I’ve got dragons on my mind…

Did I ever mention that some of my favorite books have dragons in them? When I was younger, I devoured all of Ann McCaffrey’s Pern books. I moved onto Naomi Novik’s books, Patricia Wrede’s, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, and one of my favorites, Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven. Of course, being the romance lover that I am, I read The Smoke Thief (Shanna Abé) and Ruby Lionsdrake’s Dragon Bond. My latest favorite is Doris O’Connor’s dragon in Evernight Publishing’s new anthology: Denying the Alpha.

Right now, I’m working on a new novel that started off as a short story. It’s a shifter story, and yes, it will have dragons in it. But just in case you didn’t realize, I already wrote a dragon novel. 😀

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Contemporary, Gay Erotic Romance (MM), Romantic Suspense, Sci-Fi, Shifters, Paranormal
Word Count: 27,000
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

buy links: Evernight – Amazon – Bookstrand – Smashwords – Barnes & NobleiTunesKobo

Prince Ryuu hates his father, Emperor Midian. When he’s forced to buy a slave, he defiantly chooses Drakon instead of a woman. Because he’s determined to overthrow his father’s empire, he can’t afford to show vulnerability, but Drakon is more compelling than he’d anticipated. For an Arethuza warrior, affection is a weakness that can lead to death.

Drakon isn’t really a slave—he’s a black dragon, considered cursed by everyone. Despite his people’s distrust, he will do anything to keep them safe, even submit to an Arethuza prince. He never expected to find love, and that complication could ruin his plans to sabotage the emperor’s war campaign. Though Ryuu is his fated mate, their fledgling bond is a secret too dangerous for Drakon to reveal.

Will their duty tear them apart? Can honor prevail in a war that might be too violent for even the strongest dragon warrior?

Story excerpt:

Drakon lay in bed, listening to Ryuu breathing as he slept. He’d tried to relax, but after the prince threatened to kill him, he’d found sleep impossible. He is right. He could kill you whenever he wants, he thought, depressed. Even shifting to dragon form wouldn’t immediately help. He was trapped beneath the surface of a desert, in a citadel made of granite, among corridors filled with Arethuza warriors. He might be able to kill Ryuu, but he would not be able to escape. As a dragon, he was too large to fit in the underground passages. As a man, he was outnumbered hundreds to one. So he lay in bed, wondering how he could possibly still be aroused, in this situation, and right after Ryuu had threatened to end his life.

“I can hear you thinking,” Ryuu said, rolling over.

Drakon sighed.

“I didn’t say I would kill you tonight.” Ryuu poked him in the arm. “Go to sleep. You’re keeping me awake.”

“You may be my master, but even you cannot conquer insomnia,” Drakon said dryly.

Ryuu leaned over and switched on a low light. Drakon glanced at him. His hair was mussed, making him look more human and less princely. Drakon bit back a groan as he felt his cock swell even more. Stop this. You are lucky he didn’t chain you to the floor.

“This is not just insomnia,” Ryuu said, lying back down.

Drakon pressed his lips together. He was not about to confess his need for release to the man who owned him.

“Tell me about your family,” Ryuu said.

My family? Drakon thought, disturbed. “You want me to tell you about the people I will likely never see again in my lifetime?” He paused, thinking about his father, General Ozuru. His father’s last words to him before he’d left had not been kind. He wondered what Ryuu would think if he knew that Drakon was the heritor to the Soutx Nation. He sighed softly to himself. What he once was didn’t matter now. He’d vowed to stop the Arethuza’s blood war, and he would do so, even if it meant surrendering his honor to save his people. “Is that a command?”

Ryuu sighed. “Perhaps I spoke hastily.”

Drakon snorted quietly.

“Tell me about your first lover, then. What was she like?” Ryuu asked.

Drakon’s face burned. Of all the things for the prince to hit upon. Should I confess? Put us out of our misery? He considered it, shifting slightly as his cock throbbed even more. What do I have to lose? He swallowed, then licked his lips. “His name was Ikale.”

****

Ryuu went perfectly still as the meaning of Drakon’s words sank into his mind. “He?”

Drakon stirred. “Yes.”

Ryuu’s hands fisted beneath the silk blanket as the arousal he’d fought so hard to keep from Drakon flared back to life. He thought Drakon would talk about some pretty girl, or some silly fumblings as a young teen, but instead he’d admitted to Ryuu the one thing he desired more than anything else. Well, almost anything. I still wish to be free of my father’s bloodthirsty fascination with war. I still wish to set my people free of him.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” he asked Drakon.

“What good would it have done to admit my orientation? What good does it do now?” Drakon sounded frustrated. “My people aren’t any more accepting of same-sex unions than yours.”

“We could both get some pleasure out of this necessity,” Ryuu said, trying to mask the desperation he felt.

Drakon shifted again. “You are my owner.” He spat the words as if they were bugs in his mouth. “You can just take what you want from me, any time you please.”

Ryuu closed his eyes, regretting the threats he’d given Drakon earlier. “I am not any more free of you than you are of me. I explained that to you.”

“I should kill you, right now,” Drakon murmured sulkily.

Ryuu laughed. “Even if you could, why would you? Killing me would only hasten your own death. You are surrounded by the enemy.” He smoothed the blankets over his thighs. “No. You have your own reasons for submitting to slavery. Don’t think I am unaware of that.”

Drakon sighed. “Perhaps I’d rather be dead than subject to this.”

Ryuu bit his lip. He would not be the one to initiate this. He would likely have to do far too many distasteful things to Drakon in the days ahead as it was. The least he could do was let his slave make this one choice. “I will not force you, not in the night, when it is just the two of us,” he said quietly.

“You would force me in public?”

Ryuu rubbed his face, exasperated. “I may need to make a show of it, though I will do everything I can to keep that from happening.”

Drakon rolled over. Ryuu jerked when he felt a hand on his arm. He opened his eyes. Drakon loomed over him, dark hair sliding down over his shoulders. “Ikale was a handsome boy, dark of hair and with flashing eyes. I first noticed him when I was thirteen. He’d come with his father to visit. We were thrown together often, during lessons and while practicing our combat skills.”

“How did you become intimate?” Ryuu asked, almost afraid that Drakon would refuse to tell him.

Instead, Drakon smiled. “We went camping in the wilderness together. The first night, we couldn’t get a fire started. We huddled together when the temperature dropped.”

“I’ve heard that the mountains can be very cold,” Ryuu offered.

“As cold as the desert,” Drakon said quietly. He rearranged himself on the bed so that he leaned closer to Ryuu. “When I woke in the middle of the night, I realized that Ikale and I were so entwined, I could not extricate myself without giving away my feelings. So I held perfectly still.” He sighed, his warm breath a puff against Ryuu’s skin. “He woke up. He felt my erection.”

Ryuu’s cock hardened even more as Drakon described his arousal with the other boy. “What happened?”

Drakon leaned closer, going down onto his side. “He touched me. We used our hands on each other.” He looked away. “A week later, he and his father left. Many years later, I heard he’d died fighting in a battle with the Arethuza.”

Ryuu flinched. “I’m sorry.”

“It happened a long time ago.” Drakon reached out and slid his hand down Ryuu’s arm. “Touch me, Ryuu.” He sounded almost frightened, which surprised Ryuu. Thus far, the slave had been by turns defiant and resigned. Why would this unsettle him so?

Ryuu’s breathing quickened. “Are you certain?”

Drakon lifted Ryuu’s hand and dragged it down his chest.

Ryuu savored the feel of Drakon’s hair and soft skin. When Drakon used Ryuu’s fingers to stroke his cock, Ryuu shuddered. The heat of Drakon’s erection seemed to sear his palm.

“What we do tonight means nothing,” Drakon whispered roughly, letting go and sliding his hand between the plackets of Ryuu’s robe. “This is release. Not love. Those are my terms.”

What are people saying about Captive Fire?

Redz World Reviews – 5 Shooting Stars!

“The characters were vibrant and the story very different from any dragon shifter story I have read so far. … This is one story I really couldn’t stop reading over and over again.”

The Romance Reviews – Top Pick!

“I definitely recommend this book to those who love the m/m and fantasy. The action kept me on the tips of my toes and the sex made me hold my breath for more.”

Cocktails and Books – 5 stars!

“I absolutely loved “Captive Fire”!  Just straight up loved it.  It was an incredible story of love and good triumphing over evil.  There was romance, action, intrigue, and sex.  Oh…and did I mention dragon shifters?  Oh yes.  Dragon shifters.  **SWOON**”

MM Good Book Reviews – 4.5 stars!

“I love Erin’s stories and this was no different. I had a blast with it and look forward to reading more like this story. … I would definitely recommend this story. It has a kick to it that will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

The Blogger Girls – Plenty of mystery and action!

“This is a fun, jam packed little dragon story. It’s short but complete. … There is plenty of mystery and action to go along with the romance and hot sex.”

The TBR Pile – 4 stars!

“The world building is fabulous! It’s this strange, unique, fantasy world that I had fun exploring. The characters, Ryuu and Drakon, are wonderful.”

Night Owl Reviews – 4 stars!

“It is difficult to establish a distinctive world with unique characters within the confines of a novella but the author effortlessly drew me into this world and made me care about these characters.”

Open Skye Book Reviews

“This was a surprisingly dark and heavy but still very hopeful and sweet dragon shifter story.”

TRR Readers’ Choice Awards nomination round!

logo

I have four books up to be nominated in The Romance Reviews Readers’ Choice Awards! Woo!

Nomination Round Voting is from March 14 – 31.

~ Alpha Shaman ~ Handy Harry ~ Captive Fire ~ Bitter Bite ~

Click on the covers to nominate my stories!

alphashaman1l   handyharry-evernightpublishing-JayAheer2015-finalimage   captivefire1l   BitterBiteevernightulishing-jayaheer2015-finalimage

A lot of other Evernight authors are also nominated. If you can show them some love, it would be greatly appreciated. 😀

Books need at least 50 nominations to move to the final round. Nominate your favorite Evernight books here

 

TRR Readers’ Choice Awards nomination round!

logo

I have three books up to be nominated in The Romance Reviews Readers’ Choice Awards! Woo!

Nomination Round Voting is from Sept. 11 – 30

~ Bitter Bite ~ Rock Star Baby ~ Captive Fire ~

Please nominate my stories!

BitterBiteevernightulishing-jayaheer2015-finalimage  RockStarBaby-ebernightpublishing-jayaheer2015-smallpreview  captivefire1l

A lot of other Evernight authors are also nominated. If you can show them some love, it would be greatly appreciated. 😀

Books need at least 50 nominations to move to the final round. Nominate your favorite Evernight books here

Contemporary Romance

Callahan’s Fate by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

Erotic Romance – Action-Adventure/Romantic Suspense/Mystery

Desire Unexpected by SJ Maylee

Guarding Midnight by Kacey Hammell

Erotic Romance – Anthology

Uniform Fetish

Erotic Romance – Contemporary Romance

Wicked Flower by Carlene Love Flores

Erotic Romance – Fantasy Romance

Bad Apple by Wren Michaels

Unbearable by Wren Michaels

Erotic Romance – Menage a Trois or More

Believing Binda by Khloe Wren

Binding Becky by Khloe Wren Author

Bitter Bite by Erin M. Leaf

Claiming Carina by Khloe Wren

Enchanting Eilagh by Khloe Wren

Fallon’s Capture by Ravenna Tate

Marianne’s Abduction by Ravenna Tate

Seduced By Two Warriors by Ravenna Tate

Seducing Skye by Khloe Wren

Snowbound by Ravenna Tate

Erotic Romance – Multi-cultural/Multi-racial Romance

The Perfect Shoot by Lea Bronsen

Erotic Romance – Paranormal Romance

Rise of the Lost Prince by London Saint James

Tigers Are Forever by Khloe Wren

Erotic Romance – Romantic Science Fiction/Futuristic

An Appetite For Blackmail by Ravenna Tate

Kidnapped By A Warrior by Ravenna Tate

GLBT – BDSM

Balls and Chains by James Cox

Stripped Bare by Nikka Michaels; Eileen Griffin

GLBT – Fantasy Romance

Breaker Zone by Nicola Cameron

GLBT – Paranormal Romance

Rock Star Baby by Erin Leaf

GLBT – Romantic Science Fiction/Futuristic

Captive Fire by Erin Leaf

Paranormal Romance

Maiden by C.L. Marin

Young Adult Romance

Drawn by Christopher Ledbetter

The Devil at Play by Marcus Damanda

Redz World Reviews loved Captive Fire! #dragons

RedzWorld

 

Redz World Reviews loved CAPTIVE FIRE! 5 Shooting Stars!

The characters were vibrant and the story very different from any dragon shifter story I have read so far. … Over all this book is really well done.  I loved the whole politics of the planet. I liked getting to know Drakon and his people too. I would love to know more about them all in the future. This is one story I really couldn’t stop reading over and over again.

Read the rest of the review.

buy links: Evernight – Amazon – ARe – Bookstrand – Smashwords – Barnes & Noble – iTunes – Kobo

captivefire1l  epeditorsesal1s  amazon-bestseller-icon   BestsellerIcon100X100   trrtoppicks

Contemporary, Gay Erotic Romance (MM), Romantic Suspense, Sci-Fi, Shifters, Paranormal
Word Count: 27,000
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

Click here to read an excerpt.

Prince Ryuu hates his father, Emperor Midian. When he’s forced to buy a slave, he defiantly chooses Drakon instead of a woman. Because he’s determined to overthrow his father’s empire, he can’t afford to show vulnerability, but Drakon is more compelling than he’d anticipated. For an Arethuza warrior, affection is a weakness that can lead to death.

Drakon isn’t really a slave—he’s a black dragon, considered cursed by everyone. Despite his people’s distrust, he will do anything to keep them safe, even submit to an Arethuza prince. He never expected to find love, and that complication could ruin his plans to sabotage the emperor’s war campaign. Though Ryuu is his fated mate, their fledgling bond is a secret too dangerous for Drakon to reveal.

Will their duty tear them apart? Can honor prevail in a war that might be too violent for even the strongest dragon warrior?

CaptiveFire-evernightpublishing-JayAheer2015-banner2

 

Cocktails and Books loved Captive Fire! #review

C-B

Cocktails and Books loved Captive Fire! 5 stars!

“I absolutely loved “Captive Fire”!  Just straight up loved it.  It was an incredible story of love and good triumphing over evil.  There was romance, action, intrigue, and sex.  Oh…and did I mention dragon shifters?  Oh yes.  Dragon shifters.  **SWOON**”

Read the rest of the review.

buy links: Evernight – Amazon – ARe – Bookstrand – Smashwords – Barnes & Noble – iTunes – Kobo

captivefire1l  epeditorsesal1s  amazon-bestseller-icon   BestsellerIcon100X100

Contemporary, Gay Erotic Romance (MM), Romantic Suspense, Sci-Fi, Shifters, Paranormal
Word Count: 27,000
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

Click here to read an excerpt.

Prince Ryuu hates his father, Emperor Midian. When he’s forced to buy a slave, he defiantly chooses Drakon instead of a woman. Because he’s determined to overthrow his father’s empire, he can’t afford to show vulnerability, but Drakon is more compelling than he’d anticipated. For an Arethuza warrior, affection is a weakness that can lead to death.

Drakon isn’t really a slave—he’s a black dragon, considered cursed by everyone. Despite his people’s distrust, he will do anything to keep them safe, even submit to an Arethuza prince. He never expected to find love, and that complication could ruin his plans to sabotage the emperor’s war campaign. Though Ryuu is his fated mate, their fledgling bond is a secret too dangerous for Drakon to reveal.

Will their duty tear them apart? Can honor prevail in a war that might be too violent for even the strongest dragon warrior?

 

 

 

 

MM Good Book Reviews loved Captive Fire! #review

MM Good Book Reviews loved Captive Fire!

“I love Erin’s stories and this was no different. I had a blast with it and look forward to reading more like this story. … I would definitely recommend this story. It has a kick to it that will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

Read the rest of the review.

buy links: Evernight – Amazon – ARe – Bookstrand – Smashwords – Barnes & Noble – iTunes – Kobo

captivefire1l  epeditorsesal1s  amazon-bestseller-icon   BestsellerIcon100X100

Contemporary, Gay Erotic Romance (MM), Romantic Suspense, Sci-Fi, Shifters, Paranormal
Word Count: 27,000
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

Click here to read an excerpt.

Prince Ryuu hates his father, Emperor Midian. When he’s forced to buy a slave, he defiantly chooses Drakon instead of a woman. Because he’s determined to overthrow his father’s empire, he can’t afford to show vulnerability, but Drakon is more compelling than he’d anticipated. For an Arethuza warrior, affection is a weakness that can lead to death.

Drakon isn’t really a slave—he’s a black dragon, considered cursed by everyone. Despite his people’s distrust, he will do anything to keep them safe, even submit to an Arethuza prince. He never expected to find love, and that complication could ruin his plans to sabotage the emperor’s war campaign. Though Ryuu is his fated mate, their fledgling bond is a secret too dangerous for Drakon to reveal.

Will their duty tear them apart? Can honor prevail in a war that might be too violent for even the strongest dragon warrior?

 

 

 

 

Captive Fire Chapter One #excerpt!

Do you like dragons? Strong shifters? Conflict? This might be the story you’ve always wanted…

buy links: Evernight – Amazon – ARe – Bookstrand – Smashwords – Barnes & Noble – iTunes – Kobo

captivefire1l  epeditorsesal1s  amazon-bestseller-icon   BestsellerIcon100X100

Contemporary, Gay Erotic Romance (MM), Romantic Suspense, Sci-Fi, Shifters, Paranormal
Word Count: 27,000
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

 

Prince Ryuu hates his father, Emperor Midian. When he’s forced to buy a slave, he defiantly chooses Drakon instead of a woman. Because he’s determined to overthrow his father’s empire, he can’t afford to show vulnerability, but Drakon is more compelling than he’d anticipated. For an Arethuza warrior, affection is a weakness that can lead to death.

Drakon isn’t really a slave—he’s a black dragon, considered cursed by everyone. Despite his people’s distrust, he will do anything to keep them safe, even submit to an Arethuza prince. He never expected to find love, and that complication could ruin his plans to sabotage the emperor’s war campaign. Though Ryuu is his fated mate, their fledgling bond is a secret too dangerous for Drakon to reveal.

Will their duty tear them apart? Can honor prevail in a war that might be too violent for even the strongest dragon warrior?

 

Chapter One Excerpt!

The scarlet awning snapped in the desert wind like a broken sensor—incessant and impossible to ignore. Prince Ryuu looked away as flecks of sand scoured his face. The Dragon’s Teeth Mountains loomed far to the east of the encampment, dark and serene. He wished he were there, amongst the peaked cliffs that formed the spine of the continent. He wished he were anywhere else but here.

“Pay attention, my son,” his father, Emperor Midian, said harshly. “You must choose your servant this day. My patience has run out.”

Ryuu composed his face and turned back to the slave auction, carefully hiding his distaste. It had been four centuries since his people had abolished slavery, yet here he stood, about to choose one for his personal use. It had only taken a few years for his father to dismantle the old laws of their nation and reinstitute the barbarism he enjoyed so much, though admittedly, the market for slaves was quite small. Most of the Arethuza found the practice distasteful. Even so, Ryuu didn’t know how much longer he could keep up the charade of being a loyal son. Soon he would have to make his move and break away from his father’s rule. His duty to his people was more important than his duty to his sire.

“Ryuu!”

“Yes, Father,” he said, bowing slightly to appease the man. His gaze flicked to the mountains once more before he wrestled himself under control. Freedom was not an option he had the luxury to indulge. “I am merely contemplating my choices.”

The emperor grunted. “Enough. You are a grown man. A warrior. This hesitance is unbecoming.” He pointed. “Take that female, sitting next to the pole. She is beautiful and seems healthy.” He adjusted his polished leather armor and tucked his red cape over his shoulder.

The color of the cape clashed with the scarlet of the awning, but Ryuu knew his father didn’t care. He liked red. The color of blood. Ryuu wore black armor, for mourning. The color drove his mother to tears at times, but it suited his mood, most days.

“I need heirs. It is time for you to give them to me,” the emperor said.

Ryuu suppressed a sigh as he looked out over the bodies arranged on the ground beneath the tattered canvas that sheltered them from the harsh light of their sun. No silk fabric for them, he thought, pretending to consider the people being bought and sold like furniture. Truth was, he’d decided thirty minutes ago which man would be coming home with him. His father wouldn’t like it, but it was his decision to make.

“I will take the man with the dark hair. Near the center,” he said to the slave master. The man he chose couldn’t hear him over the wind, but Ryuu had a feeling the slave already knew he wouldn’t be at the auction long. As he watched, the wind whipped the man’s long, dark hair over his face, exposing fresh lash marks decorating the skin of his back. No, he will either escape, or die trying, Ryuu thought, frowning slightly. If only he could convince the man to work with him, instead of against him. If only he had the time…

The portly auctioneer stared at Ryuu, then looked to the emperor. Sweat ran down his round face, but he made no move to wipe it away from his shaved head and temples. Ryuu knew the man didn’t want to get embroiled in the midst of a royal argument. That way lay death.

Ryuu’s father scowled at his son. “You would take a man?”

Ryuu shrugged. “It is my choice. I have no need for a woman.”

Midian glared at his son, then turned away. “I am done with this. Choose as you like, and accept the consequences.” He shifted his sword against his hip. “I can breed other sons. I will have heirs from another woman, if you will not serve me in that manner.” With that extraordinary statement, he strode away, toward the flitter that waited next to the iron-barred goods warehouse.

Ryuu concealed a flinch. His father planned to abandon Ryuu’s mother? Because of his refusal to serve as a royal stud bull? The emperor’s cruelty still surprised him, even after growing up in the cesspool that was his father’s fortress and headquarters, the citadel. He’d need to find his mother and warn her the moment he returned. He pressed his lips together tightly, trying to hide his dismay.

“Prince?” The auctioneer bowed tentatively. “That slave is very difficult to control. Why, just this morning he damaged one of the other males and had to be whipped.”

Ryuu scowled, releasing his pent-up temper on the auctioneer. “And you think that I will have trouble with a mere slave?” He subtly fingered the row of knives that ran diagonally across his chest. He’d carefully nurtured a reputation for savagery with them—better to scare people with rumors than with actual blood. Many of his people believed him to be as bloodthirsty as the emperor and that protected him somewhat from his father’s personal warriors. If only the emperor understood the power of words instead of war, but his father had never been interested in peace. He enjoyed torture.

“No, Sire, of course not,” the man stammered, bowing lower. “It is just that he is not very…” He paused, clearly struggling to find words to describe a slave who still believed himself to be a man, and entitled to freedom.

Ryuu didn’t care about the auctioneer’s philosophical dilemma. He knew exactly what he was buying. “Chain him and bring him to my flitter,” he commanded. Then he turned on his heel and strode away.

****

Discouraged, Drakon watched the prince leave the buyer’s booth from the corner of his eye. If he believed in a deity, he would be praying with all his strength that Prince Ryuu would be the one who’d purchase him, but after seeing the man’s indifferent pose toward the slaves, he no longer harbored such a dream. The best he could hope for was if one of the emperor’s administrators bought him. Perhaps I’ll even end up in the citadel, he mused, digging his fingers into the sand beneath him. He could work from there to sabotage Emperor Midian’s bloodthirsty war campaign. Lost in thought, he resisted when the auctioneer suddenly strode over and tried to yank him to his feet by the chains around his wrists. Since Drakon was at least a foot taller and much stronger than the slave master, the pudgy man couldn’t budge him.

“None of that!” The bald man slapped his quirt against Drakon’s flank, hard enough to draw blood. “Prince Ryuu owns you now.” He frowned. “You will go quietly and respectfully, or he will slice the rebellion out of your skin in long strips. He’s a demon with those knives of his. They call him the Bearer of Blades.” The auctioneer smiled cruelly.

Drakon scrambled to his feet, dazed by his good fortune. The auctioneer, mistaking his surprise for recalcitrance, hit him again. Drakon ground his teeth together, reminding himself yet again that he’d chosen this course of action of his own free will.

“Do you want to be flayed?” the auctioneer demanded.

Drakon shook himself. Dust from his loincloth puffed into the hot air. “No.” From the rumors that circulated among the slaves, his mighty highness, Prince Ryuu, could strip most of the skin from a man’s body without killing him. Although, I have yet to speak to anyone who has witnessed Ryuu’s prowess with those blades. Sometimes rumors are more effective than true action, he mused, stumbling as the auctioneer pulled on his chains.

“The prince is leaving within the hour. You will obey him in all things,” the bald man said, absently dragging Drakon through the crowds of the market. They’d left the slave pens behind and Drakon could smell the savory scent of roasting meat. His mouth watered. He hadn’t eaten in four days.

“There will be none of your defiance, when you are in his custody. Is that clear?”

Drakon stared at the back of the creature’s fat head as he was dragged toward the fenced landing site. Damned if he was going to answer that statement. He was a man, not a child.

The auctioneer yanked on his chains viciously, nearly tripping Drakon. The metal bit into his wrists and he knew there would be fresh blood beneath the shackles.

“I expect a response!”

Drakon raised an eyebrow, willing the man to damage him further. He might need to play the part of a slave for now, but he was a free man. He deserved respect. Courtesy. You’re fooling yourself, a small voice at the back of his mind told him. You had no respect when you were back home, in your father’s household. Why would you think you deserve it now? Drakon shoved those thoughts down, refusing to give in to the despair that had dogged him all his life. I am a man. A warrior of my people, he reminded himself. I passed the test of the dragon and own my true form. And I am the only one of my generation to do so. Remember that.

The auctioneer raised his quirt again. Just as he was about to strike Drakon across the face, a voice interrupted.

“Halt! You dare to damage my property?”

The auctioneer pivoted, then immediately went to his knees. He pulled on Drakon’s bonds, forcing him down to the ground. Drakon broke his fall with his elbows, but the slave master tightened his grip on the chains, dragging him down further. He struggled to breathe as his cheek pressed into the packed sand.

“Forgive me, Sire,” the auctioneer said, trembling.

Drakon turned his head to the side just in time to see black armored boots stop less than a foot from his face. Swirls of dust decorated the insteps of Prince Ryuu’s footwear, and Drakon’s eyes wandered to a set of curious indentations in the front soles, where tiny blades no doubt resided. He shivered, wondering what sort of man would hide so many secret weapons on his body. Weren’t the ones on his chest harness enough?

“Give me the bonds,” Prince Ryuu said.

The auctioneer bowed lower. “Yes, Sire.” He lifted his arms, hauling on Drakon’s chains painfully.

Prince Ryuu took them and gently tugged. “On your feet,” he said softly.

Drakon licked his dry lips, suddenly afraid. The prince’s low voice sent a flicker of arousal through him, against all rational expectation. No. You can’t let your proclivities rule you, not now of all times, he thought desperately. He wanted this more than anything. He’d hoped all along for a place in the royal household, while knowing the chance that he might be purchased by one of Emperor Midian’s family members or a royal retainer was slim. That Prince Ryuu himself had bought him surpassed all his expectations. Control yourself, or you will ruin everything.

“Come on, then,” Prince Ryuu said, again tugging at the chains.

Drakon gathered his wits and stood up, trying to keep his thoughts to himself. Expressionless silver eyes met his. Ryuu’s shoulder-length blond hair had silver beads woven into the temples, breaking up the unrelieved black of the rest of his clothing and armor. Drakon’s fingers twitched. He would have liked to find out if the prince’s hair was as soft as it looked, but he remembered his status before he gave himself away. He lowered his eyes. Surprisingly, the prince was his height, unusual for the Arethuza. The hardships of their desert life usually prevented them from growing as tall as Drakon’s people.

“We leave now,” the prince said, pivoting abruptly and pulling Drakon to the gleaming silver flitter that waited just beyond the fencing.

When he reached the flitter, he touched a finger to a hidden stud. Light flashed, reading his genetic signature, and the canopy slid back, revealing the four seats within.

“Sit in the copilot’s seat,” Prince Ryuu told him, to Drakon’s surprise.

The prince wants me to sit next to him? It was unusual for an owner to trust a slave with such close proximity.

Prince Ryuu glanced at Drakon’s wrists and his face tightened before he dropped the heavy steel chains. The ends dragged in the sand. “You must carry your own bonds, like all of us.” He laughed shortly and climbed into the driver’s seat.

Drakon stared at the shackles, then looked into the flitter, confused. Ryuu’s behavior didn’t match the rumors of his cruelty. He picked up his chains and swallowed, hard, as Ryuu pressed buttons on the console, seemingly unconcerned with his new slave’s lack of confinement. The prince didn’t even glance at Drakon.

I could flee so easily, he thought, his gaze going to the mountains in the distance. Of course, if he ran now, he would not be able to complete his task. And, too, the flitter Prince Ryuu piloted could easily run a man down and fry him into ash. Only a dragon would have any hope of escaping the clutches of the Arethuza Empire. He sighed, then climbed into the vehicle.

“Glad you could join me,” Ryuu said sardonically.

Drakon pressed his lips together as the canopy slid closed above his head. Now was not the time to lose his temper. The leather seats and fresh air that immediately filtered into the small compartment was more luxury than he’d experienced in years. He tried not to feel bitter about what Prince Ryuu’s father had done to his people, the Soutx, but it was difficult.

“Do you have a name?”

Drakon looked at his captor, still silent.

Ryuu frowned. “I can simply call you, ‘Slave,’ if you wish.” His silver eyes appeared darker within the filtered light of the flitter.

“Drakon,” he blurted out before he could stop himself. His face burned and he once again fought down anger. The Soutx, the People of the Dragon, weren’t slaves. Drakon would never truly be any man’s property, regardless of the chains and whippings he might endure.

“Ah,” Ryuu said mildly, just when Drakon thought the prince would rebuke him for his tone.

The flitter lifted from the sand and sped to the west, toward the crystal fields. Drakon stared through the glass, wondering what torment he’d brought upon himself.