PIECE OF SHIFTER by Laurel Chase
The Ringmaster is coming… to steal me away.
For years, my odd ability to manipulate others kept me one step ahead of the Underbelly Circus – a place nobody like me lives through.
Everything goes to hell when a gorgeous stranger dies right in front of me, resurrects himself as a dragon, and begs me to follow him straight into the Underbelly beast.
He claims I’m the lost Qilin Queen – a magical freaking unicorn.
I can smell the truth in his words, and he’s desperate. How can I help him, if he works for my greatest enemy?
The answer comes barreling into my world when his brothers-in-arms find me, too – lion shifter, mage, fae, merman, and vampire.
They’re all from a magical world beyond mine, and they need me to help them find the way home.
Only a pure Qilin can find the Path, and these six men think I’m the last one alive.
I’m Carlyle Licorne, and I’m no innocent unicorn.
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Piece of Dragon is the first in a medium-burn reverse harem fantasy series, suitable for ages eighteen and up.
EXCERPTS FROM BOOK 1 – PIECE OF DRAGON
EXCERPTS FROM BOOK 1 – PIECE OF DRAGON
“So… Jack, is it, this time?” the Ringmaster asked, digging his thick fingers into my temples as I held myself still and silent. My arms were tense and pale as I fisted my hands at my sides.
He didn’t need to touch people to read their thoughts. The asshole just enjoyed how concrete pain enhanced the nausea that came with him digging through my memories.
“Interesting choice of names for this cycle. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Something about a candlestick, I think. Will you get burned, Jack, when you jump? You do love to jump.”
I clenched my teeth against the growing ache in my skull, but I didn’t flinch. I never flinched, and this was why the Ringmaster hated me the most. He respected me for it, too, though respect got you nowhere in the Underbelly Circus.
The Ringmaster removed his grip from my face and slowly pulled back his invisible mental probes. Slouching back in the ridiculous medieval throne we carried from city to city, the Ringmaster eyed me, pinning my blue eyes with his black ones. He ran his palms down the slick silk of his tie, straightening it. “I have another job for you. This one is different. I need her.”
The psychotic fervor in the man’s eyes wasn’t helping a damn bit with my nausea.
“What’s in it for me?” I said after managing to catch enough breath to speak evenly. My last big job had earned me a new mattress. I scrubbed at my coarse brown hair, standing it up even more than usual in my efforts to rub away his touch. “Unless you’re ready to set me free,” I cracked, not bothering to hide the bitter edge of my tone.
I’d been in the Circus long enough to forget where I was before. I’d picked a new name so many times I couldn’t even remember my first one. None of my new identities had made a difference, though. The Ringmaster’s tricks and powers were legendary: I’d never escape the Underbelly Circus, and neither would any of the recruits I’d ever been sent to retrieve.
With my unique powers, I couldn’t even escape the Ringmaster in death. I’d simply start another cycle, right where the last one had ended.
Immortality wasn’t that cool if it was indentured.
The Ringmaster leaned forward and smiled at me, cruel and slow. “If you find her and bring her back unharmed, you can have the thing you’ll want most.”
“And what is that?” I asked, lifting an eyebrow at his use of future tense. I scratched at my two-day stubble, wishing we were done with this meeting already. Out of habit, I twisted the gold ring on my thumb, its weight and purity giving me a certain comfort that a mattress never could. “I’m resigned to this life.”
I totally fucking wasn’t, but it was all part of the act.
“Not your fate.” The Ringmaster grinned wider, showing his double row of perfect white teeth. “The girl’s.”
Festival life wasn’t easy, but it was the life I’d carved for myself after running away from foster care five years before. I was a hell of a lot better off now than I’d ever been – no bills or commitments tying me down, my business partner LuAnn for easy company, and enough money for gas, food, and coffee. I could even get cotton candy whenever I wanted.
The biggest reason I kept moving, though, was that I needed to stay one step ahead of the Ringmaster and his recruiters. He ran the infamous Underbelly Circus, and he wanted me enough that I’d already dodged his people twice.
My attention was drawn to a pack of guys bouncing past my tree. They were shouting and laughing about their coming drunken night, and I shrunk further into the shadows.
I was only here to observe the crowd – to see, not to be seen.
Only one glanced my way, and I startled as his golden eyes flashed and locked on mine instantly. Damn, he was a beautiful one – all power and grace, whispers and dynamite. A small hum of appreciation escaped my lips, and I clamped my mouth shut around it.
He couldn’t possibly have heard me, but he held my gaze captive for several steps. I almost ducked and slid behind the rough trunk to break the connection. A stare like that was one humanity lived or died by – an instinctual challenge to either fight or fuck.
It had been a long time since I’d had to do one or allowed myself to do the other.
The group passed on quickly, their bravado and excitement stinking up the air with a musk like fresh blood. To me, people’s emotions had scents as different as fingerprints. Interpreting and manipulating them at LuAnn’s festival booth put cash in my pocket, but these personal scents were also a fascination – a whole different dimension of the people-watching I loved so much.
The flame-haired guy turned his golden eyes forward again, and I was relieved as I took one final glance at his broad shoulders and cocky swagger. I didn’t need that temptation tonight. I had work to do.
Dair leaned back in his chair, one palm resting casually on the table, fingers tapping in a slow back-and-forth pattern. His suit jacket was unbuttoned, and I studied the textured vest beneath.
He was dressed for Wall Street, and I was in a shapeless t-shirt and plain cotton underwear. I picked at my cupcake, my appetite not very strong anymore.
“So where’s the last guy?” I asked. I’d met Killian, Sol, and Jai. Now Dair. Jack was hopefully not invited. That left the sixth man unaccounted for.
“I’m supposed to tell Jai first,” Dair began, but I cut him off with a huff. Shoving my chair back, I stood and dumped my half-eaten food in the trash. I was so done with the secrets.
I filled a glass of water from the tap to clear the sweetness from my mouth, suddenly not wanting any of these stories to be true. As I stood in front of the sink, staring out the window into the misty treeline, I heard Dair’s boots come to rest just behind me. His body covered mine and slowly pressed into me from behind, lean and rock hard. He bent his head down to my ear and inhaled, and we were so close I could feel every inch of his cock hardening between us, pressing into my ass.
I knew I should stop him – and somehow I knew he would stop, but instead I was white-knuckling the counter just to keep from reaching back to grab his body.
“Toro is compromised, like Jack. He’s not with the Circus, but he’s gone rogue.”
Those simple words – the act of sharing his valuable information – heated me straight through, and I felt my core clench with need. Again.
I gritted my teeth. What I needed was to get a motherfucking grip. I’d ogled Killian and Jai, then I’d kissed Sol last night. I couldn’t very well turn around and make a move on Dair, no matter how much I wanted to.
“Jai told me you don’t know much about yourself,” he murmured against my ear. “None of us really have that problem, and I apologize that my brothers have made this difficult for you. But Carlyle, you could be like a savior to us and our world. A goddess. We can’t afford to compromise the natural development of your power with faulty information based on rumor. We need you to discover your magic as the natural laws of Haret intended.”
I opened my mouth to demand an explanation, but the words died in my throat as his fingers slid down my bare arms. Every bit of skin he touched flamed to life, and I breathed in the truth of his words.
Dair’s scent was as dark and gorgeous as he was, all sweet tobacco and sparkling, crystal goblets of dry champagne. His fingers slipped between mine, loosening my grip on the counter, and I rested my head back on his chest. His hips pressed mine even harder into the edge of the counter, pinning me just at the edge of pain, and heat flared between my legs.
A soft moan slipped from my lips as he drew our joined hands over my hips, dipping in at my waist, then bumping up over my ribs. I was feeling my body through his fingers, and it was intoxicating. I was about to whisper that he wasn’t an asshole after all when his fingers pulled mine over my breasts and pinched my nipples so hard I cried out at the unexpected touch.
Dair untangled our fingers, then pressed my palms over the tight, tender buds, encouraging me to massage the pain away. One of his hands gripped the side of my throat while the other cupped hard between my legs, nearly lifting me off the floor. He yanked my head to the side and crashed his lips onto the exposed, sensitive skin of my neck. He sucked almost violently, and an arrow of sweet pain shot straight down to where his fingers clenched around my sex.
I was thrumming with energy again, but my body was confused by his mastery of sweet and sharp. One of my hands pressed harder into my breast, chafing and pinching at my nipple again, while the other scratched at his grip on me. His fingers curled, pressing the fabric of my underwear tight against my aching pussy, and I bucked against him, wishing there was nothing between us. Dair chuckled, the sound sultry and commanding all at once.
“Naughty and demanding, aren’t you. I’ll give you everything you want, but we have to build up to that sort of trust, Carlyle. Cariño,” he murmured, releasing me and stepping back in one fluid motion.
EXCERPTS FROM BOOK 2 – PIECE OF SHIFTER
“I’ve just always been such a nobody. It’s hard to adjust to all this savior-goddess shit,” I said, forcing a laugh.
Kana nodded, her eyes sympathetic. “But the benefits have to be making it better, right? I mean, just think of all the sex and sugar you’re getting.” Her grin grew sly again, and she jabbed my arm with a long fingernail. “I mean, they totally should have warned you about the mating thing. But just because you and Jack are a thing now, that doesn’t mean you have to stop fucking anyone else. You’re a Qilin, bitch. And Qilin get what Qilin want.”
I felt my cheeks flush as her words sank in, mirroring the same sentiments Dair and Killian had told me before.
I’d actually been worried about how serious the mating bond might be – if I’d need to stop flirting with Dair and Jai now, or stop letting Sol sneak into my thoughts and between my sheets.
“How many mates do Qilin usually have?” I made myself ask instead, confronting the fact that I wanted more than Jack.
“Oh, you greedy girl! I fucking love it,” Kana said, tilting her head back in a raucous laugh. “I don’t guess there’s a limit, but most of the ones I remember meeting or studying about had three or so.”
I chewed my lip. Three? I wasn’t sure I could pick three. Ah, I was so screwed.
Just because I’d been given the world’s biggest candy bowl didn’t mean I had to eat so much I got sick. I couldn’t hoard all these yummy men to myself. Could I?
There probably wasn’t even enough of me to go around. How could I possibly keep more than one man happy?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Kana warned. “And I think it’s bullshit. You take want you want, Car. You’re probably the last fucking Qilin. Haret is just as dark a place as Underbelly – you’re gonna need all the shields and weapons you can get. There’s none better than those men in that house. Take them all if you want them, and make them into your goddamn army.”
My eyes connected with hers, and my heart began to pound as I took in the ferocity of her gaze.
“There’s a war coming, Car. We don’t even know the half of it yet, but I know I’m on your side, and I want you to be as strong as you possibly can be. If those guys are offering their power, you fucking need to take it.”
“How much power can I even hold?” My voice had dropped to barely a whisper as our conversation took a threatening turn.
Kana shrugged and gazed out over the sparkling ocean. “I don’t know, but it’ll be fun to find out, right?”
I fetched a soft washcloth and a bottle of cupcake-scented body wash I’d bought for her earlier. Leaning over the edge of the tub, I gently scrubbed away the blood and any remaining shreds of mattress from her body. The water turned a light shade of pink, which would have been pretty if I hadn’t known what was causing it.
She was fully awake by the time I was done, and she reached over to pull the plug. Silently, we watched the pink water drain away. I scraped up the matted bits of thread and tossed them in the trash.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered when I turned back to her. “I was being selfish, even though I told myself it was for Killian.”
“I’m actually kind of fucking impressed,” I admitted, thankful Jai wasn’t around to hear it.
“I am kind of a badass,” she said, grinning up at me cheekily. “So, are you going to join me in this tub, or am I going to have to use my fingers to get off?”
“Oh, fuck yes, I’m joining you,” I said, happy surprise making laughter rumble through my chest. My sugar fix didn’t have to ask twice to get hers.
Actually, maybe I should let her use her fingers. I liked to watch sometimes, too. My cock was already at attention, though, and I didn’t think I could wait. I stripped out of my clothes faster than I could shift and climbed in the tub with her.
She reached over and started the water again before leaning back and resting her arms across the edge like a queen.
I knelt between her knees like the supplicant I was and spread her legs wide. She propped her ankles on the edge of the tub, and I cursed under my breath at the fucking beautiful spread before me.
“Get it,” she said, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
The Ringmaster surveyed me with a cold stare. “I see you’ve kept the same body and bright, soulful blue eyes for another cycle. Interesting,” he mocked.
I fought to keep the mage out of my mind, but it was no use. The man giggled like a third grader.
“The girl thought you handsome? How charming. My pet dragon desires a mate.” The Ringmaster reached out a hand and yanked me viciously up the trailer steps and inside, slamming the door behind me. “The only mate a dragon has is death,” he hissed into my ear, then shoved me to the floor.
I kept my eyes down, breathing heavily and pressing down hard on the creeping joy I felt. He’d done a quick scan of my form, but it looked like he couldn’t tell I’d attempted a bond with Carlyle. This was so much more than I’d hoped for.
Then doubt began to slide in, squeezing out the joy. If the bond wasn’t noticeable to the Ringmaster, maybe it didn’t actually exist.
Maybe our bond wasn’t complete.
“Come,” he said, walking to the edge of his trailer and out the back door. He strode for a smaller side tent, and my stomach bottomed out. This was the experimental tent – the one where new acts were tested and trialed.
The one that broke Haretians into pieces for the Ringmaster to use to build his empire.
He held open the zippered flap with a flourish, and I stepped in, my heart pounding in anticipation of pain. I could take it – I’d taken it before. It would fucking suck, but I had even more to live for now.
The sound of the heavy fabric door slapping shut behind me triggered my anxiety even more, and a cool sweat broke out across my brow.
“Wings only,” the Ringmaster commanded as he circled to face me. The gleam in his eyes made me nervous as fuck. What did he want with my wings?
“Wings,” he repeated, shooting a lance of pain straight through my temples. It was enough to buckle my knees, and sure enough, my wings snapped into existence.
He gripped my mind with his magic, keeping me just at the edge of a full shift. I could have ended him in my dragon form, but he’d never once let me show myself in full shift inside camp.
He seemed to have a sixth sense about when people were going to use their powers against him. He was always at least one step ahead, like he’d been with Arcadia and countless others. I’d often wondered if he was part vampire, since he seemed to have some of Jai’s special techniques to go along with his own brand of mind control.
“Enter,” the Ringmaster barked to someone behind me, and I twisted my head enough to see two of his favorite goons entering the tent with looks of cruel anticipation splashed on their ugly-ass faces. Well, that was just great. “Tie him.”
Before I had a chance to fight his intentions, the two men had wrenched my wings backward at a painful angle and tied them together with some sort of enchanted chain, wrapping the bones and leather in awkward bundles of magic. I wouldn’t be able to break free – all that was left to do now was wait and bear it.
“Now, you shall have a visitor,” the Ringmaster said, a devious smile creeping across his face. He wasn’t exactly a handsome man, but there was something charming about him, in the way a serial killer must be charming to lure his victims near.
“Fucking dragon,” a silky female voice said from behind me, and I bit back a groan.
“Fucking harpy,” I taunted back, my pride rallying one last time.
Laurel Chase lives in the state that boasts of fast horses, fast cars, and fast women.
She writes steamy romance and lives in her head more and more each day – hey, the scenery is great in there.
She never sleeps enough, and she drinks too much coffee, but she’d never replace any of that with sensible stuff.
Find her hanging out on social media, usually in the Lovers of Haret readers’ Facebook group!
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