Dungeon RoyaleBy: Lexi Blake
Masters and Mercenaries, Book 6
This is my first book with two British leads and set entirely in foreign countries. I’ve been to many of the sites I talk about in this book. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the amazing tour guides and citizens of Helsinki, Finland and Berlin, Germany for making me feel so welcome and sparking my imagination.
As I said before, both the hero and heroine of this novel are British, and I’ve attempted to capture the flavor of their language. Yes, we all speak English, but anyone who has traveled to London knows we do it in very different ways. If you want an example, just look up what the Brits think of the word “fanny.” You won’t carry a fanny pack in London again, just saying. Because I’m just a Texas girl, I reached out to some friends for help in making Damon and Penny as realistic as possible.
I would like to say a huge thank you to Fiona Archer for her contribution to this book. I couldn’t have done it without you. And big hugs to the girls across the pond—the women of Naughty Book Club on Facebook were so helpful and warm in pointing me in the right direction when it came to British slang. Another big thank you to Katija Rothbächer for her help with the German and Finnish translations.
If I do anything right concerning the dialect in this book, the credit goes to them. All errors belong to me. I thank you for reading and hope you enjoy Damon and Penny’s story.
Dying was a messy business.
The coppery smell of blood filled his senses. It was so damn strong. He’d been surrounded by blood before, covered in it a few times when he’d been with the SAS, but this was different.
This was his blood.
And his death.
Get the fuck up, Knight. You’re not bleeding out here on your desk. This is not how you end.
He couldn’t breathe. A rattle came out of his chest as he attempted to take a deep breath. It sounded like the rusty old furnace from his childhood, the one that heated his grandfather’s hunting cabin in Scotland. He’d adored that old man. His grandfather died when Damon was eight. One more loss.
Would he see his grandfather again?
After everything he’d done in his life? Not bloody likely.
Through sheer force of will, he pushed off the desktop where he’d been slumped for what seemed like an eternity.
Phone. He needed a phone. Fucking bastard had taken his phone. Basil Champion the third had been his partner and his closest friend for the last ten years. He was also the man who had put a bullet in his lung. He was thorough. The arsehole had taken his mobile and his laptop.
Everything ached. Each and every move felt like the last. There was no grace to his walk. He stumbled, falling to the floor.
No air. No fucking air. His lungs wouldn’t work.
He stared up at the ceiling. He loved this club. He’d spent every dime he had to make it into an odd type of home. It was supposed to be a place where he could be himself, where he could one day live with his sub. He wasn’t sure he ever wanted a wife, but he’d considered taking a permanent sub and housing her in The Garden where they could live free of the constraints of the vanilla world.
Now he wondered why he’d waited. He was dying and no one would care. He’d held himself apart for so long, waiting for the perfect woman. Now he kind of wished he’d found any woman. His parents were dead and his partner turned out to be an international terrorist, so there wouldn’t be anyone weeping at his funeral.
Now that he thought about it, no one would likely show up at all.
He should have asked her out. The blonde. Penelope. He watched her when he was in the office. She was a pretty girl with a smile like sunshine. Until recently. She didn’t smile much anymore.
“Damon? Is something going on? The front door was left open,” a masculine voice said from the hallway.
A spark went through him. James Turner. He was a Dom here at The Garden. Usually the place was closed down at this time of day, but James had keys.
There was a squeak as the door opened. He tried to shift his head, but his muscles had stopped moving.
Suddenly James was beside him, staring down at him. “Knight? What the hell happened? I’m calling 999 right now. Hold on.” He had a phone in his hand. “Yes, I have an emergency. It looks like a gunshot wound.”
No one at The Garden knew he worked for MI6 with the exception of Baz. He would simply die and there would be nothing more of him. The periphery of his vision began to fade.
The world started to move in an odd set of flashes. Blessed darkness would come and then a flash of pain and light.
The medic holding his hand to his chest, pressing down.
The world going in and out of focus as he was lifted up.
The sounds of sirens as he was taken away.
“His BP is dropping. Damn it all. He’s in arrest.”
“Big bastard is a fighter, that one. He coded three times on our way in.”
He caught sight of a nurse holding some form of anesthetic mask over his face. She was blonde, curvy. Funny. She looked a lot like Penelope. Such a pretty thing. A translator. He’d heard her speaking Danish over the phone. It had gotten him hot. Not for me. Not for me. He told himself that all the time. She was rather kind to everyone around her. She’d made him a cake for his birthday. No one else had remembered his birthday and he’d never even told her she was pretty. Never asked her out to lunch. Never done the thing he really wanted to do—never pulled her close and planted his lips on hers.
Because he was a bastard who would break her so he’d kept his distance and now he would likely never know how truly sweet she was. He’d worked with her for years and she had no idea he watched her.
“Just hold on, Mr. Knight,” the nurse was saying.
As the anesthetic took control, his last thought was about a girl with blonde hair and a sweet smile.
* * * *
Penelope Cash stood in the cemetery on the outskirts of London, rain beating against the umbrella she held, and wondered when the rush of relief would come. She’d taken care of her mother for five years. She’d handled every bit of horror that the dementia had thrown at her. She’d worked to pay for the day nurse and had not a pence left to show for what should have been years of saving.
So where was the relief?
She stared down at the grave they would soon place her mother in and all she could see was the vibrant woman she’d been. All she could see was the mother who had taken her to the cinema and told her stories at night. The woman who had kept them all together until disease had torn her apart.
There was no relief to be had, only an aching sadness. Her mother had effectively died years before, replaced with a woman who screamed at night and pointed at horrors that weren’t there.
“Hey, love, are you coming back to Diana’s?” Her brother, George, slipped an arm around her shoulders.
She sighed. She loved Diana, but she didn’t think she could handle being at her perfect sister’s house today. It reminded her far too much of everything she’d lost. How could she watch Diana and her babies and her husband? She very likely would never have a family of her own. There had only ever been Peter who had been interested in her, and now he was gone.
“I think I’ll go to the office for a while.” Work was numbing, blissfully so. When she was translating a document or analyzing a code, she wasn’t thinking about everything she’d denied herself over the years.
And when she caught sight of Damon Knight, she could sigh and daydream a little. Her own James Bond.
“Do you hate us, Pen?”
She nearly sighed. It was very much like her brother to bring up their family problems on a day like this. “Of course not.”
She turned away, hoping he would let it all drop. He could go to Diana’s and drink her excellent wine and pretend that he was in mourning. Damn it all. She didn’t want to hate him. Tears blurred her vision.
“I wouldn’t blame you if you did.” He fell into step beside her, his normally handsome face a bit worn and weary. “I think I hate myself a little today. I know Diana does.”
“I don’t want to talk about this now, George.”
He stopped her, his hand reaching out. “You never want to talk about it, Pen. You seem to think that if you let it go, it will just float away and we’ll never have to deal with it. I loved Mum. I know I didn’t show it the way you did, but I loved her and I realized something last night. I realized that the way I prove it is by keeping this family together.”
George had been constant. Even after their mum had lost the ability to recognize him, he’d come to visit twice a week, making the long train ride from Oxford to London without fail. Diana had paid as much as they could toward Mum’s care and brought meals by on occasion. They had tried.
But they hadn’t been forced to live with the daily struggles. They had their own families.
“If I let you, you’ll drift away from us, Pen. I don’t want that. I don’t want to end up like the other families I’ve seen break apart after their parents die. Sure we would probably see each other this Christmas, but you would make up an excuse to miss Easter and then time would do the rest. I know the burden you carried. I know you carried it alone. You have every right to hate us. We didn’t do everything we could have. I should have moved back.”