The sun blazed in the sky, a heat on Thonis’ face that was warmer than the smoldering fires in his belly. After several weeks on Earth, his flames were almost extinguished. If he tried to shift into his dragon form now, he’d end up with wings and maybe a half dozen scales. Shifting would help to revive his fires a bit, but he was due back in Byrelmore in a couple days, and he could revive them then. His king, Indulf, had a meeting with some world leaders that Hazel, the official US ambassador to Byrelmore, had arranged.
The meeting, though it promised to help improve the new and uncertain relationship between their two worlds (which could only be traveled between with magical portals), was going to be nerve-wracking. Not all humans were pleased with the discovery of dragons, and there was always the chance that things would go south.
For now, though, Thonis was determined to have a day where he didn’t have to worry. He had been working protecting the humans who lived on the sight of the portal for years now, ever since Anna, now queen of Byrelmore, had accidentally transported to the palace. Since then, each of her roommates had become mated with a dragon. All except Katrina, who now sat in Thonis’ passenger seat, her bare feet hanging out the window as Florence and the Machine blasted from the speakers.
“That’s not safe,” Thonis said, eying the way her seatbelt was half off her body and the way she lounged on the seat.
“Life isn’t meant to be safe all the time,” Katrina shot back with a lazy grin. “Loosen up. The sun’s in the sky, the wind’s blowing free, and we’re almost to the lake. Nobody knows about it, so we’ll have the whole place to ourselves. We’re invincible today.”
Thonis turned his eyes back to the road and slowed down just in case. Katrina might feel invincible, but she was all too vulnerable. He had lost most of the abilities that being a dragon gave him from his months on Earth without a break. Katrina didn’t even know she was a dragon, let alone feel the flames she was meant to have, or the thrill of shifting from a weak, fragile form to a beast of scale and sinew.
She knew nothing of her heritage. Nothing of who she really was.
And it wasn’t Thonis’ place to tell her, no matter how much he wanted to. Indulf had given the order that Katrina not be told, and Thonis had to obey his king. No matter what he thought of that decision (that it was stupid, irresponsible and based on false logic), he wasn’t going to go against Indulf. The king had his reasons for keeping Katrina in the dark. Maybe he would change his mind one day, but, in the meantime, Thonis would keep his mouth shut.
On that issue, at least. He was assigned to protect the humans that lived in the house where the portals were and, more specifically, to be Katrina’s bodyguard. So, on issues of her safety, such as now when she unbuckled her seatbelt and started to climb out the window as they were barreling down a rocky road, he would not be silent.
“Get back in here,” he snapped, gently pressing on the brake so they slowed without jerking. “Katrina! You can’t do that, you’ll get yourself killed!”
Katrina twisted, half out the window, so she looked through the windshield. “No, I won’t. Come on, I did this all the time as a kid. Stop being such a worrywart. You’re starting to sound like my mother.”
“And if she was here, she’d agree with me. I very much doubt either of your parents allowed this sort of behavior.”
Katrina slid back into the car and gave him a cheeky grin that made him wonder if everything she had just done was merely to get a reaction from him. He didn’t understand her sometimes. When it came to others, she was Miss Responsibility. She always had everything in order and never missed a beat when she was looking after the children she nannied. Then there were times like this when she was utterly irresponsible.
It reminded him of growing up with her older brother. Warmund had been like this—until she had been kidnapped from the palace and her mother killed. After that, everything had changed.
“My parents never knew half the things I did, otherwise I’d still be grounded,” she laughed. “Trust me, they would be agreeing with you.”
“Put on your seatbelt,” Thonis snapped. He started to inch forward again until he was certain that she wasn’t going to try anything else. Slowly, he started to relax. “So… yesterday was the day they adopted you, wasn’t it?”
“Nah, that’s not for another few months.” Katrina hummed lightly. “I still haven’t decided what to get them. I would like to do a scrapbook but if I ask my mom for all pictures and stuff she’d know exactly what’s up and I can’t have that.”
Thonis glanced at her, then asked quietly. “I’ve been wondering… have you ever wanted to find your real parents?”
Katrina frowned at him. “Maria and Devon are my real parents. They raised me, loved me and took care of me. If you’re thinking of biological parents, then… not really. I mean, there was a time when I was curious, but it wasn’t anything major. I started looking, ran into a few blocks and never bothered trying harder.”
Katrina shrugged. “I guess I just don’t need to.”
Thonis repressed a sigh. “But if they sought you out?”
“Then I’d like to meet them. I’ve left my contact info with the adoption records people. If they look for me…” Katrina trailed off and shook her head. “Don’t want to talk about that right now. Look, there’s the lake. Isn’t it beautiful?”
Thonis turned his attention to the water. It was beautiful, an emerald blue-green with picturesque mountains around it. He drove the car as close as he could. Katrina was out before he could turn off the engine, already stripping her shirt off. Thonis’ heart thumped hard, but it settled quickly enough. She was wearing a bathing suit underneath.
She pulled her pants down as he got out of the car and was already running for the water as he took off his excess clothing as well. The bathing suit she wore fit against her perfectly, the bright yellow complimenting her brown skin. She was all curves, something Thonis tried very hard not to notice—after all, she was in his protective care. It would be highly inappropriate. Still, she had an ass and thighs blessed with thunder and lightning, and her breasts were a temptation all their own.
But what he liked best of all was the way her face lit up when she smiled, like she did right now as she glanced back at him while charging into the water.
His heart fluttered, and his loins tightened. Embarrassed, even though nobody was around to see, he turned himself away as he pulled off his pants, revealing his swim trunks beneath. Luckily, he’d had the foresight to wear a speedo beneath them, so the bulge caused by his arousal wasn’t highly visible.
He shook his head. His king would have his head on a pike if he knew the kind of lusty dreams Thonis had been having about his daughter.
That thought was enough to push aside the images that had started to rise in Thonis’ head. He kicked off his shoes and ran over the rocky beach to join Katrina in the water. It was pleasantly cool, a welcome reprieve against the hot sun. He dove in, happy to find the water crystal-clear. He saw Katrina’s long, shapely legs kicking in the water some distance out and sliced toward them. He emerged several feet away and paddled to her.
“Didn’t I tell you this lake was great?”
Thonis grinned back at her. “Yeah, you did. You were right. Coming out here was a great idea.”
Katrina gave him a smug smile that looked exactly like Indulf and Warmund when they were certain they were right about something. She dunked under and when she emerged, she had a mouthful of water that she spat at his face. Thonis cried out in disgust as she laughed, and he dove again. He went for her legs, and she kicked wildly away from him. He kept up the chase until he managed to grab one of her ankles and pulled her under.
They both emerged panting for air, and Katrina mock-glared at him. “Ooooh, what is Indulf going to say when I tell him you did that? Trying to drown a poor, innocent human? Naughty, naughty dragon.”
Thonis rolled his eyes. “What makes you think that Indulf will care?”
A bluff, of course—Indulf would certainly care about anything that happened to Katrina, even if she didn’t know he was her father.
“You don’t think I’ve noticed how protective he is of us girls. After all, he’s assigned you to protect us and those four hunks… what do they call themselves? The four hunters?”
Thonis’ face fell slightly at the mention of the other guards assigned to duties. They weren’t proper guards, really. They were hunters, meant to track down spies and saboteurs. That was why they were perfect for the job here. There had been lots of threats levied against the women who interacted with the dragons.
It wasn’t as though they wanted to hurt anybody. Thonis didn’t understand why so many people were violently angry at the fact they even existed.
Katrina paddled closer to him. “Don’t do that face. I hate that face.”
He rose a brow at her.
“It’s your ‘I’m worried and am about to start being boring’ face.” She splashed a bit of water at him. “Stop thinking too much and just enjoy being here.”
Thonis tried to change his face and smiled instead. He lunged for her, kicking for an extra boost, and wrapped his arms around her. Katrina squealed and thrashed as they wrestled in the water. After dunking a few times, Thonis found himself trying to get them closer to the shore. His arm wrapped firmly around her waist, pulling her tight against him, her back against his chest. When she squirmed some more, her rump ground directly into his middle.
And it was then he realized he was still swollen. His feet reached the gravelly lake bottom and he stopped. For a moment everything seemed to hang in stillness. Katrina’s body so firm against his made his heart hammer into his ribs. The smell of her hair pressed into his face. She remained still in his grasp—could she feel how this was affecting him?
Suddenly terrified about that possibility, Thonis pushed her away. The cold water rushed between them and they yelped with the suddenness of it. Katrina cleared her throat and turned to splash a little water at his face, grinning. Her eyes were too bright, though. She had definitely felt it.
Thonis opened his mouth to apologize, but Katrina spoke before he could. “Last one to the island’s a rotten egg!”
She took off again. Thonis watched her for a moment, the way her body cut cleanly through the water. Then he went after her, trying to put aside his thoughts. It meant nothing. He could control his own body. It wasn’t going to happen again.