His mouth slowly rose at the corners. “Like what you see, River?” His gruff, faintly accented voice teased her senses. She could listen to him talk all day, every day. He snatched out a pair of jeans and a shirt from the bag.
River ignored his question. “I need my cell. I think you need a healer or a vet.”
“I doubt today’s human animal doctors would know what to do with a dragon,” Jax responded drily as he scrounged through the bag and pulled out a plastic case with her cell. He held it up. “This what you want?”
“I don’t need a healer, all I need is you under me, with my dick sheathed in your warmth as we complete the claiming.” He tossed her the container and yanked out his boots. “We need to get you some shoes,
“Uh-huh.” She waved a hand before scrolling through her contact list. She tapped Hyori’s icon.
Goddess, please let her be on land.
A meek voice answered after the third ring, “Yes.”
“Hyori!” Jax stepped behind her. She could feel his heat rolling off him.
“I know this is last minute but I need a favor. A friend and I are in Pohang. I was hoping we could meet up if you’re in town.” River moved to put some space between them.
“Aren’t you the lucky one? My sisters and I just got into town. Meet us at the
. Do you remember where it is?” Hyori asked quietly.
“Those are the bathhouses at the wharf?” River tried to remember the landmarks from the last time she visited.
“Give us a couple of hours and we’ll meet you there.”
“I’ll see you then.” Hyori hung up.
River swung around and faced Jax. “My friend, Hyori, is expecting us at her family’s bathhouse in a few hours. Maybe we can get you looked at, too.” She angled her chin toward his shoulder.
“You are a stubborn little thing. I already told you how we can alleviate my pain.” He narrowed his eyes. “You trust this fish?”
“With my life.” She placed her fists on her hips. “Do you want to complete your mission or not?”
Jax pressed his lips together for a moment before speaking. “Lead the way,
* * * *
Drago leaned back in his seat and watched the obnoxious merman enter his domain. Assan was nothing like his father, Tucker. Where the old merman liked to get in your face, his son was cut from a different cloth, more of a sneakier type. The young fish flicked the long blond hair from his shoulder. His clothing didn’t belay his status in the merpeople hierarchy. Every clan had a regent, the one who handled his people’s business, but Tucker was the king. The one merman everybody went to for help. Drago snorted, that old man was the basis for the myth Poseidon. His son, on the other hand, resembled a homeless human, dressed in ratty, torn clothes and his hair uncombed. Considering the amount of time he spent at sea, you would think his locks would appear cleaner. Tucker, he could respect. This unkempt trout that currently stood before him? Not so much, but he was a necessary evil to obtain what he wanted.
Assan stopped short of where Drago sat and held his stare.
Drago chuckled. “I’m ready to hear your proposal, fish, not that you’ve earned an audience. I recently learned that three of my dragons are out of commission thanks to your little friend. I sent them after her based on your information. Now, two of my men have shattered eardrums and the third has a broken arm.”
“My intelligence was sound. It’s not my fault you sent weak dragons after River.” Assan took a seat on the sofa adjacent to the dais Drago’s chair rested on. “I gave you that information in good faith and she was there. It was your guards who fucked up. Must be hard finding good help these days.”
“Careful, Assan. You’re in my home. Piss me off and you may leave, but I promise it will not be whole.” Drago leaned forward.
“You owe me, lizard. How quickly you forget who saved your life on Fire Island. If I hadn’t buffeted the blows my father issued when he sent you careening on the waves into the rocks…” Assan shrugged,“you would be one dead reptile and this meeting would be moot. You want the Y Ddraig Goch treasure and I want my father’s kingdom. Once we have what we want, then we can go our separate ways and never have to deal with each other again.”
“I wonder if Tucker knows that the traitor within his clan is his very own son. I want River. Do you have her or not?”
“I’ve issued orders to factions of several tribes. It will only be a matter of time before I find her. I am in negotiations with a few eastern clans who wish to establish trade agreements in shifter heavy communities on our side of the world. Once we are in a position to cut ties with you, my people will flourish and the alliance Tucker formed with Manx will no longer matter. As for my sire, he will never see me coming.” Assan smirked. “It won’t be a problem, anyway, since I plan to drop the old man in the deepest trench and swim away.”
Drago tilted his head. Curiosity filled him. “You’re willing to let Harper and River die? You don’t know what I have planned for them?”
“Collateral damage. What is the death of a few to ensure my ascension to the trident and the freedom of the merpeople from the laws of dragons?” Assan scoffed, “River is not my mate. What does it matter to me what you do to her? Her father is a blowhard that would give me problems once I take control. Working together is beneficial for us both at the moment, like killing two fish with one strike.”
“Interesting.” Drago clapped and a side door opened. A sentry hustled Harper out. “Did you hear that Harper? Your own people don’t care about your demise.”
Harper’s dark skin was tinged with an undertone of red. He huffed in short puffs. Beads of sweat dotted his temple as he thrashed against his shackles. A sentinel gripped his head by the salt-and-pepper dreadlocks to still him. Drago stared into Harper’s eyes and noted how feral he appeared. If he issued the order to release the old man, Assan wouldn’t stand a chance. The younger mer’s attitude rankled.
“I wonder, Assan, what would happen if I had my guard unlock Harper’s handcuffs.” Drago cleared his throat. “My men could use some entertainment. Watching you fish fight would make their day, I think.”
Assan slowly turned his head to stare at Harper. “Drago, I thought I made myself clear. You want River and I have the means to have her delivered to you tied in a pretty bow.
You need me
. To proceed down any other avenue will only ensure your own death. I know you’ve heard the whispers. Soon there will be a new Dragonrex.” Assan crossed his arms. “I don’t think you’d survive a malice duel with a Kavinkovy. Last time I saw him, Kirill looked extremely motivated to kill you, and to date nothing you’ve done to stop the assassin and his crew has worked. River can be extremely enticing. All she has to do is open her mouth and speak. At your direction, she may be able to insinuate herself between the couple. That is, after you’ve sampled her attributes…”
Drago looked at his guard and nodded.
The sentinel jerked Harper back. His chains rattled as he thrust forward and yelled. “I will have your head, Assan! If anything happens to my little girl, I will open you up and piss on your intestines, you little shit. Drago, don’t think I’ve forgotten you either!” His words were cut off as he was dragged over the exit’s threshold and the door slammed shut behind him.
“I want her here within seventy-two hours or our pact will be null and void.” Drago flicked his hand in dismissal.
Without another word, Assan rose, turned on his heel and stalked out the room.
“Get me Ratchet.” Drago spoke to the area at large. “Tell him I have a job for him and I want him here tomorrow.” He couldn’t allow that arrogant pissant Assan to continue to think he had him by the short hairs. No, when the young merman arrived with his prize, he wouldn’t escape alive. It was all just a matter of planning and Ratchet was his equalizer. So much better than getting his own hands dirty.
Ratchet was the one thing Nicolette had done right. He had at his disposal a beast that was loyal only to him. It was time to unleash one of his deadlier weapons.
Jax ignored the ache that riddled his arm and side. If he didn’t act soon, his body would be completely covered in the dark etchings. He studied his surroundings. The bustling city had an active nightlife. Small cars zoomed past, overloaded with passengers. He was positive there wouldn’t be enough room in the front seat for him, let alone the seven people stuffed in the vehicle that just passed him. Around them colorful lights flashed several different vibrant shades in a matter of minutes.
Goddess, he hated crowds. He stood head and shoulders above the giggling women he was surrounded by and they kept whispering and motioning toward him. River and her friends strolled ahead of him. Earlier, River had introduced Hyori. She would glance back at him and offer a bashful smile, before quickly returning her attention back to whatever River was saying. He combed his fingers through his hair. He had no idea what that was all about. His friends were right, women could boggle the mind. Instead he refocused on River’s lithe form. The play of light and shadow, defining one part of her body while hiding the others, left his mouth dry.
He didn’t sign up for this. All he was supposed to do was find the clue or the jewels Kirill talked about and complete a claiming. Easy. Instead he was stuck strolling downtown Pohang with a bunch of mermaids that would occasionally touch him while offering sly glances his way. Another woman slid up against him and tugged on the back of his jeans. The dark-haired woman had a severe ponytail pulled up tight to the center of her head. Her eyes looked huge, circled in dark liner, but the heavy makeup made her pale skin look washed out. She trailed her nails, sharpened to points, down his arm. He growled a warning low in his throat and she ran her tongue seductively over her bottom lip.
It would have worked out better if he and River had stayed at the bathhouse and waited to meet with the Mako’s tribe,
. It was Hyori and her sisters that insisted they show them the sights and River gleefully agreed. He was not leaving her alone. After her initial attack, and even with the precautions he took to conceal their movements, he couldn’t be sure they weren’t followed. Drago wanted her and he knew that bastard wouldn’t give up so easily. What he didn’t get was why the dumbass hadn’t made a move yet. His half brother wasn’t stupid, power hungry, but not foolish. A horn honked and the Asian woman rubbed up against his other side. When he looked down at her, she winked.
The chick stopped in front of him, cutting off his steps. She slowly gazed at him from toe to head. He glanced at River who kept walking, oblivious that he was no longer behind her. “Why you follow her?” She whisked a hand toward River. “I can give you everything you would want or need, mighty dragon.”
“You don’t interest me.” He bypassed her and tossed the words over his shoulder. “You’re not to my taste.” He trotted to catch up with the party.
“She won’t satisfy you.” The mermaid kept pace with him. She grabbed his arm and yanked him to a stop. “I can be very good to you.” She slid her palms down his torso.
A fiery pain burst through his chest. Jax stared down at her hand. Her touch hurt. His dragon lifted his head, curious. The interest quickly died and his beast sneered in disgust before receding to the back of his mind.
Without warning, the woman’s head snapped back and a strangled cry escaped her. He glanced up. River had her fingers curled through the woman’s ponytail. “I told you, Bali, hands…fucking…off!” She yanked and Bali shrieked.
The group surrounded them, using their bodies to keep the humans from getting too close.
Bali threw back an elbow, missed her target, but twirled her body and twisted her head to yank her tresses free.
River released her hair. “The dragon is with me, bitch. Remember that.” Her words were barely above a whisper.
“You don’t want him. I’ve been watching.” Bali smoothed the strands against her skull. “He’s a strong reptile, will make good babies.”
“You’re a damn mermaid.” River stood tall and moved to stand in front of Jax. Her hands formed fists at her side.
“And!” Bali circled them. “We would make powerful couple. Much better than what you can offer.”
Jax cocked his head. How the hell did he go from being ignored to being fought over?
“Not your business, Bali. Do. Not. Piss. Me. Off.” River exhaled.
“My town. Everything my
,” Bali scoffed. “Doesn’t matter, anyway, you be gone soon enough.” She winked at Jax and pushed through the wall of mermaids.
Jax watched Bali’s retreating figure. Her words and actions didn’t mesh. They were supposed to be friends.
River spun to face Hyori. “What the hell is she talking about?”
“Nothing. Bali jealous. She want your man.” Hyori turned an appraising glance at Jax. “Can you blame her?
River gazed at him and half smiled. “Not really, but…”
He tapped down his irritation at being judged like somebody’s prize bull and cut off from his mermaid. Jax had the feeling if the women believed River was his, she would be safe. “So, where are you taking me ladies?” He stepped forward and inserted himself between Hyori and River, slipping an arm around River’s waist, and for once she didn’t fight him. Things were looking up.