The Stubborn Lord (Dragon Lords 6) by Michelle M. Pillow
Kendall Haven’s life turns upside down when she’s kidnapped off her fueling dock home by thugs claiming to have the right. Her father, the gambler, used her to cover his losses at the Larceny Casino Ship. Drugged and treated like cargo, she’s sold to the highest bidder—Galaxy Brides Corporation.
Landing on a primitive planet on the far edge of the universe, she has no intention of fulfilling her father’s contract—even if that contract includes marriage to a very handsome, very sexy, very intense barbarian of a man. He might be everything a woman fantasizes about, but he wants a little more than she can give.
Lord Alek, Younger Duke of Draig, has not been lucky in finding his life mate. Resigned to a lonely life, he attends the bridal ceremony out of familial duty. Then the impossible happens—Kendall. Nothing goes according to tradition, but he can’t let that dissuade him. She is his only chance at happiness, and no matter how she protests, he’s not going to let her get away.
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The Stubborn Lord Excerpt
He reached for his neck, jerking the crystal that hung there. The leather strap broke. Fingering the stone, he traced over the familiar surface before balling it into his fist. He thought about leaving it on the forest floor, as if his failure would be easier to bear without the constant reminder hanging about his neck. As he debated the decision his fist became warm, then hot. Loosening his grip, he saw the faint glow of light radiating from between his fingers.
The crystal glowed.
Alek couldn’t believe what he was seeing so he merely stared at it. He was in the forest. Alone.
He held his breath and let the hard, dark-brown flesh of the dragon work its way from his thighs up his body. A ridge grew from his forehead to create a protective shield over his nose and brow. Fangs extended in his mouth and talons grew from his nail beds. In his dragon form, he moved with greater agility and his senses were enhanced.
Was he alone? Was this the final word of the gods?
The crystal’s light grew. The sign was unmistakable. His bride had to be near. Even as he thought it, he began to feel her inside him. The pull of her drew him before he picked up the sound of her breathing in the forest. Footfalls hit in a steady rhythm for several paces only to grow softer and slower. The beast inside him surged into action. He tracked her as easily as prey.
He found her standing alone in the dark, body pressed tight against a fallen log. Her widened brown eyes darted around the forest in fear. He stopped across the clearing from her. She didn’t see him even though she looked in his direction several times. Alek took advantage of the moment to study her. Blonde hair fell about her shoulders. The ends were tipped with a dark red. She seemed so fragile and scared. A wave of protectiveness surged within him.
“Hayo? I can hear you breathing,” she whispered. “Please show yourself. I can hear you.”
Alek lifted his hand and opened his fist. The soft glow of the crystal alighted on his face. The woman found him instantly. He expected her to feel the same rush of pleasure he did. Instead, she started to scream.
The woman tripped on vines as she tried to get away from him. Her back slid along the tree trunk. He smelled the moss she disturbed in her haste. She kept her eyes on his and her arms outstretched as if that would keep him from attacking. Her feet worked frantically against the ground, pushing her back up the tree while trying to untangle her shoes from the forest floor.
“Please, no, no, no,” she whimpered. “I don’t belong here. Who are you people? You’re supposed to be humanoids. The uploads said you were shaped like humans.”
Alek tried to answer her, but the sound of his native tongue only seemed to terrify her more. He realized he was still shifted. No wonder she was frightened. He’d been so eager to find her that he hadn’t bothered to change back. His people did not make their shifting abilities too widely known, and they hadn’t revealed them to the researcher who’d originally interviewed his people for the uploads she spoke of.
“I don’t understand.” She pressed harder into the wood. “They didn’t have us upload any native-language data. I only speak the star language.”
With little effort, he allowed his body to mold into a form she would be more comfortable with. Flesh replaced the hard shell of his skin. His fangs retracted, as did his talons. When he’d finished the transformation only his golden eyes remained so that he could see her in the darkened forest.
“I am Lord Aleksej, Younger Duke of Draig,” he said in the universal star language, trying to keep the eagerness from his voice. Like shifting and other secrets of his planet, the Draig did not share their language—not that anyone other than the locals wanted to learn it. “How did you come to be in the forest?”
“What are you, Lord Aleksej, Younger Duke of Draig?” she whispered, still pressing tight into the fallen tree.
“You make call me Alek. I am Draig, a dragonshifter. Do not let my appearance before frighten you. I mean you no harm.” He took a careful step closer, lifting the crystal toward her. “I was meant to find you.”
“Galaxy Brides sent you to track me,” she said, as if knowing this to be a truth. “You can tell them you didn’t find me. You can tell them I disappeared. I won’t hurt anyone. I just want to go home. Please, you can understand that, can’t you? I don’t want to go to the ceremony. I just want to find a ride home. Please don’t make me go back.”
The woman wasn’t dressed as a bride, but neither was he dressed fully like a groom. He didn’t wear the mask. They shouldn’t be talking, not like this. There were traditions. Though tradition allowed him to find a mate whenever the crystal glowed, he wasn’t supposed to speak to her on the festival night until she made the symbolic gesture of choosing him.
“Please,” she begged.