It’s here! The first chapter of book #4 of the Royal Dragon Shifters of Morocco series is ready for your reading pleasure.
By popular demand, this book is all about Layla’s Seattle friends, and the twists and turns they get into in the Twilight Realm.
I’m aiming to have this book out Mid-October, and while that’s a bit to wait, there will be more goodies coming your way in the meantime, I promise! :)
BLOOD DRAGON’S HEAT: ROYAL DRAGON SHIFTERS OF MOROCCO #4
About the Book:
When everything she loves is taken from her, will she be strong enough to reclaim it?
Layla Price’s life has never been more complex. With three sexy, tempestuous Royal Dragon men bound to her, she’s got all the hot tempers she can handle.
Add to that her upcoming debut as a Courtesan for the Red Letter Hotel – a deadly gamble to draw out her mate Adrian Rhakvir’s enemies – and tensions couldn’t be running higher.
But when her human friends and her devastatingly hot ex-boyfriend come to visit, then are abducted, Layla must wrangle her fractious Dragon lovers.
Can she unite her bound Royal Dragons in order to save her friends?
Or will they break – taking her down into darkness?
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!! Read no further if you want the end of book #3 to be a surprise!
CHAPTER 1 – FRIENDS
Waiting on the promenade outside the Red Letter Hotel Paris, Layla Price shifted from foot to foot as snow fell all around. Off-work for Yule, she wore skinny jeans with russet leather boots, bundled in her navy peacoat with a cream scarf and hat against the chill midwinter day. Though the afternoon was bright all around the innermost quadrangle of the Palace of Versailles, a storm had moved in, snow swirling down to the grand black and white marble courtyard – though by some trick of Twilight Realm magic, it evaporated before it could stick.
Waiting with her, her boss and bound Royal Crystal Dragon lover Dusk Arlohaim grinned at her, a wave of light rippling through his artfully-styled dark hair. His sapphire eyes were luminous in the snowy day, serrated ridges of midnight Dragon-scales at his temples outlining his exquisite handsomeness. Wearing a slim charcoal Italian suit with a midnight-blue pocket square and matching tie, he was comfortable in the cold. Grinning at her like a handsome devil as he tucked his hands in his trouser pockets with nonchalant grace, Dusk was calm as Layla fidgeted, until she finally glanced over, her breath puffing in the late-December air.
“Layla Price, I do believe you’re nervous to see your Seattle friends.” Dusk chuckled in his rolling baritone, though it was absent of his deep earth-shaking magics today.
“I’m not nervous.” Layla spoke stubbornly, shoving her hands into the pockets of her peacoat in an attempt to get control over her fidgeting. “I just want to make sure my friends get a good impression of the Hotel while they’re here, that’s all.”
“You’re nervous.” Dusk grinned more, watching her with astute humor glinting in his bright sapphire eyes. “I can feel it vibrating all through you. Not to mention it smells like a Yule-log soaked in bourbon out here.”
“Thanks.” Layla sassed with a lift of one dark eyebrow, though she was smiling now. It was hard to not smile at Dusk’s handsomely cheeky nature.
But a car moving through the wrought-iron gates distracted her and she glanced over – a silver Jaguar rather than one of the Hotel’s black limos. Juniper boughs with fae-lights like fireflies wreathed the gilded gates for Yule. Gold and white ribbon with sprigs of holly and bright crimson berries had been woven through the wrought-iron. The same decorated the entirety of the sprawling complex of the Palace of Versailles, evergreen and holly, gold and white twining up every column and through every rail. Massive gilded braziers twisting with magical white-gold flames had been set up around the courtyard, highlighting the enormous cream and gold banners of the Hotel with their crimson ‘R’ and gilded crown that flanked the main ingress.
The effect was gloriously elite, a winter wonderland for Yule. Layla knew her friends were going to love it; the interior of the Hotel decorated the same though with the addition of mistletoe everywhere. But all the same, something moved restlessly inside her. As another car drove through the gates, a white Tesla Roadster, she shifted again.
“I think it’s cute that you’re nervous for the arrival of your Seattle friends.” Dusk spoke, interrupting her reverie. “Let me guess: nervous about Luke and I meeting? Your current hottie versus your ex?”
“I’m actually thinking about a lot of things right now, not just your ego.” Layla snarked at him with a teasing smile. But even she couldn’t deny the intensity boiling off her right now. Her Dragon-magics were rioting, waiting from her friends to arrive. She and Dusk had only been standing in the snow a few minutes, but as Layla shifted her stance again, it felt like an hour.
“You’re worried Luke’s going to be jealous.” Dusk spoke cheekily beside her. “Even though he and I have talked on the phone about this trip, getting your friends ready for everything they’ll encounter in the Twilight Realm, he’s still your ex, and I’m your current beau. One of three. That’s got to be on your mind.”
“So what if it is?” Layla glanced at him, though deep inside she knew he was one hundred percent right. Her nervousness roiled, not knowing how to explain to her friends that she had not one, not two, but three bound lovers since Thanksgiving. And all of them were handsome-as-hell Royal Dragons who could slay even the hottest human man Layla had ever met in the looks and sex appeal department.
Though Layla had yet to sample one of them in the bedroom.
“Well, I know how protective Luke is of you.” Dusk held her gaze with gravitas now, snow settling into his sculpted hair and onto the shoulders of his slim Italian suit. “He’s already taken my measure, and fortunately, we get along. But he’s going to size up Adrian and especially Reginald, once they get a chance to meet. Luke has already judged Adrian badly. And Reginald… well.”
Layla gave short sigh. Dusk was right. Luke was a tempest in a teakettle, and Layla was already dreading him meeting Reginald Durant, Royal Siren and Head Courtier of the Hotel – and perpetual dick to anyone he judged as beneath him. Dusk and Adrian were arrogant in their own ways, but Reginald was ten times that. “Small favors that Reginald is still away visiting his clan right now in the North Sea. Any word when he’ll be back, by the way?”
“Not yet.” Dusk sobered, heaving a hard sigh as he stared off into the settling snow. “The North Sea Sirens are a tempestuous bunch, Layla. Reginald has a family score to settle with his clan now that Bastien is dead. Though Reginald won their battle a month ago, it was with intervention. His brothers and father are debating if that raises Reginald into the Clan Second position or not. If it doesn’t, he’ll likely continue on here at the Hotel as Head Courtier once his mandatory leave is finished. But if it does…”
“Reginald’s going to be more embroiled in his clan’s politics than ever.” Layla sighed heavily, her breath puffing in the chill air. Deep inside, her Dragon coiled through her veins with a tight, bitter worry. “What about Adrian? Any word from him yet?”
“Adrian’s settled in a safe location, finally.” Dusk smiled gently as he slung an arm around Layla, hugging her close. “He’s at one of his safe-houses, though I can’t tell you where just now. Everything’s going to be ok, Layla. Adrian’s safe and Reginald’s in no immediate danger from his clan or the Hotel Board. Your friends are going to have a fantastic time this week at the Hotel. I’ve set up all kinds of fun activities for them. Everything is taken care of, I promise.”
“I know.” Layla glanced up and cuddling close to Dusk, she kissed his lips. “You’re like this incredible grounding force in my life, Dusk. Every time I start to worry, it’s like you’re always there, cool and calm, planning six steps ahead of anyone else. Believe me, I’m grateful.”
“Your welfare matters to me,” he spoke, his bright sapphire gaze smiling at her, genuine. “And as a Crystal Dragon, I have a lot more grounding than most. If I can use that to better your situation – I will.”
“But how are you not infernally jealous of the other men in my life?” Layla protested, still held in his his arms though she pulled back slightly. “It’s like you’re always just steady, smoothing tempers, helping us all get along in this crazy new world that you and Reginald and Adrian and I have entered with our Bound power.”
“I am jealous.” Dusk’s smile was wry though his blue eyes were honest. “But I get time with you while we’re working. I get time when we sleep together at night. Adrian isn’t around now that the Hotel Owners want his head on a platter. Reginald is off at his clan home, working to get a handle on his Dragon and dealing with his clan’s shit. And your Dragon attacked Luke as an inferior mate, so he’s out of the running to be your beau. Plus, I understand complex relationships. You forget how many lovers I’ve juggled over the years. A Dragon’s sex life is a crazy world, Layla, and you’re just getting started. I’m jealous, but I know how to put it aside and be practical. The last thing you need in your life is a pissy Crystal Dragon trying encase all the rest of your men in quartz cocoons and hide them outside in the snow.”
Layla laughed; she couldn’t help it. Dusk had an ego as big as the moon, but she couldn’t deny his endless practicality. Lifting up, she gripped his lapels and kissed him. It was deep and sensual and he wound his arms around her with a deviant rumble. It thrilled Layla, making her Dragon turn over deliciously inside her as she became breathless, her heart hammering. Dusk chuckled as he pulled away, his sapphire eyes luminous and impossibly cheeky.
“Besides. You like me best. I can feel it.”
“You wish!” Layla laughed, slapping his chest lightly. “How many lovers do you still have, anyway?”
“I’ve cut the impossibly long roster to three these days.” Dusk grinned, nuzzling her nose. “You, Amalia DuFane strictly because she makes me the best outfits, and Rake André when the mood strikes me. Royal Dragon Binds are a lot to handle in bed. Sometimes six or seven times a night, I’ve discovered.”
“Rake is one of your regular lovers? Not Rikyava anymore?” Layla blinked, ignoring Dusk’s innuendo about her ridiculously high libido, courtesy of her new Dragon-magics. He wasn’t kidding that there were occasionally nights where Layla woke up numerous times needing to be satisfied – and Dusk was always happy to supply.
Layla had known her best friend and Head of the Hotel Guard Rikyava Andersen slept with Dusk on and off, though it was a surprise to hear Dusk had cut that particular association off. She hadn’t known that Head Bartender Rake André, who was also interim Head Courtier now that Reginald was on hiatus, was one of Dusk’s lovers. Layla had known Dusk occasionally took men to bed, and the thought suddenly made her body grip hard. A wash of sweet bourbon and orange peel scent wafted up around her as she imagined the fit-as-shit Dusk and the slender, gorgeous Rake André in bed together.
It was a hot image and she knew her cheeks burned as Dusk laughed.
“Rikyava’s too busy these days. And besides, she’s still pining for a man she can’t have, though she won’t tell anyone who. But you didn’t know Rake was one of my regular partners, did you?” Dusk chuckled, teasing as he leaned in, speaking by Layla’s ear with a delicious rumble of his magics. “Maybe I’ll let you participate sometime. Rake’s not a Dragon but he slays them in bed, believe me.”
“Shut up.” Layla rolled her eyes, solidly facing the promenade once more though she couldn’t help it; she was smiling now. Dusk had a point with his lurid innuendo – all Dragons had disastrously high appetites for fighting and fucking, and Dragon-relationships were far more complicated than anything she could typify in human terms. Layla was still getting used to it, and managing the urges of her magic was an hourly task even despite her significantly better control since she’d bound Reginald.
Especially with the temptingly sexy Dusk around night and day to trigger it now.
Black Bentleys and Jaguars had arrived, guests being escorted into the Hotel through the snow, their baggage hefted up by crimson liveried Hotel Guards. But none of the cars held her friends yet, and watching the guests, Layla’s impending position as a Hotel Courtesan hit her. Panic flooded her about her debut at the Yule Ball tonight: not knowing who would win her at her debut auction, or what she would have to do for them in the sack tonight.
But then she felt Dusk step in behind her with a chuckle. Winding his strong arms around her, he set his chin on Layla’s shoulder, kissing her neck tenderly and making a twist of passion surge through her.
“You’re really having a hard time with this, aren’t you?” He spoke knowingly. “Stepping into a world where monogamy isn’t the currency of the realm? Not just with your three Bound men, but also your impending position as a Hotel Courtesan.”
“It’s driving me insane, Dusk, trying to reconcile the values I was raised with, with my new Dragon-appetites.” Layla spoke with a sigh, knowing she still had a lot of internal judgments to face about her own sexuality.
“I like how insane it’s driving you.” Dusk kissed her neck, grinning into her skin. “It’s nice.”
Layla smiled, feeling all the intimate time she and Dusk had shared these past weeks. Sex with Dusk was mind-blowing, and Layla felt herself heat with a delicious roll of pleasure as she thought back over everything they’d been doing since Thanksgiving. Reginald had permitted them to be together while he was away, though Layla still needed to train with Rikyava in the fight-halls beneath the Hotel daily to blow off extra magical steam.
“Anyway,” Layla spoke, trying to push down her libido since her human friends were soon to arrive, “monogamy is different for you and Reginald. He’s lived his entire life as a Courtier, and you’ve had numerous lovers all of yours as an important pressure-release for your crazy high energy. For Adrian and I… it’s different.”
“Is it different?” Dusk spoke, his voice flat now. “Or are you just less bothered by Reginald and me having sex with other people, rather than Adrian or yourself?”
That stopped her. Layla went utterly still, her Dragon pausing within her. She felt like a rabbit pinned in the drifts by a snowy owl’s talons. Dusk had said it with glib panache, but Layla could feel him, waiting for her answer with a tense stillness. Layla suddenly smelled his cool river-water scent blossom up around her, tension in it like a whitewater flood. Dusk was casual about sex, but he wasn’t casual about love. Layla could feel how he’d given his heart to her.
And the tension in him as he waited to hear if he was less important to her than Adrian Rhakvir.
But she was saved from answering as an entire cadre of Hotel Guards suddenly marched out the main doors of the Hotel and formed a chevron before the Hotel’s primary entrance. Glancing back, Layla smiled, recognizing Dusk’s handwork: he’d arranged a formal Hotel welcome for her friends, just as Layla had received when she’d started in Concierge Services. It was something the Hotel only did for the highest dignitaries, and Layla smiled even wider as her Blood Dragon friend and Head of the Hotel Guard Rikyava Andersen strode forward, clasping arms with Dusk and then snapping her black boots together and bowing smartly before Layla. Rikyava rose with a reckless, fun grin on her full Swedish lips and high cheekbones, her lavender eyes sparkling with delight as she set a hand to the rapier at her hip and swept her long blonde French braid back over her shoulder.
“Hey chica.” Rikyava grinned at Layla with a wink. “The Guard heard there were some important folks coming in today.”
“Is this your doing?” Layla laughed, gesturing at the Guardsmen and women lined up in their chevron, standing at stiff attention in their crimson 1800’s uniforms with long pikes and baldrics of frightfully impressive weapons. Some of them looked human, but most didn’t – including four enormous Red Giants at the rear of the chevron whom Layla knew were intensely loyal to Adrian.
“Oh, a little birdie might have just whispered in my ear.” Rikyava winked at Dusk, who was smiling now with a fun, devious wit.
“A little birdie with crystal Dragon-scales?” Layla turned to Dusk, grinning also now.
“Hey. A royal welcome is sometimes approved for human guests.” He chuckled. “Though I can’t say I ran this one by the new Hotel Head. He’s a dick, and—”
Dusk was about to say more, when a black Bentley limo suddenly pulled up before them at the edge of the checkered marble courtyard. Layla’s friends from Seattle were suddenly spilling out of the car with squeals of delight and her joy surged, watching her friends gape at the opulence of the Red Letter Hotel.
Moving forward, Layla was in their arms. Laughter was in her heart as she did a happy dance with geek-chic Celia Caron, wearing a quilted parka that squished fluffily as they hugged. Big buff Charlie Avondale was next, swaddling Layla in his massive arms, clad in a UW sweatshirt and jeans. Layla laughed into his Adonis-blond curls, longer and more stoner-like than ever. Her best friend Arron Jacobs pushed in third, wearing a lean navy pinstriped suit with a hot pink pocket square, sweeping Layla up into his tall frame. Lifting her off her feet, Arron made Layla laugh breathlessly as his goodness poured through her.
But Arron set Layla down with a twinkle in his grey eyes as Layla’s last housemate rounded the car. Wearing a blue blazer with nice jeans that fit his lean, mean body to a T, Luke Murphy was gorgeous as ever. Moving close, he ran a hand through his Irish-thick dark hair as he watched Layla with a careful gaze. She suddenly forgot all her troubles as she stared into his impossibly green eyes. Like emeralds shining through spring grass, those eyes spoke of tempestuous heat and renegade fury – and Luke’s impossibly deep love. Their history held Layla as she drowned in his eyes for a moment.
And then he swept forward, gathering her into his arms.
The feeling was like coming home as Layla let out a deep sigh, cradled close to his strong, lean body. Luke’s hand slid up her neck, holding her, and she felt him relax as she did, her hands lifting to clutch his blazer. His cheek turned to hers and Layla felt her passion leap to him as it always had. He didn’t kiss her, just breathed her in as they held each other. Tears pricked Layla’s eyes. Her Dragon didn’t want him as a mate, but Layla would always love him.
Luke was just too special.
“Hey.” He murmured at last, nuzzling his nose into her jaw.
“Hey,” Layla breathed back, smiling.
“I missed you.” He spoke, pulling her closer.
“I missed you, too.”
Layla felt a deep tenderness pass between them, the best of what they’d once had as a couple. But it held sadness now, something poignant that hadn’t been there before as Luke set his lips to her temple in a soft kiss, then pulled back. His eyes were luminous, bright with pain as he hesitated to let her go. Layla felt emotion stretch between them, even though her magics had never bound Luke, human as he was.
But something held her close to him all the same – something that could never be replaced for all the magic in the world.
But as they watched each other, movement caught Layla’s attention. At Luke’s open shirt collar, she saw a silver chain, a dark pendant resting in the cleft of his sculpted chest. Layla perked as her gaze moved to it. Jewelry on men was something Luke had been adamant against all the years she’d known him, even more than dancing. Luke’s new teardrop pendant was a forest-green bloodstone flecked with rust-red, twined into an ornate filigree of silver. And as Layla watched, the stone writhed with stunning currents, veins of silver and gold flowing through the green and twisting into the red like currents of smelted blood.
It was so stunning that Layla blinked.
And so obviously magical that she glanced up at Luke with alarm rushing through her.
Copyright Ava Ward 2019, All Rights Reserved. No portion of this content may be reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.