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Lianne McGowan is a scientist on a mission. As brilliant as she is beautiful, she believes the key to the Earth’s future is a new energy source. To find it, she’ll delve deep into the fiery heart of an imposing mountain-and take on an even more imposing man: the sinfully seductive Nic Vladik.
Shape-shifting dragon Nic has sworn to guard the secret to his brethren’s insatiable power. He must stop Lianne’s search, yet the moment he feels the soft silk of her skin, his soul is set on fire. Unable to resist, Nic and Lianne submit to desire, and experience an exquisite passion unlike either has ever known. But their pleasure is short-lived. Lianne has made a discovery that endangers herself, Nic, and all Dragonkind. With his world at stake, will Nic save his clan-or the woman he loves?
Nicolai Stefanya Vladik paced the length of the boardroom and wished in his very core there was a window in this damn place. It was not in his nature to be cooped up in these constructions, human boxes made of plastic and wood, substances that would wither and melt into a wisp of smoke at the very least hint of fire. It was a tenuous way to exist. No wonder humans were so short lived—they spent so much of their time in these fragile spaces.
It was a damned shame that Nicolai had so little opportunity to get back to his own familiar lair. He’d been here, on this jobsite, for months now. Several years before that he’d begun acting as one of them, studying, scheming, and manipulating them in this role he’d created. It was all to keep the humans in their place. To make very certain they never found what they searched for so diligently.
He’d done it all for the good of his kind, for the future of his clan. He was a warrior, after all, and this was his battle. It had been waging so long, however, that every now and then he worried he’d forgotten who he was. He feared he’d become too comfortable in this flimsy form.
Today was not one of those times. Today he itched to abandon it all. Clothing, technology, shallow entertainments…all of them were so frail, so meaningless. If he feared anything today, it was that he would discard the trappings of this human existence and give in to his nature. He longed for the heat of his lair.
For a year this team had been studying the thermal activities of the area, and Nic risked more than personal exposure if he abandoned his human form. Day after day, month after month, though, it was becoming harder to maintain. He craved…well, he craved something he could not have.
He needed to get his mind back on his work. This meeting today with a dozen so-called experts in their fields was a waste. None of these “learned” humans really knew anything. Of course he ought to be glad for that, but he was tired of the isolation and routine this situation required. He was exhausted from denying his needs.
And he did have needs. It was always this way if he let himself go too long without. He would have to do what must be done if he wanted to continue in his role.
The question, of course, was how. Even as the meeting droned on, as the men around him talked about projects and statistics and governmental regulations, he could wonder only how he would tend to his needs. This site inspection, after all, was scheduled to go on for another two weeks. In the middle of nowhere. Nic didn’t dare leave at this critical time, but he also couldn’t figure how to manage his problem.
He needed a woman. Badly. By the Fires, he thought he could almost smell one, feel her very real presence just beyond his carefully calm exterior. His skin tingled on alert. It was as if the air in the building crackled with the hot essence of woman. She smelled like heat and flesh and the promise of passion. Damn, but his situation must be worse than he’d thought; he knew only men had been assigned to this remote project site.
If he didn’t sink himself into warm female flesh soon, he was likely to explode. And this was not just the wishful thinking of the usual frustrated human male. No, this was serious. If Nic thought he might be about to explode, everyone here had good reason to worry. Once his control was lost and he shed this human facade, the truth would be known. He would have to silence them all to keep his secret safe. Nic wasn’t just any sex-crazed mortal man, after all.
Nicolai Vladik was a full-fledged dragon.
* * *
She was a woman and there was no way to hide it. Lianne McGowan didn’t generally notice when she was the only female on a given project, or in a department, or perhaps even the only one assigned to any particular building. She was oddly aware, however, that as of her arrival at this jobsite today, she was the only female for a good hundred miles. Or more, maybe.
Iceland, as it turned out, was overflowing with volcanoes and geothermal hot spots. Not so much civilization. And certainly not privileged American women sent out to the frozen wastelands to represent their daddies’ interests around a bunch of men with letters after their names.
She was getting used to making her way in a man’s world, though. It meant she had to convey the point right away that she was confident in her role here and wasn’t going to let anyone push her around. Also she wasn’t going to let any of them think she wasn’t just as tough and as determined as they were. Geo-Diagnostics had sent her here with one goal: the project had been lagging and she was supposed to get these guys back on the ball. The higher-ups needed to see some results if they were going to keep the investors happy.
Lianne was here to get those results. It was as simple as that. Her father had been grooming her for this job and she knew how to do it. Twelve men or a hundred men weren’t going to distract her. She was ready for whatever attitude problems or temper tantrums they were going to throw at her. This little modular building on the side of the volcano they were studying wouldn’t know what hit it.
She didn’t bother to knock but pushed the boardroom door open and stood there for a minute, letting the group inside figure out that something in their little world had just changed. It gave her a minute to look them over, too. First impressions were important on both sides.
A few of the guys she recognized, having worked with them at other sites before. Mr. Casper she knew from way back, and Mr. Blanchard sitting at the head of the table with his usual smug expression made her want to roll her eyes. The other men looked like every geologist, engineer, and technical geek she’d gotten used to working with. No surprises here. Except…one guy was pacing at the back of the room.
Wow. He was not like the others. He paused in his pacing to stare at her, silver-blue eyes practically throwing sparks against exotic bronze skin. His gaze stalked her, wild and ferocious as a caged animal. No, he wasn’t like the other ones. Not at all.
The smile he gave her wasn’t like the usual patronizing smiles she got, either. His lips curled like he’d been starved for a week and was just handed a plate of lasagna. She’d never really wanted to be lasagna before, but for half a second she was ready to slather on some parmesan cheese and tell the man dinner was served.
The insanity lasted only a heartbeat, though. After a quick draw of breath and some rapid internal scolding, she grabbed control of herself and managed to take her eyes off him. It wasn’t easy, but she knew better than to get carried away by a pretty face and a pair of ungodly wide shoulders. Any man who looked like that most likely knew he looked like that. Which meant he was probably an asshole.
She’d had enough assholes for a lifetime.
“Hello, gentlemen,” she said, enjoying her moment of authority before they all started trying to assert their male dominance. “I’m not sure what you’re up to right now, but I’m here to tell you vacation time is over.”
She heard one of the computer techs mutter her name under his breath. That could be good, or that could be bad.
“For those of you who don’t know me,” like the steaming-hot asshole with the silver eyes in the back of the room, “I’m Lianne McGowan. I’ve been sent here to hold your little hands and dig through your procedures to figure out why we’ve got lots and lots of data here, but no usable information. Any questions?”
The men glanced back and forth between each other. She noted a couple of raised eyebrows. One of the computer geeks leaned in to his buddy and whispered something. They both snorted and tried to hide dopey schoolgirl giggles. Idiots.
This was where she either gained them or lost them, right here when these pubescent juveniles tested her. It happened at least once on every site. Sooner or later, they always wanted to see what she was made of.
So, she’d have to show them. They’d better not let her damn freckles or the fact that she wore a bra confuse them into thinking they could push her around. She knew exactly what she was doing and, whether it threatened their collective manhood or not, she was in charge. She nailed the giggling techs with an angry-schoolteacher glare.
“You two have a question?”
They shook their heads frantically. She was not about to let them off so easily.
“It sounded to me like you had a question. Did anyone else happen to hear what these two boys were mumbling about?”
Peer pressure was a wonderful thing. She loved to use it to evoke cooperation whenever possible. The men would band together, united in submissive silence as no one wanted to be the rat who threw the pimple-faced kids under the bus. It would establish her role as leader instantly. Men were so wonderfully predictable at times.
The asshole, however, surprised her. He cleared his throat and stepped forward.
“I believe the first young man wondered if you left your leather whip in your suitcase,” he said. “And the other asked if we ought to call you Lianne, or if you prefer something more formal, like Mistress.”
The horror on the faces of the young techs proved that the asshole had, indeed, heard their whispered conversation. They probably thought they were being clever to insinuate she was some kind of wet-dream dominatrix rather than a business-minded professional. They didn’t look so clever now. One looked like he was almost going to cry, in fact.
The asshole, though…now, he concerned her.
She shifted her glare to him. “And who are you? I don’t recall running across you in the personnel files.”
“I’m a consultant,” he said, and she detected the dark tones of a slight Russian accent. “Nicolai Stefanya Vladik. You can call me Nic.”
“All right, Nic. And since you’re so eager to help us answer the young tech’s question, what do you suppose I like to be called?”
He narrowed his silver eyes and contemplated her. “Here on the job, no doubt you expect to be called Ms. McGowan. In your private time, though, I suspect you prefer something else.”
Yep, he was an asshole. His voice was steady but his eyes were already undressing her; she could feel it. Hopefully he had a good imagination, since that was the closest he was ever getting to the goods.
“Well, nobody here is going to find out about that,” she said sweetly. “From this point on, there is no private time, gentlemen. You’re on the job, twenty-four/seven, whether you’re in the office, in the lunchroom, or collapsing into your beds. Got it?”
The men who had worked with her before rolled their eyes and nodded. The others grumbled. The asshole smiled.
“I’m always on the job,” he said. “In the office, in the lunchroom, or…wherever I happen to be applying myself.”
An uninvited little thrill coursed up then down her spine. Damn, but those silver eyes of his…did things to her she really did not need right now. At all. And was that the jagged hint of a dagger-shaped tattoo she saw peeking out from the man’s collar at the broad, bronze nape of his neck? What kind of consultant was this, anyway?
Hell. She flew halfway across the world to this frigid, rocky wasteland for the sake of dear Dad and this is what she was stuck with. It would figure.
Assholes with tattoos just happened to be her weakness. This was going to be a long, frustrating assignment.
The sky was a dramatic wash of wispy blue clouds and the cold yellow glow of early morning. Raea fluttered her wings, Fairy Dust glittering around her as she stretched out the stiffness in her limbs. Not that they hadn’t been getting a workout.
For the past three days, she and Kyne had been hiding here in this cabin, high on a densely forested hilltop, hidden by special magic she still did not quite understand. They’d been safe from anyone who might happen to be out hunting them, and no doubt someone was, considering she’d helped break Kyne out of his interrogation cell at the Fairy Council meeting hall. It had been all too easy to forget about that, though, and make the best of their time together here.
By the Skies, they certainly had made the best of it. Passion had ruled them night and day, and Raea’s body still hummed from the pleasure she found over and over again in Kyne’s arms. A lifetime of giving in to these forbidden wonders could never fully satisfy her. Still, she knew they couldn’t hide here forever. Kyne would wake soon and they’d have to discuss their future.
And perhaps elements of his past he’d not yet been willing to talk about.
A sound in the doorway behind her alerted her to the fact that this time had come. Kyne was up, strolling out onto the wraparound porch of the cabin to join her in the dewy morning air. She smiled at him and his wings unfurled, barely clearing the door frame.
The Sizing Dust they had used still lingered over him, his fairy body holding to this human size longer than Raea’s did when she was influenced by the dust. She was tiny in comparison to him now. Her toes wriggled as she dangled her legs, sitting on the porch rail in her usual fairy form.
“I can never get over what a giant you are,” she said. “Too bad the dust wears off on me so quickly.”
“It’s all right,” he said, breathing deeply and yawning. “We’ve still got a week’s worth in that little pouch my father gave us.”
A week. They could continue this way for a week, avoiding their lives and loving each other. But then what? Without the precious dust, their activities would be cut short. Literally. Kyne’s half-fairy body was unique; when he reached his climax in the heat of their passion, he grew to human proportions. Huge, massive proportions that still took her breath away every time. Without their supply of the Sizing Dust, Raea would be too small to give him his full pleasure. She’d no longer be able to be with him that way.
“We can’t wait that long to go back,” she said. “It’s been wonderful, staying here with you like this, pretending we don’t have a care in the world, but you know we can’t go on like this, Kyne. We have to go back.”
“No, I have to go back. You need to stay here, where it’s safe.”
“I will go where you go, Kyne.”
“No, Raea, you can’t. When I leave here, I need to go alone.”
“No, it’s the way it must be.”
She hated what he was saying. Her soul ached at the very thought of being without him for as much as a day. How could she even consider existing without Kyne after the days they’d spent here, together?
“Do you mean you’ll leave me forever?” she asked, struggling to keep her voice even.
“No, of course not. Just until…”
“Until what? We don’t even know what we’re really hiding from.”
He was silent at that, so she continued.
“Besides, the Sizing Dust will run out. Whatever we do and wherever we go, we need to find more.”
Now he smiled. “You mean you’re not done with me yet?”
“Not by any means.”
He leaned against the railing beside her, and she realized his body was changing. He was finally reverting back to his usual form. She smiled, watching him shudder as if with a chill and then shrink with a puff of golden mist. He plopped down to sit on the railing beside her.
“And now we are equals again. Are you certain you still have no regrets, Raea? I should have never involved you in this.”
“I’m not involved in anything I didn’t run into willingly,” she assured him. “But don’t you think it’s time we try to find out just exactly what it is that we did run into?”
He sighed. She knew he would not welcome this discussion, but it couldn’t be avoided. Strange things were happening, and the only way to get to the bottom of them would involve dredging up the history Kyne would much rather ignore.
“You want me to go find my father again, don’t you?”
“I think we’re going to have to. I don’t know what the Fairy Council has been plotting, or really what that strange machine we found at the base of the mountain is for, but it seems that your father is involved in all of it. I’m afraid if we want to learn anything, we have to start there.”
“You keep saying ‘we.’”
“That’s because we’re in this together, Kyne.”
“No. I’m in this. It has nothing to do with you.”
“Nothing to do with me? I’m sorry, did I miss something? Who were you with when the council sent Swift to take you into custody? And then who came sneaking into the Meeting Hall to break you out of confinement? I had to seduce you while I was invisible, if you recall! And who has been climbing all over you like a raging wild animal ever since? Me, Kyne. It’s me. You’re not alone anymore, and neither am I.”
His amber eyes searched hers, and she could see the concern that filled him. She loved that he worried for her, but she worried for him, too. Someone back in their Fairyrealm had been plotting against him, and she wanted to know why. Fairies and humans were in league and that could only spell trouble. Somehow she and Kyne had to uncover the truth.
“Please, Raea,” he said, laying his hand over hers. “Don’t make me drag you into more danger. Let me keep you safe. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you. I need you to be safe.”
“You think I’d feel the least bit safe if you went off and left me here alone?”
“I’d rather have you alone than dead,” he declared.
The words rattled inside her. Did he really think things were quite that serious? Of course certain members of the council had been behaving mysteriously, and those two fairies they’d seen in the forest several days ago had clearly been up to no good…but was this truly a matter of life and death?
“You think it might come to that?” she asked softly, stroking his cheek and letting the warmth of his skin seep into her fingertips.
“I won’t take any chances, Raea. I have to go look into this alone. I just couldn’t live if I let something happen to you.”
“Then you know exactly how I feel. I can’t let you go, Kyne, not now. Whatever you do, I’m doing it with you.”
“I can see we’re going to have an argument over this,” he said, clutching her hand to his lips and kissing it gently.
“I’ll win it, of course. You know I have my ways.”
“Don’t be so sure of yourself. I’ve got a few persuasive tricks of my own.”
“Then I guess I’ll have to be especially convincing, won’t I?”
“I’m not going down without a fight,” he said with a crooked little smile that assured her they weren’t talking about investigating the council right now.
“You’re not going down?” she asked, flashing him her own wicked grin and letting the glittery aura emanating from her speak for itself. “Then you know I will.”
She fluttered up off the railing and hovered before him, raking her fingertips over his solid form and slowly sinking lower, lower until her lips were perfectly positioned. Oh yes, he was going down, all right. And she was going to take him there.
Their argument might be on hold for right now, but one thing was certain. They were going to need more Sizing Dust again very soon.
* * *
Fairy Dust glittered in the air around them, and Kyne ran his hand over the soft, silky strands of Raea’s tousled hair. Her pink aura glowed with satisfaction and a contented smile touched the corners of her lips. He touched those lips, tracing their contour and feeling the heat of reaction course through his veins. He wanted her again, already.
They’d spent the morning making love, as they’d done every day since they’d left their lives behind and come to hide here, safe in this strange, enchanted cottage on the top of a forested hill with the Great Lake barely visible to them off in the distance. The special magic here kept them protected from detection by the Fairy Council, as well as anyone else in the Forbidden Realm who might have reason to hunt them. And indeed, they had reason.
Initially he’d assumed the Fairy Council dragged him in for questioning because they’d become suspicious about his overly human behaviors. Passion was forbidden, after all, and he’d certainly given free rein to his. Worse, he’d drawn Raea into his shameful inclinations. He’d tempted her and she’d given in to the illicit thrill, despite the fact that it meant she faced the same censure and ruin that he did.
But it appeared that wasn’t the only reason he’d been marked by the council. They’d not asked anything about his interaction with Raea, and in fact it seemed the council was not interested in her at all. She could have been free from the indictment that Kyne faced. But she’d shown up and used forbidden magic to help him escape. She was in just as deep as he was now, and he wished he was noble enough to regret that.
He couldn’t, though. Raea was here, with him, and he loved her for it. They were fugitives now, but they were together. They’d discarded the rules, reveled in passion, and witnessed things no one had intended them to see.
But could he keep her safe? He was coming to realize the stakes were much higher than they’d ever imagined. These carnal infractions he and Raea engaged in paled in comparison to the things he’d learned his own kind were up to.
Fairies had conspired with humans to make a machine used in the collection and suppression of magic. Its ultimate purpose was still a mystery, but Kyne knew for a fact it did strange, horrible things when Veiled creatures were near it. He and Raea had learned that the hard way.
When they’d first encountered it, a machine had reduced Raea and Kyne to weak, helpless creatures controlled totally by their basest instinct. They’d become slaves to their passions. Sensors near the machine had somehow notified the council of their presence, too. They’d almost been captured.
For all the years Kyne had trained himself to deny his desires, being in the presence of that machine had sent his senses over the edge, pushed him beyond his ability to hold back. By the Skies, he and Raea had been so lost in each other that they nearly loved themselves into unconsciousness. Or worse.
The council came remarkably close to ridding themselves of two wanted fugitives that day. It had been mere luck that the side effect of Kyne and Raea’s passion was an overload of the machine. When they reached their climax, the machinery reached its own climax and became disabled. Still, they had needed help to escape.
Baylor came along. Kyne’s father. It had not been a happy reunion.
Baylor told them the machine was called a Regulator. It had been created by fairies and humans secretly working together to strengthen the Veil, and the machine required both magic and passion to work. He hadn’t given much explanation beyond that, and Kyne wouldn’t have trusted it if he did. Baylor was a human. Kyne had spent his life hating the man for siring him, making him a half-breed who didn’t belong in either realm. Why should Kyne trust this man any more than he could trust the Fairy Council?
For Raea’s sake, he needed to find out what was truly going on. They’d both been drawn into this confusing web and it was his fault. He was the one who introduced her to passion. He was the reason she couldn’t dare show herself among their people again. She was innocent and shouldn’t have to pay the price for his flaws, for his weaknesses.
She would argue with him, of course, but he knew what he had to do. He had to leave her. He just hoped that when it was time for him to go, he’d be strong enough to do the right thing.
The thought of it tore at his soul, and he instinctively slid his arm over her and pulled her tighter against himself. The Sizing Dust would be wearing off soon for her, so he’d just let her rest. As usual, she’d given herself fully; she’d loved him with all of her heart, every ounce of her passion. He soaked it up with abandon, leaving them both drained and exhausted. He would hold on to this moment as long as he could until—
A sound outside their bedroom jolted him. He jerked up, and his wings spread quickly to cover Raea and protect her as she slept. Someone was here! He could feel the presence, hear the light footsteps as they moved about the cabin. His senses went on high alert and he pushed back the covers, sliding into the pair of human shorts that he’d found in the closet and had been using during their stay here.
Raea stirred. “What is it?” she asked.
She was clearly startled, so he tried to be as calm as possible.
“It’s okay. I’ll take care of it,” he assured her, moving toward the door. “Wait here.”
She nodded, and he could see her body begin to shrink as fear canceled the effects of the Sizing Dust and she returned to her normal size. In a few moments she’d be small enough to fit in a man’s hand, tiny and vulnerable to danger. Kyne would keep her safe no matter what. Whoever was out there, he sure as hell wouldn’t let them anywhere near Raea.
He pulled the door open and peered into the main living area. He could clearly make out a figure—a man. Who was he and how had he found them inside their magical refuge? Obviously he was not trying to be stealthy, standing there in the open, his large, human form silhouetted before the window. Kyne’s eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight streaming in and recognition swept over him before the man even spoke.
“I hope I’m not interrupting.”
“What the hell are you doing here, Baylor?” Kyne demanded, pulling the door shut behind him as he stalked toward his father.
“I came to check on you. Obviously you took my advice to lie low for a while.”
- On Sale
- Dec 2, 2014
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Forever Yours