“We are not destroying any villages, trespassing or not. Now back off or I’ll rip your wings off and shove them so far up your ass your fucking throat will take flight.”
Roc let his lip curl away from his teeth, backing his threat with a growl almost beyond hearing. It came not only from the back of his currently human throat but from deeper down within his soul, where his wyvern lay. The beast stirred its massive head, coiling and twisting within until Roc felt its scales brushing the inside of his skin. It wanted out. Now. Wanted to tear and stomp and burn.
He held it in with the ease of long practice, looking over the fire at Nesren. The little wanker was one of the younger of their number and still finding his feet within the wyvern community. Which, to be fair, was pretty much a free for all.
Unlike the dragons, with their king and their rules, wyverns didn’t have any of that shit. They had no leader and lived in the ass-end of beyond on a mountain range so remote and inhospitable no one else wanted it. Which was the problem. They’d claimed the wild landscape as their own, and some weren’t at all happy about the villages that had sprung up in the foothills below. Mainly Nesren and his cronies, who had hard-ons for flying down there to burn and ruin everything… anyone who dared to encroach on “their” territory.
But just because they recognized no leader, and especially not that asshole dragon king Vikter, didn’t mean they didn’t have a hierarchy. Namely, no one took what was Roc’s. The biggest and meanest SOB among them, he roared and they all fucking jumped. Usually out his way.
Nesren, though, seemed to have forgotten this fact. A snarl on his lips, he held Roc’s gaze in a blatant challenge.
“What’s the problem?” he jeered. “Not got the balls for it?”
Roc didn’t answer for a moment, letting the silent weight of his stare do all the work as he glared at the younger wyvern. Nesren, obviously not possessing the common sense he’d been born with, glared right on back. Behind him, other wyverns that were a little longer in the tooth and had a hell of a lot more sense had started to sidle away, putting as much space between themselves and the troublemaker as possible. Losi, the eldest amongst them, growled and threw what remained in his tankard into the fire as he hauled his bulk to his feet.
“Not gettin’ into it if yer pissin’ off Roc. Fuckin’ suicide that,” he growled, ambling off into the shadows in the direction of his eyrie.
No one spoke, but Nesren’s eyes slid to the side as if he were trying to gauge his support within the crowd. Roc didn’t bother. He didn’t need anyone to back him up, especially not with a wet behind the ears wyrm like this twat.
“Huh, Losi always was a coward… no surprise he’d back Roc up. Birds of a feather and all that.” He laughed, and just like that Roc decided he’d had enough.
One moment he was sitting, all comfortable and cozy like in front of the fire, lounging with his tankard in one hand as he basked in the glow from the flames, the next he launched himself into movement. Tall, and heavily built in human form, he could move with a speed no human, and very few dragon-kind, possessed. Big muscles in his legs propelling him forward, his booted feet slammed into the dirt in front of the fire and he took off.
Mid-air, his wyvern form burst from him, exploding out of his human body faster than the eye could see. Massive wings sliced through the air, cutting it to bring him down to earth rather than take him aloft. His huge, heavily armored tail slammed into the fire, scattering it and the hot coals across the small plateau they used for a meeting place as he grabbed Nesren around the throat with lethal talons. He slammed Nesren into the unforgiving mountain dirt with enough force to break bone.
Nesren cried out, trying to struggle enough to get away and shift, but Roc shoved his wedge-shaped head down to meet him eye to eye. Ruthlessly, he caught the younger male’s will, denying him the ability to shift and locking his beast away until Roc said otherwise.
“Call me a coward again,” he invited, his voice deep enough to cut boulders. If he exerted himself and roared, he could bring mountains down. Right now, though, he didn’t want to bring a mountain down. Instead, he leaned forward, the hint of smoke curling from his nostrils giving away his anger, and pressed a claw into Nesren’s shoulder.
“I didn’t… you’re not…” The smaller male’s eyes widened as he looked down at the massive claw resting against his shirt and back up again, fear stark on his face. “Roc… I didn’t mean it—”
He cut off, a grunt in the back of his throat and his face tightening in pain as Roc pushed his claw down. Curved, it was the size of a broad-sword and twice as sharp, designed to slice draconic scales rather than the piss-poor armor some other species wore. Nesren’s face paled as the claw popped through his skin with a fleshy “snick” and continued, down through layers of muscle. It scraped bone and then cracked it on its slow drive through his body.
All the while Roc held eye contact, holding the other man’s wyvern captive deep inside, something only a powerful alpha could do. Finally, his claw exited the other side, digging into the dirt. He wiggled it a little, ignoring the whimpers of pain escaping his victim’s lips as blood pooled around it before running down the side of Nesren’s body.
“Now, listen and listen fucking good.” His low voice was pitched to carry around the small plateau, just in case any of Nesren’s little friends should get any ideas of a similar nature. It felt odd coming from his draconic throat, and speaking wasn’t something most could do when shifted. But he could.
“No one is going down to those villages and doing any burning, stomping, killing or carrying off anything… not livestock and especially not women.”
He heard the rumbles, smelled the dissatisfaction on the air, and growled again.
“For the intellectually challenged among us, I’ll spell it out loud and fucking clear. Anyone with a nose in their fucking head can smell that those villages have members of all different clans in them. We come down off the mountain and burn them, and we’ll have every fucker out there after us…”
He looked up and around, making sure he met each pair of eyes around the remains of the fire. Some had stepped back, slid into the darkness where wyverns preferred to lurk, but nocturnal like the rest of them, he easily spotted their hiding places.
“We’re not popular at the best of times. The dragons call us primitive, the furred clans call us unevolved, and the humans call us monsters. How long do you think it will take them to petition the kitty-cat king and get an army sent up here to ‘eradicate’ us?”
“We’ll BURN them!”
“Fucker’s’ll never take us alive!”
“DEATH OR GLORY!”
Roc sighed, closing his eyes for a second. What the fuck? He must have kicked fucking puppies or kittens or maybe even both in a former life to get saddled with this shit.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” he roared over the din as nearly twenty excitable wyverns tried to change form in a space that could only accommodate ten and already held the biggest of them. Seriously, it was like dealing with a freaking nursery.
“No one is burning anything. There will be no glory and definitely no death,” he growled, easing up on Nesren’s shoulder.
A mental compulsion ensured the pain in the ass male wouldn’t be able to shift for a week, only able to access his beast for healing. It would take at least that long for the damage Roc’s claw had caused to heal. Roc knew Nesren. He’d try and fly before then and probably fall out of the damn sky and break his fool neck. Much as he was a pain in Roc’s ass, he wouldn’t want the male dead. Not unless he did something really stupid—like try and burn those villages.
“Well, what are we going to do about them then?” Krevall, one of the older, more sensible of their number asked.
Roc met his gaze and inwardly sighed, realizing they were all looking at him. Not just looking at him, but looking at him with expectation. Like he knew what to do to deal with all this shit.
Letting Nesren slither away into the darkness, he stepped back and folded his wyvern back into his human form with a popping and cracking of bones and joints and dry slither of scales back under skin.
“I’ll go and talk to the kitty-king, get him to move them on so we can live in peace.”
Razzy knew three things.
She didn’t want a mate.
She needed a mate.
And Gerri Wilder was her last chance saloon.
The curvy dragoness, if she could even describe herself that way anymore, fidgeted in her seat as she watched the door in front of her. She might not want a mate, had in fact actively avoided even looking for one for many years, but the threat of death tended to have a way of focusing attention.
She was dying. Soon her dragon would sleep and then that would be it, end game, do not pass go, do not collect anything other than wings and a harp and go sing on a fluffy cloud with the other angels. She snorted. Yeah, right, she was more likely to be heading downstairs. For years she’d avoided her duty, had escaped to Earth to avoid it and to avoid facing the fact that she was… less.
Oh, they called her a hero. Chasing a kit out into a storm no sensible dragon would even think about flying in, she’d caught the boy before he could get too far. But the winds and rain had been too much for her. Knocked out of the sky, she’d managed to wrap the child in her arms before they’d hit the ground.
She’d broken her back, her wings… pretty much every bone in her body. It had been all her dragon could do to shift back to human form to save them both. But even the shift hadn’t healed all the damage, just the life-threatening ones. She’d spent months in the hospital—both on Aurora and on Earth too, where spinal specialists had helped her to walk again…
But no doctor had been able to make her fly again. The broken bones in her wings had been healed, but they were too weak for flight. They couldn’t support her weight without creaking in warning.
She bit back the tears. She’d still been able to shift, standing atop the cliff near her home with her now-useless wings stretched out to catch the breeze. If she closed her eyes she could almost imagine that she was flying again.
At first it had been enough. But then her dragon had become more and more reluctant to emerge, sadness through their soul link as the reality that they’d never fly again sank in. Then the mate-drive had hit and the pitying glances from her people had become too much. She’d escaped to Earth to hide and avoid it, telling herself it was kinder for her dragon. To avoid reminding them both of what they’d lost. But it was no good. Becoming more and more distant, her dragon had issued an ultimatum.
Find a mate or her dragon would sleep, never to wake.
Which meant she would die…
And she didn’t want to.
She closed her eyes, running her hand through her long, red hair. Her mate wasn’t a dragon, that much she was sure of. As soon as she’d come of age, what had seemed like every male dragon in existence had “swung” by her brother’s place, just in case they could bag his sister as a mate. But none of them sparked any interest in her whatsoever.
No… Gerri Wilder, the matchmaker, was her only hope. But when she’d met the woman, she’d been told to come back after Gerri had met with someone else. So here she was.
Voices behind the closed door in front of her warned her a half-second before it opened.
“I appreciate the offer, Ms. Wilder, but we’re not exactly set up for visitors.”
The tones of the deepest male voice she’d ever heard sent shivers right the way along Razzy’s spine. As voices went it was the auditory equivalent of the most decadent, deepest, darkest chocolate… bursting onto her senses in an explosion of sensuous pleasure that made her crave more.
Who the hell was that? She’d never heard anything like it and a need to see who the voice belonged to filled her. Scooting to the side, she hid behind the door as it opened further, two pairs of footsteps announcing the occupants of the room.
“Well,” a female voice replied, Razzy’s memory easily identifying it as Gerri’s even though it had been years since she’d spoken to the woman. “You should think about it…”
She got a look at them through the gap between the door and the wall by the hinges and was forced to catch her breath. The most gorgeous man walked by Gerri’s side. Tall, and broad-shouldered, he rippled with lean muscle, his every movement predatory. Long, dark blond hair flowed unbound over his shoulders and she got a glimpse of a face like a dark angel, created purely to tempt woman into sin.
“We’ll do that. But first—”
He disappeared, her view of him blocked by the doorway. Razzy pouted in disappointment. Who was he? Why had she never seen him before? She moved to the edge of the door, trying to peek around the edge to get another look at him, perhaps work out who he was and where he came from… her dragon was sleeping, so she couldn’t scent what he was, but with that hair and the way he moved… maybe lion?
Before she could get a look, though, a hard hand snaked out around the edge of the door and latched on to the back of her neck. She squeaked as she was yanked from her hiding space and dragged up against a chest that felt like granite.
Feline-set blue eyes looked down at her, set in a face with features so leonine her original suspicion had to be correct… the man holding her had to be a lion shifter.
“We appear to have a little eavesdropper,” he rumbled again in that voice that made her want to purr—even though as a dragoness she’d never purred in her life—and rub herself against him. “And you know what they say about bad little girls… they get punished.”