Chapter Sneak Peek: Dragon & Flame (Haven City Series # 6) - It's hot. Also, lame fire pun is lame.

Mwahaha! The time has finally arrived. Another Haven City book is on the horizon. I'm not sure why that needs an evil laugh, but it does. It so does. Word from the betas and my editor were good. One beta said this is her favorite Haven book so far. That's cool! Maybe other readers will feel the same. I aim to please.

I know everyone has been waiting for Jin's story (right?), so here is a look at the first chapter of Dragon & Flame. Like usual, I'll put the second chapter in my mailing list. If you want to read it first, please sign up here! I don't send spam, and I only send out an email when I have a new release!

The book will be out next Monday, September 29, 2014!

Nagisa's so excited he ate all the pizza. Bad Nagisa.


A broken heart is a bitch, especially when the person who broke said heart is a total dick.
Dick Hayward to be exact.
Rory glowered as he straightened his bowtie – one of the pre-tied clip-ons because fuck that shit – and ran his fingers through his flame red hair.
It stayed in place, mostly, and he left it as he trotted down the stairs. Rory paused at the door that separated the upstairs apartment from Sullivan’s, the bar Rory and his twin sister, Ruby, owned. Well, they owned the name and the business, not the location.
His chest constricted. That was the kicker. They were renting the building and the new landlord (a bastard they hadn’t even met yet) just upped the price. Yeah, the greedy asshole thought this part of Haven City – the nice part – could stand to be more expensive.
And with business as usual at the bar, as in they made enough to get by and not go under – that left Rory and Ruby short on cash for things like a goddamn roof over their heads.
Oh, and that broken heart? Still there. Still fucking there.
Rory took a deep breath, plastered a shit-eating grin on his lips, and went out to face the world.
The bar hummed with music from the jute box and the clink of balls on the pool table. The gentle murmur of conversation hung in the air – typical of a Thursday night. A group of regulars filled the bar, shadow folk who lived in the neighborhood, a healthy mixture of people with magical powers or shifters. Pretty much anyone who wasn’t too good to be seen at a place like Sullivan’s.
Obviously, Richard Hayward hardly ever set foot in the bar.
Ruby spotted Rory first. Twin thing. Or she was just waiting to give him a goodbye hug. Probably the latter.
“You clean up nice. Fancy pants,” she teased and bumped her shoulder against his. She had the same red hair as Rory, but Ruby’s was a mess of crazy curls she kept piled in a bun at the top of her head.
Rory held out his arms to show off the monkey suit. “Yeah. It’s that kind of place. At least that’s what your fiancé said.”
Ruby pursed her lips. She didn’t say a damn word about Josh, her fiancés, offer to help with the current financial situation. He didn’t make much either as a line cook, but he did offer Rory some extra work as a bartender at catering gigs hosted by the restaurant where he worked. Only problem was it left Ruby to tend the bar all by herself. Not like anything could be done about that at the moment.
They needed the money.
“Hey. I’ll be fine. Tell Josh to call me when he gets off,” Ruby said. Her amber eyes caught the light and flared like a flame.
Rory nodded and stepped out into the bar proper.
Seth and Conner, two of his best friends, lounged at the bar.
“Look at you. All dressed up. Wedding?” Seth asked and leaned back in his stool. He was drinking an Old Fashioned. Must’ve been a rough day.
Rory didn’t envy him. If he thought working two jobs while trying to stay afloat was bad, being a cop in Haven City was even worse.
“Nope. Picked up some extra work as a stripper. Want me to put on a show, Conner?” Rory asked and winked at Seth’s boyfriend and partner. The snug black slacks and white shirt looked the part. The black vest and bow tie topped it off. Rory even had those arm garters – or whatever the fuck they were called – on his biceps. The catering company dress code insisted he doll himself up like that for fancy events. Luckily, they didn’t object to the tats on his arms or the ring through his left eyebrow as long as he wore the proper clothes.
Conner, a wolf shifter, quirked his lips at the suggestion. The scarred side of his face crinkled. “No thanks.”
“Hey. Why wouldn’t you put on a show for me?” Seth teased and sipped his drink. His violet eyes sparkled. Like usual, his pale blond hair was tied back into a ponytail.
Rory smiled. “You’re not my type, Alwen. No matter what I said in high school.”
Seth snorted. “Yeah. Now your type is guys who are totally unavailable. How’s that working out for you?”
Rory clenched his jaw and fought to keep his expression even. Calm. Unlike his useless, stubborn heart. Nothing he could do about the heat singeing his cheeks or the tips of fire begging to jump out of his hands and dance along his fingers. He held it all back. “Not good. Not good at all,” he mumbled.
“Oh, shit. Sorry. I didn’t mean that,” Seth said and moved toward him.
Rory took an involuntary step away. He didn’t want a seer touching him at the moment, and that’s what Seth Alwen was. “Yeah. No problem.”
“Insensitive ass,” Ruby said and flicked Seth’s ear as she slunk out from behind the bar. “Keep your boy in line, Conner. Really.” When she reached Rory, she wrapped her arms around him and squeezed.
Yeah, the whole bar was watching. No, Rory didn’t care. His reputation preceded him. Getting hugged didn’t fuck with that.
“It’ll get better,” she whispered, so low that only Rory or a shifter could hear.
“Hey. I’m fine. Great. It’s been two months. You don’t think I’m over it yet?” Rory said and smiled. He smiled so wide it hurt his cheeks.
Ruby rolled her eyes. “I could always burn his house down if you want,” she said and let a little flame settle in her palm.
“Hey. Detectives. Right here,” Conner said and held up his badge.
Ruby laughed. “I’d make sure no one was inside when I did it. Plus, I don’t think Seth would mind.”
Seth shrugged and downed his drink. His face paled. “Go ahead. The Hayward family is full of dicks. Literally.”
Rory snorted.
Ruby and Seth were kidding, Rory knew that, but the thought had crossed his mind. Only Richard Hayward wasn’t just a typical rich kid with a big ass house and a fancy career at his father’s prestigious company. He was one of the Old Families – an enchanter. His house was sure as hell protected against the likes of simple fire mages like Ruby and Rory.
In the back of his mind, Rory still couldn’t figure out why someone like Dick wanted anything to do with him. Rebellion didn’t make sense – they were too old for that shit. Attraction? Check. They had that in spades. At first, Dick seemed . . . different, like Seth. He might’ve been a member of the Old Families, but he didn’t act like he bought into the whole, I’m holier than thou, attitude.
Only, in the end, he did.
“Do you expect me to spend my life with you? A tatted up bartender who can’t get his shit together? Oh, and a guy? My family has expectations for me.”
Yeah, Rory had thought that. Shame on him for being stupid and blind and absolutely ridiculous about the whole thing.
Now Dick was engaged to someone else. Someone female and totally within his family’s expectations. And Rory was going to kiss some rich people’s assess for the next few hours just to make enough to barely (fucking barely) scrape by.
In short, life sucked, but he needed to carry on.
No, he wasn’t in that ‘oh, I want you back’ stage of the mourning process. But he wasn’t at the ‘I accept this and have moved on’ stage either.
Rory was right in the middle of the ‘I want to make my ex suffer’ stage.
Ruby squeezed his hand one last time and gave him a tight smile. “Oh, and don’t stay out too late. The meeting with the new landlord is tomorrow morning, but I have a fitting and—”
“I know! I’ll be here. No problem,” Rory said and pulled away. Just one more thing to worry about. But, if he was lucky, he’d be able to talk some sense into the landlord and get the rent lowered.
With one final wave goodbye, he slipped outside and into the night.
Fall swept into Haven early that year, and the cool night air brushed over Rory’s face and through his stiff cotton shirt. He didn’t bring a jacket; fire mages created their own internal heat. As long as he wasn’t in sub-zero weather, he’d stay warm enough.
He rode the tram to the gig to save money on gas and a parking meter. Ruby would be proud.
The party was in one of those new high rises, all glass and metal on the outside. It didn’t blend with the rest of the art deco buildings downtown, but no one really seemed to care. Rory slumped into the elevator and rode it to the penthouse. Some kind of real estate thing. Rory didn’t actually give a shit. He just hoped the attendees tipped well, though he doubted it.
Josh grinned when Rory stepped into the room. “Hey. Looking good. The bar’s over there. It’s open so you know what to do. If you run out of booze, there’s more in the kitchen. Ask a server to bring it. You get two breaks. Fifteen minutes each. Just let someone know you’re going to be gone so we can get another caterer to cover for you.”
Rory knew the drill, but he listened to Josh’s instructions anyway and patted the cat shifter on the back. “Got it. I’ll get set up.”
Josh stalked after him, set his elbows on the bar, and leaned forward. He dropped his voice as he spoke. “So did Ruby pick out a dress yet?”
Rory sighed. “Why don’t you ask her. She’s your fiancé.”
Josh shrugged. “She said you were helping with that stuff. She won’t let me near any of it. You’re going to give her away, right?”
When Josh and Ruby decided to tie the knot, Rory didn’t expect to be roped into the whole planning process with his twin. And if he ever got married, he decided not to make a big deal out of it. Who gave a shit what the font on the invitations looked like? Or if there was a color scheme involved? The color for his wedding? Black. Because he was never going to get married.
Rory fiddled with the tumblers and organized the alcohol in the way that suited him best. He tested the soda gun and thought about aiming it at Josh’s face – who was still talking about the wedding – and decided against it.
Josh was way too excited about the whole thing. But he was in love and had a right to be, at least that’s what the nice side of Rory’s mind told him. The bitter broken hearted part still wanted to squirt Josh in the face.
Rory promised Ruby and Josh the apartment above the bar. It was big and roomy with three bedrooms and two baths. Perfect starter home. He’d have to find someplace else. A studio close by, if he could afford it.
Rory got through most of the conversation with a series of grunts and nods that could’ve meant anything. Josh didn’t seem to mind, or notice, and he finally wandered back to the kitchen.
A slim Chinese man with a braid gave orders to the caterers setting up. Rory checked him out – too pretty but he wouldn’t mind a one-night stand with someone like that. Hell, Rory wouldn’t mind a one-night stand with almost anyone to get his mind off Dick.
Once the party started, Rory was too busy filling drink orders to pay attention to the crowd. Scotch on the rocks here. Gin and tonic there. Cranberry vodka. Martini. He went through the motions. Smiling when he had to, but it quickly fell off his lips once he realized the partygoers didn’t give a shit whether he was happy or not.
He was just a bartender. Who would?
The music was a kind of light jazz that had more in common with something you’d hear in an elevator than actual jazz. Rory pretended it wasn’t obnoxious. Too bad he couldn’t pop in some earphones and listen to something of his own. Something that suited the mood.
When everyone had their drinks and the party got into full swing (and Rory was using the word party liberally), he leaned back and crossed his arms. He watched the suits mingle throughout the crowd. He caught snippets of conversation here and there. Something about the Flats. Property for sale.
Rory didn’t know who would want to build anything in the Flats besides a slum lord. From what Seth and Conner said, crime had gone down after the huge raid during the summer which got rid of a bunch of big name drug lords and gang leaders. It looked like Haven’s poorest neighborhood wasn’t as bad as it used to be.
Rory frowned. He might end up out there if he couldn’t get his shit together, as Dick so kindly put it.
The scotch on the rocks guy, a handsome blond, leaned in the corner with a brute of a bodyguard. A hot bodyguard, Rory decided, but the man didn’t pay attention to him. Probably straight. Or involved. Or both.
Rory sighed.
“Cognac,” a deep voice asked and startled Rory from his stupor.
“Right away, sir,” Rory said and glanced at the man who ordered the drink.
He was taller than Rory by an inch or two and broader in the shoulders. Asian. Strong jaw. Sharp cheekbones. Deliciously dark eyes locked onto his. The man’s black hair brushed his temples.
Rory swallowed involuntarily and pulled out the bottle.
The man watched him pour the drink and a flash of his pink tongue darted over his lips. “Enjoying the party?”
“Sir?” Rory asked and pushed the crystal tumbler forward.
The man fingered the rim of the glass before he took a sip. “You look bored.”
Shit. Was he some important bastard who was going to tattle on Rory for not kissing ass? He forced a stupid smile, but it faded into a smirk. What the fuck did he care? “Do I? Well, this party, as you put it, sucks.”
The man laughed. It rumbled from his chest, deep and charged with energy. “So it does. Not really your speed? What would you prefer?”
Rory shrugged and rinsed a glass, just to do something with his hands. “Better music for one. If you want jazz, then play actual jazz. Dancing wouldn’t hurt. Maybe a stripper. I’m not sure this is the right crowd for that kind of thing.”
The man sipped his drink, lips kissing the glass. “What kind of stripper?”
“Like a man or a woman? Man. Someone with a big dick and loose morals,” Rory said before his brain could stop his mouth. He shouldn’t talk to a customer like that, but he couldn’t bring himself to stop. It was almost flirting and, well, it was better than nothing.
“Two of my favorite things,” the man said and lifted his glass.
Shit. Mr. Handsome was flirting back! Rory dipped his eyes and let his gaze wander over the man’s powerful shoulders and his strong chest. The fabric strained around his biceps.
Before Rory could come up with something else to say – or a nonchalant way to invite the guy to bed – a familiar voice caught his ears.
“Charlie! It’s been awhile. Dad says you beat him again last weekend. Been working on your swing?” Dick Hayward said. He patted an older man’s shoulder and smiled his stupid handsome smile, his row of white teeth perfectly straight. A little too white and too perfect.
What the hell was he doing there?
Rory’s fingers closed around the glass in his hand, and heat danced across his skin. The fire he kept inside begged to jump out, burst free and burn him to nothing but ash. The worst part was the stupid jolt that went straight to his chest – the way his heart cracked a little more when he saw that asshole’s face and thought about the eleven months they spent together. Eleven good months. Or so Rory thought.
“Hmm, Richard Hayward. You know him?” the man asked, and his eyes narrowed slightly.
Rory caught the hint of gold around the man’s irises, shining in the darkness. The sign of a shifter, only Rory had no clue what kind. “Yeah,” he said, voice gruff. “My ex, if you can believe it.”
Why was Dick at this particular party? Then it hit him. This was some sort of real estate party, and the Hayward family ran a land development firm.
Mother of fuck.
“I can believe it,” the man said and set his empty glass down.
Rory reached for it and their fingers brushed. A spark, electric and sharp, shot through him at the contact. “Sorry, sir,” Rory said.
“No need. Pour me another drink.”
Rory did, one eye on Dick and the other on the tumbler.
The man took it and glanced at Dick. At least the Hayward heir was here alone. Rory didn’t want to see his ex and his ex’s fiancé tonight. Seeing one of them was bad enough.
“Are you still in love with him?”
Rory blinked and took a sharp breath. “What?” His whole attention was back on the man – whoever he was.
“Are you in love with your ex?” He leaned against the bar in a pose that looked almost lazy, but his shoulders bunched with tension.
“Uh, no. Well, I thought I was, at first. But now. . . . Why are you asking me this?” Rory said and frowned.
The man didn’t answer that question. He pressed forward and smirked. “Want to dance?”
Rory felt his cheeks burn bright red. Part of the problem with fair skin and ginger hair. “Are you fucking kidding me? I’m working!”
The man shrugged. “I don’t think Richard has noticed you yet. He’s too busy kissing ass for his father to pay attention to the help. Like usual, right? If we get one of the waiters to fill in, I can spin you around the room.”
“And get everyone’s attention on me. No thanks,” Rory said and gritted his teeth.
“On us. If Richard sees you with me, he’ll be less than pleased. I guarantee it.”
Rory balled his hands to keep from grabbing that handsome bastard by the lapels. Okay, so Rory wanted revenge, but pissing off Dick for a few minutes didn’t cut it. “That’s it? You help me piss off my ex at this shitty party? Big deal. Why the hell would you do it anyway?”
“Because I was planning to take you home and fuck you after this,” the man said so nonchalantly he may as well have commented on the weather.
A jolt of heat shot to Rory’s groin. And now they were back to flirting. He leaned across the bar, so close he could make out the lines of age at the edge of the man’s eyes and the sharpness of his wide cheekbones. Fuck, he was gorgeous in a handsome come-hither-and-do-me kind of way. “Oh yeah? Maybe I’ll fuck you.”
The man chuckled. “Sounds fun. We could wrestle for dominance.”
If he was a shifter, the man probably thought he could win. Rory would’ve smirked if Dick weren’t moving closer to the bar. Any second he’d saunter up, and they’d be face to face for the first time in two horrifically long months.
“What’ll it be?” the man asked.
Rory swallowed the lump in his throat. It felt as large as a cue ball. “Fine.”
In a flurry of movements Rory didn’t quite follow, the man raised his hand and a waiter slipped behind the bar. Then the man pulled Rory against his side, and they walked into the crowd together.
Oh hell. What the fuck had he agreed to?
“I don’t even know your name,” he whispered into the man’s ear. How many times had he said that at a club? He almost snorted.
“Call me Jin, Mr. Sullivan.”
It sounded like ‘gin.’
Rory’s mouth dried out. He hadn’t given this man – Jin – his name yet. But that strong grip held him close. If he wiggled out of it then it’d look suspicious. Blow the whole point of whatever this was. Why did Rory agree to it? Because he made dumb (really dumb) decisions when it came to Dick. That’s why. No other explanation.
Even worse, Dick was right there. Ready to turn and come face to face with his past.
Rory wished he could’ve appreciated Dick’s expression, but his stomach twisted into knots, and he was sure if he’d eaten beforehand, he’d have thrown it up.
Dick’s startlingly blue eyes widened. He gaped at them both before snapping his mouth shut.
“Richard. I was afraid you’d come,” Jin said and didn’t move to shake Dick’s offered hand.
Dick quickly pulled his hand back, eyes darting from Rory to Jin. “Of course I came. You sent me an invitation. I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to get to know the competition.”
Jin smiled, teeth bared and the hint of sharp canines visible at the edges. Not the flirty smile he gave Rory. He was a predator sizing up his prey, and not in a fun sexy way either. Rory was glad he wasn’t on the other side of that look. “Competition? That makes it sound like you have a chance with the zoning council.”
Dick loosened his tie and kept his gaze locked on Jin. “I think we both have a chance. Might as well be civil about this, Mr. Yue.”
Rory restrained the urge to set the bastard’s hair on fire. Which bastard, well, he wasn’t sure. Jin just shoved him into the middle of some weird business feud, and Rory had no interest in staying there.
Then Jin’s strong hand settled on his hip. “We’ll see about that. Excuse me while I dance with my date.”
Rory nearly squeaked a protest, but swallowed it as Jin twirled him into a waltz. It took a moment for Rory to find his feet.
One two three. One two three.
He’d never been more thankful for his mother than he was at that moment. She used to dance around the house with them when they were small, and told them everyone needed to know how to waltz.
Jin smiled. The predator fell away. One of Jin’s hands rested on Rory’s back and the other held his in a powerful grip. Once they got the hang of it, Jin let Rory lead.
The seething rage that burned in Rory’s chest subsided.
A little.
One two three. One two three.
The beat was all wrong for a waltz, but the music was terrible in every way, so he didn’t bring that up. Plus, something else nagged at him.
“I’m not a puppet in your . . . whatever the hell that was!” Rory hissed.
“Of course you are. Everyone’s a puppet in my games until they prove they’re not. I’m very rich. It’s how we do things,” Jin said, his breath hot on Rory’s neck.
It sent a rush to his cock and his toes curled up, just a little. Yeah, not the reaction he expected. Rory wanted to hate it, and dammit, he didn’t.
He felt Dick’s eyes on the back of his neck (his ex was watching, and maybe jealous).
More importantly, Jin’s strong chest pressed against Rory’s body. As Jin watched him, light burned around his irises.
“How the hell did you know my name?” Rory whispered.
Jin smirked. “You’re at my party. I know everyone here, even the help.”
“I’m not the help,” Rory ground out between gritted teeth. He’d have pulled out of Jin’s grip right then, but Jin was strong. Crazy, scary strong. “What the hell are you?”
Jin twirled him and leaned forward into a dip. Rory wasn’t leading anymore. “Dragon,” Jin whispered over Rory’s lips and lifted him up. “And you’re a fire mage.”
The breath hitched in Rory’s throat. A dragon? He’d never met one of those before, but he’d heard rumors. They were the strongest shifters, by far, and Rory was pressed against one. “Oh,” Rory said and kicked himself internally.
Jin’s lips quirked. “Now. Do you want to continue this charade or go back to the bar? I’ll pay you double what you were going to make tonight.”
“Triple,” Rory said before his brain could point out he was bargaining with a dragon.
“Oh. I like that. Triple. Now run off to the bathroom. I’m sure Richard is just dying to get you alone,” Jin purred, and he slowly released his hold on Rory.
Rory took a step back, heart lodged firmly in his throat and walked away. He was halfway to the bathroom when he realized he was doing exactly what that asshole wanted. Fuck! Not a puppet. Right. But if he charged back into the main room and made a scene. . .
Fine. A puppet for tonight and that was it.
Much to Rory’s annoyance, Jin was right. As soon as he got into the bathroom, Dick stalked in behind him and shut the door.
Rory glared at his ex in the mirror. “I was here first. Did you have to piss that badly?”
Dick stared at him. His honey blond hair was perfectly styled, and his suit was navy blue and probably cost more than Rory’s car. He blinked. “You changed your hair.”
Rory snorted and lifted a hand to his head. He ran his palm over the stubble on the sides and righted the hair in the middle. “Yeah. I do that a lot. I don’t have a bunch of assholes to impress on a regular basis. Remember? I’m just a tatted up bartender who doesn’t have my shit together.”
“Rory,” Dick said, his voice laced with a plea. He sounded like that when he tried to explain why they had to keep their relationship on the down low. Why they couldn’t go to some restaurant in town. Why Rory wasn’t good enough for the Hayward family or their friends.
Rory was not falling for that shit today. “What? Someone’s waiting for me.”
Dick frowned. “Jin Yue is your date? Do you expect me to believe he’d go out with—”
Fire brushed Rory’s fingers, and he let the flame spark to life. “With what? Me? Yeah. He did. Fancy that.”
Dick grabbed Rory’s arm. “No. That’s not what I meant. He’s dangerous, and he’s probably using you. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Rory yanked his arm away and fought the urge to punch Dick in his perfect fucking face. Didn’t want him to get hurt, huh? Too late for that. “Oh, that’s rich. Using me? Remind you of someone? I can take care of myself, thanks. Now get the fuck out or I’ll take a piss on your shoes.”
That got Dick’s attention. He slunk out the door. Probably didn’t want his nice Italian loafers soaked in pee. Too bad. Rory might’ve enjoyed that.
He tossed himself a grim smile in the mirror.
Yeah. That was worth it. Worth it to piss off Dick. Worth it to earn three times his pay for hanging out with a dragon. Better than kissing ass all night and sulking at the bar. Better than anything that happened in the last two months.
Maybe, just maybe, things were looking up.


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