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Dallas (Dragon Heartbeats Book 10) by Ava Benton (1)

1

“We need a larger water heater.”

I couldn’t pretend I didn’t hear the witch standing just outside the door to the communications center. A shame, too, since I wanted nothing more than to ignore her presence and the fact that she existed at all.

I knew exactly who it was, too. The one member of the Blood Moon Coven who’d been the most vocal when it came to how unhappy she was to be sharing our cave. I’d thought it would be her fellow priestess Iris, who had always struck me as someone looking for a fight.

But it was Hecate who seemed determined to get under my skin. Just the sight of her made my head ache.

When she didn’t say another word—but didn’t leave, either—I swiveled about in my chair. There she was, standing in the doorway, arms folded. Glaring at me with those unnerving blue eyes of hers, like her mother’s and sister’s. All of the witches had strangely penetrating eyes, including Keira. Eyes that seemed to see much more than what was on the surface.

“Forgive me, but what is it you wish for me to do?” I asked, reminding myself how important it was to remain civil. If I had it my way, we’d be locked in battle by this point, no doubt about it. Every time our paths crossed, she had something new to complain about.

She blinked as if I’d lapsed into a foreign language. “What do you think? See to it that a larger heater is installed.”

“Oh, aye, because it’s that simple,” I muttered. “I realize this is beyond your comprehension, but it’s not a matter of dialing up the local distributor and asking them to install a larger model. I’m sorry to disappoint.”

“Why isn’t it that simple?”

“Are you daft, or are you simply doing your best to be as irritating as possible?” I couldn’t help myself. She was deliberately misunderstanding me just to start an argument. Perhaps it was time for her mother to have a talk with her.

A funny thing, wanting a grown woman’s mother to put her in her place. To say nothing of the fact that these witches or priestesses or whatever they liked to call themselves were much older than they appeared. Like us, they aged slowly—just not as slowly as a dragon.

She was far past the age of needing a mother to tell her how to behave, yet here we were. There she was, her jaw set in a hard line, glaring at me while I simply tried to do my job.

“There is never enough hot water to shower with,” she grunted through clenched teeth. “It makes bathing very unpleasant.”

I bit the side of my tongue, since laughing in her face would most likely be considered poor form. “You do realize that prior to our numbers dwindling, a great many more dragons made their home in his cave? The only reason Alan was able to offer protection to your coven was because we lost so many and now have the available space. Yet never, not once, did we have trouble with the hot water supply.”

She merely lifted her brows in silent challenge.

“Perhaps you ought to talk to your coven and discuss bathing in a more efficient fashion,” I surmised. “Knowing we don’t have an endless supply of hot water ought to inspire you lot to change your habits. Or you might be helpful and, I don’t know, magic us up a larger heater than we already use.”

She scowled. “That’s not how our magic works.”

“How did you manage it in your old home, then?”

“We had our ways. We weren’t bound by these human appliances. And…” She bit down on her lip as though there was more about to come out, but she felt the need to stop it.

I didn’t care to press. I didn’t care much one way or another what she thought, felt, was about to say. It meant nothing to me. So long as Alan believed this arrangement was for the best, I was on board.

I didn’t have to like it, though. And I most certainly did not.

It seemed Hecate knew it, too, which was why she’d chosen me to needle at every possible opportunity. As though I were the weak link in the chain, so I was the one she would test. To what purpose? I couldn’t say, nor did I wish to give it more thought than was absolutely necessary.

The less I thought about her and her coven, the better I slept at night.

“Is there anything else?” I asked, nodding my head toward the bank of monitors before me. “If not, I’d like to get back to monitoring our safety. Unless you believe that, too, needs your expert opinion. We’ve been doing pretty well here since the incident.”

She knew what I meant. The incident which had led to so much death. The helicopters, the guns. Being rounded up like cattle, forced to look upon those who had fought to protect us.

Even a dragon was no match for an assault rifle.

Hecate’s full lips curved into a snide smile. “But still, the incident occurred.”

That was it. My breaking point. For a split second the image of a full-grown dragon springing forth from my human body and filling the room flashed across my consciousness. Broken monitors, wrecked equipment. I was that close to losing control.

It was Alan’s voice that broke through and brought me back. “There wasn’t much we could do about that,” he informed Hecate as he reached her side. Whether he’d overheard our argument and joined us to offer support or just happened to be walking past was unknown. I was simply glad to see him. He was a reminder of what living with the coven meant. How crucial it was to repair our relationship with them.

Since, after all, it was the rift between our two groups which had resulted in our being unable to conceal ourselves. The coven’s spells had closed us off from the human world for centuries, until a witch mated with one of us and Gavin had refused to reveal the identity of the dragon in question.

Though I truly had to wonder—silently, to myself—whether there would have been no repercussions even if the dragon had been revealed. Selene didn’t seem the type to let bygones be bygones.

She could pretend now, years later, that she wouldn’t have sought retribution toward the dragon who’d sullied her daughter. If it helped her live with having banished her pregnant daughter at such a vulnerable time, that was just fine. I didn’t have to believe her.

I wondered how many of the others questioned her, if any of them did at all.

“There isn’t much we can do against the sort of forces brought against us, as you very well know,” Alan reminded her. “We were never meant to defend ourselves against the weapons of this day and age. Thanks to our equipment, we were aware of the impending invasion, but there was nothing we could do. We were defenseless.”

“Imagine.” She looked from him to me. “Dragons who can’t defend themselves.”

Alan’s backup granted a little extra confidence. “Imagine. Witches who had to go into hiding without our protection. How powerful could you possibly be?”

“That’s enough.” He shot me a look of warning but didn’t go any further. “Now, if you don’t mind, Hecate, I’d like it if Dallas returned to his duties.”

She made sure to sneer at me once more before turning and sashaying down the hall, swinging her hips with her arms folded tight.

Alan glanced at her over his shoulder before turning back to me. “I could practically hear your dragon screaming from my room.”

“That’s what brought you over.”

“Yes, indeed, and I see I got here just in time. I don’t blame you; I would’ve wanted to squash her like a grape, myself.” He joined me in front of the bank of monitors, sprawling out on one of the wheeled leather chairs.

I rubbed my temples, then ran my hands through my hair. The same sort of brownish red as the others, or reddish brown. After a century I still wasn’t certain. I was in need of a cut, which meant a trip into town. Not my favorite thing to do, not by a long shot. I had little patience for humans, especially modern humans.

“What was the complaint this time?” he asked.

“It’s not even worth speaking of.” I eyed him up then, noting the look of relaxed calm on his face and all over his body language. He’d had a busy morning “in his room,” it appeared. A new mate would do that to a man.

“Anything from Mary lately?” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I feel like I’ve been slacking off quite a lot.”

“I figured I’d give you a week, maybe ten days, before I brought it up,” I winked. “With so many of us mating up, it seems like there’s a bigger chance of things slipping between the cracks.”

“I apologize. It seems like I’m always either feeling as though I’m falling short, or I’m apologizing for having fallen short.”

“You aren’t falling short. You’re in your honeymoon phase. I might never have gone through such a phase myself, but I’m not a monster. I won’t pretend you don’t deserve it after waiting so long to find your mate.”

“It’ll happen for you.”

“That’s not why I said what I said,” I grinned. “I’m not fishing for reassurance. I’m trying to reassure you.”

“You’ve done your job, thanks ever so much.”

“Nothing from Mary,” I added, answering his question. “I considered reaching out to nudge her, even knowing how little she enjoys being nudged.”

“No one enjoys being nudged, especially not busy people such as herself. That being said, aye, I believe that should be done. With the coven here now, the Gwydions will come sniffing around—sooner rather than later, I believe.”

“You think so? Now that we’re together, we’re stronger than ever.”

“But not nearly as numerous as we once were—neither ourselves nor the coven. We’ve lost so many. They might construe this as weakness.”

“They would be making a grave mistake.”

“Would they?” Alan's head tilted back until it rested against the chair and he was staring at the ceiling. “I don’t know that I agree. Their weapons are powerful, and we were all but useless against them. They must know this. I’m afraid it does not matter whether the coven is with us or not. They have an edge which we don’t.”

“The witches can use their powers against the weapons.”

“I hope you’re correct about that—though I would feel much better if I knew for certain. But I suppose there’s no way to know unless an attack occurs, and I’m not looking forward to such a thing happening.”

“So, we won’t know unless we’re attacked.” My head began to hurt again. “What if I bought an assault rifle and tested it on Hecate?”

Alan tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh. “The less we think things like that, the better. You never know if they can…” He tapped the side of his head, then held the same finger over his lips.

I knew what he meant. We never knew if they could read our minds. I’d already heard what Callie was capable of, how she’d helped Alan into Emelie’s consciousness so he could help her process finding out about our existence. The poor girl had knocked herself out in a fall, then gone into a type of shock rather than come to terms with dragons and witches and their presence in the world.

Who was to say what the rest of the coven was capable of?

“Besides,” he added as he stood, “the less we let ourselves think that way, the easier it will be to keep the peace with them. The more we allow negativity to wander into our thoughts…”

“Aye, I understand,” I grunted with a roll of my eyes. While I loved Alan like a brother and respected him as the head of the clan, there was no denying that he loved to drive a point home.

Soon, I was alone again, my gaze traveling over the monitors.

In my heart of hearts, I almost wished something would happen. Something to shake things up and bring an end to this ridiculous, ill-advised sharing of living quarters.

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