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Authors: Alexis Reed

ClosertoFire

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Closer to Fire

Alexis
Reed

 

Bane and Darek have simple
instructions from their sovereign. Bring in Lily Sinclair. She’s an idana—a
succubus—and a threat to their dying species. The two dracambri, powerful
dragon-shifters, have Lily’s profile. They know she’s as hot as the inferno in
her blood. They know the temptation they will face. Or so they think. Once Bane
and Darek get their hands on Lily, she shatters their expectations. Gentle,
kind and unaware of her bloodline, Lily is a rarity, like nothing they’ve
seen—an angel with the touch of a siren. And unlike the human men Lily’s been
evading all her life, Bane and Darek can keep up with her. They can bring her
pleasure like she’s never known.

 

A
Romantica®
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave

Closer to Fire
Alexis Reed

 

Prologue

 

Darek perched on the concrete ledge four stories up,
surveying the dingy alley with narrowed eyes. The shifting winds that might
have threatened another man’s balance only stirred the newspapers on the street
far below him. Save for the homeless man sleeping by the Dumpster tucked
against the dead-end wall on their right, it was empty. The dark-green door
with the sign reading “Exit Only—Library Patrons Please Enter on North Side”
showed no signs of movement. Nothing yet.

“Show me the picture again,” he said in a low voice. Bane
proffered the photo, which Darek snatched with a grunt. The paper was flimsy
and crumpled from much handling but the image was clear. Darek stared, his
restless, crouched body growing still at the sight of the woman in the
surveillance photograph. The beast stirred beneath his skin, phantom wings
making his back itch between his shoulder blades. Unlike his human half, the
dragon did not ask questions. Its desires were instinctive, unapologetic and
unequivocal—which was why he had to stay in control. It wanted
her
. The
idana in the picture.

Humans knew the idani as demons—succubi, specifically—and
they were close to the mark. Idani were seduction, fantasy and carnal need
given tangible form. They needed sex to survive and encounters with them were
fatal to human men.

But not to dracambri
, the dragon growled.

Not now.
He forced it to settle, closing his eyes and
taking a deep breath, trying to steady himself.
C’mon, man. Get a grip.
Since the beginning of the war, he and Bane had questioned more than a hundred
of the doe-eyed demonesses, imprisoning some and executing others. It wasn’t
fun work, but then neither was war. The charms that made their human victims
lose all good judgment didn’t work as well on shape-shifters—let alone dragon
shape-shifters. So why did her image alone tempt him? Frustrated and
suspicious, Darek opened his eyes and straightened the paper against the
breeze.

The photo was taken from an angle. A seated woman, her face
in partial profile, gazed at something or someone in the distance. Her long
blonde hair was caught in the wind, stray tendrils teasing her ears and cheeks.
The fair skin of her face was creased only by a small frown at her brow. Darek
wondered for the hundredth time what she was thinking in that still, captured
moment.

The woman was sitting at an outside café table, her hands
folded in her lap, her long legs crossed so that her flowered dress rode up
just above her knee. Her toes were pointed, as though she’d been rocking her
foot restlessly. Waiting.
For what? Or whom?
Darek wondered, though he
knew he shouldn’t care. That she aroused him was no big surprise. She was
idana. But when he looked at her picture, something inside him cracked, just a
little. Her image
called
to him. The warmth that spread through his
chest made him downright angry. Who—or what—
was
she?

Her demure posture was at odds with the sensuous visions she
inspired. And it wasn’t just himself, Darek knew. Across the patio in the
picture, a short, bespectacled businessman in a three-piece suit and ridiculous
plaid bow tie was staring at her over a newspaper. Unlike some of the males of
his species, Darek wasn’t psychic. He didn’t have to be.

I know just what you want
, he thought, looking at the
expression of naked longing on the man’s face. The idana’s greatest weapon
wasn’t her flawless, inviting body—it was her target’s fantasies. The more
imaginative the man, the more desperate his desire, the more certain his end.
Bow tie didn’t just want sex. Like every man whose eye the woman in the cotton
dress caught, he wanted sex with
her
. Hungry, desperate sex, hotter than
his wettest teenage dreams. Against the wall. In the men’s room. Given half a
chance, he would take her right there on the bistro-style table, white plates
and espresso cups shattering on the ground by the corners of the checkered
tablecloth, his appalled lunch companions scrambling out of the way. He’d do
anything to get the idana on her back, work his cock into her and fuck her.
Over and over, until… But Darek was pretty sure the man’s fantasy hadn’t gone
beyond that. The corner of his mouth twitched at the irony. “Too much of a good
thing” did indeed exist.

His jaw tightened. Though he didn’t want to dwell on it, he
knew the man’s likely fate. Like the rest of the idana’s victims, the guy had
probably ended up a puzzle for the coroner. His death certificate would read
“COD-cardiac event” or “exposure” or—this one was Darek’s favorite—“accidental
voluntary asphyxiation”. Some might say “at least he died a happy man”. They
would be wrong.

He had seen the corpses the idani left behind. Agony, not
ecstasy, was etched into the rigid features of their wasted faces. Some died
seizing, their brains awash in hormones. Others starved to death, refusing to
eat or sleep, unsatisfied no matter how many times they reached climax. What
was worse, thanks to recent events, the number of human victims was on the
rise. The idani had to feed, and pickings among nonhuman partners had been slim
of late.

Darek shifted his weight and glanced up at Bane, who was
scanning the alley with impassive blue eyes. Though his partner’s bearing
betrayed nothing, the scent of unease permeated the air, setting Darek’s teeth
on edge.
He’s as twitchy as I am
, Darek thought darkly,
which is
saying something
.

Bane’s face betrayed none of this. “She’s not like the
others,” he commented. Darek narrowed his gaze. Bane was standing beside him on
the ledge, his arms crossed over his chest. His posture was the epitome of
nonchalance, in stark contrast with Darek’s hovering crouch. Bane’s mouth
twitched and he reached up to rub the stubble on his angular jaw. “Not like the
others at all,” he murmured, scanning the alley again.

“It’s just her coloring,” Darek said, striving to match
Bane’s indifference. “So she was in the mood to be a light-skinned blonde that
day.” Idani weren’t shape-shifters, but they could alter some aspects of their
appearance.

Bane cocked his head, considering. “I think that’s her true
form.”

The homeless man in the alley below coughed, gasped and
coughed again, a thin, sickly sound. Darek saw his friend’s face soften and
took an educated guess at the direction of his thoughts.

“You can’t save them all, doc.”

Bane exhaled and reached up to rub the back of his neck. “I
know.” Spotting movement, he dropped into a crouch in one silent, fluid motion.
“She comes.”

 

Lily Sinclair paused in front of the library’s alley exit,
struggling to free her keys from the jumble of items in her bag without
upsetting the stack of books and papers she carried. Her fingers grazed the tip
of a key—victory! She grabbed for it and missed. The batch of keys retreated
deeper into her bag. Stifling a curse, Lily shifted the weight of the books in
her arms, muttering, “My kingdom for digital content.”

Her latest research project involved arcane and old
manuscripts. Heavy stuff—literally. She was all right with that though, so long
as she was out of the public eye.

Initially she’d taken a job as a reference librarian, but
she’d had to transfer to a research position for…well…reasons that she was
still trying to sort out. In the words of her plainspoken boss, a bun-wearing
library matron if she’d ever seen one, “You can’t give the patrons what they
want because this is a library, not a brothel.”

Thank God, matron or no, she’d been willing to give Lily a
second chance. Lily was desperate to do well. She’d led a sheltered life. Her
mother, a stunning but reclusive woman, had made sure of that. The finest
tutors, heavily vetted and carefully observed, home-schooled her through high
school. On her mother’s recommendation, Lily went to a tiny liberal arts
college in the North Carolina mountains and got her MLS degree at a reputable
online school. This job was her first foray into “the real world” and she
desperately wanted to make it work. Lily’s mother had left her an enormous
estate when she’d passed away, but Lily wanted employment. She’d adored her
mother, but she didn’t want to share her fate—secluded, as lonely as she was
lovely.

Sighing, Lily admitted defeat, set her armload of books down
on the floor and knelt to retrieve her keys. Her back and feet hurt. She just
wanted to get to her car, where she could stretch, sit down and best of all,
take off her shoes.

At last, she cornered the keys and pulled them out, along
with her ID and a few stray pens, which scattered on the floor. Gathering them
up along with her books, Lily stood and opened the door. She stepped into the
alley, pulling the door closed behind her. Holding the stack of books
awkwardly, she turned to lock the door.

She sensed rather than heard the men behind her and stilled,
her arm raised, the key held in one delicate hand.
Dammit.
She should
have taken the front exit but she was tired of dodging men on the street.
During the day when the street was crowded, she could fade into a crowd without
attracting much notice. In the evening she was a walking target. Men inevitably
stopped to ask if they could carry her bags, walk her to her car, buy her
coffee or take her to dinner. Some asked for a lot more than that. She’d hoped
to make it to her car without having to slap anyone.

She turned slowly, assessing her situation, and her heart
nearly stopped. The one day she decided to try the alley door and she had to
run into He-Man and G.I. Joe. Everything about the two men standing behind her
screamed
alpha
. The taller one had short, sandy-blond hair and angular
features arranged in a dispassionate expression. His blue eyes were fixed on
her in a way that made her feel as if she were a cornered rabbit watching the
last, inexorable stages of a hawk’s dive. His icy gaze flickered, taking in her
entire form in less than a second. She moistened her lips nervously. Confusion
and fear warred with a feeling she couldn’t yet identify in her chest.
Why
do I care if I measure up?
Her legs felt shaky and she wondered if she
could run from the men. A wave of disorientation left her reeling.

What is
wrong
with me?

The second man was shorter by a couple of inches and
slightly broader in the chest. His gaze was no less predatory than the taller
man’s, but his energy was different—a coiled, palpably kinetic presence that
made the five feet between them feel like no more than a breath. His dark hair
matched his eyes. If the taller man was scary-cold, his partner was a forest
fire waiting to happen.

Lily shivered, hot and cold all over, feeling off balance.
She wasn’t sure which was more disconcerting—the pair across from her or her
reaction to them. That she wanted to run, she was certain. But whether she
wanted to run away from them or straight into their grasp, she had… Absolutely.
No. Idea.

She drew herself up to her full five feet eight inches,
gripping her books in an effort to still her trembling body. She’d thought she
understood men. Or at least knew how she felt about them—which was not at all,
really. Most men who pursued her did so with a witless single-mindedness,
junkies after a fix. It was annoying but not unsettling. She’d
never
felt
like this before—hot and cold and shivery and…aching inside, all at the same
time. The men standing a few feet from her were hunters and she was very much their
prey. She wanted to shake her head to clear it but she couldn’t take her eyes
off them.

Lily cleared her throat and jumped at how loud it sounded in
the taut silence. “Gentlemen,” she said, nodding politely, feeling absurd. “Out
for a walk?” She winced as her voice cracked at the end of the question.

A slow smile spread across the dark-haired man’s features.
He looked amused, which made her feel even smaller. “Oh come, demoness,” he
said chidingly, “don’t be coy.”

Demoness?
Lily’s mouth dropped open. His voice, low
and gravelly, touched her like satin. Speechless, shaking all over, she looked
from one of them to the other.

The taller man’s cold expression shifted. He frowned,
seeming to consider her carefully, then looked at her with something that might
have been sympathy. “Come with us. We’re not going to hurt you,” he said almost
gently.

The unexpected softness in his tone was a balm for her
nerves and she had to stifle the urge to smile gratefully.
Don’t be an
idiot, Lily
.
Whatever he is—whatever
they
are—it isn’t
nice
.
And they aren’t here for freakin’ tea and biscuits.

The dark-haired man reached into the pocket of his leather
jacket and pulled out something silvery and delicate-looking. At first Lily
thought it was a necklace, but then she realized it was too long for that. He
took a step toward her, unwinding the strange, shining substance.

It looked like…
Rope
, she thought,
it’s rope
.
How she knew that, she had no idea. Nor could she explain why the thin,
fragile-looking stuff may as well have been industrial-grade chain in her eyes.
Terror rose, a vile taste in her throat. A word resonated loudly in her head—
run.
In the second before every bone in her body obeyed that command, Lily saw the
blond man put a restraining hand on his partner’s shoulder. They exchanged a
meaningful glance, then the dark-haired man surged toward her.

What followed was a blurred sequence of images and
sensations, like some bizarre slideshow from hell.
Flash.
The wild,
giddy surge of adrenaline thundering into her veins.
Flash.
Her books
and papers scattering on the ground.
Flash.
The street, looking as far
away and as desirable as the gates of heaven itself, framed by towering red
brick walls on either side.
Flash.
Taking one, two, three long strides
before arms like iron bands seized her from behind.

BOOK: ClosertoFire
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