Dragon Lords 1: The Barbarian Prince by Michelle M. Pillow
This might be my second book published, but it is really the one that had defined my career. It is the start of a multi-book series that keeps growing even nearly 10 years later–Dragon Lords. The series has spun off into many directions including the series: Lords of the Var, Space Lords, Zhang Dynasty, and Galaxy Playmates (all with several books in each installment) and it’s far from done. Dragon Lords 6: The Stubborn Lord releases 2013 in ebook and print.
If you’re new to my work, this series is by far a reader favorite. And, since I love reading things in order, instead of excerpting book 6, I’ll start you off with book 1.
Dragon Lords 1: The Barbarian Prince
Breaking up was never so hard…
Going undercover at Galaxy Brides as one of the prospective mates to these Viking-like barbarians, Morrigan has no intention of getting chosen to stay. But when Ualan of the Draig picks her to be his wife with the aid of his mystically glowing crystal, it is all she can do to say no.
Waking up from a drug-induced night of torturous and unfulfilling pleasures, Morrigan discovers her spaceship has left without her and Ualan is claiming she is his wife. It’s not exactly the story this reporter had in mind. And to make matters worse, Ualan refuses to take no for an answer.
Being cursed by the Gods was never so frustrating…
Prince Ualan is like all others of his race on the male dominated planet of Qurilixen. He is raised to trust the mystic powers around him and when it comes time to marry, he is ready to follow those powers to choose his life mate. When the stubborn, yet achingly beautiful, Morrigan refuses to accept their shared fate and his supreme authority over her, it is all he can do not to break her lovely neck.
Rating: Contains graphic sexual content, adult language, and violence.
Chapter One EXCERPT
Must be 18 years and older to read. If not, please stop reading.
Wanted: Galaxy Brides Corporation seeking 46 fertile, able-bodied Earth females of early childbearing years and A5+ health status for marriage to strong, healthy Qurilixian males at their annual Breeding Festival. Possibility of royal attendance. Must be eager bed-partners, hard workers. Virginity a plus. Apply with A5 health documents, travel papers, and IQ screen to: Galaxy Brides, Phantom Level 6, X Quadrant, Earthbase 5792461.
The idea had been simple. Uncover illegal virgin trading practices by Galaxy Brides. For years it had been rumored that Galaxy Brides used outlawed medic units to restore women’s virginity. Virgins meant more trade with the numerous barbaric, male-populated, humanoid planets eager for fresh, young Earth brides. If the story broke, it would be huge. It was just the sort of thing to make a star reporter’s career. It was just the thing to bring down evil breeding corporations that sold women to the highest bidder.
Morrigan Blake was just such a reporter–or so she thought. However, the medic units where such procedures took place were nearly impossible to find since they looked like any other medic unit. It would take a series of diagnostic tests to reveal the chip sequencing necessary for virginity replacement. She would just have to get the women to talk to her, which hadn’t been easy either. The brides were being compensated well for their participation.
All right, thought Morrigan wryly, as she stared absently at her bare feet in the pedicure basin. Breeding corporations aren’t exactly evil and virginity replacement isn’t illegal in all quadrants.
The small metallic hands of the beauty droid worked frantically at her toes, as another pulled her dark hair into a traditional Qurilixian upsweep. Curls were left to hang down her back in long, thick waves. The droid had used a hair extender to get her normally short locks to grow. The weight was heavy on her neck and hard to get used to.
Morrigan was in the spaceship’s expansive beauty parlor with the rest of the prospective brides getting ready for the official docking later that evening. They had spent the last month being pampered and primped for tonight. Looking down at her legs, Morrigan gave a half smile. If nothing else, the trip had given her a lot of free benefits–permanent hair removal, a body enhancing lift, and time to contemplate the perfect color for her toenails.
Galaxy Red number one or Galaxy Red number two? Okay, she was definitely getting bored.
According to her editor, she was to do a soft, romantic piece on the four Qurilixian Princes and their possible attendance at the festival. It had been sixty years since royalty attended a festival in search of a bride, and women on earth were always eager to devour details of far off royal romances and intrigue.
The last piece she did on the Lophibian royal wedding had boosted newspaper chip sales nearly forty percent and the Lophibian were a slime-dwelling species covered in scales. She had spent four months in the swamplands covered in bluish-green goo. Though the tinting effect it had on her hair had been lovely, Morrigan would not relive that trip for the world.
This was definitely a better assignment. If she could uncover a scandal and interview at least one of the four Princes, she could get two stories from one trip. Not to mention, she would be in for a huge promotion and pay raise. Plus, it did help that the men were rumored to be healthy, virile specimens and would photograph particularly well. Cute men sold chips.
It wouldn’t be easy. There were no known pictures of the men on file and they were notorious for not giving interviews, especially about their private festivals. Oh, if she could pull this off! Maybe then she could get that vacation back to her own apartment she so badly deserved. She wondered if she remembered where exactly her apartment was.
“What about you, Rigan? Have you finished your Qurilixian etiquette uploads?” asked a nearby woman from her beauty seat. Her voice was soft and polite, matching her kind blue eyes. Her light brown hair whirled around her head in a frenzy caused by six robot hands. She was very careful not to move.
Morrigan turned at the sound of her name and gave Nadja a light smile. No one on the ship knew who she really was. They all thought her to be another excited bride in search of virile, warrior males Qurilixen was rumored to produce. To be chosen was an honor, or so the other women claimed. Morrigan’s thoughts, on the other hand, went to a meat market, and they were the prime cut.
“Didn’t you know?” laughed Gena next to Nadja. Her red hair was finished and her beauty droid was placing the customary short veil over the curly auburn locks. “Rigan finished her Qurilixian uploads first. It would seem she is most eager to please her new husband.”
“Or to be pleased by him,” added someone from across the circular room.
Morrigan closed her eyes, ignoring the abrasive women. Honestly, she didn’t understand them. Sure, some of them were nice enough and even seemed intelligent and from a well educated background– like the softly spoken Nadja. But why in the galaxy someone would subject themselves to this trade was beyond her.
Being alone wasn’t so bad. She had no one to answer to, except her boss, Gus. He never bothered her unless she was late with a story. She called her own shots, made her own deals. She never had to bother with a guy looking over her shoulder asking when she would be back from her assignment. Or deal with the jealousy that would inevitably come from a mission like this.
Though, mused Morrigan, forever trying to see all sides of a story though she wasn’t always successful in doing so, it would be nice to have someone to talk to on late nights. Someone to rub my feet when they are sore. Someone to … She smiled. Hey, I’ll just take this beauty droid home with me.
“I wish I could be so ambitious. I’m afraid I didn’t watch a single one of those boring uploads.”
Morrigan couldn’t tell who was talking since her eyes were closed. She hoped the others would think she napped so she didn’t have to join in the nervous banter. She was afraid her excitement would be transparent. She was, after all, close to a big paycheck.
Morrigan had spent most of the first week on the ship’s computer uploading Qurilixen facts into her brain. The rush of information had given her a wicked migraine, but it was well worth it since it freed up the rest of the trip for work. Already she had written, and transmitted, the beginning of her soft romance piece.
For weeks, her head had swum with too many of the planet’s facts. It was on the outer edge of the Y quadrant, inhabited by primitive males similar to Viking clans of Medieval Earth. The Qurilixian worshipped many Gods, favored natural comforts to modern technical conveniences, and actually preferred to cook their own food without the aid of a simulator. They were classified as a warrior class, though they had been peaceful for nearly a century–aside from petty territorial skirmishes that broke out every fifteen or so years between a few of the rival houses.
The information she hadn’t uploaded was mostly concerned with the wedding ceremony itself and a bit about the culture and law. She doubted the wedding was any different from the other formal ceremonies on the planet. Morrigan didn’t plan on getting married while she was there, but hopefully she could see a ceremony and get some pictures. Whatever tidbits she couldn’t pick up along the way, she could upload into her brain on the trip home.
Morrigan smiled wryly to herself. She was definitely going to be one of the ‘unlucky’ losers who got a free trip back. Hadn’t the corporation already warned that not all the brides would be chosen?
“I tried on my gown this afternoon,” said Gena, unintentionally breaking into Morrigan’s thoughts. She pushed up her generous chest beneath the robe. “They are gorgeous, but I think I am going to go get my breasts enhanced again–just a little bigger–and I’m going to have my nipples enlarged. Those Princes won’t be able to resist me. Maybe I’ll marry all four of them, just for fun.”
“How will you know who the Princes are?” asked a blonde from across the room. Morrigan buried her laugh behind her folded hand at the cynical words, recognizing Pia. Now, strangely, this seemed to be a woman who shared her uninterested views on marriage. “I’ve heard that all the men wear disguises. You could end up with a royal guard.”
“Or a gardener,” offered a brunette with a laugh.
“I hear they wear practically nothing at all,” added a woman with flaming red hair and sparkling green eyes the color of emeralds. “Except the mask and some fur.”
“You can’t miss royalty,” Gena said boldly with a kittenish smile of excitement. “You’ll see it in the way they move.”
Morrigan stood as her droid finished. She looked down at her own enhanced breasts showing from the gap in her white robe. They were a size larger than she was used to. It had been part of the company’s complimentary beauty enhancement services for their part in the trip. They were real, just genetically altered for perfection. At first, she didn’t like them. But, as she got used to the weight, she found they actually filled in her clothing quite nicely. She just hoped none of the men back at the office took too much notice.
Their spacecraft was outfitted with the best accommodations and services the star system had to offer. Personal droids were assigned to each passenger, and cooking units in each of their quarters could materialize almost any culinary delight, without straying from the strict mineral diets the corporation had them on. Even the doctor was mechanical.
The only company the women had been allowed the last month of travel had been each other. They were quarantined, to insure nothing unseemly happened, in what was affectionately referred to as the harem. The only communication with the ship’s crew was by video relay. The brides were valuable merchandise. The quarantine had provided for a very anxious, catlike atmosphere between the competing women. Morrigan frowned. She was in apparent need of some company with testosterone.
As the other droids finished, the prospective brides began to slowly make their way back to their personal quarters to dress. Nervous excitement infectiously buzzed through the air as they tried their best to look unconcerned. Ignoring them all, Morrigan slipped her ID card from her pocket and slid it past the laser sensor to open her door.
Once alone, she sighed as she made her way past the array of machines and blinking sensors that illuminated different parts of the room as her presence registered. With a small, absentminded command from Morrigan, music played softly in the background. She retrieved a glass of scotch from the simulator, her customary drink before landing on a new planet. It helped to steady her nerves and to keep her wits about her.
Slowly, she went to an oval window full of sparkling stars. In the distance she could see the reddish-brown surface of the small planet of Qurilixen. Lifting the glass to the orb, she muttered, “Cheers.”
She sighed at the burn as the drink slid down her throat. Then, reaching behind the curl of the window’s metal ledge, Morrigan pulled out a hidden container. She pushed the oval button on top, causing the lid to slide open.
Glancing around to make sure her droid was not in the room, she slid a clear recording disc onto her finger and stuck it into her eye. She blinked several times to get it into place before slipping a ring onto her pinkie finger. The sparkling emerald stone glittered in the mock firelight coming from the ship’s fake fireplace.
The journey was nearly over and no one had said anything about the virginity conspiracy. She hated to admit it, but there just might not be a story at all. The rumors were vague at best. But Morrigan knew from living with the other women for a month, just which ones would be experienced in the way of men. She would just have to wait for the marriages to be complete before seeing who was proclaimed pure. Then she would have her story and, hopefully, she would be able to prove it.
* * * *
The docking door of the ship hid the Qurilixian men from view, but the woman could hear the music and laughter just beyond the hatch. Dusk was setting on the normally sunny planet, marking the beginning of the one dark night of festival. Normally, a soft green haze of light plagued the planet’s surface.
Qurilixen had three suns–two yellow and one blue–and one moon, which made for a peculiarly bright planet. The green leaves of the planet’s foliage were overlarge due to the excessive heat and moisture they received. The trees towered high above the planet’s surface, like overgrown redwoods. Some of their trunks were as large around as the houses back on Earth.
The brides waited, single file, in the corridor leading out of the ship’s port. Their bodies were covered in the fine gauze and silk of the traditional Qurilixian gowns. The slinky material stirred against the skin when they moved, hugging tight over the hips and flaring out around the legs in thin strips. Soft silk shoes encased their feet.
Morrigan looked down over her nearly exposed body and gave a wry smile. Since this was undoubtedly a male planet, men had assuredly designed these outfits. The gowns fell low over the breasts to reveal a generous cleavage. A belt of sorts went across their backs. But, instead of looping in the front, they continued to the sides, holding the wrists low like silken chains, and winding half way up the arm to lock over the elbows. The women couldn’t lift their arms over their heads.
Qurilixian women were rare due to the blue radiation the planet suffered from. Over the generations it had altered the men’s genetics to produce only strong, large male, warrior heirs. Maybe once in a thousand births was a Qurilixian female born. In the old days, they had used portals to snatch brides from their homes, bringing them back to their planet. There were even rumors that their species originated on Earth, but there was no proof.
The fact that they had no women of their own was why the services of corporations like Galaxy Brides were so invaluable to them. In return, the Qurilixian would mine valuable metal that was only found in their caves. The metal was a great power source for long-voyaging starships, all but useless to the Qurilixian who preferred living as simply as possible. They were not known as explorers.
Sensing the line was about to move, Morrigan looked forward and pressed the emerald on her finger two times to take a quick picture of the waiting women for her article. The recorder in her eye blinked black, signifying it was working. Later, she would be able to download the images.
Outside the ship, she could see the soft glow of crackling firelight from a giant bonfire pit. The smell of burning wood mingled with nature’s exotic perfume. The Qurilixian moon overhead was large and bright, the biggest moon she had ever seen standing on a planet’s surface. The bonfire flames lapped at the starry night, sending sparks into the cool air. She could not see into the distance, she noticed, and only got a vague impression of a mountain.
Morrigan stepped forward and the cheers of rowdy men on the festival ground washed over her. Morrigan blushed despite herself, feeling almost naked in her ‘sacrificial’ attire.
The grounds were set up with large pyramid tents. Torches lit dim earthen pathways. Ribbons and banners floated on the breeze in many brilliant colors. Near the back, the married men sat in throne-like chairs with their wives firmly upon their laps. Morrigan was happy to discover that her information so far seemed correct. By their long hair and tunic style clothing, they appeared very much like the Vikings. The married women could be heard laughing as they watched the spectacle of those barbarians too young to participate in this year’s festival shout and pose for the prospective brides.
Morrigan swallowed nervously. Some of the women in front of her modeled before the watching crowd. She had the sudden urge to walk around them in an attempt to avoid the direct stage the docking platform had become. Dealing with slime-dwelling slugs was one thing–but humanoids? And not just any humanoids–strong, virile, women-starved, healthy, male humanoids. At the last minute, she remembered to snap a picture of the married couples and of the campgrounds.
“Oh, my!” exclaimed Gena in a breathless murmur, leaning forward to peer over Morrigan’s shoulder. “Do you see them, Rigan? With men like that, who cares if you marry the gardener?”
Morrigan followed the woman’s eyes, curiously looking down the docking plank to the ground. The bachelors, standing below them, were indeed handsome. Although those behind the men laughed and a few continued to pose their muscles, the true bachelors held perfectly still. Their bronzed bodies were like statues, with only their lungs expanding and contracting to show they lived.
Morrigan wanted to run back inside. Her feet refused to move. That was until Gena gave her an eager shove to get her descending down the plank.
The Qurilixian males were every inch the proud warrior class they were rumored to be, some even seemed to tower nearly seven feet tall in height. Fur loincloths wrapped around their fit waists to leave bare their muscular legs and chests. The fire glistened off their smooth, oiled skin. Golden bands of intricate design clasped around sinewy biceps. From their solid necks hung crystals bound with leather straps.
Morrigan’s heart began to pound, partly in fear and partly in excitement. The sexual tension on the ship had been potent for the last month. Until that moment, Morrigan had been able to resist its lurid pull. But there was something to being at the campground–something erotic in its smell of burning wood and its rustic, yet colorful, sights. Music played, primal and earthy in the background, hypnotic, enticing, gyrating in its rhythms.
Black leather masks covered the men’s faces, hiding them from forehead to upper lip. Their lustful eyes shone bright from the eye slits, like liquid metal, or was it her imagination? Morrigan didn’t know.
Captured by a spell, she suddenly realized she was walking down an aisle made up of hot flesh on each side. They were so tall that the crowd behind them disappeared from view. She glanced to one side and then the other. Her heart continued to pound. Blood rushed inside her ears, deafening her.
Somehow, her feet managed to keep moving, propelling her forward in line. The watching crowd had gotten quiet as the bachelors studied the women, concentrating on them with their serious eyes and harshly pressed lips. Then her heart–and time–stopped. Her breath caught in her throat at meeting a solid blue gaze beneath a mask. The man’s eyes narrowed and a slow, leisurely smile commanded her attention to his lips. The crystal about his neck began to pulse and glow with a white light.
Morrigan felt the cool night breeze caress the tops of her breasts, as real as a hand against her skin. Chills worked their way over her bare throat and face. Her short, blue veil fluttered over her dark locks. Her hand lifted without her commanding it to, as if to reach out. It was held back by the silk shackles of her belt.
Blinking slowly, the man nodded at her in greeting. She turned her head to watch as she passed by him. His smile dropped from his features, replaced by passionate intent and electrifying promises. Morrigan shivered as her heart began to race anew.
As she moved forward through the remaining line of men, she looked around. The others were handsome, but none caught her notice or returned her gaze for very long. And none were as spellbinding as the man with the radiant blue eyes had been. She wondered at the curious feeling in her veins each time she thought of it. She wanted to look back, but her neck refused to turn. He was so like all the others and yet somehow different.
Making her way to a raised platform laden with a gigantic feast, Morrigan forgot all about the emerald on her finger and her newspaper assignment.