Excerpt: Shield of the Dragon

Diamond sucked on his cigarette, blowing the smoke out lazily to join the falling snow steadily blanketing the city. He reached up absently to brush snow from his face and hair, then took another slow drag.

“Shit, what the fuck time is it?”

He turned to look back into the bedroom, where Alana was scrambling to pull her jeans on and untangle her hair all at the same time.

She caught him staring and paused to glare. “Why did you let me sleep so long?”

“All this snow? Nobody is going to be at the club. Gwen called to say no rush for you to be back downstairs.”

“Oh, then I’m sleeping a bit longer, fuck it.” She yawned. “Though maybe I should go find breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Whatever.”

“Whatever,” Diamond agreed and dropped the end of his cigarette to stamp it out. Retrieving it, he threw it in the trash on his way back into the tiny apartment he called home. He grabbed the leather jacket hanging off the back of one of the chairs at the dinky dining room table and shrugged into it, then picked up the Glock on the table, checked it over, and slid it into his shoulder holster. “There’s coffee, some shit in the fridge, if you don’t want to deal with the weather.”

Alana smiled and climbed back out of the bed to walk over to him and fuss with his jacket, help tug out the hood beneath, and run her fingers through his ink-black hair. “Thanks for letting me crash, Diamond. You’re always a sweetie.”

“Not hard to let people sleep,” Diamond replied, especially when those people were the few who didn’t treat him like he was a freak. “Gotta go. Never pays to be late when summoned.”

“See ya later.” She waved him out, then closed and locked the door. Diamond could ever-so-faintly hear the sound of the bed creaking as she settled back in.

He headed downstairs and out the back door of the club, across the street to the parking lot. The guard waved to him as he passed. “Stay warm, Diamond!”

Diamond lifted a hand, but otherwise ignored the words. He crossed all the way to the back of the lot, where only two cars resided: a 1969 Chevy Impala that belonged to Nadia, who ran the club; and his own, a dark blue 1968 Pontiac GTO. Unlocking it, he slid behind the wheel and drove off, waving to the guard on his way out.

The streets were quiet in that way only snowfall could cause, though the odd person was still walking around. Moonlight made everything glow, and the wind was up just enough to make driving irritating. But he made it across town without incident, to the low-key sprawl of buildings at the southern edge of downtown, where the Cambry Syndicate headquarters were located.

He parked near the front entrance, lighting another cigarette as he headed for the door. The guards stationed there relaxed as they saw it was him. “Thought that was you, Diamond. Aren’t you off tonight?”

“Who the fuck around here ever actually gets a night off?” Diamond asked, taking a pull on his cigarette before handing it off to the guards, who smiled gratefully before sharing it between them.

They handed it back when there was just the barest bit left. Diamond could taste chapstick and bubblegum on the paper. He stamped the butt out, then headed inside as they pulled the door open. “Stay warm.”

The smell of blood and metal permeated the inside of the main building, which was not much of an improvement over the dust, mildew, and faded chemicals that had dominated when they’d taken over the complex. He could hear the distant growl of several dragons, though the tenor was off, like the dragons were larger, maybe. Had the weird ones arrived, then? Boss wouldn’t call him in for that, though. Huh. Well, he’d find out soon enough.

He stopped outside the main office suite and let the guards there pat him down and take the Glock. “How’s it going?”

“You should see the new dragons. They’re freaky as fuck,” the younger of the two guards said. “Color of stainless steel, I shit you not. Thought that shit was a pit myth, but apparently not. The other dragons won’t go near them.”

“You talk too goddamn much,” said the second guard. Diamond didn’t know them. They were new guys whose names weren’t worth knowing, since Cambry cycled through guards almost as fast as he cycled through fucks. Diamond preferred the ‘build trust’ method of operating, but he wasn’t in charge, so it wasn’t his problem.

The first guard rolled his eyes. “What the fuck am I telling him that he ain’t gonna hear in five minutes anyway?” He looked at Diamond and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “You’re clear.”

“Pleasure, as always.” Diamond strode past them to key in his entrance code and push through the Fort Knox door, shoving it closed behind him. He yawned as he walked down the short hall to the open double doors at the end. A fountain trickled off to the left of the enormous GQ office, surrounded by gold-flecked black tile that turned into black carpet across the rest of the office. There were no windows, but damn near enough expensive landscapes to make up for it. The whole left wall was given over to special, locked glass shelves, every single one filled with various bottles and other containers. An entire goddamn wall of poisons, each more deadly than the one before. They were Cambry’s pride and joy and his only true love.

Behind a desk big enough to be compensating for something sat the fat cat in charge: Jonas Cambry, Boss of the Cambry Syndicate. Bald, pink-skinned, and roughly the size of a house, he had hard, dark green eyes and a mean smile.

Of all the syndicates, Cambry was best known for its scientific bent. They might not be top dog for fights won or nastiest dragons on the block, but they had some of the best control and were constantly refining and improving the changers and other drugs used to control the dragons.

Not that Diamond gave a fuck. He had fuck-all to do with that part of the business. His job was retrieval and the odd clean-up, where a bullet was more effective than dragging the poor bastard in to play lab rat to Cambry’s poison of the week.

Diamond stopped in the middle of the room, resting easy, but not relaxing. Movement caught the corner of his eye, but he didn’t bother to look. York would open his mouth soon enough, and nobody else was allowed to so casually wander around Cambry’s inner sanctum.

“It’s about time you showed up, Snow White.”

Yep, there he went. Diamond finally dragged his eyes over to the right side of the room, where York, as tiny and bitey as an angry, yippy dog, was somehow both filing papers and typing on his computer at the same time. Man was hot as fuck and wild in the sheets, but he was an annoying little shit. But he also never seemed bothered by Diamond, which was a rarity—just York and the girls at the club. “I don’t need a gun to end you, York,” Diamond said lightly. “You gonna get a new line, ’cause making fun of my looks isn’t even fucking trying.”

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