I hear a choked scream somewhere behind me.
I whip about, spraying blood, and the body of my fallen opponent flops to the ground at my feet. I turn to see Clau-dah staring up at me with big green eyes. She leans against a skeletal frame of metal, as if her legs will not support her. Her wide-eyed gaze goes to the still-twitching dragon sprawled on the ground before me.
“Oh my god. You eviscerated him.” Her hands fly to her mouth, muffling her words. “Oh shit.”
I do not understand her words, but her tone makes me frustrated. Why is she upset? Darknesshungerkillanger Did I not show her that I can protect her? That I can care for her? Darknesshungerkillanger That she is safe with me?
Have I not been patient?
I reach out to her with my mind again and find nothing there. There is no connection, nothing to latch on to, nothing to hold to and push away the darkness in my mind that creeps at the edges. It feels like an affront. I have tried so hard to be understanding, but with the blood of my opponent rushing down my throat and the battle-lust coursing through my veins, it is hard to focus on Clau-dah’s green eyes and the calm there.
I close my eyes, fighting for control. It takes a moment, but I manage to cling to sanity. I open my eyes, slowly, and then catch a new scent on the air—Clau-dah’s fear. Instinctively, I lower my head and approach her, wanting nothing more than to comfort her.
She steps backward, fear in her eyes.
Something inside me snaps. Fury boils over. Not at her. Never at her. But everything else eats at my calm. The dead male at my feet. The stink of this awful place. The lack of a connection to Clau-dah. Because I had to defend her, she fears me again. Why is she not proud of me for defeating the interloper? Can she not see how fierce I am? How utterly devoted to her happiness and protection I am?
I reach out to her again with my mind, desperate to connect, to anchor myself to her.
But there is nothing to hold. Her mind is closed to me.
All because I have not yet claimed her.
If I had—if I’d given her my fire—the other dragon would have never challenged me. Her scent would be mingled with mine, and unmated, rutting males would not touch her.
But she will never let me touch her. It has been days and I am yet no closer. Now she looks at me with shock and fear in her eyes.
The rage is too much, the need for my Clau-dah too much. It chews up my mind and leaves nothing behind. Must claim her. Must own. Make her safe. Make it so that no one else can claim her.
I’ve been patient long enough.
That mad black is swirling in Kael’s eyes.
My breath lodges in my throat, and fright makes my legs lock. I stand in the middle of a street, and there are things to hide behind—tipped-over buses, abandoned cars, nearby gutted buildings—but I can’t run from him.
Not when he’s clearly struggling for control.
I know he won’t hurt me. He’s had plenty of opportunities to do so, and he hasn’t before. I know when his eyes swirl black, all it takes is a few murmured words and they’ll go gold again.
It doesn’t mean that I’m not scared shitless, though. I’ve just seen Kael rip the throat out of another dragon. A freaking dragon. Bullets bounce off their damn hides and humans can’t hurt them. But Kael? He’d simply took the neck of the damn thing in his jaws and tore it out. I can still feel the hot spray of blood as it catches the wind and spatters my face, still hear his dying gurgle.
I’d nearly lost control of my bladder at the sight, especially because it happened right in front of my face.
I’m still staring as Kael stalks toward me, blood dripping from his fangs, eyes black as night.
This is not the nuzzling, affectionate Kael of the last few days. This is something else entirely. Looking at him like this, I remember that it only takes one dragon to decimate a city. I squeeze my eyes shut as he storms toward me. He’s dangerous when in a rage, and this is definitely qualifying as a rage. Will he kill me? Slice me in half with one swipe and destroy me as easily as he did the other dragon? It had been one of his kind. I could have sworn that he’d communicated with it on some level, but he’d destroyed it as easily as breathing.
The safety I’ve felt with him over the last few days? It’s a lie. I thought maybe I could be his friend. That I was secure with him. It’s all wrong. Fort Dallas wanted me to control a dragon, but there’s no controlling something like Kael. He’s a force of nature. And like a tornado or a hurricane, he’s going to destroy everything in his path to get what he wants.
And…he wants me.
Kael looms over me, still in enormous, frightening dragon form, the heat from his body radiating off of him and washing over me. I close my eyes, instinctively flinching away as he leans in.
But…the massive head only nuzzles my cheek. His breath, still coppery and smelling of blood and char, rolls over me like a wave. All he does is sniff my hair, then runs his snout along my torn jumpsuit as if reassuring himself that I’m not harmed.
There’s some control in there, after all. Some of the awful tension leaves my body, and I release the breath that I’m holding. “It’s just me, Kael,” I say softly. “I’m here with you.”
He noses me again, and then his claws wrap around my waist. I’m dragged up against him as he launches himself into the sky, and all I can do is hold on for dear life and hope that his madness ebbs soon.
I lose track of how long we’re flying. The world seesaws back and forth as Kael rides the currents of wind, and I flop around, helpless, in his claws. My stomach roils with every dive, and it makes it difficult to concentrate on where we are going, because opening my eyes means I want to vomit. But eventually, the jagged, wild flying evens out, and I squeeze open my eyes to see that we’ve returned to the office building with the running water—the building I was snatched from just a short time ago.
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