Cara and the Draca
Daughters of Draca, Book 2
by Louisa Kelley
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61118-695-6
Cara is haunted by recent memories of a warehouse explosion that took the life of her best friend and caught her in the blast. Desperate for a way to cover the burns scars on her shoulder, Cara heads for the mysterious tattoo shop in Portland everyone is talking about.
Aedhan, the gorgeous tattoo master, leaves her senses reeling and her knees weak. Just the touch of his talented hands brings welcome relief and a sense of release from her emotional pain. His charming, eccentric ways combined with his tangerine hair and odd accent create an intoxicating mix. To her delight, the incredible tattoo he expertly lays over her scar hides everything– and makes her long for more of his healing touch.
Soon Cara is pulled into an erotic journey of unimagined delight, terror and transformation. Dragons? In Portland? Magical and sexy beyond belief? Yet, something isn’t quite adding up. Is Aedhan really telling her the truth about what he’s doing in that shop? But she’s so crazy in lust and wonder, it’s hard to care.
Dragon shape-shifter Aedhan fully intends to follow the rules of his secret mission, number one being no sex with the human women in Portland. Then Cara shows up at his shop and her sweetness and delightful freckles almost stops his heart. When he perceives the sorrow in her life, he is consumed with the need to know more. Who has hurt her? After he gets a taste of her blood on his tattoo needles and discovers the extra special something in her fluids, he decides he must see Cara again, even if it means breaking the rules. And that’s when things start to go terribly wrong…or perfectly right.
The tattoo really did seem to glow. Cara lifted her latte and took a sip, eyeing Ellen’s forearm and the dark, rich inks coloring the intricate design. She leaned closer for a better look, her heart beating inexplicably faster.
Ellen edged her sleeve up farther and sighed as she rotated her arm so they could admire the tattoo from different angles. “See? What did I tell you—un-freaking-believable.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Cara said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. What beautiful work—this guy must have a really steady hand.”
“I know,” Ellen said. “You should go check this shop out. Maybe this could help.”
Cara shrugged, looking down at the table. She knew exactly what Ellen meant. Didn’t mean she felt like talking about it. Ever. “There’s that little problem about me and needles, remember? Not a good thing.” Her needle phobia was well-known. Easy excuse. The fact that she near fainted anytime blood was drawn made her stay in the hospital especially traumatic.
“Come on, who’re you talking to here? I know what’s going on. If you won’t go the plastic surgery route, here’s the next best solution. He’s a flippin’ master tattoo artist. The absolute best I’ve ever seen. And you know what?” Ellen grinned, leaned over the table, and patted Cara’s shoulder. “There’s a bit of paranormality involved—just for you!”
“You mean the whole ‘he doesn’t have an address’ thing?”
“Exactly. No address, no hit on Google. Even if you post something on Yelp or Facebook or whatever, it’s gone the next day. No one knows why. I swear, you just drive into Old Town and somehow you find it. Old brick alleyway. Kind of spooky. And when you get there, you can’t believe you didn’t find it faster.”
The large burn scar on Cara’s shoulder throbbed, a constant reminder of the pain and guilt she carried with her every day since the explosion that had killed her best friend. Maybe Ellen was right—a big, kick-ass tattoo might be just the thing to hide her hideous scar. Dull the memories that still woke her with nightmares.
Maybe she could even get over her fear of needles if a tattoo would lessen some of this emotional pain.
“Do you think a tattoo would really cover this up?”
“I don’t know. I mean, it seems possible,” Ellen said. “Why don’t you give your burn doc a call and see what he thinks?”
“Okay.” Cara smiled a little at Ellen. “I’ll make that call tomorrow. Now give me some clues, girlfriend. If I’m really going to find this mysterious shop, I need some kind of directions. What’s the guy’s name, and what street should I start on?”
“Great!” Ellen leaned over the table and gave Cara a quick hug. “Okay, here’s what you do.” Ellen hesitated, eyeing Cara as if the next part might scare her away. “Now I know this is going to sound kind of weird, but just hear me out, okay?”
Cara nodded. She knew there was some kind of strangeness about finding this shop.
“Drive across the Burnside Bridge,” Ellen said. “Don’t take the bus. You’ll never find it on foot. Turn right as soon as you can. Keep going straight ahead. Feel the wheel under your hand, put your focus out to the streets, and open your mind.” She spoke with obvious care, as if each word was important to understand. “Imagine a small tattoo shop and have faith. You’ll find your way if it’s meant to be. And I bet, in your case, you will definitely find the shop. I mean, if anyone deserves the most beautiful tattoo ever, you do.”
According to the urban legend that had sprung up about the shop, not everyone who searched—even when accompanied by a former client of Old Town Tattoo—could find the place. People said the shop “called you.” If you weren’t called, you never found your way to the door.
Ellen was right about the attraction of something paranormal. Cara was crazy about fantasy and had recently started reading paranormal romance novels, to the huge amusement of her circle of friends. Somehow, the stories of sexy shape-changing wolves and magical fairies eased the long nights when nightmares about the bombing made sleep erratic at best.
“Okay, okay,” Cara said. “Sounds like an adventure.” She tipped her cup and finished her coffee, then stood up to lead the way out of the shop into a light spring drizzle. They both grimaced at the gray weather. Portland springs tended toward the dismal.
Cara gave Ellen a hug. “Thanks, girlfriend. For everything. You know, after… I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
“No worries. Just go find that shop. And there’s a bonus, by the way. Something besides the amazing art.” Ellen gave her a mischievous grin and waved over her shoulder as she headed for the bus stop.
Feeling buoyed by her visit with Ellen, Cara set off for her car. A tattoo that could possibly hide her burn. Something beautiful to cover the ugly. Cara’s stomach clenched in need. For what? Relief. A breakthrough. Answers.
Why was Jackie dead? Such a sad ending to the last chapter of a life that had increasingly been filled with wrong choices. Jackie had finally been trying to get her act together and had found a job as an accountant, working for a mysterious boss who owned most of the adult video stores in Portland. Then a bomb had blown up the biggest porn warehouse on the West Coast and caught Jackie in the building, murdering her and destroying millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise.
Cara had gotten caught in the terrible explosion when she went to pick up Jackie for their lunch date. The experience left her with a hideous burn scar on her shoulder and arm. Small price to pay for making it out alive.
Almost anything would be better than going on like she had been. And having a bit of a “paranormality” adventure as promised by Ellen sounded intriguing, especially since it might result in the camouflage of her burn. Cara decided to throw logic along with her needle phobia out the window and just go for it. She could use a little fun, on so many levels.
* * * *
The next evening she grabbed her purse and left the house, feeling a bit foolish. Whatever. If she couldn’t find the place, she’d drag Ellen along with her next time. No way did she believe Ellen couldn’t find her way back, despite the growing urban legends. “Old Town, here I come,” she muttered and headed her battered compact car for the Burnside Bridge, crossing the Willamette River to the west side of town. The lazy expanse of the river, murky green in the setting light, wound between Portland’s east and west sides until it met the great Columbia River. Portland’s modest downtown skyline loomed ahead, and the evening traffic on the narrow city streets seemed lighter than usual.
As she drove, she thought about the conversation with her burn doctor. He actually sported a few tattoos of his own and proved very sympathetic to her idea. He had taken a minute to examine her scar and the way it sat on her skin and then had patted her with a fatherly gesture. “I think it will depend on the expertise of the tattoo artist,” he had said. “It might work, or the ink may have trouble sinking into the skin. But if you can stand the possible discomfort from the needles, and if you don’t faint while he’s using them on you, then I can’t see that it would hurt anything to try.” Cara had shared a laugh with him at the prospect of volunteering to let needles anywhere near her body.
Cara turned north once she got to the west side and drove slowly into the narrow streets of Old Town Portland. The scene was surprisingly quiet, even for a Sunday evening, giving her a perfect opportunity for slow-car sleuthing. As she traveled, a sense of which direction to go grew stronger. Her hands seemed to direct the wheel without her conscious thought. Interesting. Ellen’s hints of a slight paranormal quality to the search had intrigued her, but this was getting a bit spooky.
Century-old, faded brick buildings lined these streets, some deserted and crumbling while evidence of urban renewal showed in small pockets of construction. Seafood markets, Chinese restaurants, and liquor stores dominated the area. This was the oldest section of Portland, a mix of landmarks and history, shelters and food kitchens. The only people on the street besides her were small lumps of sleeping homeless folk, huddled under tarps and blankets against the brick sides of a social services advocacy office.
She drove on, looking for alleyways. Her stomach knotted in growing unease. This was crazy, right? Nothing weird at all about the fact that directions seemed to be whispering in her head? She’d almost talked herself out of continuing when she rounded a corner on a street she’d been down at least three times already and saw something new.
Slowing to a crawl, she peered at the corner of a narrow alley. Cracked and faded brick lined the street, which was clearly not city maintained. The entire look and feel of the area seemed like a remnant of the nineteenth century, very much as Ellen had described. No businesses here except one, at the far end. A yellowish porch light still shone, casting shadows on sagging wooden steps. Nosing her car into the alley, she peered at the dim sign hanging in the window, making out several Ts and an O. This must be the place.
Her heart rate picked up as she rolled to the alley end and parked in front of the shop. She pushed open the car door, and cool evening air greeted her.
Cara stepped up the creaky stairs of the quiet business. The sign said OLD TOWN TATTOO. Was it open? When Cara hesitated, her shoulder throbbed as if to say, Do something about me. She turned the brass doorknob and pushed the heavy wooden door slightly open.
She leaned her head in. “Hello?” She heard a crash from the back, like glass breaking. Someone uttered an oath.
“Be right there,” a distracted masculine voice called out.
While she waited, she took a minute to look around. Old-fashioned wallpaper in tiny flowers covered every wall; a faded rose velvet sofa and matching side chairs took up one end of the narrow room, giving the overall ambience of a quaint English parlor. The smells of old wood and smoke permeated the air, yet she couldn’t see any evidence of a fireplace or woodstove. It all seemed so…lovely. Not very Portland hipsterish at all, and certainly nothing indicated this place had anything to do with tattoos. Her curiosity about the whole situation grew even further.
AEDHAN SWORE AT the small disaster in his kitchen. Glass and irreplaceable indigo ink were strewn all over the floor. The devil take it—how could anyone have found him so unguarded? Leaving the mess, he strode to the front, still cursing under his breath. He had no doubt the wards had been powered; there should not have been any human capable of getting past them. So who the hell was in his shop?
He stopped short at the sight of his intruder. Female. Tall with long, long legs. Straight red hair and…freckles. Goddess. Freckles. The most delightful sprinkling of freckles he had ever seen covered her lovely face. His kind had never been graced with freckles.
“Hello,” he said, grinning in unexpected delight. He held out his hand. “Excuse the delay. Welcome to Old Town Tattoo.”
She raised startled blue eyes. “If you’re not open I can come back later.”
“No…no, we’re open.” He didn’t mention he usually closed early on Sundays. She’d made it through the front door, so apparently his work continued. A surge of adrenaline rocketed up his spine, synapses waking, urging him to the ink. The shop had issued an invitation, or she wouldn’t be here. Taranis and Alwen’s newest trick? The gods of Draca were known for their capriciousness.
His surprise guest seemed anxious, edgy. And hurting. From what, he had no idea. Ah, a puzzle. How his gods loved puzzles.
“Come in.” He gestured her to the overstuffed couch against the wall. “How did you find me?” He mentally kicked himself for asking the question. She could not understand the significance of his inquiry.
“Good question. You know you’re not listed anywhere—like at all? Even Google didn’t have a single link.”
He grinned again. Google—she had googled him. He couldn’t help feeling a certain thrill, Google being one of his favorite discoveries about this strange human world. However, he had no need to explain why humans couldn’t find his shop by conventional means.
“My friend told me about you,” Cara said. “She didn’t have your address either, but you were so highly recommended I thought I’d give it a shot.” She licked her pale pink lips in a nervous gesture.
Aedhan watched in fascination as the tip of her tongue touched her lips, and something tightened in his groin.
She had the classic porcelain skin of a redhead, but the similarity to his family of redheads ended there. Her pale blue eyes shone with a subtle fae quality, her facial skin an almost luminous pale that spoke of hidden pain.
The sense of cosmic forces at work rocked him again. She had found him, when the spell of invitation he put out every night had long since grown cold. This had never happened before.
His brother self—his twin nature—snapped awake in Aedhan’s consciousness. “Keep her here.” The command whispering under his skin matched his own inclination. “Find out more.”
He sniffed; a delicate, spicy scent enticed him, tinged with her palpable unease. Intriguing. Nothing happened anymore the gods didn’t have a hand in. Aedhan had learned this the hard way during the past six months.
“Would you like to see some designs?” Aedhan said, reaching for his business manners. “I have several binders you can look at.”
“No, thanks. I brought my own.”
Out of courtesy he gave the scrap of paper she handed him a quick glance, then returned it to her. In the end all his clients received the design he, or rather, the powers chose for them anyway. He just let them think they’d picked it themselves. The spell dictated his hands and inspired the images he laid. Aedhan, along with his clients, simply followed along. “If you don’t mind, I need to do a little cleanup. Then I’ll show you to the procedure room. Can you wait a few minutes?”
“Yeah, sure. No problem.” Cara shrugged, although she seemed poised to run. He realized he didn’t want her to leave.
“What’s your name?” He stalled, wanting reassurance she wouldn’t bolt the second he left the room.
“Cara. And yours?” She lifted her pale blue eyes to his, and he caught his breath. Such need shone; his attention sharpened even further.
They were exchanging niceties like two regular people meeting. How surreal. “I’m Aedhan,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” He tore himself away and headed to the kitchen. He cleaned up his mess and then pulled together a new sterilized kit.
He could hardly wait to get his hands on her. Sanctioned touch—thank the gods! He was only allowed skin-on-skin contact with women during the tattoo process. His sex life had dried to dust, held captive by the mission rules of celibacy as laid down by his sister, Nareen. Nareen, who had cast the entire spell, insisted in no uncertain terms that he refrain from intimate contact with the women of this world—at least until he accomplished what he’d been sent here to do. She knew him too well, he thought ruefully. His reputation on Dracan the past year in particular had been well earned.
TATTOO GUY WAS gorgeous. She remembered Ellen’s laughing comment about a “bonus.” This must be what she had meant. Her friends went on and on about the tattoo, but about him, the one who designed it, not a word. Cara tried to quiet her absurdly racing heart. She gazed out the parlor window, past the sign with the faded lettering, while her mind whirled. The strength of her instant attraction kind of rocked her. Tall, buff, and eccentrically handsome didn’t even begin to cover it. One look at his crazy-colored tangerine hair, long and thick on his shoulders, gave her the first jolt, and then when his emerald green eyes met hers with such a knowing look—as if he was seeing something…more. Wow. Cara took a deep breath. Nerves that had been clamoring since she got out of the car zinged again. She mentally shook herself. She could do this.
He strode back into the room and smiled at her. She already loved his smile. He glowed with such cheery reassurance she found herself relaxing. A little.
“All set,” he said. “Come on back.”
She followed him down a long hall to a doorway on the left, admiring the rear view of her charming host. Faded jeans hugged an extremely nice ass. He ushered her in and invited her to sit in a large, cushioned chair next to a stainless steel table.
“What do you charge?” Cara asked, realizing she’d forgotten that part.
“Well, prices range depending on the time needed and complexity of the design. Usually around seventy-five an hour? How does that sound?”
“Really?” That seemed incredibly cheap.
“Why? Do you think it’s too much?” He looked anxious, as if afraid he’d lose her business with such a price.
“No! Actually, seventy-five is great.”
“Good,” Aedhan said. “So where would you like your tattoo?”
“Well.” Cara hesitated. “Here. On my shoulder.” She pulled up the short sleeve of her thin cotton blouse, revealing what she very seldom showed anyone.
“Ah.” Aedhan flashed a look of understanding. “Cover-up.”
Cara relaxed a bit more. He didn’t even twitch at the view of her angry red scar, burned into her skin with ridged and jagged lines. More remnants wrapped over her shoulder and trailed a few inches down her lower left chest.
“Can you tattoo over the burn marks? I was worried perhaps the ink wouldn’t take or something like that. I did talk to my doctor first. He seemed to think it would be worth trying at least.”
He leaned closer to get a better look. “Can I feel?” He raised his head, his gaze polite and nonjudgmental.
“Ah, yeah. Sure.” Wait, what was she saying? Cara moved as if to pull her arm away when he stopped her with a gentle touch.
Aedhan traced her scar with his index finger. His touch felt cool and impersonal, yet a subtle tingling rode under his fingertip as it moved along the outline of her burn. No one besides medical personnel had ever touched her there. He is touching my scar.
“I agree with your doctor. I have some special techniques that may work very well for this situation. And here’s a great idea for a design,” he said, straightening and dropping his hand. “Check this out.”
Her shoulder throbbed—not in pain, but with a startling sort of pleasure. He grabbed a sheet of paper from a stack on the ink tray.
He began sketching, his long fingers grasping the pencil and moving across the scrap of paper with smooth, swift grace. A design rapidly appeared, shaped in the rough outline of a shoulder.
Beautiful. Celtic inspired—always one of her favorite designs, what with her Irish ancestry and redheaded genetics and all.
“Nice,” she said, immediately abandoning her own idea. “I love it. What kinds of colors, do you think?”
“Hmmm.” Aedhan glanced at the rows of small plastic bottles, each filled with vibrant liquids, on a shelf over his workstation. “Purples and blues and emerald greens seem to be coming to me. How does that sound to you?”
“Great. My favorite colors.” How did he know just what was right for her?
“Well, then. Okay if I get started? I’m going to trace the outline in black first, then fill in with the colors.”
Cara gulped. Hard part coming up. Needles. “Uh, I should tell you…I’m a bit nervous around needles. Get a little faint-headed sometimes. You know what I mean?”
Aedhan turned from the tray and looked at her. His green eyes glittered in understanding. “I get that, but no problem here. I promise you will enjoy this if you relax and trust me.”
Cara took a breath and let it out. She’d enjoy it? A sense of anticipation nudged her stomach.
He was about to put hands and needles on her skin. On her burn.
She nodded. “Okay. Give it your best shot.” And then she started unbuttoning her blouse.
“RIGHT.” AEDIN CLEARED his throat. “Good.” Cara slipped the blouse down her shoulder and followed with her narrow bra strap. She modestly kept the rest of herself covered, but this didn’t stop Aedhan from catching a glimpse of the sweet swell of her breasts. With more freckles disappearing down their intriguing slopes.
He dragged his gaze away and focused on her shoulder. Reluctantly he pulled on a fresh pair of latex gloves, giving them a final snap at his wrists. He’d much rather be able to feel the soft flesh of her arm.
“This is disinfectant,” he said, swiping the area with a small towelette.
He pressed his special lining needle onto the machine and relaxed in some relief as the usual calm began to overtake him. Nothing could disturb his concentration once he entered the valley of the spell. He dipped and loaded the black, then turned back to his lovely client.
He poised the machine above Cara’s arm. He twitched a little at the sight of her toned biceps, her arm stretched out on the armrest. Despite the disturbance he sensed in her energy, she exuded a potent physical and mental strength. Very attractive to one of his kind.
Enough! Aedhan made himself focus on the foot pedal that controlled the ink gun. The low, soothing hum of the motor sang out in a familiar drone as he dropped the needle to her skin and silently sent out the call to the spell.
Aedhan’s eyes closed as the design signaled the beginning of the sacred invocation. He drew harder on the powers that started flowing through his hands, knowing that covering her burn would require some extra assistance.
She hadn’t asked why he didn’t lay a design tracing on her skin before he started. Her silence and lack of questions felt both welcome and strange; humans were usually so nosy.
The steady hum of his machine matched the building rhythm of his confident hands. Aedhan moved the needle up, down, and up again. Fluid welled to the surface, glistening with rare light from the ink. His body shuddered in reaction to the potent mixture. Between the intriguing woman and the power of the spell, he nearly forgot to stop and murmur the sacred words Nareen had taught him. Holy spells she had said came directly from the gods and then channeled through his hands into the ink, flowing in steady streams until nested in the responsive human flesh.
As the spell worked the familiar magic, a new sensation began pulsing through the instrument to his hand. Sorrow. Pain. This scar held memories that rocked the needle, pushing the fluid hard and hot into the reddened skin.
He gave a quick glance at Cara’s face. Her breathing had quickened, but her eyes were squeezed shut. Good.
He kept going, the ruined skin accepting the complex design in greedy gulps, as if in relieved welcome. Her shoulder freckles stood out in stark contrast to the black outline taking form across and around them.
Each time he lifted the needle to refill the ink, the design sank deeper. Little did she know of the true content of the ink. Aedhan pushed away old guilt at his need for secrecy.
He never failed to marvel at the seeds of life his own hands pressed into hibernation. Dragon blood and DNA nested together like twins with the human cells. This was Draca high magic—a bold experiment on chosen humans. Usually he felt no remorse at keeping the humans ignorant of his true intent. Success or failure hinged on the vital need for secrecy. No one could know of the powerful spell Nareen had taken such care to spin. Should humans find out about Nareen’s ultimate plan, everything would fall to ruin. So, by the gods, he would keep his vow. He had promised on his life to mind every rule, do everything Nareen and the spell required. He’d spent too many years larking about on Dracan, earning an indulgent, carefree reputation. The most remarkable chance to prove himself trustworthy to his kin had presented itself, and Aedhan did not intend to ruin his big opportunity.
His determination had never wavered—until now. Cara’s sorrow rang like small bells each time he touched her flesh. The healing power of life innate in the ink met and matched each rise of her secret pain. Aedhan’s hands shook a little with the force of the ink’s lock onto Cara’s scar. What had caused this? Who had caused this?
He flashed a look at her face again and saw a tear slide from one corner of her closed eye.
He stopped for a second and lifted the needle. “Cara,” he said, careful to keep his voice soft, “are you all right?”
She opened her eyes, the pale blue swimming with unshed tears. “Don’t stop,” she whispered, wiping her cheek. “Please. Finish this.”
Instead he straightened and put down the ink gun. “Perhaps a short break is in order? I need to change needles anyway to add in the colors.” How long had he been at this? Aedhan focused more closely on his handiwork and realized he’d finished a very complex design faster than any other time he could remember. The scar itself seemed to urge him on, anxious to relieve the pain beneath.
Cara nodded agreement and leaned her head back against the chair. Her face seemed so pale he wondered about continuing, yet the sense of the powers at work kept his hands moving. He snapped on the new needle and arranged the tiny cups of brilliant color. He gave her a few more minutes, finding things to clean up until she opened her eyes and gave him a shaky smile.
“I’m ready if you are,” she said.
“Good. Best part coming up.”
He ducked his head and pressed the ink gun in place again. But not before a sense of outrage over what could have caused her scar and accompanying sorrow nearly stopped his hands again. Taranis and Alwen had sent her to him for more than ink and magic.
Her skin rippled, alive under his gloved hands, speaking to him, needing, wanting…what?
Aedhan pushed more power into his fingers, his mind whispering the spell with each stroke, cajoling the ink to sink deep and hold against the uneven skin.
He completely lost track of time. When he’d glance up at Cara to check on her, her eyes remained closed. She held motionless no matter what he did, only wincing occasionally when he hit a particularly hard ridge. Aedhan rarely took more breaks than required to change needles. However, his clients usually wanted more. He offered to stop again several times, but Cara shook her head and urged him to continue. The look on her face said clearly to please just get it over with.
When his hands started to tremble on the ink gun, he knew he’d been at it for hours. Almost done. An odd eagerness overtook him to witness the final product. He’d never felt so involved personally before.
Finally he finished with a complex twist and paused, needle lifted, observing with satisfaction the colors sinking deep into her skin and even farther, into her very cells. Draca power stirred, and the matching DNA in his own veins sang bright approval. He had done well.
Delicate, twining, circling vines and colors painted a brilliant web over her entire burn. No trace of ugly scar remained. The trails of vines ended at her elbow. He’d added a few extra because she’d seemed to need just a little more than usual. Even he admired the beauty of the design.
This would help her more than she could possibly know. Pleased with his results, he gave her a smile, wanting to reassure her, and got a wobbly smile in return.
“Here, take a look at the back.” He handed her a mirror and turned her around to face the larger mirror mounted on the wall.
“Wow,” she murmured. “You really do great work. This looks fantastic. I never would have imagined—” Cara’s voice cracked. “You have no idea what you’ve done for me.”
Aedhan’s guilt rose as he handed her a tissue. One look at her grateful eyes made him want to avoid her glance. He’d never felt so awkward afterward. Stick to the mission, he reminded himself. Do. Not. Get. Sidetracked.
After he’d cleaned her up a bit and smoothed ointment over the new design, he covered it gently with some plastic wrap and tape for the ride home. He patted her shoulder as if to say, There now, all better.
Cara stood, sniffling a little, and pulled her blouse in place and buttoned it up. They did the money exchange, and then Cara shrugged on her jacket and followed him back to the parlor.
She held out her hand. “Thank you so much. You really are as good as my friend told me.”
Aedhan took her small hand in his. The shape of her slender bones fit perfectly into his wide palm. A sense of outrage filled him at who or what had hurt her so badly. He wished he’d asked her more questions, but too late now.
She had to go, and he had to let her. Rules were rules.
“Good-bye, Cara. It was truly a delight to meet you.” Without thinking, he bent over her hand and brushed a brief kiss across her knuckles. Delicious.
He made a mental note to find her again, as soon as Nareen released him from the mission obligations.
“Thanks again, Aedhan.” He noted with relief that Cara’s face seemed noticeably brighter, and then she flashed him a shy smile that nearly took him to his knees. “See you.” She gave a wave and turned for the front door. He watched until her car disappeared from sight, conflicting emotions roiling inside him.
Duty sent him back to the procedure room for cleanup. He arched his back, stretching his arms and rotating his shoulders as he walked. He’d just spent the last eight hours hunched over body parts. What good fortune the surprising end of the night’s spell involved such a completely tantalizing woman.
He eyed the remains of the session and then set about tidying for the last time. His shoulder blades itched; his other nature urged him to shift and take wing as his Draca self. Leave the physical plane and soar over the brown waters of the Willamette River in his most primal, dragon form. Yet he had no issues with this particular rule. Dragons couldn’t be seen soaring above a modern human city. Even Portland, a place known for its acceptance of all things quirky and bizarre, would have a hard time integrating a real dragon, let alone a shape-shifter.
“Hold on, my brother,” he spoke wordlessly to his other self. “I need rest. Later.” He had a sanctuary to fly in, but it took time to get there. Much too late now.
He lifted his needle set, and something urged him to take a sniff. An unusual scent flooded his nose. He brought the tip, still soaked with ink and Cara’s fluids, to his tongue.
A mini explosion of hot sensation rocked his mouth. Draca. Could it be? Oh, so subtle but definitely there. Not the DNA in the ink—he knew that signature taste. No, something very different.
His cock hardened as a vision of damp red curls at the apex of shapely thighs flooded his mind.
He dropped the ink gun and gripped the counter, head bowed. No wonder the gods had sent her here—if she carried a trace of ancient Draca DNA, sinking a tattoo into such a woman would serve to solidify her chances as a future mother of his race.
His fingertips lengthened to claws, gouging into the steel table. Need coursed through him. Pain like fire lit his shoulders.
“Help her,” the voice of his goddess whispered in his head as he struggled not to shift.
When silence answered him, typical for these types of godly communications, his brother self whispered, “Did you not feel her sorrow?”
Aedhan’s knees buckled. He could barely get through the rest of the cleanup before staggering to his private quarters and bed.
Did he even get her last name?
Nareen’s harsh recitation of the rule book ran through his head in practiced memory. She had gifted him with a mission on behalf of his race, partly to help him redeem his reputation. He winced thinking of his years of blithe irresponsibility, pranks, and foolishness, not to mention the past year of constant sexual capers unlike anything in recent memory. Due to the spectacular results of one of Nareen’s recent spells, the entire Dracan nation had been sexually re-awakened after two hundred years of eroding libido. He wasn’t the only sex-crazed Draca. Still, Nareen had good reason for her rules when it came to him.
His arousal cooled. Right. No matter what, no involvement with women of this human word. He needed to earn the trust of his family.
What had really happened tonight? Something big. A shift in powers and intention. Right? A growl of frustration roiled in his throat. Nothing quite made sense.
He showered, letting hot, steamy water pound on his back while he puzzled over the twists and turns of the current situation. It held all the classic signs of Draca machinations. Contradictions. Secrets. Riddles. All natural as breathing to his kin.
Shower over, Aedhan stretched out on his black satin-covered bed, groaning at the comfort. He’d earned his rest this night.
A spark of anticipation about what tomorrow might bring laced his mind as he drifted near sleep.
The Draca games were afoot. And, lucky for him, this time he got to be a player.
All Romance eBooks
Also Available from Louisa Kelley:
Lydia and the Draca – Daughters of Draca Book 1, Loose Id
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– Website: http://www.louisakelley.com/
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