Sneak Peek: Taught by the Dragon
As a special treat to my newsletter subscribers, I have a special first look at the opening to Taught by the Dragon (Stonefire Dragons #15)! It releases May 18, 2023, and I'll make sure to put the preorder links after the excerpt. Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment. 🙂
Even through the thick walls of the prison, roars pierced the air, and Persephone “Percy” Smith paused while making a snack for the two kids sitting across from her.
For a beat, hope flooded her body. Had the girl’s uncle finally come to rescue them, like Ava had said he would? Percy’s cynical side said of course he hadn’t, but as more roars echoed from somewhere above, her heart skipped a beat.
Maybe he had followed through, which was something she’d never experienced before. Well, at least in a positive light—threats and punishments, she knew well enough.
Still, she wasn’t going to completely rely on strangers and hope for the best. She needed to protect herself and her two bargaining chips. They were her chance at freedom.
One of the two kids who’d been handed into her care the day before, the little dragon girl named Ava Moore-Llewellyn, stood up and met Percy’s gaze. “That’s them. I told you my uncle would come save me.”
The younger human boy, Joey Carter, frowned. “What? I thought they couldn’t help us. You said so.”
Ava’s flashing dragon eyes met hers. Percy’s inner dragon had been silent for years, and even if she’d hidden the pain, the sight still made her long for the days when she’d actually had a friend. Her dragon had been her only friend, ever.
Until she’d been taken from her.
More roars sounded—as if a whole fleet or group or whatever they called a flock of dragons was in the air—and the long-dead emotion of hope tried to break free.
Joey leaned forward. “Is someone from Stonefire coming, then? Did my stepdad send help?”
The human boy looked to be on the verge of tears—he was so fucking young and innocent—but Percy didn’t know the first thing about comforting someone.
After all, no one had comforted her since her dragon had fallen silent all those years ago. All she could do was be her normal, straight-to-the-point self. “Maybe.”
Joey looked at the door exiting into the hallway, which was locked from the outside, and blurted, “Can we go looking for them? Or shout until they hear us? I want to see my mum.”
Ava sat up straighter. “They’ll find us, no matter what, Joey. I’m sure of it. My uncle would do anything to protect me.”
Percy nearly barked out a laugh. In her experience, people only cared about themselves. That was why she only trusted one person: herself.
Still, as the noise in the hallway grew louder, she wanted to be prepared. If—and that was a big if—someone had stormed the facility to rescue Ava and Joey, then the guards might come to take her or the kids away.
And she needed to keep the kids alive. After all, they would be her only ticket out of this hellhole.
She laid down the butter knife and walked to the other side of the counter. “Whoever it is, it’s dangerous to be out here, in the bigger room. Come on. You’ll be safer in the back bedroom, where there’s only one door in or out.”
Joey eyed the food on the counter. “Can we take a snack? I’m hungry.”
He was young, quite young, and Percy tried to remind herself that these two had lived sheltered lives with family who wanted them. Complaining about a snack seemed normal, even if to her, a woman who’d been sold at thirteen to become an experimental subject for a bunch of sadistic arseholes, it seemed ridiculous.
Remember, if you help them and keep them safe, Ava’s uncle might, just might, let you stay with their dragon clan until you can figure out what to do with freedom.
Percy was skeptical as hell that Ava’s uncle would hold up his word, but it was all she had.
She gestured toward the back room. “It’s either hide to try and not get hurt, or stay and have a snack and maybe have someone kill you. You’re human, Joey. And they only keep dragon-shifters here. Do you know what that means?”
Joey’s eyes widened, but Ava spoke to the boy before he could say anything. “Come on, Joey. It’s just for a bit. Remember, Percy knows this place. And we have to follow her orders if we want to stay safe.”
The little human boy’s eyes were wet, as if he were about to cry, and he was probably one step away from falling into hysterics. But Percy didn’t know how to be nice or kind or how to care about other people’s feelings.
At one point she had, but she’d learned rather fucking quickly how dangerous that was.
Shouts filled the hallway, as did a cacophony of boots hitting the tiles. She gently pushed the kids toward the bedroom. “Go. I’ll carry you in there and tie you up if I need to.”
Ava murmured some nonsense to Joey about how everything would be all right.
Oh, to be young and naïve.
But as more roars sounded, and the shouting from outside her locked set of apartments grew even louder, that flicker of hope came to life inside her again.
Once they were all inside her bedroom, Percy crouched until she was at eye level with the little human boy. She looked from him to the dragon girl and back again. “Now, listen carefully. I need you two to stay in this room and not open that door to anyone until I say it’s okay. Understand?”
Ava asked, “But what if it’s my—”
“If your uncle shows up, then of course. But if the guards say to open it, even if they threaten me, you keep it locked and put a chair under the door handle. If they start banging against it, then use these.” Percy went to the attached bath, pried open the tile where she stashed things she’d stolen over the years, and returned to the kids. She put the phone in Joey’s hand and held out a stun gun to Ava. “You press that trigger, and this will fire a little wire thing that will shock whoever it attaches to. Got it?”
Ava stared at the stun gun, speechless.
Percy gently placed a finger under the girl’s chin and made her look up. “It’s scary—and hard—but the people here are monsters. It’s better to fight them, even if it means you die trying. Don’t let them take you away, Ava. I mean it. It’ll be hell.”
The dragon girl blinked, her pupils flashing, and nodded.
Joey just stared at her with his mouth open.
Maybe normal people would have felt bad or guilty or some shite like that. But Percy didn’t. Survival was everything, and feelings only ever got in the way.
She nodded. “Right, then I’m going to stand watch in the kitchen. Lock the door after me, okay?”
Joey blurted, “Will you be okay or get hurt, Percy?”
Considering how young he was—she couldn’t judge ages well since she hadn’t seen a young child in years, but he was maybe six or seven—he would still care about others, even strangers like her.
Something flared in her heart, but she ignored it.
She shrugged nonchalantly. “Maybe. Maybe not. But I have experience, and I need you two alive if I’m to escape this place.”
Ava hugged Joey close to her side, her eyes frightened. Good. The formerly pampered princess needed to learn that life was fucking unfair and awful, nothing like the fairy tales.
Percy rose and stopped inside the doorway. “I mean it—lock the door and put a chair under the handle.”
Only after Ava nodded did Percy shut the door. As soon as the lock clicked and she could make out the scraping sound of the chair being put into place, she went to the kitchen. The knives provided to her were dull, but she’d stolen a few switchblades from the guards over the years—she’d learned to steal early on—and retrieved them from her second hiding place inside one of the cupboards.
With the blades extended, she crouched behind the little kitchen island to wait.
The roars were probably from dragons. And the male shouting and grunts in the hallway probably meant there was some kind of battle going on.
Maybe, just maybe, Ava’s uncle had come to rescue his niece after all.
Percy’s heart pounded at the thought. On the one hand, Percy wanted to leave this hellhole and all the rape, torture, and humiliation she’d suffered. However, if Ava’s uncle held up his end of the bargain, it meant she would set foot into the territory of her first dragon clan.
A place where they’d hate someone like her—a half-human, half-dragon female with a silent dragon.
One of the first things she’d learned as a kid in the orphanage, before being sold to this prison, was that dragon-shifters hated mixed children, to such a degree that they often refused any children with human blood and sent them to the only orphanage in the UK that took in such bastards.
Percy had spent her first thirteen years there.
Buck up, Percy. She’d dealt with hatred for years, not to mention ridicule for being a freak with a massive birthmark on her neck and shoulder. After all the shit she’d endured, she could take a few sneers or jeers if it meant she could do the one thing she wanted to accomplish before she died—learn to talk to her dragon again and then fly. She didn’t give a fuck what happened after that. But she was going to fly, damn it, no matter what it took to accomplish her only dream.
Suddenly, there was shouting right outside her door. However, the light soundproofing made it so she couldn’t hear the words, not even with her supersensitive hearing.
Tightening her grip on her knives, she waited. She wasn’t all altruistic, determined to save children for the sake of it. But it was definitely a bonus if she could fight any of the guards and doctors. Pissing them off and ruining their plans gave her life.
The lock on the front door turned, and it swung open hard enough to smack against the wall. Then her least favorite guard, Denny Browne, strode in and shut the door behind him. “Percy, get your arse out here. Don’t bloody make me find you, or you won’t like it.”
She rolled her eyes. As if his threats were going to be any worse than some of the things that had been done to her inside this place.
Denny walked a few steps closer, and she rose, making sure to keep her hands with the knives hidden behind the kitchen island. “What the fuck do you want?”
The guard strode toward her. “We’re evacuating, and you and that dragon girl are coming with me. If I have to punch you unconscious and carry you over my shoulder, I will.” Lust flared in his eyes, and Percy willed herself not to gag. “But the boss said to try to keep you conscious first. Some plan of his I didn’t question.”
“Well, sorry to disappoint you, dickhead. But I’m not going anywhere. There’s shouting and roars, and who the bloody hell knows what else is happening out there? It’s safer in here.”
Denny wasn’t especially clever—he was valued for his willingness to do anything, without question, even to children—and liked to boast. “Some fucking dragons found us, but they won’t be able to beat us.” He took out a syringe. “Now, get over here, bitch. We need to leave. You can do it the easy way or the hard way.”
She tightened her grip and readied herself to attack. Since she needed space to swing her weapon, she moved her hands behind her back and retreated a few feet. Denny only came closer.
When he was within three feet, she pounced, moving her arms in ways she’d practiced alone, trying to land a blow where she could make him bleed the most—places they’d discussed around her before, to make sure they didn’t cut her there and kill her. Channeling the rage at all the shit they’d done to her over the years, she swung hard. Denny managed to lean back from the first blow and gripped her wrist. With her other knife, she cut his neck, but not in the right place, as it barely trickled.
Fuck. She tried to move her still-free arm and stab him somewhere, anywhere, to weaken him. However, for all his lack of brains, Denny was bloody strong. He squeezed her first wrist hard enough, it felt as if it might break, and the metal blade clanged against the tile floor.
He must’ve dropped the syringe at some point, because he finally took hold of her other wrist—the one belonging to the hand with the remaining blade—and twisted it away from him, toward her chest. He pushed, and she tried to keep it from stabbing her.
Despite her hellish existence, Percy had always held on to one dream—to be able to shift into her dragon form for the first time and finally feel the wind against her skin or scales or whatever.
To have the ultimate freedom, no matter how brief, and be in control of her life.
But as Denny moved the knife closer and closer to her neck, sweat trailed between her breasts and down her back. He might’ve been given orders not to kill her, but rage burned in his eyes. He might do it just to teach her a lesson.
And she’d never get the chance to be a real dragon-shifter.
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