Director of Education Draken Marcor sat behind his gleaming chrome desk, arms crossed, frown in place as he listened to the female across from him speak. Honestly, the words didn’t matter. He’d give her anything she wanted…within reason. If she wanted to take a stroll outside the city in the sun’s deadly rays, he’d definitely draw the line at that.
In a city of over two million, Jaiyu Zhao shined brighter than all the others. The first time he’d ever seen her, she’d been doing nothing more than walking down the corridor, chatting merrily with another female. He hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her. Galaxies, how she’d captivated him, and when he’d finally had the opportunity to speak to her, he’d found her even more mesmerizing.
In the eighteen or so months since that first encounter, he’d been forced to maintain only a professional relationship with her. Not because of his planet’s Council, their backward views of interracial relationships, or any of those so-called, unwritten rules about courting humans.
Even if he cared about such things, he’d been bending the rules to the point of fracture for as long as he could remember. Partly, because it was simply in his nature. Mostly, however, because it pissed his father off, and he’d made a splendid career out of doing just that.
No, he’d stayed away because, at the time, she’d belonged to someone else. A weak, useless male unworthy of her affections in his humble opinion, but sadly, it wasn’t his thoughts that mattered. Only Jaiyu’s happiness was important, and for as long as she had enjoyed the company of the human, Draken had kept his distance.
That was all about to change.
For the past few months, he hadn’t seen her in the company of that particular idiot, or any male for that matter. Not that he’d been watching her inappropriately. It was just that when they passed in the hallways, or when she entered a room where he happened to be, he couldn’t not notice her.
“I realize that the children have access to the Garden outside of their lessons, but I really believe this could be a unique learning experience.” Sitting rigidly on the edge of her seat, Jaiyu tucked her hair behind her ear, then clasped her fingers together in her lap. “I’m aware that this is an unusual request, but I’m hoping you can make an exception this once.”
Instead of answering immediately, he relaxed his mouth into a more neutral expression as he studied the way her yellow blouse brought out the golden undertones of her skin. Perhaps she’d noticed his admiring gaze, because an alluring shade of pink stained her cheeks, and she dropped her head so that her inky hair fell like a curtain to hide her face.
That just wouldn’t do.
“I can see you’ve given this a lot of consideration.”
He spoke slowly, thoughtfully, knowing she’d look up at him if he did so. She didn’t disappoint.
Big and round, elongated at the corners, and tilted slightly downward, her expressive eyes held him enraptured. Sweet nebula, if he wasn’t careful, he could lose himself in those tawny pools.
“I have, and I know—”
“—that the students are eager to learn, and I believe that knowing more about the planet they’re inhabiting would be incredibly enriching.”
“It would only be for a couple of hours.”
“If the issue is a matter of security—”
“Jaiyu,” he said, raising his voice only enough to stop her while barely holding back a laugh. “I said yes.”
That time, he couldn’t help it. He had to laugh. “You look so disappointed. Were you hoping for an argument?”
Speaking telepathically came more naturally for him, and it was his preferred method of communication with every other being in Hope. He rarely spoke directly into Jaiyu’s mind. Most humans hated it, and while he didn’t really give a damn what they liked or didn’t, Jaiyu was different. Important. So, for her, he made the effort.
“Well, I didn’t want to argue.” She tilted her head to the side and smiled at him.
His heart flopped over in his chest, then immediately jackknifed up into his throat. Thankfully, he was saved the need to respond when she continued.
“I did expect a lengthier discussion, though. You’re always so stubborn.” She huffed, and her smile faded.
For some reason, that amused the hell out of him. “I can be stubborn, yes, but surely, you know there is nothing I wouldn’t give you.”
On two separate occasions, he’d denied her requests, only because he knew she was just as obstinate as him. She also fought fiercely for the things she believed in, especially when it came to her students. So, the longer he refused her, the more often she returned to persuade him. Underhanded of him, yes, but their occasional meetings had been the only times he could spend alone with her.
“Okay, well…” She paused to stare at him. “What I mean to say is…” Again, she trailed off, and her brow furrowed. “You are so frustrating!”
Taken aback by her judgment of him, and even more confused by her sudden outburst, Draken could think of nothing to say in his defense. He’d given her what she wanted, hadn’t he? Shouldn’t she be happy? One might even say she should feel a measure of gratitude.
“Do tell, Miss Zhao. How exactly am I upsetting you?” Not trusting himself to speak aloud, he sent the words into her mind.
Determination, tinged with a hint of annoyance, flashed in her eyes as she straightened and pulled her shoulders back. “If I had realized that you knew how to be reasonable, I wouldn’t have wasted days preparing a whole list of arguments for this meeting.”
“Being well-prepared is a waste of time?”
She snorted derisively and rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Okay, then how am I not reasonable?”
She was so annoyed with him, and he found it adorable. “Jaiyu!” he mocked. Though, secretly, he loved the way she said his name, even when she shouted it at him like that. “That’s not an answer.”
Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply for several seconds before pinning him with that intense stare once more. “You’re right. That was rude, and I apologize. You’ve been more than reasonable, and I appreciate the time you took to meet with me today. I’ll be in touch with the details of the field trip.”
She made a move as if to stand, but Draken wasn’t ready for her to leave. He hadn’t had enough time with her. “I have a better idea. Let’s go to the Garden now. You can show me what you plan to teach the children, and I can answer any questions you have.”
“Now?” she squeaked.
“Yes, of course. Unless you have somewhere else to be?” It was about as subtle as he knew how to be in asking if there was another male courting her.
“Actually, I do.”
Anger, swift and unjustified, came over him like a storm cloud. “Where exactly are you going?”
“I really don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
“I could just follow you.”
Her eyes narrowed, and her nostrils flared. “What the hell has gotten into you? You’re being a complete ass.”
No one in his life—apart from his family, of course—had ever dared speak to him in such a way. “Just tell me where you’re going.”
She jerked to her feet, her head held high, her chin jutting out defiantly. “No.”
Draken didn’t know what the hell came over him, but hearing her refuse him yet again, he couldn’t keep his composure. Rising from his seat, he rounded his desk until he stood right in front of her, so close she was forced to take a step back.
“Tell me where you’re going.”
“No,” she answered again, taking another step back when he advanced.
It went on that way—him demanding, her refusing—until her back met with the far wall near the door. Any other human would have given him what he wanted by now, and probably a few Aleucian’s as well. Not Jaiyu. Her gaze never faltered. Her voice never quivered.
Although she exasperated the hell out of him, he didn’t want to frighten her. Surely, she knew he’d never do anything to hurt her. Just in case, however, he sniffed the air, looking for even the faintest scent of fear, but what he found instead, froze him in his tracks.
Arousal, thick and honeyed, filled the space around them.
Bracing his hands against the wall on either side of her, Draken leaned in close, biting back a groan as the sweet fragrance surrounded him. “Tell me,” he growled, baring his teeth. “Where…you are…going?”
“Put your fangs away and stop acting like such a beast.” Her hand landed in the center of his chest, not pushing him away, but not allowing him closer, either.
There was no heat in her tone, no anger. Her eyes were soft, her breath a little uneven, and she watched him…expectantly.
It would be so easy to give in to desire, to close those last couple of inches between them. She wouldn’t stop him. Even if the truth hadn’t been written plainly across her face, her scent didn’t lie. Jaiyu wanted him, maybe for only as long as it took them both to get off, but it was there.
He could give in, give her what she wanted, and let her walk away happy. She wouldn’t be disappointed. He’d make sure of it. What he wanted from her, though, couldn’t be sated with a quick romp on his desk. A day, a week, a month—it wouldn’t be enough.
She was his. She’d always been his. Draken had known it from the first moment their eyes had met in the corridor. For months, he’d been patient, but he was done pretending to be aloof and indifferent. If she had plans to meet another male in the city, he wanted to know.
Sliding her hair over her shoulder, he placed his palm to the side of her neck and moved his thumb under her chin to tilt her head back. “Isha…”
Pressed against the wall by a man literally twice her size, Jaiyu acknowledged that she should probably be terrified. Any rational person would be in her situation. Maybe she was crazy, because she wasn’t afraid. Excited, a little anxious, definitely aroused, but not frightened.
Damn, he was big, but he touched her so gently. A lock of inky hair had fallen into his face when he’d bent toward her, obscuring one of his sapphire-blue eyes. His pale pink lips parted slightly, revealing the tips of his elongated canines, and every inhale expanded his muscled chest, stretching the black, long-sleeved shirt he wore to its limits.
When he’d growled in that whiskey-rough voice, it had been sexy as sin. When he’d touched her, she’d almost fucking swooned. She’d seen these types of things play out hundreds of times in movies, but she’d never believed it was something that happened in real life. Only, in the movies, this was the part where the hero usually kissed the girl.
Draken didn’t move.
“What?” She didn’t know what the word meant, but it felt like an endearment.
He didn’t speak loudly, but the command in his voice sent a shiver through her.
Maybe he expected her to kiss him. It was just the type of arrogant thing he would do.
“For you to tell me where you’re going.”
He slid his thumb up and down the center of her throat, stroking the skin and making it difficult for her to form words. It really wasn’t any of his business, and she knew she should refuse, purely on principle.
Jaiyu sighed. “The Garden. I’m going to the Garden.”
The new observatory was a favorite among the residents, herself included. Sometimes, she liked to just lie in the grass and stare up at the sky through the glass, dome-shaped enclosure. It would never be exactly the same as feeling the breeze in her hair or the sun on her face, but it was pretty damn close.
His brow furrowed, creating a shallow valley between his eyes. “You are the most exasperating female I have ever met. If you are already going to the Garden, why can’t you go with me?”
“You didn’t ask.” Her heart leapfrogged into her throat when his thumb dipped lower, tracing the line of her collarbone, but she swallowed hard and kept going. “You just decided I’d go with you and expected to get your way.”
“True,” Draken allowed, and he didn’t sound the least bit apologetic about it. “I do usually expect to get my way.”
Gods, he was too close. She couldn’t think. She could barely breathe. After their very first meeting, she’d come up with every excuse she could think of to see him, to be near him. She’d asked for things her class didn’t really need, just for a chance to spend even a few minutes with Draken. Every time he’d relented too quickly, she’d argued, just to keep him talking.
He was pushy and high-handed, arrogant and frustrating. When he wanted something, he took it. When he had something to say, he didn’t hold back or sugar-coat it. He challenged her, provoked her, and made her blood boil with both anger and lust—often at the same time.
While she wouldn’t call their previous interactions strictly professional, never once had he shown even the slightest interest in her that wasn’t work-related. Never once had he touched her beyond a handshake. Never had he so vehemently demanded she yield to him.
Nothing came to mind that could have triggered this change in him, but it left her feeling unsteady and anxious. She didn’t like it.
“Why?” The words just kind of spilled out, quiet and a little breathy, but spoken aloud all the same.
For the first time, Draken’s expression slipped, his brow knitting together as his thumb stilled against the vein in her neck. “Why do I like getting my way?”
“Why are you doing this?” She shook her head. That made it sound like she didn’t want him to touch her, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. “Why the sudden interest in me?”
The lines across his forehead smoothed, and his lips curled on one side into a devilish grin. “Oh, isha, I assure you there’s nothing sudden about it. I just didn’t have the right before.”
“What right?” He wasn’t making any sense. “You never even asked. You never said a word.”
“You weren’t mine.”
“I could have been.” Her confusion made her tone sharper than she’d intended, but she meant what she’d said. “Draken, just tell me straight. What changed?”
“You weren’t mine,” he repeated, speaking slowly as if he thought she might be a little dense. “You belonged to someone else.”
“I did what?” It had been years since she’d dated anyone seriously, even before coming to Aleucia. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Draken frowned, and he looked just as confused as she felt. “You were always with him. He said he loved you.”
“Jason? That’s who you’re talking about, isn’t it? Jason Castle.” Anger welled from some dark, hidden place inside her, a swift, unrelenting fury that froze the blood in her veins. “We went on one date,” she said through clenched teeth, jabbing her index finger into his chest as she spoke. “After which, he stalked me, threatened me, and generally made my life hell. I never belonged to him, you insufferable jackass.”
“You didn’t say anything,” he snapped, catching her hand to keep her from stabbing him again. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You never asked!”
Silence descended, but neither of them moved. They stood there in his office, inches apart, glaring at each other for what felt like an eternity. Then, Draken pushed away from the wall, her hand still clutched in his, and turned toward the door.
“Where are we going?”
He didn’t look at her, but his tone dropped several octaves, brooking no argument. “Let’s. Go.”