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Drui Claiming

Supernatural Bonds


Jory Strong



Copyright 2008 by Jory Strong

Smashwords Edition


Cover design by Syneca Featherstone



* * * * *

Table of Contents


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Thank You!

About the Author



* * * * *

Chapter 1


Dragons! Marika thought. They are TROUBLE. In all caps. They huff and they puff and they burn the house down when they don't get their own way. They're possessive, dominating, and they don't know the meaning of carefree because they're weighed down by all the treasure they feel compelled to guard.

So why did she have it so bad for a certain silver-blond male named Xanthus whose dark, dark eyes had a lethal effect on her libido? Why had she continued to play with fire, to go out with him—though she insisted on meeting him at the site of their date and returning home alone afterward—when she knew it was only going to end one way? Badly.

Dragons! This time she picked up one of the pillows on her bed and threw it at the wall in frustration. It struck with a soft thud and dropped to the floor to rest next to an oak seedling in a rune-inscribed ceramic pot.

She refused to keep doing this to herself. The next time she saw Xanthus she was going to tell him she couldn't see him anymore. She'd started to before leaving him at the restaurant earlier, but—

A shiver of erotic fear slid through her as she remembered his expression when she'd once again failed to invite him home with her. It was possessive, dominant, filled with ruthless resolve.

She wasn't delusional enough to convince herself Xanthus would walk away—especially if she came right out and told him there was another man in her life. Competition only made the acquisition of treasure better for a dragon.

A low moan escaped as she imagined what telling him about Tallis would mean. It was easy to picture Xanthus sexually feral, putting her on her hands and knees and fucking her in front of a rival male.

Marika unbuttoned her shirt and tossed it aside, then unclasped her bra and did the same. She couldn't stand the confinement any longer. Her breasts were swollen and achy, her lower lips flushed and slick with need.

She took her nipples between her fingers. Squeezed and tugged. Imagined Xanthus and Tallis suckling her at the same time, their bodies holding her to the mattress, their hard cocks pressed against her thighs while their fingers played in her wet slit.

With a whimper her hands left her breasts to slide underneath the waistband of her skirt and panties. Her fingers went to her stiffened clit. Exquisite sensation spiked through her as she stroked herself, seeking comfort and relief, an escape from indecision and worry.

What was she going to do? She loved Florida.

She loved working for Aislinn Windbourne Dilessio, the half-elf owner of Inner Magick. She treasured their deepening friendship and was close to revealing her own connection to the supernatural world. And there was her blossoming friendship with Detective Storm O'Malley, who Marika thought might have finally figured out—or been told—her new "husbands" were faeries—of the Sidhe kind and not the gay kind. And her friendship with Aislinn's best friend, Sophie, who didn't yet know she was about to become a dragon's mate.

It was as close as Marika had come in a long time to feeling as if she was at home, surrounded by people who actually saw the supernatural world, or at least what was left of it after the elves, dragons and most of the fey fled to their own realms. It tore her up to think about leaving Florida, not now, when she was settling in, the wanderlust she'd experienced for most of her life fading away as it did for her kind.

And that was the trouble with falling in a big way for Xanthus. If he knew she was Drui and she could see him for what he was, then he wouldn't hesitate to take her as his mate. Perhaps he'd even return to the dragon realm with her, imprisoning her there as dragons had a reputation of doing with any of the Drui they discovered—well, those they didn't kill outright, though in all honesty, as far as Marika knew, the desire by humans and supernaturals to slaughter her kind belonged in the ancient past.

The Drui started out as a nomadic people who traveled with human tribes known as the Galatai or later, druids, though the humans who called themselves Druid didn't realize true Drui ability came by birthright as well as learning. Her kind were valued for their ability to draw poison and disease from human bodies, and though supernatural beings were rarely afflicted by such things, the Drui could also use their abilities to restore them to health.

They'd been viewed as great healers before the dawn of religions and priests who felt threatened by their abilities, labeling them evil and urging those in power to round them up and kill them. And perhaps because the Drui were in a fight for survival, some of them used their ability to heal supernaturals, not to draw away poison and disease but to draw power—the magical lifeblood—of those beings who weren't human.

As soon as the supernaturals realized what the Drui were capable of, they began hunting them as well. Enslaving some, killing others, and mating with a few in the hope of gaining control over such a powerful ability, until finally those who remained alive and free went into hiding, remaining so even after the strongest of the supernaturals fled this world for realms they created from their own magic.

Marika shivered. She didn't fear Xanthus would hurt her. Being Drui would make her a greater prize to him, especially given the wizard's curse tying dragon fertility to the Chalice of Enos.

She knew Xanthus would protect and guard her. She thought he might even be willing to remain in this realm, but despite wanting Xanthus with a desperation bordering on painful, she couldn't risk letting him claim her as his mate. Dragons didn't share and she came from a long line of tree-hugging, multi-partnered Drui.

There were threesomes, foursomes, fivesomes. Her great uncle and his brother shared four wives, and enjoyed it immensely when their wives went at it with one another!

There were no twosomes. And while the thought of seven husbands, one for each day of the week, was an amusing fantasy, Marika had always known that when push came to shove and the need to "settle and nest" overwhelmed her, she'd take two husbands.

If the two men in her life and bed wanted to do each other, she was all for it. But one of those men was already a given.

As if on cue, a sleek, golden cat slid through the opening between door and jamb. His collar gleamed with rune-etched gems as he prowled across the room. With lithe grace he jumped up on the bed, morphing into a panther-size version of himself before becoming human in appearance, honey-blond with eyes as dark as hers, the jeweled collar braided from the black strands of her hair still around his neck.

He purred, lips parting slightly to inhale and taste the scent of her arousal. His eyes glinted. "You smell of dragon and mistress and heat. You need me, but I don't intend to play the part of dragon lover or allow you to confuse me for him."

"Tallis," Marika said, her body growing heavier with need. She might have saved his life years ago and accidentally enslaved him in the process, but he was the sexual master in their relationship.

A moan escaped when Tallis reached over, jerking her skirt and panties down to reveal arousal-slick fingers caressing an erect clit.

"He did this to you?" Tallis asked, his voice a menacing purr though Marika knew he looked forward to the day she brought another male home to share their bed.

"Yes," she answered.

Tallis leaned down, laved her fingers with a cat-rough tongue and made her channel clench. Arousal gushed from her slit at his nearness to her needy clit and parted lower lips.

"He's wrong for us," Tallis said. "He's dangerous. Find a shapeshifter who calls this world home, or take one of the fey who don't claim allegiance to the Sidhe as a mate."

Marika started to pull her hand away from her swollen folds. Tallis' hiss stopped her.

"I already decided to tell him I wouldn't see him again," she said, canting her hips, begging silently for Tallis' caress.

Tallis rubbed his tongue over the backs of her fingers and hand, sent heated breath over fevered flesh. "Finish it."

A shudder went through her. Sometimes she fought him, but this time she didn't have the will to, not when she ached so badly and knew he'd reward her with even greater pleasure if she yielded.

Marika pressed her fingers into her slit. Coated them with arousal before returning to her clit, stroking the underside before swirling over the tiny naked head.

Icy shards of sensation shot through her, curling her toes and making her hips jerk upward. Liquid heat slid downward, over the rosette of her anus.

Marika panted. Imagined what it would be like to have both Tallis and Xanthus inside her at the same time, their cocks rubbing against each other as they fucked her.

Need defined her, a savage emptiness that felt soul deep. She rubbed and stroked her clit, desperate to come so Tallis would touch her.

Her eyes never wavered from his as she watched the hunger build in him, as she thrilled at the way his nostrils flared and his purr deepened. She whimpered when Tallis rose to his knees, positioned himself between her thighs, his thick cock hard against his abdomen, the heavy globes of his testicles hanging beneath it in a display of masculinity.

"Say his name when you come," Tallis ordered and her breathing grew ragged, her movements rough, nearly violent until finally the hot fury of lust broke over her and she cried out Xanthus' name.

"Better?" Tallis purred.

"Yes," Marika said, though she knew the languid satisfaction wouldn't last for long.

"Good. Now there won't be any confusion about who's attending to your needs."

"As if I could ever confuse anyone else for you."

Firm masculine fingers clamped around her wrists. She shivered when he took her hands to his mouth, cleaned the evidence of her orgasm away with his cat-rough tongue.

"Tallis," she whispered, trembling in anticipation of having him lean down and do the same to her pussy.

"I should make you wait," Tallis said, but he knew he wouldn't. Her warm scent and honeyed wetness were driving him crazy. The sight of her splayed thighs and parted, dusky slit had him only a few thrusts away from coming.

Still, he didn't immediately do her bidding. She needed to be reminded that the choice of a second mate wasn't hers alone. She needed to be reminded that his fate and hers were intertwined, and he knew best how to keep both her heart and her body safe.

A dragon was out of the question. In his long lifetime he'd never heard of one sharing a mate. They were notorious for hoarding their treasure. Marika would be a prize on par with the Chalice of Enos that the dragons and fey were frantically searching for.

It was good she'd decided on her own to stop seeing Xanthus, though Tallis well understood why she was drawn to the dragon. Xanthus might not be powerful enough to remain in this realm unless tied in liege service to Severn Damek, but he was still a heady mix of dominant masculinity.

A shudder went through Tallis as Xanthus' image came to mind. He'd seen him from afar—and closer, through cat eyes. It was all too easy to imagine him and Xanthus wrestling, testing their strength against one another, fighting to see which one would mount Marika first.

It was the way of his kind, the Sjen, to protect, to ensure fertility—and to grow more powerful when those they guarded took mates and had children. He'd thought the wanderlust of a young Drui would never leave Marika, but finally, finally she was settling, and he would ensure she took the right mate—for both of them.

Tallis cupped his testicles, weighing and fondling them as the fingers of his other hand encircled his cock, measuring it with a stroke upward, remeasuring it with a stroke downward.

Marika's breath caught. Her scent intensified as she watched him touching himself. Her hands went to her breasts, delicate fingers finding dark nipples and making fire streak through his penis.

"Don't," Tallis growled, knowing she'd soon be arching her back, pleading with him to suck her and the power between them would shift. He'd be helpless against her.

Tallis freed his cock and testicles in favor of pinning her open thighs to the mattress. He leaned down, rubbed his cheek over her bare mound and tiny clit.

He loved her smoothness, her heat, the softness of her skin and the way she was always wet for him. Hers was the smell and taste, the feel of home. It had been so from the very first.

"Please," she whimpered and he lashed her with his tongue, its cat-rough texture adding to her pleasure, making her hips lift from the mattress and her lower lips grow more swollen.

Honeyed arousal slid from her opening. He lapped it up, piercing her with just the tip of his tongue before stroking over her clit.

It was paradise. She was a paradise he never got enough of.

Not a day passed when he didn't claim her with his cock. Not an hour passed when he didn't think about her.

From the very first Marika had been his world, his focus. He had never resented the accidental bond forged between them when she'd saved his life.

At the time she'd thought she was saving an alley cat. Instead she'd bound herself to a Sjen.

Usually his kind presided over a house or place, but from the very moment he'd felt her touch and looked through her eyes to her soul, he'd presided over her, moving from place to place as the wanderlust of the Drui young ordained.

He could share her with other males. For his kind it heightened the passion and strengthened them. But he was glad she wanted only two men in their bed. Now he would see to the task of ensuring the second one was suitable.

A soft rumbling purr escaped as she whimpered, begged prettily for him to fuck her with his tongue. Tallis thrust into her, felt molten lust surge through his cock in waves as her inner muscles clamped down on him, held his tongue inside her.

She moaned when his tongue retreated. He rewarded her needy sounds with a swirling assault on her tiny clit, with hard sucks that had her keening, hips lifting off the bed.

Every sound fed his hunger, filled his soul with the symphony of passion, reinforced the bond between them. He turned his head slightly, bit her inner thigh, then licked over the spot.

Thoughts of Xanthus, images of him mounting her, taking her with a dragon's cock and making her scream in ecstasy, intruded. Tallis bit Marika again, washed over the place with his tongue before laving the swollen folds of her sex and her rigid clit.

She thrashed underneath him, liquid heat sliding from her channel, coating the perfect rosette of her back entrance before wetting the sheets. He growled when he saw she'd forgotten his earlier command, or ignored it.

Delicate fingers gripped alluring dark nipples, pinched and twisted, pulled—giving pleasure that didn't come from him, pleasure he hadn't granted. He rose to his knees again, reveled in the way she cried at the loss of his presence between her thighs, at the way her lashes fluttered open and her eyes flashed with erotic fear in the instant before he delivered a sharp, light slap to her bare pussy and hardened clit.

Her hips jerked upward but her hands remained on her breasts, her fingers tight on the dark nipples that were his to suck, his to pleasure. Tallis spanked her again, harder this time.

"You know better," he said, watching her struggle against twin desires—whether to yield so he'd fuck her soon or to fight and drive the passion higher.

She knew he could torment her for hours, could keep her on the edge of orgasm until she was crying, quivering with the need to have him inside her, filling her with his cock and letting her come. Tallis slapped her mound again, then covered it with his hand, trapping the heat of his discipline against her bare flesh and pressing his palm to the naked head of her clit.

He saw Marika's surrender in her eyes, knew utter satisfaction when her hands fell away from her breasts. "Don't make me wait any longer, Tallis. I need you."

The words stroked his soul, sent icy-hot spikes of desire pulsing through his cock. He rubbed her bare pussy, petting her to let her know she'd pleased him.

She whimpered when he stopped touching her, but hastened to obey when he said, "Get on your elbows and knees."

Raw, primal hunger filled Tallis at the sight of her offering herself to him—dusky buttocks in the air, her thighs spread to reveal her swollen pussy lips and wet slit. He leaned in, lapped at her heated flesh until she was shaking, moaning, her scent deepening, becoming an intoxicating lure and announcing she was ready to take permanent mates.

A shudder went through him along with the sudden unwelcome thought that somehow the dragon's potent pheromones were responsible for the more rapid change in her. Before meeting Xanthus, she'd slowly been settling, subconsciously choosing this area as her home, her territory, but now Marika's scent told him it was her home.

Tallis growled, not wanting to think about the dragon. He covered her with his body and thrust into her aggressively, groaned when she clamped down on him mercilessly.

White heat scorched him. Burned through his cock and filled his veins with fiery lust. His heart beat with it. His soul was consumed by it.

When she'd saved his life while he was in the cat's form, she'd changed him, blended a human shape with that of a feline, giving him retractable claws and backward facing spines on his shaft.

He panted with each stroke, silently chanted her name. Her tight sheath made him work at pleasing her, made him fight against letting the spines descend to rake across her inner muscles and make them both scream with ecstasy as his semen poured into her.

Her cries filled the room. Her scent grew more intoxicating. The sound of flesh striking flesh drove him to pound into her harder, faster. She was his world, his only reality, his paradise as well as his mate.

Sharp claws pierced the bedding, gripped the mattress as Marika lowered her torso, pressing her breasts to the sheet, rubbing her nipples against the fabric, changing the angle so he went deeper, got so close to her womb that the last of his control burned away. White fire raced down his spine in a hot warning that had him growling, pistoning faster, finally letting the spines on his cock descend to make them both come.

Shudder after shudder racked him as he filled her with his seed, as her channel clamped down on him hungrily, milking him of everything he possessed and leaving him lightheaded. He sheathed his claws and collapsed with her in his arms, his penis still inside.

The sounds of heavy breathing gave way to a contented rumbling purr. He nuzzled Marika, rubbed his cheek against hers and smiled as she mumbled sleepily.

His thoughts returned to Xanthus and some of his contentment dissipated. Dragon pheromones were potent. It was possible Marika was reacting to Xanthus as any mostly human female might, but it was also possible her body had chosen the dragon as a mate.

The thought of it had Tallis pulling her more tightly against him, hardening inside her, the spines on his cock descending just enough to lock it into position. For a fleeting second he considered taking her to South America, to the lair of a jaguar shapeshifter who would make an excellent second, or perhaps to Scotland where it might be possible to form a union with a fey cat-sith.

The dragons were consumed with their quest for the Chalice of Enos and Xanthus was bound by his liege service to Severn Damek. There'd be no chance of him following, and should the dragons find their precious cup and restore their fertility, freeing Xanthus to come after Marika, it would be too late by then.

With another mate to guard Marika, along with the limits she'd already set on her heart—to bond with only two men—Xanthus wouldn't easily be able to claim her and take her to the dragon's realm. He was at a disadvantage in this magic-poor place and less powerful than he would be in the world the dragons now claimed, a parallel universe accessible only through guarded portals.

Marika whimpered, a confused, pained sound. And as if she guessed the direction of his thoughts, she whispered, "Xanthus," calling another male's name while Tallis' cock was still lodged inside her.

Tallis' lips pulled back. A low growl replaced the purr. Instinct and genetic programming clashed with logic.

The Sjen need to take care of Marika won out. The duty to guard her expanding, requiring him to learn more about Xanthus.

Tallis cupped her breast, rubbed his palm over her nipple. He moaned when her sheath clamped down on him.

There was no choice. Tomorrow he would go where the dragons were sure to gather like sharks—to the auction being held at the VanDenbergh estate—the place where a man had been murdered and the Dragon's Cup stolen.


* * * * *

Chapter 2


Xanthus closed his eyes as hot water cascaded over him, washing away lathered soap but failing to dissolve the agony holding him in its grip. Embarrassed heat burned his face as memories of waking in twisted, semen-wet sheets returned with a vengeance.

Marika. Even her name had the power to drive him to his knees, to make him fight to stay in human form.

He gripped his shaft in a fist, stroking upward as his other hand went to his heavy sac. With a growl he let some of the magic fade away to reveal a cock engorged past what any human male was capable of.

Xanthus shuddered as his fist glided over the twin rings of thick cartilage circling beneath the head of his penis. Their sole purpose was to stimulate the female of his species into ovulating, but he had no intention of taking a dragon for a mate. He wanted Marika.

The growl deepened. Frustration, desire, the need to claim her without the freedom to do so, all of it weighed down on him, left him feeling raw and savage—dangerous.

It'd been that way since Trace Dilessio, a human cop he owed a favor to, had called in that favor. Trace wanted his wife, Aislinn, the half-elf who owned Inner Magick, guarded.

The task was easy enough—until Marika stepped through the doorway of Trace's house and into Xanthus' life. He'd pursued her since then, tried to court her as a human male might—and failed despite the way her scent and sultry glances told him she wanted him as desperately as he wanted her.

So far Marika had avoided being alone with him in any place where he could mount her and claim her as his mate. It was almost as if she knew he wasn't what he appeared to be, guessed somehow he was a dragon.

Xanthus shook his head, causing the long strands of wet white-blond hair to slide over his chest and back. Aislinn wouldn't have told Marika. Neither would the detective, Storm, who was bound to the Sidhe princes, Pierce and Tristan. There were ancient covenants governing them all in this realm, laws forbidding revealing the existence of other supernaturals to any mortal other than a mate—and Marika was not yet a mate.

She would be. Every instinct, every fiber of his being insisted she was the right human female for him, his perfect match. And if Severn, who he owed his allegiance and liege service to was successful in recovering the Chalice of Enos and restoring fertility to the dragon race…

A shudder went through Xanthus. His cock pulsed against his hand. There would be offspring with Marika. Dragon offspring. And because she was human, by law their children would belong to him—though he had no intention of ever allowing Marika to part from him.

He lusted for Marika in a way he'd never done any female—human or supernatural. He spent his days plotting ways to claim her and his nights dreaming of her. And once she became his mate—he would share her with one other male.

A pant escaped as Xanthus imagined what it would feel like to be inside her at the same time another male was, to watch as another touched and took her. He craved it though he'd never experienced it, didn't yet know the full nature of his own sexuality.

When he finally had Marika, would he be like his father, sharing a woman with another male? Or would he be like his grandfather, who made love with both the female and male who shared his bed? Neither his father nor his grandfather had known the full truth of their sexuality until they'd claimed a female and shared her with another male.

Xanthus moaned as he contemplated both scenarios. Sharing was an aberration among dragons. Treasure, hoarding it and guarding it, was everything to them. But then he wasn't purely dragon. Fey blood ran in his veins. And the fey often cared little which sex their lovers were.

He couldn't yet envision the male he would share Marika with. Each time he tried, irritation rippled along his spine, as though the choice wasn't his to make. But every day the need to enter into a bond with Marika and another male grew.

There were moments when desperation seized him and the feeling that time was running out sent panic racing through him. He had to mate with her. He had to claim her before duty to Severn was replaced by duty to his family and the quest to be named Kirill's heir.

Xanthus' buttocks clenched as his hand slid up and down his shaft. He let himself fall into the fantasy that his fist was Marika's sheath gripping his cock, that the heated water of the shower was slick arousal and feminine desire.

His hips jerked and his testicles pulled tight against his body. His breathing grew harsh, ragged.

Icy-hot flashes of ecstasy surged through him with each stroke. He tightened his grip to the point where pain and pleasure were a perfect blend, the way it would be when he and another male took Marika at the same time.

The imagery made him thrust faster and harder. Until finally white noise filled his mind and orgasm took him in a violent release of semen.

Xanthus slumped against the wall of the shower stall. The water washed his seed away along with his relief.

Tension filled him, as did his sense of duty and honor. He owed liege service to Severn Damek, one that required him to put aside his pursuit of Marika, at least for those hours of his day belonging to Severn.

Yesterday's arrival of Severn's mother and Audriss, the female who hoped to be Severn's mate, couldn't have come at a worse time—though it wasn't entirely unexpected. The Chalice of Enos had surfaced again after centuries of being well-hidden and Severn had claimed a human mate, one who needed only to be taken to the dragon's realm to have the magic of their bond sealed so they would have a psychic connection.

With a grunt Xanthus pushed himself away from the wall and finished his shower. He made quick work of drying his hair and dressing.

Rather than go to the main kitchen of Severn's estate, where a cook was on duty, Xanthus ate breakfast in the living quarters allotted to him then left to listen to the reports of those working during the night, before finally seeking out Severn. He found Severn in a private dining alcove. As he approached he heard Sophie's panicked whisper. "Someone's coming," followed by Severn's reply. "And they will not dare to look at you, Sophie. Everyone in this household knows you belong to me."

Tension flashed to nearly unbearable heat in Xanthus. He could easily imagine the dominance games Severn would play. Had fantasized playing those same games with Marika.

Xanthus steeled himself not to look at Sophie as he stopped next to the table where they were eating breakfast. His sense of humor asserted itself, silently pointing out that it wasn't fear of Severn that kept him from stealing a glance at the beautiful, well-endowed redhead, but the knowledge a friendship was developing between Sophie and Marika.

"Your mother is not the only one to arrive," Xanthus told Severn. Like the appearance of Severn's mother, news that other ancients had left the dragon realm for this one wasn't surprising given the importance of the Chalice of Enos.

"Who else is here?" Severn asked.

"Malik's ancestor is here, as is Hakon's."

"Where are they?"

"At Drake's Lair." Xanthus' couldn't suppress a small smile. "Malik and Hakon maneuvered their elders to the club. Tielo had the foresight to call Pierce and tell him there were wealthy marks waiting to be relieved of some of their treasure. I believe the old ones have been introduced to the game of Texas hold 'em."

"And my mother?"

"She has not yet left her chambers."

"Audriss?"

A shudder passed through Xanthus. Audriss was not a female he'd wish to be mated to. "She demanded one of your cars and took along a servant to drive her."

"The GPS unit in the car has been enabled?"

"Of course."

"Then I'll leave it to you to monitor her movements. She has spent little time here. I doubt she will consider the advances in technology or guess how thoroughly I've embraced them."

Xanthus nodded and turned, the unintentional glimpse of Sophie's parted blouse making the hunger for Marika return with savage intensity.

* * *

Warm sea air and the sound of gulls, they'd come to mean home, Marika thought as she walked to Inner Magick. It was strange how the urge to settle in one place had crept up on her and managed to pounce. It was expected, because eventually it happened to every Drui, but somehow it was still unexpected to her.

When she'd come to Florida, she's been so sure it was only temporary. Sun, surf and lovemaking on the beach with Tallis, those were what had brought her. But her reason for staying changed and she could easily trace the feeling of permanency back to the instant when leaving Florida made a knot form in her chest.

It was right after Aislinn was attacked because of a high profile case her uber-macho and totally gorgeous husband, Detective Trace Dilessio, was working on. It was the day she'd gone to Aislinn's home and found Xanthus there.

Marika shivered thinking about him. She felt her body tighten with need and her palms grow damp.

Today was the day she'd stop playing with fire, literally. True, even among her own kind she'd always been a bit of a daredevil and had traveled more extensively than most. But she wasn't foolish enough to venture into the territory of self-delusion and denial.

Dragons hoarded and guarded. It's what they did.

They didn't share their mates or their treasures. They were hardwired not to—which meant despite craving Xanthus like he was some kind of drug designed specifically for her, she had to tell him she wasn't going out with him anymore. Period. End of story.

She couldn't risk ending up in the dragon realm. His thinking she was human might delay the trip for a little while, but eventually he'd learn she was Drui and then—

Another shiver cut through Marika, this one made up of fear. She didn't know what would happen to Tallis if she was taken to the dragon world. Neither of them did. When she'd saved his life, she'd bound him to her in a way that shouldn't have happened—even if she knew why it had happened.

Marika's fingers caressed the locket at her throat, a tiny heart containing the oak seeds necessary for performing Drui-healings. She'd panicked when the ordinary poisoned cat she thought she was helping turned out to be a spirit entity under attack from black magic and a demon calling. In mid-chant she'd switched to a different incantation, failed to form a transition first, then repeated the error not once, but twice more as the demon energy mutated, trying to escape her pull by burying deeper in the cat's form.

She could easily have died. But she didn't. And neither did Tallis.

For the first year they'd been together, the furthest Tallis could be from her was the other side of a closed bathroom door. Every year since then had increased the distance, but different realms…

She shook her head to clear her thoughts. Resolve firmed her spine and she balled her hands into fists. Today was the day. If she didn't see Xanthus, then she'd call him and tell him over the phone.

Marika rounded the corner and saw Inner Magick, or more accurately, the dragon loitering nearby, looking like a human tourist to the majority of those who noticed him, but not to her. There was no mistaking a dragon's signature energy, it spiked around them in hues of red and orange regardless of what color their scales were in their other form.

Seeing the dragon made her thoughts flash back to the previous day, when Xanthus came to Inner Magick—not to see her—but to ask about Sophie and find out where she lived. While he was there, Sophie had called looking for Aislinn. Intuition or maybe premonition, Marika couldn't shake the feeling that Sophie was Severn Damek's mate.

Marika hurried forward, anxious to get into the shop and talk to Aislinn, wondering if Sophie was inside and the dragon outside there to guard her—which would actually mean Severn was more enlightened than she would have expected—or if the dragon's presence meant Sophie was giving Severn a run for his money.

The image of the dragon prince brought to his knees made Marika smile. She pushed through the front door and found Aislinn putting the new rune sets into a display case.

"Did Sophie talk to you yesterday?" Marika asked, kneeling next to Aislinn.

Aislinn's laugh was answer enough. "Yes. She came to the house. Severn Damek was right behind her."

"They're together?"

"Yes."

"The heartstone recognized Severn?" Marika asked, remembering the necklace Aislinn made for Sophie.

The day she'd seen it on Sophie and learned Aislinn created it was the day Marika had known for sure Aislinn was half-elf. Only the elves could work the stone that reacted when a person was in the presence of their perfect match, and though Aislinn's aura had seemed Elven—sometimes, it was close enough to the signature energy of a human sensitive to magic to be confusing.

"Yes the necklace recognized him, though Severn's reaction to Sophie was telling enough." Aislinn's soft laugh was completely infectious.

For a split second Marika was tempted to confide in Aislinn about Tallis and Xanthus. She trusted Aislinn, viewed her as more than a friend, but…

Marika couldn't bring herself to do it, not yet anyway, not when there were suddenly so many supernatural beings in the area, fey and dragon alike, all looking for the Chalice of Enos, and all ruthlessly determined to get it. The rules drilled into her in childhood, the necessity for remaining unseen, unnoticed by the beings who'd left this realm for their own, were too deeply ingrained. After the Dragon's Cup was claimed and things went back to normal, after she found her second mate—husband—and knew this was truly the place she'd call home, the territory where she'd align herself with a witch practicing the healing arts, then she'd reveal herself to Aislinn and Sophie and Storm.

A lump formed in Marika's throat as she realized that if necessary, her friendship with Sophie would enable her to ask Severn to order Xanthus to stay away from her if Xanthus wouldn't do it willingly. The thought made a hard, cold knot form in her chest and she tried to lose herself in work to escape it.

* * *

Dragons! Tallis thought, basking in heat and potent pheromones. He'd forgotten what a rush being around them could be, especially when testosterone pumped through their veins as it was doing now in the presence of so much treasure and so many other male dragons.

It took incredible effort to suppress the rumbling purr that had become so much a part of him since Marika saved his life. There was no chance of hiding the hardness of his cock. It pressed against the front of his jeans aggressively, in challenge and promise.

Too bad. Neither challenge nor promise would be answered. Not here. And not by a dragon.

Just as he'd never known a dragon to share his mate, he'd also never known a dragon be as flexible as he was when it came to sexuality. Too bad. Seeing Marika mated to a dragon would have been advantageous. He could see that now, surrounded by them. Even the relatively young dragons flocking to this world were still creatures imbued with ancient magic. Sharing Marika with one of them would have fed power into the bond he had with her and given him greater freedom—not that he'd ever be too far from her.

Tallis touched the braided collar around his neck. Marika had crafted it for him as soon as they'd realized what her saving his life had meant for both of them. The collar hid his true nature from other supernaturals, unless he wanted to reveal himself—or she wanted it.

That, too, was the price of being bound so tightly to her. Her wishes could become his command.

Images of Marika as she'd been the night before filled his mind. Lust pooled in his testicles, surged through his shaft in icy-hot flashes as he saw her on her knees and elbows, her thighs parted and her sex slick and swollen. Ready for him. Submissive to him.

A shudder went through Tallis, forcing him to close his eyes for an instant in an effort to regain control of himself. He wanted to blame the fine sheen of sweat coating his skin on dragon heat, longed to attribute the powerful desire to mate on dragon pheromones. But he knew it was more than that. He was reacting so strongly in the presence of dragons because of Marika's desire for Xanthus, because of how much her body wanted the dragon as her second lover.

The knowledge served to remind Tallis of his purpose in coming to the VanDenbergh estate. He needed to learn more about Xanthus, hoped to meet him in a place where they both had to pretend they were fully human.

Tallis moved deeper into the crowded rooms. The auction had drawn a diverse crowd, both human and dragon, but Xanthus wasn't there, despite the presence of Severn Damek and Sophie.

Even at a distance Severn's scent marked her as his mate. His body language screamed possessiveness.

Tallis glided closer to where Sophie stood with Severn and the dragon princes, Hakon and Malik. He'd yet to meet Sophie in his human form, but he knew Marika was becoming increasingly fond of her and viewed Sophie as a friend.

Perhaps that friendship would be advantageous in keeping Marika from ending up in the dragon's realm, Tallis thought. Severn had a reputation for being ruthless, for requiring obedience and loyalty in those who owed him liege service. He'd also carved out an empire in this realm. If Severn offered Marika protection before Xanthus could claim her as a mate…

Tallis pondered the possibility of approaching Severn about an alliance. He tried to weigh the risk of Marika revealing her Drui heritage against what he knew of dragon laws and loyalties, but couldn't be certain of the best course of action. Caution won out, followed by the need to leave the auction when Severn made a phone call directing Xanthus, in carefully selected words, to come to the estate and take over the duty of seeing to Sophie's safety.

In all likelihood, Sophie would go to Inner Magick and Marika was there. Tallis didn't intend to be too far away from Marika when Xanthus arrived.

* * *

Xanthus. Marika's heart tripped into an unsteady beat as he entered Inner Magick with Sophie. Beyond them, through the glass front of the shop, was Tallis in cat form, his visual presence a reminder of what she had to do.

Marika braced herself as Xanthus came directly toward her. Their eyes met, his burning with possessiveness and desire, hers threatening to fill with tears.

The thought of telling him she wouldn't go out with him again made her throat tighten as if to block the words from escaping. But she knew she had to speak them.

Memories crowded in—cozy dinners in nice restaurants, sharing popcorn and kissing during movies at the theater, the Saturday they spent at the amusement park. It wasn't only the way he made her burn that drew her to him, it was the way he'd tried to be human, the way he'd treated her like a priceless treasure.

And that was the problem. For all the fun they'd had together, for all the intensity of the lust flaring to life between them whenever they were together, she couldn't belong only to him and she couldn't imagine any dragon sharing a mate.

"I can't go out with you again," she said in a low voice, panic rising when his face took on a determined look.

"Why not?"

For an instant she considered telling him she was in love with someone else. But she couldn't bring herself to hurt Xanthus like that, not when having Tallis in her bed didn't exclude taking a second lover.

Guilt clawed at her insides. She should never have gone out with Xanthus to begin with.

She'd thought—no, she hadn't thought, she'd only reacted. Even as stories of ancestors dragged off unwillingly to dragon lairs never to be seen again were filling her mind, her body had been on fire, her mouth agreeing to a date.

"It's complicated," she said, forcing a resolve and finality into her tone that hadn't been there before. "I'm sorry if I led you on. But I can't go out with you again."

Emotion writhed in Xanthus, the dragon's baser instinct to take warring with the man's need to honor law and duty. Marika's lips said one thing, but her body, her scent said another. She was his mate and she wanted him as desperately as he wanted her.

For long moments he controlled his breathing, kept the dragon's fire from escaping through his nostrils in a flame of aggravation. Complicated! Complicated was having a female who had yet to give him the opportunity to mount and claim her, who forced him to find relief with his own hand and who invaded his dreams so he woke in tangled sheets, calling her name as he came.

His eyes narrowed as she studiously avoided looking at him. He wondered, not for the first time, if she was ultrasensitive to magic and somehow knew he wasn't what he appeared to be—despite his efforts to court her as a human male would.

It wouldn't surprise him. A mortal sensitive to magic would be drawn to this shop and to Aislinn, just as Sophie was.

Movement made him glance away from Marika. Duty coming between them again. Sophie was heading toward the back room of the shop, most likely going to the apartment above it where she'd been staying recently as she worked on one of her manuscripts.

Xanthus left his position against the counter and caught up to Sophie. "Wait," he said, stopping her with a foot on the first stair. "Let me go up first to make sure it's empty."

Sophie's eyes widened. "Why wouldn't it be empty?"

"There's no reason to expect someone is up there but it's my job to check anyway."

"Are you guarding me?"

Surprise slid through Xanthus, restoring some of his usual good humor. He'd envied Severn for so quickly gaining control of his mate when he found her, but apparently even formidable dragon princes had to tread carefully when it came to managing the female who'd captured their hearts.

Xanthus chuckled and shook his head slightly. "Severn didn't tell you?"

"So you are guarding me?"

"Severn is a powerful man and you are his mate. He'd be a fool to leave you unprotected. I believe you have researched him thoroughly enough to know that no one considers him a fool."

Sophie groaned in defeat and stepped away from the stairs so he could go into the apartment first. It took only a few minutes to ensure it was free of danger and the door leading to the external stairs was securely locked.

"Don't leave except through the store," Xanthus warned, waiting for a nod indicating her acceptance of his terms before he left the apartment and returned to Marika so they could discuss complicated.

Marika busied herself behind the counter as soon as Xanthus stepped into view. Waves of heat swamped her, hardening her nipples so they pressed aggressively against the front of her shirt. Compared to Sophie and her cousin Storm, Marika knew she looked flat-chested, but she felt Xanthus' full attention on her breasts, devouring them with his eyes just as surely as she felt Tallis' smoldering gaze through the front window.

Marika clamped her legs together, knew even as she did it there was no hiding her arousal from him. Her panties were wet from being in his presence, her clit rigid.

She did her best to ignore Xanthus. The last thing she wanted was for Tallis to feel the need to intervene. It was almost a relief when the door to Inner Magick opened, interrupting the silent battle taking place between Xanthus and her—almost because the sleek, beautiful woman who stepped into the shop wasn't human.


* * * * *

Chapter 3


Marika didn't need to witness the tensing of Xanthus' muscles along with his quick glance at the doorway Sophie would come through to know he was back on serious duty as a bodyguard. The woman was fey and powerful, her elements air and water. The telltale white and blue signature swirls radiating from the very human form were impossible for Marika to miss—though she tried hard to pretend otherwise.

She fought against shivering as frigid air touched her skin, didn't even want to acknowledge that much awareness of someone who might well be from Queen Otthilde's court. It was always better to act completely null—a mortal with no sensitivity to magic at all when in the presence of fey, especially powerful fey.

Aislinn went over to the woman and was speaking to her when Sophie entered the room. Surprise flickered through Marika when Sophie immediately made a beeline to the space between counter and wall. She wondered if Sophie sensed the danger the fey represented and instinctively positioned herself behind Xanthus. A quick glance at Sophie's goosefleshed arms was confirmation.

A soft tinkling sound announced the woman's departure. Sophie abandoned her spot behind the counter. "Who was that?"

Instead of answering Sophie directly, Aislinn looked at Xanthus. "She called herself Neryssa. Do you know of her?"

Xanthus gave a small shake of his head. "I haven't seen her before but I'll speak to Severn about her and tell him she came here." He hesitated slightly then glanced briefly at Sophie before adding, "Tristan and Pierce could tell you who she is. It would probably be wise to speak with them."

Marika shivered. His reference to the Sidhe princes who claimed Sophie's cousin Storm as their shared wife was all the confirmation she needed that Neryssa belonged to Queen Otthilde's court.

"Why did she come to Inner Magick?" Sophie asked Aislinn.

"Neryssa said she was curious about what she'd find here."

Sophie rubbed her arms. "Weird."

Xanthus snorted. "Deadly is a better word. Her kind might be beautiful to look upon, but their glamour masks their poison."

"Her kind?" Sophie asked.

Xanthus shrugged. "You and Aislinn are going to the beach?"

"By way of Starbucks," Aislinn said, looping her arm through Sophie's. "Do you want to drive to your favorite spot or walk to the beach from here?"

"We can walk."

Xanthus turned his attention to Marika. Dark eyes bored into hers with predatory intensity. "This isn't finished between us."

She bit her lip to keep from replying. Xanthus moved to the front door and opened it then followed Sophie and Aislinn out of the shop.

Within minutes Tallis was on the other side of the glass, the rune-inscribed crystals in his collar catching the light as he rubbed against the door in the cat's form. Marika let him in.

He'd once told her a Sjen's truest form was an incorporeal one, which made sense given they were considered guardian spirits. But when she'd saved his life, drawn the demon magic from his body and accidentally bound him to her, he'd become corporeal, though limited to the body of a cat or a man with some distinctly feline features.

Marika's channel clenched as she remembered what if felt like to have him cover her, thrusting inside her repeatedly until only the pleasure-pain rake of the catlike spines on his cock would give her the release she needed. She shivered, wishing Tallis was in his human form so he could ease the ache in her breasts and between her thighs, but he preferred to escort her to and from Inner Magick as a cat, and Aislinn didn't seem to mind having him in the shop.

Aislinn stopped in long enough to say she was gone for the rest of the day. A rush of customers came afterward, keeping Marika busy and distracting her from thoughts of Xanthus and Tallis until finally it was time to set the alarm and lock up for the night.

She glanced around as she walked away from Inner Magick, half expecting to see a dragon sentinel, but instead seeing only lesser fey, their inhuman shapes and malicious expressions the stuff of nightmare. Marika was careful not to allow her attention to linger on them. They thought they were invisible to her and she didn't want them to think otherwise. Their chill reached her along with the sea breeze, telling her they most likely called Otthilde their queen, just as the more powerful Neryssa did.

Usually she walked along the ocean on her way to and from work, sometimes on the beach, sometimes on the boardwalk. The presence of the fey made her uneasy, indecisive. She glanced down at Tallis, who rose onto his hind legs in an uncommon request for her to pick him up.

There was a shortcut home. It would take her through alleyways. Normally it was safe, but… Marika let instinct guide her. She traveled her usual route, going toward the ocean and fighting to prevent any hint of tension from transmitting itself to the fey following her.

They couldn't know she was Drui, couldn't have recognized Tallis as Sjen. So the reason for their presence had to be dragon-related, Xanthus' unmistakable interest in her along with his connection to Severn Damek and the frantic search for the Chalice of Enos.

Marika's arms tightened on Tallis without meaning too, earning her a hiss and the threat of claws. She loosened her grip, knew as soon as they got home he'd demand they leave the area until the business with the Dragon's Cup was settled. He'd argue she needed to have another male in her bed before they returned and tell her he had candidates in mind.

Everything inside her protested against the idea of leaving. She couldn't imagine opening her heart or her body to anyone other than Tallis and Xanthus.

Sharp nails dug into her arm, forcing her attention outward. Fear rippled down her spine at the sight of the fey in front of her. They were whispering into the ear of a drug addict stretched out on a bench, his skeletal form and needle-pocked arms all she needed in order to identify him.

Again Marika acted instinctively. She took the staircase down to the sand. It was hard not to run, not to let her fear give her away. Even if they didn't know she was Drui, the fey were never fond of humans who had the sight.

She could guess why they were targeting her. Despite her human blood, Aislinn was still elf. And both Sophie and Storm were guarded by supernatural mates.

Marika's heart hammered. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the fey scramble to a blanket on the beach where several rough-looking teenage boys were gathered, the area around them littered with beer cans.

She increased her pace when the boys' laughter turned dangerous and suggestive, conscienceless with fey whispers. Her reaction was normal, acceptable, not likely to cause suspicion.

Ahead was the pier, its darkness offering hope as well as the potential for horror. Marika broke out into a run when she heard the boys' footsteps coming after her. Getting to the pier was her only chance of staying safe, not just from the humans chasing her but from the fey who'd whispered malicious thoughts into the boys' minds.

She was gasping by the time she reached the pier, her lungs burning and her sides aching. The choice of how to protect her belonged to Tallis. He could cloak her in shadow, or he could use physical force.

Tallis leapt from her arms as soon as the gloom underneath the pier provided enough cover, became a golden-skinned man clad in black before cat paws could even touch the sand. He was death incarnate, violence personified and even in their drunken state, the teens slid to a halt when they saw him.

Marika prayed they'd back off. She didn't want to see them hurt even though their willingness to come after her was proof of their moral weakness. The lesser fey couldn't command, they could only suggest a course of action.

She sickened when one of the boys stepped forward, his hands spread in supplication, his words horrifying in one so young. "Hey man, we're just looking for a little fun. We got no problem sharing the bitch if you want a piece of her."

Tallis went completely still, a panther in human shape, ready to spring, to go for the kill. Marika's hand shook as she reached out and touched his back, silently willing him not to use deadly force.

"She's mine," Tallis said, his voice little more than a growl.

"I don't think so," the boy said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a knife. It opened with a snick, revealing a long, sharp blade. "We saw her first."

Another boy, emboldened by the first, pulled out a knife as well. But the third and fourth, less drunk or less depraved, stepped back, distancing themselves from the fight they saw looming.

Tallis didn't wait to attack, didn't waste words. He lunged forward, striking lightning fast, his claws extending and retracting so quickly Marika couldn't see them.

The two boys screamed as they fell to their knees. Blood gushed from their chests and arms.

She stepped forward involuntarily, her hand going unconsciously to the locket containing oak seeds, the Drui desire to heal rushing to the surface. Tallis stopped her, shackled her in a masculine grip. "They'll live," he said, pulling her away, turning his back on the boys with a casualness that spoke of absolute confidence.

* * *

Xanthus stopped in front of the door to Severn's private suite. Despite how maddening his own pursuit of a mate was becoming, it gave him pleasure to witness Severn's happiness. It amused him to see how well matched Severn and Sophie were.

Severn was known for his ruthlessness, but also his fairness. For Xanthus, it had been an easy decision to pledge his loyalty to Severn. One he didn't regret, even now, when duty warred with the burning, overpowering urge to claim a mate.

He'd come to this realm hoping for two things. The first was a chance to seek out ancient magic-rich treasure in order to be named Kirill's heir so his fey grandmother would have no trouble accessing the portal leading to the human world. His second reason for living among mortals was to gain a human mate, one who would be as soft and submissive as a female dragon was tough and controlling.

There were males who enjoyed battling with dragon females for supremacy, just as there were males who accepted being dominated, but he wasn't one of them. And beyond that, he was no prize for a female dragon.

He had wealth as it was defined in human terms, valuable gems littered the floor of his private lair and formed a bed. But neither he nor his immediate family was in possession of ancient, pre-exodus treasure, and the territory they held in the dragon realm was rugged and harsh when compared to others. Beyond that, the fey blood in his lineage was abhorrent to most female dragons, as was the knowledge that if he proved to be the same as his grandfather and father, he would share his mate and perhaps himself with another male.

Xanthus knocked on Severn's door. Reporting on the events of the day was his final duty. He suppressed a smile when Severn stepped into the hallway, his reluctance to leave Sophie obvious.

"Shall I summon someone to guard the door?" Xanthus asked.

"The cameras monitoring this hallway are activated?"

"Yes. I assumed you'd want it done before leaving her unattended. If anyone approaches the room, we will be summoned."

"Good."


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