Stealing the Dragon’s Heart is a funny and action-packed romp through an interstellar race that involves space battles, unexplored planets, swoon-worthy dragon shifters, and heart wrenching romance. The hero and heroine meet when Onnika, a prolific thief, steals Aidan’s wallet before he is set to start a race that will lead him through the universe. And, of course, she ends up on the same ship as him. Hilarity ensues.
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Stealing the Dragon’s Heart
Armina Spaceport was bustling. A group of rambunctious fans flew past Aidan on their way to gawk at the newest arrival, an upgraded freighter boasting a twelve-man crew.
Phase Nine was soon to begin, the minutes counting down. Eager crowds had gathered, vying for contestants’ attention, autographs, pictures. On live feeds, announcers broadcast dossiers of registered racers, ship stats, crew accolades or lack thereof, and made predictions. Bookies were about in droves, taking bets on everything from the potential winners to the losers, and even on who would be the first contestant to die.
The hangar was populated by an array of eclectic vessels: fighters, freighters, cruisers, tankers. You name it, someone was going to try and race it.
It was all exactly the same as last time: The reverie, the exhilaration, the barely restrained mass hysteria.
Long ago Aidan would have relished the high-octane energy, the combustible excitement. He’d have soaked it in, drank it as fuel, and craved more. This time, he felt nothing. No excitement. No anticipation. No interest, not even when a group of beautiful young females accosted him with giggling delight, starstruck by being in the mere presence of a Phase Nine veteran and past winner. He forced himself to converse with fans only as long as was politely acceptable before excusing himself. One of the eager ladies stole a kiss on his cheek and sent him suggestive glances. An open invitation, if he was so inclined.
Like always, he was hollow.
He would run this race one last time and would do his best to win, but his passion for the competition had died with his family long ago.
His crew was loving the attention, though. But he suspected they tempered their excitement around him, sensing his inner turmoil. They all knew what had befallen him. They pitied him still. Knowing that only fouled his mood further.
He didn’t wish to ruin their fun, but there was nothing to be done about his morose disinterest. He simply could not bring that part of himself back to life.
In the beginning, he’d tried entering a few small races here and there. He’d even won a couple, not that he’d cared. His passion for the sport was gone, like dust on a breeze. His zest could not be revived. He’d accepted it. The best he could do was attempt to fake it, but he found he couldn’t even muster that much.
So while his loyal crew christened their new ship, Dragoon, with sparkling wine and celebrated Vin’s successful installment of the new ion booster they’d managed to barter for, Aidan made himself scarce. For the last hour or so, he’d been meandering through the grungy market terminal, looking for reasonably priced spare parts.
While their craft was officially space worthy, it was still a bare bones rust bucket that had been ranked low in the odds, an underdog ship…even with the infamous Aidan Chase at the helm.
“Protection charm, sir?” A pudgy, mouse-eared merchant held out a woven charm of black and red silk. “Yes, this is what you need. Keep bad spirits away. Nightmares, too. Only two chips and I give to you.”
Aidan politely declined and kept moving.
But this merchant was persistent. “One chip, then? No? What of this?” He held up another item. “A charm for luck. Yes, you will definitely need this if you are to run Phase Nine. I see it.” He touched his temple as though receiving a premonition.
Aidan stretched his lips into a polite smile. The man didn’t seem to know who he was, which Aidan found refreshing. “You think I need luck?”
“Ha! Do not we all?” Then the savvy merchant blinked and gazed up at him with mystic gray eyes.
Did he finally match the face with the reputation, Aidan wondered. He waited for recognition to hit. Instead, the man only stared at him for a long moment, longer than was comfortable.
Finally the merchant muttered, “No. Not luck. That’s not what you need. Wait one moment.” He put one finger up and then excitedly turned to rummage through a bin in the back of his shallow booth. A moment later, he presented Aidan with yet another flat woven charm, this one the size of his entire palm. It was twisted in intricate, elegant knots with multi-colored thread.
The man pointed to each color, explaining, “White for peace and banishment of negative energy. Cobalt for forgiveness and healing. Black for protection and strength. Red for passion and love—”
Aidan had heard enough. “You’d have better luck selling holo-glasses to a blind man, sir.”
“Ooh, that’s so pretty,” a rich feminine voice cooed.
Aidan glanced behind him and met the eyes of…a goddess. Unfathomable irises of the deepest aquamarine faded to a perfect ocean blue near the center that drew him in like a warm embrace. He blinked, feeling suddenly off kilter, and took in the rest of her. Long, glossy strands of ghost-white hair framed her pale pixie face. He never imagined he’d have described a nose as perfect, but this woman’s nose was just that: flawless, with a delicate slope from bridge to tip that inspired the urge to reach out and trace it with his finger. There was something fascinating about her full red lips. They looked soft and plump with a natural curl at each end that made her look both sexy and mischievous. Her black strappy dress was made of a thin, airy fabric that appeared to whisper along her curves, hug her hips, and kiss her sleek thighs as it swayed in the artificial breeze created by the space station’s massive air vents.
It had been a long time since Aidan found a woman truly attractive, and he was a little thunderstruck to have it happen now.
Seemingly cognizant of his instant attraction, she offered him a coy smile, and those glossy red lips drew his attention once more. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.” Wide-eyed, she turned to address the merchant. “Your crafts are wondrous. Do they really work?”
The merchant shifted his full attention to the woman, sniffing a sale in the making. “Indeed, pretty lady.”
Aidan regained his composure. “I wouldn’t put too much stock into witchery and superstition, Miss….” He trailed off, hoping she’d supply her name.
She placed a friendly, delicate hand on his arm, the heat of her touch feeling like an electric jolt. Again he was rendered thunderstruck. Who was she? He had to know. Then he noticed a marked sadness in her eyes…
“You don’t believe in magic?” she asked.
The question brought back memories of Marada and the Faieara. Of Evlon and the war he’d helped start. Back to the only time he’d witnessed true magic in action.
This woman reminded him a bit of the Faieara, with her delicate features and iridescent eyes. She even had a similar structure to her ears, though hers were shaped by three tiered points between the outer edge of the tip and the lobe, whereas the Faieara only boasted one smooth point.
Still half-consumed by the pleasant sensation of her warm hand on his arm, he muttered, “It’s not that I don’t believe in magic. I just know how rare true magic is, and it would cost a hell of a lot more than two measly chips.”
The merchant scowled at that. “I beg to differ. My charms are of the highest quality. Anyone will tell you.”
The woman’s gaze locked on Aidan’s as she contemplated his words, her hand still on his bicep. Why did his mouth feel so dry? And his heart was beating faster than normal. Because of her?
He was definitely going to ask this bewitching woman out for a drink.
“I suppose you are right about that,” she said with a hint of melancholy. “Real magic comes at a price.” Then she smiled up at him and his insides melted. “But one can dream.”
The merchant cleared his throat. “Um, excuse me…”
Aidan sent him a killing look. The putz was still pushing for a sale. He was interrupting what was turning out to be a rare moment of exhilaration.
He returned his focus to the enchanting female. Another small smile played around those alluring lips. Aidan couldn’t help but wonder how soft they’d feel against his. Would they taste as sweet as they looked? He was almost compelled to find out.
Her eyes widened and her mouth parted as though she’d just had a sudden thought. Or had she suddenly recognized him? Would she, too, fawn over the famous Phase Nine winner? The sudden blush in her cheeks said maybe. But this woman would have no need to steal a kiss from him; he’d welcome it.
The merchant persisted. “Excuse me, sir, but—”
“Oh!” the mysterious woman exclaimed brightly. “I see my friend is calling me. I must be off.”
Aidan frowned “What? Wait—”
As she dashed away, she turned to grace him with one last devastating grin. “I wish you good fortune, sir.” Then she was gone, disappearing into the throng of tourists, leaving Aidan stunned and unsatisfied.
The merchant chuckled darkly, his previously friendly demeanor now mocking. “I guess it was the protection charm you be needing after all.”
Barely listening, Aidan scanned the crowd for a glimpse of flowing white hair and absently responded, “Why do you say that?”
“Because I do believe that woman just stole your wallet.”
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