Authors: Selene Charles
Tags: #mating fever, #erotic romance, #paranormal romance, #sexy shifter romance, #erotic fantasy
“Too damned drunk to be getting hit on,” Uri snarled. The barb was obviously intended for Phoenix who just rolled his eyes and watched as they walked out the door.
“Way to cock block,” Phoenix snapped the second Urich was out of earshot.
August leaned over, fisting Phoenix’s collar before giving it a sharp jerk. “You’re a fucking mess. You know that.”
August had his own issues when it came to the mating ritual. Said issue sauntered by, casting them both a worried frown before nibbling down on her lip and scampering off.
Phoenix wolf whistled at Jackson’s retreating backside.
“Do that again,” August snarled, letting the grizzly leak through his voice, “and I’ll snap your balls off.”
“Bah.” Skunked off his ass himself, Phoenix threw a sloppy right hook at his brother’s big, fat head.
August swatted it away easily, causing Phoenix to practically fall onto his face as he slipped off the chair, and cracked his chin on the bar top on the way down.
He sat there dazed, reeking of whiskey, and shook his head.
August hopped the bar, and was crouched down at his feet a second later. But the look of obvious disgust on his face was hard to ignore, even for someone as inebriated as Phoenix now was.
“What if Madison had seen that, huh?” August asked with a stern shake of his head. “Bad enough that Urich saw it. Dammit, Phoenix, do you want the entire Draconian nation razing our asses? Because that’s exactly what’ll happen if you keep this shit up.”
“What if she did see it!” Phoenix snapped, angry himself now. Losing what precious relief he’d found in the bottle as the alcohol burned right out of him with his rage. “She doesn’t fucking own me.”
August’s jaw clenched down hard and he shook his head and Phoenix knew, just knew that his brother was fed up with him. Upset, and probably even ashamed of him.
And though Phoenix would never own up to it, that thought was like a blow to his gut. Because August’s opinion of him had always mattered to Phoenix, though he’d tried like hell to deny it through the years.
It was only thanks to August that Phoenix had even survived the night after royally fucking up Madison’s binding ceremony. August had been the one to talk down Madi’s birth parents. Explaining that Phoenix was just a shithead who was too dumb for his own good, but that he’d make sure to keep Phoenix “untainted” for their daughter.
Oh yeah, that undine had screwed him hard.
When Phoenix had shown up that morning, all proud and stupid and arrogantly eighteen he’d never dreamed that it’d been so much more than just a hatching ceremony.
That dragons, the moment they opened their eyes and latched onto the face of someone, bonded for life. That when he’d seen that dark haired child come out of her shell, standing tall and proud and lovely and for just a split second—a fucking split second—he’d leaned too far over the cliff to look at her he’d lose himself that day.
That ever since then Madison would have no choice but to follow him around, to seek out her mate and be bound to him for all time... Fuck man.
He closed his eyes, memories scrolling automatically through all the times he’d watched her watching him with her heart in her throat and her face that’d gone from prettily young to something heart achingly gorgeous as she grew. The bite of rage (at himself) sat heavy like a sack of stone in his gut.
But her life hadn’t been the only one to get screwed up. His had too. Dragons would kill anything that smelled too strongly of their mate. Meaning, Phoenix was as good a virgin now. And had been ever since that damned morning on the cliff. He might be a heartless bastard, but he’d never willingly screw someone knowing that would be the last thing they’d ever do again.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There’d been an incident between him and Madi last year. He’d been drunk. She’d been drunk. He was pretty sure he hadn’t breached her, surely he’d remember something like that. But her hatred of him had no doubt sprung from that fateful night when he’d gotten just drunk enough to forget his rule about not touching her. All he knew was August had flipped his shit after that and told him that if he ever,
laid a hand on Madi again it had better be to mate for life, or not at all.
Wasn’t often that his brother threatened him with bodily harm, but August had been deadly serious that day.
And now his own mating ritual was upon him. August was sure that Madison was his one true mate, but Phoenix wasn’t so sure. Because though he could admit that there wasn’t anything hotter on two legs than that woman, all he felt when he looked at her was guilt, shame, and regret.
Phoenix didn’t want to go through with this shit. In fact, he was half tempted to become a eunuch, but then he’d wake up with morning wood and rocking into his hand for any kind of relief from the constant ache of blue balls and he knew there was no damn way he could never
have sex again.
Only problem was, unless he did it with Madison, he’d never actually get to do it with another person again.
And Madison wasn’t that keen on him anyway, not after that night. He only fucking wished he could remember what exactly he’d said or done to make her go from looking at him like he was her hero, to the male she wished to obliterate.
Yeah, she practically lived with him and his brothers now. Her cabin was only a few hundred meters from theirs, she worked as a waitress in August’s bar full time, and even showed up to every family function they had.
But Phoenix was pretty sure they’d not said more than a handful of words to each other in all those years. He knew she resented him. And deep down, he hated himself for what he’d done to her too.
A dragon stuck with a fucking bear, life wasn’t fair sometimes.
In the end, the undine had definitely gotten the last laugh.
“Fuck man,” he squeezed out, rubbing his brow and growling, “what if it’s not her? What if I screw her over again and fall in love with someone else? What then, August? You know what her family will do to me.”
Phoenix had gone through the pros and cons of this ceremony ad nauseam at this point. There was really nothing more to say that was going to make any of this all right. The only possible pro was that maybe, just maybe August was right and by some fluke of fate Madi really was his mate. Way he figured, that would probably be the only way he’d ever be able to let go of the guilt he shouldered from that day.
But even if she was his mate, how would he be able to make this up to her? She’d lost years to his stupid mistake, and so had he. And though it sucked like hell not to be able to have sex, the worst part of the whole thing was knowing he’d royally jacked up her life.
She was a species that could live thousands of years; he wouldn’t come anywhere close to that. Once he passed on, she’d still be bound to him. Not much in life had ever fazed Phoenix, he’d been reckless, wild, and stupid. But that day on the cliff had changed him forever, and for him, that’d been one sin there’d be no coming back from.
So even if he was able to finally try to make things work with them, there was nothing saying she’d be ready to now, or even ever.
Dragons were built different than other Breed. Just because you were mated, didn’t mean you were ever safe from their wrath.
August gently slapped Phoenix’s cheek, jerking him out of his dark thoughts.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about this ritual, and I gotta believe that even if things look bleak now, they’ll get better. They have to, Phoenix, otherwise what’s the point?”
Jackson walked by again lugging a crate full of beer bottles, pointedly ignoring the two of them, and August turned to look at her, his heart in his eyes and his face looking shattered.
Phoenix wasn’t the only one dealing with shit right now, he knew it. And he also knew that being in this bar and drinking his problem away wasn’t helping matters either.
“Shit,” he drawled. “I’m a damn mess.” He ran his fingers through his hair.
Just then Urich came back in, but he didn’t bother sparing Phoenix a passing glance.
Urich had never been his biggest fan, and was even less so now that the ritual was nearly upon them. Phoenix was almost sure that unless the ritual revealed Madison was his intended mate too, her brother would very gladly and happily eviscerate him.
Standing, August held out his hand to Phoenix, which he took. His brother helped him to stand, and the world swam all around him.
“Thanks, man. And I’m...” He ground his jaw.
August clapped his shoulder and squeezed. “Go sleep it off. You’re good.”
And just like that August gave him the absolution he’d needed to hear tonight. Giving him a tight nod, he brushed past his brother and headed for the door. He had his hands in his pockets and his head bent, looking at the floor as thoughts of Madison continued to flood his brain.
What was he gonna do?
Phoenix was so deep in thought that he never saw the shadow that suddenly blocked his path, and he smacked headlong into a wall.
Or at least what’d felt like a wall.
“Ow, shit!” he snapped, rubbing at his nose, feeling as though it’d been shoved up his nasal cavity. With teary eyes, he looked up at a very sexy, very angry Madison.
She had her arms crossed beneath her breasts, and had them pushed up, looking like two, ripe juicy melons that immediately had his mouth watering and his cock twitching.
Dressed as she typically was in her black tank top stenciled with the Junk Yard’s name on it, and wearing a blue jean skirt that barely covered the goods and showed off her sexy, athletic legs, Phoenix wanted to claw the eyes out of every male in the place if they even dared so much as to look for longer than a second at her.
And though her body was rocking, her face was equally as stunning. She always wore her wild halo of dark hair down and tumbling sexily around her shoulders, so that it looked like she’d just been fucked and good. Madison wore hardly any make-up, but then she didn’t need to. The only thing she ever did was paint dark eyeliner along the tops of her eyelids, no doubt to accentuate eyes that looked like freshly melted gold, and apply a little lip-gloss so that her rosebud lips always had a wet sheen to them. Fuck me lips, he liked to call them.
Her nostrils flared, no doubt catching the whiff of his obvious interest. And those gorgeous golden eyes of hers narrowed into razor thin slits.
Not once in all the years he’d known her had Madison ever said anything to him about the women he’d flirted with.
Always she’d just toss him a tragic look filled with pain and the obvious question of “why?” And always, the answer for him had been the same thing: she shouldn’t have been saddled with him.
She should have had her own proud dragonborne to call her own. She should be sailing the skies alongside her brother, not grounded on land and forced to follow around some dickhead who’d been someplace he never should have been all those years ago.
Phoenix hadn’t ever realized he’d been sabotaging them, even though that’s exactly what he’d been doing. Because he’d seen her grow up. It’s not like he raised her, and he definitely knew she wasn’t his kin. But he’d watched her blossom from a child to a woman.
Knowing all along that because of him she’d been forced to troth herself to him. A bear. Breed rarely interbreed, but dragons never did. At least none he’d ever heard of.
And why would they, when their mate would be destined to die centuries, sometimes even millennia before them.
But tonight Madison wasn’t looking hurt or sad. No, she’d stopped looking at him like that recently. In fact, for the past year he’d felt her contempt for him twist like a knife in his gut. He’d wanted her to leave him, and now that he felt her pulling back the truth was the pain of it hurt a helluva lot worse than he’d expected.
“Whoring it up, Phoenix?” she asked sweetly.
This dragon looked like she wanted to skin him, eat him, and then play with his liver for dessert.
He grinned, feeling that old reckless mood take him. A sensation he’d not felt for years now. And he was just drunk enough not to question what he was about to do.
As though understanding that something had altered inside him, she rocked back on her heels, squeezing her hands into fists by her sides. “Grizzly, you’d better no—”
“Shut up,” he snarled, and then fisting her hair in his hand, he yanked her toward him, slid his palm up to cradle the back of her neck, and brought her face to his.
Claiming her lips in a scorching, possessive kiss full of raw, primal emotion.
There was anger. Humiliation. Rage. Repentance. Contrition. And deep down, in a tiny unexplored corner of his soul...need.
For her alone.
For the first time ever he opened that box. Her hands were on his shoulders, her claws sunk in tight to his flesh, but she wasn’t shoving him back. Madison was kissing him back with the type of angry fervor that matched his own.
And Phoenix forgot where they were or even who was watching. Forget about Urich glaring death at him. Or August no doubt looking at him with a mix of terror and confusion and wondering whether his brother had completely snapped.
Hell, Phoenix was confused too. He’d had no intention of shoving his tongue halfway down her throat. Or rubbing up against her so that she could feel the steel of his cock on her thigh. Hadn’t meant to move her back up against the wall, so that he’d have the leverage to cup her left breast in his palm and stroke her nipple to a tight point.
She was making the most adorable whimpers in the back of her throat, but mixed in with those heated, seductive purrs were deep bassy growls.
She hated him. And she should. He hated himself too.
But she tasted like lightning, and though he knew he was playing with fire, Phoenix wanted to drown in her. Forget everything. Forget who they were for just a second and pretend that she was someone else, anyone else...just a woman. Just an innocent, pure, unspoiled woman who meant nothing to him.
Who didn’t make his pulse pound like a drum beat, and made his head grow thick and fuzzy with lust and desire so sharp and cutting it felt hard to breathe.