Title: Grigori: A Royal Dragonshifter Romance
Series: Brothers of Ash and Fire
Author: Lauren Smith
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Release Date: October 3, 2017
He’s one of the last of a powerful but vanishing bloodline …
Grigori Barinov is the eldest in an ancient line of dragon shifters and the guardian of his family’s lands and fortune. Sworn to protect their history and magic, he won’t rest until he neutralizes any threat to their existence. When he discovers an ancient manuscript that exposes his family and their dragon lineage has fallen into a mortal woman’s hands, he knows he must get the book back by any means necessary. If that means seducing a nosy American woman with an intoxicating scent, he is more than willing to carry her off to his palatial home deep in the heart of Russia.
She’s the one woman who could expose him to the world…
Madelyn Haynes has never fit in. As an adopted child she grew up in a loving home but never felt as though she belonged. Plagued by mysterious dreams she’s had of a silver scaled beast ever since she was a little girl, she is convinced dragons are real. While in Russia working on her PhD in mythology in order to escape the ridicule from fellow professors, she unexpectedly crosses paths with the sexy and dominating Grigori, and after just one night with the man whose eyes seem to burn, she starts to change inside. Isolated in the Russian wilderness Grigori calls home, Madelyn can’t help but fall under his sensual spell, yet something deep inside her calls out that she can’t trust him. She has to show the world dragons are real to salvage academic reputation, even if it means costing her the heart of the dragon she’s falling in love with.
Madelyn woke slowly, the memories of parents she didn’t know and the life she never had a chance to live fading to intangible presences at the back of her mind until they were half-forgotten dreams. Her eyelids were heavy and her tongue felt like sandpaper. She blinked slowly as the leaden feel of her limbs dissipated and the fog in her head lightened. She sat up, a thick blanket of white fur dropping down to her waist.
Fur? She stared around at the master bedroom she was in.
“Oh my . . .” The tall four-poster bed was made of dark black wood, a midnight blue bedspread beneath her and a mountain of feather-soft pillows behind her. She caught her reflection in a large mirror on a dresser table. Her face was ashen and her lips pale as she sat in a mountain of expensive white furs. Her hair was in wild disarray. She threaded her fingers through the messy mane and took a few steadying breaths. Where was she? She struggled to remember anything before she’d woken up here.
The elevator, the man following her, and then Grigori . . . in her hotel room.
Oh my God. I’ve been kidnapped.
She curled her arms around her chest for several seconds, just trying to calm her panicked breathing. They had kidnapped her and brought her here. A thousand horrible scenarios ran through her head of what they might to do with her . . . human trafficking being the worst. The thought of it brought bile up to her throat and she swallowed, gagging.
Just calm down. Just calm down . . .
Her body froze, and her heart stopped for a painful second before it jolted back into a steady beat. She summoned the scholarly side of herself to analyze her surroundings again. She needed to figure out where she was and what they wanted from her. Then she could plan her escape. Beside her on the table, was a leather bound book she was all too familiar with. James’s Barrow’s journal.
Heart still pounding, she pushed the furs down and slid off the bed. Her sock-covered feet sank into a creamy white carpet. Madelyn grabbed the nearest bedpost, her fingers gripping the spindle carved wood as she walked around the king-size bed. She moved through the room and caught a teasing sense of something dark, pine and masculine. A scent she’d recognized when she’d been standing close to the man in the suit who’d looked just like Grigori from the journal. He couldn’t be Grigori. She didn’t know his name, so she might as well call him that until she figured out who he really was.
Grigori. He was everywhere in this room, from the elegant furnishings to the clothes hanging in the closet. Madelyn wasn’t sure how she knew it was his room aside from the lingering scent, but it just felt like this was part of his world. She couldn’t explain it. She’d never been in a man’s bedroom before and it was exciting and scary.
Why had he brought her here? How had they knocked her out? And why did he want to know why she’d been interested in James Barrow’s book? She had a thousand questions and no answers. The smart thing would be to find her shoes and coat and get out of here . . . no matter how intrigued she was with the mystery of Grigori Barinov.
She bent down and looked in the closet and under the bed for her boots but couldn’t find them. She had a sneaking suspicion he had hidden them to keep her from escaping. She approached the beautifully carved bedroom door, gripping the antique glass doorknob. Would it be locked? Was she a prisoner? She turned the knob and it gave beneath the pressure.
The door opened and she entered a small corridor, passing a lavish master bathroom with a large tub and an oversized glass shower. Whoa. The next room she entered opened into a huge library and an office. Then the apartment gave way to a large living room with the kitchen at the back and a dining room. A roaring fire in a square pit in the center of the living room sparkled over crystal stones. A wing backed chair facing the fire creaked slightly and a masculine hand extended past the arm of the chair as it swirled a glass of wine.
Someone was sitting there . . .
Madelyn held her breath, listening to every sound from the antique grandfather clock in the hall ticking away to the sounds of the man in the chair turning the pages of his book. The hand holding the glass suddenly disappeared and the chair creaked again as the occupant stood and turned to face her.
It was Grigori. He looked too damn sexy, and intimidating, in that expensive suit. His light hair fell across his blue eyes and he gazed at her with an unreadable expression. Her heart was racing again, and blood roared in her ears as she watched him, afraid of what he might do.
“You’re awake,” he noted. He moved slowly, setting the wine glass on the table beside his chair.
“Why am I here?” She was careful to keep a safe distance between them. They were facing each other, like two animals measuring each other up before they decided to fight or not. She wouldn’t hesitate to throw anything at him within her reach to escape.
“You’re here because you checked out a book.”
His cryptic reply made her bristle. The last thing she should be was argumentative, but she suddenly wanted to be brave in front of him.
“Is that against the law?” she asked, tilting her chin. She may have been scared out of her mind, but she was not going to let him see it.
Grigori’s lips twitched. “No, but that book belongs to me.”
She stiffened. “Then why did you leave it in a public library? You do understand that’s how libraries work, right?” How she had the nerve to be snarky, she’d never know.
He placed one hand on the back of the leather chair, his finger slowly tapping a pattern as though he was channeling all of his energy into the movement.
“A fiery creature,” he murmured. “I like that.” This was uttered so softly she thought she’d imagined it.
“So you have the book back, you can let me go. I can leave, can’t I?” Her eyes darted around the room, seeking out the front door. She inwardly groaned when she realized the only way out was behind him. She’d have to get past brooding, sexy, and scary Grigori.
“No, I’m afraid you cannot leave. I have questions that require answers.” He took two steps toward her. It took everything inside Madelyn not to retreat. She sensed that any sign of weakness would trigger his animal instincts. He was an aggressive predator who looked too intense to be in this lush apartment.
“Ask your questions and then let me go.” She wanted to curl her arms around herself, but instead planted hands on her hips.
Grigori arched one eyebrow, calmly removed his coat and laid it on the back of the chair. His gray wool vest showed off his muscular chest and his tapered waist. She licked her lips, nervous and all too aware of him and in way she shouldn’t be given that he had kidnapped her. The image of his face in the journal, the sketch dated 1821, haunted her. It couldn’t be the same man. That was impossible. But the likeness . . .
“Who sent you after the book?” Grigori asked as he rolled up the sleeves of his crisp white shirt. It revealed muscular forearms, which were also sun-kissed. Her skin prickled and she tried to swallow the lump of fear in her throat.
“No—no one sent me. I came here on my own.”
Grigori nodded to himself, smiling a little as he walked over to the kitchen and opened a cabinet.
“Would you care for some wine? It’s a fine vintage.” He held up a bottle and a glass.
“Did you seriously just offer me a drink? You’ve kidnapped me! For god knows what reason. You’d better let me leave right now or—”
“Or what?” Grigori was studying her through hooded eyes. “Ms. Haynes, I understand you are frightened, but I’m not planning on harming you. We’re merely going to have a discussion. Once I have learned all that I need, you shall be free to go.”
“You . . . you promise?” She had no reason to trust him if he did make such a promise, but part of her wanted to trust him. Part of her was still fixed on the man in the journal, the one she felt she knew somehow from dreams within dreams.
“I promise. I have no intention of hurting you. I merely needed a chance to speak to you privately. On my honor.” He touched his freed hand to his chest with his fingers curled into a fist. The motion was archaic, like something a knight from the Middle Ages might do as he pledged himself to the lord of a castle.
Madelyn weighed her options—not that she really had any. If she was trapped here she wasn’t going to make a fool of herself trying to escape until she had a real chance. She wasn’t sure if she believed him, but part of her wanted to. She’d never felt so torn in her life. All logic and basic instincts were screaming to run away from the man who kidnapped her, but there was a deeper part of her, whispering to her to stay and trust. It was like she was staring at his picture in the library all over again and she couldn’t look away, couldn’t leave.
If I play along, it might help me buy some time to figure out a real plan of getting out of here.
Grigori waved the bottle in the air. “Well?”
“Sure. One glass,” she finally replied. God, please don’t let me trusting him a little be a huge mistake.
“Good.” He walked over, setting a glass directly in front of her on the black granite countertop. They were only inches apart now. His body so tall and intimidating compared to hers. A nauseating pounding started in her head and her skin tingled like it had in the elevator with that other man.
She closed her eyes, steadying her suddenly shaky legs. How was it that this man could rattle her? Was it because he’d kidnapped her and she was freaking out . . . or was it something else? She’d been scared plenty of times, but it had never been like this. This felt . . . different. She didn’t feel right, like her body was trying to change inside. It didn’t make sense.
A hand, his hand brushed a lock of her hair back from her face, leaving a sizzling sensation behind wherever he touched her. As she opened her eyes, she saw him lean close to her and inhale deeply.
“Are you sniffing me?” she asked in a shaky whisper.
He exhaled slowly, his full lips suddenly in a firm line. “You smell good. Too good,” he growled softly. His hand reached up again, but it stopped inches from her. And that was when she felt it. A faint breeze ruffled her hair, playing with the strands. Grigori stayed motionless, his eyes narrowed. And just like that, the unexplainable breeze vanished.
Madelyn held her breath, hoping he would move first. He finally stepped back.
“Did Damien MacQueen send you?” he asked as he turned and walked away from her, back to the fridge. The distance growing between them seemed like a vast chasm. It should have been a relief, but it wasn’t.
I am going nuts. Seriously nuts.
He opened the door and stared at the contents before shutting it and frowning.
“Who is Damien MacQueen?” she asked. The name was one she didn’t recognize. Grigori stared at her for a long moment as though discerning whether she spoke the truth.
“So the brotherhood didn’t send you.” He placed his palms on the counter, leaning forward slightly as he stared at her. The man had that intense gaze down to a T. She was frozen in place, unable to look away from him as he watched her. She tried to study him back, analyzing the way his jaw seemed to be cut from Italian marble and his straight nose gave him an air of distinction. He was gorgeous—for a kidnapper.
“You are a professor?” Grigori asked.
“Yes, at Ellwood University.” She lifted her glass of wine and tried to take a sip. The wine was soft and dark on her tongue. A truly expensive wine without any bitter aftertaste. The floral bouquet hit her taste buds and finished with a hint of smoky wood.
“You like to research?” he asked.
Weirdly, it almost felt like she was on a date. These were like the usual questions: Who are you? What do you do for a living? Do you like it? But this wasn’t a date. It was the farthest thing from it.
“I do . . .” she hesitated, trying to figure out what to do.
“And you enjoy history?” he asked as he sipped his wine, his blue eyes still fixed on her in a way that made her uncomfortable.
“Yes,” she paused, trying to focus on answering him but also staying alert. “History is steady. You know it’s always going to be the same, no matter how much you look back on it. I like the predictability.”
“But you fear the future,” he mused.
She bristled. “I don’t fear the future, I just . . . I just don’t trust things to happen the way I want them to sometimes.” She’d expected her visit to Russia to be a safe one instead of getting kidnapped by someone like him.
“You have nothing to fear in your future,” he promised again. “At least not from me.” There it was, that solemnity in his gaze that almost seemed to beg her to trust him.
The hanging lamps in the kitchen illuminated Grigori’s golden hair as it fell into his eyes again. Madelyn had the desire to brush those gold strands away from his face with her fingertips. And that was a crazy desire, because this man had kidnapped her and she shouldn’t want to be touching him.
“God, I’ve got a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome,” she muttered. She lifted her wine glass to her lips and took another sip.
“Look, I don’t know any Damien and I have no idea what the brotherhood is. You have your book back so I see no reason for you to keep me here.”
He ignored her as he pulled out his cell phone. “Are you hungry? I believe I’ll have dinner brought up.”
“I’m not—” her stomach rumbled treacherously and he had to hear it because he smirked. He was smirking at her . . .
“Dinner, then we talk.” He dialed a number and spoke in rapid Russian to the person on the other end of the line. She had thought it was a rough language before but listening to him speak it sounded musical.
I really need to take more Russian classes. Her two semesters of Russian in graduate school didn’t help her understand a word of what he’d just said.
“Will you please tell me who you are?” she asked as he pocketed his phone in his trousers. He retrieved his own empty glass to refill it with some wine. He poured the burgundy liquid into the glass and she stared at it before looking at him again.
“My name is Grigori Barinov.”
Madelyn bit her lip. He could not be the Grigori from James Barrow’s book. He had to be a descendent of the other man, maybe a great-great-grandson.
“Okay . . .” she whispered. “So you’re descended from the man in the book. The one in the sketch?” She thought again about man’s face, the melancholy smile and the almost indulgent gentleness. That man was a mystery, just as this man was, but this Grigori’s features were harder, colder. She still had a strange longing to meet the man in the sketch.
“No. I am not descended from the man in the sketch. I am that man.”
Madelyn laughed. “That’s funny.” She had plenty of people make fun of her over the years for dragon research.
“I do not jest, Ms. Haynes. You have stumbled into terra incognita. Do you know what that means?”
Madelyn swallowed thickly. “It means ‘territory unknown.’ I’ve seen it on old maps.”
“Very good,” Grigori praised.
He lifted his wine to his lips and took a slow sip, those blue eyes of his piercing her, pinning her in place. “And do you know what else those maps said exactly?” The clink of his glass on the counter was the only sound in the room because neither of them dared to breathe.
And then she said the words, the ones that had been stirring like a serpent in a dark cave at the back of her mind since the moment she brushed her fingertips over the sketch of his face in the book. Surely he couldn’t be suggesting what she’d always been too afraid to even contemplate . . . The words hovered on the tip of her tongue as she stared at him, hypnotized.
“Here there be dragons,” she whispered.
The words drifted between them and although she and Grigori stood six feet apart, that space ceased to exist. His eyes were no longer blue, but a molten gold color, the pupils sliding into reptilian slits. That was impossible . . .
“Here there be dragons,” he echoed in a husky whisper, and Madelyn screamed.
Lauren Smith is an Oklahoma attorney by day, author by night who pens adventurous and edgy romance stories by the light of her smart phone flashlight app. She knew she was destined to be a romance writer when she attempted to re-write the entire Titanic movie just to save Jack from drowning. Connecting with readers by writing emotionally moving, realistic and sexy romances no matter what time period is her passion. She’s won multiple awards in several romance subgenres including: New England Reader’s Choice Awards, Greater Detroit BookSeller’s Best Awards, and a Semi-Finalist award for the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award. To connect with Lauren, visit her at www.laurensmithbooks.com
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