Levi Rowtag blasted a glittering, golden-tipped stream of dragon fire into the rocky heart of the mountain face before him. He was careful to watch the granite as it turned ember-red under the torrent coming from his maw, eventually crumbling with the force and the heat.
They wouldn’t be able to use this technique much farther into this part of the mountain where the spaces would become human-sized by design. He just needed to drill this doorway through to the natural cavern on the other side. Essentially, what would become the front entrance to their new headquarters.
A home. Finally.
Every dragon shifter preferred a base. Usually within a mountain, as evidenced by how the six clans—gold, blue, white, red, black, and green—based in Europe and Asia had each claimed multiple mountain strongholds within their territory as homes for their people. Their kind had been this way for millennia.
After over a century in the Americas dragon shifter colonies working as enforcers sent to uphold the kings’ laws in the “new world,” Levi’s team, the Huracáns, had finally received orders to establish a permanent base. They’d eventually settled on a mountain in Northern California that was smaller but broader at the base, which suited them just fine. So did the region they’d selected.
Rule number one among his kind was humans should never learn of dragon shifters’ existence, and what better way to ensure that than blending in? The discovery of gold in nearby Coloma had brought humans in droves, mining and panning for more of the stuff. Crawling the area like ants. Luckily, that also gave the team the perfect cover story for their “mining” efforts in their mountain.
“Levi, how are you progressing?” His alpha’s voice—scratchy and cadenced with the accent of humans from the Hindustan region in Asia—sounded telepathically in his head, communicating the way all shifters did when in animal form. In this case, Deep directed the thought to the entire team scattered over the mountain.
“Almost through,” Levi answered.
Five minutes later, the last of the mountainside crumbled away. The dust settled slowly, revealing a hole leading into a large natural cavern.
“Damn, I have talent,” he announced.
Out of the cloud of dust and debris a man with black hair and fathomless black eyes emerged from the cavern. “Did you take a nap out there?”
If Levi didn’t know Titus better after more than a century together, he might have been thrown at the seriousness of the man’s expression.
“Do you challenge my prowess, sir?” Levi called back in the affected speech of many wealthy humans of the age. “How dare you? What is it to be? Daggers or pistols at dawn?”
“I’m a better shot than you,” Titus said with that slow, almost reluctant smile of his. Like it pained his face to make the expression.
“We have visitors.” Rune, the other black dragon on the team, cut through the chatter.
Titus and Levi both stiffened, turning to scan the skies.
“To the north,” Rune continued. “Two red dragons. Not ours, Finn, before you ask.”
Red? And strangers? To their knowledge, the nearest dragon shifter settlement was a hundred miles away—a relocated family from the Green Clan.
Focused on the sky in that direction, Titus shifted and joined Levi as he took off, joining Deep, and their beta Finn, to hover in midair and wait patiently. Even Rune was relatively still, and he tended to be an impatient fucker.
Sure enough, from the north over the tall pine trees and shorter black oaks that covered the rolling eastern mountain range, two dragons appeared, one larger, one smaller—a female?—and both deep red in color. They flew slowly and low enough that the scales on their bellies, which could reflect the skies, wouldn’t hide them. In other words, in plain sight.
As soon as they caught a glimpse of the line of shifters waiting, they stopped—far enough away they could hardly be seen or scented.
“Calm the fuck down.” The larger of the two sent the thought ahead of them in a voice that was pure growl.
“Give us good reason,” Deep challenged.
“The Alliance sent me.” Nothing else.
“And do you have a name?” Finn asked, his blue scales blending into the skies more than the others.
Chandali? Seven hells.
A warrior from the line of Pytheios, the King of the Red Clan, and the defacto High King of all dragon shifters. To be an enforcer was an honor reserved for the best fighters from each clan, but damn.
The two newcomers held their distance, waiting to be invited closer. Smart.
“Is this your mate?” Deep asked next. Smaller usually meant female. Given that their kind were born almost exclusively male, most females they ran across were turned mates.
“I am the sister he’s damn lucky to have. Lyndi. And I’m the nice one.”
Her husky, sinfully lush voice filled Levi’s head, and his dragon pitched forward, like a horse chomping at the bit, surging as though needing to go to her. He jerked himself upright. Just a small bobble, but enough to get a side-eye from Deep and Finn.
Like a blasted rookie.
“Welcome to you both,” Deep said. “We’re happy to have another member. My mate, Calla, is at our temporary camp, but I have no doubt she will be elated to have another woman around.”
Every dragon in the line relaxed, postures easing forward as they spread out more. This wasn’t a threat but more hands to share the work. Deep had been requesting more men from the kings since the team had first been formed. In theory, like the enforcer teams in the African and Australian dragon shifter colonies, the Huracáns should consist of two members from each of the clans, twelve in all.
But it never had. There was just the five of them—Levi, Finn, Rune, Titus, and Deep…and Calla, their mother hen.
Finally, Drake and his sister approached. As they moved nearer, the wind changed, and Levi got slammed with several senses all at once as his dragon focused on the female with an inexplicable intensity. Glorious, with garnet scales so dark they turned near black at the edges. Delicate, yet no doubt deadly if she was a Chandali. Her scent—smoke and cut grass and sunshine, like springtime—wafted toward him on the wind and his dragon went fucking wild.
Levi tried to haul himself back even as the dragon did his best to shoot forward, instinct shouting at him to pin her down and be damned to anyone who tried to take her from him. The human side of him slipped deeper with each passing second, almost as though he was seeing the scene happen from down a tunnel that grew longer and longer.
In desperation, Levi wrested back control and yanked his wings in tight to drop to the ground as fast as he could. The second his back feet touched dirt, he shifted just to contain the beast. From the ground, he watched, even as his dragon roared in his head and pushed against his insides to be released.
He waited, tethering his animal to his humanity as tightly as he dared. What was wrong with him? Dragons’ mates were found among human women who showed dragon sign, not among female-born shifters who were already dragons themselves. A dragon and his mate’s soul-deep connection was forged in fire when he turned her. Every dragon prayed and waited for the day he’d meet his mate, a craving that went deeper than every other instinct they were born with. His dragon was making no sense, wanting to claim this woman. They wouldn’t be able to bond if he tried it.
“Are you the only new recruit for us?” Deep asked.
At least Levi could still listen to the discussion, even if he couldn’t join the conversation now that he was human.
“You should expect two green and two white dragons in the near future.”
His dragon focused on the fact that Lyndi had been the one to answer. Drake didn’t talk much apparently.
“I’m surprised the High King allowed you to join your brother here,” Titus commented.
“I didn’t ask.” A decided smirk lilted in her voice.
If Levi wasn’t so hell-bent on keeping his dragon contained, he would’ve grinned. Technically she didn’t need permission to go anywhere. As long as one retained the king’s mark on the back of the right hand on the fleshy part between thumb and forefinger, a sign of loyalty and belonging to a clan, one was free to come and go and dwell wherever, though most stayed near the place of their birth. But as a female-born, and especially as a relative of the High King, things were different for her. There would be…expectations. She would be considered a political prize, and an advantageous mating would no doubt be arranged for her at some point.
Lyndi Chandali was either incredibly brave or damn stupid.
“Let us land and greet each other properly,” Deep offered.
Levi grunted as his dragon surged again. Still needing distance, he stumbled inside the cavern he’d just drilled a hole into, seeking calm in the cooler interior out of sight of the others.
After several minutes, he spotted the group through the entrance, all shifted and now moving inside where he waited. The newcomer, Drake, walked in front, blocking Levi’s view of the female causing him so much trouble.
Then Drake, his face seeming to be formed in a permanent scowl, red eyes glowing with flame, moved to the side, and Levi’s dick went as hard as a steel broadsword as his gaze zeroed in on her.
Silky black hair, lithe body, and the face of an angel. Her wide smile, highlighted by a deep dimple that gave her beauty an adorable edge, hit him at the same time as her spring scent. Levi agreed with his dragon on the spot.
Lyndi turned her head away from Deep, who had escorted her inside with her hand linked through his arm, and stilled at the sight of him. No doubt his eyes were golden flames. The skin over his cheekbones tightened. Hell, everything tightened. He opened his mouth to welcome her, but her smile suddenly disappeared and she shot him a glare so full of spitting fury, he stepped back.
“Just because I am female-born doesn’t mean you need to treat me like a leper and fly away,” she snarled at him.
Levi froze, a riot of conflicting thoughts keeping him from correcting her. He knew he’d just fucked up, and his dragon was riding him hard to tell her she was wrong. That some misplaced sense of male dragon superiority wasn’t why he’d run.
It was exactly the opposite, actually.
Lyndi walked away while he stood there, still stunned, and he watched her go.
There was no easy answer here, and the lead weight in his chest told him so. Given who she was related to and what she was, not to mention her clear aversion to him already, he had no damn clue how fix any of this, or if he should even try.
The jarring wail of a siren split through Lyndi’s sleep and had her jackknifing up in bed. Still, it took another second of blinking herself awake, the sensual haze of the dream that had plagued her for centuries taking a second to dissipate, before her brain fully engaged. She glanced at the clock on her bedside table. Three in the morning.
Another dragon fire.
Well…hell. These were turning into an almost weekly occurrence, and not for no reason. The team just didn’t know what that reason was yet.
Which was a serious problem.
She went into a whirlwind of dressing, which involved searching through her pile of clean but not-yet-folded clothes, slowing her down. Where was her other shoe?
Her brain chugged along at its standard uncaffeinated pace. She probably shouldn’t have been up all night trying to track down another orphan she’d heard whispers of through the grapevine. More fires often meant more fights and more young, abandoned dragon shifters in need of a home and a semblance of family life. A home and life Lyndi and her house full of orphaned dragons could provide.
She hadn’t found this one yet. But she would.
The siren shut off, the sudden absence of sound somehow more jarring.
Shit. That meant the rest of the enforcers on night duty were already there.
Yanking on her last shoe, she gathered her thick, black hair—her one admitted vanity—into a ponytail, then burst from her room and navigated the labyrinth of levels and halls inside the mountain to skid to a halt at the war room.
Slowing her breathing, she scooted through the door and tucked herself behind Levi’s broad shoulders, glad, for once, of the gold dragon shifter’s height and muscles to hide behind and pretend she’d been there all along. Except this close, his scent surrounded her—smoke, of course, but with a hint of brandy and fine cigars—yanking her into the memory of that dream she absolutely was not just having about the two of them.
Her body throbbed, calling her all sorts of liar.
“You’re late,” Levi tossed over his shoulder in a muttered warning without even turning his head.
Lyndi glared at his Hawaiian shirt-covered back.
How did he do that? She’d moved with a stealth that Rune had taught her years ago, back before he’d turned traitor and left the team. But Levi still always knew exactly where she was.
Probably because he didn’t want her around. He hadn’t wanted her here from the day she’d shown up in California with her brother, but especially not acting as part of the team, as she was now.
The thing was, Lyndi was a female-born dragon, and female-born dragons weren’t supposed to be fighters. An idiotic tradition in her opinion. Rare and sterile didn’t make her helpless by a long shot. Unfortunately, females like her were seen as good for only two things: political alliances if they were born to a high-ranking family like Lyndi had been, or helping their male family members take care of their young, like spinster aunts.
Lyndi had chosen neither door A nor B, instead going with door C, where she’d followed the only brother she liked to the Americas—though door A wasn’t locked. An arranged mate could come knocking any day. But “out of sight, out of mind” had worked for her so far.
For one weak moment, she allowed her gaze to linger on the back of Levi’s head—dark, golden hair cropped short, the swirling lines of his family mark on the back of his neck, the strength of broad shoulders that were always trying to bear the weight of the world for the people he protected.
Her dragon, who’d always liked him, threatened to purr—she’d enjoyed that dream a little too much—and Lyndi shook off the mounting tension that had been growing like a cancer inside her since the moment she stepped foot in this mountain.
She was perfectly happy, dammit. Without him.
Giving in to wanting him wouldn’t be fair to either of them, a decision she’d made the day she’d first met him and her dragon had whimpered her approval.
Not that he was interested.
Even if he were, mating him—or what that looked like for female-born dragons, at least—wouldn’t be advantageous to her family, so her king wouldn’t allow it. But an even bigger reason, for her at least, was the fact that female-borns could never be a true mate. Not like a human mate. The bond a dragon could create with a human was soul-deep and incredibly special, a connection that extended a dragon’s life by another thousand years until he and his mate died together, never to be apart in this life or the next.
She’d seen what not mating had done to Drake. The slow, torturous deterioration he’d tried to hide. Cami saved his life. To not find a fated mate would be cursing Levi to an early death.
He deserved more than what she could give him.
Or, more accurately, what she couldn’t give him.
“Please tell me you weren’t out late looking for that orphan,” he shot at her next, still not turning around.
“What do you have against my boys?” she shot back, keeping her voice hushed.
His back stiffened visibly, like a golden marble statue. “Nothing. I have a thing against you being out there on your own. It’s dangerous.”
Levi spoke louder, to the entire room. “This fire is in western Nevada. We shouldn’t need the entire group.”
Implying that they didn’t need her. Yet again. Levi always seemed to be trying to keep her from going out with the enforcer team. Or was it from going anywhere with him?
“Bite me,” she muttered. Then glanced around for something to throw at his thick head.
He would have to be on call with her again. Especially maddening given that his smooth as sin voice gave her highly inappropriate, and even more annoying, thoughts, no matter how hard she tried not to think them. Thoughts like what it might feel like if he growled against her skin—
“You’re late, Lyndi.” Drake’s voice broke through the start of a horribly detailed fantasy.
Lyndi smoothed out her scrunched-up face and stepped out from behind the human wall in front of her. “I’m on my period,” she announced.
She had to swallow a chuckle as the men in the room shuffled their feet. Poor male suckers. The period excuse worked like a charm to shut them up. Every. Single. Time.
Well…all except Rivin and Keighan. The two white dragon shifters—best friends, incessantly horny, and known to be up for a threesome or more—shot her twin grins of devilry.
“Really?” Rivin smirked, dark hair flopping over one eye.
“Let’s go get messy,” Keighan, taller and blonder and less swarthy, followed up immediately.
Lyndi wrinkled her nose. “Gross—”
A low rumble of a growl reverberated from Levi, cutting her off, and Lyndi wasn’t in the least surprised to find his eyes glowing copper with fire, setting a glittering glow to his already gold-toned skin. She crossed her arms and sent him yet another glare. The down-and-dirty dorks meant nothing by it, and Levi knew that. Besides, she could damn well stand up for herself, and, unlike the humans in this era who seemed to exist in a state of constant offense, she could also tell when the guys were joking.
Keighan held up both hands in a gesture of surrender. “Just kidding, Lyndi.”
“Yeah, L,” Rivin said. “Call off your guard dog.”
“He is not my guard dog,” she snarled at the same time Levi uttered a level but firm, “I am not her guard dog.”
“Let’s stay on topic,” Drake snapped. “Lyndi, I want you at center.”
Meaning the protected spot in the formation.
“You show up late, you don’t argue. Deal with it. Period or not.”
Lyndi snapped her mouth shut but nodded. Drake was right; she should’ve been better prepared. “Where’s the fire located?”
“Smith Valley, southeast of Lake Tahoe.”
“Yes, but small so far. Spreading fast thanks to the winds and the dry winter,” Drake confirmed with his usual grim-faced expression.
On his nod, they all headed up several levels and out through the secret door into the exterior building that covered the main entrance to the mountain. Set up to look like the headquarters for a human hotshot firefighting crew—their cover story these days—the space was both a training room with various workout equipment, offices, and small bunk-style living quarters.
Lyndi ignored the way Levi held the door for her, stopping and pointedly waiting for him to go through first, which he did after a pause and shake of his head. Like he was disappointed in her.
They exited the building into the chilly night air, lovely against her dragon-hot skin. Under the cover of a moonless night, the five of them shifted. Lyndi turned her back on the men and closed her eyes, smiling as she brought forth her dragon. Soft as a whisper, at the lick of her will, her form changed, absorbing her humanity, even her clothing, and shimmering, mirage-like, into her dragon.
As she grew and her body reformed, she pitched forward onto taloned claws. Razor sharp spikes protruded from her back, lying flat against her scales. Wings near to thirty feet in length extended to either side of her. She gave them a satisfying flick before settling them against her sides.
If it hadn’t been nighttime, her scales would look much different, the dark, glittering red brought out by direct light. Like hidden fire. It made it almost impossible to camouflage for daytime flying, but in the dark, she was damn near invisible.
Okay, maybe she had two vanities.
Lyndi gave herself a shake, stretching and arching her back like a sleepy cat waking slowly from good dreams. Also like a cat, without warning, she sprang into the crisp night air, her soul soaring with each stroke of her wings. Gods she loved to fly. Once she reached altitude, she tipped to the left, circled around, and came in line behind her brother with Rivin, Keighan, and Levi in a row behind her.
She’d prove herself to all of them eventually. Even Mr. I-Don’t-Think-Lyndi-Should-Do-This. He didn’t think she should do anything. Leave the mountain by herself. Run away from her clan to come to the Americas. Even start her orphanage. But where would her boys, many now men, be without her?
Dead. That was where.
Following her brother, she shot through the inky night sky, aiming for a higher altitude and the lazy clouds floating by overhead. After a while, nearing the location of the fire, Levi popped up beside her, misty cloud clinging to his body then falling away in a swirl of white.
Irritation was like a hot lance through a boil. Levi was supposed to remain behind with Rivin and Keighan. Breaking formation was going against their set plan, something he usually didn’t do. Which meant he was up here to keep a closer eye on her.
“Go away,” she said. “Drake’s dead ahead of me. I can handle myself and don’t need you flying in my shadow. I sure as hell don’t need a babysitter.”
The scales on his neck rippled, like a wave of living copper, in visible displeasure. “I am not your babysitter.”
“You think you’re being protective. I call it annoying and stifling.”
“And I call it the only way I can be.” The snap to his voice had her scowling even before the words sank in. Levi didn’t snap. He was always reasonable. Even when she yelled, the louder she got, the calmer he became.
Before she could reply, something grabbed her by the tail, sending shards of pain shooting from that point up her spine, and yanked her down. In an impressive maneuver, Levi leapfrogged over her in time to take the brunt of the impact from a second dragon who would’ve flown straight into her with the speed of a freight train.
Except Levi, copper scales glittering against the black scales of their almost invisible attacker, managed to flip, flinging the fucker directly between Rivin and Keighan. The two white dragons went at it like a pair of rabid dogs, one with his teeth sunk into its neck and the other on its tail, rendering the mace-like tip ineffective. The black dragon bleated a call for help as they drove it straight down, toward the rolling mountains below. Whatever, or whoever, had grabbed her let go and disappeared into the night in a whisper of shadow.
That call for help brought an answering series of blasts from north of their position. Ten at least. But who?
The sound must’ve distracted Rivin and Keighan, because the dragon they’d been pummeling shot away from beneath them. The two went to go after him but pulled up sharply at Drake’s command.
“Dive,” Drake ordered. “Take cover on the ground.”
A smart move. Outnumbered and against attackers they knew nothing of—potentially all black dragons, whose stealth made them deadlier than most—it was better to disappear and return to fight another day. Lyndi had obeyed before her brother had finished the first word, tucking her wings in close to her body and elongating as she pointed her nose at the ground.
Levi appeared in her periphery, aligning his descent with hers, side by side, his soft belly turned toward hers so that they were both equally protected. The man was diving upside down, inverted to her.
“Show-off.” She flung the thought at him. Gold dragons weren’t supposed to be the trick fliers. That was green dragons, or even blue, though they were known more for speed. Gold, on the other hand, were the brute force—bigger, pure muscle, and damn scary with it.
“If you’ve got it…” came an even smoother, sexier version of his deep voice, sliding through and doing unfortunate things to her body.
Her dragon shuddered at the sudden slash of need. A need she’d been alternately fighting and ignoring since the day she’d arrived. One that scared the hell out of her because she knew it could go nowhere.
“Hold,” Levi instructed, thankfully oblivious to her momentary lapse into lustful recklessness.
Irritation had always been her best defense, and she didn’t even have to conjure it up now, managing to not respond, focused on landing. Timing things so that they slowed at the last minute while still avoiding misjudging the height of the taller pine trees or slamming into the earth at over a hundred miles an hour required concentration.
“Now,” Levi said even as she peeled away, pulling her head up and flaring her wings wide, tipping them to catch the air like giant sails, her body jerked to almost a full stop midair, just in time to touch lightly down.
Already, Rivin and Keighan had shifted. They huddled under the cover of dense bushes at the base of a fall of boulders. Pushing her body to the edge of pain, Lyndi shifted quickly as well, then ran on light feet toward where they waved at her, doing her best not to cause any sound one of the dragons above them could catch. Only each step produced a shock of pain that lanced down one leg from her back.
That asshole tail-grabber had hurt her more than she’d realized.
Without warning, a thick arm banded around her stomach and yanked her right off her feet and under a different bush. She landed with a grunt she managed to only make in her head, swallowing the sound down.
Levi put his lips to her ear, his whisper barely audible. “Don’t move.”
Barely, she kept from wiggling, going as still as a mouse in the jaws of a cat. Only he didn’t let her go. They sat on the ground, her between his legs, which were bent at the knees on either side of her hips, his arm still solidly around her, his hard-as-steel chest pressed tight against her back.
She never allowed herself to get this close.
Damn if instant heat didn’t swamp her, molten at the junction of her thighs, setting her to pulsing in time to her heartbeat and pushing the pain in her lower back clean out of her head.
No. No. No. No. Now was not the time to let this unspoken, unacknowledged, lethal thing she felt toward him hold sway.
Lyndi forced herself to remain motionless, closing her eyes and reaching for calm. Control.
But his own heat surrounded her along with that sweet scent of cigar smoke and the smoothest brandy, like earlier in the war room, just like his voice. Is that what his skin would taste like?
Not the first time she’d wondered.
“Are you okay?” he husked.
“Fine.” Or she would be as soon as she could get away from him.
Her wound wasn’t her biggest concern right now. All shifters had accelerated healing, part of what allowed them to live so long. By the time Drake gave the all clear, she wouldn’t be lying about that.
A low grunt told her Levi didn’t believe her anyway, but for once he didn’t push her. After a pause, his arm relaxed against her and he uncurled his fisted hand, his fingers flattening against her belly.
“Stay where you are,” Drake ordered. He must still be dragon to be communicating telepathically. Where was he anyway? “I’m going to check whether they’ve gone.”
Against her, Levi’s body eased infinitesimally. She wouldn’t have known if she wasn’t plastered against him. Stiffening, she went to sit away from him, but he tightened his grip. “Hold still.”
He was right. Until Drake gave the okay, she should hold exactly as she was.
“You’re trembling,” he whispered, lips still at her ear, breath tickling. His fingers, which she was horribly aware of, brushed against her lightly. She might as well have been naked the effect that small touch had, sending electric sparks of need hissing through her blood.
“Don’t,” she warned, voice low.
The fingers stopped and he stiffened against her, muscles going rigid.
Guilt, an emotion that had only grown over the years of keeping this man at a distance, overrode common sense. “I’m ticklish,” she lied.
“You’ve never touched me there, so you wouldn’t have known.” She winced. Wrong choice of words. Way too much inuendo for comfort. Change of subject time. “You know, if you hadn’t been distracting me, that dragon wouldn’t have got so close without me sensing him.”
“I wasn’t distracting you. I was just flying next to you.”
“Go fly next to someone else.”
“Back to the babysitting thing, are we?”
She still didn’t want to talk about that. Lyndi snapped her teeth together, catching her lip, and the metallic taste of blood hit her tongue.
“You know, I try to protect everyone on this team,” he pointed out, with a lingering hint of a chuckle. “It’s my job as beta.”
She should gratefully accept the reprieve and keep her mouth shut. “Are you laughing at me?”
“Not at you.”
“At what, then?”
Levi’s arm tightened around her. “I’m laughing at my own stupidity.”
“Which means what exactly?”
“Apparently no good deed goes unpunished when it comes to you,” he accused. “I’m trying to remind myself of that.”
“I don’t need your good deeds, either.”
A hiss escaped him. A sound of such frustration, so unlike Levi, that she tried to scoot forward slightly only to come up against the iron band of his arm.
“What do you need then?”he asked. “Because I can smell it all over you. Your need…it’s torture.”
Lyndi blinked as his words sank in, blindingly grateful the intimidating, gorgeous, massive dragon surrounding her couldn’t see her face. Did he really not know? After all these years trying to keep it in check, he’d never once sensed it before now?
More importantly, was it good torture or bad torture? Because for her, he was both.
He pulled her even closer and everything inside Lyndi froze at the evidence of her effect on him.
Because if he wanted her, then… Fuck. Panic swam through her blood, bitter and sharp. Him not wanting her was what she’d clung to so that she wouldn’t act on the overwhelming need to claim him as her own.
She steeled herself to do the right thing, to shut this down. So much harder to do—fighting him as well as herself. If she was only denying herself, that was one thing. She opened her mouth but the wrong words popped out anyway. “You’re not the only one who—”
“Quiet.” Drake’s command was loud enough in her mind to make her wince.
Lyndi mashed her lips together. Oh gods. What did I just say?
Think, Lyndi. Because no doubt he’d ask. It could be anything, though. He wasn’t the only one who needed to protect her. Or who had responsibilities.
Except the door was open now. The one she tried to pretend wasn’t there even as she fought to keep it locked. A glimpse of what she’d been blind to, and it hurt even worse to keep it closed.
Every breath, hers and his, turned into a silent, incremental torture, the heat sparking in her making each tiny sensation sink into her then spread out, building into a delicious ache, upping her tension, and damn if she didn’t want to creep her hand into her panties and relieve…something. Or better yet, guide Levi’s there. And then turn around and return the favor.
Behind her, around her, his body stiffened.
“All clear.” Drake finally put an end to the forced proximity.
Lyndi was out from under the bush and away from Levi like cannon shot.
“The fire is out,” Drake continued. “A lure to bring us here is my guess. Back to headquarters.”
The words had a staccato cadence, like a snake striking a boot over and over. Drake was pissed. And no wonder. This wasn’t the first trap set for them lately, and they weren’t entirely sure if these rebellions in their territory were caused by the upheaval with the kings or by a more sinister hand orchestrating in the dark.
“You got it,” Rivin’s and Keighan’s voices chimed together. A flash of white to her right told her they were already in the midst of their shifts.
Lyndi barely absorbed the order, too focused on facing Levi whose gaze turned from frustrated to searching as she stood, staring and saying nothing.
It seemed as though she was always waiting. Waiting for him to get out of her way. Waiting for him to support her without qualification or objection. Waiting for him to feel the same tension between the two of them that she did and make a damn move. And dreading that day even more.
Which was why she pushed him away so hard.
Levi said nothing. Just watched her waiting for him, a wary sort of tenderness in his eyes that sent her frayed nerves into overdrive.
With a small shake of her head, she turned away and started her shift, not even bothering to give him space. He could damn well hop out of the way.
“I’m not the only one who…what?” he demanded, apparently having shifted at the same time.
Her dragon pushed and the tether keeping all her good intentions where this man was concerned stretched to near breaking. “Nothing,” she threw at him. “What I need from you is to stay away from me.”
Even in dragon form, shocked hurt darkened his eyes, and her own heart squeezed so tight it hurt to breathe. Keeping him at a distance all this time had always been a fine line to walk. Because she’d never wanted to hurt him, not more than she had to.
“Then we’re clearly not feeling the same thing,” he said, the words defeated. The words too closely aligned to what she’d secretly never let herself want. Fight or flight kicked in so hard, she had only one choice. Lyndi shot her body straight up into the air. She couldn’t get away fast enough.