The house I was currently fleeing from made me feel like I’d steeped myself in cat piss and broken dreams. The crotchety feline shifter who lived there could’ve really used one of the vacuums I pretended to be selling, but she’d claimed to have just bought a new one. Maybe she didn’t know how to use it. Maybe she’d just said that so I’d leave. I was only there on pretense, so I’d smiled politely and done just that.
Now, I hauled my only vacuum down the sidewalk, hoping no one would really buy it, as my tight black pencil skirt strangled my thighs. Summer sun focused its golden rays straight to the armpits of my crisp, white button-up shirt and black suit jacket. The strands of dark brown hair that had fallen from my fancy, saleswoman-y twist clung to the back of my neck. The amount of sweat pouring off my body would’ve been embarrassing if I hadn’t been so nervous with what was about to come. Because the reason for this whole charade crouched low in the one-story house next door.
My heart slammed a twitchy beat. My nerves stretched tight enough to jostle the scarce contents of my stomach. I forced myself to breathe through it, to keep my eyes on the end game—my little brother, Asa, who’d been missing for almost a month. He was only nine, ten years younger than me, and the only thing I had left worth living for. Dragon shifters had kidnapped him right out from underneath me like they so often did to human children. Every month, they used kids as sacrifices to their goddess, Léas, during the full-moon ritual when she restored all dragon shifters’ energy.
But they weren’t sacrificing Asa. I’d worked myself ragged this last month to make sure of it.
He wasn’t inside this house, but the key to finding him before tonight’s full moon was. I just had to find it and get it out without the owner noticing.
It would not be easy.
I climbed the single step onto the porch, set my vacuum down beside me, and adjusted my clipboard so I could smoosh and lift my cleavage a little more than the Wonderbra I’d scrounged from Goodwill already did. The first step to finding Asa was actually getting inside this house by any means necessary. If I had to ride the vacuum like a pole, I would.
With a slow exhale, I pushed the doorbell. A faint chime echoed from inside, a hollow, empty sound. There were no cars parked in the driveway, but there never were. The person who lived inside this house never left. I’d staked out the place for several days to be sure, so I guessed he was elderly or dead or on vacation or something. Mr. Salvador Watson, according to the stack of mail in his mailbox.
A slight tingle crawled over my nipples as if someone were caressing them through the fabric of my shirt and jacket. The drenched hair at my neck prickled. Someone was watching me, likely from inside the house, and getting quite an eyeful as I squeezed my clipboard even tighter against the side of my boob.
This was the very same reason I’d gone to the next-door neighbor’s house—so the man inside this one would see me coming and think I was a legit saleswoman. But would he open the door? I had a Plan C if he didn’t, and it involved breaking—a lot of breaking—and entering. I’d already tried the regular kind of breaking, and this house was fortified as fuck. A lot of breaking and entering would require explosives and maybe not end well for anyone. The sales act would be so much less messy, though, if he bought it, and sure, slightly less against the law if that kind of thing was important to you. As a full-time thief and even fuller-time big sister, it wasn’t important to me, but I only stole what was necessary to keep my brother and me alive.
Come on. Open the door, damn you, I growled inside my head. The full-moon ritual was tonight. I had no time for a pervert eye-fucking my chest.
I blanked my face of anything except what I hoped was perky innocence as I rang the bell again. Short of humping the vacuum, what did I have to do to get this guy to open his door? I knew he was watching me from inside, his gaze like a tickle sliding across my sweat-drenched skin. As if to grab hold of the feeling and bend it to my will, I followed it with my fingertips underneath the collar of my shirt, feeling my heartbeat slam into my palm, and dragged the fabric down to reveal the upper part of my breast spilling out the top of my bra. Not enough to get me arrested for indecent exposure, but almost.
The front door popped open. Score one for my boobs, even if it wasn’t exactly subtle.
Cool air blasted out and hit me in the face. I sighed into it as I blinked into the darkness within. No one stood inside the doorway.
“Hello?” I called and hefted my vacuum over the entryway. “I’m here to tell you all about the Isbon vacuum and all the ways it will change your life for the better.”
Once inside, I hid my sigh of relief. I was in. Sometimes the easiest way into a house really was through the front door. Now all I had to do was find the key that would help me find Asa, and get out. No problem, only I had no idea what the key looked like. No one did.
I loved this plan so much.
“Hello?” I called again.
The house appeared to be empty, but it didn’t feel like it. Something was cooking, maybe a savory stew from the smell of it, and it made my stomach rumble. I hadn’t eaten in a while because I’d had more important things to do.
Over the raised partition separating the entryway from what looked like a living room, a large, muted television showing a soap opera glowed as the only source of light. The window shades were shut so tightly that nothing slanted through, casting much of the living room, and the rest of the house, in deep shadow.
With a flicker of unease, I rolled my vacuum toward the living room. “Hello? I think you’ll be just as excited as I am once you hear about the Isbon vacuum and why it’s rated number one.”
The front door closed behind me by itself, closing off my only escape with a loud click.
I swallowed loudly and wheeled the vacuum toward the TV, drawn to its light so I could see better. The same feeling that I’d had outside, that I was being watched, chased up my spine.
An overhead light snapped on beyond the living room. I reeled back, my pulse like an alarm. The light shone on a dining room from the looks of it, though I couldn’t see the whole wooden table within. Footsteps sounded, a chair scooted across the tiles as if being pushed in, and then he appeared. Mr. Salvador Watson.
Tall, with massive shoulders stretching the fabric of a black Henley, and black jeans that slung low on his hips. Silky dark hair fell across his forehead, and he brushed it off his face. Stubble shadowed his angular jaw, and dark lashes framed crafty-looking brown eyes that seemed to look right through me and the real reason I was here. He wasn’t old like I’d imagined, but maybe in his mid-twenties.
And thoroughly lickable.
This was going to be harder than I’d thought.
He tilted his head, a slow, dangerous grin curling his full lips. “An Isbon vacuum, you said?”
“Only the best,” I said, offering my most winningest smile I’d practiced in the mirror this morning. “Could I tell you about it so you can see for yourself?”
He glanced toward the darkest part of the living room the TV light couldn’t reach. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
Like being a serial killer? I kept my gaze glued to his while warning lights buzzed in my head. This had been my worst idea ever. I had no idea what might be lurking in the darkness where he’d peered, but my gut screamed for me to run. Fast.
But if I didn’t do this, Asa was dead tonight. If there was even the slightest chance that what hid in the shadows was a bunch of sleeping kittens, I had to carry this plan out. Asa was my brother, my last relative I actually gave a shit about, the only person that made life worth living. Two years after our mom left us, Dad’s last words to us were “Count your blessings” before he took off too. Well, my blessings were at zero without Asa.
Forcing a breath, I pulled up my spine and widened my smile. “I promise it will only take a minute of your time.”
“Well, then...” The man’s dark eyes lit with the glow of a new TV commercial, and the effect was predatory. He jerked his head for me to follow him to the dining room, tussling a lock of dark hair loose across his forehead. “This will definitely be the most interesting conversation about vacuums of the day, I’m sure.”
I nodded politely, and because I was desperate and certifiable, I wheeled the vacuum toward him, deeper into the house. As I drew closer, he seemed to gain in height. He held my gaze as I stepped into the light of the dining room, seeming to drink the entirety of me in and peer into my soul without moving a muscle.
He held out his hand. “Name’s Calhoun.”
What the what? Not Salvador, like the letters in his mailbox stated? What was happening here? Whatever it was, I couldn’t let my unease show, because as an actual saleswoman, I wouldn’t have checked his mailbox.
“Rose,” I lied and shook his hand. His touch triggered an unexpected pulse in my lower stomach that made no fucking sense. It must’ve been just nerves. “It’s nice to meet you, Calhoun.”
He offered a knowing smile. “Likewise.”
A breath touched the side of my neck from behind me, making me jump. I whirled. There, just a kiss away, stood another man. Two of them when there was only supposed to be one. Outsmarting two people would take a lot longer.
I lurched back as the second man grinned salaciously. A shock of blue hair hung in his eyes of the same color, and he seemed to have lost his shirt. The TV flickered blue across the dips and curves of his perfect skin, seeming to light an arrow down the patch of hair that disappeared underneath a pair of jeans. His nearness hijacked my heartbeat and double-timed it.
“A vacuum saleswoman? Really?” he said. “Why are you really here?”
I fought to control the tremble that chased up my back. “I’m here to tell you all about the numerous benefits of the Isbon vacuum.”
Twin sparks of humor lit up the blue inside his eyes. “Sold. We don’t have one.”
“Yeah, we do, Tavis,” Calhoun said dryly behind me.
“Well, I’ve never seen it, so let’s get started.” The blue one—Tavis?—settled his hand over mine on the vacuum’s handle and gently released my fingers from it, his touch a warm thrill. His gaze dropped to my mouth and wandered slowly back up again. “Shall we?”
“Let’s.” My voice sounded much too shaky for the calm focus I needed to get Asa—and myself—out of this alive. I balled my fists, mentally gathering my wits.
He turned and wheeled the Isbon toward the dining room table, and the ink spread across his shoulders rooted me to the floor. A dragon tattoo, as detailed as I’d ever seen, rippled its blue scales with each of his muscle’s movements.
A dragon shifter tattoo. He was a dragon shifter. I’d expected a key, and instead I’d found one of the child-sacrificing fuckers. Or maybe two. Was Calhoun one as well? Had I just stumbled into a dragon’s den? Dragon shifters were known for their power, their quick tempers, and their extreme protectiveness over their treasure troves. And I was about to steal from them. Me, a human, stealing from two dragon shifters? I was delusional.
But what were they doing in Mission Hill hiding inside a house with the blinds closed instead of flaunting their wealth and power and striking fear in humans? I thought that was what all dragon shifters did. That, and pluck children off the street.
Barbaric, power-hungry stovetops. I hated the whole species.
Tavis pulled out a chair at the table, his naked arm muscles flexing, and turned to me. “Coming?”
Next to him, Calhoun’s dark eyes narrowed, as if analyzing every thought I’d ever had.
“Of course.” I pried myself forward and pretended not to see Tavis’s offered chair. Instead, I chose one next to the back wall. That was the last time a dragon shifter would sneak up behind me, thank you very much. “Do you know what kind of vacuum you have right now?”
Calhoun and Tavis shared a look as they settled themselves in the seats next to me in a dragon shifter sandwich. Shifters were rumored to play with their food, but this was ridiculous.
“The regular kind, I guess.” Calhoun pushed up the sleeves of his black Henley to his elbows, revealing thick, corded forearms, his gaze never leaving my face. Leaning back in his chair, he knocked his knee against mine.
“I’d like to hear about yours,” Tavis said, propping his elbows on the table.
“If you make a joke about sucking, I swear I’ll end you,” Calhoun warned him.
Shrugging, Tavis made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat. “I’m of the opinion that a good sucking joke at the right time usually goes over well.”
Sitting between them was like witnessing a ping-pong match from hell. I squirmed in my chair at the onslaught of bare skin, penetrating gazes, and enough body heat that it thickened the air, cemented my lungs, made it hard to breathe.
“You can’t change my mind about sucking jokes, dude.” Tavis shifted and nudged my foot underneath the table, shooting off a hum through my veins. “Oh, sorry.”
My head spun. The two figures sitting next to me swam closer in hard, pulsing waves without even really touching me. Warmth spread between my thighs with an answering throb powerful enough to summon me into both of their laps. I gripped the table edge tight. Something was happening here...
“Enough,” a voice hidden in the living room’s shadows warned. It shot through the air like dragon fire.
A third voice. A third dragon shifter?
Were they climbing up through the carpet? How many more of them were here? With three shifters, this would be three times as hard to get the key out. Still, even if there were fifty shifters in this house, it didn’t change a damn thing. The full-moon ritual was tonight.
“She was practically melting on the porch,” the third voice said. “Tavis, get her some water.”
The third shifter... Was he the one who’d been spying on me from the shadows of the living room while I stood outside? Likely so.
Tavis rose out of his seat, towering over me, a curious lift to his eyebrows. “I can’t wait to hear about this...vacuum. Don’t start without me.” He crossed to the cupboards, his blue dragon tattoo shifting and winding as he moved.
My stomach tightened, and I ran my slick hands down my skirt. Why had Tavis hesitated? Did they know I wasn’t really here about vacuums? I had a funny feeling I’d just failed some kind of test. This whole experience so far had balled up my confidence into a fraction of what it had been. But I wasn’t going to give up until I was charred dragon food.
The full-moon ritual’s location had supposedly been broadcast to his tattoo, and all other dragon shifters’ tattoos, before the location magic had been separated into hard-to-trace parts and hidden away. All I saw was a complex tattoo, though, not like a map of streets or anything. I wished I could just outright ask these guys where the ritual was, but they were already clearly suspicious.
I turned full saleswoman on Calhoun, who eyed me with a skeptical twist on his lips. “Isbon has a number of different products for all your vacuuming needs. About how many square feet is your home?” Translation—was there a basement and was that where the treasure trove was? From the outside of the house, it was impossible to tell. But I bet that was where the key was.
Calhoun brushed a lock of dark silky hair off his face. “How much does Isbon pay you to go door-to-door?”
I had to force myself not to crush my molars together in irritation. I wasn’t in the mood for such fancy dancing around all my questions.
Pretending serenity, I shrugged. “They pay more than fairly. I’m proud to work for such a well-respected company that treats their employees so well.”
Tavis crossed to the table and set a glass of water in front of me, the ice cubes clinking against the side the only sound in the entire house. “What did you say your name was again?”
Why did it feel like I was in an inquisition? “Rose. Rose Witt,” I said. Sweat beaded across my upper lip, and I took a drink of water, using the glass to hide any evidence of guilt on my face. It was a little too late for the old adage ‘never let them see you sweat,’ though.
“Huh,” he said as he sank down next to me, pinning those brilliant blue eyes on my face. “Do you know anyone named Mack?”
Calhoun stiffened. “Are you fucking kidding me, Tavis?”
A sound came from the darkened living room, a mix between a growl and a frustrated exhale.
Tavis threw up his hands. “What? You can’t tell me you weren’t wondering.”
“Now Rose Witt is too,” the third voice said.
Wondering what they’d all been smoking, maybe. How long had they been in this house, and was it long enough for them to go mad-dragon? That would be just my luck. Three dragon shifters, not one, and all of them completely bonkers.
“I don’t know anyone named Mack,” I assured them.
“Mack is just someone we’re waiting for, is all,” Tavis said.
“Okay, you know what?” Calhoun reached behind me and smacked him in the back of the head, a dangerous scowl on his face. “No more words for you. You’ve reached your max.”
Tavis shrugged, not seeming to care one bit that he’d pissed off Calhoun. “Now we know.”
A low rumble sounded from the living room, then a burst of flaming light just as blinding as the dark, and a puff of smoke enveloped Tavis. Just him, not me, even though I was sitting right next to him. A coughing fit seized him, and he raised both middle fingers, one aimed at Calhoun and the other aimed at the shadow dragon who’d just breathed fire at him.
This was my life right now. Fuck me for putting myself in this situation.
“Anyway.” I steeled my back and vowed to fake my way out of here until I made my way out of here. “So”—I laid my clipboard on the table with a crack to signal it was time to get down to business—”yes or no, are you happy with the vacuum you currently have?”
Tavis silenced the rest of his coughs by breathing into his elbow, his gaze, bright with humor, trained on Calhoun.
“Don’t you fucking say it,” Calhoun warned.
“I’ll mark that as a no.” I made a checkmark under the appropriate column as if it mattered. “On a scale of one to ten, how familiar are you with the Isbon brand?”
“Someone’s coming,” the third shifter said from the living room shadows.
Tavis turned to face the direction of the front door, one bare arm braced against the table. Calhoun tensed, his neck muscles straining against the collar of his Henley. Was this how they’d reacted when they’d seen me coming? Who exactly was this Mack person they were waiting for? I was no expert about dragon shifter psychology, but because they were the most powerful shifters, whatever could make them this twitchy definitely wouldn’t be good for a lowly human like me.
“I need to use your bathroom,” I blurted.
Calhoun slid me a distracted look as he stood from the table. “Now?”
I shrugged. “It can’t be helped.”
He jabbed his finger toward a dark, narrow hallway that led off the kitchen. “Back there. Don’t open any of the window blinds.”
Okay, seriously, what was their deal? They could look out, but didn’t want anyone looking in on them? It made sense, I supposed, if they had something to hide. Their troves, likely, but those were usually protected by powerful magic. Maybe they were trying to protect themselves? But hello. Dragon shifters. They didn’t need to protect themselves.
Anyway, not my circus, not my dragons. I had a key to find, and the clock was ticking toward tonight.
I stood and started for the hallway Calhoun had indicated. Angling my body so the light behind me from the kitchen lit my way, I found the bathroom just as the doorbell rang. Another Isbon vacuum saleswoman who was after a key? Wouldn’t that be a crazy coincidence if it were? Or was it this mysterious Mack? Something told me I needed to hurry.
With a quick glance over my shoulder, I fumbled for the light switch inside the bathroom and closed the door. Then, I hiked up my pencil skirt to retrieve the little glass vial taped to the inside of my thigh. It was a more secure place than between my slippery boobs, because one drop of dragon fire would be deadly for a human like me. I’d had to trade a lot of stolen tech and a jar of peanut butter to a spunky lady named Bad Mama January to get it. I also had a lot of other thiefy—as Asa liked to call them—items strapped to my legs. Just call me Inspector Yara Gadget. Actually, don’t.
The vial was shaded black to contain its glow and thermal protected with magic so I could touch the glass, but the power inside still buzzed into my fingertips. It was meant to track anything I desired, which was how I’d found this house. After cracking open the bathroom door, I slowly unscrewed the top of the vial and knelt, releasing a single drop to the space between the hallway carpet and the floorboard. A line of orange liquid fire blazed forward into the darkness, its speed driving a blast of heat into my face. I lurched backward, fearing the worst for my eyebrows, as the fiery line zipped left. Down another hallway? Through a door and into a treasure trove? I couldn’t tell.
Shouts echoed from somewhere inside the house, the not-happy kind, but I couldn’t make out what the words were. It couldn’t have anything to do with me, because if it did, I would already be kabobbed and thrown onto the proverbial grill.
After corking the vial again and securing it with tape to my leg, I shut the bathroom door behind me to make it look as though I was still inside. Then, I followed the line of orange dragon fire that was already fading into a lacey wisp of smoke. It led to a door, locked, probably with a lot more than a key.
“D’oh se alapa,” I whispered.
The door swung open into more darkness. Despite how much of a bad idea it was to steal from dragon shifters, I knew my shit. Actually Bad Mama January knew her shit as one of the human leaders of the underground resistance to dragon shifters. She’d lost her daughter to the dragon shifters many years back and had offered to help me even before I’d finished telling her what had happened to Asa.
Too bad that little spell she’d taught me didn’t work with every door. I started inside but stopped. This was too easy. I’d also traded a jar of boysenberry jam, Bad Mama January’s favorite, for a vial strapped to my other leg—fairy dust, aka fairy corpse, which was a lot less rare and dangerous than dragon fire. I retrieved the vial, held my breath, and uncorked it. The fumes put humans into happiness comas, which weren’t as great as they sounded, so I’d heard. I poured a huge pile of the fine, sparkly pink corpse bits into my palm, and blew it toward the doorway. What had once been invisible motion sensors now glowed red in the glitter storm raining down on top of them. Just as I’d thought. Too easy, but not anymore.
The sensors zigzagged across the doorway in a complex pattern, and if I didn’t find and memorize a way through before the dust settled, the sensors would be invisible once again. Sure, I had more dust, but not more time.
Just as I spotted a way through that would require me to bend in half or lose a few limbs, the whole house shook violently. Metallic tinkling sounded from inside the dark trove. I’d picked a great time for the shifters to be distracted by someone else, but the distraction could make things a lot more complicated too. Time would tell, and quickly. The house trembled again, shaking down the fairy dust even faster. It seemed as if the whole house was under attack.
And I still had to find the key and get out.
The sensors disappeared, leaving just me and too many body parts to try to wedge myself through them. Thinking nimble thoughts, I bent over and lifted my leg to where I thought the opening was. If I tripped the sensors, maybe it wouldn’t matter so much because the shifters were handling who knew what at the front door. Unless, of course, the sensors were actually lasers meant for maiming.
Bent as I was, I poked my arms into the trove, my right raised higher than the left to avoid hitting the invisible sensor/laser I thought I remembered there. Boy, if Asa could see me now, slowly folding myself into three dragon shifters’ treasure trove like a bizarre contortionist, he would collapse into a heap of breathless laughter. My heart grew heavy at the thought, threatening to tip me over and face-plant me into a whole lot of misery.
One more leg and I would be through. My pencil skirt was hiked up to my belly button, revealing my glittery black thong and all of my thiefy supplies taped to my inner thighs. Quite the compromising position.
I held my pose in a half crouch. My muscles quivering, I slowly pulled my last limb into the trove without moving the rest of my body. All of my weight settled on the tiptoes of one foot, and those delicate bones screamed in protest.
The whole house shook again, punctuated by shrieks. Dragon shrieks. They’d shifted from their human forms. Because I was almost in the trove?
My body jostled closer to the invisible sensors/lasers, but didn’t trip them. Somehow, I held my position. I gritted my teeth as I leaned and stretched myself the rest of the way through. My heel cleared, and I was finally in. I allowed myself one breath of relief before I took in my surroundings.
Thick wooden shelves lined the room, both around the edges and in the middle, much like a library. Various gold, silver, gemstones, and other expensive-looking items sat on the shelves with little white cards in front with specific details written on them in a precise hand: Haunted Ming Dynasty Vase – fifteenth century, Honus Wagner baseball card, signed – 1911. It was so organized, alphabetized by the looks of it, that it took me aback a little. I’d been expecting skiing over mountains of gold to find the key. It would be so much simpler than that. I almost promised myself a victory shot of alcohol after this—a Red-Headed Slut if I was feeling dirty—but then I remembered I wasn’t anywhere near the finish line.
I stood, my palms clammy with anticipation, and followed the faint, graying line of dragon fire toward the nearest aisle of shelves.
A roar sounded from just behind the back wall. Loud, too close, and terrifying. They were coming.
My heart tripped into my throat. I stumbled down the aisle, throwing glances over my shoulder at the wide-open door. They’d come any second. Even if they didn’t right away, I still had to contort my way out again and then leave this house without them seeing I had the key. If it even was an actual key.
The location for the full-moon ritual changed every month so the shifters could schmooze in different ritzy places before their power surge given to them by their goddess, Léas. To keep the location secret, the exact coordinates were supposedly broadcast to every dragon shifter tattoo, which I guessed worked like a sort of map. The problem, at least to dragon shifters, was that the message also broadcast to tattoos of shifters who’d died, leaving a potential security risk. To solve that problem, they separated the location magic seconds after it had been broadcast into sixteen random objects across the dragon shifter kingdom—a book, a rug, whatever was in this treasure trove—with part of the full-moon ritual’s exact coordinates etched into them.
Magic could only be changed, not destroyed, so the only way to find the objects was with dragon fire. It was like an epic treasure hunt, but not so epic if you were anyone but a dragon shifter. According to Bad Mama January, no one out of the dragon shifter species had ever found and crashed the full-moon ritual and lived to tell about it.
But despite the staggeringly awful odds, I had to try. Asa was my little brother, my partner in the life we’d made for ourselves without parents who cared, the only person who had ever acted like he enjoyed being around me, the sole reason anything mattered. Even if I died, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try.
Another shriek far above my head. More trembles rocked the floor. What the hell was happening outside?
The line of fading dragon fire smoke wafted up toward a middle shelf and ended. Not a key but a pocket watch, bouncing to the edge of the shelf like all the other items with each vibration that shook the house. The white card in front of it read Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication – 1933.
I snatched it up, the last of the sixteen objects I needed to find Asa, then shoved the items that had been next to it closer together to make it look like nothing was gone. My fingers rubbed over the number etched into the back of the pocket watch, the magic that put it there tingling into my skin, but I didn’t have time to examine it. Like most everything else I owned, I taped it to the inside of my thigh, out of sight and secure enough that I wouldn’t lose it.
Then, I flew toward the door. A horrific crash sounded above my head. I ducked as parts of the ceiling rained down on top of me. An alarm sounded, maybe from the debris triggering the sensors. Flames burst past the doorway five feet in front of me, torching the walls to flaky black. I leaped back, my skin searing, and crashed into...something. Something powerful enough to lift me into the air, something white and...scaled. A dragon wing.
With a great screech, it picked me up in its wing and hurled me into the treasure trove’s wall. I screamed, but it was lost in the sound of an explosion. Bits of drywall zipped past, and then I dropped with a loud crack. Blinking hard, I stayed still for a second, too stunned to move for fear I would break into two after a sound like that. Had I split my head open? Broken a bone? I hurt but my mind was still trying to catch up to narrow in on exactly where I hurt.
A milky blue haze seeped across my vision, but I blinked my way through it. It took several moments to realize that was the sky I was looking at, not the threat of unconsciousness. Dragons roared above, at least ten of them, most of them pissed enough to hurl fire at the others.
Wait, how was I seeing this from the treasure trove? I flailed my arm out to help me stand and hit something that triggered a rush of water. A faucet. I was sitting in the bathroom sink, picked up and dropped off here by a white dragon. I searched the sky, zeroing in on the white one hovering just overhead near a black and a vivid blue one. Calhoun and Tavis. Was the white one the shifter who had lurked in the living room shadows? Why had he moved me into the bathroom after I’d just stolen from him?
No time to ponder that while playing in their sink. I felt too woozy, hurt too much. I fought to unpretzel myself, but something wet leaked between my legs. I gasped, thinking I’d lost all control of my bladder which could not be good, but then sharp edges stabbed into my inner thighs. Sharp like glass.
Though the tape was smeared with blood, the pocket watch was still there, intact. So was the vial of fairy corpse. But not the vial of dragon fire. It was currently snaking a bright orange trail up to the V between my legs. Oh, fuck.
I cried out, madly swiping at the very literal death sentence to get it off. But it was too late. The fiery orange was already seeping into my skin. It scorched me, touching every nerve until it coiled deep into a pulsing ache. I moaned as the feeling rushed to every part of me, liquefying and tightening everything along the way until my whole body hummed. My skin flushed. My fingers twitched with the need to touch myself everywhere, but I yanked my skirt down and hauled balls out of there.
I had no idea what I’d find in the rest of the house, but the hallway was torched black, thick smoke curling toward the sky. Most of the roof had been torn free. The kitchen blazed, the flames blocking the exit to the front door.
My eyes watered. My lungs burned. I threw myself into another room across the hallway and stumbled past a bed toward a large window covered in blinds. Seconds later, I was spilling headfirst into the backyard.
Dragons roared and lunged at each other overhead as I ran. There were no trees to hide under for cover if they saw me, not that it would matter anyway since they breathed fire. I could only hope that all of them were too distracted to notice the thief sprinting from the house.
Just before the wooden fence that led to the alley, a loud bang ricocheted through the air. Heat blasted into my back, and I went down. My hands and knees scraped the ground, taking the brunt of my fall. A loud ringing zipped between my ears as I checked to see if the pocket watch was still taped to my inner thigh. Hallelujah, it was.
My whole body shaking, I willed my noodle-like limbs to help shove me to my feet. I caught a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. Three figures stood between me and the blazing inferno house, their large bodies blocking me from the circling, roaring dragons overhead. Three human bodies. Three naked human bodies. Calhoun, Tavis, and a third shifter with short white-blond hair and pale, almost translucent eyes.
I should’ve panicked that they were so close, close enough to stop me from taking the watch and finding my brother. Instead, the hot pulse between my legs unfurled and beckoned. Slick desire stormed across my nerves as I imagined rubbing myself on one of them after the other. Flesh against flesh. Scale against scale. For an eternity.
Wait, what? I didn’t have scales.
Intense hunger flashed in their eyes as they stared at me. Tavis flicked his tongue across his wicked smile, his shock of blue hair blowing in the breeze. Calhoun fisted his hands, as if planting himself there instead of closer to me, and the pale one ticked his gaze back to the sky, which currently appeared empty save for one large streak. Coming closer.
Calhoun and Tavis shifted, a blur of black and blue scales, and swept into the sky with the power of their enormous dragon wings. The pale one turned back toward me.
“Run,” he said.
Copy that. I sprinted toward the gate in the fence, and as I pulled it open, a familiar piece of plastic lay to my left. My vacuum. Part of it, anyway. The part with its name—Isbon. And underneath, in somewhat charred, warped letters—Mack.
Mack, as in the person the dragon shifters had been waiting for? But this Mack wasn’t a person. That vacuum belonged to me.
It didn’t matter. The vacuum was toast, and the whole Mack thing... Still not my circus. I had what I came for.
I flung myself through the open gate, away from the burning house and the dragon battle in the sky. But I couldn’t escape the fire inside of me that was just as lethal. The entire vial had seeped into me, coaxing a steady ache between my legs, twitching my fingers with the need to sink them deep inside me for some kind of relief. Despite the weird side effects, no one could survive even a touch of dragon fire.
I likely had mere hours to rescue my brother before the full-moon ritual. And then? I’d be dead.