This excerpt is part of our New Release Excerpt series where authors send us the first chapter of their new release so you- fans of paranormal romance fiction- can sample before you (hopefully) buy!
Lure of the Dragon (Aloha Shifters: Jewels of the Heart Book 1) by Anna Lowe
Release Date: April 18th
Nothing is forbidden to this elite corps of shifter bodyguards and private investigators…except falling in love.
Good dragons? Bad dragons? Twenty-four hours ago, private chef Tessa Byrne didn’t know about the terrifying world of shifters. Now she knows too much, like the fact that a ruthless dragon lord is determined to claim her — forever. Tessa flees to Maui, where sunny skies, swaying palms, and a handsome stranger conspire to play tricks with her heart. Can she truly trust Kai Llewellyn and his band of battle-hardened shapeshifters to save her from a gruesome fate?
Don’t trust a human, and never, ever fall in love with one. Those are lessons Kai learned the hard way. But Tessa is different. Her emerald eyes mirror the mysterious pendant she wears, and her flaming red hair makes his heart race. Is his inner dragon just greedy for a new kind of treasure, or is Tessa his destined mate?
ALOHA SHIFTERS: JEWELS of the HEART is a thrilling new series set on the tropical shores of Maui. Each story is a page-turner packed with action, emotion, and romance! If you like Magnum, PI and smoldering hot, alpha shapeshifters, you’ll love these books!
* No cliff hangers. Each story is a standalone paranormal romance with adult content. The perfect read for fans of strong heroines, alpha heroes, werewolves and shapeshifters, billionaires, military romance, paranormal suspense, action-adventure romance, fantasy romance, and exotic, tropical locales! *
Tessa took two shaky steps toward the ornate gate of the private driveway and stopped. Was she really going to do this?
You can trust them, Ella had said. Ella, the neighbor who’d come along at exactly the right moment and saved her life.
Tessa bit her lip. The fabric at the shoulder of her shirt was ripped, and her throat ached from the attack. Her fingers were still shaking, and her mind was haunted by visions of a terrifying beast. How could she trust anyone after what had happened less than twenty-four hours before?
You have to trust them. No one else can protect you from that monster.
Crickets chirped from the lush foliage, and a bat flew overhead, a splotch of black against the dark night. Palms swayed in the tropical breeze, echoing Ella’s words. No one else. There’s no one else.
Tessa shivered in spite of the balmy night, unwilling to trust her own senses. Sure, the sea was whispering over the shore in a reassuring way. And yes, the moon’s rippling reflection over the Pacific should be soothing, like the sweet scent of hibiscus. But even the island paradise of Maui could try to deceive her. Nightmares could break the deepest peace — real-life nightmares she couldn’t block out of her memory no matter how hard she tried. She could still see the glowing eyes of the creature that had attacked her.
Mine. You will be mine, his voice boomed in her mind.
She drew a deep breath and looked over her shoulder, wishing she hadn’t sent the taxi away. The past twenty-four hours had been a whirlwind. She’d barely slept, and fear pulsed through her veins like poison. How could she possibly judge whom to trust?
She tipped her head back at the stars and gulped. She was alone at night in a remote corner of Maui, far off the beaten track, about to knock on the door of a complete stranger for help.
A very rich stranger, she decided, inspecting the gate. There was an elaborate design in the middle, but she couldn’t quite make it out. Something swirly. Toothy. Wait — was that a tail? Shit, was it a dragon, or was she seeing things?
She shook the thought away and told herself to think. A gate that massive must protect a hell of an estate — a seaside estate in Maui that had made the taxi driver whistle when she gave the address back at the airport.
“Koa Point Estate,” he’d said. “You’ve got the right friends, miss.”
Tessa gnawed on her lip. These weren’t friends. They were complete strangers. And anyway, the man who’d attacked her in Phoenix was rich, too. Rich didn’t mean trustworthy — or even human.
A tremor went through her at the memory of her attacker’s fingernails turning into claws and reaching out for her.
Mine. You will be mine.
Tessa shook her head and turned back for the road. Who knew what secrets lay behind that gate? It would be safer to head back to Lahaina and find a hotel for the night. After a good night’s sleep, she could—
The beams of twin headlights blinded her, and a powerful engine purred into the driveway. Tessa froze as a vintage Jaguar approached then stopped. For a moment, nothing happened, and Tessa considered whether to run, but her legs stayed rooted to the spot.
The driver’s door opened, and a tall man climbed out. Tessa squinted against the lights, trying to make out his face as he stood silently inspecting her for a full minute.
“Have you decided yet?” His deep voice boomed, making her jump.
Tessa clutched her bag to her chest. “Who are you?”
He stepped forward, and a tiny grin formed at one corner of his mouth. “Who are you?”
Tessa tried to form an answer, but her lips were shaking, as was the rest of her body. Was this man a potential ally or a deadly foe?
His dark hair and bright blue eyes contrasted with the pure white of his dress shirt, open at the neck. Sharp, angled features cast their own sub-shadows over his face. Tall and imposing, he seemed perfectly at home in the night.
Vampire, her subconscious screamed. He must be a vampire.
Tessa discarded the idea a second later. Surely a vampire would give her creepy vibes. Despite the fine cut of his clothes, this man exuded an untamed, animal feel, like a lion or a wolf. A predator just as capable of ripping an enemy limb from limb as he was of protecting the one he loved.
A little shiver went down her spine.
Tessa tried to shake the feeling off and collected her thoughts. She doubted he was a vampire. Ella had sent her to a band of shapeshifters, right?
“I’m Tessa. Tessa Byrne.”
She hadn’t intended to give her full name, but damn. There was something fiercely commanding about the man — that, and he was so blindingly handsome, even in the dimness of night — that her brain had short-circuited.
“So, Tessa,” he murmured like a man savoring a new brandy. “Have you decided yet?”
“Decided what?” she asked, taking another step back.
“Whether you’re coming or going.”
Coming, part of her brain said. The part that couldn’t help noticing the ripple of muscles under the thin fabric of his shirt.
Going, the terrified part of her soul screeched. Go, quick.
But she didn’t move. She couldn’t. Or maybe she didn’t want to, because that might mean losing sight of him — and being alone when instinct screamed at her to stay.
“I’m…I’m not sure.” God, she hated being indecisive. Her whole life she had been confident, capable, and strong. But ever since she’d been attacked by something not-quite-human, she didn’t know where she stood anymore.
He stood studying her for a full minute before speaking again. A minute in which his eyes grazed over her body and his nostrils flared. A lot like her attacker had, and yet in a totally different way. For some mystifying reason, this stranger put her at ease, whereas she’d been wary of her attacker long before he’d shown his true self.
When the man locked eyes with her, her heart thumped hard and heavy, and an achy sensation set in under her ribs. An inexplicable yearning sensation, as if she’d been missing something terribly important all her life and only realized it now.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
She shook her mind back into focus and asked herself the same thing. A gentle sea breeze kissed her cheeks, reminding her where here was. Maui. A speck of an island in the middle of the Pacific. Would she be safe here?
“Ella sent me. She said to come to Koa Point and ask for help. She said to explain what happened.”
“And what might that be?”
“I was attacked by Damien Morgan. Last night, in Phoenix.”
The words came tumbling out, and when the man didn’t react, Tessa panicked. Had she said the wrong thing?
Then she realized he had gone stiff all over, and his eyes were no longer on her, but sweeping the darkness behind.
“Come with me,” he said curtly, tapping a keypad beside the gate.
Fear nipped at her heels, and she hurried toward the car. His voice was that urgent, that convincing.
“Get in,” he said, motioning her to the passenger seat.
His arms were so long and sculpted, she did a double take before obeying. The man was built like an Olympic swimmer — the big guys who swam butterfly, with incredibly broad shoulders and lumps of muscle along both arms. Even when he slid into the car beside her, he was pure, coiled power.
He hit a remote control, murmured something Tessa couldn’t hear into a speaker, then drove in.
Tessa clutched at her leather seat, wondering if running away would have been the safer bet. But it was too late now.
The driveway was full of twists and turns, hiding the view ahead. The moon peeked from between the palms, giving her short glimpses of a varied landscape: patches of perfectly trimmed lawn between thick bamboo stands and huge, leafy bushes that whispered and swayed. One sweeping curve later, the driveway ended at a long, arched garage. It looked like a stable, making Tessa wonder how many thoroughbred engines lay slumbering inside. The man parked and stepped out of the car in one smooth motion.
He motioned her down a flagstone path between lush bougainvillea and palms, following closely enough that it ought to make her nervous, yet she felt comforted instead of crowded. As if he was protecting her back, making sure she was safe.
But when they came out into a clearing lit by tiki torches, Tessa halted in her tracks. She’d been expecting a breezy mansion, perhaps with a uniformed servant or two, but what she saw was an open-sided shack with a thatched roof bristling with guards. Well, the four men there looked like guards. They were big — really big, not to mention intent and focused as she approached. They held their arms away from their sides, ready for imminent action. Like this was a war zone and not Hawaii.
Then she remembered what Ella had said. They’re Special Forces. Well, they were. Men with rough backgrounds and tough starts. But don’t let them scare you. They’re puppies inside.
Tessa balked, because Rottweiler was a more apt description of the men before her now.
The tallest of the four stepped forward and shooed her into the building with a gravelly, “Come in.”
When she hesitated, the man who’d met her at the gate nodded her forward with a gesture that said, Don’t worry. I will keep you safe.
She might have snorted at the idea, but then she saw him glare the other men down in a distinct, touch-her-and-you-die stance. So she stepped forward, wondering why she trusted him already. Why she trusted any of them.
“Sit down,” the tall man said. “Talk. Explain.”
He was definitely military, she decided, even if the surroundings were anything but. The open-air structure resembled some luxury apartments she’d seen — the kind of place with a big, open layout, except without walls. There was a living area with four couches set in a square. A wide dining table surrounded by heavy chairs stood to one side. A designer kitchen occupied the left side of the structure, complete with an island and a rack of hanging copper pots — the kind of kitchen she would have loved to explore if she wasn’t completely on edge. A huge grill took up one corner, and an oversized stainless-steel refrigerator stood beside a deep sink. The sea breeze wafted through the space since there were no walls, just posts supporting the broad roof that extended a good yard over each side.
It was a beautiful space. Simplistic yet elegant in a purely masculine way — like the ground floor of a very fancy fraternity with a tropical theme.
Tessa followed the man’s gesture and sank into a deep couch — so deep, she’d never escape if they jumped her, but she barely cared any more. The second she touched the soft cushions, part of her sighed as if she’d come home. Which was stupid, plain stupid for a woman on the run.
“Get her a drink,” the man from the gate growled at one of the others.
One moved to obey, which left four big, hulking men crowded around her, making her tremble. Her eyes darted from one to another, wondering whom she could trust.
Shapeshifters, Ella had told her. Human, but not quite human.
Tessa would have laughed the woman off if she hadn’t had terrifying proof that such things were possible — like the sight of Damien Morgan morphing into a dragon.
“All right, guys,” one with sandy brown hair said in a decidedly more laid-back voice. “Give her some space, already.” He grinned. “Don’t worry. We don’t bite.”
Boone, the wolf shifter, Ella’s voice echoed in her mind. He’s the most outgoing one.
Tessa pursed her lips. Outgoing was a relative term, because she could picture Boone snarling down an enemy just as easily as she could imagine him wagging his tail. Then she caught herself because, whoa — she really could imagine him in wolf form. There was something about the way his tousled hair fell over his eyes that made it easy to picture. Not that she’d ever seen a werewolf before. Christ, she’d never seen any shapeshifter until the previous day. She’d never believed in them, either. But now…
She glanced around. Any of the five men clustered around her could have featured in a calendar of Hawaiian Hunks or Muscled Marines. But now that the world of shapeshifters had been revealed to her, she could see their second sides, too. She craned her neck, curious about the dark-haired man from the gate. But he was standing behind her — protecting her from the others, or cutting off any chance of escape?
“You going to introduce us, Kai?” Boone asked with a wolfish grin.
Kai. His name was Kai. Tessa’s heart beat faster, as if she’d stumbled across some great secret and not just a name.
Kai. Kai. Kai. She cemented the lyrical sound into her mind while trying desperately to remember what Ella had said about him. But the man had such an effect on her, her brain couldn’t quite kick into gear.
“Tessa Byrne,” his deep voice resonated from behind her.
Tessa always thought of herself as forgettable, but this man had remembered her name after one brief mention in the dark. He remembered, she told herself, feeling a tiny glimmer of hope despite her desperate situation.
Hope that shattered the moment a third man grunted and spoke.
“Where did you find her, Kai?” he barked, still looming above her.
She wished she could see Kai, but no. And this new man — the leader, for sure — was staring at her so fiercely, she held her breath. His eyes sparked, and when she looked more closely, she could make out individual flames. Red, yellow, and orange, licking this way and that.
Silas. The head of the group. He had to be. Which meant he was a dragon like the man who’d attacked her.
Watch out for him, Ella had said. He’s a good man, but he’s been through a lot, and he’s testy.
Testy? The guy was terrifying.
He doesn’t trust humans, Ella had added. Few dragons do.
Tessa shrank back in the cushions. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
When a deep thrum sounded behind her, Silas tore his glare away from Tessa and aimed it at the man behind her.
That was Kai, she realized. Kai, growling in warning. Protecting her again.
“I didn’t find her. She found us. And I think she can speak for herself,” he rumbled.
If Tessa hadn’t been so tense, she might have hugged him right there. But who was Kai, really? He’d stared at her all the way over from the garage — she’d felt his eyes on her back the whole time — and his nostrils had flared when he took in her scent. What kind of shifter did that? Ella had mentioned a tiger…
Tessa decided the man hanging back in the shadows, pacing back and forth at the perimeter of the open-walled space was the tiger.
Cruz. Stay out of his way if he’s had a bad day, Ella had warned.
At the time, Tessa had wanted to say, I’m the one having a bad day. But now, she kept her lips sealed. Just in case.
So Kai wasn’t the tiger. Tessa peered around. The big, burly guy standing two steps behind Silas was all ears and didn’t say much. He could go from ferocious to friendly with the slightest twitch of his heavy eyebrows, and he tilted his head when the others spoke.
Hunter, the bear. All muscle. All loyalty. But a lot of pain.
Tessa let her gaze linger on Hunter just long enough to wonder where the pain came from. But then Kai stepped back into view, and all she could look at was him.
Kai wasn’t bigger, taller, or more handsome than the others, but he took her breath away. Her pulse skipped, and she found herself leaning forward. What kind of shifter was he?
A not-to-be-fucked-with one, for sure. He bounded right up to Silas and put a hand on the man’s broad chest in warning. Every man in the room tensed, and Tessa did, too. The two glared at each other with the force of two hurricanes about to collide.
Boone, the wolf shifter, murmured something too low for her to catch, trying to calm the two down. The bear lifted his boulder-sized shoulders and stepped closer, ready to break up a fight. The tiger’s whiskers — er, two-day beard — twitched, and Tessa swore the air crackled with sheer power.
“Uh, guys,” she said without thinking.
Every face whipped around in surprise, and the tension went back down a notch. But when she met Kai’s eyes, her own inner storm field whirled into high gear. Her face flushed. Her blood pounded in her veins, and visions of thunderclouds raced through her mind along with the sound of whipping wind. Why did she have such a reaction to him?
Then his eyes sparked the way Silas’s had, and Tessa froze.
Kai, another dragon, Ella’s voice sounded in her mind. Related to Silas. Every bit as dangerous but slightly more sane.
She stared. Dragons. Holy shit. She’d been attacked by a dragon less than twenty-four hours ago. Why on earth had Ella said she would be safe here? Maybe Ella was part of some conspiracy. Maybe Ella wasn’t to be trusted. Maybe—
“Who sent you here?” Silas demanded. “How did you find this place?”
“Ella sent me,” Tessa said, feeling sick.
The tiger stopped pacing abruptly, and every man fell silent. Silas’s eyebrows shot up. Kai nodded at her to go on.
They are good men, Ella had assured her. Honorable men, if a little rough around the edges. They’ve been through so much, survived terrible things. You can trust them.
Tessa blanched. How could she trust any of these men, least of all Kai? Dragons were the enemy, for goodness’ sake!
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