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Smoke & Seduction: Lick of Fire (Clashing Claws Book 2) by Daniella Starre (1)

Chapter 1

Audrey Wright

The cell was my prison, but it would not be the place where I died. I refused to be used as bait. The war between the two dragon clans that had invaded my city would not be started because of me. I wasn't some kind of Helen of Troy. A war was brewing, had already been brewing, but the start of it would not be because of me.

At least, that was what I tried to tell myself.

The three dragons, Damon King, Miguel Ramirez Lopez, and Francesco Marino, had come to mean a lot to me in such a short amount of time. Everything was chaotic, racing to a final destination, and I had no idea if I could survive the ride.

I wasn't a dragon. I wasn't a shifter. I was merely human.

But I refused to be a damsel in distress. I could and would do anything I could to help the three dragon leaders of the Three-Tailed Clan against their enemy, the Fanged Serpents.

So long as I could ignore this normally wonderful connection to Damon that now was telling me that Damon was hurt…

I wasn't about to wait to be rescued. No. I was going to do whatever I could to free myself or, at the very least, gain some insight into the minds of the enemy. After all, in my day job, I was an investigative reporter. Surely my captors would want info out me, but turnabout was free play.

"Fine," I called loudly, gripping the thin, strong bars of my cell. Their coldness seeped through me, and I shivered. "If you won't let me go, the least you can do is feed me."

From not that far away, a door opened. As much as I tried to ignore any sense of fear and worry, I couldn't help myself. Maybe they weren't planning on using me as bait. Or maybe not living bait. They might kill me and display my body where my dragons could see my rotting corpse.

My heart raced. Impossibly, I was drawn to all three dragons, and I did not want to pick between them. That was a worry for another day because I knew all three of them would do whatever was necessary to save me.

No footsteps sounded in the hallway, yet a person approached, half in shadows, bringing to mind an assassin. I couldn't make out his face and could only assume the newcomer was a he based on his size and build, both impressive and powerful.

The person seemed to float above the ground toward me and halted in front of me. From within his robe, he produced a cup that he dropped to the floor. Liquid spilled over the sides and splashed onto my clothes. Next, some bread that he threw at my face. I caught it and nearly gagged from the smell of mold. Finally, a chunk of meat, slimy to the touch.

I bent down, picked up the cup, and my stomach twisted with disgust. Curdled milk.

Seriously? They wanted me to get sick?

Or to starve to death.

Although I was tempted to shove the spoiled food back in his face or dump the milk onto his face, I refused. I inhaled and exhaled a few times, focusing on y breathing to centralize my thoughts and be able to calm down. Once, I had been allowed to interview a murder suspect. He had not been at the police station, and the meeting had been in a public place. It had been a terrifying situation because he ended up confessing his crime to me and then went on to grab a patron at the coffee shop. He nearly had gotten away with it.

This was just as terrifying, but I refused to be intimidated. Well, too intimidated.

"Who are you?" I asked.

The man said nothing. His gaze wasn't even on my face but on the floor. No, on the food. Did he expect me to eat that? Was he going to remain here until I did?

Then you'll be here forever, bub. No way am I eating that.

"Are you one of the Fanged Serpents?" I chanced asking.

Humans didn't know about the dragon shifters. As far as I knew, I was the only human who did. Would make it all too easy to give dragons the motivation to kill me, without even taking the Three-Tailed Clan into account.

"I think dragons are amazing," I continued. "So incredibly powerful."

The truth. It was always best to use the truth as much as possible when trying to gain someone's trust. Dragons were powerful. They were also terrifying.

"Are you hungry?" I asked. "Can you give me some water? Or were you instructed to give me inedible food? Come on. I won't tell your boss if you give me some fresh bread. Or even stale bread. Just no mold."

The man shifted his gaze from the rancid meat to my cup.

"Yeah, I'm sorry. I'm not going to drink that. Fine. We won't talk about the food or dragons." I blew out my breath. "What's your name? I don't know if you know mine or not or if I was just taking because of…"

I couldn't voice their names aloud. They were my rocks, and I would not allow any of my captives to see just how much they meant to me. I wouldn't give them anything they could use against me or against my dragons.

"I'm Audrey. I'm a reporter. I've been investigating the slaughtered humans. Were you one of the dragons to kill some of the people?" I asked. "Don't worry. I'm not a cop. I won't arrest you."

The man shook his head, his first response to anything I've said.

"You didn't kill anyone?"

The man blinked, but I couldn't tell if that was an affirmative or a negative.

"I need a little more feedback than that," I plead. "You aren't a killer. Just a bodyguard? A watchman? Are you in charge of all of the prisoners? Are there other prisoners? Am I the most talkative one?"

Again, the man blinked. He didn't seem to have any kind of affect, completely flat and without any emotions at all. It almost reminded me of that movie with Jack Nickelson.

Slowly, the man opened his mouth.

He had no tongue. It had been cut out.

I was so startled that I took a step back. My shoe landed on the rancid meat, but I didn't fall. Quickly, I recovered as best as I could, but I was even more worried now. These people were positively vicious. What would they do to my dragons?

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