Awakened by Fire Dragons of Bloodfire 2

Awakened by Fire cover

Get lost in a world of danger, secrets, and desire in the newest installment of bestselling author Erin Kellison's action-packed Dragons of Bloodfire series.

Billionaire dragon shifter and Bloodkin Triad member Warrick Voclain is no stranger to power. But when his trusted steward's beautiful granddaughter—all grown up and successful in her own right—seems to be using illegal magic in his presence, he is thrown for a loop. And the fact that she's doing so to protect him? Alarming.

Samantha Vine needs to stay under the radar, or her secret gift will get her and her granddad killed. She didn't intend for her quick visit home to stretch into weeks in Warrick's company, but anyone striking at Warrick would also hurt her granddad. Only she has the ability to see what's coming…though she'll need Warrick's help to stop it.

The use of such magic is punishable by death, and Warrick's position on the Triad requires that he adhere to the rule of law. But the attraction between them is electric, stirring his blood and straining his control.

Adversaries wait in every shadow, and the easiest way to strike down a powerful dragon is to go for the heart...in Warrick's case, Samantha. With fire and blood, he'll reshape the world into one that's safe for her. And those that don't bend to his will? They will burn.

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Information

  • Awakened by Fire is book two in the Dragons of Bloodfire series
  • Release Date: May 15, 2016

Excerpt from Awakened by Fire

CHAPTER ONE

Samantha Vine lengthened her stride along the wide corridor from her flight's gate to airport security, an unexpected mix of nostalgia and anticipation rising in her chest. The walk shook out the kinks from the four hours in the cramped airplane seat. Her garment bag with the hideous bridesmaid dress was folded over a forearm, her overnight bag slung over her shoulder.

Following a straggling family, she approached security's Exit Only sign and resisted the urge to turn back. First, her cousin's wedding tonight, and then as soon as she could get in a nice, long chat with her grandfather, she was catching a plane back to Arizona. He wouldn't be offended; he was the one who'd taught her it wasn't safe for her here.

The vast, echoing atrium outside Concourse B was busy. She scraped her gaze around for the familiar dark hair, gray eyes, and perfect posture under a black wool coat. A smattering of people waited for travelers opposite concourse security, while others lined up at the coffee shop off to the left, and a few more maneuvered their rolling suitcases onto the down escalator.

Her grandfather was nothing if not punctual: the deeply ingrained habit of a Bloodkin steward, the dragon's right hand man.

Someone moved toward her, and he was smiling.

She blinked in surprise, her memory tripping backward in time. Milton. She hadn't seen or spoken to him in what...? Seven years. He served the old dragon, Maude Voclain, whereas Samantha's grandfather attended Maude's son, Warrick Voclain, aka Big Cheese among the Bloodkin.

Milton's lack of aging put his appearance closer to her twenty-five than what she knew had to be near sixty. He was fair, clean-shaven, with a perfectly tailored blue suit under a tan overcoat. Humans weren't meant to have extended lives, but if a dragon had good help like Milton, they weren't going to let a little thing like time wear him away. Her grandfather was barely middle-aged at one hundred and thirty.

"I could've taken a shuttle," she said, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. He was family, sort of. All the household staff was family, if not by blood, then by long association. And the dragons, Maude and Warrick, were benevolent masters. "You didn't have to go out of your way."

"Of course I did." Milton smiled warmly and briefly embraced her. "Mr. Voclain couldn't part with your grandfather this morning."

She was disappointed, but not surprised. "They must have their hands full these days."

Milton nodded. The Bloodkin Triad had recently lost one of its governing members, Godric Tredan, in a fiery battle that had been all over the news. The shake-up was bound to create a ton of work for Warrick, which meant her grandfather would be very busy, too.

"Well, thank you so much for coming. You can catch me up on all the wedding details." She paused. "The wedding is still going forward...?"

She should've called to make sure. The Triad upset would impact everything. A wedding among the household staff wouldn't be a priority.

Milton took both her garment and shoulder bags, and they started for the airport exit. "Oh, yes, yes. We carry on. Of course, security has been increased, and Mr. Voclain has brought his business back to the main house today to reduce exposure."

Warrick usually stayed at his penthouse in the city; his mother Maude kept the Voclain house in Greenwich, where the wedding was being held.

"So I might get to see Granddad after all."

"In passing, perhaps."

The message was clear, and she didn't resent it. Her grandfather had to attend to Warrick until such time as his assistance was no longer required. And then she could have her reunion. In the meantime, she'd just have to jump in and help out where she could. Do her grandfather proud.

"So, uh, how are you these days?" She hated small talk. "Looking good, I must say." Dragon blood had that effect.

"I now manage all of Lady Voclain's affairs, including the accounting of her hoard."

Samantha smiled at hearing lady again after so long. But then Maude had been born in a place and time where titles were a thing. Her son, Warrick, one of the most powerful of today's Bloodkin, had gone with the more modern and American mister.

There were very few people to whom Milton could boast—Bloodkin were vicious about privacy—so Samantha opened her eyes wide to show how impressed she was. "She must really trust you."

Milton's chest puffed a bit as he walked. "Yes, she does. And how are you?"

"Oh. I'm good. Working." Always working. "I went into creative tech. I design apps."

"You have your own company."

Samantha smiled. It seemed her grandfather had kept everyone up to date. "I have two partners who help me." Ryan and Jessica. "We're still starting out. We've only launched a couple—"

"Oh, everyone at Voclain has your apps. The Photo Op is a particular favorite. Lady Voclain even asked me to put it on her mobile."

Lady Maude Voclain, a Bloodkin Red, had her photo app?

Samantha felt her face flush, her eyes pricking. Bad Granddad. She was going to have to scold him...in between hugs. How was she supposed to keep a low profile if he was talking her up?

"Tell me about the groom. Nicholas, right? How did Peggy meet him?"

During the drive to the Voclain family seat, Milton filled her in. Nicholas served a Bloodkin family of green dragons, the Horaks, so Peggy's fiancé was marrying way, way up by being welcomed into a red dragon's household. The young man would be Milton's secretary. A nice start, with upward mobility. And yet it could be a century before he or any of his posterity ever served Maude directly.

Such was the life of Bloodkin staff.

They went north on Birch Hollow Road and broke off onto a long drive that took them past a private lake on the twenty-seven-acre estate owned by the Voclains.

The twisting, hilly lay of the land, surrounded by fluttering trees with early yellow and orange fall leaves, was at once familiar and strange compared to the flat, red, cactus-spotted desert of sunny Phoenix. It felt like she was going backward in time to her childhood, when she'd lived in a fantasy world where royalty and magic and dragons were as close as the main Voclain house...into which she'd often snuck to explore.

But she was all grown up now, her illusions stripped away. The Bloodkin world was dangerous, its magic dark. She knew people who'd been burned.

The grand main structure of an American castle broke through the trees ahead. She couldn't spot any guards, but they would be stationed all around the perimeter, and with the Triad in upheaval, their numbers would be greater.

Stone turrets jutted upward as the wings of the house bent forward around a courtyard as if in an embrace. At its center was a large fountain occupied by voluptuous and aloof marble women bearing tipped pitchers, from which splashed cool, clear water. Years ago, when she was a kid, Samantha had once seen those pitchers pour leaping, liquid fire. She'd been locked in an upper room of the main house while her grandfather had waited upon Warrick. Scary night.

Milton drove around the house to the cul-de-sac at the back, where a florist's truck was being unloaded. A sleek, black Jaguar sedan was parked beyond it. Three people had just risen from the interior and were looking over to see who'd pulled in behind them.

The Jag had to be a Voclain car, parking in back as a security measure. Samantha squinted to see the Bloodkin Warrick, Lady Voclain, and...

Granddad. A smile was just breaking over his face, and she could feel a matching one on hers. He looked just the same. Handsome in an imperfect, human way. And yes, he was wearing his black coat.

"Perfect timing," Milton said.

Samantha was out of the car before Milton had pulled the parking brake. Her grandfather rounded the Jag, arms open. And like the girl she'd been when she'd left, she ran into them.

"Hello, princess," he said against her hair.

He felt so good, the pressure of his hug just tight enough to take her breath. And he smelled like love. It was his spicy aftershave and soap. But still, love.

She stepped back, suddenly self-conscious. She'd been home only thirty seconds, and already she was forgetting protocol. Dragons first. Dragons always first.

Next to her grandfather stood Warrick Voclain, a tall, broad...well, dragon of a man, and the subject of her intense pubescent fantasies. He had black, glossy hair, cut trim, and green eyes, startling under his dark brow. A hard jaw set off the dimple in his chin. She'd only ever seen him in suits, but her imagination had long ago supplied detailed renderings of his body. It really wasn't fair for any human girl to grow up near a dragon lord.

He'd been cutting quite the dynamic figure lately in the news since Godric Tredan's death—not that Warrick had made a statement to the media or anything. Bloodkin didn't do that. But the cameras did love him.

His mother, Maude Voclain, had a kind of old Hollywood beauty, no soft focus necessary. Her thick, deep auburn hair waved to her shoulders. Her green eyes were a little swampier in color than her son's. She had an extravagantly curvy figure not quite camouflaged by her conservative style in clothing. No feature taken individually suggested age, and yet she had an aura of centuries about her. Lady Voclain might not look old, but she felt it.

Eyes downcast and heart booming, Samantha said, "Lady Voclain, please forgive—"

"Oh, tut. So good to see you again, Sammy." Lady Voclain embraced her.

Samantha went stiff with surprise—a dragon had her in its clutches—and then Lady Voclain pulled back.

"Welcome home, Sammy," Warrick said in his low-low voice, and she was relieved when he kept his distance.

Samantha bobbed her head in an awkward nod-curtsy. "It's so nice to be back."

Their attention made her squirm. Time to make an escape. Her gaze shifted to her grandfather. "I know you're busy right now. Don't worry about me. I'll just help out in the kitchen."

"Oh, good God, please no," Lady Voclain said.

Her grandfather laughed, and Warrick's mouth twitched.

Samantha was confused for a second and then, recalling the incident, her face burned. She was shocked they would bring it up now. "I was twelve."

"My dear," Lady Voclain said, "in dragon years, that's yesterday. Now whenever anyone uses an open flame, Caroline warns them not to ‘Sammy' anything."

Her name had become a verb. "I was that bad, huh?"

Lady Voclain smiled at her. "Not at all." Then she looked over at Samantha's grandfather. "Thomas, take the time you need."

Lady Voclain and Warrick started for the house, but Samantha wasn't ready to breathe a sigh of relief. Tomorrow, when her return flight touched down in Phoenix, she could. Not until then.

Her grandfather bent his head toward her, his gaze intense. "It's a dangerous time."

It was a fitting statement for the current situation among the Bloodkin, but he meant that it was dangerous for her. Yes, she understood. She was always at risk, but with the sudden, increased pressure on the Triad, the additional guards hiding throughout the Voclain property, and the interest she'd provoke simply by coming home, she was even more so.

"Don't worry about me. I'll stay out of trouble." She was here for appearances only. If she'd turned down Peggy's request, said that she couldn't be a bridesmaid, the family would've wondered. The dragons might have wondered. Better to show up, smile, and then disappear again.

"I know you will." He kissed her forehead. "I've missed you so much, and I can't wait to catch up tonight—"

"Oh, Sammy?" Lady Voclain called, turning back.

"Yes, my lady?" Samantha answered immediately. She sounded like staff already.

"This evening, after the wedding, you will attend the blood ceremony."

Samantha was momentarily confounded. The blood ceremony was an intimate ritual that sealed a human to a Bloodkin household, in this case, Peggy's fiancé Nicholas to the Voclains. The dragons only invited those whom they trusted with their lives. It was a tremendous honor. Samantha could understand her grandfather attending, yes, but she'd left this world. There could be no confusion on that point. She'd left. She wasn't staying.

Her gaze flitted from person to person to gauge how best to respond. Milton had gone stony. She guessed he hadn't been invited. Warrick Voclain had assumed his usual distant reserve. She could throw a pebble at his face, and it'd just bounce off. Her grandfather had gone still, his hand on her back suddenly applying pressure. Danger.

Yeah, no kidding. "I'm honored, my lady, but I don't think—"

"I do think," Lady Voclain answered. "You will attend. And welcome home."

***

Warrick checked his watch as he took the steps into the house. The preparations for the wedding were located mainly in the kitchens and the lower hall, which opened out onto the lawns. The main part of the house was quiet and cold; the household staff was always very careful not to intrude, even on occasions when they would be forgiven.

Most Bloodkin were difficult if not brutal to their human staff. The Voclains were of the mind that generosity was more effective at sustaining a long-term relationship; generations of the Vine family had served the Voclain dragons for over five hundred years.

Case in point: the dragons Voclain would provide for and celebrate the wedding of one of their kitchen staff, Peggy Vine, and they would give her a comfortable home, nice things, security, and the promise of an extended, healthy life. In so doing, Peggy's children and her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren would also likely serve the Voclains. That was the theory behind the Vines' service anyway. The truth was, the Vines were like family.

Occasionally, one struck out into the world on their own, as Sammy had when she'd come of age. The dragon part of him hadn't liked to let go—the pang of the loss was still there—though he'd never been directly involved in her life, as his mother had. It was good of Sammy to come home, if only to visit. She'd grown into quite a woman. He was glad she still had the smattering of pale freckles across her face: twelve of them at his last count seven years ago when she'd left; nineteen now because of the sunny Arizona skies.

As he strode through the hallway, Warrick listened for Thomas.

"I usually sleep in the main house now," Thomas was saying to her. His heartbeat had accelerated, but then, of course, he'd be happy to see his granddaughter again. "Find out from your aunt where she's putting me, and stow your things there."

"Okay," Sammy said. "Take your time. I'll catch up with Peg." She laughed. "And I'll do my best not to set anything on fire." Her heartbeat was rapid, as well. It had leapt in panic when his mother had extended the invitation to the blood ceremony.

Warrick let himself smile fully. After Sammy's little mishap years ago, the kitchen had been renovated from the stone and mortar, and this was a dragon's lair, as near impervious to fire as a place could get.

He'd planned to go back to the city tonight—go over the contracts for the Sat-X deal in the peace of his penthouse—but he'd forgotten that she was coming home. Yes, Thomas would want time with her. Warrick could endure a night in the same household as his mother to give his steward that. The coming weeks would be difficult and, as Thomas had just said to Samantha, dangerous.

Upon his entry into the study, Warrick's gaze immediately fell upon a small gilt chest encrusted with jewels, sitting upon a table customarily occupied by a fresh arrangement of flowers. It was a pretty box, especially with the sunlight making it glow.

A growl of appreciation rolled up his throat. A treasure like that belonged under lock and key. Wealth shouldn't be on display, especially with guests in the house. The box should be in a cool, dark place.

If there were gold and rubies on the outside of the box, then what, he wondered, might be on the inside? He was tempted to touch it. His fingers—dragon claws threatening to emerge—itched to do just that, but...no. The Voclain house was his mother's principal residence. This treasure was hers.

But he admired the glitter until his mother entered and the study door closed. First things first. "Mother, you will not pressure Sammy to come back to us. Leave her alone."

"You saw her with Thomas," she said, her yellowing gaze sliding toward the chest, her own dragon peeking out. Her tone went a little distracted. "Peas in a pod. She loves him, and I haven't seen him smile like that in years. Since she left, probably."

What game was his mother playing? Inviting Sammy to the blood ceremony had clearly made her uncomfortable. Thomas had been alarmed, and Milton had been insulted.

"Sammy has her own life," Warrick said. Thomas had kept him apprised over the years—when she'd graduated college and started a business. Her recent successes. Thomas's pride had been evident in every word. She'd done well for herself. Warrick was proud of her, too.

One of the last clear memories he had of her was...of her standing before him, fists clenched in fury. I'm not afraid of you! She'd been a teenager, her blond hair darker, her eyes made dramatic with heavy black eye makeup. Nine popping freckles then. She'd been indignantly telling him off for working her grandfather too much. Trust Thomas to raise a girl with spark. Of course, she wouldn't want to stay in one place, serving someone else's whims. Longevity and comfort weren't always a good trade for independence.

The matter settled, Warrick glanced back to the chest. His dragon's interest made his collar feel a little pinched. The house too hot. His skin too tight. The ruby on top had to be five carats at least.

What if there was something dangerous inside? With the Triad's recent loss, extra precautions had to be taken. In which case, if only for his mother's safety, he really ought to investigate.

His mother's chin tilted to the side coyly, her gaze narrowing. "Is that for me?" Her voice dropped to a dragon's rumble of pleasure. "Did you bring your mother a prezzie?"

Oh. The box wasn't hers?

"I did not." Perhaps Thomas had it delivered here. In which case, the chest was most definitely safe to touch. Warrick kept the toothy grin from stretching across his face in anticipation. "Shall we investigate?"

Two dragons approached a small gold chest built for one. What could go wrong?

He inclined his head for his mother to go ahead—a demonstration of his self-control. She wrinkled her nose in pleasure, took a breath, and purred as she cracked the lid.

The gold parted as the top swung open. A set of jade statuettes was nestled in the red velvet that lined the box, a crisp white envelope on top. The name printed across it in black ink read, Warrick Voclain.

Well, then. It was his.

His mother made a sound of disappointment as he picked up the envelope and breathed on one narrow edge. The paper singed perfectly—he'd had a lot of practice before the advent of email—and he pinched the long sides to extract the letter within.

His mother stepped back and paced to the window to look out on the back lawns.

The letter was from Alfeo Alinari. He was coming up to New York with his daughter Miranda, and he wondered if Warrick was free for dinner.

Warrick looked at the chest again. The pieces had been carefully selected—twin dragons, one white, one pale green, both from what looked to be the Yuan Dynasty. The semi-translucent figures were intricately carved with flower stems encircling the dragons' claws.

This was an overture.

"Sammy is loyal," his mother said petulantly.

Pouting? At her age?

Warrick brought his attention up from the letter, his dragon hot in his eyes. "She has her own business," he said. "She doesn't want to serve."

Some pretty things a dragon couldn't keep.

"She's loyal."

"And I'm loyal to Thomas, who also doesn't want her to serve." To end the topic altogether, he lifted the letter to catch his mother's attention. "What do you think of Alinari?"

His mother's gaze shifted back to the chest, and he knew she was calculating the value. By his estimation, the chest alone was worth no less than a couple hundred thousand. An elegant gesture.

"I'm guessing he suggests a union with his daughter Miranda."

"Dinner for now," Warrick said. But yes, that was what he'd thought, as well. Miranda was only slightly older than he by...twenty years? The age was right.

"Are you in the mood to marry?"

He hadn't planned on it anytime soon, especially with the Sat-X negotiations taking longer than expected. It took years to design and build the satellites, to plan and negotiate the launch and orbital planes, and to get the final licenses from the FCC and FAA/AST. But marriage now made sense. Alinari was one of Godric Tredan's contemporaries. The old guard. Most of them had moved on to Havyn, but those who remained were influential. Like ancient trees, their roots went deep.

This could be a move for stability. A union of the old and the young in the midst of the Bloodkin Triad selection process to replace Tredan...

Yes. This was worth a dinner.

Besides, Warrick was a hundred and fifty-four. Perhaps it was time he settled down. Found a companion.

His mother tilted her head. "I could hold on to the chest for you. Keep it safe."

Keep it...?

He heated again, his spine arching just enough to challenge the threads of his finely tailored suit. He was two minutes home and already they were quibbling. He'd be leaving in the early morning with Thomas, or he'd go mad stuck in this house with her. "No, thank you. I can manage."