Smoke and Fire
By Donna Grant
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2016 Donna Grant
All rights reserved.
Ryder reached for another strawberry jelly–filled donut from the box and sank his teeth into the pastry. He moaned in ecstasy at his favorite snack.
"You've got powder on your lips," said Dmitri from the doorway.
Ryder grinned and kept chewing as he winked at his fellow Dragon King from over the four rows of monitors that ran in a large semicircle around him.
Dmitri chuckled as he came around the screens and grabbed one of the chairs pushed against the table where Ryder worked. Dmitri pulled the chair toward him and sat, his bright blue eyes directed at Ryder. "Anything new?"
"Nay," Ryder said and took another bite. He didn't need to ask what Dmitri was referring to with the war going on between the Dark Fae.
Dmitri blew out a breath and ran a hand through his short brown hair. "The Dark are suddenly no' interested in Dreagan? Tell me you doona find that odd."
"I find it exceedingly peculiar. But at the same time, I'm glad we doona have to worry about them right now with MI5 crawling around the estate."
Again, thanks to the Dark Fae releasing the video they shot of the Dragon Kings shifting into their true forms and fighting the Dark.
No sooner had the words left Ryder's mouth than the camera near the gift shop of the distillery picked up two MI5 agents patrolling the area. As if they would find clues of dragons while looking among the flora and fauna.
Ryder shook his head at them. MI5 were so intent on making a discovery that there really were dragons that they were acting like idiots in order to do it.
It'd been almost two months with the mortals on the sixty-thousand-acre property, and Ryder hated it. Every time he saw them it was a reminder of what the Dark Fae had done to the Dragon Kings' world.
Every day Ryder spent hours taking down the videos that kept popping up, showing them in their true form as dragons. Now the entire world was obsessed with dragons. And not necessarily all in a good way — MI5 was a prime example of that.
How ironic, since it was because of the humans that the Dragon Kings sent all the dragons to another realm thousands of years ago.
"This willna end anytime soon," Dmitri said in a voice laced with anger as he watched the MI5 agents on the monitor.
Ryder made a sound at the back of his throat. "With every video of us fighting the Dark that night that I take down off the Internet, a hundred more pop up."
"Ulrik is behind this."
"Or the Dark."
"Or both," Dmitri said.
Ryder nodded in agreement. "Someone sure wants to keep it out there for the mortals to keep seeing and discussing. I can no' keep it off YouTube, documentaries are all over the place, and the news channels continue to talk about whether dragons are real."
Ryder cut him a hard look. "No' to the humans."
"What about all the dragon experts out there?" Dmitri asked sarcastically.
Ryder finished off the donut before he said, "Dragon experts my arse. They doona know what they're talking about."
"Which is what makes things interesting. Right up until they unearthed that dragon skeleton."
Ryder gave a shake of his head. "Doona remind me of that. I thought we'd gathered all of them. How the hell did we miss it? More importantly, how many more did we miss?"
"There were a lot of dragons killed in the war with the mortals. I'm no' surprised we missed one. Need I remind you we didna have a lot of time, either. We went into hiding here from the mortals."
"Aye. Just something else for the humans to have on us. It has to stop sometime."
Dmitri folded his arms across his chest. "I'm going crazy no' being able to take to the skies at night. First we were sentenced to only fly at night, and now no' at all. We're dragons, Ryder. We're supposed to be able to fly, but with the world watching us, we can no' even do that."
Ryder couldn't respond because his eyes were glued to a screen to his left. That camera was pointed to the parking lot of the distillery.
Since they were closed to tourists for the winter, the red Fiat had caught his attention for two reasons. One — because the car made him think of Kinsey. And two — because it wasn't one of the government cars the agents of MI5 drove.
Then he could only stare in shock when the car door opened and he spotted long dark hair pulled into a high ponytail. Kinsey. Even with her back to him, he knew it was her.
His heart missed a beat. What was she doing at Dreagan? Had she pieced it together? The last time he saw her, she'd been running from him. Ryder could've caught her, but he'd remained behind and killed the Dark Fae ravaging Glasgow.
Since he left her three years earlier, he'd watched her from afar, making sure she was safe. Weeks ago, he was the closest he'd been in years. Now ... now she was at Dreagan.
His palms began to sweat and breathing became difficult. Kinsey was at Dreagan. Ryder didn't know whether to be excited or furious — but he was leaning to the side of thrilled.
"Ryder?" Dmitri said his name.
He held up his hand to Dmitri, not bothering to look at him. As if Ryder could. His gaze was riveted on the woman he'd been in love with for four years.
Even as he began to think of all he would say to her, there was a niggle of worry. What if she was working with Ulrik or the Dark? What if they sent her there to use him for information?
Ryder's enthusiasm dimmed. He didn't want to believe Kinsey would do that, but a gut feeling wasn't enough. The world of the Dragon Kings was in chaos. There was no room for mistakes — of any kind.
Kinsey looked around the parking lot, her eyes searching.
He stared at her heart-shaped face, his heart clutching at having her so close again. How many times had he caressed her cheek or stared into her large violet eyes? How many times had he kissed those plump lips or simply held her as they watched a movie? Each time he saw her, she got more and more beautiful.
After a moment, she closed the car door and started toward the distillery. Ryder's gaze immediately lowered to her amazing ass and the denim that only showed it off more. The black blazer was casual over the white tee, but like always, she looked amazing.
Dmitri whistled. "Who's that?"
Ryder's gaze moved to the next screen and saw Tristan near the gift shop. He opened the mental link between all Dragon Kings and said his name.
Tristan responded immediately. "Aye?"
"There's a woman coming toward you. Her name is Kinsey Burns. Doona let her leave."
Tristan left the link open as he smiled and greeted Kinsey after he turned the corner and saw her. Ryder could only watch the monitor and try to decipher what it was Kinsey wanted.
"She said she's here for the job we ordered with the new monitors," Tristan said. "What do I tell her?"
"I already installed those monitors weeks ago." Ryder hesitated. Kinsey was terrified of seeing him in dragon form. If she knew he was here, she'd never have come. Not after the way she'd looked at him. "Kinsey wouldna come here on her own. We need to know who sent her."
"You know her?" Tristan asked in surprise.
"Aye." It was something Ryder had kept from all those at Dreagan — especially Con. "Bring her to me."
Tristan agreed and severed the link.
Ryder sat back and blew out a breath, feeling a flutter of nerves. He laced his fingers behind his head and only realized then that Dmitri was still in the room. He slid his gaze to Dmitri.
"What are you up to?" Dmitri asked. "You know that lass. I could see it on your face. If you have Tristan bring her up here, you'll feel Con's wrath."
Ryder dropped his hands to the arms of his chair. "That occurs all the time, and I do know Kinsey. I'm no' yet sure why she's here. But I aim to find out."
"Meaning?" Dmitri urged.
"We were lovers three years ago. Until I realized that I'd fallen in love with her. I didna want anyone to know that our spell preventing us from feeling deeply for humans no longer worked with me."
Dmitri leaned forward, his brow furrowed deeply. "That was around the time Hal fell in love with Cassie."
"Cassie arrived at Dreagan right after I returned from Glasgow."
"All right," Dmitri said as he rubbed his jaw. "So you fell in love before Hal. No' a big deal."
Ryder lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "I suppose no'. No' compared to her seeing me in dragon form a few weeks ago when I was in Glasgow to protect the city from the Dark invasion."
Anger crackled through him every time he thought about how close Kinsey came to dying that night. If Ryder hadn't been there, she would've been taken by the Dark, her soul drained. "There was a Dark after her. I shifted into human form to help her. Unfortunately, she saw it all."
"And?" Dmitri pressed with a brown brow raised.
Ryder looked at the screens, following Kinsey from one to the other as Tristan walked her to the manor. "I've never seen anyone so terrified before."
"Of the Dark?"
Ryder wished. That night still haunted him. No matter how many times he thought over what happened, there hadn't been another way to save her. "Of me. I can still hear her scream before she ran away."
"So she doesna know you're here?"
"I doona believe so. She'd rather walk through the fires of Hell than be anywhere near me."
Dmitri sat there for a moment before he gave a slow shake of his head. "You're having Tristan bring her to you, are you no'?"
"That ... could be a bad move."
"It probably is." In more ways than one.
But he wasn't going to pass up the chance to talk to Kinsey one more time. Perhaps he could explain everything. It was a long shot, but he was hoping to have that chance. He knew he'd never have her in his life as he wanted, but the thought of her fearing him cut him deeply.
His only hope was that Con didn't discover she was here until after Ryder had spoken with her. Because once Con found out about Kinsey, it wouldn't be long before Con learned she'd seen Ryder shift. That would lead to Con wanting to have Guy wipe her memories.
Ryder's thoughts halted when he heard Kinsey's voice with Tristan's as they approached. He wiped his mouth to make sure there was no more powder on it. Then he looked to Dmitri for confirmation that he had gotten it all.
Panic struck as he looked down at his clothes. He was in an old Def Leppard concert tee and his favorite pair of faded jeans. Not exactly how he'd have dressed had he known he might see Kinsey. But there wasn't time to change now.
"Here it is," Tristan said as he came to the doorway.
A second later Kinsey emerged. "Wow," she said as she looked at all the monitors. "I should've expected to see so many screens. I gather the security system here is state of the art?"
Then her gaze landed on Ryder.
He couldn't move as he stared into her violet eyes, remembering what it was like to hold her in his arms each night, to feel her lush body beneath his. The hours of conversations they'd had about the future and her dreams.
He'd missed her more than he thought was possible. It physically hurt for him to be so close to her and not go to her.
"What are you doing here?" she asked in a voice filled with shock — and worse — alarm.
Kinsey felt as if she'd been run over by a train. Her heart began to knock against her ribs. There was a rushing in her ears, and she was sure her knees were going to buckle at any second.
How was it even possible that she was staring into Ryder's hazel eyes, that were a beautiful mixture of green and gold? His blond hair was cropped short on the sides with a little more length on the top. It didn't matter if his hair was long as it used to be or short, he still took her breath away.
Was it his chiseled jaw or penetrating gaze? It could be his mouth and the wonderful things those lips could do to her. She knew there was a possibility it was his body, honed to perfection without an ounce of fat anywhere.
But he wasn't human.
She needed to remember that.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded.
For a moment, he didn't move as he looked at her. Then he sat back in his chair and swept his hand from one side of the room to the other. "This is my domain."
She was damn good at her job, but Ryder exceeded her talent by miles and miles. "You asked for me specifically. Why? Because you had to talk? You could've just called instead of going to such lengths."
"I didna send for you."
There were few times in her life where Kinsey experienced full-on, please-let-the-floor-open-up-and-swallow-me embarrassment. Today, right at that moment, was the worst she'd ever suffered — to a degree that nothing would ever compare.
She wanted to shrink away and disappear, to stop looking into his hazel eyes and trying to figure out what was going on. What did Ryder mean he didn't send for her? Someone had. She didn't just show up on a whim.
The room began to tilt. Kinsey blinked rapidly. She wouldn't faint. She'd never fainted in her life, and she certainly wasn't going to do it in front of Ryder. Hadn't she experienced her embarrassment quota for the next forty years?
Beside her, Tristan cleared his throat. "Kinsey, I think there might've been a wee bit of a mistake."
"There's not," she said and glanced over her shoulder into Tristan's dark gaze. "And I can prove it."
Kinsey pulled out her mobile phone and unlocked it before she went to her e-mails. She was scrolling through looking for the assignment she'd received last night when a chair squeaked.
Her gaze snapped to the man sitting near Ryder. How hadn't she seen him? Just like Ryder and Tristan, she could tell he was tall by the way he dwarfed the chair.
He gave a nod to her with the corners of his bright blue eyes crinkling slightly, as if he found the entire situation a tad amusing. Which didn't put him in her favor at all.
The man was handsome, same as Tristan, but not devastatingly so like Ryder. Which was a good thing because Kinsey could barely think with Ryder near. She didn't need two more disturbing her.
"That's Dmitri," Ryder said.
Dmitri's dark head bowed again. "Hello."
"Hello," she responded automatically. Kinsey suddenly felt like she was being caged in despite the fact that Ryder and Dmitri were sitting. All eyes were on her, waiting to hear what she had to say.
She shifted uncomfortably as a sudden thought struck her. Ryder was a dragon. Were the others?
Her heart missed a beat as fear shot through her. What the bloody hell had she walked into?
"Kinsey?" Tristan urged.
She found herself looking at Ryder. In his hazel depths she could see that he knew where her thoughts had taken her and why she was scared, yet he said nothing. As if he were giving her time to take it all in and calm down.
Calm down. She nearly snorted aloud. Like that was going to happen.
After finding the e-mail and pulling it up, her hand trembled when she handed the mobile to Ryder over the monitors. Their fingers brushed, and she sucked in air at the sizzle that raced along her skin.
Her nipples hardened instantly. She hastily looked away, but she found both Tristan and Dmitri watching her carefully. All she could hope for was that they didn't see how much Ryder affected her.
Hell, for that matter, she hoped Ryder didn't know how he shook her.
She was scared of him now, but that was getting mixed in with the desire he always brought out in her. It jumbled up inside her, making her unsure of which one she felt more.
Fear. It had to be fear.
Ryder set aside her mobile on the table and tapped the black metal tabletop. Instantly, a keyboard appeared. It was integrated into the table, the keys emitting a bluish glow to highlight them.
She almost rushed around the screens to take a look at such technology, but she managed to stop herself. Those keyboards were in the works, but as far as she knew they were years from being ready for the public.
Then again, Dreagan wasn't the public.
Kinsey managed to remain where she was, but she watched Ryder like a hawk. His fingers flew over the keys while his gaze was riveted to a screen. A few more punches of the keys, and he stopped to read.
Dmitri's brow rose as he looked at the screen. Kinsey watched Ryder's lips flatten. He keyed in something else in quick succession. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Smoke and Fire by Donna Grant. Copyright © 2016 Donna Grant. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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