Book 2 in the Brothers of Ash and Fire series
A dragon never leaves his hoard unguarded. His heart is another matter.
The second eldest in an ancient line of Russian dragon shifters, Mikhail Barinov had one job: protect one of the family hoard of jewels. Distracted by the English virgin queen Elizabeth, who was as dazzling as she was devious; he lost everything.
Five centuries of exile later, news that a construction crew has unearthed a massive trove of gold and jewels sends him racing to London, determined to steal back his family’s treasure…and his honor.
Professional gemologist Piper Linwood can’t wait to bury herself in her newest project, evaluating a hoard of Elizabethan-era treasure. But both her life and career are threatened when a mysterious, brooding man with a dangerous smile—and an even more dangerous kiss—snatches the lot.
Unwillingly swept along for the ride, Piper discovers Mikhail is no mere thief. And the dragon on his back is more than a tattoo. It’s a living, breathing extension of a bad boy she’s finding harder and harder to resist. But his heart is a treasure she can never own…because to save her career, she’ll have to betray his trust.
READ AN EXCERPT
Don’t follow him. Piper ignored her inner voice and slipped after him through the crowds. Perhaps she should have heeded the voice in her head, but that voice had kept her living the lonely, bored life was safe. Boring didn’t mean getting her heart broken. It was long past time she did something dangerous.
She found Mikhail in a small drawing room next to the reception hall. He stood before a fireplace in the dark as if he belonged here. His lean, muscled figure and the dark navy-blue suit were lit by flames. The door clicked shut behind her, the sound far too loud in the soft silence of the darkened room. Piper sucked in a breath, watching the shadows play on his dark hair as he turned to her.
“Piper.” The word was a silken caress that was straight out of her darkest fantasies. Even though there was a good distance between them, she could hear him clearly, his voice seeming to come at her from all sides thanks to the acoustics of the room.
“Mr. Barinov,” she whispered so softly there was no way he could hear it. But she swore she saw his lips twitch in the dim, shifting, gold-vermilion light.
“Straying off the map into unknown territory?” He chuckled as though it was some private joke. “Here there be dragons.”
Piper stared at him. “I followed because…” Why had she followed him? Because he was like the damn Pied Piper for women with tall, dark, sexy stranger fantasies.
“You followed because you can’t stop thinking about it.” That voice poured over her like molasses, and she could feel a delicious burn grow in her lower belly.
“Thinking about what?” She didn’t move, remaining by the door.
But he did.
Mikhail walked toward her with a rolling, natural grace that seemed more panther than human. Her pulse spiked when he stopped mere inches in front of her. The firelight made the blue of his suit appear to be a dark, rich brown as he placed one hand on the closed door behind her and leaned in. The minty smell of his breath, warm and fresh, fanned her face, and his eyes, although out of view of the fire, seem to burn with light—gold light.
“You are thinking about…” He moved an inch closer, his lips a hair’s breadth from her now. “This.”
Her heart exploded in her chest as he slanted his mouth over hers. Riotous waves of electric, pulsing pleasure at that exquisite kiss sent her head spinning. It was like crawling up by the fire on a cold winter’s night and putting a glass of warm brandy to her lips, with a slow burn and then a powerful rush seconds later.
Piper moaned against his mouth as he slipped his tongue between her lips to stroke hers. She was already curling her arms around his neck, dragging him closer. Mikhail pressed his body flush to hers against the door. He was so tall, a daunting wall of muscles, frightening and exciting all at once. He was a man who could take her without asking. The thought, as forbidden as it was, only made her hotter and wetter than she’d ever been before. She should have been ashamed of such thoughts, but in that moment she couldn’t be. There was too much pleasure in this kiss, too much exhilaration. She didn’t want it to end, didn’t want the distant sounds of the party to intrude upon this perfect unplanned adventure. It would likely never happen again.
He deepened the kiss, his mouth consuming hers with a fire that left her giddy. And then it happened, strange flickers of images across her closed eyelids. Men in doublets approaching a throne, a queen with a pale face and red hair, pearls glistening on the bodice of her gown…
Then the images changed, a roaring sea beneath her, icy water crashing against a distant shore, a deep loneliness that seemed only to grow until…
She saw herself at the exhibit but she was seeing herself through his eyes, a beautiful beacon of color and life drawing him like a moth to flames. She could feel his heart jolt, his body hum to life and with a predatory focus, he zeroed in on her with a sense that he would never look away from her ever again. It was seductive, powerful, frightening and yet she embraced the rush of emotions that came from him.
He broke the kiss to nip at her throat, and she tilted her head back to let his exploration continue. “It’s as though you were made just for me, moya sud'ba.”
The way he say the moy sud’ba made her shiver. “What’s moy sud’ba?” she asked.
“My destiny,” he growled, his eyes bright. “I should have known the moment we first met.” He inhaled again. “Even the way you smell, sweet and wild like Fire Hill flowers.”
“Fire Hill flowers?” she murmured in a haze. His clothes were warm from the fire, and even his skin was hot to the touch.
“The wildflowers from my home. The Fire Hills of Russia. They are soft and sweet, not too much, just…” He kissed behind her ear. “Right.”
She blushed in the darkness, thankful he couldn’t see and unable to stop smiling. “I smell like wildflowers?”
He made a deep-throated purring sound against the column of her throat, and she dug her nails reflexively into his shoulders. “And your taste,” he continued in a husky whisper as he kissed her again.
This was complete madness. To be kissing a stranger in a darkened room lit only by firelight, but she was tired of being boring old predictable Piper. Mikhail made her feel wild and reckless, alive in more ways than she’d ever dreamed. She didn’t want to stop, didn’t want to go back to being responsible. She wanted to live in this moment forever.
“What about my taste?” she asked in a voice trembling with desire.
Mikhail stared down at her, and slid his hand into her hair at the nape of her neck, his fingers coiling the strands tight. A slight pinch of near pain shot sparks in her womb. Piper gasped.
“It’s like the sweetest of Georgian wines. It lingers upon my tongue until I ache to become drunk on it.” He nuzzled her cheek, his breath echoing hers in quick pants.
All they were doing was kissing, yet it felt like a wildfire had burst to life inside her, and there was no stopping the coming inferno.
“You are to be my ruination.” He nipped her bottom lip, and she whimpered.
Maybe this was all some fantastical dream. If it was, she didn’t want to wake up anytime soon. She was kissing a man who made her see things, impossible things and she felt…wild. Piper had never been a party girl, let alone rebellious, but being with Mikhail in this moment made her want to challenge the world in the best way, as though she could do anything. She felt strong, as though the woman she’d always wanted to be was suddenly within her reach. It was as if he’d unlocked something deep within her. She wouldn’t be able to go back to the cool collected woman she once was. He’d breathed fire into her body and she wanted the blaze to keep burning bright into the night.
The clang of a platter against the wood floor on the other side of the door made them jump apart. But the heat between them didn’t evaporate as she’d expected it to. Mikhail cleared his throat and brushed his hands down his suit. He smiled and ran his fingers once more through her hair, this time to detangle the mess his exploring hands had made in the waves.
“We should return to the party,” he said. But neither of them moved. Then he glanced around. “Are you staying at the auction house tonight, or do you have a hotel?”
A hint of hunger gleamed in his eyes, warning her that if she answered correctly, the situation could be continued somewhere far more private. The old Piper would have shied away from something so wild and reckless, but she was different now. The new Piper was ready to take a leap of faith and see where a night with Mikhail would lead.
“I…well, I have a hotel, but I promised Mr. Thorne I would stay late to discuss a few of the pieces with him first. He said I could sleep in one of the spare rooms if I needed to.” God, she was rambling, wasn’t she? Cringing, she tried to flash what she hoped was a seductive smile. She never had much luck with that sort of thing, but she was trying her best. If she had the chance to spend one night in this man’s bed, it was a risk she wanted to take.
Mikhail feathered his lips over hers in a final lingering ghost of a kiss before he whispered in her ear, “Wait for me here tonight.” Then he gently shifted her away from the door and opened it, slipping back into the main room where someone was giving a speech. Piper stayed put, counting the seconds and the steady but rapid beat of her heart.
When she finally entered the ballroom, she went unnoticed by the crowds. Many prospective bidders were focused on the collection of amethysts and lapis lazuli that were gathered on a display table, arranged with purple mums to bring out the natural colors of the gems. Piper looked over the tops of the heads in the crowd, trying to see where Mikhail had gone, but there was no trace of him. Her heart sank with disappointment. She’d hoped he would stay.