Authors: Tianna Xander
Tags: #Paranormal, #Romance, #Dragon, #Shifter
Jasmine studied the landscape as Ryuu flew over the island. There was no question he carried her to his lair. The lush foliage, full of life and color drew her gaze as she imagined what it would be like to have the talent to paint the beautiful setting. She only wished she
Colorful flowers grew abundantly on vines that covered the ground and climbed the flourishing trees, searching for sunlight when the canopy grew too thick for them to crawl over the jungle floor. There was no arguing that the island was gorgeous. Something within the thriving landscape called to her and Jasmine’s heart clenched. Why couldn’t she be certain about the way she felt? Part of her was sure she loved Ryuu, while another part wondered if the reasons she felt anything at all for him were more insidious.
What would she do if he refused to take her home? She couldn’t allow him to bind them together. She refused to do that to him—to either of them. Somehow, she must convince him to take her back to the house Drake rented for her. Though the island was beautiful, she couldn’t allow its magnificence to convince her to stay.
Ryuu’s voice in her head interrupted her thoughts and she bit her lip. So far, he hadn’t been able to read her thoughts, but the idea scared her. What if he already knew her every argument? Would the knowledge help him persuade her to stay here with him?
“What question?” Jasmine pressed her lips together. Obviously, she couldn’t put off the inevitable much longer.
Ryuu spead his wings wide and banked to the left to circle around the taller trees on the mountain.
He deserved an answer. Jasmine knew it. She just didn’t know what to tell him. The truth, while tempting, was out of the question. Even
knew he wasn’t going to like, or accept the fact she was afraid of her reasons for accepting. They weren’t good enough. Not for her and they certainly shouldn’t be good enough for him, but she knew dragons. She should. She’d lived with her sister, April, and her brother-in-law, Drake for a little over a year now. Dragons didn’t like to hear the word
“Because.” Jasmine barely stopped herself from adding more. She knew from experience that the more difficult it was for a dragon to get an answer, the more likely he was to believe it.
Ryuu was right. That was a non-answer if ever there was one.
“Can’t it wait until we get to your home and I have something to eat? I’m starving.”
Jasmine looked down at the large paws that held her. It amazed her that he could cradle her so gently with his huge claws. One would think them designed more for violence, than gentleness.
Closing her eyes, Jasmine realized that, for the first time in months, she felt safe outside her sister’s home. She no longer feared the threat of zombies following her about or the ever-present fear of whomever it was who wished the Flowers sisters harm.
Could it mean that Ryuu
was her mate? If so, could she accept him without fear of it being for all the wrong reasons? Surely, things would work out in the end, wouldn’t they?
Deep in thought, Jasmine almost missed seeing the entrance to the cave tucked into the mountainside as Ryuu came in for a landing. Just as he had before, Ryuu set her gently on her feet before he landed. The trees shook around them as the cliff shuddered beneath his dragon’s weight and Jasmine grabbed hold of a tree so she wouldn’t fall.
She watched with wonder as he shifted his shape from his translucent dragon to that of the pure, flesh and blood male to whom she found herself so attracted.
“There is nothing here to eat.” Ryuu led her into the darkened interior. Moving closer, he wrapped his arm around her waist. “To steady you. I don’t want you to trip and fall,” he said when she involuntarily stiffened. “The cave floor is uneven and you can’t see in the dim light as well as I can.”
That was an understatement. Jasmine couldn’t see a thing. She stumbled several times and was grateful for his assistance.
Ryuu faded out for a moment. One minute he was there, holding her, the next he was gone. Jasmine figured out why when she saw his translucent form as he breathed fire on a trough to light it. The trough, filled with something that smelled similar to kerosene, ran through the trough that circled the large cavern.
“Oh, my!” Jasmine stopped to stare. Gemstones of all colors, shapes. and sizes covered the walls, twinkling brightly. It was as though someone had covered the walls, from floor to ceiling, with rhinestones.
Ryuu led her deeper into the cave. The chamber was large. The furniture it held was old, very old, though the antiques were still in perfect shape.
“How do you keep animals out of here?” Jasmine spun around looking at the pristine upholstery.
With a small smile, Ryuu leaned back against a huge sideboard set against a wall and crossed his arms and legs. “They respect my powers,” he answered with a shrug. “Whatever residual energy I leave behind deters them from entering to use the stuffing of my furniture as their homes. It has been so for as long as I can remember.”
Jasmine’s eyes widened. “You’ve never had ants or roaches?” She looked around again. Holy Hannah! That kind of residual power would be awesome! She grinned at his expression.
“Why no, I haven’t, now that you mention it. I’ve often heard of others complaining of the pests in their homes, but I have never had an issue with them. Spiders don’t seem to like me much either. They make their homes outside of my dwellings, but never inside.”
They’re protecting you. I remember my mother saying something about spiders being a form of protection. Of course, Jasmine wouldn’t know much about it. Neither she, nor her sisters dabbled much with magic because they always had disastrous results.
“It must be nice, being your own pest repellant and all.”
“I don’t know about it being nice.” He pinned her with his silver gaze. “I do know it is lonely.”
Jasmine nervously licked her lips. She wasn’t ready to talk to him about that yet. She hadn’t decided if she could accept his suit, and if she did, what the consequences would be. There were always consequences.
“You promised me a meal before we talked about that.” She didn’t mention his offer to visit her parents. Taking him up on that wouldn’t be fair and she was weak enough to accept if he offered again.
Ryuu pushed away from the wall. “I will have to go out to find you something. There is nothing to eat here. I haven’t been here for years.” He moved to another doorway in the back of the large room. “Promise me you’ll stay within sight of the cave and I will go find us something to eat. I should be back in less than an hour. If you like, I shall search for your parents after you’ve eaten.”
“Okay. I’ll stay here.” She looked around the room that Ryuu had meticulously decorated to look like a living room and dining room area of a home. He had covered most of the walls with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lined with hundreds of books. “I should be able to keep myself busy while you’re gone.”
“Good.” He gave her a sharp nod. “I will return as quickly as I can.” Ryuu turned to go, then stopped to face her once again. “Is there anything you don’t like or cannot eat? I would hate to bring you back something you are allergic to.”
“Don’t try to feed me anything out of the ordinary, like squid, shark or snakes. Anything weird is out.”
“Got it,” Ryuu said with a grin. “Nothing weird for the zombie queen.” Still smiling, he stuck his hands in his pockets and walked through the door.
“Zombie queen?” Jasmine could see the irony of her statement about nothing weird. However, it didn’t mean that Ryuu needed to rub it in. She could deal with weird anytime, as long as it wasn’t on her plate. After a moment, Jasmine grinned. “I’ll show him his zombie queen.” Now, if she could only remember the way outside…
After about an hour, Ryuu had found enough food to make a meal for two and headed back to the cave. He had made sure to stay close to the caverns to protect Jasmine, though he was certain there was no need.
He figured the safest route to dinner was fish and fruit. First, he gathered a few coconuts, added a pineapple, some bananas and a few mangos. After that, he went fishing. He cooked his catch using his fire and the juice of several lemons.
Standing back, he looked at the feast he prepared and hoped it met with Jasmine’s satisfaction. Otherwise, their stay here would be shorter than he had hoped.
Wrapping the food in palm fronds that he’d washed in the fresh-water spring, Ryuu gathered up his bounty and headed back to his lair.
“Stop playing with my feet. They aren’t your next meal. Besides weren’t you supposed to be a vegetarian?”
Ryuu could hear Jasmine as he approached the caves, but he couldn’t see her. He frowned. Who was she talking to? As far as Ryuu knew, he was the only person who frequented this place. Even natives never visited this island. At least there weren’t any drawings or artwork anywhere to suggest that they had.
His mouth dropped open and he stumbled to a stop when he rounded the corner and saw just
Jasmine had addressed.
“Hey! Don’t drop my dinner. I’m starving.” Jasmine lowered herself from a rock and gingerly skirted what appeared to be the bones, of a reanimated, long-extinct, wooly mammoth.
“How in the world did
“Like I’m supposed to know? This is your island not mine. Maybe this was attached to a colder part of Gaia.” Reaching out, Jasmine took the palm fronds that were still warm, and opened them. “Fish! And you cooked it.” Smiling, she leaned forward and took a deep breath. “It smells good, too!” Looking up, she met his gaze. “You can never go wrong with lemon on your fish. It’s one of those all around condiments.” Reaching into the leaf, she broke off a tender-looking piece and popped it into her mouth with a groan. “You sure do know how to cook.” She winked at him. “Where’d you get the fire. As if I didn’t know, dragon-man.”
“Where do you think, woman?” He said with a growl before he wrapped an arm around Jasmine’s waist and yanked her against him.
“Stop that!” She slapped his arm and pulled away. “You’ll make me drop my dinner, then fur ball, over there, will try to eat it,” she said, waving her arm in the direction of the skeleton of the mammoth infant at her left. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not touching it after
nasty, petrified teeth have been all over it.” She broke off another piece of fish and offered it to Ryuu. “Here. Try a bite.”
Ryuu’s entire body clenched when her fingers touched his lips. Didn’t the woman know what she did to him? Her touch could very well drive him over the edge and he could attempt to force her compliance.
Slowly, Ryuu reached up and took the fish from her to set the morsel on his tongue. He knew how it would taste. He’d been cooking fish the same way for years.
Still, even knowing how it would taste didn’t stop the shock of the flavor that burst over his tongue when he closed his mouth. Was it because he partook of it in the presence of his mate? Or was it because she had touched it?
Someone once told him that his sense of taste relied on his sense of smell. Could it be that his mate’s unique scent that made the food taste so delicious? Whatever it was, made his taste buds come alive.
Jasmine smiled up at him, her green eyes twinkling. “See? You really outdid yourself. This tastes great.” She stopped to pop another piece of fish into her mouth, then closed her eyes with a groan.
Turning, she carried the packet of fronds over to a flat rock and peeled it open. “Oh! I love pineapple.” Jasmine divided the food into two separate portions and handed him a leaf filled with his half. “I gave you more because I’m sure your appetite is bigger than mine. Besides,” she said as she picked up her portion, “
put all of this together, it’s only fair that you get a larger portion.”
Gingerly she picked up a slice of mango and sniffed it. “What’s this? It smells funny.” She turned it around and looked at it from different angles.
“It’s mango. It’s good for you.”
“Everyone knows that if it’s good for you, it’s going to taste bad.”
Ryuu wanted to laugh when she wrinkled her nose at it. Instead, he picked up a sizable chunk of the yellowish orange fruit and popped it into his mouth. “See? It’s delicious.”
“Sure it is.” She made a face. “We once had a dog that loved to eat rotten frogs. I’m sure he thought those were good, too. It doesn’t mean that
want to eat them.”
Ryuu choked on his mango. “Are you comparing me to your dog?”
Jasmine stared at him through wide eyes. “I’m just sayin’.” She shook her head with a sigh. “Just because you think it’s good, doesn’t mean
will.” She brought the fruit to her lips and nibbled the sweet flesh. “It’s okay, but I like the pineapple better.” She tossed the perfectly good slice of mango toward the pile of walking bones. “There you go, fur ball. Have some mango.”
“Why do you insist on calling that thing furball? He has no hair.” Ryuu watched as the
in question tried to eat the slice of fruit. The thing tossed the mango into the air and tried to catch it, but the fruit fell through its jawbone to the ground. However, that didn’t stop it from wagging its skeletal tail and trying again.
“He’s easily amused, isn’t he?” Jasmine said with a giggle.
“Um…yes. He is.” The mammoth also seemed harmless enough. However, Ryuu wasn’t certain he would leave it alone with his mate. “How are we going to get rid of it?”
“Get rid of fur ball?” she moved to stand in front of the creature as though he would kill it on the spot. The baby mammoth leaned into her and rubbed its head against her like a cat.
Ryuu might have tried to kill it if he knew of a way to do so. However, the way
saw it, killing the thing was out of the question, since it was already dead. How did one kill a bunch of bones other than separating them and burying them in separate graves? Somehow, he didn’t think that would work unless the holes he dug for them were on opposite sides of the island.
“I’m not going to incinerate him, you know.” Hey, that wasn’t a bad idea. He leaned to the side and eyed fur ball. Could he hit it with a blast of fire and dissolve the bones into dust?
“Stop looking at him like that.” Jasmine moved into his line of vision again. “This is all your fault, you know. I never would have come out here by myself if you hadn’t called me queen of the zombies.” She crossed her arms and scowled. Every time I go out, I raise some sort of dead creature.”
“You didn’t when we first got here.”
“Of course I didn’t!” she snapped at him. “
were with me, you big goon!”
“What have I got to do with it?” Ryuu knew the answer to that. He could only hope she would admit she knew it was because she was his mate and he helped balance her magic.
“It was because I was distracted.” She looked away, refusing to meet his gaze. “Your kisses distracted my magic or something.”
“Or something?” Why wouldn’t she just admit he was her mate and that was why she had more control when he was around?