock in a vice once, had no effect on him this time. He said the requisite spells to keep his Heat suppressed the second he heard her call. Of all the gifts Adad had given him that was still the one he was most thankful for.
He needed a clear head when he saw her again. Whether she came to pay tribute with her flesh or other trinkets, Ronin had no intention of letting her back into his life. She’d come too close already.
The dragon dipped his wings, skimming the air above the canyon as the tribute clearing came into view. He wasn't ashamed to admit to the rush he felt when a human kowtowed to his dragon form. The skinwalker had been especially delicious in the position, her chest heaving as she fought to hold eye contact with him. None of the others had managed to lift their noses from the dirt. What sane person looked a fire-breathing beast in the eye?
Ronin caught the scent of blood on the wind. The woman laid in the dirt, unmoving. He bared his fangs as he hovered over the area, calling on his powyr to keep him aloft. His wings could do the job just as well, but the gust of air from his wings could blow a mere human away.
His eyes confirmed what his nose already knew. The woman was alone now, but she hadn't been when she came to find him. A sheen of sweat clung to her flesh, it's acrid smell reaching his nostrils beneath the blood. The shredded material of her soiled tank top and flannel pants revealed gashes in her skin. Something horrible must have driven her into the mountains…straight into the path of a dragon who had already banished her.
He huffed. What hell could have possessed her to come to him for help? He had made it more than clear he never wanted to see her again. Spells and charms could only hold back nature for so long.
Ronin lowered himself, drawing on a minute portion of his powyr to guide himself to the ground. She could answer for herself back at his home. He wrapped his claws around the woman. A muffled cry came from beneath her body, unmistakably an infant’s wails.
His eyes widened. His concentration, essential for such a delicate task in flight, wavered. Ronin released his form, shrinking from dragon to man in mid-air. Bone and muscle, skin and scales ripped away and resettled, leaving a nude human man suspended in the air. He dipped into the Wyrd, using the burst of power to propel his body away from the woman just as his knees slammed into the dirt.
I fucking hate doing that. The surge of pain was enough to drive away any building desire that came from being near her again. He focused on the pain, letting it keep his attention on the matter at hand.
Ronin knelt beside the woman and pushed her body away. The infant's cries grew more desperate as the cool air hit its tear-streaked face. Each piercing shriek struck Ronin like a dull knife in his midsection. Flames of rage rose in his chest at the sight of the little thing--a girl judging by the faded, pink blanket wrapped around it. He glanced at the blood-covered skinwalker again, her eyes still closed and her full lips slack. There was no mistaking the resemblance between the woman and the infant. The way she cradled the girl, used her own body to protect it, marked it as hers. A fact which only further stoked the flames of his wrath.
What the good hell were you thinking, woman, bringing this child here?
He looked down at himself to make sure the fire hadn't taken true form. More than once his emotions had gotten the better of him and sought release in his dragon power. Adad spent years training him to control the powyr. Evette tried for years before him.
The skinwalker must have thought he would take pity on her. Surely, the baby would soften his heart if the sight of her bloody body couldn’t. Only a monster could turn a hard eye to a suffering child.
He gritted his teeth as he scooped the baby into his arms. “Sssh, no more tears from you, little one." He coughed to clear the ragged edge from his voice. How many days had it been since he’d spoken to another person?
A week this time. It would have been more if my agent hadn’t called.
The infant's cries waned as her watery eyes met Ronin's. Her small body relaxed in his arms. She waved her hands, squealing with excitement. Ronin's lips curled up as he pulled her closer to shield her from the chill air of the desert at night. The girl smiled and cooed as if to reward him for seeing to her comfort. If only infants weren’t designed to be easy to bond with.
The child was an innocent. It wasn’t her fault that her mother chose an abusive asshole for a mate.
Ah, but it isn’t really hers either, is it? You knew what would happen when you sent her away.
He pushed the thought away as soon as it appeared. Guilt was as unwelcome an emotion as any other.
Ronin rolled his eyes as he wrapped the girl up again. "Don't get used to it, Little One.” He slung the girl’s fabric carrier around his neck. The extra weight didn't even register. Carrying her mother’s limp body back through the mountain passes on foot wouldn’t be as easy. If he’d known he would be hauling dead weight back to his house, he would have brought Bandit with him.
He didn’t use half the tenderness as he had with the baby when he scooped the skinwalker woman into his arms. Her innocence was still in question.