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Authors: Lorenda Christensen

Never Deal with Dragons

BOOK: Never Deal with Dragons
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Never Deal with Dragons
By Lorenda Christensen

Consoling a sobbing dragon and serving pig buffets are just
part of the job for Myrna Banks. Working for a mediation firm, it’s her job to
get humans compensated for damages caused by the dragons who now rule. But her
“typical” day is interrupted by Trian Chobardan, an old flame who sneaked out of
her bed two years ago, taking her heart and a handful of classified documents
with him.

Myrna would love to show Trian the door, but he’s been sent
by North America’s reigning dragon lord for help negotiating a truce with a
powerful rival to avert war. Myrna agrees to help, even though she’ll be stuck
with Trian as a partner.

As the two work together, Myrna finds Trian to be
surprisingly supportive—and still irresistibly attractive. Though her brain
tells her not to forget his betrayal, her body feels differently. When they
learn the enemy dragon lord is planning something no one could have imagined,
Myrna has to learn who she can trust before she loses not only her heart, but
her life.

84,000 words

Dear Reader,

Welcome to our July lineup of books! If I’m not on the beach somewhere while you’re reading this, there’s something wrong with life (unless you’re reading this in December—in which case, I hope I’m by a fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa in my hand). But no matter where you are while you’re reading this, I can tell you one thing: you’re in for a treat. (Sure, I say that every month, but it’s always true!) This month brings a fun mix of returning authors and debut authors, with fun, contemporary beach reads, some troublesome dragons, a few steps back in time, and characters in a race against time and a fight for their lives.

Let’s kick off with the perfect beach read. Make sure you pick up Christi Barth’s
Love at High Tide.
Beach reading doesn’t get much better than this. It starts with a beach rescue, continues with a beach romance, and has sun, sand, sexual tension and two characters you will love.

Maybe the beach isn’t your thing in the summer, but baseball is. Take a peek at Alison Packard’s
The Winning Season.
After hitting rock bottom, bad-boy catcher Matt Scanlon is traded to the team he’s loathed since boyhood, and he must confront a painful incident in his past before he can rebuild his life
and
his career. Once you’ve fallen in love with Matt, go back and read Alison’s debut romance,
Love in the Afternoon.

Continuing in the contemporary romance genre, we have party planner Tess, who can’t believe that hotel manager Jeremy could possibly be interested in her. She’s everyone’s BFF, not friends-with-benefits material. But he’s got more than friendship on his mind in Kate Davies’s
Life of the Party
, book three in the Girls Most Likely to... series.

Maybe you like your romance with a side of suspense? If so, check out Anne Marie Becker’s
Deadly Bonds
, and
Betrayed by Trust
from Ana Barrons. Two romantic suspense books, four characters in fights for their lives.

Or maybe you like your romance with a large helping of sexy times? If so, Lynda Aicher’s
Bonds of Desire
is the book for you. Lawyer Allison English never planned to return to The Den—despite her naughty fantasies about being bound by owner Seth Matthews. But when club guest Tyler Wysong is injured in a scene, Seth turns to Allie for help. Aroused by both men, Allie should turn the case down. But she can’t...

Joining Lynda in the erotic romance category this month are two male/male titles. First up is
His Roommate’s Pleasure
by Lana McGregor. Adam had no idea that his jock roommate was gay—and into leashes, paddles, and domination. And Adam, an inexperienced virgin who’s only ever kissed one guy, is surprised to find himself curious about submitting... Then Samantha Ann King returns with the follow-up to her debut romance,
Sharing Hailey.
In
Waiting for Ty
, too many beers and four long years of denying their feelings for each other thrust two men together in a lip-lock and a night of no-holds-barred sex that forces them to confront their greatest love and their deepest fears.

In
Sky Hunter
, the third and final installment of Fae Sutherland’s male/male space opera romance series, Skybound, the
Crux Ansata
’s brash and rebellious ship mechanic, Jeret, finds himself face-to-face with a dangerous past he never thought to revisit—and the only man he has never been able to forget.

Looking for more books in the paranormal category? Start with Ruth A. Casie’s
The Guardian’s Witch
and
Desperate Magic
by Rebecca York. And for fans of historical romance, in Georgie Lee’s
Hero’s Redemption
, a widow and a war hero brought together by a scheme must learn to trust one another and accept the tragedy that links them in order to find love. Meanwhile, historical romance author Susanna Fraser, who can always be counted on to deliver a unique and unusual historical romance, returns with
A
Dream Defiant
, in which a black British soldier marries a beautiful English war widow, but he can’t believe she wants him for himself, and not merely as her bodyguard and protector.

This month Carina Press is pleased to announce three debut authors. Mystery author Patricia Hale will grip you by the throat with her suspenseful story of retribution,
In the Shadow of Revenge.
As children they witnessed horror and created a pact, as women they planned their revenge and waited.

Also debuting this month is Reese Ryan, with
Making the First Move.
When ambitious HR exec Melanie Gordon falls for sweet, sexy philanthropist Raine Mason, she discovers that his selflessness is driven by a dark and tragic secret that threatens to keep them apart.

And joining Carina Press with her Golden Heart–winning paranormal romance is debut author Lorenda Christensen. Fans of Katie MacAlister’s Aisling Grey and Light Dragons series will want to check this one out, and so will any fans of fun paranormal romances featuring dragons and heroines with a bit of backbone. In
Never Deal with Dragons
, the first in a new series, a human mediator bites off more than she can chew when she agrees to partner with an ex-boyfriend to stop a war between two dragon monarchs.

I hope you enjoy all of this month’s new releases. There’s certainly a variety to choose from, to keep you occupied no matter what your summer (or winter) activity.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

For Rachel Bruesch Morton, because you loaned me a Jude Deveraux novel on the bus and changed my life forever.

Acknowledgements

My name may be on the cover of this thing, but I certainly wasn’t the only one pouring hours of work into making Myrna and Trian’s story the best it could be. To the people who read the really rough draft versions—Catherine, Andy and Mom—thanks for not giving up in the middle and telling me to stick with my day job.

Thanks to Pam V. at Foreword Lit for your help navigating the wonderful world of publishing and for being a sounding board for my ridiculous and oh-so-random ideas. Special thanks to the entire Carina team, especially Alison, for providing spot-on advice on how to improve the world of DRACIM; Angela, for sticking with me through rounds of edits until everything was in its proper place; and Brooke, who made me realize I would never cut it as a copy editor.

Lillie and E, you are the best.

A shout-out to the Firebirds, my co-finalists in the 2012 RWA® Golden Heart® Awards. You have been a main source of laughter and support during this wild and crazy ride. All of you are Awesomesauce!

And last but not least, my husband, Jason, who dunked the kids in soapy water occasionally and subsisted on popcorn and beef jerky while I wrote the book. Someday I will cook for you. I promise.

Chapter One

It’s amazing how often my day starts with a three-legged dragon and an enraged dairy farmer. I stood, clad in a set of knee-high muck boots and a brand new pencil skirt, and tried to restore some order to my first appointment of the day, an encounter involving a very hungry dragon and the dairy farmer whose cattle had been unfortunate enough to be within grabbing distance at meal time.

“It was j-j-just a l-little sn-sn-snack!! My doctor’s appointment took way l-longer than it was supposed to and I was h-h-hungry!” The floor literally shook with the dragon’s sobs. Isiwyth Armatoth, lovely purple dragon and niece of our nation’s dragon lord, balanced atop a thick wooden beam that served as the room’s sole dragon perch. Her birdlike claws contracted rhythmically with tension as she tried to explain herself through tear-induced hiccups. Mrs. Isiwyth Armatoth was a mess.

And so was my office. The cattle hadn’t all hit the floor when Isiwyth lost her lunch. Instead, their mangled remains had landed dead center of my sturdy wooden desk, and were currently dripping a mixture of saliva, blood and stomach acid onto the small space heater I used to warm my toes while riffling through paperwork. The noxious fumes were probably permeating the entire building at this point.

My coworkers loved me.

While her hind legs made kindling out of my office furniture, her front legs waved wildly to punctuate her sobs. Well, her front
leg.
The other one was missing, thanks to the farmer’s skill with game traps. I shifted slightly onto my toes so I’d be ready when I had to move fast. Isiwyth’s claw had started to heal quite nicely, but I still had to dodge the spatters of blood she sent sailing with each gesture. And I had to do it discreetly. In a pencil skirt and muck boots.

I waited until the volume of her tears had dropped from deafening to loud, and then pulled out my most professional tone of voice. “Mrs. Armatoth, we understand. I can only imagine how much energy it takes to keep those two dragonlings healthy and growing. When did you say they were due again?” The doctor’s appointment that had kept Isiwyth from her normal lunch was a checkup on the two tiny dragons stretching her already enormous stomach.

The purple dragon sniffled once more, but stopped crying. “Next month. I have the ultrasound photos if you’d like to see.” Her gorgeous green eyes gazed into mine, judging the sincerity of my interest.

I smiled widely. “Absolutely.” Anything to get Isiwyth’s mind off her injured claw. The dragon giggled, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently even expectant mothers loved talking about their children, and Isiwyth was no exception.

As Isiwyth dug around for the prints in a large satchel strapped to her side, I dropped the smile and arranged my face into a more serious expression before I turned to the room’s other occupant. Switching from dragonspeak to English, I laid a hand on the farmer’s shoulder. “Mr. Sompston. I’m so sorry about today’s events. Would you mind telling me exactly what happened?” I’d managed to piece together quite a bit from Isiwyth’s sobbing monologue, but it was never a bad idea to hear both sides of the story.

Mr. Sompston raised his face from his hands and met my eyes. “Annabelle! She ate my Annabelle!” With those words, Mr. Sompston promptly broke down in tears that nearly rivaled the dragon’s.

I blinked. This wasn’t good. From his stony-eyed expression upon their arrival, I’d assumed the dairy farmer was simply irritated at the loss of his cattle and impatient to hammer out the details of the compensation he was due for the consumption of his stock. I didn’t realize someone had been killed. Here at DRACIM, officially known as Dragon Relations, Arbitration, and Cooperative Interspecies Mediation, property loss was one of the more common cases we handled, especially here in Reparations, the department where I was employed. But if Mrs. Armatoth had indeed eaten Annabelle, I needed to get the legal team in here.

I cleared my throat. “Excuse me—did you say Mrs. Armatoth ate someone named Annabelle? Was this your wife?”

Mr. Sompston wiped his nose and frowned up at me. “Of course not. I’m not married.” Once more his eyes welled with tears, but he dashed a hand over his face and visibly composed himself. “Annabelle was my baby. I raised her after her mama died giving birth. I bottle-fed her from my own kitchen floor.”

From his own kitchen what?
And then it came to me.

“Mr. Sompston, are you saying Annabelle was a pet?”

The farmer glared at me from bloodshot eyes. I was obviously not displaying the appropriate level of outrage. “Annabelle was more than a pet. She may have been a cow, but she was family. And that thing—” he pointed to Isiwyth, who was waiting patiently with ultrasound photos in hand, “—gobbled her up like she was nothing more than an appetizer. I wish that trap of mine had taken her head instead of an arm.” He glanced at my desk, where parts of Annabelle still dripped to the floor, and lost it completely, his chest heaving with the effort to suck in enough air for the sounds of despair rolling from his mouth.

I sighed. No one could accuse my life of being glamorous. In fact, on days like today, it was downright annoying. Especially when this entire mess should have belonged to my boss, were he in the habit of arriving on time for work. But Emory, as usual, had yet to make an appearance.

My name is Myrna Banks, and I’m a dragonspeaker. And today’s little scene was what I handled for a living.

When a dragon was caught on film as she flew over Portugal shortly before the end of World War III, humans’ belief in the superiority of their race was rocked to the core. Human armies quickly redirected their focus from bombing each other to the goal of eliminating these interlopers. The massive creatures possessing the ability to completely take over our planet suddenly seemed more important than oil rights or religious disagreements.

Most historians agree that World War III officially ended when the charge to kill dragons began.

Scientists managed to gather enough data to infer the dragons had actually been created by humans—more specifically they found it was some doctor in a research facility who tripped over a massive unforeseen by-product of genetic splicing in an effort to cure cancer.

The doctor did manage to cure cancer—but he also mixed up the human DNA with that of some particularly hardy reptiles in a few hundred test tubes. With cancer cured and his research project complete, he hopped on a plane to accept his Nobel Prize in Medicine and left an underpaid assistant to dispose of his earlier test subjects.

The assistant tossed all the tubes into an in-house incineration unit and voila, after a three-year incubation period, dragons were born.

It was ten years before the humans figured out what happened, and meanwhile the dragon race had been happily breeding. By the time of the Portugal photo incident, there were thousands of them. Completely freaked out by the new life-forms, humans quickly tried to eradicate the dragons.

However, on top of their growing numbers, the creatures were practically unstoppable. Impervious to the effects of a vast majority of our weapons—nuclear or otherwise—dragons had seated themselves firmly at the top of the food chain. The human race had been in real danger of becoming extinct.

Until dragonspeakers were found.

Only a few humans were able to turn a series of dragon snorts, huffs, and smoke streams into something approximating a human linguistic pattern. One such individual, Joseph Green, managed to persuade some of the political higher-ups to give him a chance to negotiate with the dragons. His attempt proved successful, and he was able to hammer out an agreement with them that not only stopped the war, but provided humans a set of guidelines that protected our well-being and livelihood.

Joseph, with the full approval of the remaining world governments, proceeded to install an office of dragonspeakers near the cities around the world where the seven original dragons decided to settle. Thus the birth of the DRACIM empire.

I worked in the Tulsa DRACIM office, in the middle of the North American dragon lord’s territory. Five years ago, I’d honed my talent with as many books as I could get my hands on, finished college, and then I’d applied for a job. Today, I was still waiting for an opportunity to move out of the business of vomit cleanup and into the more glamorous position of arbitrator.

Which, granted, still involved an inordinate amount of vomit cleanup, but at least I’d get a pay hike, new boss and fancy nameplate hung outside my door. As Emory’s assistant, I’d been doing all of his arbitration work anyway. It would be nice to have a set of business cards giving me credit for my trouble.

Unfortunately, today was not shaping up to be that day. I pinched the bridge of my nose and willed my headache to subside. Isiwyth had long since tired of my conversation with Mr. Sompston—I’d been too busy panicking about dead wives to translate—and she was currently using one of my pencils to pick her teeth. Her actions only served as a reminder to Mr. Sompston that his favorite dairy cow was now a hamburger. His understated sobs morphed into outright wailing.

So of course my boss chose that moment to open my office door.

“What the hell is going on in here?” Emory shot me a look that was a mixture of shock and annoyance. His gaze absorbed the chaos of the room, and I knew things were about to get interesting when he placed himself behind my desk and hitched his pants up an inch or so under his round belly. The move was his “sheriff’s stance” and it signaled that he was about to start barking orders. I hustled to reach his side, knowing that Emory’s particular brand of “mediation”—an odd mixture of complete nonsense coupled with an alarming number of derogatory slurs on dragonkind in general—was the last thing we needed here.

To this day I’m still not sure how Emory managed to land his job. He wasn’t a dragonspeaker, which was rare enough here at DRACIM, but on top of that fact, he didn’t even like dragons. More than once he’d referred to their species as “those filthy beasts” when speaking to his coworkers, and more than half of my job was trying to find creative ways to translate his words into something the dragons wouldn’t want to kill us over during arbitration.

I’d heard rumors that Emory had some political buddies who managed to wheel and deal him into DRACIM management, but I’d never found actual proof. His continued presence with the organization was one of life’s great mysteries. The majority of individuals lucky enough to interact with dragons on a daily basis realized that most of them were pretty lovable if you could ignore their penchant for loud roaring and very raw food.

Speaking of raw food...

I’d managed to make it halfway across the room when my rubber-soled muck boots hit a slick spot on the floor. My arms windmilled wildly as I attempted to do the impossible and stay upright. Just when I’d given up any chance of saving my skirt from the same blood-covered fate as my blouse, I felt a hand on my shoulder and another against my lower back.

“Easy there,” a male voice drawled.

My heart stopped. I knew that voice.

“Hello, sugar. Long time no see.”

“Trian.” I spat his name from my mouth like a rotten apple and struggled to loosen his grip.

A year ago, I’d felt myself privileged to hear that smooth rumble near my ear while snuggled in my bed during a particularly cold December. A year ago, I’d been happily dreaming of an engagement ring for our one-year anniversary. And a year ago he’d disappeared from my life without a word, taking some very sensitive work papers with him, and dooming me to who knew how many more years under the incompetent management of Emory.

Before, there’d been no question I was on the fast track with my chosen profession. With my specialized training—I’d studied all the dragon history DRACIM had available, and knew more about international dragon politics than anyone in the building—I was jumping rungs on the career ladder.

Until Trian.

When he’d stolen my paperwork, I’d panicked. DRACIM had a strict confidentiality clause. Technically, we weren’t even supposed to bring work papers home with us, though Emory usually looked the other way so long as it helped his department meet productivity standards. But if he knew I’d more or less handed DRACIM information to a member of the public? I’d have been out of here faster than you could say unemployed idiot.

So I’d lied, and told Emory I’d accidentally tossed the papers during one of my semiannual apartment purges. I still don’t know whether Emory was really mad, or whether he saw my mistake as the perfect opportunity to make his life easier, but he’d immediately announced my demotion to the entire staff. Instead of being the lead arbitrator of his Reparations department, Emory installed me as his “administrative assistant.” I’d been stuck under his thumb ever since.

When both feet were flat on the floor, I turned to face him, and had just enough time to note he was still drop-dead gorgeous. He was also amused and absolutely clean. There wasn’t even a speck of bodily fluid on his obviously expensive suit. The fact did not improve my mood.

“What the hell are you doing here?” The farmer looked up at my exclamation, and I gave him a harried smile.

I turned back to Trian. I didn’t know why he was here or how he’d managed to find me in the building, and I didn’t care. When he’d left, I’d cried for a week straight. Then, with the help of my roommate, Carol, I’d picked myself up off the floor and said good riddance to the lying bastard.

At the time, I swore I never wanted to see him again. And now, staring into his grinning face, I realized my feelings hadn’t changed in the slightest.

“Today’s a business trip for me, sugar.”

My hand itched to slap him. How dare he assume I’d allow him to waltz into my place of business like we were on friendly terms? When Trian took those documents, Emory forced me to disclose the loss to the DRACIM oversight board. DRACIM’s upper management had been understandably concerned when the oversight board told them about the loss. They’d wholeheartedly approved of my demotion. Since then, I’d been Emory’s virtual slave, fetching cups of coffee and managing his entire department while my former peers watched me with pitying eyes

BOOK: Never Deal with Dragons
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