Sat
Sep 30 2017 12:01pm

Lauren Smith Excerpt: Grigori

Lauren Smith

He’s one of the last of a powerful but vanishing bloodline…

Grigori Barinov is the eldest in an ancient line of dragon shifters and the guardian of his family’s lands and fortune. Sworn to protect their history and magic, he won’t rest until he neutralizes any threat to their existence. When he discovers an ancient manuscript that exposes his family and their dragon lineage has fallen into a mortal woman’s hands, he knows he must get the book back by any means necessary. If that means seducing a nosy American woman with an intoxicating scent, he is more than willing to carry her off to his palatial home deep in the heart of Russia.

She’s the one woman who could expose him to the world…

Madelyn Haynes has never fit in. As an adopted child she grew up in a loving home but never felt as though she belonged. Plagued by mysterious dreams she’s had of a silver scaled beast ever since she was a little girl, she is convinced dragons are real. While in Russia working on her PhD in mythology in order to escape the ridicule from fellow professors, she unexpectedly crosses paths with the sexy and dominating Grigori, and after just one night with the man whose eyes seem to burn, she starts to change inside. Isolated in the Russian wilderness Grigori calls home, Madelyn can’t help but fall under his sensual spell, yet something deep inside her calls out that she can’t trust him. She has to show the world dragons are real to salvage academic reputation, even if it means costing her the heart of the dragon she’s falling in love with.

Get a sneak peek at Lauren Smith's Grigori (available October 3, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

Chapter 1

Here there be dragons.

—Note on a map from the Age of Exploration, regarding Terra Incognito.

Blue and silver scales whispered against grass as the giant beast crawled across the field toward Madelyn Haynes. Rain lashed her skin and lightning laced the skies. Smoke billowed from the beast’s nostrils, and his amber eyes narrowed to dangerous slits as it crept closer. There was no escaping. The creature had finally found her and would destroy her. It had already killed tonight and would kill again. Ash infused the air, the scent of smoke choking her. Fear and rage filled her, drowning her with the overwhelming sensations until she was torn between two instincts: fight or flight. Her skin tingled, the feeling building until it felt like she was on fire.

A man was shouting . . . “Run!”

The beast turned away from her, searching for the person who’d cried out a warning but it was no use. The creature would kill her too once it found her.

There was no way she would survive. She was going to die . . .

“No!” The word was a silent scream upon her lips as she tried to run.

Boom!

Madelyn jolted upright, her mouth open in a strangled shout. The covers of her bed were wrapped around her legs, and she kicked out trying to free herself. Panting, she clutched her head as a dull throbbing ache beat behind her temples. She breathed in and out, focusing on each breath and the tranquility it gave her before the headache subsided and her heart stopped pounding against her ribs.

Then she turned on the light by the bed in her small hotel room and reached for her sketch pad and pencil. Using pillows to prop herself up she flicked to a fresh page and began to draw. The lines came easily, as they always did when she had the nightmares of the beast. It left such a vivid image in her mind that she had no trouble bringing it to life on the page. As the sketch began to develop, she knew what she would see. A serpentine creature with an elegant snout, two large wings and a long tail that could snap back and forth like a whip.

A dragon.

For as long as she could remember, whenever it rained, she dreamed of that same dragon. Rain, scales, lightning, and a crashing sonic boom that rattled her awake.

Madelyn studied tonight’s dragon. It was blue and silver with a deep sapphire underbelly. The webbing of its wings was a fainter, almost icy blue. It had a large, almost lizardlike frill that fanned up around its head like a lion’s mane which was that same glacial blue as its wings. It was an eerily beautiful creature with fierce eyes and sharp talons and was in a predatory crouch as though ready to hunt her down. Madelyn’s hand trembled as she set the pencil down and stared at the dragon. A part of her had hoped that leaving the United States—and changing her surroundings—would make her feel less trapped, less hunted. But the nightmares had followed her.

She was still being hunted.

She’d come all the way to Russia to save her career. As a professor in medieval mythology, she had been reading and researching dragons for the last five years. But lately she’d become convinced, as insane as it sounded, that dragons might have been real at some point in history. She was hoping to prove that some remnants of dinosaurs had remained alive into the time of humans, and that could explain the unique collection of global mythology around dragons. How else could dragon myths around the world have such eerie similarities? Something told her there was a kernel of truth to each myth she’d come across, but she had to find a way to prove it.

Or else I’m fired.

Ellwood University had given her a three-month sabbatical to either pursue her theory and prove it, or drop it and attempt to tie her research to more traditional projects. Madelyn had collected her meager savings and rented this hotel room by the month in the Tverskaya district of Moscow.

Outside her window she could see the distance lights of the city and hear the low steady hum of traffic. Moscow was so different from her small town of Shelby, Michigan. Instead of a Russian concrete jungle and tangle of complex cityscapes and police sirens at night, the Midwestern air was filled with the hum of crickets and the throaty songs of frogs in the ponds. Some nights the breeze from Lake Michigan would slip through the windows and soothe her as she slept. Even the winters in Michigan felt pure, clean, not like the dark, dirty snow-covered streets of post-soviet Moscow.

With a shiver of longing for home, Madelyn set the sketchbook aside and glanced at the clock. It was 6 AM. There was little point in staying in bed for another hour. She had to visit the Russian State Library and a few small antiquarian bookstores which could take up most of the day. She’d been here one week and had settled into a routine. Sleep. Research. Eat. Research. Home. Sleep.

She had come to Moscow alone and was hesitant about going out on her own after dark. She spent most of her evenings cuddled up in the armchair by her bed, reading. It was certainly safer than going out. Madelyn need to feel safe. She feared the unknown, and what might be around the corner.

A therapist had once diagnosed her airily with a generalized fear of the unknown, citing trauma from her parents’ deaths. She had been two years old, too young to remember the details though she’d been with them when they’d died. Too young to know her own name or where she came from. Neither of her parents had IDs when the police found her in the wrecked car that had rolled into a ditch during a storm. Her name, “Madelyn”, had come from the name stitched onto her baby blanket. Her adoptive parents, the Haynes’s, had wanted her to keep that name.

Thoughts of her birth parents always made Madelyn sad and oddly helpless. She wished she could have done something to save them from the car crash. She knew that there was nothing a baby could have done, but it didn’t erase the helplessness. For a long moment, Madelyn watched the rain outside and rubbed one hand absently on her chest where her heart ached. And then, she did what she’d always done. She buried the memories and the pain and turned her thoughts to her research. It was the best distraction. There was nothing like wandering through the stacks of a library and letting the musty scent of ancient books overwhelm her. It was one of the reasons she’d been drawn to history when she was in college. Surrounding herself with the past, she knew what had happened, and couldn’t be shocked or surprised . . . was comforting.

Madelyn crawled out of bed and stripped out of her clothes before she jumped into the small shower, cringing as she expected the icy blast of the spray. There was only so much hot water before it turned cold she couldn’t stand a cold shower in October in Russia.

Two hours later, she was dressed and had filled her backpack with notebooks and other research related materials. When she stepped out on the street in front of her hotel, her nose twitched as it picked up the harsh scents of the city. People bustled past her in a frenzied haste to reach their jobs, and for a strange moment Madelyn felt rooted in place as humanity flowed around her. An eerie sense of being watched made the tiny hairs on the back of her neck raise up.

Of course she was being watched. This city was home to millions of people; someone would always be looking at her no matter what. The uneasy sensation inside her didn’t disappear, even when she hailed a cab and headed for the Russian State Library.

The State Library was a beautiful architectural cross between Soviet era design and classical design, which called back the days of the Czars. The smell of musty texts and recently cleaned marble steps were a welcome mix of aromas that always calmed Madelyn.

She walked up the white stairs to the upper decks of the library, her eyes dancing from the blue marble columns to the endless shelves.

17.5 million books were here . . . Her heart sped up at the sheer thought of having a world of infinite stories at her fingertips. But she wasn’t here to see their vast array of novels. She was here for one book. A heavily guarded tome that required supervision whenever it was handled.

She kept walking and left the modern rooms behind before reaching a wing of the library that housed antiquarian collections. One of the collection areas was a beautiful two-story room with gleaming walnut bookcases illuminated by hanging golden globes of light. A slightly domed ceiling was painted with scenes of Greek mythology, the gods on Olympus displaying their power and might.

A security guard stood at the back of the room by a small reception desk and he waved her over. He greeted her with a warm smile and spoke something in Russian which she thought sounded like hello. She was still listening to her Russian audiotapes and hadn’t picked it up as quickly as she’d hoped.

“Good morning,” she greeted back. He was different than the guard from yesterday.

“Ahh, English, I help you?” he asked in with a heavy Russian accent.

Madelyn smiled. She’d been relieved to discover that many of the guards were fluent in English to a degree. She knew enough of modern Russian to get by but her specialty was the rare dialect East Old Slavic which she used to read older Russian primary resources.

“I’d like to check this book out please.” She retrieved a small piece of paper with the name of the edition in English and Russian and its location on the shelves. The guard read the card and then his brown eyes looked from it to her face, studying her.

“This volume? You are sure?” he asked, his voice was oddly hushed and his face drained of color. He stroked his security badge on his chest with one finger as though he’d done it a thousand times when nervous. He glanced around the room, which was almost entirely empty save for another researcher, an elderly man, who was buried in a stack of what looked to be medieval texts. The man glanced up at them, squinted, and pushed his glasses up his nose before returning to his work. The guard stared at the man for a long moment before he turned his focus back to Madelyn.

“Please, miss, I could get many other books for you, but this one . . . Are you sure?” It was the second time he’d asked that question, and it made her skin prickle.

“Yes. That one.” Madelyn assured him. Why was he so protective of this one? This entire room was filled with ancient texts that with proper care could be viewed by researchers. The guard sighed slowly, his face turning red as he nodded to himself and muttered in Russian.

Now she was feeling really anxious. She’d checked out several tomes yesterday but hadn’t discovered this particular text until she was pouring over the ancient collection of card catalogues that looked as though they’d been written half a century before. There on the yellowed paper of the cards, in ink that was turning brown, she’d read the name of the volume My Year With Dragons. The library had been about to close and she only had time to scribble down the book’s information before a guard politely escorted her out of antiquarian collection area. Surely today this guard would let her check it out . . . it was just a book after all.

The guard stared at the card again and then nodded. “Dah, okay, we get you this one. Sit, please.” He pointed to a small research table near one of the vast glass windows. Then he took a card and walked over to the shelves on the opposite side of the room.

While he retrieved the book, Madelyn set out her notebook and pens with shaking hands before she donned a pair of library-approved white gloves to handle the books safely. Why was the guard so hesitant to give it to her? From the text’s description in the card catalogue that she’d be able to translate, it was a memoir of an English man who had spent time in Russia. There was no political or social discourse in it that could prompt a Russian security officer to be concerned . . . But he had been. The man had looked ill at the thought of fetching that tome.

She peeped at the guard from the corner of her eye. He unlocked a glass case on one of the shelves, his head cocked to the side as he squinted at the titles on the spines. Then he used his index finger to gently tug a shorter leather-bound edition free of the case. Once he had it in his hands, he didn’t immediately come over to her. For several seconds he stood there, holding the book and staring at her. His lips were pressed tight in a grimace as he finally walked over to her.

“Please be careful. This is special book.” He held out the leather-bound tome and Madelyn accepted it. Her skin tingled again as she felt the smooth leather in her palms but she hid her reaction. The guard nodded at her again and then walked back to his station.

Madelyn’s skin continued to tingle as she lifted the leather tome to get a closer look. The cover was made of thick leather, bare of any titles or identifying marks except the initials J.B. in the bottom right corner. Madelyn smoothed her fingertips over the initials and opened the front cover. The title was written on the front page in pen and ink. Not in typeface.

My Year With Dragons—A personal collection of observations about my time spent with the Barinov family, by James Barrow. Dated 1821.

Madelyn whispered the words. It was written in English, and James Barrow could be English or American. She held the text in one hand and made a note in her notebook before she turned to the next page.

Her heart stuttered to a stop in her chest.

Three pencil sketches depicted the faces of three different men. Names were scrawled beneath each intimate portrait.

Mikhail, Rurik and Grigori. The Barinov Brothers.

The first man, Mikhail, seemed more brooding, his hair dark and his eyes almost black. He seemed worried, but he was attractive and even the shadows that haunted his eyes were enchanting. In the second drawing, the man named Rurik had dark hair and mischievous eyes, with a playful, charming grin on his lips that outshone the white scar drawn from above his right eyebrow down to his cheek as though he’d been slashed. He looked like a bit of a troublemaker but the thought made her smile.

Her eyes lingered longest over the sketch of the man named Grigori. Something about him stilled her, like the moment she stood outside on the first snowfall of winter. There was a strange whispering at the back of her mind, a collection of hushed voices that she couldn’t seem to hear clearly enough to understand. She was fascinated by the man’s handsome face, the pale hair and light eyes. There was a melancholy beauty to his lips, and an almost rueful smile barely hinted in the drawing—as though he had sat still long enough to assist the artist but as soon as he was able, he’d move again.

While all three men were intriguing, it was Grigori that Madelyn’s eyes came back to over and over. Something about his face . . . Like a half-remembered dream. Deep inside her, there was a stirring, as though a part of her she never knew existed had awoken. The voices didn’t stop that whispering and Madelyn couldn’t help but wonder if she was going mad. Between the dreams at night and now this . . . She drew a deep breath in and let it out, slow and measured, calming herself.

Stay focused on the research.

“Grigori.” She tested his name upon her lips, finding she liked the way it sounded, the syllables strong and yet soft.

She wanted this sketch. The compulsion to possess his likeness was too strong. She glanced about the room and saw the guard was on his phone, texting and not looking her way. Sneaking her cell phone out, she flicked on the camera and snapped a hasty picture of each of the brothers before she put it back in her purse. Hands trembling, she turned the page again, forcing herself to look totally calm and not like she’d been taking photographs of a protected manuscript.

The next page was a diary entry dated March 16, 1821.

“Dragons are real . . .” The first words of the entry made her body shiver and a sudden chill shot down her spine. She forced herself to keep reading and couldn’t help but wonder what James Barrow meant. Dragons weren’t real, at least not in the fire and brimstone sense. She was convinced that some extinct reptile species were behind the legends, but there was no such thing as real dragons.

“I met the Barinov brothers in Moscow and learned they were not mortal men . . . they were possessed of strange abilities. The touch of fire, the breath of smoke, the eyes that glowed . . .”

What the hell? Madelyn reread the last few sentences. What was Barrow saying? She’d expected the volume to recount tales of large serpents or lizards that Barrow must have encountered on his journey. As a naturalist, he would have been out in the field exploring different species of animals, and he could have easily glimpsed an ancient breed of reptile that looked dragon-like. The Komodo dragon was a modern example of what many rural cultures still believed were the descendants of dragons. It was part of her theory for her research. But Barrow wasn’t talking about Komodos or any other type of reptile. He was discussing men . . . Men who had powers. Perhaps the word dragon was simply a metaphor Barrow was using?

She glanced down the page and saw a smaller drawing of a man’s hand and what looked like an elaborate ring. When Madelyn peered at it more closely, she recognized the style. The metal of the ring had been formed into the shape of a serpent biting its own tail, the symbol for eternity or the cycle of renewal. An ouroboros. Another dragon connection, but still not the type of dragon she was searching for.

Rather than read the rest of the journal entry, she turned the next several pages and paused when she came across a full page sketch. The drawing of a sleek, serpentine beast perched on a rock outcropping overlooking the sea made her breath catch as much as Grigori’s portrait had. The beast sat back on its haunches and its large wings were flared wide, the clawed tips arching outward as though it was ready to fly. A barb-tipped tail curled around its legs. It was both a beautiful beast and a creature of nightmares, with gleaming teeth ready to snap. Reptilian slitted eyes stared straight ahead at her. The beast in her dreams came rushing back, the hiss of smoke escaping the nostrils, the puffs of breath as he prepared to spew fire, the lashing tail . . .

Beneath the sketch was one word. “Grigori.”

But the sketch was of a man, not a dragon . . . Was this one of the men with supposed powers?

Whatever this journal was, it was clearly the workings of a man prone to flights of fancy and not a real naturalist. Disappointment made her heart drop to her feet and her shoulders slump. She’d been so hopeful to find a book that could show an anthropological connection to the dinosaurs or explain the worldwide dragon mythology. But this journal was not the answer.

Even though she wanted to keep reading, it wasn’t a good idea. Many a good scholar who lost their way down a strange research rabbit hole had to find their way back to good solid research. She refused to let this one odd little book stump her. Better to put it back and move on. Still . . . she wanted just a few more photographs of the book; it couldn’t hurt to read it over as long as she didn’t use it for her research.

She surreptitiously took pictures of the next twenty pages before she hid her cellphone back in her backpack. Closing the book, she started at the leather surface, wishing she didn’t have to give it back. Indecision flitted through her, but there was no real choice. It wasn’t hers, and she couldn’t keep it. With a sigh, she rose from her research table and walked back over to the security station and held the book out the guard.

“Finished?” he asked, his eyes fixing on the book rather than her as though he was anxious to snatch it out of her hands.

“Yes, it wasn’t what I was looking for.” She almost didn’t let go when he tried to pull the book away from her. Finally the leather journal slipped through her fingers.

“Thank you,” she said to the guard. With a heavy heart, she returned to her study station and collected her notebooks and papers before removing her gloves and tucking them back in her bag. Each step away from Barrow’s mysterious journal left her feeling cold and distanced in a way that made little sense. A soft feminine voice, like the hum of a murmur from a dream teased her mind.

He has the answers but you’re too afraid to see . . .

Madelyn shook off the thought. The notes in Barrow’s journal were impossible to believe. He clearly didn’t know what he was talking about. He was rambling on about men with powerful abilities and drawing beasts more suited to a role-playing fantasy computer game than he was about creatures that tied to real mythology.

She would have to start back at the catalog again, but she had no energy to hunch over the little metal filing cabinets squinting at poorly scribbled titles and book descriptions the rest of the day.

Maybe I could take a day off. Wander around the library a bit and explore.

The architecture was beautiful and she hadn’t really had a chance to examine it before. As she exited the antiquarian room she glanced back one last time. The security guard was holding the journal, and he was speaking into his cell phone. He was also staring right at her.

That sense of being watched and being talked about was too strong this time to ignore. The guard said something into the phone and rather than put the book back on its shelf, he set it down and put a hand on his gun holster at his hip.

“Miss, please come back,” he said, taking a meaningful step in her direction. “My superior wishes to speak to you. You cannot leave.”

“He does? Why?” she asked, her muscles tensing and her hands tightening on her bag.

“The book you chose, he has questions . . .” The guard said, his gaze darting around her as though expecting someone to come and help him. “Sit down, now.” His tone was more forceful than before.

Madelyn knew she should stay put, talk to him . . . but her instincts suddenly roared to life and the only thought that flashed through her head was run . . . run fast. Body shaking, she stumbled on trembling legs to flee.

She shoved open the door and sprinted down the hall, hitting the top of the long set of stairs at a brisk run. Everything around her seemed to blur, and her heart was pounding hard enough to explode from her chest. Covering the steps in seconds, she forced herself to slow when she realized people were staring at her. That was the last thing she needed, people seeing a panicked woman fleeing a Russian library like a crazy person. It was a conspiracy theory in the making.

Her breath was labored and her body was shaking with a surge of adrenaline as she tried to walk calmly out of the library. The crowded streets were a blessing as she melted into the flow of people. She only looked back once and caught a glimpse of the security guard from the collections room. He stood at the top of the Russian State Library steps, his gaze scanning the crowd. He was still on his cell phone, talking rapidly.

Lowering herself by hunching over, Madelyn slipped down a side street to catch her breath. What the hell just happened? Sure, she’d snuck a few pictures of a text, but why would he chase her? She hadn’t seen any rules prohibiting photography in that section of the library. Why had the guard chased her?

What about James Barrow’s book was so dangerous that men would look for her?

Grigori’s face and the body of the fierce dragon like beast flashed across her mind. What have I stumbled onto?

***
Copyright © 2017 by Lauren Smith.
***
Learn more about or order a copy of Grigori by Lauren Smith, available October 3, 2017:

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Lauren Smith is an Oklahoma attorney by day, author by night who pens adventurous and edgy romance stories by the light of her smart phone flashlight app. She knew she was destined to be a romance writer when she attempted to re-write the entire Titanic movie just to save Jack from drowning. Connecting with readers by writing emotionally moving, realistic and sexy romances no matter what time period is her passion. She’s won multiple awards in several romance subgenres including: New England Reader’s Choice Awards, Greater Detroit BookSeller’s Best Awards, Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Award Quarter-Finalist and a Semi-Finalist for the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award.

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1 comment
Kareni
1. Kareni
Thanks for sharing the excerpt. This looks intriguing.
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