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Piece of Shifter: A Fantasy Romance (Haret Chronicles: Qilin Book 2) by Laurel Chase (1)

CHAPTER ONE

CARLYLE

I paced down the white-sand beach, keeping the brand-new safe house within sprinting distance. I knew my guys were on their way via Dair’s siphoning, but I was also happy to have a few minutes to soak in the sunrise over the water.

I needed to get my bearings - so much had happened, and so many questions were left unanswered.

I was mated, for fuck’s sake. I had a piece of dragon in my soul now, but I had no clue what that was going to mean. I barely knew these guys, and Jack even less.

I didn’t even know where Jack was, or what had happened to him. My chest ached, reflecting the suffering and fear I’d seen in his eyes just before the Ringmaster’s magic had sucked him away from me again, the unknown trap springing shut just as we’d thought he was free.

Even so, there was more hope in my heart than fear. Reminding myself of all I’d gained, I forced my panic away by listening to my instincts. There was no way I was giving any of them up now - especially Jack.

Just a week ago, I’d been biding my time with LuAnn, fooling myself into thinking I was content. I’d been earning enough cash to get by, selling my odd skill to manipulate human emotions, but it had all been so fake. LuAnn hadn’t been a friend. She’d been a coward and a traitor.

The weird things in my life made so much more sense now that I knew my powers were meant to pull magic from creatures from the world of Haret. I’d seen enough evidence to start believing I really was a Qilin - the missing link the guys had been searching for.

It felt cheesy as hell to acknowledge, but a powerful grin took over my face as I pictured each of the handsome men. I stared down the line of sparkling water toward the rising sun. In just a few short days, I’d gained more of a family than I’d ever dreamed of, and I’d fight like crazy to keep them safe.

Voices echoed behind me, and I turned to see Dair and Sol arriving. Dair popped immediately back into thin air, using his mage skills to siphon back and get the others from our former safe house in the woods of upstate New York.

I headed back toward Sol. “So, do you know where we are?” I asked.

“Paradise.” He grinned, dropping his travel bag on the sand and stretching his arms above his head. His shirt rode up, and I stole a long look at his golden abs. He shook out his shoulder-length blond waves, reminding me of his lion form. “I’m guessing somewhere in south Florida, Atlantic side.”

“Nice,” I murmured. I’d never been this far south before. The air was balmy but not humid like so much of the mid-west and upper southern states I’d circuited as a carnival kid. The air was so clean and fresh here, and I breathed in deeply as Dair siphoned in again, bringing Kana this time.

Her long, dark hair blew back in the slight breeze, and she grinned at me. She already looked recovered - nothing like a girl who had been dead barely two hours ago. Maybe that was some of her vampire magic.

Killian was next, his golden fae eyes set in a furious glower, followed by Jai, whose smaller frame was weighed down with a bulging bag of tech gear on each shoulder. He slipped me a brief smile, just a hint of fang glinting over his full bottom lip.

Looking wrecked, Dair staggered up the deck stairs and into the house. Slowly, we all began to trickle inside after him.

I didn’t want to leave the sand and sea, but I also knew we had some serious fucking plans to make.

The night before had shown us just how dangerous the Ringmaster could be - how outmatched we actually were. None of the guys had been able to fight off his power over their minds, and I’d been too weak and untrained to be of much use.

Plus, our previous safe house had been too easily compromised. It was the second home Jack had found within a week’s time, and I knew all the guys were nervous as hell. Even though we wanted to trust Jack, he was still under the Ringmaster’s powerful grip. The mind mage could turn him into a puppet at any moment and use him against all of us.

I followed Sol into a spare, modern living room that overlooked the beach, where the others had begun to settle. I leaned against the plate glass window, unable to draw my eyes away from the swirling colors of the sunrise.

Dair shuffled into the room last, drinking deeply from a glass of water. He sank into one of the dove gray leather armchairs and leaned his head against its square back. He’d used so much magic getting us all free from the Ringmaster - shattering the magical barrier around the Underbelly Circus and siphoning us all home, then here without even a minute to rest.

My eyes roamed restlessly, taking him in. His thick-lashed, navy eyes pinned me from across the room, but I could tell he was spent. His normally crisp button-up was wrinkled, and his eyes were heavy from lack of sleep. His hair was even mussed, and... wait.

“What’s that?” I crossed the room to him, pushing my fingers into his dark hair. He let me run my hands through the silky waves, his eyes at half-mast. His palm slid to my waist and his full lips turned up at the corners.

“What?” he murmured, his voice husky.

“You have a bit of white,” I said, leaning in closer and separating the streak of silvery hair from the dark brown waves at his temple. It wasn’t huge - maybe a half-inch wide - but it was new.

“You used too much power,” Jai said, moving closer to inspect what I was looking at.

“That can happen?” I said, my hand dropping from Dair’s head. He let it flop back against the chair, watching me with an intense, unreadable expression. He tightened his grip on my waist, his fingers curling around my hip as he pulled me closer.

“Of course it can, kiddo,” Killian called from where he was stretched full-length on a white leather couch. “Anyone can use too much of something and strain their body.”

Jai nodded, his black eyes crinkled in worry. He brushed a strand of long black hair from his face, twisting it back into the tight bundle at the nape of his neck.

I recalled Dair’s marathoner analogy. “So, just like a runner could tear a muscle or get a repetitive motion injury?” Damn. I’d been thinking of my guys as something close to immortal, and I didn’t like being faced with their limitations.

“Exactly so,” Dair murmured. “But don’t worry about me, Cariño. I have plenty of power left. Even enough to share with a good girl.” A smirk crept onto his face, and he pulled me down into his lap sideways, settling my legs across the armrest.

I wanted to touch his hair again, but I resisted. I could feel myself getting all heated just by proximity, but I didn’t need to give them all a show. I could already imagine Killian’s derision. Instead, I focused on my bare forearms, searching idly for any hints of my new dragon scales.

Dair wasn’t the only one whose appearance had changed recently. My skin was clear, though, the garnet sheen faded away from my pale skin.

“Wait until tomorrow to procure any more of our things,” Jai ordered Dair. “Even then, I only want the van. Everyone else will need to replace any personal items they didn’t bring tonight.”

“Are you fucking kidding?” Killian complained, hauling himself to a sitting position and glaring at Jai. “I’ve had that car sixty cycles now, since she was brand new. She’s my baby.”

Jai turned a blank, uncaring face on him, and Killian groaned, scrubbing his hands through his flame-red hair.

“Fucking Jack,” he muttered, lapsing into a broody silence afterward.

I turned back to Dair. “You can procure a car?”

He grinned and squeezed my thigh. “I told you, I’m one of the best.”

I marveled at the magical strength that would take. I wished there was a way I could channel more of his magic to practice, but I’d never want to take any from him now. Not when I looked at that white streak at his temple.

He smirked when he saw me studying him. Why exactly did that streak make him even more fucking sexy?

“Don’t get shy.” He nuzzled my neck, whispering so the others might not hear. “I still have plenty to give you.”

He adjusted his hips beneath me, and I grasped his layered meaning as his hard cock ground into my ass. Ripples of desire spread through my belly, but I managed to keep my face blank, hoping he wouldn’t take it as a challenge.

I wouldn’t put it past Dair to subtly tease me into oblivion even with his friends in the room. I also wouldn’t put it past a couple of them to encourage it.

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