Stone Lover

Warriors of Stone #1

Either she cures the Prince, or she is sold in marriage to a warrior she doesn’t love….

Brilliant scientist Surah, the half-human daughter of a royal concubine, endured the scorn of the gargoyle court growing up. She doesn’t care- the only warrior who matters is Malin, and she will cure his genetic disease if it kills her.


It very well may. Enemies at court threaten her life to stop her research- enemies who don’t want Prince Malin to reclaim his throne, or to see her as his mate and Princess. If she fails, he will lose his immortality and be trapped in human form forever… and die.


If she fails, her half-brother will sell her in marriage to the highest bidding warrior. But Malin will kill any warrior in court, winged or no, to prevent them from laying claim to his mate. Especially when she conceives his baby—the true Heir to the gargoyle throne.


This is a steamy paranormal shifter romance featuring hot, winged alpha males and a smart, strong heroine. With a futuristic flair, this is for readers who enjoy urban fantasy, dragon shifters (because hot men with wings are hot men with wings), surprise babies and stories with rich characters, meaningful relationships and plenty of action and adventure.

CHAPTER ONE

Genetic research wasn’t all that profitable these days. Surah wondered if she should chuck it and open a marijuana dispensary instead. Rifling through her assistant’s notes, Surah analyzed the data. Speed reading the conclusions, her heart rate spiked, just a little. Evidently, after several years of painstaking work, they were close to an answer. She’d given up on the research, like a coward, not wanting to continue to see the veiled hope in Malin’s eyes die. She’d silenced her guilt and gnawing worry with wine and partying with her brother, but now it seemed as if dumping the entire project in Cole’s lap was the action that might save them both; Malin, and Surah.

If Malin died, so would the best part of Surah’s heart. And Malin had no clue of her feelings.

“Surah.”

She looked up, eyes focusing on the female standing in the doorway of her office in human form. Lavinia Mogren, her half-brother Geza’s Councilor. And the last person she wanted to see.

“How did you get in here?” she asked.

“Through the front door, of course.”

Of course. Surah had changed the codes twice in the last month–a constant cat-and-mouse game with the Council. They might fund her, but they could keep their claws out of her research. She was a professional. That meant refusing to work with a walking, winged-statue breathing over her shoulder.

“Councilor.” Surah’s tone should have frosted the glass in the door. “It’s past working hours. You can make an appointment for the morning.”

Lavinia smiled, stepping into the room; swept aside the hem of her long dress as if there was refuse on the floor. “I don’t think so. I admire the work you do here, Surah. I’ve been meaning to sit and speak to you about it for a while now.”

Surah tugged on her braid, irritated. The floors were plain white tile, waxed clean by bots every night. But, probably, the stench of humans offended Lavinia’s nostrils. Gargoyles, though a minority of the Seattle area population, tended to view themselves at the top of the food chain. Because they kept mostly to themselves, rarely interfering in human culture and vice-versa, they could mostly get away with that crap. Surah, straddling the middle of both societies, knew better. All she had to do was open the latest digital issue of The Stone Lover, and skim all the articles and photos keeping up with the latest gargoyle gossip. Malin was in there all the time, Seattle’s resident ‘human’ gargoyle—and Surah was usually there as well. She was the only Ioveanu Princess.

She sighed. “Take a seat.”

As much as the female irritated her, if Lavinia yanked her support of the project, the funding would soon follow. So she’d play the Councilor’s little verbal tap dance–and then kick her ass out so Surah could go home. No, wait. Geza’s damn soiree. Had to show her face at the Palace, that three-towered, stone monstrosity of a complex taking up several city blocks on one of Seattle’s more visible hills, and then maybe she could get some rest. At least there would be decent wine, plenty of it.

Fingers snapped in front of her face–nails a little too sharp, a little too curved, to be fully mortal. Surah started, looking up. Lavinia frowned at her, dark eyes narrowed.

“Do you need a nap?” Lavinia asked with a snap in her voice. She shifted, flexing phantom wings. They wouldn’t come out until night. “I was speaking to you.”

“A nap would be fabulous, actually. What’s your poison, Lavinia? I’ve got work to do before I can go home.”

Lavinia’s gaze held hers, mouth firm. She wouldn’t bother with a lecture on respect for elders and proper formality–Surah outranked her. “You’ve been unsuccessful–for five years–in formulating a solution to the Princes’ weakness.”

“It’s a genetic, degenerative disease, Councilor. I don’t know why you call it the-”

“I’d like you to ensure you remain unsuccessful.”

Surah shut her mouth. “What?”

Lavinia’s smile lacked humor. “Tell me. How different would your childhood have been if you weren’t plagued by your brothers? If you’d been free from blood associations that dictated your destiny?”

For one thing, she only had one brother. Half-sister to the current Prince, Geza, through their mother Adagia, many also forgot that Geza’s eldest half-brother, Malin, was not related to Surah at all. But the tenor of Lavinia’s question struck her. She knew the gargoyle taught political science to humans at a local university, on staff as their token gargoyle-to-human cultural ambassador.

“Are you starting to buy into your own curriculum, Professor?”

Lavinia tilted her head. Woven into a tight braid, her hair didn’t budge even a strand. “What I believe,” she replied slowly, “is that the monarchy is weak. Geza is weak. His father, Ciodaru, was weak.”

Surah’s fingers thrummed along her desk. “What I do here isn’t political, it’s medical. You know—improving lives, not making them miserable. The Ioveanu’s aren’t the only family with this disease, just the most visible. What do I have to do with politics?”

Lavinia shook her head, eyes never leaving Surah’s. “You’re a fool if you think what you do here isn’t political. What do you think will happen if Malin is cured?”

“He’ll be able to shift every night without pain,” Surah snapped. “He won’t face a future where shifting at all is impossible–trapping him in human form for the rest of his long life.”

“No. He will take back the throne.” The words fell between them like stones. “There will be war between the Princes, and you caught in between.” Lavinia rose, looking down at her. “You love them both. Which one do you want to die?” Turning, she strode towards the entrance. Paused before stepping out, hand on the lintel. “Will you do as I ask?”

“Nope. It’s not personal, though.” She had to tack that last bit on–she couldn’t afford to make a personal enemy of Lavinia Mogren.

Lavinia glanced back at her as she exited, dark eyes glittering. “Nor will be my response. Careful in the choices you make, Surah. You are only half of us, and therefore as weak in your way as your full-blooded brothers.”

Surah folded her arms, bored. “Is that a threat? It’s not very imaginative.”

Lavinia didn’t reply, just studied her one moment longer then left. Surah waited a few minutes before speaking. “Lana?”

A disembodied voice of indeterminate age filled the air. “How may I serve, O Fearless Leader?”

“Lana, change the entrance codes and set to eye print verification.”

“Clearance level 5A is required to request-”

Surah rattled off the access code, a little smug–it had taken three days and a huge favor to get that clearance.

“Request accepted.”

Perfect. “Dim lights to twenty percent and turn on focus playlist three.”

“Request accepted.”

Classical music filled the air, the crooning male tenor and jarring electrical guitar beat energizing. She sighed, sitting back in her chair.

The next gargoyle who came to ask her to commit treason had better knock.

* * *

“Should have told me you weren’t in the mood for company,” Kausar said, voice gruff.

Malin turned and left the balcony off the kitchen, the blades of his shoulders itching. His old weapons master was required to stay indoors where the bright beat of sunlight wouldn’t blind his eyes. This far up in the sky, there were no trees or buildings to block that mad orb. Several miles away, the Space Needle cowered under the shadow of his manmade aerie. A half block away–the required distance he’d negotiated with the city, an air trolley full of tourists pointed, snapping photos with their wrist units. The flashes annoyed him, but he was used to it; he was Seattle’s only resident billionaire gargoyle after all. And the only gargoyle who came out so readily during the day. Kausar was a strong, purebred gargoyle; Malin was weak.

Malin smiled, no humor in the expression. He was impervious to sun these days, even with Surah’s experimenting and relentless insistence that he ‘take his meds.’

“I’m not the best company even on a good day, old friend,” Malin said. “But your presence here is welcome. It reminds me of home.”

A home he was no longer part of, except on the very peripheral of what being the brother of the ruling Prince required. Brother to the Prince, when once he had ruled. He didn’t quite regret leaving behind the command of the host. But spending his days surrounded by humans, even high-powered, high-energy, faultlessly intelligent humans…grated.

“You in pain?” Kausar asked, always blunt. He was the only one, besides Surah, who referred to Malin’s genetic illness with open candor. Like a soldier. But then, Kausar didn’t think he was any weaker than a warrior with an old war injury.

“It’s nothing.” He set his water bottle down on a counter. “Surah does what she can.”

“That girl’s a warrior,” Kausar replied, stern warmth in his voice. He adored the ‘girl’, though he’d never let anyone know. Was as close to a father to her as any male had been–and had trained her along with Malin and Geza. “Needs a mate. Prince trying to give her off to one of his…warriors.” Kausar’s sneer was brief, but genuine.

“Who?”

His weapons master gave him a wary, calculated look. “Eh, not telling you, boy. You’ll start a war.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You want the girl. Don’t know why you won’t take her. You’re as good a male as any. Better. And she loves you.”

“Like a brother.”

Kausar snorted. “Didn’t think the disease affected your brains, but I guess it does. Too damn bad.”

“I practically raised her, Kausar.”

He glanced up at the ceiling. “Been around humans too long. That makes you even better for her–you already know her, and she’s comfortable with you. Would you rather she be used as a wife by a stranger? Or loved by a male with her best interests at heart?”

It was a sign of his wavering resolve that Malin didn’t protest the word love. He might have, even a year ago. But he was tired, and Surah’s company soothed him, and he just wanted some peace, some comfort before he completely succumbed to the daylight. With her half-human blood, she could exist in both worlds as he did, and not look at him with scorn when he could no longer shift and fly the night skies.

“I’ll think about it,” Malin said. “I don’t know what to say to her.”

“Start with, ‘Would you like to go to dinner?’”

Courting advice from Kausar–who was single. Perfect.

* * *

He decided on lunch, at the last minute, his nerves giving way as soon as he heard her voice. He, former Prince of the Gargoyle Host in the Pacific Northwest, renowned warrior–former warrior–filthy rich business mogul with human women throwing themselves in his lap….and his testy foster sister scared him to death.

“Communicator, connect with Surah.”

“Malin, what’s up?” she asked. A 3-D stationary image shimmered to life on his desk. She must have her live feed off again. He heard the tap of keys in the background, knew she was in her lab.

“Meet me for lunch this week. I have something I want your opinion on.”

“Weird, but okay. Just message when you’re ready.”

She sounded distracted, about to disconnect. This wasn’t going right. He should say something else… “How are you today?”

“What? I’m fine. This formula–son of a…! I hate this computer. Cole! Cooolllleee!”

Malin winced, fingers thrumming his desk. “You’re busy.”

“What were you saying? Look, if it’s important, you should just come to the lab, your key codes still work.”

“That will anger the Council.”

“Fuck the Council. They only think I work for them.”

He blinked. She rarely swore, and only when someone had run afoul of her temper. “Careful, my Lady. You are still beholden to the Court, and half-sister to its Prince.”

“Blah blah blah. Cole, hey, take a look at this mess. Do we need to order new machines or did I just break it? Lana, can you run an analysis?”

“Please define parameters.”

Malin sighed.

“Hey, look, Malin, just holler when you want those eats, okay? You’re buying. Lana-”

She disconnected as he said, “Of course.” That was the way courting worked, wasn’t it? Except she didn’t know they were courting. He wondered how he was going to tell her.