Thursday Teaser

Hello Readers and Fans:

For this week’s Thursday Teaser, I am including an excerpt from ‘Dragon in Training 3’ for you to ponder and enjoy. What follows is the opening chapter. Feedback welcome!

Peace,

Emily

Dragon in Training 3

Chapter 1:
Mark didn’t relax once the front door of the condo was closed. He backed his lover’s quieter car out of their driveway in the predawn shadows, turned right, and escaped their court at a crawl.

Please keep meditating until I’m on the freeway. Once he was there, five short minutes would take him to the bay.

White-knuckled and hunched to make his five-ten frame all but disappear, Mark nudged the Prius onto the freeway. Only then did he accelerate, scowling when the tiny vehicle didn’t shoot forward, but seemed to putt-putt-putt like a run-down Chevy.

“You’d think Luke had the eighties Pontiac.”

“This serves my purposes. It’s good for the environment, and I don’t have a lead talon like a certain water dragon I know.”

Mark jumped, and the car swerved.

Luke, casual as a stretching cat, reached over from the passenger seat and steadied the wheel. “Do we need to switch places?”

Fuck. Mark shot a guilty glance at his genie lover. “How long have you been here?”

“Less than thirty seconds. I heard you leave, though. At first I thought you were just going for your morning run, but when I stepped out on the balcony to enjoy the air, I saw my car was gone.” He patted the dashboard. “You must have been desperate for me not to hear you if you stooped to taking this lunch box.”

“So you’re a mind reader too?”

Luke raised one golden eyebrow. “No, that’s just always how you think of her. Face it, my Mark. Your spirit is like your dragon form: eight feet tall, anxious to blow fire, and not meant for confined spaces.”

He winced. “We’ll go home.”

“Nope. I’m curious to see where you were sneaking off to.” Luke rested a hand on Mark’s thigh. “Please? I promise a reward if you’ll indulge my curiosity.” Using his other hand, the genie drew a line from Mark’s chin, down his throat, pausing at his pulse point, and then continuing all the way to his groin.

Mouth watering, Mark couldn’t speak at first. He nodded and covered the hand on his thigh. “Will you promise to stay out of the water?”

“Why did you need to sneak out to go swimming?”

He stared straight ahead. “It’s a little more than that. Will you stay out?”

Luke paused. “All right. I’m not a great swimmer in any case.”

Less than ten minutes later Mark dived beneath the night waves, losing himself in the dark and danger of Tampa Bay in the last hour before false dawn began to lighten the sky. He’d planned to go in naked, but how could he explain that to Luke? So as soon as he could, he lost his trunks, saying a silent apology to the ocean at large for adding one more bit of garbage to its great waters.

Then he changed his human guise for dragon scales.

At once, his sight shifted to black-and-white with overtones of night-vision goggles, and he rolled over in the water, which seemed ten degrees colder, relishing its slinky caress.

A small school of fish shot past him then, and his instincts took over. He loosed a roar that stunned a quarter of his prey. He swallowed those and then made for the rest, circling them to keep them together. At times like this, when he couldn’t fight the monster inside him anymore, the hunt became as much about the capture as about the eating.

When he was sated, he headed in, wondering what kind of excuse Luke would accept this time.
* * * *
Luke trudged up the warehouse steps to the second floor. When his supervisor in the Miscellaneous Magical Creatures Department had assigned him this detail, he had jumped at the chance to get out of the office. Now, when it was far too late to turn back, he was having second thoughts.

“You’ll enjoy this,” his supervisor had said. “Inventory checks aren’t usually a pleasure, but I know you’re interested in everything out of the ordinary.” He’d chuckled as he urged Luke toward the office door. “The head office wouldn’t be sending the executive secretary if this might not prove to be something big.” He’d opened the door. “You’ll meet Mr. Snyder in Warehouse C, first floor.”

Now Luke followed Dan Snyder across the second floor, feeling the press of magic all around him. It was like a wet blanket full of jumping spiders. Whatever had drawn them here would prove to be interesting.

And possibly dangerous.

“It’s just an inconsistency between the computer and what the cleaners saw on the shelves when they came through here last week,” Dan said, his voice tight. “I wouldn’t have brought anyone else, but it was suggested someone…magical…should be with me to tell me anything I couldn’t see for myself.”

“It’s a magical powder keg in here,” Luke said for the third time since he and the executive secretary had entered the building. “Maybe you should—”

Dan stopped walking; his shoulders were tense. “Maybe you should remember I’m not Mark, I don’t think you’re a god, and I don’t really give a shit what you think. If we’re in real danger, I’m sure this”—the thing in his hand reminded Luke of a magic spectrometer—“will tell us when we need to leave.”

The sound of his lover’s name on the other man’s lips froze Luke’s tongue.

Dan glanced back at Luke, and his expression was slightly apologetic. “Let’s just get on with this.” He strode toward the back wall.

If you insist. He followed the slightly taller man to a row of shelves, each bearing its own label.

Dan stopped before a large bay, screening it from Luke’s view. “This was supposed to be a collection of journals written by a ninth-century Irish monk. Obviously, it’s not.”

Luke stepped up beside him. The clay urn stood nearly two feet high and perhaps a foot and a half wide. Stark pictures of fantastic animals covered the entire circumference. Luke saw a lion, a flock of birds, and a hydra along the curve facing him. Greek characters ran around the rim.

“The wax seal looks broken,” Dan said, crouching so that he was eye level with the image of the lion. “I think whatever was in here is long gone.”

The sensation of spiders jumping all over his skin changed to a feeling of the arachnids crawling up his spine in a single, slow column. “I don’t think it’s gone.” He frowned at the Greek letters. This exact configuration looked familiar, which made no sense. He could translate Greek, but looking at these letters made him almost feel like he was looking at a badly composed sentence in English.

Dan said, “Help me lift this out.”

He really didn’t want to touch the thing, but he’d rather be close in case the genie inside woke up. Because the magic-signature was clear. The genie inside the clay pot was more powerful than any being Luke had ever encountered.

Hating his nervousness, Luke helped Dan lift the urn out of its bay, carry it several feet from the wall, and set it down. He circled the urn at a distance, avoiding Dan, who had knelt on the floor. Luke looked for the beginning of the Greek statement. He circled twice, frowning when the translation danced out of his reach.

His cell phone vibrated, and he plucked it out of his pocket, opening it without glancing at the caller ID. He frowned at one etched letter, trying to decipher it. “Hello?”

Mark’s voice was tense. “What’s wrong?”

Oh please. Not this again. “Aren’t three months of false alarms enough?” Although he had to admit Mark might actually be right this time. “I’m okay. I’m in Warehouse C checking out an inventory mistake.” He frowned deeply as he made another revolution, finally putting the words on the urn together: For mine are the labors of Hercules.

His blood froze.

“Something’s wrong, Luke. I can hear it in your voice,” Mark said.

Dan grunted, drawing Luke’s attention.

The man was holding a penknife and chipping away at the wax.

“Dan, don’t—”

The secretary ignored him.

Mark all but shouted, “Luke—”

Luke grabbed Dan by the back of his shirt as the urn’s top rattled. “Mark, call—”

The magical world exploded. Luke staggered back, still trying to drag Dan with him. Pain bloomed in his chest and temples, and he tried again to make his lover understand. “Mark—”

Speech failed him, and a moment later his body did the same. With a low moan, he passed out.
Copyright © Emily Carrington

Orca Week Post 1

Dear Readers and Fans:

It is Orca week. Thus, I will be posting blurbs regarding videos, books and other media related to these awesome whales! Enjoy!

Post 1: GoPro: Orca Rescue in 4K *

This is a video about orcas that includes exciting, little-known facts, like the idea that orcas are first formed with legs that they absorb back into their bodies. It also includes an amazing orca rescue. Starring: Dr. Ingrid N. Visser.

* The reason I’m giving only the title is because it’s illegal to post a link without permission and I haven’t been able to reach Dr. Visser.

More cool posts to come!

Love,

Emily

An Early Start on First Chapter Fridays…

Dear Readers and Fans:

First Chapter Friday has come early. Today, we feature the work of the talented, Selena Illyria, and the first chapter from her new novel, “Engaged to The Lone Wolf”. Do enjoy!

Peace,
Emily

Chapter One
“Come on, honey. Give us a smile? Sweet thing like you should smile more,” one of the drunks at the bar called out.
“And we need something nice to look at with Moving Day coming.” Both drunks roared with laughter.
Valerie rolled her eyes and concentrated on reading her book. She had to bide her time before her room at the little inn was ready. Only two more hours. No big deal, right? As long as Drunky and Lushy didn’t come over here and get handsy, she had nothing to worry about.
Her wolf, on the other hand, growled and licked its chops. The magic of the change slithered along Val’s skin in sparks. It focused on Drunky’s thick neck. Even a gentle nip might cause a deluge of blood that would bathe them both in ichor and liquid heat before they got down to the business of eating the meat off the bones until nothing remained of Drunky’s throat.
Val gave her wolf a mental shake. Can’t do that, she thought to the animal. The wolf had feasted the last time they’d shifted with their pack. And the full moon was only two weeks away. The lure of the silvery orb could only be felt in a pulse just behind her heartbeat.
“Nah, she can’t smile.” Lushy nudged his friend. “She’s too deep in bitch mode. Maybe she doesn’t care about those government bastards getting closer to our little haven.”
Val narrowed her eyes at her book and clenched her jaw. No. I refuse to go to jail for beating morons to death. But the idea to switch to wolf mode and rake her claws along his torso appealed to her. Her sharpened fingertips ripping through delicate tissue and layers of fat, all to get to the prized organs, made her quake with bloodlust.
She bit down hard on her bottom lip. No, we don’t have time for this. Get out of this no-name town and get back home. No detours, no get-out-of-jail-free cards, and certainly no attention drawn to this place. But she did keep an eye on them just in case they tried to start trouble. She’d already passed two state troopers on the way into town, and she was sure they were there to watch for unusual activity in the area. She’d heard rumors of government agents close by doing a “census.” Ha! More like looking for shifters to catch and send off to those camps for testing. At least that’s what the conspiracy websites were saying.
Drunky snort-laughed. “Bitch mode.” His body shook so hard he slipped off the stool.
Lushy caught him and yanked him back onto the chair. “There ya go.” He swiveled on his chair to face her. “Now, come on, dearie. We’re just being funny. Come sit with us. We’ll buy you a drink. Give us a little something before we shifters have to move on from here before the Feds get onto us, hmm?”
Val picked up her glass and took a slow sip of her sparkling water. She set her cup down and made a show of checking her watch. Five minutes had passed. When the hell would the inn call?
Drunky blew her a raspberry. “No fun at all. And I hate no-fun dames. Wouldn’t touch ’em with a ten-foot pole for a hundred grand, even with Moving Day coming on Friday or not.”
“Me neither.” Lushy tittered.
She turned her head and eyed them both. Maybe clawing them to ribbons wasn’t such a bad idea. It would at least get them to shut up and she’d be able to pass the time in peace.
“For a hundred grand, I’d do more than touch her, but only if she wanted it, and you two morons would be offering up the money. And I wouldn’t use Moving Day as an excuse,” a velvety, deep voice murmured. “And if you keep harassing her? Well, I’ll do more than touch you, understand me?”
The tone of his voice reverberated around her body, pinging her organs and inciting fires in every inch of her. The timbre slithered over her skin, raising goose bumps in its wake. Her breath caught in her throat. Who is this man?
Only alphas have that kind of power in their voice.
She focused her attention beyond her two tormentors behind the counter. The bartender stood in the shadow with his back to the group. She stared at him. Turn around. Turn around. Turn around, she urged silently.
Whether he heard her or not, he did move to face the group, pausing, and with a free hand reached up and tucked a stray hank of shoulder-length, wheat-blond hair behind his ear. His dark-brown eyes glimmered in the low light. He focused on the two drunks, but his voice and attention were all on her.
“Do we have a problem, Smythe? Dudley?” Authority threaded his words. He glanced from one man to the other.
The drunks shifted on their stools and shook their heads.
“Especially since she’s not bothering you. How’d you feel if some jackass told your sisters or wives to smile? Or join you for a drink, huh?” He growled out the words.
“I’d skin ’em,” Drunky or Dudley muttered.
“And you, Smythe?” The bartender’s eyes narrowed at Lushy.
Lushy murmured something that even her sensitive hearing couldn’t quite catch.
“No, say it to her,” he growled and nodded toward her. “Not to me.”
A flush broke over her face and ebbed down her throat. Her ears burned and prickled from the attention.
The drunks turned to the side and, without looking at her, whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“They really are.” He still hadn’t glanced in her direction. “They’re just keyed up about Moving Day. Rumors are floating around town that the Feds are closing in on us here and we all have to find somewhere else to hang our hats.”
She couldn’t shake the sensations he evoked her, even without directing his power at her. Electricity burst around her and filtered through the air. Words fled her brain. All she could do was stare at the man she’d dismissed when she’d walked in to get out of the afternoon heat. Not even his explanation of the drunks’ behavior penetrated the spell he’d managed to weave around her.
He put the glass down, picked up another, and began cleaning it. His stare was still on the two patrons on the stools in front of him but his power was directed at her.
She felt a magnetic draw to him. Every inch of her body yearned to get up and go to him, touch him, be enveloped by all that he was. She couldn’t understand what was happening but didn’t fight it. Instead, she became intrigued by this stranger who’d flipped a switch and forced her to sit up and take notice of him.
The drunks turned back around. Any humility they’d felt from the bartender admonishing them fled after a second.
“Aw, come on, Gunman. You’ve only been here three months. You don’t know what it’s like. And the women in this town hardly come in here. They’re high-maintenance broads. All they do is cause trouble. Like that one over there.” Drunky tipped his head in her direction. “Too good to come over and thank us for the attention we’re paying her. We could be rude and ignore her all together,” Drunky whined. “And I always tell my sisters to not be rude. You never know who you’re dealing with.”
Valerie glanced around. With the exception of her, the bartender, and the two drunks, there was one other person who was male and had been asleep when she’d slipped in here to wait.
Who the hell else would they pay attention to? her wolf asked.
Valerie fought back a snicker.
Now the bartender… The wolf’s voice became gruffer.
Val gave him more attention than before. He moved closer to the tabletop. The overhead light illuminated his features. A golden beard cover his jaw and cheeks—trimmed short but could still cause a burn if you got too frisky—but it didn’t disguise the prominent bone structure underneath.
I wonder what all that scruff would feel like against my skin? Her thighs tingled, and her vaginal walls contracted. Liquid desire dampened her panties. Her gaze wandered up to his eyes.
His soft-brown eyes were framed by long, thick, pale lashes and dense but neat eyebrows. He glanced in her direction.
She stared back at him, taking in the intensity that softened in his look when turned on her. They stayed that way for a few more seconds. She looked away first and focused on his neck. Various necklaces and chains hung down, contrasting against his dark tan. She wondered how his throat would look with patches of love bites covering the well-crafted column. Her scrutiny continued on to the tight T-shirt that left nothing to the imagination. The thin, long-sleeved top outlined his pectoral muscles and gave a hint at his trim waist. The counter blocked her view of the rest of him.
He wore a leather bracelet with tool marks she couldn’t make out, but a small patch of skin showed a hint of black ink work. His fingers were long and tapered to neatly trimmed nails. He held the glass and rag with a firm, easy grip. Completely confident to not drop it.
She tried to recall if he’d worn jeans when he’d served her or not. A vague memory rose of tight denim covering thick thighs and scuffed work boots that had seen better days. After that she’d focused on her book and keeping her head down and out of trouble.
I wonder what it would be like to pass the time with him? She couldn’t stop the thought, nor did she regret it. Her wolf just watched him, a different kind of hunger in her amber eyes.
Just the thought of rolling around with him for a bit and feeling all that hard muscle on top of her caused her pussy to contract. She shifted in her seat and refocused on her tablet. No use approaching him now, not with the peanut gallery.
Drunky and Lushy returned to whining about aloof women and the dangers of not being nice to strangers—as if they knew what aloof meant or what it really meant to be polite to outsiders—and what they’d do if they had a hundred grand to spend.
“Will you two shut up!” The bartender’s voice came out like a whip, drawing her attention back to him.
A spark of cobalt lit his eyes, and he growled. “You both wouldn’t know what to do with a woman like her even if she was interested.” He threw the dishrag on the counter, came out from behind the bar, and strode to her. Assurance in each step made her sit up and watch.
Her wolf panted, watching the tight fabric of his jeans and the easy swing of his arms.
Valerie eyed his large hands. Not a speck of dirt to be seen. His scent drifted toward her: soap, musk, testosterone, leather, and man.
She resisted the urge to moan. She loved when guys went simple on the grooming. Too much cologne was like being stuck in a cologne factory. In other words, no fun at all.
He stopped at her table and leaned down. His gaze stoked a fire deep inside her.
She sucked in a breath.
A bright-blue wolf’s gleam flashed in his eyes once more. “I’m going to kiss you. Yes or no?”
That warm, rich, velvety voice wrapped around her, stalling her thoughts and playing havoc on her nerve endings.
It took a few seconds for her to understand what he was saying.
Once she grasped his meaning, she nodded her head like a bobblehead doll.
“No. Say ‘yes, please kiss me.’” He moved a little closer.
The bar around them had fallen silent.
She licked her lips. “Yes, please kiss me,” she whispered in a hushed tone.
He moved his head toward her until their mouths were a spider’s thread distance apart. His body heat pounded against her. His masculinity swallowed her whole. The heavy beat of arousal thudded in her vagina. Her entire world narrowed down to just him.
“Wait! What’s your name?” She had to know who she was about to kiss.
His rose-pink lips curled into a smile that could only described as wolfish. She almost expected to see his canines, but he didn’t show a hint of his teeth.
“Gunner,” he purred.
His voice rumbled around inside her, throwing propane on the leisurely simmer in her veins.
She opened her mouth to repeat his name, but he cut her off. He pressed his lips to hers. The barest hint of alpha wolf power trickled out.
His tongue slipped into her mouth to tangle and play with hers. He tasted of cinnamon and whiskey.
She groaned.
His lips were warm and firm, yet softer than she’d thought any man’s mouth should be. He cupped her chin with one hand while he held her head still with the other. Gunner controlled the kiss, moving his mouth over hers with assurance. She tasted his attraction and desire, a potent mixture that went straight to her head like champagne. Effervescence burst in her blood. She fought back a giggle and a sigh of happiness. Her body flushed with heat, and her head swam. All her thoughts broke apart.
He pulled back, panting, and gave her a slow grin. “Bloody hell. Gotta get back to work.” He pressed one more kiss to her lips and then walked away.
She traced her heated mouth with her fingertips and watched him, enjoying the way the denim molded over his butt cheeks and the way they rose and fell with each step. He had more confidence in his gait than before.
The drunkards let out wolf howls that bounced off the walls and hit her from all directions.
Lassitude slipped into her limbs. Her shoulders slumped, and she rested against the back of her booth, unable to move for a moment. Nothing touched her. Only the lingering tingles of his kiss on her lips mattered.
“Brave man. Glad she didn’t rip your balls off,” Drunky grumped.
She wanted another kiss. But without the audience. If she dispatched the drunks to find another drinking hole, she could have Gunner all to herself. She reached into her pocket and pressed the power button on her cell to check the status of her accommodations. A text message from the inn told her that her room was ready. Thank the goddess.
She put ten dollars on the table even though she’d only had a sparkling water and glanced toward the bar.
He nodded at her. “See you in an hour?”
“Yup, and you better be ready.” She bobbed her head at him in agreement and opened the door. Dry heat blasted her in the face. The aroma of hot garbage, deep-fried food, dead vegetation, and animal musk hung in the atmosphere. An anemic wind tried to bat at her, only to fail. Sweat bathed her brow.
“Too hot for ya, honey?” Lushy guffawed from behind her.
“Better take your pleasure where you can. The Feds are coming, and we have to move on. You’ll never see Gunman again,” Drunky warned.
She ignored them, crossed the street, and entered the inn. The door swung shut behind her with a quiet click. Cold air tickled her body, cooled her face and arms, and seeped past the cloth barrier of her clothing. The person on duty at the front desk waved her over. She went to him once she felt she’d shaken off the last of the outside heat.
“Sorry that took so long, Ms. Archer. We wanted to make sure the room was up to our standards before releasing it to you. Your luggage has already been taken to your room.” The front-desk attendant handed her the key.
“Thank you. I really appreciate all you’ve done. Checkout is at noon, right?” She’d be back on the road before then if the mechanic could figure out what the hell had happened. It better not be something complicated and costly, or I’ll skin him alive, she thought.
She’d been too tired to figure it out herself, and standing in the middle of nowhere in ninety-degree heat with 100 percent humidity in a car whose AC wasn’t working was not her idea of happiness.
“Yes, Ms. Archer. If you want to stay beyond that, you’ll have to make other accommodations come Friday. Moving Day and all,” the desk clerk warned.
“I doubt I’ll be here that long. May the Lady of the Woods bless your travels come Moving Day.”
“The same to you, Ms. Archer. Please enjoy your stay, and if you need any recommendations, let me know. I’ll be happy to help you.” The desk clerk turned to help the next customer.
She headed for the stairs, her gait stiff. Sitting on a hard, wooden chair did tend to make her ass and legs ache.
The trip took no time, with her room in the far corner of the second floor, looking out onto the dried-out garden filled with dead flowers and tall husks of grass. She entered her room and shut the door, thankful for the whole-home AC system in full effect. She heard the faint bumps of people moving around next door but nothing else.
That was impressive. Most inns she’d been in these tiny settlements didn’t take the time to soundproof anything. Just leave it the way it is and let it fall around your ears if you so much as sneeze.
The inn was a run-down Victorian with peeling paint and dirty windows. No one looking at it would think much of it. But beyond the doors, quiet comfort, dignity, and old-fashioned quality and service could be expected. Even if the time the shifters had here was limited, based on when someone would rat them out to the Feds, then Moving Day protocol would be enacted. If they didn’t participate in the shifters’ Moving Day—something that happened maybe every three months if a no-name town was lucky and the Feds hadn’t caught on until then—and remained opened, she would love to stay here again or maybe take a little vacation from her family and her life. She unpacked one outfit and her toiletries and took a quick shower. Rather than go fancy—which she hadn’t packed for—she pulled on a pair of black jeans, a tank top, and sandals, put on a light bit of gloss, eyeliner, and mascara, and headed back out, locking the door behind her.
She jogged down the stairs, walked across the main floor, and paused at the front doors, bracing herself to go back out into the afternoon heat. With a deep breath, she shoved the entryway open and headed out. Sweat bathed her face and soaked her clothes, ruining her makeup and what little the shower had done for her.
She entered the bar and found him leaning against the wall next to the entrance with his arms crossed and wearing a short-sleeved shirt—showing off his massive biceps and the ink work that wrapped his golden skin in glyphs, pictures, and words in various colors from black and white to bright blue, red, and green.
She noted a familiar symbol of a bat, the logo of a well-known superhero. Interesting. She pointed at it. “He’s my favorite.”
Gunner turned his arm this way and that, showing off more logos, a lovely mishmash of symbols from various comic powerhouses. “Mine too. Just a few I got out of boredom. Plus they were free since I was letting a friend test out his skills on me.” He gave her grin. “I’m off shift. Wanna go spend some time finishing what we started back there?”
His brown eyes were the color of the perfect cup of coffee—dark, rich, and close to black without being sludge. A glint of blue showed through all that darkness.
Her wolf answered the tease, rising up. She shivered but allowed the wolf to show through her gaze.
He chuckled. “Gold. What pack are you? You’re covering up your scent very well.”
She shrugged and moved closer to him. “I’m in neutral pack territory. Figured I’d rather be Little Red than Goldilocks and start trouble. I’m Valerie Archer.” She held out her hand, which he took. “Nice to meet you.”
He whistled, withdrew his hand, and bowed from the waist. “Pack royalty? Well, I’m honored.”
She chuckled but didn’t acknowledge his question. “And what pack are you affiliated with?”
“None. I’m a bit of wanderer. I’m only in town long enough to make enough money to fix up my bike, and then I’m off.” His features became shuttered.
Surprise stunned her at being shut out when he’d been so open before. His body relaxed, and he allowed emotions to float across his features. “Sorry. Bad past. Don’t like to talk about it much. So, I know a little place that serves the best fried chicken in three counties and has great sweet tea, cold enough to make you forget the heat and humidity. Wanna go?” He held out his hand to her.
“Sure.”
Taking his hand, she allowed him to guide her down the street toward a restaurant she’d spotted when entering the town. It looked like someone’s home, with a screened-off front porch and dusty windows and siding that needed repair.
When he pulled the screen door and held it open for her, she stepped into the first floor of what used to be a family house, now converted into a working restaurant. The grand staircase led up to the second floor, where she could see various tables and tall columns of wood.
The main floor was divided into two areas—to her right were three pool tables and some blackjack tables; to the left were booths set up against the wall with padded benches and a few tables scattered about. Every seat was taken, and there were groups of people at the pool tables playing a round. It was surprisingly cooler in the house than outside.
“Wow. Packed.” She sniffed the air: spices, old wood, bread, and fried meat permeated the area along with whiffs of sweat, pheromones, perfume, and cologne.
Her stomach rumbled. She hadn’t eaten since lunch.
“It’s always like this. Come on.” He guided her up the stairs and to the back of the room, where they stepped out onto another screened-in porch that faced out onto a lake surrounded by a garden in various stages of dying. Closer to the house, it was better maintained. The space was empty. Only the lazy creak of the fan spinning overhead and the murmur of conversation reached her. Privacy. She eyed him. He really did seem to want to talk to her, at least for now.
He led her to a table in the corner that gave them a view of not only the room but the lush garden underneath. The buzz of insects beyond the screen could be heard, but thankfully there weren’t any flying around them. He pulled out a chair for her.
“Well, chivalry isn’t dead. Thank you.” She slipped into her seat with a nod at him.
“I was taught manners.” He came around the table and settled down across from her.
A waiter entered into the room, glanced around, and spotted them. He strolled over holding a stack of menus, a huge grin on his face and sweat beading on his forehead. “Welcome to Susanna’s. Here are the menus. What can I get you to drink? The boozy strawberry lemonade and blueberry lemon sweet tea are our drinks of the day. And I can attest that they are both as cool, refreshing, and delicious as they sound.” He handed a menu to each of them.
Val eyed Gunner, wondering how he’d take this suggestion. Most men she knew would jump at the chance to take the lead and impress their date. “I’ll let you order for me since you’re the local. At least for now.”
Gunner gifted her with a megawatt smile that lit her up from the inside out. He took her menu and handed both of them back to the waiter. “Thank you for trusting me, Val. We’ll have two blueberry lemon sweet teas and two chicken baskets with buttermilk biscuits, extra honey butter, and for dessert some strawberry shortcakes.”
The waiter nodded. “Very good. I’ll be back in a few minutes with your teas.” He moved closer to Valerie. “You’re a lucky one. He doesn’t smile that often.” He left the room without waiting for a reply.
“Well, now, where were we?” She thought over the little they’d said to each other. “Getting to know each other…”
He settled against the back of his chair, his shoulders down, arms placed on the armrests and chest area open. “What do you want to know?”
She ran through a list of questions she’d normally ask on a date, only to wave them all away. “How’d you end up here?”
“Was just passing through when I skidded out and damaged my bike. Since I was broke, I’m working off my debt to Davis in the garage by tending bar until the bartender is well enough to go back to full-time and I’ve earned enough to get my bike out of their clutches. What about you?”
“I was on my way home from a friend’s wedding when my rental stalled. I’m waiting for the garage to fix it. They said they’d get it back to me by tomorrow morning.”
“Davis won’t overcharge you or make you wait. He’s a good man, even if he is a lion shifter. So one night, huh?” He raised a thick eyebrow. The look seemed both questioning and naughty at the same time.
The waiter returned and set down their drinks. “There you go. Your food should be ready in ten. Here are some biscuits and honey butter to tide you over. Enjoy.” He set down bowls of fluffy, golden, big-as-your-palm biscuits and a dish filled with butter swirled with honey.
Valerie’s stomach grumbled in approval. “Those look divine.” The wolf lifted its head and sniffed the air. The beast licked its chops. Her stomach rumbled again.
“And they are. Go on; try one.” He nudged the bowl toward her.
She accepted his offer, picked one disc up, broke it up, and inhaled the comforting scent of buttery bread fresh from the oven. “Mmm. I’ll try one without the butter first.” She took a large bite without hesitation and let out a muffled squeak. “Hawt,” she mumbled around a mouthful of bread.
Gunner chuckled. “Drink the tea,” he urged.
She didn’t need to be told twice and picked up her glass and took a deep swallow before going back to chewing. The sweetness and tartness of the blueberries and lemon burst on her taste buds, chasing way the rich, buttery goodness of the biscuit.
She finished off her first choice and picked up a second one, this time breaking it open and smearing some butter on it. Val let the spread melt and the biscuit cool a bit before taking a bite.
Gunner helped himself from the bowl and to the butter and followed her lead. “Good, right?” he asked before taking a bite.
“Very. I’ll have to remember this place next time I’m passing through. Hopefully, it will not have moved like the rest of the town, come Moving Day.” And get as many of these beauties as they’ll let me have.
They fell silent, each of them making a good dent in the bread and butter until both were gone. The chicken arrived with a second helping of biscuits, butter, corn on the cob, and thick potato wedges fried golden-brown to perfection. Most people would goggle at the sight. It only made Val hungrier.
Not intimidated, she ate with gusto, making sounds of appreciation between bites. The corn was buttery, creamy, and sweet, and the potato wedges had a bit of a spicy kick to them. And the chicken was out-of-this-world good.
“This is so…” For a moment she lost the ability to form words. “The chicken is spicy, but it’s not ‘oh my God, my mouth is on fire,’ kind of hot, and the corn on the cob and wedges are just so damn good.” If her grandmother still cooked, she’d have wanted the recipe to everything. Val wiped her fingers on a napkin, took out her phone, and put in a reminder about this place into her notepad before slipping it back into her pocket.
“No purse?” Gunner asked. He was two-thirds of the way done with his basket.
“Nope. Hate carrying them unless I have to. Besides that, I’m more of a stay-at-home type of person.” She grinned and waited for him to make some sort of disparaging remark. None came.
“I wouldn’t know what that’s like. Home, I mean. I like to keep on the move.” His features became shuttered for a second before opening back up to her.
“I can’t imagine that at all. I like to have my place and nest there. Call me weird.” She laughed. She didn’t add that until recently, she’d been moved around from place to place just like all the other shifter communities to avoid the government or hunters finding them.
He shook his head. “Not weird at all. Some people have their places. I just haven’t found mine.” He shifted in his seat and ducked his head.
Not wanting to make him uncomfortable, she switched gears. “So what kind of bike? I know nothing about cars or motorcycles. I just like to look at them.”
“Not a gear head?” He grinned at her.
“Nope. My dad tried. I know how to fix a flat tire and fill up my own gas, check the tire pressure, and put in antifreeze, but the rest is kind of wasted on me. I take the bus to work most of the time—or a cab if I work late—or walk everywhere. So, it’s good info to know, but I don’t really use it. Poor Dad.” She shook her head. He still tried to educate her on the finer points of owning a car, but it fell on deaf ears.
He gave her a sad smile that tugged at her heartstrings. Why, she didn’t know. “Cars aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Same with bikes. I got it brand new. I know a guy who knew a guy. Anyway, it was a lucky break.”
“Nice!”
“Maybe I’ll show you before you leave town. I need to check on it anyway. Make sure the boys at the shop don’t have designs on her. So, what do you do?” He leaned forward, interest lighting up his eyes.
Small talk. She wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or to just go with the flow. “I work in Belladonna Grove as a personal shopper, and yes, it really is protected by witches so shifters are safe there, so long as they follow the rules.”
“Okay, that’s going to go over my head. Is it fun?”
She bobbed her head. Excitement sparked inside her. “Oh, yeah, it’s creative, a challenge. I love every second of it, even when I’m frustrated as hell and would love to deck my clients.” She gave a laugh. “But yeah, it’s great.”
“That’s good.” He nodded.
An earlier comment swirled around her mind. “How’d you know who I was? I mean, that I was a pack princess?”
She didn’t advertise that fact. It was a way to keep their progeny safe. Only other pack royalty or those within the pack structure could tell.
He shrugged; all mirth left his face. “I’ve heard rumblings here and there. If you’re a good listener, then you get pieces of valuable information. But don’t worry. I won’t spread it around.”
She let the wolf rise once again and stared at him. “You better not let even a whisper of who I am get out, or I’ll rip your guts out.”
Fire sparked in his eyes, darkening them. “Try it, love. I’ll show you what an alpha can do when provoked.”
Her pussy tightened, and her wolf panted. A fission of heat rushed up and down her spine. “Alpha, huh? Prove it.” She knew she was playing with fire, but what the hell. She was having far too much fun to stop.
He shook his head. “Not here. Later. When we have more privacy.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Scared?”
“Not in the least.” He sat back and relaxed. “Just not into exhibitionism.”
She let out a laugh. “Neither am I, but nothing wrong with PDA.”
“No, nothing wrong with it, but some things should be private. Like what I’m going to do to you later.” His gaze remained steady and unyielding. A challenge sparked in the darkness.
She shifted in her seat. The weight of his stare pressed against her skin. Her wolf grumbled, accepting the challenge. She titled her head to the side. “Don’t start something you can’t finish, alpha.” She didn’t doubt for a second he had the power to lead a pack, but a small part of her wondered why he didn’t have one to begin with. Had the government caught them or had another pack attacked them or something else? Maybe something like what had happened with Alfred, the Blood Breaker?
He leaned forward. “Oh, I intend to finish it all right. Several times.” His voice dropped to a rough whisper that lit up her insides.
She quaked. Her toes curled at the threat. Arousal flared hot. “Let’s get dessert to go.”
He shook his head and settled back in his chair once more. “Not yet.”
She frowned. “Why not now?” Impatience jittered up and down her legs. In need of letting out all that energy, she jiggled one of her legs.
“Because some things are worth waiting for. Like a sexy-as-hell woman, good food, and another kiss.” He picked up his sweet tea and took a slow sip, never taking his eyes off her. When he drew the glass away from his mouth, the pink tip of his tongue darted out to lick up the last traces of his drink.
She wanted to feel that tongue on intimate places on her body. “Fine, but just for this, I’ll go slowly with you.”
He chuckled. “I bet you will.”
The waiter returned, took away their dishes, and promised their dessert in a few minutes.
“It should take me less than ten minutes to eat that shortcake,” she said, hoping to provoke him.
He didn’t take the bait and shook his head. “Nope. Take your time. Savor it. I haven’t let you down yet, have I?”
“Well, you refuse to make out with me right here and now.” She pouted but didn’t really mean it. Much.
His lips quirked in a smile. “You didn’t ask, love.”
Hope bloomed in her chest. “So, you’d—”
“I kissed you back at the bar, didn’t I?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“That was in front of two drunks,” she pointed out.
He lifted one shoulder and took another sip of his tea. “Still an audience. What I do to you next isn’t for public consumption.”

-Pack loyalty or howling hot passion? What will she choose? #FilthyWerewolves #IRRomance #ParaERom #Werewolves-

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Thursday Teaser

Dear Readers and Fans:

For this Thursday Teaser, I present to you an excerpt from my upcoming novel, ‘Dragon in Training’–sequel to ‘Dragon Fire’. Do enjoy!

Peace,
Emily

Excerpt: What I wouldn’t give to have someone in my corner right now. Mark’s boss (head of the Department of Dragons), his boss’s boss (head of their Tampa offices), and every single doctor who had so much as sniffed in his general direction faced Mark Tavery in a semicircle, and he had no one. His genie lover had offered to miniaturize himself and hide inside Mark’s suit coat collar, but he would have been caught, so Mark had smiled and said, “Luke, I’ll be fine. I can always roast them if I’m in real danger.”

If he couldn’t have his lover here, he wanted a lawyer. No one had mentioned firing him–yet–but he needed someone in his corner who was paid to be calm and rational. It would also help if the hypothetical lawyer wasn’t suffering from the effects of a delayed shedding.

“It’s not a question of performance,” his immediate boss, Ray, said. “Mark hasn’t let this stop him or even slow him down.”

For the fiftieth time since he’d sat down, Mark resisted the urge to scratch both arms.

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.” Jack, his boss’s boss, met Mark’s gaze. “Your record has always been exemplary.”

Except I haven’t been promoted in eight years. “Thank you.” His first-ever dragon scale shedding was now three months, four days, ten hours, and–he stole a glance at Jack’s huge grandfather clock–two minutes late. And unless this meeting was suddenly going to take a spin off into left field, none of the doctors could figure out why it hadn’t happened on schedule.

So I’m being a little unfair. Ray didn’t say it was going to start at exactly 12:01 a.m. on June first, but it should have started long before this. He closed his eyes as Jack rehashed all the old questions with the doctors. Was Mark maybe carrying some germ that could be hampering his shedding? Had they checked for all the weird permutations HIV could take on when interacting with a dragon’s cells?

That second question made Mark’s eyes itch, and he kept his lids firmly down just in case his blue irises started shifting to yellow-green. He hadn’t been with anyone but his lover, Luke, since they’d met. The man before that had been many things, but he wasn’t that. And there hadn’t been a man before him since Mark was twenty-one, over ten years ago. There was no chance Mark had HIV.

His palms itched. He forced himself to count silently back from ten.

“Well, Mark,” Ray said, “I guess this is just like how it was after you came to us. It took you over thirty years to even figure out that you were a dragon. I guess it’s going to take you a while to decide to shed your first scales.”

He’d opened his eyes at the sound of his name. Now he tried not to look away from his boss and made himself smile. He knew Ray was joking; the evidence was all over the man’s face. But he kept his smile closed, fearing the number of teeth he’d inadvertently end up showing. “So I’m free to get back to my reports?” He’d been stuck behind his desk since returning from vacation on the last day of June. Behind his smile, but probably obvious to at least Jack and maybe to Ray as well, he ground his teeth.

“For now,” Jack said. “But if you haven’t started shedding by the beginning of October, I think we should try to induce this first time ourselves.”

You can do that? His whole body exploded with a thousand pinpricks of need. Do you know what it’s like to lie in bed next to your lover at night and not be able to let him touch you because anything short of a bone-breaking slap makes the itching worse? As if that wasn’t enough, we’re in fucking Florida in late summer, and you can do something about it and haven’t?

One of the doctors touched his temple with two fingers and winced.

Mark froze and did all he could to rein in the famous Tavery temper. Shit, dragons are telepathic. Did I just…? “I’m sorry, Doctor.”

“It’s all right. You didn’t know.”

Jack leaned forward. “If we have to induce the shedding, Mark, you’ll most likely have to be hospitalized. The drugs that have been developed have only been used a few times, and even in clinical trials, they’ve caused temporary insanity.”

He felt himself blush. “I understand. Are there any other techniques I can use to encourage the shedding?”

The doctor who had touched his temple said, “The only reason dragons fail to shed is because they are ill. You are not physically ill, Mr. Tavery. Neither are you mentally ill. I am not a spiritual man myself, but when all other avenues have been thoroughly explored, the last road must lead us home.”

What did spiritually ill mean for a dragon who hadn’t practiced religion since childhood? He thought of Luke, for whom spirituality was a quiet, constant part of his life, and wondered if his lover could help. At this point, he’d pretend to worship a lightbulb if it would jump-start his shedding.

His mind and body jumped briefly to thoughts of his golden-haired lover, and he shifted in his chair, oh-so-casually adjusting his long shirt so it lay over the bulge in his dress pants. In the first twenty-four hours he’d known Luke, he’d seen the Adonis-like genie all but naked twice. His initial attraction had been formed by thoughts of Luke lounging on his couch, clad in nothing but a thong. When they’d first touched, it had been Luke’s gentle, persistent strength that had brought down Mark’s shields from within.

Okay, most of his shields. Some things just couldn’t be shared, especially not if he wanted to keep Luke as his lover. But Luke would know how to help him with his spiritual problem. Luke, his golden god, knew all about patience.

* * *

Cordless phone pressed to his ear, Luke stalked through the house. “I understand what you’re saying, but this situation is different.” He saw the vase he’d knocked over fifteen minutes ago and magically hurled the pieces into the garbage can, scowling when they tinkled too musically. “I’m not just his boyfriend, sir. I’m a genie. I’m more than capable of protecting myself in the field. I should be allowed to join him on his missions.”

“Your ability is not in question,” the calm voice returned, “but the fact remains that you have no training.” There was a pause. “And right now, it is a moot point. Please note that Mr. Tavery will be restricted to research until he completes a successful shedding cycle. Until that time, you are more than welcome to accompany him to the office in Tampa so long as your visits do not exceed more than two hundred twenty-five minutes each week.”

That sounded like a lot of time, but Luke conjured a pen and a pad of paper in midair, did a quick calculation, and said, “That’s all of Mark’s lunch hours added together.”

“Exactly.”

The genie used his powers to rip the pad of paper in half. He snapped the pen too, catching all the ink in a swirling sphere that he imagined splatting against the too-calm man’s face. He also sent this into the garbage can. “So what’s to stop me from joining SearchLight? I could accompany Mark then without trouble.”

“If you were accepted, and if you completed all the required coursework and training over a three-year period, and if you were hired into Mr. Tavery’s department, there still is no guarantee the two of you would be a team. Agents in smaller offices must sometimes work alone.”

Tampa’s a smaller office? But that question couldn’t hold him. Three years? He’d been reading all of Mark’s textbooks for the last two-plus months since Mark had gone back to work at the end of June. He did this at first because his interest was piqued, and then because he’d found less and less to do around the house after Mark’s vacation ended. Didn’t all that studying count for anything? Wasn’t there a test he could take or something?

“I take it you’re finally thinking this through,” the security director out of DC said, possibly in response to Luke’s silence. “Good. I appreciate how shocking it must be for you to be out of your lamp, and of course we offer counseling to all magical creatures who are dealing with unique situations–”

The back door opened. “Luke?”

His Mark sounded a little more hopeful than he had for the last two months, but also exhausted. Luke made the decimated pen and pad disappear. “Thank you for your help, sir.” He hung up, poofed the phone to its cradle, and transported himself from the kitchen to the living room. Walking there would have taken less than ten seconds, but he loved making Mark jump.

“Luke, shit!” Laughing, Mark dropped his briefcase and keys. “One of these days, I’m going to put my scales on and fry your ass for doing that.” His Gulf blue eyes were bright with amusement, and he brushed dark hair off his forehead with a steady hand. There was no sign of the frustration that had dogged his steps for weeks.

“Good news?” Luke asked as he levitated the briefcase and keys into their proper places. Please let it be good news. He hated having to tiptoe around Mark, and not just because he knew their fledgling relationship would have been able to take so much more if Mark hadn’t been going through the dragon’s equivalent of a never-ending menstrual cycle.

“Maybe.” At once, Mark’s eyes dimmed, and the exhaustion rushed forward in his gaze like a wave. “The doctors can’t find a damn thing wrong with me.” He brought up his right hand and touched Luke’s face gently. “God, I want you so badly.”

Unable to do any of the half a million things he craved, the genie tried something slight, praying it wouldn’t torment Mark’s sensitive skin. He turned his head and ran his tongue lightly across the tips of the dragon’s fingers.

His lover winced, pulled his hand back, and scratched where Luke’s tongue had been. “I’m sorry,” he told his fingers. “If this would just fucking start already…” He sighed, stopped scratching with what looked like a tremendous effort, and met Luke’s gaze. “So this one doctor suggested that I’ve got to try a new avenue of healing. He said that since I’m not physically or mentally ill”–he snorted, and Luke found himself smiling in return–“that I should explore my spiritual wellness. Problem is, I stopped praying to anything about the time I stopped believing in miracles.” He met Luke’s gaze, seemed to steel himself, and then plunged both hands into Luke’s hair. “But I’ll try anything. I can’t stand being away from you.”

Mark’s jaw was clenched; Luke felt the tension in his lover’s hands. His own cock had awakened at Mark’s words, but he stepped back. “Doing even that much is making your skin burn.”

Mark dropped his hands. “God, I hate this.” He sighed and squared his shoulders. “Tell me about your One-Who-Decides.”

Luke blinked. You can’t just convert. Being a Listener is much more than words. But Mark would want an in-depth explanation, and Luke fumbled for a moment.

Mark grinned a little. “You look like I asked you to wear a dress. I’m not going to become a monk in your religion or anything, but if I’m going to start shedding, I need to figure out what’s wrong with me. Maybe it is spiritual. Whatever that means.”

“You don’t believe that.” Luke gestured toward the couch, sat, and waited for Mark to do the same. “Mark, I don’t think that’s going to help. What did you believe in as a kid?”

Mark scratched at his forehead as sweat beaded there. “My family’s Jewish.” His shoulders were hunched. “That’s not going to work. I haven’t believed in any of the laws or customs since I sang the four questions at Seder.”

The sweat on his lover’s brow was thicker now; Luke tried not to watch it. He wanted so badly to wipe it away and to take all Mark’s discomfort with it. “You used to sing? How old were you?”

His lover was worrying at his bottom lip as if he didn’t feel the sweat. Maybe compared to the itching he’d been dealing with for two months, it was nothing. “Seven or eight when I stopped, I think. My aunt had a little girl who got old enough to sing the questions. It’s always the youngest child who sings. Luke, if you’ll just–”

A drop of sweat trickled down Mark’s nose. Except it wasn’t sweat. Luke reached out and caught it before it could disappear. He held up the dark blue, triangle-shaped thing. “Mark.”

His lover stared at the scale. “Or maybe talking about my Jewish heritage is just what the doctor ordered.” He laughed, pushed Luke’s hand aside, and kissed the genie chastely. When he drew back, he scratched his lips with his sharp teeth, but he was grinning. “Let’s talk Seders, Passovers, and dreidels. The sooner we get started and the sooner I shed, the sooner I can have you inside me again.” He pressed his palm firmly over Luke’s crotch, and before he had to pull away and scratch, his eyes flickered briefly to a dragon’s hungry yellow-green. “I miss you.”

Luke moaned. “Miss you too,” he managed, but his throat had half-closed. Mark spoke so casually of his shedding being over, but once it finally began in earnest, it was going to last for two weeks, during which time Luke wouldn’t be able to touch him at all. Once Mark started shedding long rows of scales, he could touch Luke, but it couldn’t go the other way.

The genie’s balls tightened as an old hunger burned. Mark could touch him. And maybe it didn’t even have to be skin to skin. He licked his lips.

“Not yet,” his lover said, and he was laughing again. “Use your centuries of patience, Luke. In another couple of weeks, you’ll have me back. Until then, let’s talk. Do you want to hear about my brother’s botched bar mitzvah or the way my sister threw a fit when she realized Moses was a man?”
Copyright © Emily Carrington

First Chapter Friday

Dear Readers and Fans:

It is First Chapter Friday! It is my turn to share! Proudly I present to you, the opening chapter from my own work in progress, ‘Hunter’s Claim’. Feedback welcome. Do enjoy!

Peace,
Emily

Chapter One

A strong, well-remembered hand closed around Charlie’s automatically outstretched right. Then the man before Charlie pushed that hand aside and grasped Charlie’s left, white cane and all.

Charlie laughed as lean, muscular arms pulled him close and tightened around his back. It was Luis. His nose had been right.

“I was planning to see you here,” Luis whispered in Spanish, his voice richer than the thrum of the best-played bass. “But I didn’t think it would be so soon.”

Charlie drank in Luis’s scent, relishing how Luis held him. Then he pulled back slightly, though he was still safe in Luis’s embrace. “It’s good to see you.” That was an understatement, and he was hard-pressed not to resume the kisses he’d run from in March. He had no right to such a warm welcome, and for a breath his heart lodged in his throat.

Then another smell–a stench compared to Luis’s heady aroma–invaded the library, and Charlie stepped away completely. He held up one finger. “Un momento.”

Luis retreated several paces, and Charlie blinked at the psychic vampire’s discretion. Luis hadn’t possessed anything close to circumspection or respect for duty when they’d worked together in Tampa.

Charlie went to the library doors, meaning to close them, but the werewolf he’d smelled stood before him. He made the conscious switch to English, realizing he must be overwhelmed by Luis’s presence if the change needed to be willed rather than instinctive. Or maybe I’m intoxicated again. As he’d been when he and Luis had tumbled into bed for a single, blissful hour. Maybe it wasn’t the Lady Lavender drinks that got me drunk in March. It could’ve been Luis.

“Yes?” he asked, pushing for the authority he didn’t technically have here but that he should. If only.

“I came to see if everything’s all right,” said the female wolf.

Charlie blessed his quick ears and his quicker memory. “Thank you, Cassandra, but Agent Delgado and I are fine.” It had crossed his mind to say satisfied or more than comfortable. Five minutes in Luis’s presence, and I’m ready to throw in all the hard-earned camouflage. “He’s here regarding the peace summit.”

“Stop talking,” Luis whispered in Charlie’s mind. “She’s intimidated by you already. Don’t spoil it.”

That was why Charlie had fled Luis. The psychic vampire couldn’t be trusted not to spy.

Or feed.

“Get out of my head.” Aloud he said, “Thank you for your diligence, Cassandra.” He reentered the library, closing the doors in her face. He crossed to Luis, and the two of them sank onto the leather sofa. “Thanks for telling me, but ask my permission next time before you jump into my thoughts.” As if such a reminder would keep Luis in check. Charlie had watched, back in March, as the psychic vampire tapped indiscriminately into people’s heads.

Luis had pissed off Agent Tavery, when angering a water dragon wasn’t wise. He’d also barged into an unshielded human’s mind in the name of doing his job.

“It’s not that I’m not grateful for your insight,” Charlie continued in Spanish, in case Cassandra still lingered by the door. “But I’d appreciate it if you’d stay out of this pack’s minds.” Now that was interesting. He’d planned to say my pack’s. What had changed his mind?

“I’ll be good.”

Even though Luis sounded repentant, Charlie didn’t believe. Still, it was a step in the right direction. So he spoke more gently. “They’re all suspicious. How did you handle getting in here?”

“I hid my eyeteeth when I smiled. And of course I sent out a general impression–not into anyone’s mind specifically–that I’m harmless.”

If Luis hadn’t been a SearchLight agent, such things would be accepted as a matter of course. SearchLight’s employees were held to a higher standard, however, and Charlie wondered how Luis had risen to such a high position–second in command of his department–with such a slipshod modus operandi. Then, remembering that Luis was a tracker and that trackers were allowed many freedoms, Charlie set aside his frustration. It felt too good to see Luis. There would be time for chewing the younger magical creature out. Surely Luis would give him plenty of opportunities.

So Charlie smiled a little to hide his feelings. “Since when have you known how to manipulate werewolves?”

Luis took Charlie’s white cane and set it aside. Then he began massaging Charlie’s left wrist and forearm methodically.

Charlie did his best not to melt under the ministrations. Except for that one night, he hadn’t let Luis touch him much beyond a handshake. Because he was attracted to Luis, who was a psychic vampire, a Tampa-based SearchLight tracker, and fifteen years Charlie’s junior. Of those three reasons, that last was the least important. Age hardly mattered between most magical creatures, who tended to be essentially immortal. Even though Charlie thought he’d gotten his father’s long-lived genes–he based this on the fact that he still looked twenty-five rather than his forty-two years–he couldn’t be sure that applied to a half-and-half.

He smirked mentally at that term. Besides the name “half-and-half,” his kind were called “creamers” and “halfies,” not to mention a few more disrespectful nouns.

Luis said, “I’ve commanded werewolf trackers a time or two, although it’s usually Ethan and me, not me versus five other trackers and twenty-five werewolves with their own ideas and prejudices.” He laughed quietly. “I’m scared to death, but it will be all right. The team I’ve been given is competent.” He nodded toward the closed door, the movement of his head surely exaggerated for Charlie’s near-sighted benefit. “What’s her problem anyway?”

“She’s– It’s not a problem. She’s protective and curious in accordance with her species. Like a certain psychic vampire I know.” Charlie groaned, working to keep the sound quiet. “Stop, please. That feels good.”

“That’s a contradiction.”

Charlie pulled away. If he didn’t maintain some sort of distance, he’d lose his concentration completely. “Which part? That she’s–”

“That you want me to stop because it feels good.” Luis caught Charlie’s wrist between firm palms and resumed the massage.

And it was purposeful misunderstandings like this that helped me ignore your blatant desires back in March. Not to mention mine. Still, he couldn’t pull away yet, and Luis’s closeness drew the truth from his lips. “I’ve missed you.” He used the fingers of his right hand to trace Luis’s stubbly jaw. He stroked the psychic vampire’s long hair back, relishing its soft texture. In many ways, Luis was a god.

In too many ways, he knows his effect on others and uses it to his advantage.

Luis caught Charlie’s hand, kissed the palm lightly, and let him go. “Me too.”

Lured by Luis’s voice, Charlie closed the distance until he held the psychic vampire.

Charlie felt Luis’s heart pound and knew his pulse was just as high. Do you know how badly I want to give in to this and kiss you?

That thought brought Charlie up short. To kiss a psychic vampire was to take their virginity. Not sexually, as for humans and most other magical creatures, but to take their soul sanctity. Perhaps Luis had given that up long ago, but Charlie couldn’t be sure. And even losing one’s virginity in the more well-known way didn’t make one a slut.

Charlie drew back, leaving only his left arm, which Luis still seemed to want to massage, in the psychic vampire’s power. He refocused, working to remember why Luis had come here. “Who put you in charge of so many trackers and civilians?”

“Agent Weinberg.”

Luis’s frustration showed in his voice, and Charlie laughed. “She is a meddlesome pain in the ass, isn’t she?”

Luis didn’t relinquish Charlie’s hand, and he managed to sound businesslike as well as annoyed. “That’s a polite way of putting it. In her seventeen pages of written orders, she commanded me to make Firos William’s acquaintance first thing. I take it he’s not home?”

Strange how Agent Weinberg, with all her preparatory statements, verbal and written, hadn’t mentioned to Charlie that Luis would be here. “He’s not.” Although it took you long enough to get to the point of your visit. This thought was unfair, so Charlie didn’t share it. Besides, he might not have gotten to enjoy more than a few seconds with Luis if he’d announced earlier that his father wasn’t here. “You get his erstwhile son instead. I’m here at SearchLight’s request. As their long arm of the law, so to speak. And of course as a physical reminder of SearchLight’s interest in peace.”

“Madre de Dios.” Luis laughed. “Apparently those words have a habit of jumping from mouth to mouth.”

Charlie raised his eyebrows, but it had never been like Luis to share inside jokes, so he didn’t press. “What do you need to ask? I’ll do my best to answer.”

“My team’s assembled. Our delegation’s all here. We’re staying at the Palace Hotel several blocks south of here.”

“Were there any squabbles over your delegation taking the smaller accommodations?”

“Not once I pointed out how historic and beautiful the Palace is.” Luis’s teeth gleamed in a quick, sun-kissed smile.

Charlie’s heart constricted, and he fumbled his right hand up to Luis’s face again, needing desperately to touch him, to know this wasn’t a dream. “Really?”

Luis laughed softly but said nothing.

The straight werewolf delegation had claimed the Merrik Hotel in downtown Buffalo. Because they had more clout–and more money, for the most part–they got what they wanted. The LGBT delegation had been relegated to the Palace on Delaware Avenue, a beautiful old building with historic ties to the city. But it was significantly smaller. “Tell me the truth. I knew you possessed a silver tongue, but that’s a bit much.” Yes. I remember your silver tongue. Luis had licked him all over with that talented muscle.

Luis continued the massage, moving on to Charlie’s forearm. “I’m not quite that good. I pointed out how much easier the Palace would be to defend, and the eighteen werewolves with good sense shouted down the ones without. With a little help from Ethan.”

That’s the second time he’s mentioned this man Ethan. Vaguely Charlie remembered a short, black-haired werewolf who had accompanied Luis to the Tavery-Morrison wedding back in March. It was after the wedding that Luis and Charlie had slept together. “Is Ethan your second-in-command on this mission?”

“He’s my partner. We’ve worked together for almost six years now.”

Partner? Charlie dragged his mind past that word. Romantic partner? He repressed a stab of jealousy. Of course, he thought. Ethan had joined Luis at the reception after Mark Tavery’s wedding, so it made sense the psychic vampire and werewolf were romantically involved. They hadn’t been “together” enough to keep Luis from wanting to jump Charlie.

And vampires, psychic or otherwise, tended to have many sexual partners at one time.

Charlie forced himself to listen as Luis continued.

“Ethan’s different than anyone I know. I’ve never met a werewolf with so little interest in leading a werewolf pack yet who has so much ability to convince alphas that his way is the right way.”

That is special. Even if Luis sounded half admiring and half in love.

Charlie’s heart ached. He’d never know the joy of working with a werewolf like that. He hated the notion of being someone else’s beta or gamma, but that was the only way he’d become a member of a pack. LGBT wolves accepted psychically able humans–and halfies–into their packs. But no pack would ever follow a human, half or otherwise. “Ethan must be incredibly loyal.”

Luis leaned close. “I don’t want to talk about Ethan, though.” He spoke with a sultry, forget-the-world, love-me voice that made Charlie break out in goose bumps.

As Luis moved even nearer, Charlie stared at his lips. They were thick and slightly pinker than the rest of Luis’s olive complexion. Charlie struggled to think clearly. This time he failed. Using one finger, he traced the shape of Luis’s smile.

Luis kissed Charlie’s finger before briefly sucking the digit into his mouth.

Charlie shuddered.

“I know we can’t do anything here and now,” Luis whispered after releasing Charlie’s finger. “But is there a time, maybe later today, when you can get away?”

The thought of escaping this house, where he had to be so polite and he was watched all the time, made Charlie’s heart lighter than it had been since Agent Weinberg roped him into this assignment. But then he thought of what excuse he could possibly use to leave his post. None presented itself, and he knew any reason would come off self-serving.

Besides. As much as he enjoyed Luis’s body, Luis’s touch, he couldn’t trust Luis to stay out of his mind. Sexual attraction knew nothing of trust, but at this point in his life, Charlie wanted more than a series of now-and-then tumbles.

He sat back, folding his hands in his lap. “I can’t.”

Luis sighed. “I understand.”

Moving past the disappointment he heard in Luis’s voice, Charlie asked, “Is there anything else you need to tell me?”

Luis drew back far enough to be out of Charlie’s ready sight range. “Probably nothing you don’t already know or suspect.” He shifted forward again. None too discreetly, he pressed his knee against Charlie’s thigh. “Both sides have agreed to SearchLight’s presence, but there weren’t enough werewolf trackers willing to protect the LGBT wolves. My security team’s made up of enough psychically strong agents to defend, or defend against, the twenty-five wolves we’re guarding.”

That caught and held Charlie’s attention. “Do you expect those you’ve brought to cause problems?”

Luis laughed softly. “Werewolves are as hotheaded as vampires. There will be many disagreements at this peace summit. And telling alpha wolves to run one way or another in response to danger may prove to be like telling a toddler to stop eating things off the ground.”

Charlie nodded. “True.”

“Ethan and Agent Stanford are the only werewolves among my team. The other members are fae, although I don’t know their specific species.”

Luis sounded annoyed at that idea. Charlie had become a professor at SearchLight Academy during a time when the fae–elementals, fairies, and many others–were encouraged to keep their species private if they wished. However, because not knowing often caused misunderstandings and hurt feelings from fae and nonfae alike, the academy had started a new trend: when dealing with other magical creatures, tell your species no matter what you are, and have confidence that others will treat you fairly. That policy had only gone into effect at the academy last semester.

Charlie considered the news of three nature spirits working together. Surely a water elemental, another of air, and a tree sprite could act as one if given the opportunity. But how would they deal with two werewolves and a psychic vampire?

Luis said, “Not a single heterosexual werewolf could be bribed enough to work with my team.”

Charlie buried the familiar frustration that rose in response to Luis’s words. “SearchLight is a model of acceptance, but that doesn’t mean every employee can be taught the difference between honoring traditions and thinking for themselves.” Aware of his duty as a language and cultural expert, he added, “And would a single LGBT wolf serve as a security guard for the straight wolves?”

Luis made a slightly choked but amused noise. “No. Ethan would have volunteered, but I wouldn’t allow it.” He gripped Charlie’s hands. “I’ve talked about everything I came here to say. Mostly I wanted to make Firos William’s acquaintance before tomorrow. Failing that for now, I’d like to steal a moment of your time. Or I could steal you.”

Too tempted by that suggestion for comfort, Charlie stood up. “No.” He couldn’t smell Cassandra or any of the other wolves who’d stayed behind, but he didn’t need that warning. His time with Luis hadn’t ended well in March, and it would play out less well now that August had come with increased responsibilities for both of them.

“But, Charlie–”

“Stay out of my head, please.” He reinforced his shields, bringing them up to the strength they’d often been when he and Luis had worked together in March. Not that it was Luis he’d guarded himself against back then. The psychic vampire was no real threat. Not to Charlie, whose telepathic talents rivaled those of everyone he’d ever met. Luis was just a horny kid.

I’m horny too. Now that he’s so close… Charlie clamped down on that thought, and when he spoke, he did so as much for himself as for Luis. “We’re both here in an official capacity, and neither of us can afford the distraction.” He held out his hand. “May I have my cane?” He cursed the formality of his tone the moment he’d spoken, and once he felt the rubber grip between his fingers, he said, “Thanks. I’m sorry we can’t talk about this now, but we can talk. Later.”
Copyright © Emily Carrington

The Weekly Thursday Teaser

Dear Readers and Fans:

I am posting the latest Thursday Teaser from my novel in progress, “Dragon In Training”. Do enjoy the opening chapter. I hope it leaves you excited for the rest of the story.

Love,
Emily

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Being trapped in a lamp for twenty years at a time wasn’t as unpleasant as it sounded. Damn lonely but not unpleasant. Luke, like all genies, was able to make his prison a palace, and as long as he kept busy, each time of confinement went swiftly. He’d been alive for over ten centuries; what was a score of years?

This stint was almost done. He went to the covered clock that hung on the other side of the room, walking easily with the almost imperceptible rocking of the lamp under his feet. His last mistress, after getting what she most wanted, had tossed his prison over the side of a boat, and he’d been forced to go with it.

He brushed the clock’s velvet curtain aside so he could study the face. The hands read April 2004, and he nodded. Almost twenty years had passed. His lamp would be picked up soon. Goddess, God, or fate always made it so.

Luke grabbed his wrists and stretched upward, wincing at the satisfying series of pops that walked up his back. “About time.” He shot a glance at his bookshelves. “This time, I’ll bring back more books.” He leaned backward and rolled into a handstand. Facing away from the clock now, he headed for his closet. Its doors slid back, disclosing outfits that reflected the many centuries of his existence. His first-meeting wear would never be current, but that didn’t matter; peacock behavior was for mortals.

He laughed. “Says the man who keeps almost everything he wears in any century.” He curled down into a crouch, then stood, shedding both boxers and T-shirt with two fluid movements. “Maybe a traditional genie turban…” Brushing clothes this way and that on the closet’s bar, he didn’t at first feel the summoning tingle that started at the roots of his hair. “Or a business suit?”

The tingling spread down to his neck and then out to both hands. Luke scrabbled for his boxers. “Wait! I’m not ready!”

“Use your magic, stupid,” spoke up Benji’s voice. His maker was long gone, but his voice seemed to always come at the best and worst times.

He laughed again and started to think himself into a pair of swimming trunks, but the summoning tingle encompassed his whole body. Naked, his own powers frozen for the moment of transport, he was sucked out of the lamp.

Well, he was definitely going to make an impression. He grinned inside himself like a fully risen sun. Best case scenario, his new master would be blind, and thus his nudity wouldn’t matter.

Transport complete, the tingling feeling receded. Hovering above the water like a leaf in an updraft, Luke gazed down at the man who treaded water below him. His new master’s eyes were hidden by what Luke assumed was a newfangled version of the scuba mask his last mistress had worn on occasion. Dark brown hair like bittersweet chocolate made little plastered curls on his forehead and neck, and his face was lightly tanned.

“Put some clothes on!” Benji all but screamed, and Luke snapped his fingers. Swimming trunks appeared. He sank into the water, cradling the lamp under one arm to keep it from floating away. In the same breath, he buried his magic within himself, rather like covering a neon pink and spiky-bad haircut with a hat. Any other magical beings within a hundred meters of him would know where and what he was, but those farther away would have no idea he was here unless they were seeking his magic-signature specifically. Partial anonymity would help him focus on only his master.

His magic safely hidden away, he smiled at said master. “Hello, Master. My name is Luke.” That hadn’t been his name when Benji had made him a genie; he’d adopted the new name some hundred fifty years ago. He swam forward a few strokes, surreptitiously checking out their surroundings. A mostly empty beach was visible in the middle distance. Though he couldn’t be sure, he thought he might still be in the Gulf of Mexico, where his mistress had dropped him. The water was ocean-buoyant with salt, and calm. He hadn’t been summoned to save his master from drowning.

His master pushed up the mask, revealing blue eyes just a shade lighter than the water around them. He laughed, a deep, rough purr. “Whichever of my coworkers hired you, tell them you had me going for a minute, especially with the mirrors or whatever you used to appear naked in midair, but I’m not interested in any one-night stands.” He pulled the mask back down. “Oh, and tell them — whoever they are — that they don’t know my taste in men at all.” He struck out for shore.

That was the first frustrating part: convincing his new master that he was in possession of a genie. The second would come when Luke had to explain the rules. Well, soonest begun and all that.

Luke did another check of the beach. There were people there, but none of them seemed to be staring in their direction. They were alone out here in the water. He vanished, reappearing in midair before his master’s eyes. “Can you explain this?” He rolled over on his back, tipping his head back so he could look at the man in the water. “What’s your name, Master?” Not that it mattered. Masters and mistresses usually didn’t want you to use their name; it was just something to ask so the silence wouldn’t rush in. He hated silences. They were annoying.

“I’m Mark,” his master said. “Of SearchLight.”

Luke didn’t recognize that name, but it was apparently significant to his master.

“I don’t know how you’re doing this,” Mark said, “but there’s surely a trick of science involved.” He swam under Luke, who resisted the urge to roll over and keep him in view.

Mark passed his hands under Luke, not quite touching him.

He could feel the heat of those hands, and he wanted to move just enough to make the contact, however brief, skin to skin. Mark’s voice — steady like a professor’s but rough as if he used it as a weapon — called to all Luke had denied himself for far too long. This new master looked nothing like Jesse, but that somehow made Luke’s desire okay.

“Okay,” Mark said, “this is sophisticated.” He sounded intrigued. “What kind of technology…?”

Luke turned over. “You’re a man of science?” Why couldn’t he run into someone who believed in anything and everything? No, that would be too easy.

“More or less.” Mark’s eyes shone like a mirage. Yes, he was intrigued. “Is this some new science?” His eyes flicked to Luke’s swim trunks. “You’re not hiding some kind of…” He shook his head, muttering, “Nothing’s that small, and this isn’t Star Trek.”

Not understanding the reference any more than he knew the meaning of SearchLight, Luke ignored it. If he had to know, he’d find out. “I promise, I’m not using any sort of scientific find to stay suspended up here.” He made his trunks disappear for a moment, waited until Mark’s jaw had dropped far enough and his cheeks had colored before poofing the trunks back into place. “See?” His gaze flicked down to the water, and he wondered if Mark was sporting an erection or if that was just the play of light on water.

“Yeah… I see.” Mark started for the beach again, tugging once, harshly, at his swim trunks. “Will you answer a question?” His voice was unsteady, but when he glanced over his shoulder, that gleam was still in his eyes.

Fighting the need to swim under Mark, maybe even touch him, Luke said, “Sure.” He sank back into the water and swam beside Mark. “You’re a little confused, right? Let me try to help. I’m a genie, and you rubbed my lamp.” He paused. Twenty years was too long to go without a tease or two. “Feel free to rub other things.”

Mark loosed a short, unamused laugh and faced him. He treaded water confidently, like it was his element. “No.” He frowned. “Genie? Well, since dragons exist, why not?”

“You’ve seen dragons?” He prayed there were no dragons in the area.

The man quirked a tight smile. “Several.”

“You believe in them.” Luke’s excitement was like a flood; he worked hard to suppress it. His master believed. This was so much easier than convincing his last mistress.

“Of course I believe. But why was your lamp — if it really is yours — near this particular coast? Where’s your master? Wait.” He nodded to himself. “You called me master. That means your last one ran out of wishes?”

Luke handed the lamp over. He watched Mark examine it. “I was dumped here after my last mistress found her happiness.”

“So, I get three wishes?” Mark shook his head; his face was set. “Unless you can help me catch a murderer, I don’t need anything. Do you want me to wish you free now?” He shook his head and muttered something else Luke didn’t understand: “Disney Classics. Blue fuck.”

Luke frowned. “You can’t just give up your wishes. Don’t you have someone or something you want? If one of your friends is setting you up with one-night stands, you must not have anyone. Isn’t there someone you want to fill your bed?”

Mark was laughing again, a little humor garnishing the bitter sound. “No. But maybe I do have one wish: I wish you’d –”

Luke held up his hands. “Wait. Before you make it, I should tell you the rules.”

“There are rules?” Then, probably to himself, “Of course there are.” He nodded at Luke. “Fine. Let’s talk on land.” He struck out for the beach, moving like a thing born for water.

Amused by his own erection, Luke followed him in.

He lingered by the water to stay out of the way as Mark approached a tall man with brown-red hair and a fierce gaze. “Sir, there’s nothing out there.” Mark scooped up clothing from the beach and quickly covered himself as if he were shy. “If there was anything, the tide took it. With your permission, I’ll come back tonight and see if our target’s nocturnal.”

The man — his master’s boss? — started walking away, gesturing for Mark to follow. A woman joined them. She dusted off her hands on her shorts. “Nothing on the beach, either,” she said.

“We might still be dealing with a rogue merman,” the man with Mark said. “Everybody call it a day.” He looked to Mark. “Come back after nightfall.”

“I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

The boss took a step closer and said something that made Mark’s shoulders tense. “Try, Mark,” the man said louder as he stepped back. “Exhausting yourself isn’t going to help.”

The woman who had reported an all clear on the beach was looking at Luke, so he flexed a muscle, grinning at her. She laughed.

He caught up to his master as Mark yanked a shirt over his head and even a pair of shorts over his swim trunks, which were practically still dripping. “Nice girl.”

Mark scowled. “If you’re done flaunting what you think you have, let’s go.”

No wonder you don’t have anyone if that’s how you talk. Luke straightened to his full height (he towered over Mark by a whole quarter inch) and said, “Of course, Master.”

“And quit saying that in public. I’m not into S and M, and I don’t need Re — anyone thinking that’s what I like.”

Luke made a great show of looking around. Then he stepped close to Mark and purred, “I think we’re alone, dahling.” Shit, he smells good.

Mark tensed. “And keep your distance.” His voice dropped. “If I’m your master, do you have to do what I say?”

Luke sighed. Open-minded as the man had seemed at first, flirtation was obviously outside his comfort level. “Sort of. That has to do with those rules we have to discuss.”

Mark’s scowl deepened.

Luke said, “You’re pissed at me. I didn’t realize you’re in the closet.” He hid a grin, loving how he picked up all the slang within minutes of arriving in a new time. It was definitely one Benji-given gift that he didn’t think he could have done without. Leave comedic customs confusion to I Dream of Jeannie.

Mark whirled and shoved him back a step. (This probably wasn’t the right time to comment on his master’s sexy-as-hell strength.) “I’m not. I just don’t need you coming on to me.” His voice dropped again. “If you really are a genie, and you’ve been trapped in that lamp for centuries, you probably want to get laid. I understand that; I respect it, but I’m not interested.”

“I’ve only been in there for twenty years.” He tried to pass it off as a joke, but he retreated two steps, hands raised. “I didn’t mean to come on like a horny bastard. I was just flirting. Joking.”

Mark gazed at him for a moment, and his eyes said he wasn’t going to forgive. But then he looked down at his sneakers. “Yeah, well, I’m not in the mood, okay?”

Maybe he was just trying to do his job. Hadn’t he mentioned a murder? “Yeah.” Luke nodded beyond Mark. “Shall we?” He picked up the pace and walked beside Mark, not too close. “When did you see your first dragon?”

Mark’s lips quirked. “Change of topic? All right, I’ll bite. I was sixteen. It was after one of my cousins. I’m just glad I saved her.” He looked away, then back. “It’s hard not to believe in something like that when it rockets out of the water right in front of you.” He let out a bark of laughter. “And yet people have been fooling themselves and forgetting on purpose as long as Homo sapiens have had an imagination.” He glanced at Luke and shifted so there was another half foot between them.

Had his master been assaulted, or just harassed too often by guys with nothing but fuck on their minds? “Were you out in the water looking for others today?”

“Not dragons specifically, no. But there have been too many near drownings and all-out deaths even for this season.” He pointed. “There’s my car. I’m going to take you back to my place, partially to verify what you are, partially for research, and partially so I can listen to these rules without having to drive at the same time. All right?”

Luke shrugged, suddenly tired. This business relationship was going to be as boring and taxing as the one with his former mistress. “It’s not as if I have a choice, Mawster. I do what you tell me. For the most part.”

Mark smiled. It was a jaded twist of his lips. “Quit pretending to be docile. And stop calling me master.” The smile fell away, and he took on a decidedly hungry look. But Luke thought it was more the craving of knowledge than money. “This has more to it than three wishes, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. There are genies of the three-wishes type; I’m just not one of them.” But he couldn’t be serious no matter how it might ease things between them. “You have almost endless wishes with me.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Mark took half a step back, his body language all about caution and “don’t touch me.”

Luke tried to look apologetic. “Sorry, but I’m pretty much at your disposal, and a lot more people than you’d think want the sex that can go with that statement.”

Mark turned away. “A ten-thousand-year-old slut. Why me?”

Luke grimaced at his back, then followed in his master’s wake. Sometimes, when you got saddled with an asshole for a master, the best you could do was keep your mouth shut.
Copyright © Emily Carrington

First Chapter Friday Arrives Early

Dear Readers and Fans:

For First Chapter Friday I present to you the opening chapter of “Time Shifters” by fellow author, Myra Nour. Please take a moment to check out her exciting excerpt below. Thanks!

Peace and Love,
Emily

Chapter One
“Oh,” she groaned aloud. There he was again, the dark mysterious figure that haunted her more nights than she cared to count. This time, they stood facing each other in the middle of a night-black forest; she was already frightened, her breathing frenzied and her heart pounding. She felt like she was caught in the middle of a Twilight Zone episode—death approached, but it was as if she were stuck in a quagmire and couldn’t move.
He edged closer, stepped into the moonlit glade between her and the protective foliage that had covered his form. A werewolf! Briana was shocked. Even though she was a strong person, she was too scared to move an inch. She’d expected a menacing stranger, not a fictional monster. He looked real enough, his body bulky with muscles, and she even noticed a musky odor.
Abruptly, the creature jumped in one great predatory leap, landing directly in front of her. His weight crushed a small branch into kindling as he landed. Strangely, she wasn’t frightened, not now. Why? She didn’t know. Her heart thudded heavily against her chest, her breathing came in short pants, but from another source entirely—she was turned on. Briana found this startling. The appearance of a savage, beast-like wolfman made her hot? It was insane, this sudden switch from terror to lust.
For years, she had been involved in strange encounters with this mystery man, who tonight, had turned out to be a nightmarish creature. But this was turning into the weirdest experience she’d ever had. Once he made his appearance in wolf/human form, she no longer feared his presence. It was as if there was a connection between them, a hidden knowledge she found puzzling.
“Who are you?”
His answer was a guttural growl, then a pounce onto her body. She fell to the ground, landing uninjured on a soft pile of leaves. For some crazy reason, she knew he did not intend to hurt her. The beast’s body was heavy, his long hair tickling against her exposed skin. She glanced down at her naked body, again surprised; she’d been wearing her nightgown earlier.
Drool dripped onto her chin and she looked up into its beautiful, but eerie, golden eyes, strangely unaffected by the savage grin of its fanged mouth. She still wasn’t frightened.
Suddenly, he swooped down on her neck, sucked up flesh into his mouth, his teeth delicately holding the skin, but not piercing it. His warm tongue licked between his fangs, up and down, then made swirls, as if he drew on an invisible artist’s palette. My, it certainly felt real.
Briana’s insides churned, heat concentrated in her neck and connected with her lower body in a surprising rush. Moaning, she arched her back. She wanted…she didn’t know what she wanted, perhaps more of his delicious-feeling tongue. The werewolf released her with a quick flick of his tongue, then descended lower and nuzzled one of her breasts, tickling the sensitive skin into a hard nub simply with his downy soft facial hair. When he latched onto her flesh with his tongue and gentle nips of his teeth, her nerve endings were set to explode.
She could see nothing but his golden eyes; his body hair melded with the ink-black night so efficiently. But she didn’t need to see; she could feel. His member bumped against her thigh, as if asking entry. Brianna was ready, filled with a desire she couldn’t fathom. She welcomed him with her whole being.
It was unbelievable…it felt so good. Felt like he belonged there always, moving his large body in a rhythm she matched stroke for stroke. She had never felt such heat during a sexual encounter. Gripping his hairy behind, she urged him forward faster and harder. His large staff filled her completely and she trembled as a body-thrumming orgasm rioted through her senses.
Abruptly, she pitched into wakefulness completely confused. Where was she? For a second, Briana looked around for a hairy form, but only the interior of her cozy hotel room met her gaze. Stretching, she was startled by the dampness of her arousal and the aching throb that emitted in rhythmic beats from her cloth-covered groin.
Man, what a dream!
A wet dream. She knew this was common for men, but didn’t think it was for women—she’d never experienced one before. Breathing slowly, she consciously slowed her body’s response to the highly erotic dream. It took a few minutes, but finally she had control of herself again.
Why am I having such bizarre dreams when I’m having such a great time?
Briana not only didn’t understand her strange, surreal dreams, but also didn’t understand herself anymore—at least not after last night. She was in New Mexico on vacation, sequestered in a quiet spa resort, Los Ojos, enjoying her first true vacation in a long time.
The naturally heated medicinal pools of the resort were heavenly; the soda pool was her favorite. She’d been soaking for hours each day. A daiquiri in hand made it easy to chat with others who came to relax as well. For the most part, the patrons of the spa were intellectuals, and like her, sought a quiet, lesser-known place to relax. Briana had made several acquaintances, people she’d never see again, but it was surprising what you could discuss with strangers, private things you sometimes didn’t even share with friends. Subjects like dreams, goals unmet, and desires of the heart.
Exchanges about boyfriends and job issues made the rounds with little forethought. She realized that maybe the conversation and companionship were the biggest pluses to her trip, not the hot springs “tubs”, luxurious massages, pampering facials, nature hikes, or wonderful gourmet restaurant.
As manager for a large hotel in Dallas, Briana was simply too busy to have much of a life, period. She didn’t have regular girlfriends, unlike many of her co-workers; there never seemed to be time to make any. She dated so infrequently it was a subject of gossip for the hotel staff, and that was not due to her looks; she was self-confident enough to know she looked just fine.
Not one of the men she’d ever dated had piqued her interest either for more than a short period of time. Again, she didn’t understand why she seemed to have such a problem finding the right man. A few of the men had been “real catches”, as the female staff would say. They had good jobs, their appearances ranged from cute to downright handsome, and they drove luxury cars. Of course, being a modern woman, she didn’t require a man to make a living, and even orgasms could be easily achieved with a toy. But dates were nice. Having someone to share activities with was fun, and making love with a man was, for the most part, an experience she didn’t want deleted from her life.
Lovemaking. Some lovers had been adequate, giving her satisfaction with mostly unskilled efforts, probably due more to her own natural sensuality than anything else. A few were downright pitiful—a “two-minute man” wasn’t for her!
Mark had come the closest to being someone she could spend a lifetime with. He was handsome and was the manager of a nearby hotel, so they had that in common. And they both enjoyed walks in the park, watching horror movies, and reading science fiction novels. He was even a spectacular lover, always bringing her to satisfaction more than once during a session.
But, there was something she couldn’t put her finger on, some unfathomable reason why she couldn’t commit. She wasn’t afraid of commitment; at least she didn’t think so. Mark had even asked in a diplomatic way about an engagement, which she’d ignored. He was the one who broke off their long-standing dating relationship, after she’d dragged her feet for months without giving him a response.
Getting up from the comfortable bed, she gulped down a glass of water. She had been having a fun vacation until he had appeared in her dreams. The dark figure she now knew was a wolfman. Sighing, she pushed the curtain aside, surprised when the sun’s rays hit her full force. Dressing quickly, she thrust thoughts of her disturbing dream from her mind, determined to enjoy a full day of activities. And she did.
That night, she was exhausted. She’d made sure to hike, do yoga, and swim, in order to guarantee a good night’s sleep. But, as she was drifting off peacefully, the male called to her once again. She managed to ignore him and fall asleep anyway. Demanding attention, he made such a racket in her head; she finally awakened, disturbed and confused. She jumped up, grumpy and tired, but dressed mechanically.
She was restless, paced the floor for over an hour, and then suddenly decided to go for a drive. The road she chose was dark, much of it long and straight, stretching for miles with nothing breaking the boring landscape. Flatland, with ugly shrub brush frequently marring its surface. She must have driven for hours, her thoughts flitting back to him and all the appearances he’d made into her night realm. At all times she was still aware of him, as if he sat at the back of her mind and sang to her. It was eerie, but beautiful.
Finally, after hours, she pulled into some kind of cleared area. That singsong voice had stopped and somehow she knew she’d arrived at her destination. She was exhausted and fell into a restless sleep. Waking at predawn, when the land was gray and indistinguishable, she waited for the sun to rise so she could see where the heck she’d driven herself during the night. She did not feel refreshed.
It was dusky dark, not much to see except the huge, dark hump of something big directly in front of her vehicle. Probably a mountain, from its shape. When the sun peeked over the horizon, she looked through the windshield, and realized she had stopped in an area that looked like a primitive parking lot. It was dusty and small. She had no idea what it was a parking lot for, and right then, she didn’t care. Running a hand through her short locks, she peered with groggy eyes at the landscape.
“What’s wrong with me?” She spoke aloud; the absolute silence surrounding her made her aware of the isolation of this park. Where am I? Out in the middle of nowhere, Briana answered herself—silently this time. God only knew where she was.
Am I going insane?

A Thursday Teaser for Your Delight

Hello Readers and Fans:

Tonight I am posting Chapter One from my Work in Progress, Three Brothers Fair 3: The Zephyr Prince. Please enjoy. Insights and feedback welcome. I am posting book covers from my previous books in this series because “Zephyr Prince” does not have a finished cover at this time.

Peace,
Emily

Three Brothers Fair 3: The Zephyr Prince.
Chapter One

Andy sat at his desk. His brothers, Tian and Hans, sat in two armchairs. In an effort to look relaxed, Andy sat backward in his chair and folded his arms atop the uppermost rung. It was a comfort having his younger brothers with him after so many years apart, but he couldn’t shake the thought that they were all together one last time.
Not for any fatalistic reason but because he would be wed in a week’s time. His brothers were already married and he hadn’t seen either of them in years. It took months for letters to traverse the distances between the United Sates, Ireland, and Greece. And although letters kept him appraised of the large things in his brothers’ lives. The birth of first children and the dying of elders. (Felimid, Hans’s husband, was now king of all water demons.)
He smiled at his brothers. “I am so glad to see you both.”
“You won’t be saying that by the end of the week,” Tian pointed out.
Hans smiled, a little thing.
Andy shook his head. “Probably I won’t be saying it about you, Christian.”
Tian asked, “So, what’s his name, this king you’re marrying?”
“King Nubes.”
Tian snickered “King Noobz? Doesn’t that mean something disrespectful in a version of the humans’ English?”
Andy sighed, and when he saw Hans’s smile grow, he made a face at Tian for good measure and for Hans’s further amusement. “Noo-behs. You will address him by his proper name.”
Hans put in, “Felimid says King Nubes’s name means clouds in Spanish.”
Andy nodded. “Well, that makes sense. He’s the king of all sylphs.” Which meant all air beings.
Tian scoffed. “I don’t care if he’s the king of all the world. With a name like Noob…”
Andy rolled his eyes. “Christian…”
“Yes, big brother?”
Hans said quietly, “Andy, you’re pacing.”
When had he gotten up? Hans was right; he was covering the same space in the floor like a caged thing. Andy colored.
Hans asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Besides Tian?” Maybe he could pass it off as less than it was.
Hans smiled. “You know it’s not just that. What’s wrong?”
Even Tian was looking at him now and not making any comments. Andy hesitated, but the concern in Hans-a-la’s eyes was palpable. “I’m…nervous…about meeting King Nubes. And about…marrying him.”
Tian snorted. “Now you know how I felt when Mother tried to unite me with Felimid.”
Hans snapped, “Not now, Tian,” and so displaying more testicular fortitude than Andy had ever seen out of his youngest brother except via letter. “Andy,” he went on, “what scares you?”
This was less definable, but Andy took a stab at it. “He’s a king. He’s so much more than I’ll ever be.” Tian:
“Just because of his title?” Tian demanded. “Andy, that’s crazy.”
He struggled to defend himself. “Not just because of that. It’s more…” He shrugged. “Marrying him means the completion of Mother’s prophecy, and I don’t even understand what that is.”
Hans said, “None of us understand it beyond who we were supposed to marry.”
Tian suggested, “So, don’t marry him. It’s that simple. You don’t love him; you haven’t even met him.”
Andy frowned and said the dutiful thing. “I will this evening. And he’s coming all the way from the Mediterranean to meet me and wed.”
Tian said, “If you don’t believe in Mother’s prophecy—”
“It’s not that I don’t believe; I just don’t understand it.” Andy moved toward his closet, thinking to put an end to this conversation. “I need to start getting dressed. And so do the both of you.”
Hans said, “Give him a chance. He may turn out to be someone wonderful.”
* * * *
Nubes caught his consort by his single wing and dragged him close. “Kiss me.”
Un-Ala struggled free. “No.”
Nubes frowned. Although Un-Ala was allowed to disagree with his king, it was rare. “Just a little play,” he said, trying to make his voice teasing rather than needy. He doubted he succeeded.
Un-Ala smiled, but the shake of his head was firm. “No, my king.”
Frustrated, Nubes’s wings fluttered. He demanded, “Why?”
“Because you need to have your mind and heart pure and ready for this new one if you want any chance to love him.”
Nubes made a rude noise. “I do not need to love him. And I cannot. He cannot participate in the soaring rituals.”
“Then why are you marrying him?”
As if Un-Ala didn’t know. Still, if it would keep him talking and perhaps reduce his resolve… “Marriage isn’t about love, Un-Ala. It’s about the safety of the world. Joining myself to Lord Andrew will give that.”
Un-Ala said, “I can’t believe you would give up on the chance of love because of a little thing like a mating custom” He frowned. “It certainly didn’t stop you from bedding me.”
Nubes made a face. “You were different. Your spirit lives on past your, er, condition.”
Un-Ala sighed. “If you can see my spirit, have hope for Lord Andrew. Besides—” he grinned wickedly—“it is time you dressed. The dinner will not wait.”
“You will sit at my left hand?”
Un-Ala blushd.
Nubes was glad to see it. Rare were the times he could make his consort show his emotions unless they were in bed.
Un-Ala agreed, “Every night until the wedding.”
Hubes tried one more time even though there was not much before he needed to be at the banquet. “I love you as I thought I could never love a consort.”
Un-Ala turned away and hid his face with his single wing. “You know I’m still looking for true love, Nubes. Do not put me on the spot like this.”
“True, it isn’t fair. I was only trying to bestow a compliment.”
“I know, which is why I am not angry with you. But have a little compassion for yourself. At least view Lord Andrew as a potential love.”

A New First Chapter Friday Post

Today for First Chapter Friday, we have the pleasure of enjoying an excerpt from the novel ‘Programmed to Please’ by Jenna Ives. Wanting more? Readers can buy the book here:
Programmed To Please

Excerpt: Chapter One

“Turner, I’m sending you undercover as a Beautiful Dolls sex toy.”
Jai Turner stared at her boss, Commander Talis Rainey, convinced she couldn’t possibly have heard him right. She and her partner, Leith Wyatt, had been called into his office at the end of their duty shift. It had been a long day, as they all were on Tau Cetus in this post-apocalyptic era, and she was in no mood for a joke.
She shifted tiredly on her feet in front of his desk. “Sir?” She noticed that even Leith, who was standing beside her, had raised his eyebrow in question.
For an answer, Rainey leaned forward in his chair and pushed a button on the console on his desk. “Send in Mr. Carron.”
A minute later, a short man stood in the doorway. His eyes darted nervously as he checked out the spartan office before taking an apparently reluctant step into the room. He was such a stereotype that Jai felt herself stiffen. Thick glasses… hair askew… frankly, all he needed was a lab coat with a pocket protector to complete the picture. Savant. Adept. Carbon-copier.
Maybe her boss hadn’t been making a joke.
Rainey cleared his throat. “This is Anson Carron. The creator of Beautiful Dolls.”
If the abrupt and impersonal introduction annoyed their guest, he didn’t show it. His eyes had locked on Jai, and were scanning her up and down in a way that felt decidedly intimate despite the generic, navy blue one-piece uniform that she and everyone else on the Tau Cetus force wore.
“Yes,” he murmured. “I suppose I can work with this.”
“This,” Rainey said hotly, “is Jai Turner, one of my best agents. She’s human.”
The little man seemed lost in his own train of thought. “She meets his prime criteria. Of course, it would be better if I could see her without her clothes on before I make a final assessment.”
What the hell? Jai stiffened even more. “Commander!”
Rainey let out a loud sigh, then glanced at Jai and the two men. “Sit. All of you.”
Instead, Carron took a step closer. “Can I touch her, at least?”
“Lay one finger on me, asshole,” Jai growled, “and it’ll be the last thing your hand ever does.” Wyatt stepped closer to her to drive the point home.
Behind his desk, Rainey blew out a breath. “I said sit!”
The three of them held their adversarial positions for a moment, then took the hard chairs arrayed around Rainey’s desk. Jai crossed her arms and legs defensively, and even Wyatt turned his chair around to straddle it. It was obvious neither one of them anticipated liking whatever the Commander might be about to say.
Rainey ran a hand through his grey-black hair and looked at the partners. “Before I start, I have just one thing to say to you two. Marque Callex.”
Jai gasped. “What?”
That changed everything. The infamous name had both her and Wyatt leaning forward in their chairs, now eagerly waiting for Rainey’s next words.
“You know how long we’ve been trying to get close to this guy. We may now have a chance, albeit by a very unconventional route.” Rainey nodded toward their guest. “A month ago, Mr. Carron here ran afoul of the law. No need to get into the specifics, but in an effort to save his neck – and his very lucrative business – he suggested a unique proposal in return for us not pursuing charges against him.”
“What kind of proposal?” Wyatt asked.
“A clever one, as it turns out.” Rainey smirked. “Mr. Carron agreed to send out an… invitation… to Marque Callex, in the guise of offering ‘a select number of high-powered businessmen’ the chance to sample the latest model of Beautiful Doll for free, in exchange for their feedback on the product. In reality, Callex was the only person to get this invitation.”
Jai’s mouth set in a disgusted line. “And he accepted.”
“He did,” Rainey confirmed. “It was a gamble, but it paid off. In this supposed ‘latest model,’ clients are able to customize their girl. Callex filled out the form specifying the criteria of his ideal Beautiful Doll, and now all we have to do is fulfill his requirements.” The Commander gave Jai a pointed stare. “With you.”
Jai’s eyes went wide. “You want me to impersonate a sexbot?”
“He’s requested certain specifics,” Anson Carron spoke up. “Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Lean, athletic build.”
Jai let out a relieved breath. “Well, that rules me out then. I’m brown-haired and brown-eyed.”
“Easily fixed,” her boss pointed out. “You fit the most important characteristic: athletic build. We can’t fake that, but we can correct the other things with hair dye and contact lenses.”
Uneasy, Jai leaned forward in her chair. “Sir, do you really believe a man who can have any model of girl he wants, would pick a B-cup and not a triple-D? For a sexbot? Come on, Commander. Are you sure Callex is even serious about this?”
Rainey stroked his chin thoughtfully, and then shrugged. “Well, we’ll have our answer on Monday, if he shows up at the Beautiful Dolls boudoir. Until then, prepping you for the assignment is the way we’re going to proceed. That is, if you’re agreeable.”
Jai scowled. There was absolutely no way she was going to volunteer for this. Have sex on command? Not a chance. Not even to bring down a man they’d long been after for suspected weapons smuggling. Besides, she could never pass for a sexbot. She had a heartbeat, for Christ’s sake! “Why don’t you send in a real Doll for the job?”
“Because the whole point is to get information out of him,” Rainey answered. “A robot can’t be programmed to be clever. We need someone to coax him into spilling his secrets.”
“With all due respect, Commander,” Wyatt interjected. “Callex is locked up tighter than a penitentiary. Security is everything in his line of work. It’s not realistic to think he’s going to give away top secret information while in the throes of passion.”
“You haven’t met my Dolls,” Carron mumbled.
Rainey ignored the remark. “Maybe not during sex, no. But haven’t you heard of pillow talk? Read your history books. Greater men have been brought down by baring their souls during that post-coital sense of euphoria. I want Jai to build a relationship with him, gain his trust.”
In response, Jai re-crossed her arms and legs. There was no way – absolutely none – that she was going to be anyone’s personal sex toy.
Rainey sighed into the stubborn silence. “Do I really need to play the Joran Breaux card with either of you?”
A spark of anger shot through Jai, even as she heard Wyatt shift uncomfortably on his chair. Joran was the second – and definitely much more personal – reason they were after Marque Callex. Joran had been sent in to infiltrate Callex Industries from the inside, to discover how one of the government’s top weapons contractors was secretly diverting arms to militant countries. Joran’s cover as an employee had seemed secure until two months ago, when the police force had lost contact with him on the very day he’d scheduled a meeting with Marque Callex. Three weeks later, Joran’s body had turned up – in pieces – in a recycling center a hundred clicks away.
Joran had been Wyatt’s partner before Jai.
Jai would relish the chance to avenge the death of a fellow Tau Cetus agent, but was becoming a sex slave really the best way to do it?
“How do we know Jai won’t end up the same way Joran did? Dead?” Wyatt rasped. Raw emotion was clear in his voice.
“Because we’re embedding you as the Beautiful Dolls concierge,” Rainey answered. “You’ll be there secretly taping the sessions, close by to protect her if things get out of control.”
“Good God,” Jai balked. “You plan to record the sex encounters with Callex?”
Rainey scowled. “You know how long we’ve been trying to get to Marque Callex. This may be our best chance. But if you’re not up to it, Turner, I’ll find another female agent with athletic build who’s more committed to her job.”
“I’m committed to my job, Commander,” she protested hotly.
Rainey waved a hand. “I probably shouldn’t have even offered it to you two. Wyatt is too close to this case. I just thought he’d want a crack at the guy who murdered his partner. But you’re right, Turner. Wyatt could very well be a liability.”
“I didn’t say –” Crap. Now the Commander was accusing her of letting down the force and her new partner. The guy was a master manipulator.
Silence stretched in the room while Jai considered her options. Her very limited options. As in, none. Shit. “I’ll do it.”
“What?”
Jai’s mouth set into a mulish line. What real choice did she have? Marque Callex needed to be stopped. “I said I’ll do it. If this is our best – and possibly only – chance to get to him, well, then, I’m in.”
Rainey blew out a breath, as if he hadn’t really believed his attempt to convince her would work. Wyatt, on the other hand, didn’t look half so relieved.
“Are you sure, Jai? I want to nail this bastard as much as everyone else. Maybe more so, since Joran was my partner. But even I think this sex scheme is asking too much of you.” He turned to Rainey, swallowed hard, and threw a quick glance at Carron. “How about sending me?”
Their guest shook his head. “He didn’t choose that option. He doesn’t want a mascbot, he wants a fembot.”
“Besides,” Rainey added, with a meaningful look at Wyatt, “I was serious when I said you’re too close to this situation. We don’t want you killing Callex before we can find out how he’s siphoning arms to rebel countries.”
Jai sighed, and gave Wyatt an attempt at a smile. “It’s all right. Really. You’ll have my back, right partner?”
The worried frown on Wyatt’s brow didn’t ease.
“All right then,” Rainey said, moving on now that the decision had been made. “Wyatt, I think it’s best if you leave us for a few minutes. Mr. Carron has some questions for Turner that are rather, um, personal. Pull the door closed behind you.”
Wyatt stood reluctantly, gave Rainey and Carron an equally troubled glare, and then left. The oily Mr. Carron took the seat Wyatt had vacated, and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen from a pocket of his rumpled brown corduroy jacket. In Jai’s opinion, he looked much too excited about this scenario.
Pervert.
“Remember, Turner, this is your job,” Rainey cautioned. “Marque Callex is playing a dangerous game with his double dealings. The fate of our world could literally be in your hands. Keep that in mind, and forget about your modesty.”
Jai scowled. It was hard to believe she could save the planet by having sex with a stranger.
Carron was nodding his agreement with something else Rainey had said. “Yes. No need for modesty here. I see naked women in my job all the time.”
“Those are robots,” Jai growled. Asshole.
Carron cleared his throat. “Yes. True. Well, then. Shall we begin?” He threw a glance at Rainey. “Are you staying, Commander? As you mentioned, my questions are rather personal.”
Rainey’s jaw tightened. “I’m staying to make sure you keep everything aboveboard, Carron. This is a police case, not one of your usual prostitution arrangements.”
Carron shrugged indifferently, then flipped open his yellow pad and turned to Jai. “I need to get some preliminary information.” He squinted at his notes. “Now then, when was the last time you had sex?”
Jai’s eyes narrowed. “What the hell has that got to do with this assignment?”
“You’re supposed to be a virgin model, our latest version, fresh off the assembly line,” Carron explained. “So this is important. How long has it been since you’ve had sex?”
Crap. Jai supposed that explanation made sense, given the situation. Still, her mouth pulled down into a scowl. “A year.”
Carron seemed surprised by her answer, but he fought to keep his face impassive.
Bastard pervert. My sex life is my own affair. How the hell was she going to work with this guy?
“All right, then,” Carron replied. “You should be tight enough to fool him. No need for a little nip and tuck down there.”
A nip and tuck? Down there? No way…
Carron’s pen scribbled something on the pad. “Next. How are you at fellatio? All our models are experts.”
“Oh, for the love of—”
“Not to worry,” Carron assured her quickly. “We can teach you everything you’ll need to know.”
An uncomfortable thought occurred to Jai. “Wait a minute. What if he prefers serious… kink? As in…hurting me? He’ll be under the impression I’m a machine.”
Carron shook his head. “Not allowed. He can’t damage the merchandise. That will be made clear to him. But we do provide a wide range of sex toys, so things could get a little… interesting.”
Jai swallowed hard.
Commander Rainey shoved a hand through his hair. “Turner, let’s be clear. This is what you’re agreeing to. You know what Marque Callex is. What he’s capable of. What he did to a fellow agent.”
“But commander—”
“How many times in the past three months since Joran Breaux’s death have you asked me to be part of the team to take Callex down? Well, now you are the team.”
Jai froze, the enormity of this assignment finally sinking in. Marque Callex was a powerful man. Guarded. Protected. Tau Cetus’s finest hadn’t been able to get near him. But now she was the team? For a moment, she couldn’t move.
“You’re creeping me out, Turner,” Rainey said. “Move. Blink. Do something. I hate when you freeze up like that. It’s unnatural.”
Frankly, it’s no wonder she froze. This whole scenario was enough to send anyone into shock. “Bad habit,” she mumbled. “Wyatt hates it, too.”
“No,” said Carron, looking at her thoughtfully. “Actually, it’s good. We can use that. It makes you seem almost…robotic.” He scribbled another note on his pad. “One last thing. Any surgeries, incisions, birth marks, visible scars?”
Jai shook her head. She’d been lucky; five years on the force and not an injury yet.
Carron flipped his notebook closed. “It doesn’t really matter. We’ll be coating you in a thin layer of polymer before each session, to cover your skin. We want you to look human, but not too human. You’re supposed to be a robot, after all.”
“Yeah, about that,” Jai said wryly. “How the hell do you seriously expect me to pull this off?”
Carron smiled complacently. “Just give me this weekend, and you’ll be ready for your assignment on Monday.”

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