© 2010 by Kim Knox
Warning: This title contains wild sex, dark violence and irascible dragons who shift into brooding men. Oh, and the utter perversion of mythology.
To Mandy. And to Hailey, for her patience.
In the early hours, as I hit my twenty-seventh birthday, I would belong, body and soul, to Lord Sinon, the First Dragon of the British Isles. It wasn’t a surprise. My human father had reminded me of the honour since…well…forever. Now I faced my last night of freedom, in a little side street up from the docks. Not the most salubrious of areas, but then what I needed on my final night was only just legal.
I tottered around a puddle, yellow lamplight splashing across it, and reached the safety of the flagstone pavement. The click-click of my ridiculously high heels echoed over the narrow side street, mixing with the dull, heavy beat of music throbbing through the spring air. I straightened and pulled at my clinging gold top. My fingers shook and, for a moment, I shut my eyes and breathed in the cool night. It didn’t help.
My gut tightened, the nerves that gripped me for the last week flushing hot panic under my skin. I breathed slowly, in and out, concentrating on each breath as it brought with it the familiar scents of this part of my city. Damp brick, the thick tang of the river, hints of cooked food and the odour of stale beer. No, my fear wouldn’t wreck my final night, a night I intended to enjoy to the full.
I smoothed down my scrap of a top, leaving my toned stomach exposed, and eased my hands over my hips, settling the short skirt against my thighs. The First Dragon would own me…but not for another few hours. In that time, I intended to find a hard-bodied man, or two-a smile tugged at my mouth-I was half gryphon, after all.
The neon sign of the club stretched down the brickwork of the converted warehouse, casting a dull red light over the long, chattering queue of scantily dressed men and women. I tottered along the narrow stretch of pavement between the rope and the cobbled street, ignoring the glares that followed me. They were pure-blood human. I was not. My entry to the club was automatic.
A black-suited doorman held up his hand and he frowned at me. I tilted my head and waited. He was all muscle and attitude under his smooth suit, and my shadow-sense picked out the hint of the mythoi in him. I’d found my ability sharper than most and could find even a drop of hidden beast lurking under its human sheath. Four generations interbreeding with pure humans had diluted the mythoi in front of me, but traced in the air around him was the heavy frame of a minotaur. Through the lamplight, the shadow of great curved horns jutted from his forehead.
He had the strength I needed in the opposite sex, but I liked them lean, pretty, and the frowning brute blocking the arched doorway was anything but that.
“Jaime Dalton,” I said and flashed him a quick smile. As a mythoi, I was listed on the register, a record that held our parentage, our location, our entire sexual history. It was a catalogue of our lives anxious humans had demanded centuries before, terrified of how the mythoi blood would mix with theirs. None of us escaped that infamous list. “I have the right to jump the queue.”
He tapped his earpiece, muttered my name and waited. After a quick second, he gave a curt nod and stood to one side. “Enjoy your evening, Ms. Dalton.”
“Thank you.” My heels sank into the thick carpet running down the wide steps. Fingers skirted the bronzed handrail, ready to grab it if my stupid shoes tripped me. Soft lighting cast shadows over the smooth arch of brick above my head, and the warm scents of other mythoi threaded through the close air. It had been a long while since I’d visited the club. My creature didn’t need to find satiation in constant sex, not like other mythoi beasts…but I was making my final night of freedom the exception.
The low, domed ceiling stretched between thick arches of brick. The glow of golden light washed over rough walls, glimpses and shadows caught in the maze. It was still early, so only a few of the mythoi gathered around the rough-sanded tables.
In the far corner, a pair of karkadann looked up from their beers. They were very close to being full-bloods and their human sheaths reflected that. Tall, lithe with a luminous glow to their pale skin that only enhanced the perfection of their faces…they were tempting, until I met their pale blue eyes. Hunger drove them, and that raging need strengthened the shadow of their true form. Enough mythoi blood meant they could melt into their shadows and shift into that shape. I winced. They were all muscle, hooves, fangs and twisting horns, and I wanted a night of pleasure, not a night of fighting for my life.
I broke contact and my heels clacked against the slate floor. I made my way to the bar as it stretched out against the far wall. Shifting my backside onto a high stool, I rested my feet against the bronze rail running along the base of the bar. My toes thanked me.
The barman, holding a barest drop of roane blood, smiled. “What’ll it be?”
I scanned the fridges behind the counter and pointed out an unpronounceable bottle of lager. He set it and a tall glass before me, the ghost of his mythoi shadow wrapping a fine web around his fingers. “You want a tab?”
Another privilege of being a mythoi in the club: credit. “Please,” I said, sliding a finger down the neck of the bottle and cutting a line through the moisture. I poured the golden liquid into the glass as the barman put the identity pad on the counter. Drying my fingers, I pressed my palm against the cool plastic. A brief glow flared around my hand, and my details, who and what I was, scrolled above it. Tomorrow they would find out I was completely penniless. Tonight…tonight was different.
The barman glanced up. “I wasn’t certain. You’re a gryphon…” His hand traced around the imprint of my mythoi shadow. “It’s fluid.”
I sipped at my beer, the cold, bitter taste sharp against my tongue, and shrugged. “The more ancient mythoi tend to do that.”
“We don’t get many of your kind in here. It’s an honour.” The first group of humans gaggled at the far end of the bar, loud and laughing, and the barman let out a little sigh. “Enjoy your evening.”
I watched the pure-humans, nervous, eager at frequenting the illicit bar. They’d been like this around us for almost two centuries. Fearing us. Craving us. Since the first mythoi had burst into this reality in 1892, wild, untamed and having no memory of where they came from, who they were. With their strange shadows, they terrified the Victorians. And then the dragons discovered they could harness residual mythoi energy-the energy from our breaking into the human dimension-and people feared their growing influence. To reassure them, we were catalogued, restricted, monitored.
However, some pure-blooded humans, like the ones leering at the barman, wanted to mix with us, ignoring the distrust and distaste of the general public. We were the lure of the strange and unknown and-for whoever went home with the karkadanns stalking up to the bar-a source of danger too. Though none were more dangerous than the dragons. Emergence had shown that. Lord Sinon himself had burned down a square mile of east London, a wild, silver dragon, the reports said, alive with flame…
I bit at my lip and stared into my glass, watching the fast rise of golden bubbles. Dragons. I couldn’t push them from my thoughts.
Someone was staring at me. I could feel it as a warm, easy slide over my skin, and it forced me to suck in a quick breath. I straightened, pushing my shoulders back, and my nipples peaked. It was an unexpected reaction. My gryphon-half barely reacted to sexual stimuli; power in all its forms was what got her hot. I glanced to my left and found the heated, amber gaze of a man at the end of the long bar.
A ghost of a smile lifted his mouth, and he raised his bottle of lager. Light sparked gold in his dark hair and over the sharp beauty of his face. The shadow surrounding him melted into the darkness. There was a hint of wings and horns, a mythoi shadow even more nebulous than my own. I had to wonder if a full gryphon would be able to see his complete glory. This man was something truly ancient, and the half-gryphon in me wanted that intensity.
He pushed himself away from the counter and walked towards me with a slow, measured gait that made my heart pound. This wasn’t me. I didn’t react to men like this. I reacted to wealth, position, the promise of power. It was why dragons owned us, after all. They’d supplied mythoi energy to the countries of the world for the last century, found for them by the gryphons who craved it. Was that it? The inherent power in the man, in his mythoi, was unlike anything I’d ever felt before.
“What are you?” Inwardly, I groaned. Great way to look like a complete idiot.
He leaned an elbow against the counter, and the brush of his shadow against mine rushed a prickle of gooseflesh over my skin. “A lowly hybrid,” he murmured, and his hint of self-mockery pricked at me. “But you,” the tip of the bottle followed the blurred edges of my shadow in a lazy, skin-rippling caress, “golden and so, so strong.” The quick, unconscious wetting of his lips with the tip of his tongue had the urge to taste him, to sink my teeth into his firm, bottom lip, flushing heat under my skin. “Truly beautiful.”
“Are you a regular here?” He eased closer, the slide of his shadow over and through mine making my breath short and my chest tight. I turned to him, unable to stop myself. My question had been little more than a squeak, and I willed more strength into my voice. “Because really, if I’d known, I’d have come here more often.”
His finger brushed over my cheek, and the contact was electric. “Semi-regular.” He threaded through to my hair, holding me, his lips only inches from mine. “And I think we should take…this…away from mere mortals.”
“This?” The question came out on a little burst of air. “We’re at a…this…already?”
His quick grin warmed his amber eyes to a deep, intoxicating gold. “Aren’t we?” He put his beer bottle on the counter and took another step closer to me. The heat of his body brushed over me now, his spiced scent sliding into my lungs. “And there’s enough of the mythoi in both of us to have those pure-bloods falling on each other.” He paused, and my blood pounded in my ears as he focused on my mouth. The soft, rich murmur of his voice made me wet for him and nothing, nothing else mattered. “And I don’t think that’s what they came for.”
“Is this what you came for?”
“Me? Yes.” His unhurried smile eased through me. “You’re irresistible.”
“So much flattery.”
“I am far from insincere.” The first brush of his lips against mine forced a gasp, maybe from both of us. “Trust me.”
“Who are you?”
It wasn’t one of the family names I recognised, yet he sounded British…which didn’t make sense. Every one of the mythoi was catalogued-
“Thinking too much,” he murmured, and his mouth hovered over mine, so close everything else simply fell away. “Who I am isn’t important right now. What I want to do is.”
Kaden’s cooled fingers teased along my bare thigh, and the need to take his mouth fired through me. I’d come to the club for this, to find a man with whom to lose my final hours of freedom…but it felt too fast, and there was something else that had my nerves straining. Something about him burned as hungry and dangerous as the karkadann.
He lifted an eyebrow. “Second thoughts…?”
“Jaime.” Only the wild thud of my heart echoed in my ears. I didn’t want second thoughts. I wanted to be naked with this man as soon as possible. Hell, I was half gryphon. Having that much of the beast in my genome meant I could shift my shape and my mythoi came with a razor sharp beak, talons and wings. A smile curved my mouth. “I have a suite at the Waterfront Hotel.”
Kaden’s smile deepened and his eyes shone. His finger traced over my bottom lip, and the urge to tease him with my tongue tip rioted through me. “You’re rich?”
Was there something of the gryphon in him? The need for wealth, we couldn’t help it…but unfortunately, he was wrong. The First Dragon had liquefied all my assets, as meagre as they were, and taken them for himself, but not before I’d splurged on nights in a luxurious suite. It hadn’t made me forget that, in a few hours, he would own everything about me. “I’m treating myself on my last night of freedom.”
His eyes narrowed. “A final fling?”
My gut tightened, but he wasn’t pulling back. And really, it was best that the attractive stranger understood that our…this…could go nowhere. The First Dragon would choose my mate, if he let me take one at all. Only profitable gryphons bred after long service. Anyway, mythoi didn’t cross species to find a mate. I really had no clue what Kaden was.
I pulled in a slow breath. “My only fling. My life will get complicated tomorrow.”
“Then tonight will be simple.” He stood back and held out his hand. “Shall we?”
My time was short. He was beautiful, and both I and my gryphon wanted him. I needed little convincing beyond that. Our differing tastes seldom gelled on one man. I slid my fingers over his thick palm. Long fingers closed over mine, strong, sure, and I slipped down from the stool, my heels clacking against the slate. “I think we shall.”
The barman looked up from taking money from the gaggle of pure-bloods. A line creased his forehead, but he didn’t offer any other reaction. We weaved our way out, the club filling with mythoi and humans. More than one woman sent a long, interested look over Kaden, and even I couldn’t help casting a quick sideways glance. He walked with a lithe grace, and power shimmered over him. Even before it had begun, I regretted that I’d have only one night with my stranger.
The soft click of the hotel door as it closed skittered nervous energy down my spine.
Kaden leaned against the thick, dark wood, a speculative smile cutting his mouth. Soft lamplight carved gold over his smooth features, and his amber eyes gleamed. His shadow pulsed hot and heavy in the short corridor leading to the sitting room, and I backed away from him. My heels caught in the thick, pale carpet, and I kicked the bloody shoes free. My toes thanked me. Again.
“Changing your mind?”
The walk from the club had been quick, silent. He’d gripped my hand and the strength, the promise of his touch had kept the fire sparking under my veins. In the wide, steel-lined lift, our reflections had bounced back at us, and I’d wanted to push him up against the cold metal and find his mouth…but the red light of security cameras glared balefully from the lift’s ceiling. And now I stood on the edge of the long sitting room and my nerve failed me.
“No, not changing my mind.” He pushed himself away from the door, and my feet, of their own volition, backed farther into the room. Kaden was beautiful, powerful. I wanted him, I did, but…it, he, the moment, made everything real. My gut clenched, the sudden pain making me bite at my lip. I would sleep with Kaden and then the First Dragon’s envoy would escort me to his superior. At which point my life would be over. The man in front of me was my last dose of freedom. “I only have a short time,” I said, watching Kaden move towards me with liquid grace. “This time I have…”
“It’s running too fast.” His head tilted, and the smile lurking on his mouth forced my heart to beat hard. He stood close again. His fingers brushed my jaw, and I sucked in a quick breath. Something about Kaden, the man, his shadow stealing over mine, made my body ache. “This room was another promise to yourself?”
He glanced behind me, no doubt seeing the mess of my clothes thrown over the corner couch and the papers spread out over one end of the long dining table. “How long have you been here?”
“Two nights.” I willed myself to step towards him, to press my body against his lean hardness. My palm skirted over his chest, teasing, playing with the smooth material of his shirt. “I wanted luxury before…”
“What?” Kaden threaded his fingers through my loose hair and turned my face up to his. His lips brushed mine, soft, tender, and it stopped my breath. “What’s taking you away?”
I couldn’t answer, didn’t want to. I only wanted more of his mouth, for him to deepen the kiss into something molten, wild, and for me to forget for the few hours I had left. I bit at his lip, and he growled, a low, primitive sound, and it pushed me hard against him.
Kaden murmured something. His shadow wrapped around me in a dark, enveloping wave and I arched into him. Whatever he was, whatever ancient mythoi rode in his blood, it sank into my core. I couldn’t wait. My mouth took his, my tongue, teeth, lips battling, wanting more of him.
Kaden groaned, his hands shifting until he could snake his arms across my back. He tugged at my skirt, yanking it up my thigh. A hot palm and fingers caressed my backside. He squeezed, urging me up, and I obeyed, lifting my legs. With an all too easy strength he held me, and I wrapped my thighs around his waist, my arms linking behind his head. Our shadows merged, shifted, unsure at the closeness, at the need burning up through us, but wanting it, wanting it as much as we did. And that wasn’t right. Mythoi didn’t cross species-
“Who are you?” The question escaped after I dragged needed air into my lungs. My hand framed the hardness of his smooth jaw. His eyes had darkened and something sparked in their depths, a fire than made me want to strip him and fuck him. “What are you?”
“What you need.”
A chair clattered to the floor behind me, and my backside hit the cool mahogany table. “That’s not an answer.”
He smiled, brief, hard, and need for him tightened low in my belly. “Do you want to say why you want me here? Why you want to fuck a stranger?” His smile grew, and something must’ve reflected in my eyes as he said, “I thought not.” He brushed tangled hair back from my forehead, and the unexpected tenderness hurt my chest. I breathed past it. “So, till the morning, we’ll both have our secrets. Agreed?”
My throat ached and I couldn’t speak. I nodded instead.
He tugged at my clinging top, pulling it over my head. Cool air brushed my bare skin. The top slid from his fingers, dropped in a golden puddle on the carpet, and Kaden let out a slow breath. My nipples hardened under his intense gaze, and everything in me ached for his warm lips, his tongue to find my skin and lick-
“Here on the table?” he asked.
“You want to eat instead?”
The smile he turned on me, wicked, possessive, squeezed my heart. “Later. I promise.” He leaned over me, his lips close to mine. “Right now, I want you.”
I resisted the urge to cover his mouth with mine. If I was getting naked, then I wanted to run my fingers and tongue over the smooth muscles hinted at under his shirt. “Then you have too many clothes.”
His fingers moved and the shirt joined mine on the floor. My own hands, nervous, eager, reached for him, and Kaden shivered under the first touch of my fingertips over the rippled hardness of his stomach. His breath warmed my cheek. “Better?”
“You want more?”
“I want all of you.”
Kaden grinned. “I can do that.” His smile turned evil, and he traced a languid, shuddering path over my ribs to the thin-banded edge of my skirt. He made quick work of the zip. I wriggled and the skirt and my underwear joined the growing pile on the floor. “Though you first.”
“So it seems.” His hands were already moving to his trousers, and my fingers covered his, joining him in pushing the heavy fabric away from his hot, smooth skin. I traced my fingers along his cock, my thumb teasing over the sensitive head. Kaden hissed. “Ready?”
He laughed and gripped my hips. “Isn’t that obvious?”
My thighs held him, my calves sliding over the hard, hot muscle of his legs, tugging him closer. This first time would be fast, fierce, and my blood pounded at the thought. I guided him, teasing his cock over my wet flesh, little sparks of need firing under my skin as I made both of us ache for more.
My name was a soft growl, and his shadow thickened around him, encasing us, vast wings cocooning my own shadow, melting over it. The feeling was…bliss, deepening at the first push of his hips, of the slow, slow tease of him into my body.
Kaden’s ragged breaths rushed warmth over my mouth, and his darkened eyes held me. “We need to fuck you. Right now. Hard.”
“My…” He sucked in a breath, and I had to have imagined his pause, before he rolled his hips. The sensation of him hard and deep within my body rioted in my flesh and I groaned. “My shadow. It wants yours.”
I blinked. The idea seemed forbidden…and delicious. “We…” He distracted me with a palm sliding up my spine, pressing me hard to his chest. His mouth brushed my jaw, my chin. He nibbled at my bottom lip, and the urge to deepen the kiss, to find a fast and furious release, warred with my need to question him. The question won. “How? I’ve never…”
“I know.” The satisfaction thickening his voice pushed me against him. He groaned, and his teeth sank, hard, sharp. The sudden pleasure-pain forced me to grab at him, pull him tight against my body. “Let us share both of you.” The words brushed my skin, and my shadow stretched, her curiosity piqued. “Don’t deny yourself this pleasure.”
But already our shadows seemed to be…melting…into each other, a rush of sensuous heat falling over my skin. I groaned. Incredible. Intoxicating. My mouth took Kaden’s, and I ran with the wild joy of our mythoi, the spiralling need of flesh and wings and talons to coalesce, to fuck.
My spine arched, and I met Kaden’s hard thrust, knowing that his ancient mythoi, so powerful and delicious, mirrored his hips, finding, fucking the other half of me. My fingers raked down his spine, the mix of hot human flesh and the rough skin of his beast making my blood pound and my pussy desperate for his next thrust.
“Yes…” Kaden’s voice was raw, barely a rasp against my parted lips. “We want all of you.”
The press of his body against mine, the tight hold of his arms, his scent wrapping around me, fired the ache deep in my flesh. I couldn’t hold him close enough, envious of the ease with which our shadows merged into a glorious spiral of increasing pleasure.
I met his thrusts. No mythoi had ever offered me this…ecstasy. Never. I fisted my fingers in his hair, and my mouth fought with his, wanting more of him, all of him as he wanted me. The first hot flare of orgasm bloomed, surging up from my pelvis. I moaned into his mouth, and Kaden slammed into me.
The table creaked, the slap of his hips against mine delicious, decadent. I teetered on the edge of coming, the pressure wild, fierce in my flesh. I reached for my other self, wanting her to share-
The fearsome power of our shadows blasted over me. Stunning. Primitive. A part of our passion and a brilliant, ferocious force of their own. It whipped my rough surge of need, the stroke of Kaden finding every…sweet…spot…and there, just there.
I ripped my mouth from his, needing to scream, to breathe through the riot of blistering joy tearing up through my flesh. Grabbing at Kaden, I found his mouth again, swallowing his cries, and came again as our mythoi found their incredible, searing release.
The kisses eased, melted into something soft, teasingly gentle, and I couldn’t help the smirk breaking across my lips. “That was…” I eased my fingers over his damp shoulder to trace along the edge of his jaw. “No one ever told me my mythoi could do that.”
Kaden smiled and, with a final kiss, pulled back. “I’m glad.”
He released a soft, satisfied sigh and watched as his fingers ran through the loose tangles of my hair. “The first fire is always special,” he murmured, and I couldn’t help the shiver that rippled over my bare skin. “Thank you.” He eased back and a new, wickedly attractive smile pulled at his mouth. “Do you think we’ll make it to a bed this time?”
I bit back my grin and took his hand. “The suite isn’t that big.”
Kaden let himself be pulled around the long table and past the corner couch. The great circular mirror reflected his sleek body, the wash of light only gilding his perfection. He caught me staring and smirked. “You looking too?”
Heat burned under my cheeks, but I held his molten gaze. “I’m enjoying the time I have.”
He urged me forward and through the open bedroom door. A lamp flickered on, washing a soft light around the room. A wall of glass looked out onto the terrace, and I found us reflected there, a ghostly image on the darkness and the bright lights across the river.
Kaden slid his strong arms around my waist and pulled me back against his hard body. His mouth eased along my bare shoulder, hot, wet, and I tilted my head and watched him explore my neck. I ran my fingers along the strength of his arm wrapped under my breasts. Little shivers ran under my skin as his other hand snaked down over my belly to tease my mons. “Our mythoi are sated.” He nipped at the curve of my shoulder, and I sucked in a breath. “No stamina.”
“You don’t seem to be tired.”
His index finger slid lower, teasing, and I pushed my pelvis back against his growing erection. His cock slid smooth and warm against my skin, and I couldn’t help the little wiggle I gave him. He tightened his fingers under my breast, his thumb grazing my peaked nipple. Breath brushed my ear. “You have me until you don’t want me anymore.”
Would that be possible? The thought burned through me. Would my fling backfire? Not that the register could allow an official mating. Crossing species produced a corruption, a thing of horror.
“You’re thinking again.”
Kaden turned me, found my mouth, and all further thought stopped.
My thighs hit the edge of the bed, and I broke away from him with a sudden, indrawn breath. My heart pounded and liquid fire seared under my skin. His mouth-what he could do with it was incredible. I stared at his kiss-swollen lips, and the need to find them again, to lose myself in him, had my hand stroking over his hard pectoral and the sharp strength of his collarbone until my fingers traced his jaw. My fingernail teased along the edge of his lip, and his mouth parted in a soft breath.
A smile twitched across his perfect lips and his hands eased over my waist to the curve of my hips. “We’re wasting the bed.”
“Not anymore.” I took his mouth and tumbled back onto the soft, deep mattress.
Kaden grabbed at me as he lost his footing, a look of disbelief cutting across his features. We bounced onto the bed, and I couldn’t help the laugh that escaped me. For a long second, I couldn’t gauge Kaden’s reaction. Dark emotion flickered through his eyes, and I had the oddest feeling that he never laughed…but then humour lightened his gaze.
He grabbed my wrists, lifting my arms and pinning me to the sheets. He stretched his lean, naked body against mine, straddling my hips. His heat, the brush of hair against my sensitised breasts, his cock pressing into my belly was almost too much. I arched into him involuntarily. Kaden’s eyes darkened and wicked humour twisted his mouth. “I think that needs a punishment in kind, don’t you?”
Before I could react, one strong hand caught both my wrists. His other hand worked teasing fingers down the underside of my arm. I gasped, wriggling against the intense sensations searing through my flesh, and still his fingers moved, played, finding too-sensitive reactions in my armpit, the curve of my breast.
A yelp ripped from me when his evil, evil fingertips found my waist. My body bucked, but his weight, his strength, held me to the bed. “Kaden!” His name was little more than a gasp. “Stop, please.”
His mouth was just above mine and it gave a wicked twist that forced my heart to beat harder. He drew insane circles against my skin, unrelenting, as my hips turned, twisted against his. The torment of his fingers fired wild heat through my flesh, coalescing with the hard push of him against my pubic bone. The tension tightened low in my pelvis, building, and I found an increasing rhythm, wanting to satisfy the thickening heat pounding, surging-
“Come for me.” Kaden’s raw words arched my body into his, his mouth teasing, hot over mine. He gripped my hip, urging me harder against him. “Come…and then I can really start to play with you.”
I couldn’t stop the overwhelming, shuddering rush that swept over my body, the power of it that robbed me of thought and breath. My mythoi roused with the strength of my release, wrapped a steadying warmth around me, easing the riot into a smooth, delicious wave. I let out a deep sigh and my body lay boneless, satisfied beneath him.
Kaden smiled and released my wrists, stroking his fingers down my arm. The little aftershocks melted into the hum of my flesh, and a smile curved my mouth. “You want to play?”
Light gilded the lithe perfection of his body, and I lifted a lax hand to trace over the rippled muscles of his abdomen. He twitched under my light touch, and I grinned as I teased my fingertips along his cock. Kaden sucked in a quick breath, his thighs straining, but he didn’t protest as I circled the sensitive head.
“Jaime.” The almost-growl of my name cast a fresh ripple through my sated body. His hand covered mine, easing my fingers free. “I plan to play with you.” He leaned forward, his hands planted on either side of my head. I couldn’t resist finding his mouth, letting his tongue flicker against mine…but he didn’t deepen the brief kiss. I groaned as he instead chased close kisses over my jaw. Hot breath burned against my ear. “You want my mouth? All right, I’ll kiss, suck, lick every inch of you.”
I swallowed, pushing against him, feeling heat and tension coil again in my belly. “How are you doing this to me?” The words escaped on a gasp of air. I winced…but it was true. Kaden Rhodes seared fire under my skin with his slightest touch.
His soft laughter rippled goose bumps. “I assure you, whatever this is, it’s mutual.”
An undercurrent of meaning lurked in his words, but I couldn’t examine it because his teeth nipped at my ear. I groaned, tilting my neck, wanting him everywhere he promised and vowing I would return the favour just as soon as I recovered.
Kaden nipped at my neck, and all other thought faded. His warm lips glided over my throat, pressing insane little butterfly kisses that shortened my breath and made my heart pound. I ran my hands over his chest, his ribs, stealing my fingers around to the smooth, taut muscles in his back. I needed to ground myself, find some way to deny the building tension that even his simple little kisses created…but touching didn’t help. Not one bit.
“What are you, Kaden?”
His tongue teased over my shoulder, his soft hum making more questions impossible. “I thought-” His lips teased the underside of my breast and I released a sharp, involuntary gasp, “-that we were keeping our secrets until the morning.”
“But that’s-” His tongue curled around my tightened nipple and broke my claim to his unfairness. He sucked and teased, the hot flow of need forcing my hands to clutch at him.
“Unfair?” His molten gold gaze held me, the lure of wickedness pulsing desire through my flesh. “I promised to play, not to be fair.”
“Don’t you wonder about who I am?”
A line of close kisses burned over my skin to my other breast. “I know who you are.”
I froze, staring at him, and found a dark humour lifting his mouth. “You know…”
“Your name is Jaime and you taste…” His tongue tip traced a wet line under my breast, and I groaned against the sudden, intense rush. “Incredible. Anything else? Not important.”
I wanted to believe that. I did. But even as his clever mouth trailed kisses over my ribs, thoughts of who my stranger was wouldn’t leave me. How had I found a man who could satisfy me and my mythoi so easily? It had to be more than a convenient coincidence. “Tell me one thing about yourself.” I ran my fingers through his thick, dark hair, fisting the cool silkiness as he circled my navel. “One thing.”
“I’ve never tasted anyone like you.”
Kisses eased over the soft curve of my belly. “You have your secrets. I have mine.” Warm air brushed over my mons, and I sucked in a quick breath. “And if you can talk so much, I’m really not doing this right.” He pressed kisses into the crease of my thigh, his tongue hot, ruthless, the anticipation of where I wanted him forcing out rough gasps. I clutched at his hair, his little nips and bites on the sensitive flesh of my inner thigh sparking pure heat and tightening desire.
He’d made it impossible for me to speak. My only thoughts centred on his mouth, on the rough stroke of his hands over my hips and thighs. Already the first flickers of another orgasm curled up from my belly, and I grabbed at the sheets, twisting their softness in tight fists. “You have to…”
“What?” He licked across to my other thigh, his scalding tongue arching my spine off the bed. Strong hands gripped me, held me to the soft mattress. “Here?” He kissed my thigh, his mouth so close to where I ached for him that I could easily smack him. Hard. I felt his smug smile just before his tongue swept all too briefly back over my labia. He nibbled my thigh. “Or here again.”
“Kaden…” I growled, and my growing frustration almost pulled my mythoi from her sated state. Everything in me screamed for release, my flesh tight and too, too ready. “You’re evil.”
“And now you know one thing about me.”
His tongue curled against my clitoris and cut off any coherent reply I could make. I think I moaned, maybe his name, maybe I cursed him, but it all became lost in the sudden and unexpected swell of molten heat rising up, up from my belly. I tried to breathe, to flow with it, yet Kaden’s unrelenting tongue thickened the wild riot, made my heart race, my breath short. And then it hit me.
I screamed, pushing hard against Kaden’s talented mouth as white heat smashed over my thoughts, my flesh. My mythoi wrapped around me, luxuriating in my ecstasy, and she eased me down, let my body sink, deep, deep into the mattress. “Your mouth should be made illegal.”
Kaden smirked against my thigh. “It already is.”
A soft snort escaped me. “Now that’s two things I know about you.”
He laughed and crawled over my body, sprinkling hot kisses on my damp skin. Pulling my limp body into his arms, he held me tight, his face buried in my hair. A long sigh brushed against my ear. “And that’s more than enough to know.”
I ran my fingertips down his back in a thorough examination of his smooth skin. His arms tightened briefly as I teased the hollow base of his spine, his hips pushing against mine. I kissed his collarbone. The hint of soap and cologne burned against my tongue, and underlying it was the elusive taste of him, spiced, sharp, and the undeniable hint of power that broke a soft moan from me. What was he? “Now it’s my turn.”
He pulled back, lamplight drops of heated gold in his amber eyes. “Your turn?”
“How can I resist this?” My teeth grazed over his flat nipple, making him draw in a quick, sharp breath. His skin burned under my tongue, and my fingers tightened against his ribs at the heat rising under my own skin. He was addictive. Completely addictive. “Or this?” I kissed and licked my way down over his taut abdomen, pushing him onto his back to let the light spill over his perfection. His quickened breaths pulled a smile from me, and his fingers tangled in my hair. I felt their trembling. “Sensitive?”
“No one has…” He groaned as I tormented his navel, deliberating pressing myself against his straining cock. “No one-”
Licking over the head of his cock broke him. He strained off the bed, and I pushed hard at his thighs to keep him still. I sucked him into my mouth, flicking my tongue tip fast and sure against the sensitive skin. Kaden growled, and his shadow thickened the air, falling in a cool, delicious slide of smooth wings against my spine.
I closed my eyes, the incredible touch of his mythoi dropping liquid heat low into my pelvis. No one had taken him? It was insane. Kaden was a wild mix of power and beauty. The thought that I was the first to have my lips on him made me grip his cock and urge him to thrust into my mouth. This was our single night together, but I wanted him to remember me.
Incoherent words rushed from his lips, and his hips bucked. The heavy weight of his shadow pressed into my spine, coarse, claw-tipped fingers gripping my backside. The rough tongue of his mythoi laved my skin, sparking fire along my spine, and my gasp drew Kaden deeper.
How was he doing this? I groaned at the slide of its tongue between my buttocks, long, lazy, deep licks that mirrored how I took Kaden. My fingers dug into his thighs hard enough to bruise, but I didn’t care. I wanted him, wanted the man practically panting my name to come in my mouth and quick, because his mythoi was just as relentless as Kaden had been. Already, the fierce heat of my approaching orgasm burned hard in my belly and I fought it, but-
Kaden stiffened under me, and a wild cry broke from him. I swallowed him, even as my release shattered my thoughts. My body shuddering, Kaden pulled me into his arms in a tight, crushing hold. For long seconds, we simply breathed, and my thoughts span with the impossibility of the man. A shadow couldn’t do that. It just couldn’t…
The two words forced me to close my eyes. Too much emotion lurked in his voice, and I wanted to hold him, promise that… My throat ached. I couldn’t stay with him. This was my fling before the First Dragon bound me into service. Nothing more. “Your shadow.” I pressed my lips to his throat and hoped he wouldn’t feel my tremor as I tried to think about something, anything else. “How did you…?”
“He’s a law unto himself.” Kaden low chuckle ran a shiver over my skin, and his arms tightened. His lean strength, the heat of his body, almost brought out a sigh. I could get very used to him…and the thought hurt. “And he likes your taste almost as much as I do.”
He lifted my chin. The hunger and need in his eyes tightened my chest. Was he struggling with our…connection…as much as I was? “This night…” His lips covered mine, tasting cool and holding the lingering scent of my body. He deepened the kiss, a brief, tantalising hint of his passion before he pulled back. His fingers pushed through the tangled mass of my hair, his thumb caressing my cheek. “We make tonight our own?”
He sounded nervous, unsure, and it twisted my insides. Someone had hurt Kaden, and I wanted to hold him, offer comfort, my head screaming that was so, so wrong…even as my heart demanded it. My insane heart won. “Completely our own.”
Kaden closed his eyes and let out a controlled breath. Then his molten gold gaze found mine and the desire there had my heart beating hard…just before he rolled me. I yelped, and it mixed with my laughter.
Kaden bit at my lip, his grin feral. “Then tonight you’re ours.”
Sunlight slanted across the bed from the wall of glass stretching the length of the bedroom. I groaned and turned away. The suite had cost me a small fortune, but the tint simply didn’t work. Every morning, fierce heat and light woke me as it struck my pillow.
Twisting in the wide bed, I grabbed another pillow and dropped it on my face. The cool darkness brought a sigh…and something else. A scent, warm, spiced, the lingering trace of the man who had shared my bed.
I jerked upright. The bedroom stood empty, silent, and my heart squeezed. Had he slunk off into the night? I fell back into the deep softness of the mattress and dropped the pillow back on my face. Under it, I scrubbed my hands over my face and tried to believe that his not being in my bed made leaving him so much easier.
I had my few hours of luxury before an envoy came for me…so I planned to soak in the decadent round bath until I wrinkled. My gut twisted. The heels of my palms pressed into my eye sockets, and I let out a string of quiet curses. Nothing, not even the thought of the envoy, dulled the memory of Kaden-I shivered with vivid memory-and his mythoi finding every single one of my body’s sweet spots.
I expelled a slow breath. At least the memories would keep me warm through the long days of scouring the land and seas for pockets of power the dragons harnessed with their seal. I threw the pillow to the floor and kicked the sheets back with more anger and frustration than I intended. Sunlight splashed across my warm, naked skin, and I stretched, finding little kinks and unexpected stitches…but it was time to put my stranger from my mind. Our night was over.
I rolled off the bed and planted my feet in the deep carpet. My toes curled, digging in. I had to face the new day, but all I wanted to do was curl up in the wide bed and imagine Kaden was wrapped around me, hot, strong and simply mine.
I pushed myself up and padded through the long dressing room to the bathroom. Soft light eased away the darkness, and the air brushed damp and warm against my skin. He’d showered. The hint of expensive cologne lingered. Even though it was a brand provided by the hotel, I knew, breathing it in, that Kaden wore it.
I gritted my teeth. Now I was being annoying. I’d had my fun-more than my fair share of it-and it was time to forget it and him. “ Bath. Optimum temperature.” The rush of hot water filled the room, and I found myself at one of the sinks, staring into the large, bright mirror.
I dragged at a tired-looking cheek. The time above the mirror said just after eight…which probably meant I’d had about three hours of solid sleep. A soft laugh escaped me. I reached for my toothbrush, leaned against the cool sink and used the brush to scour my teeth. I spat and rinsed. Time to lose an hour in hot water and bubbles.
I sank into the bath, sighing as the water lapped over my skin. Steam rose into the cooler air. I let my head fall back, my eyes closing. A sigh escaped me. I tried to let my thoughts float, to find nothingness, but they drifted to thoughts of the First Dragon. His envoy would find me and haul me before my new master, who would want to look over his latest acquisition. I snorted as I soaped my body. I was certain he’d be unimpressed. A gryphon had bred with a human. Diluting the gryphon breed was severely frowned upon, or so my father had told me. It was why he’d had charge of bringing me up, after all.
I sank beneath the water, running my fingers through the tangles of my hair. The action broke my thoughts. No, I could change nothing about my future anymore than I could escape the mythoi bound into every cell of my body.
I shampooed and dunked before I erupted from the hot water, gasping for air and wiping my eyes clear.
“Happy birthday, Jaime.”
I yelped, thrashing through the water to stare at the man standing in the open doorway. Kaden. My heart leapt, my pulse spiking with the raw excitement of seeing him. He hadn’t left-then what he said hit me. I frowned. I was positive I hadn’t shared that piece of information with him. “Happy birthday?”
Water sloshed as I turned to follow his progress into the room. The soft light played into the smooth darkness of his hair and over an expensive suit he hadn’t been wearing the day before. I blinked. And it really wasn’t fair. He looked…edible. I swallowed and tried not to see the glorious pulse of his shadow, the nebulous stretch of wings I knew were achingly soft and would brush against my skin with cool promise.
I ran a hand over my wet hair. “Did you charge that suit to my room?”
Kaden leaned back against the long mahogany shelf built around the two sinks. His eyes narrowed. “You don’t have any money.” His lips lifted, but it wasn’t a smile, and my chest hollowed. Something had shifted, and I didn’t know what. The first threads of panic ran through me. “Why would I drag you further into debt?”
I sank into the water, the rim of the bath hiding my nakedness from him. “I’m not in debt.”
“No. But all of your assets became the property of Lord Sinon.” He glanced around at the smooth, gleaming marble lining the walls of the bathroom. “Is there something you’re hiding from him?”
The threads of panic thickened and coiled in my gut. Had he played me? Was his name not on the register because it was a false one? Because the man and the mythoi shadow who had pleasured me so thoroughly was a dragon? I wiped a shaking hand over my wet face. The old newspaper photographs had been blurred, grainy. Was he…? “You’re Lord Sinon.”
Kaden’s feature’s hardened, and he pushed himself away from the sink. His shadow sharpened, forming a vast arc of wings and talons that dimmed the room’s soft light. “What?”
Thoughts raced through my brain. How the hell was I supposed to address the First Dragon? My father had never been rigorous in instilling the precise etiquette of the more powerful mythoi. I fixed my gaze on the white enamel of the bath and willed my heart to ease. Barely minutes into my service to him and I’d already screwed it up. “I’m sorry, Lord. I didn’t mean to offend-”
His fingers gripped my chin, jerking my face up to his. Something flickered in his gaze. Anger and another emotion I couldn’t name. “Do I look like a dragon to you?”
Fury and resentment burned under his words, and I could only stare at him, reluctant to answer. But it seemed he expected me to say something. “I don’t know what you are, Lord.” Kaden’s mouth thinned, and I tried not to remember how he’d kissed my mouth, my neck, my throat… I sucked in a breath, and my eyes burned. “Lord, I-”
“I am not a lord.” His voice, low, restrained, did little to ease the fear tightening my belly. “If you address me as such I will have no choice but to give you to my master’s enforcers. They will beat the proper responses into you.”
What the hell had happened to him? He wore the same face as the man I’d slept with, the man who’d held me so fiercely I thought I’d break. “Kaden…”
“I’m the envoy, Jaime. Remember that.” He released my chin and stood back. He ran a hand over his hair, his eyes fixed on the floor. A muscle pulled hard in his cheek. “Now get out.”
His soft laughter ran a shiver through me. It sounded…normal…after that strange burst of anger. He tilted his head. Amber eyes fixed on me, and the first flare of desire warmed them. “Why would I do that?” He drew in a breath, his gaze following my body under the clear water. “I’ve done a lot more than look.”
He didn’t affect me. He didn’t, so it was the cool air that made my nipples peak. “That was last night. This morning I’m delivered goods.”
Kaden held my gaze for a long moment, and my heart pounded. Whatever was going on with him, I didn’t understand. Was he angry at me or at himself? Then he turned on his heel and presented me with his broad back.
I pressed my wet hands to my face and held down a groan. I’d just spent the night with the First Dragon’s envoy. My gaze flickered over him. I hated that he was beautiful, that my gryphon still appreciated the indefinable power of the man. “Did you plan it?” I winced. I hadn’t meant to speak, but the question found its way out of my mouth anyway. Anger curled in my stomach. All his lies worked through my memory. Hell, the bastard had made me feel sorry for him. “Have a lot of fun at my expense?”
Kaden pulled in a breath, his shoulders lifting. “Get out and dry yourself.”
I pushed myself up and stepped gingerly onto the stone-tiled floor. Cool air prickled my skin, and I shivered. The towels were stacked on heated rails, and I quickly wrapped one around my body, tucking it over my breasts. I wrapped another around my dripping hair and felt marginally warmer. The bitterness at what Kaden had done was still a sour burn in my mouth. “And that’s all the answer I’m going to get?”
“Neither of us will discuss what happened.”
I gripped his arm, yanking him around to face me. “Are you fucking with me?” A cynical laugh escaped me. “Again?”
“Last night.” The muscles in his jaw flexed, but the hard gold of his eyes didn’t flicker. “Last night was what it was. This morning, I’m a menial to the First Dragon of the British Isles, and you’re his property. We both belong to him.”
“That’s my answer? You screw me seven ways and this is simply the eighth?”
“I didn’t plan…” His fingers hovered so close to my cheek I could feel their heat, almost feel the light pressure of his fingertips against my skin. My chest hurt. Anger and now this. What was he playing at? “I had to ensure that my master’s latest acquisition made it to him in one piece.”
“So you picked me up and kept me occupied. Nice.”
I pushed past him and padded into the long rectangle of the dressing room. Mirrors reflected me back, the reddening of my skin from the hot water and the flushed pink of my cheeks from the desire I had to seriously harm Kaden Rhodes. A door of the wardrobe slid open at my touch, the first of drawers it hid easing towards me. I pulled out underwear, and the drawer closed.
I wriggled my way into my underwear and dropped my towel to the carpeted floor. The rail held the last of my clean clothes, the ones I’d bothered to unpack, anyway. I’d wanted to make a good impression on the envoy…and that idiotic fact made me laugh as I took the smooth skirt from its hanger.
“Did your father teach you nothing?”
I looked up from buttoning the skirt over my hip. If he was going to be shitty, then so was I. “Such as?”
Kaden blew out a quiet breath. “This isn’t a game.”
“Then what the hell is it?” I yanked out the black silk top, shook the towel free from my hair and pulled the top over my head. “You knew exactly who I was.”
“Your breakfast is waiting.” He strode into the sitting room with obviously no plan to discuss anything about what we’d done. My gut cramped. And I thought my morning had been a disaster at Kaden’s leaving me without a word. Yes, his still being in my suite was so much worse.
I wiped a hand over my eyes, denying that they burned. He hadn’t hurt me. Pulling in a deep, calming breath, I straightened my shoulders. So what if I’d had sex with him? I’d enjoyed it. And so what if it wouldn’t happen again? Even if Kaden had fallen to his feet and professed undying love, Lord Sinon would never allow the relationship and it would cost us our lives to defy him.
I rolled those thoughts over and over in my head, willing them to sink in. It didn’t help that Kaden had opened the long expanse of glass that looked out onto the wide, wooden terrace. A sharp breeze from the river whipped through the room, ruffling his hair as he leaned against the open frame, a mug in his hand and his profile gilded with sunlight. He was beautiful…and power flowed from him. This man was a menial to the First Dragon? How impossibly powerful was Lord Sinon if a man like Kaden called him master?
That unnerving question forced me to sit at the table and pour myself a steaming cup of tea. I stirred in a thick run of milk. Sipping it, I let its heat ease the tight ache in my chest. Yes, I’d be a fool to antagonize such a powerful dragon. My gaze fixed on the man at the window. Almost-whispers in my mind and a rise of warmth that had nothing to do with the tea in my hand told me my gryphon stirred. She watched Kaden and gloried in him. To her, the defiance would be worth it.
I willed my gaze away and focused on the arrangement of dishes, food that forced my stomach to knot. But he hadn’t declared anything. I was a project to be kept occupied. Nothing more. No, Kaden Rhodes wasn’t worth losing my life over. And that knowledge hurt a lot more than it should.
“Are you finished?” Kaden’s gaze flicked over the food I’d picked at. “You’re expected by noon. You should eat more.”
I sank back into the soft padding of the chair, and a brief burst of laughter escaped me. “I didn’t know you were so concerned about my wellbeing.”
He gripped the back of a chair, his fingers pressing hard into the pale leather. “The First Dragon will put you to work this afternoon. You have to be ready.”
I stared at him, the disbelief shocking me out of my animosity. “This afternoon?”
“You’re a means to an end. The more gryphons he has working for him, the more residual mythoi power his seals can convert for use by the humans.” A wry smile pulled at his mouth and it didn’t reflect in his eyes. “You’re a half-breed. That fact means he already despises you.”
“Way to make me feel welcome.”
“Lord Sinon suffers the diluting of other mythoi, but gryphons?” He snagged a small strawberry from the platter of fruit and pointed it at me before he bit into it. “Interbreeding with gryphons dilutes their abilities. If a gryphon hybrid can’t find power, then they’re useless.”
Hybrid. The word resonated in me and kicked at my memory. Yes, he’d used it about himself. A lowly hybrid. Connections seared in my brain, and I stared at him.
His eyes narrowed. “What?”
“You’re part gryphon.” His features hardened, as seemed to be the case when I asked him anything that could be seen as personal. “You’re part gryphon and you can’t find power. So, what? The First Dragon dresses you up in smart suits and sends you out as his errand boy?”
He threw the half-eaten strawberry back into the dish, but then he stilled, the sudden flare of anger dying away just as quickly as it had appeared. His mouth thinned. “My rank within his organization has nothing to do with you.”
“Touched a nerve?” I wiped my mouth and hands on a linen napkin, folding it before I put it beside my plate. I gave him a short smile and rose from the table. “You’re right. Nothing about you has anything to do with me.”
I turned back towards the bedroom, intent on making myself look more presentable. I had only a few hours before I had to stand before Lord Sinon. Not stand. Kneel. I winced. Yes, a dragon liked to ensure his power over his minions was obvious at all times.
That had been one thing my father had drilled into me. He’d been a chef in Lord Sinon’s country home and learned firsthand the ways of the most senior mythoi. Stupidly, he’d caught the eye of one of the gryphons-and taken it much further than he ever should. I was the disgraced result, presented to him when I was only a few hours old.
Had Kaden had the same upbringing? Farmed out to the offending parent and then brought back to the loving arms of his mythoi family. I snorted. Who Kaden was, what he was, didn’t have anything to do with me. That was a fact I had to plant firmly at the front of my brain.
I ran my fingers through my damp hair, pulling at loose tangles. The dryer was in the dressing room, the small, windowless room an escape from him. Blasts of hot air whipped my hair. The hotel offered all manner of attendants, ones I’d taken advantage of before I went out the previous night, but that didn’t feel right now. I wasn’t primping myself to lure a man to my bed. That mission had already been a resounding success.
Kaden strode across the bedroom and sat on the long, silk-covered bench at the end of the bed. He rested his forearms on his thighs and stared at me, his gaze unreadable.
My head tilted, and I stepped away from the dryer. “Have to watch my every move?”
“Something like that.” He rubbed his palms together, the sound softly rasping. “I’ve been instructed to tell you what’s expected of you as a gryphon in Lord Sinon’s service.”
I wagged my brush at him before attacking the dried tangles. “I will be farmed out. I know my fate, Kaden.”
“And what you don’t do is talk out of turn.” A muscle jumped in his jaw, and the morning sunlight burned over him, throwing his face into angered shadow. “What did your father teach you? He knew this day was coming.”
My fingers tightened around the handle, and the brush stopped in my hair. “My father knew you all too well.”
“Then he deliberately ignored your welfare.”
I gritted my teeth. Was he trying to goad me? I yanked the brush from my hair and breathed past the anger balling in my gut. Well, I tried. It didn’t work. Kaden was projecting onto me, projecting his life, not mine. “Who abandoned you, Kaden? Who didn’t protect you from Lord Sinon?”
He blinked, his face suddenly frozen, and I hated the words that anger made me say. Damn it. I had to face the fact that he had hurt me and I wanted to lash out at him. Letting out a heavy breath, I turned to the mirror built into the wall. I stared into my makeup bag, not seeing the various tubes and bottles. A low curse escaped me, and I pulled out a bottle of moisturiser and twisted the top free. “What do you have to tell me?”
Silence followed my question, and I glanced in the mirror to see if Kaden had stormed from the room. He hadn’t. He still sat on the bench, his gaze fixed on me. I should’ve known better. Kaden didn’t rage for long. He straightened and stretched out his long legs. “All right, if we look at it another way. What do you know?”
My name was almost a rough growl, and memory gripped me. His mouth, wet and hot, slipping over my throat, the sensitive line of my collarbone, murmuring my name with heated promise, listing in breathtaking detail what he and his mythoi had planned for me next. I sucked in a breath, wanting to deny the heat coiling low in my belly. My fingers tightened around the bottle I held, and I willed my heart to calm. “I…” I stopped, swallowed and forced strength and normality into my voice. “He told me stories.”
I pressed a white spot of moisturiser into my palm, dipped a finger into it and started to work it into my forehead, cheek and chin. Focusing on my skin eased the heat from my flesh. I had to ignore my reaction. Kaden was right. I had to learn how to behave-I winced at the word-in the presence of Lord Sinon. I met his gaze in the mirror. “How much do you know?”
The soft question had my nipples peaking. I held down a curse. This was worse than the wild riot of anger. I fought it. “Me. My father. My mother.”
“Your father was a human chef in the Hall of the Gryphons for six months. A young gryphon found him…pretty…and sported with him. You were the result.” Kaden let out a long sigh, and his head tilted. “You were four hours old when he took charge of you. Tiny, with a shock of thick golden hair.” A thin smile lifted his mouth. “Did I miss anything?”
“You knew what I looked like?”
He shrugged. “The register.”
“Which you’re not on.”
Kaden ignored that observation and pushed himself to his feet. He fastened the button on his jacket and smoothed his hand down, easing out the creases. He stopped at the arch leading into the dressing room. My skin prickled. He was too close again. “So he told you stories?”
All right, he wasn’t going to answer that question. I flipped over cosmetics in the makeup bag, hunting out the tube of foundation. The few stories my father had shared unnerved me. Lord Sinon ruled everyone the same way, with a hard, unflinching hand of iron. “I saw his scars. His back was almost silver.” I concentrated on applying the foundation, on easing my pale skin and the sleep-starved circles under my eyes into an even tone. The quick, smooth movements broke the memory. “I know the slightest error can anger him.”
“You must kneel, stay silent, bow your head and expose your neck. You don’t speak until you’re spoken to. Even then, it’s short and to the point. Don’t ramble.” Kaden paused. “Is all that understood?”
I gave him a slow nod and hunted for a pad that would take the shine off my face. The ritual, so familiar that my fingers could move without thought, brought with it a level of calm that I clung to. “And my position as a gryphon?”
“Five nain washed up on a stretch of beach on the Isle of Jura.” Kaden moved into the dressing room, and a shiver ran over my skin. The smooth silk of my top itched against me. He stood beside me and watched the quick, precise movements of my fingers as I applied my makeup. Suddenly, they seemed awkward, gauche. Damn, the man could unnerve me, almost without trying.
“That puts their residual energy under the purview of Lord Sinon.” His voice, smooth, calm, swept an unwanted heat into my flesh. I was being professional, detached. Him? He was fucking with me. “So after you meet with our master, you’ll fly up to Scotland to scout the beach and trace back to where they broke into this reality. Lord Sinon will then apply his seal and make the claim official.”
I found my eyeliner and used it as an excuse not to look at him. “So easy?”
“You’re searching for a patch of residual energy across an open stretch of water.” His finger traced over my shoulder and down my arm. I fought to keep the pencil still, to ease it over my eyelid. “You could be gone for months.”
Months. I moved the pencil away and turned to look at him. I glanced at his fingers still skimming over my arm. My heart hammered. Was he playing more games? Thinking he was playing with me hurt. Thinking it wasn’t a game hurt more. “What is this, Kaden?”
“I don’t know.” His fingers curled away and dropped to a white-knuckled fist at his side. Anger held him, and I didn’t know why. Who was it really aimed at? “Sleeping with you. It was a mistake.”
“A mistake?” Laughter burst from me. “You just have this way of saying all the right things.”
“Well, wasn’t it?” His gaze darkened and the hint of desire lurking there shortened my breath. “I should have resisted you, but I didn’t. My need, the need of the beast within me. I couldn’t stop us. And I should have.”
How to make me feel wanted and special. I returned my attention to the pencil in my hand, the anger tight and hot in my gut. As if I wasn’t dealing with enough confusion in my life, Kaden turned my emotions inside out. Bastard. “So I wasn’t a reward from your…our master. Bring in the chattel, but you can have a taste of the goods first?”
He gritted his teeth, the muscles bunching in his jaw. “We shouldn’t have done what we did.”
“What? For that many hours?”
“Damn it, Jaime.”
I recapped the pencil and dug out my lipstick. The tube pressed hard against my palm. I needed to put him-and all that we had done-from my mind, not dwell on it. “We did what we did. Was it enjoyable? Yes. Am I going to let it fuck with my life? No.”
Kaden blinked. “That’s the proper attitude to have.” Something about my words had closed down his anger. Were they what he wanted to hear? “The…” He bit off whatever he was going to say and took a step back. He smoothed his hand over the front of his tie, and colour darkened his cheeks. His unreadable gaze met mine in the mirror. “One of the fleet will pick us up from the roof of this hotel.”
“Understood.” And then I focused on my lipstick as it ran over my lips, pursing to even out the soft red colour. Fixing on the simple, monotonous action shielded me from hurt rising hot and thick up from my gut. Something about Kaden felt…off. His anger and his desire. Damn, what did the man want from me?
I recapped my lipstick. The makeup hid the tiredness in my skin, but I met my dark gaze and there it still lurked. That and disappointment. I moved away from the mirror. I had to repack my clothes, make certain I had everything allowed, everything they’d let me take into my new life. A brief smile curved my mouth. Of course Kaden wasn’t on that list.
I glanced at him, the shadows falling over him as he stood in the wide doorway. The heat of my gryphon pushed through my flesh, her almost-whisper urging me to close the distance between us, to find the bliss we’d shared through the night. “And this is it?”
His jaw tightened, and he lifted his chin. “You don’t understand the intricacies of our master’s court.”
I obeyed my gryphon, I couldn’t help myself. I’d meant to say nothing, wrap up the hurt and shove it down as I’d pushed down the pain of leaving my home and my father. But my gryphon wouldn’t let me. Sometimes sharing a consciousness with a mythical beast stank. “Then tell me why you’ve been acting like a complete shit since I woke up.”
The soft growl of my name eased under my skin and, damn him, my flesh ached. “You’re supposed to instruct me. You lay in wait, take my gryphon’s virginity.” I snorted. That sounded crazy even to my own ears. But he had. And he’d wanted it, gloried in it. “Held me.” I pressed my lips together, suppressing the sudden surge of emotion that threatened to break my voice. None of it made sense. He was my farewell fuck. I should’ve brought the karkadanns to my suite. It would have been less painful to fight for my life than this. I drew in a deep breath. “And now-” I willed strength into my voice, “-now you’re an insane mix of hot looks and acting as if I’m something you’d scrape off your shoe.”
“You can’t understand-”
I glared at him, regret twisting into pain. “Yes, I can! I am not stupid.”
Kaden’s mouth thinned, and a new spark of anger burned in his eyes, but a bitterness lurked under it. “I said you can’t speak out of turn.”
The fire of need and the wild heat of my mythoi burned under my skin. I yanked at his belt, pulling him hard against me. “Then make me.”
Kaden grabbed my hand, his fingers tight, the simple touch of his skin against mine electric. He tilted his head, and his shadow surged over me, the arch of immense wings dimming the soft bathroom lights. I sucked in a quick breath, my heart beating hard. “This is dangerous for both of us.” His low whisper speared me, and I wanted nothing more than to find his mouth and shove him up against the wall. Fast. My lips were only inches from his, his breath hot against my skin. If I just leaned that little bit closer… “I cannot allow it.”
I stared up at him, his face darkened by the lack of light. Too much like the previous night, holding too much of the mix of his powerful mythoi and desire that made him irresistible. His scent, spiced, warm, slid into my lungs, and the familiar fire of need flickered through my flesh. I knew it was dangerous. My gryphon knew it was insanity. Neither of us cared. We wanted Kaden Rhodes. “What can’t you allow?”
His fingers caught in my hair. “This.” And his mouth covered mine.
I didn’t resist. My mouth opened under his, and I met the clash of his teeth, his tongue. He tasted hot, familiar, a hint of coffee blending with the strawberries, and I deepened the kiss, grabbing at the front of his jacket. Kaden groaned and pushed me back against the smooth sliver of the door frame.
I hit it with a low moan. His hands snaked down my body to grip my backside and press me hard against the length of his erection. “I thought I was a mistake.”
“You were. You are.”
“Because in a few hours we’ll have nothing. And it’s killing me.”
He took my mouth again, melting deep, hot kisses that made my heart thud and liquid heat surge through my flesh. I hooked my leg around his, and the change in angle, the press of him against my pubic bone, danced bright sparks behind my eyes. I didn’t want to think about his words, about the unexpected pain lurking in his voice. But he confused me. “Why now?”
His fingers raked down my thigh, found the hem of my skirt and pushed it up. The rough pressure of his fingertips against my bare skin forced a low groan, and under his touch-I arched into him-the calloused pads of his mythoi incited delicious shivers. “I thought I could be the envoy. Practical. Level headed. But I couldn’t.” His lips found my throat, his breath ragged and hot. “Damn it, this is too dangerous for you.”
“That’s my decision.”
Kaden lifted me, sliding his fingers over to grip my backside, my skirt bunched at my hips. “I should remember who I am.”
The sharp edges of talons raked up over my belly, taking my silk top with them, and I shrugged free of the fabric before his mythoi became…over enthusiastic…and tore it. The top dropped to the carpet in a puddle of dark silk. “Don’t.” I looped my arms around his neck, holding his molten gold gaze. “Let’s enjoy the lust while we can.”
His mythoi’s rasping tongue followed the length of my spine, and I couldn’t help the groan that escaped me. His shadow was impossible. Even after I knew what he could do, the incredible, tactile sensation still shocked me. “Kaden… What is he?”
“What he is doesn’t matter.”
I traced a finger under his lip, feeling the warmth and smoothness of his recently shaved skin. Light gilded him, and his beauty made my heart pound. That he wanted me seemed incredible. Power streamed off him and the strength of it was almost intoxicating. “I want both of you.”
A wicked smile cut his mouth, and he nipped at my teasing finger. “You have us.”
But his next kiss stung, a sharp burn across my lips, and he jerked back. The beginning of a perception film shimmered between us, and heavy disappointment dropped sourness in my gut. Kaden eased his hands free of my skin, and I slid down until my bare feet sank into the carpet.
He stepped back. The film strengthened, forming a curved band of opaque light at his eye level. Kaden straightened his tie and smoothed down his hair. I waved at his mouth, and he rubbed quick fingers over his lips, removing the stain of lipstick. His shadow shrank back until his mythoi formed a dark glaze around his body. His chin lifted. “ Rhodes.”
“Take your time, Rhodes.” The voice of a young man rang sharply from the device. The gryphon in me recognised an undercurrent of power…and from his tone, some youngster who thought he could lord it over Kaden. A dragon, perhaps? “What? Were you asleep? Drunk? You haven’t lost her, have you? You’re asked to do-”
“Can I confirm the arrival of the fleet car, Lord Theron?” Kaden’s smooth and deferential voice eased over the rattlings of the boy on the film. “Lord Sinon has stressed the importance of Jaime Dalton’s punctuality.”
For a blissful few seconds there was silence. I pushed my skirt back into place and bent to pick up my top. I could imagine the impotent fury gripping Theron.
“Scheduled arrival time, twenty minutes.”
“And how can I help you, Lord Theron?”
“Don’t you remember the schedule?” The sneer cut again through the young boy’s voice. “Twenty minutes means the car is early. The North American Dragon Lord Teuthras is disputing our claim to the nain energy source. Lord Sinon wants her tested and out with the rest of the gryphons already scouring the bay. Think you can remember all that?”
“Understood. Thank you, Lord Theron.”
Kaden’s face appeared neutral, pleasantly accepting, a mask that I could see through, but one with which the boy couldn’t argue. With a growl, Theron cut the connection, and the film flickered and vanished.
Kaden scrubbed a hand over his face. “Shit.”
“We’ve run out of time?”
A low laugh escaped him. “Yes, we have.” He moved towards me and his hands cupped my face, his thumb stroking under the line of my lip. His gaze focused on my mouth, and I burned for him to kiss me again, to spend the last twenty minutes we had finding ecstasy. I sighed at the first brush of his warm lips over mine, but then he was stepping back and his shoulders lifted. “You need to pack.”
I licked at my lip, tasting him, and my breath hitched. Pain tightened in my chest. “Yes. Packing.”
I moved on automatic, yanking my case from one of the cupboards and flopping it onto the sheet-rumpled bed. My official summons with the First Dragon’s seal gleaming in gold leaf over the heavy paper stated I could bring only one case to my new life. He would feed and clothe me. So…my case held trinkets, memories of my life. I stroked the black cube that held all my photographs, the vids of my life with my father.
“Here.” Kaden dumped a pile of clothes on the bed beside the case, breaking into my thoughts. “I think I have everything. Though there are papers on the table.”
Habit made me fold clothes before I packed them in and around my possessions. Kaden helped, though I did snatch my underwear from his teasing fingers. He lifted an eyebrow as I stuffed the panties into a side pocket.
“What, I can’t play with these?”
He’d found a bra, one of the desperately dull and practical ones, not the lacy fluff I would’ve preferred him to lift up to the morning light. I groaned and tried to grab it back. Kaden stretched his arm up, dangling the bra just above my reach.
His grin was wicked and it caught my breath, spiked my pulse…but then it faded. He dropped the bra into the case. I wanted to run, hide. This was not what we’d agreed. We did sex. End of story. And I couldn’t risk more, however much I wanted to. The attitude of the young dragon, Theron, showed the danger I’d place Kaden in. And I would not allow anything to happen to him because of me.
His hand cupped my jaw, and my fingers trembled as they stroked over his skin. I held his amber gaze, sinking into its warmth, the promise there. Damn him. Dealing with his mask of anger had been easier.
“What is this, Kaden?” I’d said the words out loud, when I hadn’t wanted to. I didn’t want to delve deeper into the emotions churning my gut. I’d accepted lust. Lust was safe. Lust faded with time, with separation. I could live with it. I wanted to live with it. Not…this.
“It’s not what I expected.” His soft words tightened my throat. “You’re not…” He bit back on saying anything more. “And I should stop right there, shouldn’t I?”
I gripped his hand and pulled it away from my cheek. Squeezing his fingers, I gave him a short smile. It felt strained and drove a sharp pain into my chest. Not admitting there could be anything more was the best way forward. The only sane and safe thing to do. “Yes, we both should.”
He eased his fingers free from mine and looked to the case. “Is that everything?”
“My makeup.” I grabbed the bag, catching my reflection. No lipstick remained on my lips, but they looked reddened, swollen. A wry smile twitched, and I turned back to the case. Tossing the bag on top of the folded clothes, I then pulled the lid down and snapped the locks. Yes, not admitting that our…this…was spiralling out of control was the right thing to do. My fingers curled away from the locks and dug nails into the soft flesh of my palms. I had to go on telling myself that.
Kaden took the handle and lifted the case without effort.
I murmured my thanks, belatedly yanking my jacket from the wardrobe. Oh, and my boots, zipping up the smooth leather with shaking fingers. I winced. My brain suddenly couldn’t focus. My assignment to the First Dragon, his owning of me, had become all too real. That was what had my mind blown. Not Kaden. Not him at all.
Still stamping into my boots, I made my way into the sitting room. White sheets littered the middle of the table, and I shuffled them together, the summons glittering on the top. I traced the emblem, the gold leaf cool to the touch. Closing my eyes, I began to fold them over and over before shoving the mass of thick paper into my jacket pocket. “Ready to go.”
Kaden waved me to the door. “We should go straight up.”
I nodded, and a leaden weight sank into my stomach. I took one last glance around the room, the luxury, the clean-lined beauty, and saw Kaden imprinted on its every surface. A slow sigh escaped me. My fling was a monumental mistake, just as Kaden had said. And now I had to make small talk with the man I wanted to strip naked.
“Did you have a room here?”
“When I found out that you were here, I requisitioned one, yes.”
I looked at him. “Explains the suit.”
The door shut behind us, and I headed down the wide corridor to the steel-fronted lifts. It pinged as I approached, and the doors slid open. The soft scents of carpet and polish brought back searing images of standing there the night before, of wanting to devour him. I sucked in a breath and stepped inside. Kaden followed me, and the doors closed with a soft hiss.
“Roof access,” he murmured, and the indicator flashed through the floors. It stopped, and Kaden caught the door before it opened. “Remember, from now on I’m the envoy and you’re the new gryphon.” His lips pursed and his face became sombre. “I can’t guarantee who the driver will be…so when these doors open, it will be beneath you to talk to me.”
I stared at him. “What?”
“I’m a non-shifting menial, you’re a gryphon. Even half-blooded, you can shift-”
“What?” This made no sense. Power flowed from him, hell, his mythoi had a mind of its own…and he couldn’t shift form?
“There is no time to question this. Just believe me. I can’t shift.” He lifted his chin. “Ready?”
I let out a bitter laugh. “No.”
He released the door and sharp river breezes lifted my hair and blew hard against my cheeks. I focused forward, determined not to look down over the edge of the building into the river. Heights. I hated heights. A black fleet car already squatted on the wide pad, the golden emblem of the First Dragon-a single dragon twisting through a large crown-gleaming over the doors. A fist tightened in my gut as the driver door lifted and a tall, blonde human woman dressed in the black and gold livery of the First Dragon climbed out.
Kaden strode forward. “Amanda.” The woman’s name came out with a smile wrapped around it, and the fist in my gut squeezed just that bit tighter. Even my gryphon stirred. Oh, yes, I was going to be good at acting as if Kaden was beneath me if jealousy bit so hard. “How did you swing the return trip?”
“Everyone else is shuttling gryphons to Jura. I’m low enough in the pecking order to get the grunt work.” She grinned at him before her gaze slid to me. She performed a short bow, her features slipping into a more professional mask. “Lady Jaime.”
I twitched a smile, watching as Kaden swung my case into the rear storage, and willed my feet to move forward. The large passenger door lifted, and Amanda waved me inside. I settled myself against the soft leather. A harness snaked over my shoulders and hips to click into a buckle below my breasts. I wiggled, trying to find a comfortable position in the padding and wanting to ignore the fact that Kaden had climbed in after me.
Amanda couldn’t hide the brief flicker of surprise that crossed her features. “Want to ride in luxury? All right.” Her palm pressed against the door and it began a controlled descent. I didn’t miss the hardness of her narrowed gaze just before the door clunked into its metal frame.
The soundproofed interior felt heavy, its silence a weight on my spinning thoughts. My gaze flicked over the smooth fabric of the walls, the wide tinted windows, anything rather than acknowledge the insanity of my emotions. I didn’t want to feel jealous, but the tight knot in my stomach wouldn’t loosen. Shit. At least a solid partition separated us from the driver. “Has she worked for Lord Sinon as long as you have?”
Kaden gave a soft chuckle and stretched his legs out over the pale carpet. “No one’s worked as long as me.”
I stared at him, at his profile cut with morning light from the window. Kaden Rhodes looked to be a man in his late thirties. Amanda looked the same age. But she was human. Some mythoi didn’t age at the same rate. Or so I’d heard. My meeting with others of my race was limited to the bar on the dockside, and they were hardly the best examples of my kind. “So how old are you?”
A wicked smile touched his mouth, and I forgot about the bar, about Amanda, hell, about my question. “Old,” he said.
The gryphon in me stirred, recognising his rise of power. She was becoming as fixated as I was. Shame I couldn’t use her as Kaden used his shadow…though it was doubtful her razored beak would be as welcome as his shadow’s clever tongue. I swallowed, trying to will myself to speak and not simply jump him. “How old?”
Humour shone in his eyes. He enjoyed teasing me. Bastard. “I was born in this reality.”
The knowledge that this precious time would be the last we had spiked me, but I fought it to play his game. “So…your top age has to be two hundred years old-”
“Secure your harnesses. We’re about to take off. Travel time to Wormwood Tower is forty-five minutes.” Amanda’s smooth tones cut through my words and the car lifted smooth, quick from the pad and swept up into the clear morning sky. “Enjoy the flight.”
Kaden pressed a panel stretching dark against the cream fabric. “Thank you, Amanda.”
“You’re very welcome, Kaden.”
He rolled his eyes and secured the panel. The car banked, and I grabbed at the armrests, wincing as the windows showed the familiar jumble of buildings and roads that made up the city centre. Squeezing my eyes shut didn’t block the knowledge that I streamed hundreds of metres above the ground in a tiny, black car.
“You were guessing my age.”
Kaden’s soft, deep voice broke into my panic, and his hand closed over mine. The heat of his palm soothed me, eased the cramp from my stomach. I opened my eyes. “Yes, I was, wasn’t I?” I pushed out a breath and focused on his face rather than the disturbing view of the snaking red-brown roofs of terrace houses far, far below. Shit, I was a gryphon. I could fly. But this…the lack of control terrified me. And I had to admit, for a fearless terror of the air, I was absolutely petrified of heights. “Two hundred is the cut off. So…one hundred.”
“No. Try again.”
“Higher or lower?”
His head tilted, and the spark in his eyes caused a quick smile to grow on my mouth. “Older.”
I blinked. “Older?” I couldn’t help it, I searched his face for signs of his age, but he still looked like a man in his late thirties.
“You won’t find a clue in my face.”
I laughed. “Or on the rest of you.”
“Did you look hard enough?”
“Funny.” I bit my lip, thinking. “You’re part gryphon, so that increases your longevity.” My half-breed status projected another two hundred years onto my life. Maybe a lot more. Maybe a lot less. There’d never been anyone like me. Gryphons didn’t breed outside their species. Except Kaden belonged to the rare gryphon-human group too. “Hundred and fifty.”
A smile curved his mouth. “Maybe once, long ago.”
“This is crazy. You can’t be older than that!”
“I’m two hundred years old this year.”
The words stopped my breath. He’d been born in the year of the emergence, probably one of the first. “Are you a gryphon-human hybrid?” I had to know, because his fate could be mine. My stomach turned over, excitement mixing with terror. I could live for hundreds of years. “Is that what you are?”
Kaden closed his eyes and shook his head. For too long a moment, he was silent. “No,” he said. “I’m a corruption.”
A cold shiver skittered down my spine, and my gryphon shrank away. I willed myself not to pull my hand out from under his. He was still Kaden Rhodes, the same man before he’d said the word that all mythoi feared. “Corruption?”
“My mother is a gryphon. My father…” His mouth thinned and he shook his head. “I can’t say. But I wanted you to know.” His hand slid from mine, and his fingers curled into a white-knuckled fist. “What I am should make it easier for you.”
His laughter was quiet, bitter. “You reacted to Amanda. You can’t do that.”
Heat flared in my cheeks. He’d noticed my stupid burst of jealousy. “Are you and she…”
“No.” He muttered the word with a sharp shake of his head. “Mixing with humans brings a harsh penalty.” He wiped his hand over his mouth and his eyes met mine. “And the morals of humans…” He cursed. “How the hell do I explain this?”
My gut twisted. What was worse to him than admitting that he was a corruption, the dreaded mixing of two species of mythoi? I put my hand over his and squeezed. “You don’t have to. I’ll be careful.” I stroked my fingertips over his straining hand as it pressed against his thigh. “What can I say? I can be possessive.”
“And now you can’t be.” He straightened and his chin lifted. Serious eyes held mine. “I’m sterile. Which makes me safe from repeating the mistake of my birth. If one of his gryphons performs exceptionally well, then Lord Sinon favours them.”
Lead sank into my stomach. “With you.”
I would have to watch as Lord Sinon farmed Kaden out to any and every gryphon he thought worthy. Pain knifed me and I breathed past it. The few words he’d spoken held so much. One stood out, more than the abuse from the First Dragon, more than my own bitter hurt. He was sterile. I closed my eyes, feeling the pain for both of us. “I’m so sorry.”
“You have to know this going in, Jaime. It’s rare, but it happens. Be prepared.”
“Yes.” It burned me to say it, but he was right. Ultimately, Lord Sinon decided who we slept with. Our lives weren’t our own. I sank back into the heavy padding of the seat, and my fingers laced through his. Silence hung heavy again, the muted vibration of the engines the only sound. We flew through wisps of cloud now, white streaks flickering against the windows. A chill came off the thick glass, and a shiver ran over my skin. I’d never flown at high altitude. Even with vast wings, I tended to be a groundling, happy to skim the tops of trees, but nothing beyond that.
I forced my mind to focus. “What happens when we reach Wormwood?”
Kaden let out a slow breath. “I’ll take you to the tower room, Lord Sinon’s office. We kneel. He will examine you and then you’ll be judged by the senior gryphon. It’ll be fast. They want all gryphons in the air.”
“And that’s it?”
“Amanda will turn this car around and take you to Jura.”
“Right. Good.” A soft laugh escaped. “All right, maybe not good.”
I watched a scurry of thin cloud as it reflected my chaotic thoughts. Lust shouldn’t have my gut tight and tears burning. It made no sense. I knew nothing about him, nothing…yet the thought of Kaden with someone else stabbed at me.
Damn it, I was falling for him.
My head fell back into the heavy padding of the headrest, and I almost let out a groan. How completely fucked up was my life?
I tapped the heavy buckle resting above my belly and fixed my gaze on the solid partition separating us from Amanda. My mouth pursed before I looked at him and then down to the panel near his armrest. “If I unbuckle this harness, can you stop it from showing on Amanda’s dash?”
Kaden frowned. “Yes, but…”
He ran his fingers over the panel, pressing out a quick combination. I sprang the clip and, with a quick twist, turned, hitched up my skirt and climbed onto his lap. It wasn’t elegant-my knees jammed hard into the sides of the seat, and my head almost scraped the curve of the roof-but it didn’t matter. My mouth covered his, a soft, sweet tasting that dropped molten heat low in my belly.
Kaden grabbed my hips in surprise. “Jaime.”
I pulled back, just far enough to hold his gaze. “What? You never made out in a car?” I frowned. “On second thought. Don’t tell me. This is the first time you made out in a car.”
A genuine smile broke out, gleaming in his eyes. “Yes. It is.”
I ran my hands down the smooth material of his jacket until I reached the heavy harness buckle. A single press released it, and Kaden shrugged free. “Are you sure about this?” Even as he asked the question, his mythoi shrouded us, my gryphon rising up to meet him. “Because-”
My mouth smothered more words, and Kaden’s soft, satisfied groan encouraged me to slip my fingers over the buttons of his shirt. I pressed my palms to the heat of his bare skin, his taut muscles flexing. He tugged at his tie and I chased my fingers up his chest, meeting his as he attacked the top buttons.
I couldn’t get close enough to him. His warm skin tasted clean. A hint of expensive soap, cologne and the delicious flavour of him burned against my tongue. The melting passions of our mythoi swept around me, hot, wanted, and I fought my way out of my jacket, found his hands on my stomach and ribs as he tugged the silk of my top over my head.
It tangled in my hair, and I laughed, meeting his grin before I found his mouth again. Damn, he tasted nice. Especially with my breasts pressed against his hard, bared chest and my fingers caught in his hair.
“Jaime…” He groaned my name. “What are we doing?”
“If you don’t know by now-”
He gripped my shoulders, holding me back from him. “You know what I am.”
“And do you see me caring?”
I sat against his thighs and my shoulders dropped, his hands weighing heavy. My gryphon protested, her melting connection to his mythoi severed. I ignored her. “We have now. In this cramped-” I shifted my backside against his legs, my thigh and calf muscles already protesting. “-and frankly uncomfortable seat. I want you.” I sucked in a steadying breath and held his gaze, watched it widen as I murmured, “Maybe more than want.”
I stared down at my hands and found them in a tight knot. “I need us to have this time, our time. Just us.” The shroud of his mythoi shadow still darkened the interior of the car. “And them.”
Kaden took my hand, threading his fingers through mine. The gesture squeezed my heart, and my eyes burned. “More than want?”
I licked my lips before I looked up. “Yes.”
“Sudden? Tell me about it.”
“I was going to say unexpected.”
“Yes, it’s that too.” A wry smiled lifted my mouth. “My fling is not going well, is it?”
“I’d say very well.”
Kaden sat forward. Some deft manoeuvrings let me slide over his erection, my legs lifted and my boot heels digging hard into the back of his seat. His hand cupped my jaw, making me look at him. “I’d commit to you in a heartbeat, Jaime.”
The sudden joy, the rapture of my gryphon, caught me unawares and, hell, I almost shifted right there, the first blurring of my thoughts into the wild power of my mythoi burning over my skin. But then his exact words hit me, and the surge died away. I drew in a shaking breath and found Kaden serious, almost sombre. I fought to say the words that left a sour taste in my mouth. “But you won’t.”
He shook his head. “They would know. A mated gryphon loses the hunger for power, the need to hunt.” His thumb traced over the line of my mouth, his eyes fixed there. “He already hates what you are. Present him with that and he could kill you.”
“If he hates me so much, why did he summon me?” I knew I sounded like a petulant child, but my life was becoming shittier with each passing second. Kaden wanted me, more than wanted me, would have been mine. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. “He could have left me-”
“And have another dragon steal you?”
“I’m twenty-seven and no one thought to steal me before now.” A slight smile pulled at his lips, and I blinked. It made connections in my head, and my stomach hollowed. “I was watched, watched by you.”
“On and off.”
His hand slid down to curve around my shoulder. “I don’t want to pull this apart.” He ran his fingers down my arm, the touch light against my bare skin and raising goose bumps. “Trust that I’ve looked out for you for a long time.” He teased over my hip. “And that I always will.”
I scrubbed a hand over my eye, wanting to deny the wetness. “You knew I’d be at the bar.”
My stomach twisted. “You were waiting for me.” I waved a finger between us. “Waiting for this.”
A faint line of red stained his cheeks, unexpected and strangely endearing. He’d planned to approach me, known what I wanted for my last night. It was little wonder he’d hidden who he was from me.
“I was selfish.” His head tilted. “Hate me?” His voice had a light touch, but lurking under this was a brief hesitation, a doubt that formed a wince around his eyes. “Or not?”
“If I’d known you were the envoy, you would have found my beer in your face.”
“But not now?”
“Now…” I leaned in close. Our time was ticking, beating out in each rapid thud of my heart. His mouth was only inches away, his breath warm against my lips. “I don’t want to waste anymore time.” He wouldn’t be my mate-and my gryphon pined for that loss-but we could still make love. I stroked his cheek, sighing at the satin smoothness of his skin, and his amber eyes darkened, deepened into molten gold. “Do you?”
His kiss was soft, exploring, and I had to remember to breathe. Wanting him hurt, a hollow ache in my chest, driving me to deepen the kiss. I needed to forget the impossibility of our future in his mouth, his hands, in his flesh hard and hot against mine.
The darkness of his shadow swept around us, coalescing with my own. Their passion flared, and I groaned. I wanted our last time to be unhurried, luxurious, a time to lose ourselves, to pretend that we were together.
“No thinking,” Kaden murmured, kissing away the wetness from my cheek. “Just us.”
He held me to him, peppering my neck and throat with kisses. The heat of his mouth searing too sensitive skin arched me against him. My fingers scrabbled with his belt, the buttons, eager, needing to find him, so that we could lose ourselves in the growing heat of our mythoi.
His hands covered mine, stopping them. I blinked, breathing hard. He couldn’t want us to stop, could he? “Kaden?”
“Making love in the back of a car, not a good idea.”
Cold disappointment sank into my gut. “Not a good idea?”
He held my gaze, his face serious. “When you still have your boots on.”
I swatted at him, my hand impacting the solid muscle of his upper arm. He winced and then smirked at me. I slid off his lap and pulled free my boots and my underwear. Turning back to Kaden, I found him practically naked and couldn’t hold back a giggle. He could move fast.
He glared at me. “What?”
“This.” I flicked my fingers around the cramped interior. “It’s all very adolescent.”
The wicked shine to his eyes said that it had been a long, long time since he’d been a spotty teenager. He held out his hand and I slid my fingers into his. He squeezed and pulled me towards him. I yelped and stumbled, but he caught me. Strong hands eased me over the warmth of his bared thighs, the roughened heat of his skin against mine jolting little shocks of pleasure.
I took his cock in my hand, he sucked in a breath and I smirked. “How long have we got?”
He glanced to the panel. “Fifteen minutes.”
I shifted my pelvis and eased myself over the head of his cock, teasing him along my flesh. Kaden groaned and his fingers dug into my hips.
“You’re playing with me.”
“Maybe.” The word came out on a soft rush of air as I sank down on him. I trembled, the fire of our surrounding mythoi and Kaden’s low moan flickering heat up my spine. I buried my face against his neck, breathing him in, holding him, his strong arms wrapped around me. Damn, his heat, his scent, everything about him felt right, felt needed. My shadow gloried in the emotion, her wild heart surging into Kaden’s shadow, an intense, spiralling passion that had my heart racing, my breath coming short.
I bit at my lip, fighting the urge to simply fuck Kaden like a wild thing, and ground my hips against his in a slow, satisfying tease. It elicited a long moan from both of us. I had to move before the wild passion of our shadows overtook me and I said something insane…like I loved him.
That thought pushed me hard against him, and I took his mouth to drive the idea from my head. It burned with danger. If I said it, I’d be bound to him, my mythoi one with his, mated…and as Kaden had said, the First Dragon would then have no further use for me. But, by all that was unholy, the taste of it, the fire of it on my tongue, was almost irresistible.
Kaden’s hands tightened on my hips, urging me faster, the angle finding my clitoris and sparking fire in my belly. I held him closer, my thighs gripping him. The need to tell him how I felt sharpened with every deep thrust. I couldn’t say it. My life, his life would be forfeit. That knowledge dulled the words, and I focused on the stroke of my tongue against his, a soft moan escaping. Damn, he could kiss.
Already the first tightening of orgasm flushed my skin. I moved faster, harder, ripping my mouth from his to find his shoulder. Our short gasps, moans, the wet slap of our bodies filled the interior of the car…and around us, through us, spun the ancient glory of our mythoi, lost in their own building desire. My body burned, teetering on the edge of a blistering orgasm, and six words repeated over and over in my mind.
He is mine. I am his.
The fierce glory of that knowledge coalesced with the twisting fire of our mythoi. I couldn’t fight it, didn’t want to fight the pleasure, the belief that Kaden and his mythoi were ours, their incredible, ancient power belonging solely to us. My gryphon screeched, the sound of it raw, intense in my mind, her blistering release bursting down over my flesh.
I screamed, arching my spine, pushing hard against Kaden. Orgasm seared over me, wrapped around me in a fiery rush and, for a long, endless moment, I lost myself to it. Somewhere in the maelstrom, Kaden chanted my name, working my hips and blazing fresh need through my flesh. I clung to him, my mouth against his damp shoulder, wanting him to come, wanting him to make me come again.
He growled my name as his body gave a final shudder and his release had him gasping. A jumble of words spilled out and they spun fire through my mind. I matched them, said them against his damp skin, his taste delicious on my tongue.
For a second, a wild, insane second, our mythoi surged over the cramped interior, melding into a glorious single beast, vast wings stretched, who screeched its power to the heavens.
And then it was over.
I crushed my eyes shut, not wanting to move, not wanting to acknowledge what we’d done…but it couldn’t stop the warmth, the curl of happiness from wrapping around my heart. And now I was free to say it without fear. “I love you.”
Kaden’s arms tightened around me, pressing me to his chest. “I’m sorry, Jaime. I’m so sorry.”
A brief laugh shook me. “Not the reply I was looking for.”
His half-grin curved against my neck. “No, I suppose not.” He pulled back and cupped my face, fingers teasing back damp strands. Amber eyes held me, warm with affection. “I love you. I have for too long.”
A sigh escaped me and I gave a little wiggle that had Kaden glaring it me. “We are so fucked.”
“Yes, we are.”
He pressed a kiss to my lips, a delicious teasing that made me want to wiggle a lot harder. And that was yet more of our insanity. The threat didn’t feel real, not while I could touch him, kiss him, have the damp heat of his skin against mine and his scent all around me.
I willed myself to pull back, a small, unfelt smile curving my mouth. “We have to make ourselves presentable again.” For a long second, I saw something in his eyes, something that spun impossible thoughts of escape through my mind. I traced a finger over his lips, my gaze fixed on the beauty of his mouth. “I’m only half gryphon. Maybe the change won’t be so obvious.”
“Maybe.” He kissed my fingertip and the sweet gesture slid a blush under my cheeks. “And you’re right. We need to get dressed.”
I was the first to move, easing away and dropping back into my own chair. I grabbed my panties off the carpeted floor. “I’ll need to clean up.” I glanced back at him, watching him buckle his belt. The ripple of smooth muscle in his arm, across his chest and stomach mesmerised me.
“Stop staring, Jaime,” he murmured, shrugging his shirt on. He made the point of staring at my breasts, the hunger in his eyes flushing my skin, and my breath hitched. A smile quirked his mouth. “See? Dangerous.” He fixed his attention on buttoning his shirt, and I let out a breath. “You can clean up at Wormwood.”
“Good. I-we-need it.” I stamped into my boots, fixing the leather around my calves, and pushed my skirt down over my thighs. My palm eased over the creases, the warmth of my skin smoothing the material. The silk top and jacket followed, and I ran my fingers through my hair, trying to make it not look as if I’d just had sex.
My heart squeezed. Not sex. Even Kaden had said it. Made love. With my mate. I hooked the harness back over my arms. The buckle clunked in the silence, followed by Kaden’s harness buckle. The warmth, the pain of that knowledge rioted in me, and for a moment I closed my eyes, wanting to deal with it, accept it. Or try to. Everything was still too raw, new…and practically over.
I glanced at Kaden as a sharp breeze cut through the interior, a gust of air that lessened the heavy scent of great sex. He reengaged the panel and a moment later Amanda’s voice burst from the speakers.
“If you look out of either window you’ll see the historic River Thames -”
“Amanda.” Kaden cut into her sing-song tour-guide speech. “This isn’t necessary.”
“It’s the lady’s first visit to London -”
The hard undercurrent to his voice peaked my nipples, and I practiced keeping my face calm, serene even, as a pool of heat liquefied low in my belly.
“As you wish, Kaden. Coming in to land. Five minutes. Please, keep your harnesses secured until the engine cuts.” She paused and finished with a sarcastic little, “Thank you.”
A soft laugh escaped me. “Not very deferential.” I lifted an eyebrow. “To either of us.”
“Amanda normally ferries me and humans. We’re more…lax…in our expectations.”
We dropped now, little more than a hundred metres above the glistening Thames. And damn, it was still too high for my nerves. The car flowed into the stream of layered traffic swarming high over the capital city, passing over Southwark and then London Bridge.
We banked left. My heart lodged in my throat. The glass and steel latticework shell of Wormwood Tower, home to the First Dragon for nearly a hundred years, gleamed in the morning sun. Diamond panes of glass glittered sharply, and I winced, the pain cutting deeper than my eyes. It was real now. Completely real. And I could see no way out. None.
I pulled in tighter and tighter breaths, and my skin flushed. Damn it, I couldn’t breathe…
Kaden’s hand covered mine, warm, dry, steady, and the contact calmed me, eased the panic from my body. I closed my eyes, feeling the car pull harder to the left. Willing myself to open my eyes, I found only the twisting roads of the City of London, the heart of financial London, huddling as close to the First Dragon as it could.
The vibrations of the engine changed, roughened, and the bright sunlight cutting through the car dimmed. We passed diamond lattice frames. With a soft thump, the car landed and the engines died. The silence pressed hard against my ears.
I had to move. There was no getting away from what we’d done. I looked at Kaden’s hand over mine. I wouldn’t want to. My trembling hand gripped the harness buckle and pressed. Yes, Lord Sinon, if he realised, would order my execution. I crushed the swift, terrifying surge of panic, working the strength of my gryphon into keeping me strong. “I don’t regret this, Kaden.”
His soft laughter warmed me, and he squeezed my fingers. “I wanted longer.”
The door groaned and lifted, Kaden sliding his hand away. I missed the comforting contact.
He climbed out first, straightened his jacket and ran a hand over his tie. I followed, my boots echoing dully against the granite floor. The car had landed in an angled bay that looked out through the curve of glass to the city far below. I lifted my chin and tugged at the hem of my jacket.
Time to face the First Dragon.
“This way, Lady Jaime.”
Amanda waved me towards a long, black granite desk behind which sat two pure karkadanns. Their shadows stretched thin and nebulous over the ridged wall behind them. Innocuous, barely a trace of their true selves. Yes, they were already ancient when they pressed themselves onto this reality.
My boots echoed on the pale granite floor, and I willed myself to keep my pace even, too aware that Kaden followed me, his expensive shoes clicking. Sunlight cut across the surface of the long desk and gleamed over the Karkadanns’ white-gold, intricately braided hair, the styles a mirror of the other. Cool, professional perfection, their carved beauty was a perfect foil to any approaching the inner lair of the First Dragon. Plus the fact that they could rip off your face and eat it in a blink of an eye.
My gut went into spasm, and I was glad to stop. I curled my fingers into white-knuckled fists for a brief second. I swallowed, my throat tight. “Jaime Dalton.”
Two pairs of pale blue eyes assessed me and found my recently-fucked appearance lacking. I resisted the need to run my hand over my hair.
“Your summoning papers.” The karkadann’s cool voice shot a shiver over my skin.
I held down a low groan. Though at that moment, my crumpled documents would stop the suspicious wrinkling of their noses. I stank of sex, and their refined senses had started to pull that knowledge from the air. I unfolded gold-covered paper on the granite surface, the heavy leaf crackling. The karkadanns glared at the offending paper. With a sneer, one reached out a pale, delicate hand and slid it towards her.
Her palm smoothed it, the other mythoi watching me with cold, hard eyes. “It’s genuine. If somewhat…maltreated.”
“ Rhodes.” The first woman fixed her gaze on Kaden. “Lord Sinon will see her now.”
“Thank you.” He gave a short nod. His hand briefly touched my elbow, and I held down a jolt.
I moved away from the reception desk on automatic, guided by Kaden around the curve of the silver-rippled walls to the mirror-doored lifts. The doors slid back as we approached, revealing a circular interior, brightly lit and as gleaming as the doors. Kaden squeezed my elbow before he walked me into the lift. All right, I had to stay quiet and calm in there too.
I turned and stared at my image reflected back at me. I held down a wince. The stark light cut down across me, showing my blonde hair in a tangled mess and my face bleached white and makeup-free. The gentle surge of the rising lift made me sway. “I need to tidy up a little.”
“Yes, lady,” he murmured.
The lift stopped and the doors slid open with a soft, mechanical hiss. Diamond shapes of sunlight patterned the black granite floor, and yet another wall of rippled silver stretched ahead of us, following the curve of the tower. I put one foot in front of the other and followed the pattern. The City of London spread out below me, a chaotic jumble of ancient and modern, with the layered streams of cars circling far from the tower. My vertigo hit me, and I sucked in a calming breath. Stupid fear of heights. I winced. No, it wasn’t so much heights as an absolute terror of falling.
I glanced up, squinting at the roof to fight the fear that threatened to have me clinging to the nearby wall. The curve of the steel supports deepened, and the thick ring running at floor level proved we were on the top floor of Wormwood Tower.
The dragon’s lair. My father’s joke. It didn’t help right then.
It was insane. My being here, what I had done by mating with Kaden. My gut cramped, and sweat stuck the silk of my top to my spine…yet still my feet took me forward, towards my meeting with Lord Sinon.
Kaden’s voice stopped me short, and I pulled in a breath. The door in the silver wall eased back, and he handed me my case, his eyes always downcast. Even his shadow, glorious with ancient power, hugged to Kaden’s body, barely showed. The pain of who he had to be in this bloody place stabbed at me, and my gryphon stirred. I soothed her and turned away. The door slid shut behind me.
Black floor tiles gleamed, reflecting the line of spotlights in the white ceiling. The air was cool, fresh with a light hint of citrus. Thankfully, no attendants loitered by the gleaming porcelain sinks, and I dropped my case to the floor with a dull clunk. Mirrors reflected me along one wall, a tall woman in a sleek suit, who looked too pale and drawn. I turned away from the image, opened my case and pulled free fresh underwear and my makeup bag.
Within minutes, the woman who stared back at me from the long wall of mirrors wore a mask of calm perfection that could rival the karkadann. And it was a mask. My heart beat hard and fear twisted tight in my gut. I’d washed and perfume clung to my skin. It probably wasn’t enough to fool Lord Sinon, but it could keep me alive a little longer. I hoped.
Kaden was waiting for me outside. A hint of relief flickered through his gaze before he suppressed it. He took the case, his fingers brushing against mine in a brief heart-stopping contact. “This way, lady.”
We walked side by side. Each step felt leaden, and I concentrated on the slow pull of breath into my body, exhaling and drawing the cool, spice-scented air into my lungs again. Kaden’s scent touched me, the hint of him soothing under the sharp soap.
The curve of the corridor stopped, and my feet rooted to the black granite slabs. The vast space of the top of the tower hit, open to the wide blue skies and a view that stretched to the horizon. My heart leapt to my throat. I was too bloody high. Sweat edged my hairline. Kaden put his hand to my elbow, and I stumbled forward. I ripped my gaze from the open glass to the desk that cut across the view.
Seated behind the curved, wooded desk and glaring at me was Lord Sinon, First Dragon of the British Isles. He looked up from the web of information flowing in a stream over his desk. Power shrouded him, his shadow a dark mist against the clear glass.
My mouth dried. I’d seen him in old files I’d dug out when my summons arrived. But those images hadn’t aged well, and the First Dragon was notoriously private. His human sheath was a tall, lean, older man with short silver hair and immaculate suit, holding an ethereal beauty common to all dragons. And he’d always looked that way; even the clippings from the Victorian archives had captured glimpses of his beauty.
He looked away from the glittering stream of data. His eyes, dark and endless, held mine.
Heat flooded my face. The hatred in his gaze was almost palpable. I was so screwed.
Kaden pulled at my elbow, and I dropped to my knees, holding down a wince as my kneecaps hit unforgiving granite. He knelt beside me, his head bowed, his neck exposed. I quickly followed his example, my hair falling in a curtain over my face.
Lord Sinon’s chair scraped back against the floor, rubber dragging against the slabs. The jarring sound shuddered through me. “This is her.”
I bit my lip, keeping my mouth silent. He hadn’t asked a question for me to answer. The click of his heels marked his long strides towards us. My heart beat louder, faster in my ears, and everything screamed in me to run, escape, hide, maybe he wouldn’t find me, maybe Kaden and I could-
“What’s this?” His hard hand cupped my chin, jerking it up. He was a dragon to his core, holding a fierce, ancient beauty that stopped my breath. “What mythoi’s had you?” He frowned, his mouth thin, and I fought to keep the fear under control, not let it show on my face, in my body. “ Rhodes.” His hand snapped away, and I stopped myself from sagging. “You were under orders to keep her from mating.”
“I did, Lord.”
“Really.” A fierce undercurrent cut through his smooth, cultured voice, and I tried not to shiver. “Someone’s stink is all over her, and her gryphon’s fire is…tainted.”
I risked a look at him through my hair. He glared down at a still bowing Kaden, but his chin had lifted and he pulled in the air around him in deepening breaths.
“Teuthras is pushing at my empire. Mine. Contesting my right to harvest energy from mythoi found on my shores. I need every gryphon. Human spawned or not.” He pulled in a harsh breath and exhaled it on a growl. “And she, she’s gilded, been touched, mated with another gryphon.” His dark gaze fixed on Kaden. “With…you.”
Fury burned in his voice now, and I bit hard at the inside of my cheek. Tears stung. Shit. But we knew the likelihood of our surviving was practically nil. Knew it, but the reality was a sharp knife in my gut. Lord Sinon yanked Kaden to his feet, and I bit back a yelp. Panic ran hot under my skin, and my gryphon reared, desperate to defend her mate. I willed her back. If I remained calm, the dragon might spare Kaden.
“Did you think you could fuck one of my gryphons?” Lord Sinon’s mythoi shadow, vast, ancient, burned behind him, sharpening into a terrifying beast, wings arched into the curved, glass ceiling. His fingers dug hard into Kaden’s arms, but my mate didn’t resist, didn’t hold his master’s gaze. Just stood silent, firm. “Take my asset and render her useless?”
Kaden lifted his chin and met his master’s hard gaze. “I forced her.”
My stomach turned over. He was sacrificing himself for me. My hands clenched against my thighs. This was wrong. Completely wrong.
“Forced her?” Lord Sinon lifted a dark eyebrow, his eyes glittering. The air changed, a sharp metallic charge burning against my tongue. Shit. Shit. Shit. My gut cramped as I watched the first ripple of scales grow along his neck and edge his jaw. The fingers gripping Kaden lengthened, knuckles distended and black talons replaced manicured nails. “What kind of idiot do you think I am?” Muscles thickened in his arms, his suit stretching to accommodate his transforming body. “You can’t force a gryphon to mate.”
The claws holding him had to hurt, but Kaden’s face remained calm. Almost. Flickers of anger edged his eyes. “You don’t know what I can do.”
“I know that it’s over.” Lord Sinon grinned, his perfect smile sliding into fangs. “You’ve been a stain on my house for two centuries. Your defiance is finally enough reason to remove you.” His vocal chords shifted, the odd thrum to his voice pulsing fear down my spine. He stared down at me, meeting my gaze, his eyes a shining, liquid black. “And now she’ll get to watch me eat you.”
Everything slowed. Even the pounding of my heart dropped to a drawn-out beat. I felt every breath, the raw burn of his transformation sinking into my lungs. My gryphon reared, her strength thick in my veins, and one word formed. “No.”
Lord Sinon’s eyes narrowed. “No?”
Anger balled in my stomach, fired by my hatred of him, by his treatment of Kaden. He owned us, but we deserved fairness. I climbed to my feet. “No, you’ll let him go.”
Sinon laughed, the sound too loud, sharp. His shadow surged around him, growing in strength. Soon, he would be beyond reason, the full beast pushing aside its human sheath…and then he would devour Kaden. I couldn’t allow that. Hell, my gryphon already strained under my skin, aching to sink her razored beak into his transforming flesh.
“Are you challenging me?” His altered voice vibrated through me and only strengthened my anger. He gripped Kaden with one taloned hand and loomed over me. “Are you?”
My heart hammered, the stink of his transforming flesh bitter in my mouth. Would I challenge this First Dragon, one of the seven most powerful mythoi in the world? One who dictated the energy flow for almost a third of the planet? Challenge a beast that owned me? A disbelieving smile pulled at my mouth. “You know, I think I am.”
A dragon had to accept a challenge. It was in their blood.
Kaden’s voice snapped my attention to him. Pain darkened his eyes. He focused on the man that held him, the shape of a human the only thing remaining. Silvered scales edged in black coated him now, the promise of the beast he would become terrifying. But that couldn’t, wouldn’t, stop me.
“Let her go, Lord.” He sucked in a breath, and I knew he pushed down the anger that had his face tight. “Please.”
A bark of laughter erupted from Sinon’s widening mouth. He threw Kaden from him. My mate hit the wall with a hard thump that winded him. Fury twisted Sinon’s still-human features…and then he was gone.
A shockwave of cold air swept over me and flung me back, slamming me into the wall beside Kaden. Seconds, I had seconds before the dragon surged into existence.
“Run for the windows.”
“What?” Kaden’s order caught me by surprise. A howl vibrated the inches-thick glass in its frames and I sucked in a quick, panicked breath. I was insane. I was. But it was better this way, to go out fighting for Kaden, fighting for my mate.
Kaden grabbed my hand and dragged me around the twist of air and light coalescing in the vast open space. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. But you can run. You’re fast, you’re smart, you can escape him.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
“Fine. Then if I do this. You run. You escape-”
His fierce kiss broke my words and then the deafening roar of a dragon made him push me towards glass that suddenly wasn’t there.
My calves hit the steel ring edging the floor, and I fought for balance, my arms flailing in the open space. Sinon’s long muzzle loomed over me, foetid steam gusting against my skin. He was vast, a thick-muscled dragon with translucent, arching wings and a burning silver body. He opened his maw, razored teeth gleaming.
Sinon had forgotten Kaden. Good.
I shot a final glance to my mate…and then I let myself fall.
Freezing air whistled around me, and time slowed…slowed. My hands shifted in a sluggish wave, talons gleaming, sharp, perfect, and heavy heat burned under my flesh.
And then it hit. The terror of falling. I think I screamed, my arms, legs fighting the terrifying freefall as my gryphon surged through my flesh, changing me. My heart pounded, my throat raw. Buildings rushed in around me, looming over me as Sinon had. Fuck. Not enough time. I would hit the concrete before I shifted.
A blistering roar rippled over me, and I saw a glittering dragon erupt from the tower and swoop down towards me.
My life was over. With the strength of my gryphon, I twisted over and faced the horror of the grey-slabbed pavement rushing up to meet me. Seconds. I was dead, so dead-
My wings stretched in a burning rush from my back. A shriek erupted from a hard beak, my wings spread wide and I swooped barely inches above the ground. Talons raked over the flagstones, showering sparks. People screamed, scattering from my path as I soared. Sinon roared high above, a dense black shadow rippling over me and clawing up the buildings, but I clung close to the ground, skimming only a few metres above the heads of the terrified people. His immense wings denied him access to me, would trap him between the buildings…but the road ahead branched, widened.
Shit. He blocked my path, a vast, silver-gilt dragon shining in the morning sun. Liquid black eyes gripped me, glittering with fury mixed with what? Fear froze my thoughts. Yes, the joy of the hunt burned in him too. I was so very dead.
A wild sweep of air from his wings caught me, crashing me back into the glass frontage of a coffee shop. I scrambled free of glass and shrieking baristas and pounded down the side street, my wings beating hard to give me lift.
I found it and soared. I couldn’t fight the beast, but I was giving Kaden time to run. I had to believe that as my heart raced and air rushed cold and short over my sharp tongue. The open space of Tower Hill and the four caps of the Tower itself burst over my senses. I willed myself up, fighting the natural urge to cling to the ground. Hated flying. Hated it.
Sinon loomed over me…and I shrieked at the first flare of stinging hot flame searing the air. Flaming was forbidden. Even I knew that. The dragons had agreed to it on emergence, agreed to it because Sinon had killed so many. My feathers singed and, the fur on my broad back steaming, I rolled away. Fuck. I must have really pissed him off.
The cool, damp breeze over the river eased the burn, and I wheeled away from Tower Bridge. Time. I had to buy time for Kaden. That was the only thought in my head as I beat my way down the Thames, Sinon a terrifying shadow darkening the water.
I veered sharply, diving into the myriad of buildings on the south bank of the river, skirting the old, disused train tracks. Fire cindered the overgrown bushes, sweeping smoke and ash over me, and I screeched as a lick of flame caught my tail. Pain seared up my spine, and the solid beat of my wings faltered. Shit. No! My talons sparked the tracks before I found my rhythm again.
Sinon howled his victory, a wild, joyous sound that shattered glass and shook the ground. Yes, the bastard took great pleasure from the hunt.
Waterloo Station swept up to meet me, all glass and concertinaed steel, sharp and gleaming in the golden shafts of sunlight. I flew down one of the curves of the open platforms, workmen and renovators staring in horror and then tearing from my path.
My plan was simple. I knew I wouldn’t survive this, but perhaps, with luck, I could humiliate the First Dragon. The world’s media had to already be swarming, and I wanted to make him look like a prize idiot. Just before he ate me.
I erupted from the stone-faced entrance of the station, swept down the steps and shot for the river.
Sinon surged overhead. Specks of cars flew high above us, their windows and, I hoped, their equipment sparking light from the morning sun. The world watched us.
A long screech broke from me, startling a flock of pigeons into the air as I tore past the abandoned Shell Oil Centre, swerved to the left…and almost slammed into the great silver-scaled chest of the dragon chasing me. The half-shriek of surprise and fear ripped from my beak, and I fought to keep myself in the air, my talons clinking against his impenetrable hide.
Flame arced, searing the very tips of my flight feathers. I wheeled away, skimming under his belly and out under a vast wing. His roar of frustration had me aching to smirk, to laugh out loud, something my razored beak denied me. For a moment, I could forget the aching tiredness in my bones, the fear tightening my heart. My long, raucous cry echoed out over the river, and the fire of my gryphon, her wild strength, sang in my blood.
Sinon turned his bulk and leapt after me, the heat of red flame burning the air. I flew towards the vast white wheel of the London Eye. The scores of people milling over Jubilee Gardens fled, screaming, panicked as I swooped over them, bringing a trail of fire in my wake. The massive wheel hadn’t yet begun its slow revolutions for the day as I soared up over one of the great supporting struts. Sinon tore after me, so close his illegal flames singed my heels…just as I banked and peeled away.
His head and long, sinuous neck followed me, but his bony wing and then the full force of his huge body smashed into the mesh of spokes radiating out to the wide wheel. Metal screamed, Sinon roared, and the dragon and the wheel crashed into the river.
He flapped and spat fire, desperate to fight free of the metal trapping him.
I crashed onto the green-ridged roof of the Festival Hall and fought to stay shifted. My legs shook, and I flopped to the hard surface. Even my wings ached as I folded them against my stinging back. My body throbbed, and I lifted my back leg, finding it raw with burnt flesh. Shit.
But it was worth it. Just for the sight of the First Dragon flailing in the Thames with his long arcs of flame bursting spouts of steam as they hit the water. Cars swept in as close as they dared, and the satisfaction of knowing that his image beamed around the world, probably powered by energy he supplied, ran hot and thick in my belly.
A black spot caught my eye. Hell, another dragon already stormed in to fight over Sinon’s dominion. Maybe I’d survive, after all.
With a roar, Sinon erupted from the river, shaking free of the clinging mesh of metal. Fresh adrenalin hit my tired body, and I struggled to my feet, fighting to build up enough speed to take off. I pounded over the ridges, willing more power into my legs, my wings beating hard.
I shrieked as a huge claw swiped me, sending me hurtling out over the river in a ball of feathers and fur. The sky and river rolled over each other in a dizzying rush. Shit. Not good. I spread my wings, desperate to break my insane speed, and pain lanced over my ribs and down my front leg. Not broken, but fuck it hurt.
Fire chased me, a thick stream of flame and smoke scorching the air. This was it. The fire would cook me. But I’d done it. I’d given Kaden time to escape and I had the bonus of humiliating the First Dragon live before the international media.
Sinon’s roar swept over me, the wild gust of air ripping under my wings, and I tumbled again, the fast flow of the river rushing up to meet me. Great. I was falling. Again. A vast claw caught me, and my heartbeat ramped. Was this it, my last few minutes of life? Sinon playing games with me as a cat tortured a mouse…but he didn’t hurl me.
I craned my neck up and stared at the deep chest of an inky black dragon, larger than Sinon, his vast, translucent wings shimmering with a white-gold sheen. Was this the North American dragon? And he didn’t seem to be eager to throw me at all. For a precious second, I let myself breathe and willed strength into my aching body, forcing it to heal.
In the dragon’s strong grip, the terror of being so high faded back, and hell, I was dead tired. I fought the aching need to close my eyes, but my lids sank and I couldn’t…
My body slumped against a cold hard surface, and I struggled to find my feet. Black granite, open skies devoid of a latticework of glass and steel-I was back in Wormwood and Sinon’s tower room. My heart clenched and fear fired strength into my body. My wings arched. Kaden. Where was Kaden? I had to find him.
The words burst into my brain. I froze. What the hell…?
“Mythoi of the same species can share thoughts when we’re shifted.”
The voice invading my mind sounded familiar, and I craned my neck up. Inky black dragon, vast, glittering, filled my vision. But I wasn’t a dragon. That stupid, stupid thought bounced in my stunned brain. The huge triangular head with a golden eye the size of my head eased down level with me. His scent, warm, slightly spiced, filled my lungs, and my overworked heart kicked. It couldn’t be. That was…impossible. “Kaden?”
A distant roar burst over us. Shit. Sinon.
“I have to end this.”
“No, Kaden, we can-”
“He would never leave us. Drop your shift. You’re healed and it’s exhausted you.” He nuzzled my head, stroking over smooth feathers, the gesture heartwarming and strangely ridiculous. “Ridiculous? I think I’ll have to have words with you. After.”
Great gusts of air swept over me from the first beat of his wings, and I struggled to stay standing. My gryphon form ached, burned, the need to let her slip back into shadow a weight on my bones. He was right. I had to fall back into my human sheath. Clothes itched against me, feeling strange after the rush of air against fur and feathers.
He erupted into the open sky, and I watched him with human eyes. The relief of not holding my form sank me to the cold granite floor, the open sky high above me. Kaden soared, wheeled, and his magnificence, his beauty, caught my breath. A smug little burst of satisfaction from my gryphon had a grin pulling at my mouth. Yes, she thought her mate was glorious too.
Sinon swooped low, cutting under Kaden. His maw opened and fire streamed in a liquid spray around Kaden forming a blaze of red flame and smoke. I cried out, my body betraying me as it only let me crawl to my feet. It couldn’t end like this. Couldn’t.
A different roar, deeper, more resonant, shook the air, and Kaden burst from the grey smoke, his wings spread wide, his shadow sweeping over me. My heart leapt. How his transformation had happened I didn’t question. That it had made my chest tight and my blood on fire. He wheeled and charged at Sinon. All other thought shot from my brain.
The wild lash of tails, talons, mixing with the riot of wings, teeth and flame made it hard for me barely to breathe. Sinon’s silver hide glittered, shone, as it wrapped around the light-sucking inky blackness of my mate. The stink of ash and hot, melting metal thickened the air as smoke wreathed around the battling dragons, obscuring them. I couldn’t see who had the upper hand, who would win.
A fierce burst of wind swept down over me, and I staggered back, coughing from the searing ash that came with it. Darkness rushed over me, and I caught the image of bony wings, scorched and torn skin. Black skin. Not silver. My gut cramped, and I stared upwards, not thinking to move, to run from the crashing weight of a falling dragon. I would die…but it didn’t matter.
The falling dragon was Kaden.
The dragon shifted in a blur of light, taking on its human sheath as it plummeted. A great claw swooped out from the smoke and caught the man in its heavy padding. I stared and tried to remember how to breathe. A black claw caught a silver-haired man.
Gently, Kaden eased Sinon onto the granite tiles and in a shining burst of light he dropped to his knees beside him. I couldn’t move. Kaden was alive. The wild joy of that fired hot blood through my body, and I staggered towards them, dropping beside Sinon. The First Dragon still breathed, but his face, once so beautiful, lay thick with raw flesh and blackened skin stretching down over his throat and chest. Smoke rose from his tattered flesh.
I found Kaden’s eyes. Tears burned there. “Kaden?”
“What am I?” He took Sinon’s lax hand and squeezed hard, forcing the dying man to focus on him. “Father, what am I?”
My stomach turned over. Father? Kaden was Sinon’s son? How was that possible? And how could a father treat his son that way? My anger at the man surged. Sinon was dying, but I couldn’t dredge up any pity for him.
Sinon coughed, his breath ragged. His eyes rolled to stare at Kaden and contempt still gripped him. “You…are…corruption.” It seemed, even as he lay dying, Sinon loathed his son.
Kaden’s mouth thinned. “No. I’m not.” He dropped Sinon’s hand and climbed to his feet.
He offered his hand to me and I took it, slipping my fingers into his warm, strong grip. We stepped back from Sinon and relief washed through me. He’d tried to kill both of us. My gryphon reared, her thoughts thick with satisfaction. Yes, she wanted him gone too.
Kaden squeezed my fingers before he turned his hard gaze on Sinon again. “I’m not corruption. I’m you, Father. I’m the First Dragon.”
Sinon struggled to push himself up, blood wetting his lips as fury gave him strength. “You’re a mongrel! A fester born on this reality. My dirty secret, hidden even from the register. I should’ve followed my first instinct and eaten you the minute you were born.”
Kaden laughed, the sound harsh, bitter. “Even you couldn’t break that law. So you turned me into a sometime-whore.” He lifted his chin. “Time for you to die.” And he turned away from his father.
I gripped his hand hard, willing strength into my legs. My stomach twisted tight. Sinon was still my master. Some reluctant part of me was unable to ignore that. Kaden returned my fierce squeeze, and the anxiety eased. No, we had a new First Dragon.
“Don’t turn your back on me!”
Sinon’s rasping voice cut through me, and I focused on something, on anything else. The air, it was changing, growing still and warm, the hint of energy itching against my skin. I stared up. The lattice of steel and glass glittered in the morning sunlight. It was a shield. At least that was one answer amongst the myriad of rising questions.
It still didn’t feel quite real. None of it. How was it possible that I was alive? That Kaden was? Hell, I knew that was more than I could’ve hoped for an hour before, but still, it was impossible. The first spark of a grin pulled at my mouth as the fact of our surviving filtered into my dazed brain. We were alive and together.
Sinon’s rasping voice burst after us, raining curses on Kaden and his corruption, and it stabbed at me, breaking my smile. Yes, too much about Kaden was still unknown. One of Sinon’s choke-voiced demands stuck in my brain: “How did you break my seal? How did you break it and shift?”
Kaden drew in a breath and his step almost faltered, but he didn’t answer. He stayed silent until we rounded the silver wall bisecting the vast room. Then he stopped and pulled me into the tightest hug, his face buried in my hair. Sinon’s obscenities rolled over us until a final curse was cut short and silence stretched into seconds and then minutes. He was gone. Lord Sinon, the First Dragon of the British Isles, was dead.
“Kaden?” I pressed my lips to his neck, tasting skin and the bitter burn of ash. “What-”
The lift pinged, and the two karkadann burst from it, their shadows fierce and both of them on the verge of losing their human sheaths.
Kaden stepped forward and pushed me behind him. “Stand down.” The authority, the power in his voice, rippled over me and I shivered. His shadow filled the wide corridor, and the two women stumbled to a stop. Both of them narrowed their eyes and one tilted her head. “Now.”
He strode forward. “You will address me as master or Lord Kaden.” His voice burned with raw power, and the gryphon in me surged, wanting to revel in the strength of our mate. His mythoi loomed over the woman, and a spark of terror had her sucking in a quick breath, her eyes wide. She dropped to her knees, her mirror image falling down beside her.
“Master.” They murmured the awed word in unison.
“Announce my ascension.” He paused. They hadn’t moved, still kneeling, tremors shivering through them. “Now!”
As one, they ran for the lifts.
Kaden shook his head and a wry laugh escaped him. He turned back to me. But all I saw was his long, lean body and the incredible force of his shadow. The familiar heat, the desire that had driven me since I first saw him in the club a lifetime ago, sank low in my belly. I ached, I was tired and dirty, but damn, I wanted him again.
His eyes gleamed with satisfaction, burning a rich, molten gold. “That felt really good-”
He got no further as I leapt at him, my mouth covering his. His arms wrapped around me as our tongues fought, as our shadows spiralled together, their joy and relief washing hard down over me. I tasted my own tears.
Kaden pulled back with a smile. He brushed the wild tangle of my hair from my face. “Thank you,” he murmured.
His gaze flitted over my shadow, my gryphon warmed by his attention. “You broke his seal.” A smile curved over his lips, and that insane need to kiss him rioted through me again. He obliged me with a soft tasting, his mouth brushing against mine. “Taking you as my mate, the coalescing of our shadows, shattered a block I didn’t even know I had.” He stepped back from me and gripped my hand. “The frustration of seeing him hunt you.” Kaden pulled in a tight breath, a crease deepening across his brow. He shook his head and started a measured walk to the lifts. “It burned…and then I was crouching on all fours and exhaling smoke.”
The doors opened before us and I stepped inside. My reflection stared back at me, wild haired, sweaty and patched with grime. Kaden, of course, looked cool and beautiful. I smirked, and his eyes narrowed on me.
“Nothing.” I ran a hand over my tangled hair. “So what happens now?”
“Now? We wash and head up to Jura.”
“Jura?” I pushed the disappointment from my voice. I’d hoped that we’d spend the afternoon in a large bed. Then the evening and possibly the whole of the next day… The lift pinged and doors whooshed open on a long corridor, a mirror of the one in the tower room. The City’s buildings stretched away in a chaotic jumble of glass, brick, stone and steel, but the fear, the terror of falling, no longer gripped me. I’d fallen and survived, after all. “Why head up there?”
“I’m the new First Dragon. I must be seen.” He stopped and took my hands in both of his. Sunlight splashed over his face, and his amber eyes gleamed gold. “And you’re coming with me as my mate.” His head tilted. “Sinon drove the idea of corruption through his own loathing. He had no memory of his past life to say whether it was right or wrong.” He let out a heavy sigh, and his mouth twisted. “He lacked control when he first emerged and demeaned himself with a gryphon. It’s time to let the idea of corruption die with him.”
“Don’t you wonder what you are?” The image of the inky black dragon with burning amber eyes seared through my memory. “How-”
“Mythoi are fluid. We blend.” He grinned. “I’ve lived with whatever I am for a long time. I think I’ll survive.”
Kaden’s voice had dropped low, and my nipples peaked. He stepped closer, and I lifted my chin, feeling his warm breath. I didn’t resist the need to move, to press my body up against his. I ran my hands over his backside and wiggled against his erection.
He wet his lips. His eyes darkened and need lurked in their depths. “And did I mention that as First Dragon, I’ll travel in style? No cramped seats.”
“Interesting.” My lips brushed his, aching to deepen the kiss. My shadow wrapped around us, finding Kaden’s and melting together in blissful relief. “Though I’ll always love that car.”
Kaden grinned. “Yes…” He drawled the word. “And of course, I have yet to give you a proper birthday present.”
“It’s my birthday.” I blinked. I’d not once thought of the day with anything other than fear. Now I was alive and free. Well, almost free. I’d bound myself to Kaden, for now, forever. The satisfaction of my gryphon flowed hot through me and caused a wicked smile to curve my lips. It also came with a warm realisation. What he was didn’t matter. Both of them belonged to us. “Is there a bath and bed at the end of this corridor?”
Kaden smirked. “Yes, to both.”
“No. He never slept at Wormwood.” Kaden looked over my head to the crowded, bustling city stretching out all around us. “He hated being this close to humanity.”
I grinned at him. Good. The idea of rolling around in Sinon’s bed held little appeal. “My birthday present?” I pulled free of him, took his hand and tugged him down the corridor. It earned a protest from my gryphon as I dissolved her union with Kaden’s shadow. I ignored her. She’d be satisfied soon enough.
The doors opened before us, and hand-knotted rugs led up to an ornately carved, four-poster bed hung with velvet and silk. It sat in front of the great curve of a white screen, sunlight playing across it. The delicate scent of citrus flavoured the air. “As First Dragon, I know what’s most precious to you. So I demand an extra hour of your time.”
“I think you underestimate this First Dragon.” He pushed the jacket from my back, and it dropped to the thick rug. “You’re more precious. You always have been.”
I grinned at him even as his words warmed me, burning a flush under my skin. “Flatterer.”
“I’m sincere.” His hand cupped my jaw and his gaze held me. “I love you.”
A rush of heat ran over my skin, hot, surprising, and I bit back a disbelieving smile. “I think my gryphon just melted.”
Kaden snorted, and his hand eased to my shoulder. “Good. Though I plan to do more than simply melt you.”
He teased my collarbone, and the rough pad of his mythoi lurked under his touch. I sucked in a quick breath. Yes, I could happily lose hours with this man. Hours. “So…what are we going to do when it’s your birthday?”
His eyes narrowed. “Funny.” He turned me and marched me towards the bathroom.
“It’s a special birthday.” A curved wall of obscured glass hid a circular bath large enough for a gryphon to soak in. She grumbled at me. She’d been too close to water already that day.
Automatic systems activated the silver taps, and clear water gushed into the deep tub. I ignored it. Kaden had shucked off his jacket and loosened his tie. My heart thudded, waiting, eager for the first glimpse of his flesh. “Not every year you’re two hundred.”
“Jaime…” His fingers slid down his buttons. Slow. Too slow.
I grinned at him, waiting, and he knew it, his molten gold eyes gleaming. White material parted, revealing a hint of rippled muscle that I wanted to lick and bite. His shirt slid over his shoulders and dropped to the tiled floor. I think I growled as I stalked towards him, my gryphon already ahead of me in her search for her mate.
Mate. I’d found my mate. It was insane. The need, the love I had for Kaden Rhodes. I’d survived and had fallen into a relationship with the man only the night before…one that would last my lifetime. I couldn’t wait.
The door to the fleet car swung up. Kaden climbed out of the wide interior and offered his hand to me. Cold winds laced with the hint of salt swept around me, washing the warmth from my flesh. I shivered as I followed Kaden out to stand on the hard-packed earth on which the car had landed. Grey, cloud-scudded sky stretched all around, and the nearby island of Islay was a misted blur. Behind us spread a weathered house, as bleak as the sky. A hunting lodge built by Sinon, a place to stay while he thinned the herds of deer living on the island.
I hugged my long wool coat to my body and thought about shifting to my gryphon just to stay warm. The madness of the day told in my flesh. I was tired and I ached. Damn, it would have been nice to stay in London, in a bath…or better yet, in a wide bed with Kaden, where I could happily forget about my aches in the smooth heat of his skin. I held down a sigh. But he had his duty now, and my gryphon berated me for denying his obligation to wield his power.
Amanda saluted. Pride shone from her. “They said they’d stored the nain in the cellars of the house, Lord. And they, of course, await your arrival.”
“Since when do you salute, Amanda?” he murmured.
“Since you became First Dragon, My Lord.” Her mouth twitched. “And being your chauffeur means a pay rise?”
Kaden gave her a lazy grin. “Maybe.”
His expression sobered, and he turned away from her. I felt his tension in the bite of his fingers into my palm. Four women strode around the corner, and my gryphon flared under my skin, driving the chill from my body. Ancient gryphons, born before emergence. Ancient…but not as powerful as my mythoi, as my gryphon had shared in the strength of her mate.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” Kaden said, giving them a brief nod. “Now, kneel.”
“ Rhodes -”
“Kneel.” He growled the word, and the vast shadow of his mythoi, all wings, claws and teeth, surged. The dull sky darkened, the temperature dropping further until I breathed in ice. “I won the right to call myself the First Dragon of the British Isles. I now own all that Sinon did. And that includes you.” He paused, and I knew he enjoyed the raw shock on their faces as much as I did. “Now kneel or I devour you. Your choice.”
Three of them sank to their knees, the shadow of their mythoi hugging tight and chastened to their bodies. They bowed their heads. The fourth remained standing. She lifted her chin, and the growing wind whipped the loose tendrils of her golden hair around her flawless face. Golden eyes glared at him. “You have not taken Lord Sinon’s place.”
“He’s dead on his office floor.” A cold smile touched Kaden’s mouth. “And don’t think I won’t hesitate to take action against you, Mai. You always told me blood meant nothing.”
His mother. My gut twisted and my gryphon pushed against my skin, her anger palpable. It mixed with my own. Mai was his mother.
She snorted and pulled her wild hair from her face. “And you nulled the gryphon half-breed. Not a clever move. What could a corruption want with a mate?”
Kaden released my hand and I stepped back. I could feel the rise of his mythoi, the shadow thickening into the solid mass of an inky black dragon. Mist thickened around him, and I pulled in a tight breath. He was going to shift. My heart beat hard, and I leaned back against the cold metal of the car. I’d never seen him transform.
The quick blast of air caught my breath and then he reared up, a vast black dragon that stretched his wings into the grey sky. Mai staggered back, stumbling over the women who shrank back from the immense dragon looming over them.
“That’s…you’re… Sinon sealed you. You can’t shift.”
Kaden blasted pale smoke at her and flames flickered in his exhaled breath. He opened his maw, and Mai’s face paled, her gaze fixed on the glistening fangs only inches above her head. A tremor ran through her, her breaths coming fast and hard. His low rumble vibrated on the still air, and he eased closer, his vast, black wings sweeping gusts of air over her. She staggered back, her mythoi contracting around her.
I could feel his thoughts, but only caught the tantalising hints of the words he shared with his mother. They ran like ice through my veins, dark, deadly. Whatever he said had her eyes widening and then she fell to her knees on the compacted earth. Her head bowed and her bloodless hands twisted against her thighs.
Kaden shifted back into his human sheath and ran a hand over his tie, smoothing down his jacket. “Who am I?”
“Lord Kaden, First Dragon of the British Isles,” the four kneeling gryphons murmured in unison.
He held out his hand to me and I took it, feeling its coolness and the wild pulse of his blood. “Now, have you found the point where the nain emerged?”
Mai’s voice was quiet, contained, all resistance gone. “Every gryphon is in the air searching, Lord. We believe it’s not far south of here. Above the waters between Jura and Mull.”
“He and the five other First Dragons await an audience with you in the great hall.”
Kaden tensed. “They landed here without permission?”
“No, Lord. They wouldn’t dare. We have a light screen set up there.” Mai paused and glanced up. “The whole world witnessed the fight over the Thames. They must ratify your position.”
Kaden nodded. “Continue to look for the energy source.” He waved his hand and the four women seemed to move with it, sliding effortlessly into their gryphon forms. Their wings beat in perfect formation and, after a short run, they lifted into the air, banking left. Kaden let out a long breath and pinched at the bridge of his nose. “Not every day you kill your father and threaten to devour your mother.”
I squeezed his fingers. “Now you can square off against Teuthras and the others, then we get to spend the rest of the afternoon doing more interesting things.”
A smile curved his mouth and his eyes darkened to molten gold. “How interesting?”
My mythoi surged to the surface, her shadow melting into his, and her pleasure radiated through my flesh. I let out a soft sigh, and his mouth covered mine, a light tasting that curled pleasure down to my toes. I stroked a hand over his smooth jaw. He was mine, ours, and the satisfaction, the joy in that feeling would never get old.
He pulled away, and the protests of our combined mythoi rippled through my mind. “I have work to do.”
“Yes, you do.” First Dragons met in private, alone. Anything else was a sign of weakness. I took his hand and pressed my lips to his knuckles. My eyes closed at the familiar taste of him, at the hint of his mythoi rising to the surface. Reluctantly, I let his hand go. “Find me after.”
“You know I will.” Kaden backed away from me, and his beauty even in the grey, March light quickened my pulse. He turned and strode away.
I wiped a hand over my mouth and let my eyes close. Not the birthday I was expecting. Not at all. I straightened my shoulders and stared over the smooth stone of the hunting lodge, the high windows reflecting the swift-moving clouds. Kaden had gone. I pushed down the nervous fear, my gryphon soothing me with the knowledge that there had never been a dragon quite like Kaden Rhodes before. A smile broke from me. Yes, there was no denying that.
A solid wooden door broke the blank length of the outer wall, and I pushed at it. A square courtyard, rough-tiled and lined with similar wooden doors, lay beyond. I found a compact boiler room and a door opened onto a small breakfast room. Amanda hastily scrambled to her feet, her chair scraping against the worn tiles. She was followed by the five other people seated at the wooden table. Amanda bowed her head.
“Lady Jaime.” Her tone held respect and none of the earlier teasing. “How may I help you?”
I stopped my fingers curling into tight fists. I was the First Dragon’s mate. This was my life now. Still, it was bloody strange to have people bowing and scraping before me. “I’m exploring.” I smiled and the pride of my mythoi kept my spine straight. “Thank you for the offer, Amanda.”
She met my smile. “My honour, Lady.”
In the kitchen-populated by yet more bowing staff-I found a stone staircase that twisted up to the next floor. Thankfully, the wide landing it opened onto was empty. I let out a heavy breath and ignored the way my gryphon preened at the deference paid to us.
Light flooded in from the long windows set over the main staircase, and the large, square landing presented me with more door choices. The master bedroom, with its vast, dark four poster bed, was out. Sinon had slept there, I could feel it, and my gryphon reared at his scent. I was thankful to slam the door. I found another long, light bedroom, its bay window looking over the misted grounds.
Somewhere in the house, Kaden thrashed out his place in the hierarchy of dragons. My gut twisted at the thought, and I sought the comfort of the wide bed. If they didn’t recognize his ascension… Shit, I hated being caught up in dragon politics. I kicked off my boots and dropped my coat over a nearby chair. Damp air chilled me, and I crawled under the covers, hugging a pillow, burying my face in it and finding the soft scents of lavender and chamomile. I breathed them in, and my gryphon spread a soothing calm over me. She had no doubt about Kaden’s power. None. And her confidence let my tired body find rest.
I awoke to find a hot mouth against my neck, and the familiar scents of my mate slid deep into my lungs. I arched my spine, luxuriating in the large hands sliding down my ribs.
“You’re still dressed,” Kaden murmured, his fingers making quick work of the buttons on my trousers. “Not the gift a First Dragon should come back to.”
I opened my eyes and let my fingers tease through his dark hair. He was naked, and the smooth muscles of his back were too much of a temptation. I explored him, the heat of his skin a joy to touch. “Your meeting went well?”
I felt his smile against my skin, and my heart squeezed. “You had any doubt?” He pushed my trousers down, taking my underwear with them. “The worldwide broadcast of my battle with Sinon smoothed the way.” I heard the smirk in his voice. “Though I’ve been politely banned from using flame again.”
“Shame.” The word came out on a gasp as Kaden teased hot fingers along the bared crease of my thigh.
“And they have no idea what I am either.” His soft laughter stirred my damp skin. “Though I think they now have an unofficial ban on a dragon-gryphon mating.”
“And we’re the exception?”
His eyes held mine. “Always.”
My gryphon stirred and then surged at the presence of her mate. Their melting heat as they coalesced ran liquid fire through my blood. Kaden stiffened, but the molten want in his gaze, the desire, the love there, caught my breath. “We want you.”
I stroked his cheek, the love of this man and the mythoi bound into his blood making my heart light. They were mine, ours. Forever. Yes, the best-and most unexpected-birthday present I could ever have. I didn’t deny the bright grin that broke out, Kaden mirroring it. My mouth teased his, and satisfaction slid hot under my skin at his indrawn breath. “You have us.”
About the Author
To learn more about Kim Knox, please visit www.kim-knox.co.uk. Send an email to email@example.com or go to her blog to join in the fun with other readers as well as Kim Knox! www.darknessandromance.wordpress.com