Authors: Lolita Lopez
New York Boston
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old and hungry, Ivy Morales blinked away the tears clouding her vision. The icy metal slab under her body amplified her discomfort and fear. The cuffs locking her wrists and ankles to the table were bad enough, but the strap across her throat sent waves of panic through her chest. She swallowed anxiously and tried to calm her racing heart.
A rustle of fabric accompanied by an unpleasant smell warned her what was coming. With a whisper of movement, a strange woman garbed in voluminous black robes entered the room. From what Ivy could tell, it was a prison hospital operating theater that had been converted into a place for interrogation—or worse.
Almost instantly, her head began to throb. Somehow, some way, this woman and the men who had kidnapped her had uncovered her secret. They knew things about her that no one, not even her parents, had known. Now this nefarious woman dug around in Ivy’s mind and tried to mine all the information she could.
But Ivy was stronger and proving to be more difficult than that creepy woman seemed to have expected. She found a grim sort of satisfaction in thwarting their plans. So much of her control and power had been taken away when she had been kidnapped. She enjoyed frustrating them and denying them what they wanted—but it caused her a great deal of pain.
How much longer would this torment last? She tried to remember how many marks she had scratched onto the walls of her prison cell with that sharp rock. With each new slash and every passing day, the glimmer of hope within her grew dimmer and dimmer.
Like the wet, cold worm slithering along her neck, that awful
—because Ivy was seriously beginning to doubt the female presence was even human—psychically slipped into her ear and began twisting up into Ivy’s brain. Hissing with pain, she gritted her teeth and clamped down hard on her memories. She had learned to push all the energy she could muster into maintaining that impervious membrane between her memories and that
probing psychic finger.
Every now and then, she threw the Mind Miner a bone. Tonight, she let it see memories of her childhood birthday parties. It wasn’t what that smelly hag wanted, but Ivy didn’t much care. She wasn’t going to break. Not tonight.
Drifting deeper and deeper into a dreamlike state, Ivy embraced that side of her she had dutifully kept hidden all these years. It was the side of her that remained as mysterious and unknown as the names and fates of the birth parents who had abandoned her as a baby. She had been loved and cherished by her adoptive parents, but she had always wondered where she had come from—and why she was different.
So different that these evil people had taken her from her spring break getaway and locked her away in this old Mexican prison to torture her. So different that sometimes she honestly believed she wasn’t human at all.
Because you are not human, Ivy.
The unexpected sound of a proud male voice ricocheting around her mind almost shattered her concentration. Her psychic tormentor pounced on that momentary weakness and tried to get inside the thin spot in Ivy’s mental wall. A quiver of fear pierced her heart. She couldn’t fail. She had to be strong.
You are not human, Ivy. You are one of us.
An invisible fist gripped Ivy’s core right behind her navel and dragged her into a mind space that wasn’t her own. She tried to make sense of what was happening. The sensations gripping her body were so strong and real she briefly entertained the idea that she might be hallucinating until she realized that there were boundaries to the psychic space she occupied. She couldn’t manipulate this new place as easily as her own thoughts and memories, which meant…
This strange place was someone else’s dream!
Her bare feet touched cold, hard cement. She blinked and tried to focus her fuzzy vision. A quick glance left and right told her she was standing in a gym. It looked like some kind of training center for fighters, probably mixed martial arts. Judging by the dimmed lights and silence, it was after hours and closed.
But she could hear a shower running somewhere in the large space. Tiptoeing quietly through this strange dream world, she followed the sound to the entrance of a locker room. She took a single step forward and stopped. Even if it was only a dream, there were still rules about respecting another person’s privacy.
“He’s searching for you.”
That raspy male voice startled her. She spun around and spotted a flash of movement on the shadowy edges of the gym. Tall, lean, and tattooed, a man stepped forward, but his face remained hidden by darkness. The more she studied him, the fuzzier he looked, almost as if he was out of focus.
It finally occurred to her that the mental strength required to project himself into this dream, a dream that wasn’t hers or his but some third person’s, must have been great. But maybe there was too much interference from the Mind Miner? It was like static on a television screen, distorting his image and presence.
The shadowy man stalked toward her with long, purposeful strides. She backed up and hit the wall behind her. As he drew closer, he made a point of showing her that he meant no harm. He wasn’t here to hurt her. No, he seemed more intent on guiding her.
But toward what?
“Look at me.” He grasped her shoulders and hauled her closer. She stared up into his shadowy face but couldn’t find his eyes. “Look
The grip on her shoulders tightened almost painfully. She stared into the fathomless darkness of his face—and saw
. A lifetime of dreams flooded her mind. How many nights had she awoken shaking and in a cold sweat because of those wildly vivid dreams of winged creatures and bloodied knights?
He turned her gently and pressed her forward through the doorway of the locker room, around a bench, and into the alcove lined with showers. She didn’t want to intrude, but she couldn’t stop walking. Her feet seemed to be controlled by him.
Ivy tried to avert her eyes when she realized there was a naked man standing under the shower spray, but the shadow man cupped her face between his rough palms and lifted her head. She trained her gaze on the showering man’s back. He had brawny shoulders and the widest back she had ever seen. Tattoos swirled along his tanned skin. The symbols marking him looked ancient and powerful.
This man looked powerful.
Water sluiced along his muscular shoulders and biceps. He fit her vision of a brawler with his huge size, but she sensed he was a skilled and refined fighter. The total opposite of every man that she had ever dated, the beast lathering soap on his muscular arms awakened a clawing need within her. She became intensely aware of his scent, a smell so strong and enticing that she breathed it deep into her lungs and held it there.
“He’s been searching for you for ages.” The hands clasping her face dropped to her shoulders. “Let him find you, Ivy. Let him save you.” Strong fingers squeezed her shoulders. “And then you can save us.”
Unable to look away from the man who had enthralled her with his powerful presence and intoxicating scent, Ivy swallowed hard. She didn’t understand it, but she felt as if this moment might truly be the first step along the path to find the answers to the questions that had plagued her since childhood.
“How?” she asked, her voice small and faint.
“Reveal yourself. He’ll do the rest.”
It sounded too easy, but she had to try. This might be her only chance at rescue. She had to grab hold with both hands and fight. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the showering man.
See me. Turn around, and see me.
When Ivy opened her eyes, she found startlingly green irises fixed on her. The shadowy male presence that had guided her this far slowly faded and disappeared. Now she existed in this dream space with only this green-eyed man.
The unbidden thought shocked her, but it felt strangely right. Something primal inside her flared white-hot at the idea that she belonged to this great big hulk of a man. Judging by the smoldering and intense expression on his handsome face, he felt the same. He tilted his head and stepped out from under the shower spray. His gaze raked over her from head to toe and back up again. He seemed confused by her presence but curious.
“Who’s there?” A gruff, deep voice echoed in the locker room. “I can feel you. I can
you. Step out and face me.”
He can’t see me. Why can’t he see me?
Ivy opened her mouth to answer him in the hopes that he might be able to hear her, but a painful sensation twisted her stomach. Doubled over, she choked on the agonizingly sharp pain. She braced herself on the wall and stumbled out of the locker room and back onto the main gym floor.
Except it wasn’t a gym anymore. Ivy found herself standing in a graveyard. Everywhere she looked there were tombstones. Hugging herself and burning with pain, she took wobbly steps across the damp grass. She didn’t understand this new place. Was the beast from the shower thinking of this cemetery? Or was it the Mind Miner?
Surrounded by death, she lurched forward as a violent force ripped her out of the dream and right back into her own mind. Her psychic tormenter struck out with one final mental blow before angrily but weakly retreating fully from Ivy’s mind. The pain began to fade, and Ivy gulped air into her lungs.
Cold and trembling, she refused to open her eyes or look at that evil
that had tortured her. After the woman left the room, Ivy blinked away the tears dripping from her eyes. A slow, determined smile curved her parched, cracked lips.
Tomorrow night, she promised herself. Tomorrow night, she would try again—and the night after that and the night after that. Somehow, some way, she was going to make him see her. Somehow, some way, she was getting out of here.
ne night of sleep.
Ian Madoc silently bargained with the universe to give him one single night of uninterrupted sleep. Sliding into bed, he flopped onto his back and draped his arm over his tired eyes. His head pounded, and his joints ached. Mouth dry, he reached for the glass of water on the bedside table and drained it in four long gulps. That should have been enough to tide him over until morning, but his parched tongue demanded more.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Mad shoved out of bed and trudged into the bathroom. He filled the glass with cold water from the tap and drank it straight down before refilling it and carrying it back to the bedside table. As he crawled between the sheets, his stomach growled angrily. For dinner, he had eaten half a damned cow! How in the world could he be hungry all ready?
Rolling onto his stomach, Mad tried to make sense of all the strange symptoms he’d been experiencing. The hunger and thirst he could attribute to the heavy work schedule at the gym he owned with his cousin Griffin. Business was booming, and he was spending more time training clients and engaged in heavy physical labor. The head and muscle aches he chalked up to stress, but the spiked increase in his libido? That one had him concerned. Lately, all he could think about was sex.
He had almost considered that he was about to go into heat, but he was two years too early for a heat phase so it definitely wasn’t that. The uncontrollable urge to mate came upon dragon shifters like himself every three years until they found their other half. Like most dragons sworn to the Brotherhood of the Green Hide, Mad had chosen to remain unmated and to commit his life to the cause of defending their kind against the murderous Knights. Only Stig Wyvern had broken that pact so far, choosing to keep his mostly human mate Cora. Of course, with Griff locked away with the Naga shifter Avani Monroe during a shared mating phase, there might be another Brother adding his name to that list.
Perhaps it had something to do with the bizarre and unsettling dreams he had been sharing with a faceless female presence. Somehow, some way, this woman had managed to worm her way into his mind while he slept. The dreams started differently every night, but she was always there. He couldn’t see her face, but he could smell her. Some mornings he woke up with her tempting scent clinging to his nostrils, teasing him with something that was always just out of reach. Twenty-one nights of dreams, and he was no closer to knowing her identity than when they had first started.
The gnawing hunger, the unquenchable thirst, the chill that followed him everywhere—they all meant something, but what?
Burying his face in his pillow, Mad closed his eyes and tried to ignore his hollow stomach. The moment his eyelids shuttered, he experienced the strongest tug toward sleep. He hadn’t known exhaustion like this in years, not since the war with the Knights of St. George had been at one of its peaks.
In recent months, the attacks from that human shadow group hell-bent on eradicating all dragons had been in an upswing. Mad feared a full-blown war was inevitable. After a lull of nearly a century, the Knights seemed to have regrouped and strengthened. The attack like the one that had nearly killed Stig and his new mate Cora were meant to provoke a response—and that was exactly what they were going to get if they continued to push. Unfortunately, any response by the Brotherhood would be one that would lead to heavy casualties on both sides.
A lulling hum pulled him away from his troubled thoughts. Mad surrendered to the warm current dragging him down into the deepest, murkiest waters of sleep. Like every night for the past three weeks, he found himself walking the bustling streets of a Mexican seaside town. Mariachis played for the tourists while young boys hawked small packs of gum. The scents and sounds of the busy
were so vividly real. If he reached out and took one of the
for sale, he would have been able to taste the sweetness of the watermelon and feel the icy chill against his tongue.
The scene morphed, and darkness settled over him. The rich trill of trumpets faded and was replaced by the thumping bass of a dance beat. Now he was in a nightclub, one of the big, glitzy nightspots that catered to the moneyed college crowd that descended every spring.
But his vantage point was all wrong as he weaved through the thick, pulsing crowd. He was down low and at risk of being crushed by all the bodies jamming the dance floor. Someone jostled him, and he stumbled backward and only barely managed to catch his balance and avoid a nasty spill.
Looking up into the face of the red-haired man who had slammed into him, Mad realized he wasn’t watching the revelry from above as he had every night before this. He was
the body of the dreamer and sharing this bizarre sleep state with him. He was in
body, the nameless, faceless presence who owned this world where he now trespassed.
And she was small. Judging by the height difference between her and the man who had nearly knocked her over, the woman was barely an inch or two above five feet. Despite her tiny stature, she didn’t take any shit from the man who had whacked her with his bigger body. When he slid closer in a provocative manner, she put up both hands and shoved hard. Shaking her head, she sidestepped the taller man’s grabby hands and continued her hazardous trek across the packed dance floor.
A desperate urge to protect this tiny woman blazed within him. It was a sensation he could no longer deny. Since the first dream they had shared, he had been unable to shake this growing need within him. He wanted to know her. He wanted to see her smile and hear her laugh. More than anything, he wanted to be the one holding her hand and guiding her through the crowd, using his bigger, stronger frame to shield her from all others.
Despite playing down his dreams to Griffin, Mad grudgingly acknowledged that this was no simple case of psychic energy siphoning. This was so much more complicated and dangerous. A word he never dared imagine he would ever claim floated in the back of his mind. While he wanted to insist that it was impossible that this unknown woman was
, he couldn’t deny the feeling clenching his gut.
She entered a room at the rear of the club. A bathroom, he quickly realized, as women chatted and primped at the sinks. She entered an empty stall and locked it. Worried this dream was about to get awkward, he experienced a wave of relief when she leaned back against the stall door and closed her eyes. Suddenly, he could hear her thoughts.
Leave. Leave and stay far away
A cold sensation crept along his spine. His stomach pitched, and his chest tightened. He wanted to get out of her body and out of the bathroom as quickly as possible, but he was anchored in her mind. The other women in the bathroom weren’t as tightly moored. One by one, they drifted out of the bathroom.
Confused, Mad tried to figure out if what he was experiencing was truly a dream or if it was a memory. If it was a memory, if this was a snapshot of a real moment, had she really cleared an entire room with a single thought? Was this woman more than human?
She exited the stall and crossed to the entrance. She locked it from the inside and then marched to the closest mirror. He expected to finally catch a glimpse of her face but the mirror’s surface looked smoky and smudged. Despite being totally alone in the bathroom, he sensed a dark, evil presence lurking just out of sight. A cold, unsettling sensation crawled along his skin.
With shaking hands, she flipped the clasp on her small black purse and retrieved a tube of lipstick. She dropped the lid into the sink and twisted the base. Using the flirty pink shade like a pencil, she started to write on the mirror.
My name is Ivy Morales.
I have been missing for three weeks.
I am like you.
I need your help.
As Mad read the message she scrawled on the mirror, he experienced a rough and painful shoving sensation that squeezed the air out of his lungs. The mirror’s reflection began to clear, the murky fogginess fading, and suddenly he saw himself standing behind a petite black-haired beauty in a shiny purple dress. Their gazes locked in the mirror. Her striking eyes, one the color of coffee and the other a vibrant shade of reptilian gold with crimson flecks, told the entire story.
She wasn’t human. She wasn’t dragon. She was both.
She held up her hand, lifting it just over her shoulder, and silently asked him to take it. He grasped her smaller hand, her fingers thin and delicate, and marveled at the electric zing that arced along his skin. Gripping his hand, she spun toward him and stepped in close. The air rushed from his lungs when he peered down at her. His heart did a wild flip, and he swallowed hard.
. Her name ricocheted around in his mind. Something about this young woman with dark hair and pouty lips was so familiar. The faintest tickle of a thought teased him but he couldn’t drag it forth. Entranced by her oddly hued eyes, he held his breath when her fingertip traced the edge of his jaw and his bottom lip. She was too short to reach any higher, even in her heels. He cupped her face in one big hand, silently urging her to stay perfectly still so he could study her features. No answer came to him.
In a club so packed with humans, he shouldn’t have been so incredibly aware of the scent of one single half-dragon girl. There were too many perfumes, colognes, and all of that alcohol mixing with the smell of sweat and pheromones to mask the familiar earthen smell of a dragon. Yet he had no trouble at all picking out the notes of lavender and sandalwood clinging to her.
The urge to breathe in her unique scent gripped him. He leaned down and nuzzled her neck, drawing in the smell of her and holding it in his lungs until every last cell was saturated. He watched tiny bumps blossom on Ivy’s skin as he brushed the tip of his nose along the curve of her neck. She gripped his shirt and rose on tiptoes to press against him, molding her nubile form to his hard chest.
Something inside him snapped. For weeks, he had been a mere spectator in these dreams. Now he wanted to participate. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he hauled her right up off the floor and deposited her on the edge of the sink. Ivy gasped at his display of strength. Her eyelids shuttered briefly. When they parted again, both eyes had shifted to that golden color and her pupils were long slits. He didn’t have to glance at his reflection to know that his were now the same red shade as the scales of his inner beast.
She slid her hands along his arms and shoulders and clasped either side of his neck. He dipped down and teased his nose against hers before brushing his lips to hers with the barest whisper of contact. Mad tangled his fingers in those long, dark waves and tilted her head back. Her excited breaths sent a quiver of anticipation through his chest. She trembled against him, and the feel of her smaller body shaking like that did wild things to his heart.
Finally, he captured her soft, pouty lips. What began as a gentle, chaste kiss quickly morphed into something far more dangerous. He traced the seam of her lips with the tip of his tongue, silently seeking entrance, and then delved between them when she whimpered with uncertainty. The dream was so damned real he could taste the sweetness of pineapple juice and the bite of tequila clinging to her lips.
Wanting more of her,
more of her, Mad cradled the back of her head and took the lead, embracing that dominant side of himself, which had always enjoyed being in control. Sliding his hand along her thigh, he slipped his fingers under her skirt and trailed them along her silky skin. Ivy made a needful, excited noise that rippled through his chest and traveled straight to his cock. Showing some boldness, she wrapped her legs around his waist and rocked against him.
The corners of his mouth lifted with a pleased smile that interrupted their wild kisses. She shyly grinned up at him, the pink stain of her cheeks telling him that she wasn’t nearly as experienced as she pretended to be. The allure of innocence had never been one that he had understood…until Ivy.
Overwhelmed by the primal call to mate that her scent and taste evoked, Mad surged against her, making sure to let the hard ridge of his trapped erection rub right between the V of her thighs. She gasped, and her shuddery breaths buffeted his jaw. More than anything in the world, he wanted to be buried deep inside his sweet Ivy. He wanted to feel her nails clawing at his back and her slick, hot sheath clenching his shaft as they came together.
His sweet Ivy?
The possessive thought gripped him and just wouldn’t let go. This young woman who had invaded his dreams intrigued him. He wanted to know her. He
to know everything about her. Where had she come from? Where was she going? Was he going there with her? What made her laugh? What made her cry? What did she want out of life?
Desperate to get those answers, Mad attempted to wrest control of the dream from Ivy by calling forth the gifts of his dragon, but awakening his inner beast had a bizarre effect. Everything around them pulsed. The lights dimmed for a few seconds and then brightened to an almost blinding whiteness. As if alive, the walls throbbed, the peeling paint bubbling and dripping with a strange black fluid. The floor shifted beneath his feet, and he fell forward against Ivy. He curved a protective hand along the back of her head, shielding her from the mirror, and pulled her in tight against his chest.
“I see you, Welshman.” A slithery, hissing voice shattered their sensual moment. He glanced around, searching for the origin, but he couldn’t find it. The room darkened and seemed to be growing smaller and smaller.
“Look at me.” Ivy jerked on the front of his shirt. The panicked expression twisting her beautiful face hit him in the gut. He started to reassure her that he would take care of her, but she stopped him before he could form even one single word. Her fingertips were cold as ice when they touched his lips. As the dream world she had created disintegrated, so did the brightness in her eyes and the color in her cheeks. Pale with dark circles under her eyes and lips cracked with dehydration, she stared up at him. “Save me?” she pleaded.