When had his life become so incredibly boring? White room after white room passed him in a blur. Rhiannon shook hands and shared passably warm smiles with politicians, public relations, and journalists while he hung back. Every now and then, someone would reach out and touch a hand to her growing belly, allowing him to emit a threatening growl, but nothing ever moved beyond that.
Rhys wanted more for himself. He wanted to protect his family with fists and rage, but those were things saved for dragons like Wesley and Gareth. Older dragons.
Rhys was on babysitting duty. At least, that’s what he thought of it as. Technically, he wasn’t wrong. He was protecting Rhiannon and her unborn baby while Gareth was busy helping the newly formed Embassy set up security. Rhiannon, the ex-GOE agent who turned out to be a red dragon kidnapped in childhood, had so much invested in this Embassy that she’d forced her mate to teach the GOE agents non-lethal methods to deal with dragons, even if he would much rather have actual dragons on the team. There were better things Rhys could be doing with his time than standing around like this.
One of them, the only one he could think of while he hung behind Rhiannon, was helping his sister. She’d been cold and distant since Malcom’s dragons hurt her. Physically, she had healed. The Witch of Caernarfon had seen to it personally. He didn’t blame the witch for what happened, no matter how much he should have. It had been as much Liana’s decision as it had been Gwen’s.
All he wanted was to see the young woman smile again. He’d been nearly a man when she was born, held the tiny bundle in his arms and saw the dark streak of purplish red hair growing out of her head. Now, he wondered what had happened to her that had broken that vibrant spirit. She refused to speak of it. At first, he thought the worst. Men, no matter the species, could be cruel. But, she assured him that nothing like that had happened.
Sure, it lifted a weight from his chest, but it hadn’t changed the pain she carried.
“Shouldn’t you be home?” A middle aged, human woman asked Rhiannon while her hand hovered over Rhiannon’s belly. “Get off your feet for a while, dear. There’s no need to work as hard as you do anymore. You’re going to be a mother soon. A woman shouldn’t be dealing with politics anyway.”
Rhiannon shrugged and her lips split into a dangerous smile. No one could look at the dragon woman and think she wasn’t dangerous, even with the round bump of her stomach. The muscles on her body were still lean and powerful, her newly unleashed dragon making her all the fiercer. There was no making Rhiannon stay off her feet if she did not want to.
The older woman’s assistant, a slight young woman who was overburdened with binders and folders shifted uncomfortably under Rhiannon’s gaze. Instead of cowing away from it, the young woman shifted her attention from the imposing, pregnant dragon woman to Rhys. Her cheeks turned pink while she sucked her lower lip between her teeth.
“I have a job to do, Ms. Putnam. What happens here affects the future of my child, so I’d like to see it all the way to the end if I can. I’d like to think that perhaps these tiny ears can hear a bit of what is happening here in the Embassy. It gives me hope for the next generation of women having their voices hear in the world.”
Ms. Putnam smiled, but her lips were tight. It seemed that the older woman didn’t like Rhiannon’s forward thinking. It was strange to see a fellow woman with such a backward view, wanting women to be at home to rear children.
The woman stalked away once their deal was done, papers clearly defined and signed. Rhiannon released a long-held sigh, her body deflating only for a moment to reveal exactly how tired she was. Rhys felt for her. He was grateful that he never had to take on the challenge that she now endured. Having something foreign inside of his body made his skin crawl. Especially if it was alive.
The young assistant didn’t follow her boss out. Instead, everything in her arms went flying through the air all at once. The room became a flurry of papers and crying. Once the papers started to settle, Rhys was standing before Rhiannon. His heart thudded inside his chest. He expected the worst. He waited for the young woman to be wielding a gun or some other weapon.
Instead, the woman was kneeling on the floor, her skirt riding up to reveal her pale, bare legs. She frantically reached for the papers scattered around the room. Rhys heaved a sigh. His gaze met Rhiannon’s. The dragon woman’s lips were pursed to keep from laughing.
Rhys knelt and began to gather the young assistant’s mess of papers, not quite being gentle as they crinkled in his hands. They had to be out of order at this point, he thought. The young woman’s boss was surely going to have her head later. Rhys didn’t peg Ms. Putnam for the forgiving type. So, he sighed once more and tried sorting through the papers in his hands, carefully smoothing out the crinkles while he snuck glances at the girl across from him.
She was pretty by Welsh standards. Her pale skin was littered with freckles, the splash across her nose making her seem incredibly young and cheerful. Her blonde tresses were held back in a small bun at the end of a braid that hugged her crown. She looked up and caught his eye, gratitude clearly written across her cherubic face.
Rhys wondered if she might enjoy a movie, imagining leaning into her and whispering in her ear in a dark theater. He leaned forward and handed the crumpled to the young woman.
“Thank you,” she whispered, her hand grazing his as she took them. Her eyes slipped over his body, resting on places that made her face darken ever more.
Rhys spared a quick moment to make sure all of his buttons and zippers were indeed closed before standing. He offered a hand to the young woman, feeling his own face start to warm. She gladly accepted and he hoisted her to her feet.
She wobbled precariously on her thin heeled shoes and Rhys had to catch her before she clattered to the floor all over again. She held on to his thick arms and leaned into him, her breath coming fast. A small giggle escaped her and she turned grassy green eyes up at him.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice breathy and quiet just for the two of them to hear. “I don’t know what is wrong with me today. I guess I’m just not used to being surrounded by… you know.”
Behind him, Rhiannon laughed softly. The faint laughter sounded like she was trying to cover it up and Rhys spared a glance back at his charge to find her hand clapped over her mouth before she turned away.
The young woman didn’t let go of Rhys. She stayed, clutching his arms with her breasts pressed against his chest. A glance down revealed two pale mounds pushed high by a modern bra and presented by a low-cut blouse.
“I.. I don’t know how to thank you,” the young woman began. “Could I buy you dinner sometime?”
Rhys raised a brow. “You do know what I am, right?”
The people of Bangor often had varying views on his people. Many of them flat out hated his people. The same people, plus many more, feared them. It was no stretch of the imagination to fear a dragon shifter. They were capable of many things if provoked. But, Rhys’s family tried hard not to be the monsters.
“Oh, uh,” the young woman stammered. “I do. I know that you’re one of the red dragons from Snowdonia. You helped stop the white dragon uprising a while back, right? Dinner would be a nice way to thank you, for this,” she held up her crumpled papers, “for that.” She gestured out the window.
“Yeah,” Rhys scratched the back of his head as he spoke. He was starting to get an uneasy feeling about this woman. Couldn’t she take a hint? “I helped put an end to that. But, I don’t think dinner is necessary, for either thing.”
Her face fell. Her lips pressed into a pout and she cocked a hip to emphasize the curve of her body. Rhys was starting to understand her game. He’d heard of these women, but had blissfully flown under their radar most of his life. They were the ones that romanticized his family. They dreamed of luring dragon shifters into their beds in the hopes that they would become dragon mates.
None of them ever did.
“Excuse me, miss,” Rhys said as a head popped back into the room. “I think your boss has come looking for you.”
The woman straightened like there was a string attached to her head and someone pulled it taut. She spun on her heel and stammered some kind of excuse to the scowling Ms. Putnam. The older woman’s eyes darted between the assistant and Rhys while her brow flattened. Whatever she suspected, none of it had actually happened.
Rhys leaned back on his heels and let out a long winded sigh. He hoped that the young assistant never returned. He couldn’t deal with that day in and day out, no matter how pretty she was. If he ever did take her up on her offer, if he ever did sleep with her, she might never leave his side. She would be the kind of person to proclaim herself a mate only because Rhys looked at her the wrong way.
“Will you ever stop kicking me?” Rhiannon growled at her stomach. Her hand rubbed over the stretched skin. Now that they were alone in the room, not that the glass walls allowed them too much privacy, she had relaxed a bit.
Rhys shook his head. “What did you expect when your spawn is part Gareth and part you? The bairn might be made entirely of fire when it comes into this world.”
“If the heart burn is any indication,” Rhiannon said as she laughed, “the child is already comprised of flames.”
Rhys let himself lean back against the wall, hands in his pockets. There clearly were no threats to Rhiannon and her unborn child in this stark room. He could afford to relax for a brief moment. His eyes slid back to Rhiannon and he felt a smirk tighten his cheeks.
“Please tell me you won’t be one of those parents who take their babies to the movie theater.”
“I may not be particularly friendly, but I’m not evil.”
“Whew,” Rhys said with a sly smile. “I’m rather looking forward to being able to visit the theater whenever I want after this Embassy is set up.”
Rhiannon looked over her shoulder at him and shook her head. “Is that all you’re looking forward to once this Embassy allows the family more freedom from the Territory? More movies?”
“What can I say? I’m an impatient man. I can’t wait for everything to go to DVD.”
“Never mind, we’re trying to build a bright future for our children,” Rhiannon scoffed. “Think of the new box office titles!”
Rhiannon went on, chatting freely now that the doors were closed, but something caught Rhys’s eye and all sound was lost. It was there, a glimmer of gold. It was a flash across the woman’s face on the other side of the glass walls. He could have deceived himself. Perhaps he was simply tired. Standing in one spot, arms laced behind his back, was its own kind of draining.
But, Rhys pushed off the wall and let his feet lead him forward. His eyes were trained on the woman’s waves of dark hair as she walked away.
Had her eyes really been gold?
Rhys had little idea of what that might mean, but he wasn’t about to let another supernatural wander through the Embassy incognito. The red dragons had had enough of dragons and the such turning their lives upside down. He wouldn’t let anyone else ruin what they were starting. Not when Gareth and Rhiannon needed it so much.
He slipped out of the room claiming he needed to use the bathroom. Leaving Rhiannon alone wasn’t the best idea, a fact he knew very well if only because of the wrath he would have to face later, but his gut pulled him toward the woman with the gold eyes. He couldn’t have described the feeling that pushed him forward, couldn’t have said if it was anticipation or anxiety.
He caught a smell riding the stale, office air. It was warm, no it was hot. It reminded him of sand burning under the sun. There, he caught a glimpse of her raven hair. She was seated at a computer, her attention focused so completely on the screen that nothing else in the world might have mattered.
The supernatural intruder was alone in the room, her fingers clacking away at the keys while her eyes were trained neatly on the screen. As Rhys crept around the glass wall, he could see the official looking nametag clipped to her thin, white blouse. He watched her lean back, the gold bangles around her wrists jingling as they slid toward her elbows.
She was beautiful in a way that Rhys was not used to. Her skin was dusky, like the sun had permanently kissed her, and her nose was angular in a way that should have looked better on a man, yet oddly fitted her face. It made her seem strong and commanding, despite her thin and wiry limbs.
Rhys scowled. Why was he thinking such thoughts about the intruder? Until she proclaimed herself, she was a threat. He strong armed the door open and prowled inside. The dark-skinned woman at the computer didn’t even bother looking up at him. He’d expected some sort of surprise, maybe even a satisfying startled squeak. Instead, she kept doing whatever it was she’d been doing with the computer.
Feeling invisible in front of her, Rhys cleared his throat. Loudly. Arrogantly. She cut him a sidelong glance, if only for an instant. Then her eyes returned to the screen.
“Can I help you?” she mumbled while her eyes tracked something along the screen.
At first, Rhys was struck by the thin line of iridescent gold over her eyes, just a simple swipe of makeup. Was that all he’d seen earlier? His eyes dropped to the nametag hanging over her breasts. His mouth went dry. The name was a blur as the beast inside his head roiled. His fingers twitched to reach out and grasp the heavy fruit of her bosom.
That was wrong, Rhys reminded his beast. He could ache all he wanted for the brown and gold woman, but bending her over the computer desk was frowned upon by women. She might sooner knock him over the head with that keyboard. On top of that, he shouldn’t be harboring such feelings for an interloper as it is. The Embassy was a place of honesty and protection, the kind of place where she should have felt comfortable proclaiming herself.
The woman leaned back and her nostrils flared. There. Again. He caught the flash of gold over her eyes. It was the way she tilted her head as she looked up at him. The florescent light glinted off her gaze. He’d never seen anything like it, and of course, he had no foundation in myth to know what might be lurking beneath her skin.
Maggie might know. But, Maggie wasn’t there.
“Tell me,” he began, his voice gruff. “Tell me what you think you’re doing, sneaking into the Red Dragon Embassy.”
Shock, then irritation crossed her face.
“I’m working,” she said, her voice flat.
He dared another glance toward the nametag hanging over her breasts. The Secur IT logo was emblazoned above her name. GOE had brought the highly rated company in to set up the new technology inside the Embassy, installing not only secure computers, but smart technology in every room to react to vocal commands and identification. Rhiannon had openly endorsed the company, having worked with them when she was still an agent of GOE and not a wary ally.
He leaned into the woman and breathed deeply. The smell of hot sand and magic filled his lungs. He was not wrong. He lingered in her space, but she didn’t cower. In fact, she didn’t even budge.
“You’re not human,” Rhys whispered in her ear.
Now, that got her attention. The woman slowly turned to face him, her nose barely an inch way from his, and her lips peeled back from her teeth. He caught the glimpse of sharp teeth in the corners of her mouth.
“Neither are you,” she growled back.
His eyes flicked lower, if only for a second. He could see the space between her loose, white blouse and her dark skin. It was so unlike the human woman’s breasts, which had been presented like too sweet cakes. The dark-skinned woman’s bosom was hidden behind the thinnest layer of fabric, there but just beyond sight. The beast inside of him wanted to grab the fabric of her blouse and watch as those tiny buttons burst across the room. Instead, he caught movement outside the glass walls. People were passing up and down the halls.
It wouldn’t do to claim her where all of GOE could see. Besides, Rhys wasn’t looking for a mate. Sure, he’d had his fill of women, letting them take him home after a movie or a night of dancing. But, they were only human and they didn’t understand what his life had been. They wouldn’t understand how he’d been confined to the far reaches of society all his life, how he dreamed to live like the people in the movies, but was forced to stay in the same scene day in and day out.
Whatever this woman was, she was not a lover. She was an intruder. He believed, adamantly, that the creature had worked her way into Secur IT to get herself inside the Embassy. But, for what reason? What reason could this supernatural have to infiltrate the Embassy and its technology?
“Everyone knows what I am,” he said in return, voice low and dangerous. “The whole city knows what my family and I are capable of. They know that we take care of not only our own, but the city, too. So, when I ask what are you doing here, I expect the truth.”
She rolled her eyes at him.
He couldn’t believe it.
“Do I have to spell it out for you?” Her voice then slowed down and she enunciated each syllable just for him. “I. Am. Working.”
Angry, he kicked her rolling chair away from the computer desk. She rolled away, mouth agape with indignation. The woman shot from her chair. She nearly stood nose to nose with him. He was not short, by any means. That made her tall for a woman.
She closed the space between them and he could feel it. The air moved, taking on a presence and a pressure as if something much larger occupied the space. The air seemed to wriggle, moving and slithering.
“You’re a dragon,” he breathed.
“RDE System,” the woman said to the room, never taking her eyes off his. “Secur IT Identification, number 47608.”
“Secur IT employee Farida El Sayed, security clearance level one. Five years gainful employment.” An inhuman voice said from nowhere and everywhere at once in the room.
That was indeed the name on her tag. But, that didn’t explain why there was a solitary dragon amongst Secur IT’s ranks. What was she doing here, on her own? Was she a mole, sent by yet another family of dragons hell bent on ruining their lives? He couldn’t begin to fathom what his family could have done to upset hers.
He was almost tempted to believe it was a kind of fate that had put them in that particular room at that particular time. His face hovered millimeters over hers. All he had to do was lean forward and he could have claimed her lush mouth with his own. Her dusky rose lips looked like they were begging to be bitten.
But, a shout pierced the air and Rhys was thrust back to the present. His head snapped up. People darted frantically toward the source of the shriek. It sunk in, why the sound felt so familiar.
Rhys darted from the room and raced toward the woman he should have been protecting.