Authors: Brynn Paulin
Tags: #Book One of the Cruentus Dragons Series
Cruentus Dragons Book One
By Brynn Paulin
Resplendence Publishing, LLC
Resplendence Publishing, LLC
P.O. Box 992
Edgewater, Florida, 32132
Copyright © 2009, Brynn Paulin
Edited by Tiffany Mason
Cover art by Rika Singh
Electronic format ISBN: 978-1-60735-053-8
Warning: All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Electronic release: August, 2009
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places, or occurrences, is purely coincidental.
For my awesome editor, Tiffany. Thanks for all your support!
Table of Contents
Molly couldn’t stop staring at the stranger’s back. She squirmed in the molded-plastic subway seat and pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. He stood a few feet from her, gripping one of the silver support posts and seemingly unaffected by the velocity of the train rocketing through the tunnels beneath New York City. But that wasn’t what kept her from breaking her gaze. It was his shape.
Easily six and a half feet tall, he sported muscle that spoke of strength not bulk. A black T-shirt hugged his lean torso, displaying his powerful upper body that tapered to slim hips and long legs. And his arms… His short sleeves hugged his firm, lightly tanned biceps in a way that made her insides quiver when she thought of how it would feel to be held in his solid embrace.
For pity’s sake, get a grip
, she admonished herself, pulling her gaze away and adjusting one pant leg of her faded jeans. She hoped her arousal didn’t show through her nondescript gray tee. After straightening the black-rimmed glasses that perched on her nose and were partially obscured by her mousy brown hair, she looked around the subway train. No one was looking at her. In fact, everyone seemed immersed in their own business. Her gaze drifted back to the man, and her breath caught in her throat. He’d turned and now stared at her with obvious interest. Though her arousal didn’t wane, panic joined the miasma of reactions flowing through her.
Molly wasn’t one to be stared at. She’d manufactured herself that way. Truthfully, her name wasn’t even Molly. It was Scarlett Mills, but Scarlett stood out in a crowd and that was something she’d worked hard not to do for the last seven years. His head tilted slightly, and his dark eyes seemed to look inside her. Dark. Black appeared to personify him, and he’d run with it from his black shirt to black jeans to black brushed-leather shoes and belt to his black unruly hair. Before she could force herself to look away again, he crossed the short expanse of aisle separating them and slid into the seat to her
left. His light woodsy scent filled the surprised intake of breath she sucked in.
“At the next stop, you need to come with me,” he said, the deep rumble of his voice in perfect union with his dark persona. Unfortunately, his words overrode the fantasy that had started inside her.
“I don’t think so,” she replied.
“You’re in danger. Do. Not. Look. There is a man at the back of the car—” He let out a sigh of disgust when she reflexively started to turn. Catching her chin with his fingers, he turned her face toward him and lowered his head. His firm lips covered hers, catching her gasp and commanding a kiss. Her fingers curled in his T-shirt, feeling the warm, unyielding flesh beneath it. Then suddenly he lifted his mouth slightly, nibbling at hers in between words. “If you don’t let me help you, you’ll be dead before morning. He intends you harm.”
“What? I didn’t see anyone,” she murmured and tried to pull away. His fingers buried in her hair, keeping her still. She didn’t dare move for fear of dislodging the brown wig she wore over the hair that matched her name. Dread settled into her stomach. Had she been discovered? Were the last seven years of hiding for naught? Or was this man full of shit?
“He’s there,” the man said.
“How do you know he’s dangerous?”
“How do you know he’s dangerous to me?”
“I think you’re full of it.”
He pulled back and grinned while keeping his fingers firmly in her hair. “I know.”
“I don’t think you know anything. I’m a nobody and nobody cares about me—not enough to pick me from a crowd and hurt me.”
His jaw clenched and an eyebrow raised. “Somehow, I doubt you’re wearing a wig because you have a hair-loss problem. You’re someone of more consequence than you want to let on. The question is who—”
“Shut up,” she snapped. Any fear she’d had sizzled away with the anger that shot through her. “I’m not coming with you, and you can damn well forget me.”
“You don’t want that. You have a strong will to live—I can feel that.”
The train seemed to scream as they surged into the station and jerked to a stop. The doors whooshed open like a spacecraft’s airlock releasing, and the man stood. He jerked on her hand, and she tugged back, silently telling him she wasn’t going anywhere with him.
“Don’t make me force you to come with me,” he snapped.
“Janos,” he interrupted. “My name is Janos, and at the moment, I’m the only one who can save you, so stop being difficult.”
Without waiting for her response, he scooped up her bag, wrapped an arm around her waist and lifted her. With a giant leap she couldn’t begin to fathom, he dove through the exit and onto the platform just as the twin doors slid shut. They turned in time to see the train pull away, the livid face of a tall, gaunt man staring at them, his long-fingered hand pressed to the window.
Terror knifed through Scarlett and her knees buckled. She knew that face. She’d never forget it. He was one of the two men who’d attacked her seven years ago and killed her fiancé, cousin, and two bodyguards. She’d been mortally injured and left for dead. Only a miraculous discovery had saved her, but her entire life as she’d known it had been over. And now, the new life she’d built appeared to be over as well.
“How did you know?” she whispered.
“At first, I didn’t then…” He lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug and left his explanation hanging in the air. Obviously, he wasn’t going to tell her. It really didn’t matter. She just needed to get out of town before that killer caught up with her and finished what he’d started.
“I need to…thank you for…” For what? Saving her? She shook her head, unwilling to reveal too much. She mirrored his movement and lifted a shoulder. “I need to go.”
“You need to come with me. It’s the only way to keep you safe until we find your mate.” His hand manacled her upper arm and he half-led-half-dragged her up the stairs to the bustling sidewalk of uptown Manhattan.
“Mate? What the—let me go,” she demanded through clenched teeth, unwilling to cause a scene. His huge hand nearly encircled her upper arm, and there was no way to escape the determined grip.
She grabbed the handrail at the top of the stairwell and dug in her heels. Thankfully, in the early evening haze, lit only by the lights coming off the surrounding buildings, their battle of wills wasn’t obvious. No one paid heed to the dueling couple.
“Are you always so difficult?” Janos growled.
“Are you always so pushy?” she returned.
“Yes. C’mon.” He pried her fingers loose and started down the sidewalk as she jogged along beside him to keep up with his long stride. He veered around a corner to a nearly deserted street. At this time of night, in this area, the crowds thinned drastically. That was why she’d chosen now to travel.
“You could be in danger being with me,” she tried.
He raised an eyebrow. “Not any more than usual.”
She suppressed her own growl. This man irritated her as much as he attracted her—
and that was an awful lot. Given the right circumstances, she could see herself willingly surrendering herself to him for an evening of passion, but that evening wasn’t tonight and she was three seconds from kicking him in the shins and driving her palm into his windpipe. Her brow furrowed as she realized she was aroused—irritated, yes, but remarkably, fear-free and needy. No one had dampened her panties like this in years. And why wasn’t she afraid of him?
She tried again to tug free. “Where are you taking me?”
“My hotel suite.”
“Hell, no,” she exclaimed, digging in her heels once more, this time startling him enough that his grip broke. Taken by surprise, she toppled backward and landed hard on the cement.
Janos towered over her. “You are the most obstinate woman.”
And what was she supposed to be? A docile sheep going off with him?
She scuttled away then jumped to her feet a short distance from him. It didn’t matter how much she wanted him, there was no way she was going to his room.
“And I’m supposed to just let you
?” Her exclamation drew shocked looks from a few passersby, but they moved on quickly, determining that nothing was awry.
“Kidnap? Is that what you think?”
“I suppose you’re hoping for some sort of Stockholm reaction. Ain’t happening, buddy.”
“Stockholm syndrome? Baby, I don’t need to kidnap women for sex.”
He stared at her as if she’d lost her mind, and she supposed she had a little. Something about him stole her usual calm and turned her into a babbling irrational mess. Was it because he was so hot and she hadn’t had sex in so long, or because of her near miss with the man who’d almost killed her before? Her skin crawled at the remembrance of him, and suddenly, going with Janos didn’t seem like such a bad idea. He
saved her from the guy on the train. She knew the faces of both men who’d attacked her—Janos wasn’t one of them.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I guess I kinda freaked out.”
He gave her a half-smile and held out his hand. “I’m just trying to save you.”
Her fingers wrapped around his. “I know. I…I need to make a call,” she told him. He still had her bag, and she reached for it.
“That’s not wise.”
“Look, after what happened to me before, people will freak out if I don’t show up.”
Her cousin’s stepsister, Athena, was getting married, and despite the fact that Scarlett and Athena weren’t related by blood, Athena was the closest thing Scarlett had to family, and she needed help with the last week before the big day. Scarlett wouldn’t let her down though she was terrified of coming out of hiding and the thought of attending a wedding opened old wounds that were far from completely healed.