Authors: Zenina Masters
Tags: #Adult, #Erotic Romance, #Fey, #elf, #Paranormal, #Shapeshifter
“If I sit in your lap, will it be a problem?”
Lyros shook his head. “It will be fine. I am sure.”
She scooted until she was sitting across his thighs. “That’s better.”
He looked like he wanted to speak, but he kept any clever quips to himself.
Lima threaded her fingers through his hair and locked them at the back of his neck. She drew his head to hers slowly, brushing her lips against his as her heartbeat rioted from her mouth to her womb and back again.
The light contact felt nice. Crackling energy sparked between them as she moved her lips across his. When she applied a firmer pressure, the sparks made her lips tingle and a warm heat began between her thighs.
She stroked her tongue along the seam of his lips until he parted them. Her deliberate foray into his mouth brought her the memory of blueberry muffins and the sweet glow of honey.
She felt his hands on her waist, tightening on her as she continued the kiss. Lima groaned lightly as her impulse was to dive into him until she had sated the throbbing urgency that had begun inside her.
Pulling away from him was the hardest thing she had ever done, but she leaned away and let go of her grip on his hair.
She slid her hands down to the front of his shirt, and she felt the thudding of his heart under her palms. Looking into his golden eyes, she cleared her throat. “So, what is your verdict?”
He smiled slowly. “I think that if there is anyone else out there who suits me better, they will have to wait until our next reincarnation. I am willing to be yours from this moment onward.”
Her heart pounded, and she flinched back, falling off his lap to tumble to the forest floor. “All that from one kiss?”
“What did the kiss tell you?”
She swallowed. “It told me that I want you, but I don’t even know why you were chained to that wall, let alone why you were tortured. I know nothing about you or you about me.”
“Information can be exchanged, but never discount attraction. Knowing that we are meant for each other is important. Everything else is just a matter of time.”
Lima sat on the grass and thought about it. “Why were you abducted?”
He settled his back on the tree a little more firmly. “I overheard a conversation at the governor’s ball, and the collectors decided that I needed to be diverted before I could speak to my king. Lefko had his men grab me that evening, and I do not know exactly how long I was in the bunker.”
“What was the conversation?”
“Two collectors comparing their collections and making arrangements to interbreed them.”
Lima felt fury running through her. “You are joking.”
“I am not. I did a full debriefing while I was being healed and passed on all the details I managed to accumulate.”
She looked down, and her claws were out again, digging into the grass at her sides.
“It appears that the news has struck you strongly.”
“What you have just described is an abomination. Being enslaved and displayed is bad enough, but force bred is not only torture for those captured, but also the children created from it don’t know what they are. Their beasts will rule unless they are introduced to their human side.”
“The Guild was making plans to go and locate some of the sites I mentioned to them. They are consulting with the seers of the mage guild to locate those who are still missing.”
She released her grip on the soil. “Well, that is something.”
Lyros cocked his head. “You want to return to the human world and go looking for them, don’t you?”
Lima wrinkled her nose. “Lucky guess.”
He laughed. “I am not making light of the situation, but you seem to be a woman of action. You are a hyena, yes?”
“I am. A spotted hyena, so I am a little more alpha female than others of my kind.” She nodded.
“I can see that.” He chuckled. “Hypothetically, it will serve you well to not be intimidated by those around you.”
She smiled slightly and brushed the dirt off her hands. “That is hypothetically good to know. What do you do?”
“I act as ambassador for the fey kingdoms. I negotiate for lands that are not occupied and are not suitable for development. The indigenous peoples are paid for the use of their lands and a lease is signed. As the fey are decreasing in number but are getting older, more are seeking the solitude of the wild.”
Lima nodded. “I suppose it is understandable, and it also makes sense from a hunting perspective. We have had to extend our searches beyond urban centres and into the strangest locations.”
Lyros grimaced and nodded. “That is a side effect. Many of them are using their isolation to collect a dwindling resource.”
She bared her teeth. “Shifters.”
“Precisely. Those who have prided themselves on their collections are becoming more cautious as to whom they invite to view them. The forbidden nature of even having a collection is drawing many to purchase shifters.”
Lima heard a low growl come out of her throat. “Of course. Even with the penalty occasionally being death, it won’t stop those who want to keep a pet.”
He shrugged. “Some folks have kept entire families of humans for centuries.”
She stared at him. “Are you one of them?”
“No, my employees have always been locally sourced and paid fair wages. I cannot afford to be seen to be too attached to any of the humans in my service. It is dangerous for them.”
It made sense. If he engaged in any territorial disputes, his employees would be his vulnerable spot. If they were known to simply be on contract, there would not be any attachment to exploit.
“You haven’t had a wife in all your years?”
Lyros smirked. “I am only three hundred. The fey don’t even complete puberty until they are sixty. I am relatively young for someone in my position.”
“Apparently. That is still enough time to gain a wife.”
“There have been offers, but I have never been tempted to take responsibility for a lady at my side.”
Lima snorted. “Responsibility?”
“Fey women are high maintenance and my position is distracting at times. I have to brief the kings visiting the White House on etiquette and dance attendance on them.”
“It is deadly dull.”
She was startled into giggling.
Lima grunted, got up and brushed off her backside before settling on the log. He shifted his legs slightly, and she cocked her head. “So, what do we do next?”
His smile was warm. “I don’t know; I haven’t done this before. Perhaps we could go for a walk?”
“That sounds doable.” She smirked. “Do you need a hand?”
He chuckled. “I am weak, not feeble. An arm around your waist will do just fine.”
He stood gracefully. Lima fought a grimace; he did everything gracefully.
She got to her feet and moved next to him. He placed his arm around her waist, and she led them off through the path she enjoyed taking through the woods.
His grip on her waist was warm, and he didn’t seem to need the support, yet he didn’t step away. Lima hid her smile as they passed through a grotto and continued past the wall of thorns.
She broke their silence. “So, what does Lyros mean?”
“It means the light of the song. What does Lima mean?”
“It means that my mother wanted to remember that she got knocked up in Peru.”
“It seems that two very different worlds are colliding here.” He chuckled.
“You can still get away.”
“I was about to tell you the same thing.”
She couldn’t fight it; she smiled.
There were advantages to being on the fey account. When Lima and Lyros went for lunch, she didn’t have to worry about what she ate.
Lyros’s shoulders slumped in relief when she ordered a burger and salad. “I was worried you would be a strict carnivore.”
She shrugged. “Even in my other form I eat just about everything.”
“What don’t you eat?”
“Broccoli.” She smiled brightly.
He chuckled. “Noted. When we spoke earlier, I noted some animosity when you mentioned your mother. Not a great relationship?”
Lima looked at his elegant features and the curve of his lips. There was still a slight pink line that she remembered as bloody and exposing bone that ran from his forehead down to his cheek.
She focused on his question. “No, it isn’t a great relationship. In the interest of full disclosure, she is currently trying to sell me to the highest bidder.”
He paused. “I beg your pardon? I thought that was illegal in the human world.”
“The shifter world is a grey area. We all play by the rules of our societies. My mother is the technical alpha of her pack, and she has rights to see the females of her line settled.”
Lyros cocked his head. “So, why are you here?”
“Because my mother is a bitch in every sense of the word. She is threatened by me with good reason and wants to put me in a position that I will be pinned in by honour.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“Oh, I left before she announced a union, so as long as I find a mate before I return to the world, she can’t enforce any agreement she made. The Crossroads agreement overrules any contract she made in my absence.”
He nodded. “That is why you came here so suddenly.”
“Correct. After my brother’s wedding, I had to remove myself from any possibility of meetings or negotiations. She started them while I have been gone.”
Their meals arrived, and they paused conversation while dressings were poured and ketchup was squirted.
“So, you are in need of a knight in shining armour?”
She closed her eyes for a moment. “No, I am in need of a mate. A partner. An equal meeting of the minds and everything else.”
She looked at him and bit into her burger with a snap.
Lyros grinned. “I am not casting aspersions. I was trying to make a joke. I have no interest in a helpless damsel myself.”
“Consider me an embattled warrior.”
His eyes gleamed. “Yes, I can definitely see that. You are not one to wait in a tower.”
She wagged her eyebrows and took another sharp bite of her burger.
She worked her way through her meal with steady determination. With him there, she didn’t divide her food. He had his own.
As she finished crunching through the salad, she sipped at her iced tea.
Lyros was already done eating, and his cheeks were slightly pink. He was watching her.
Lima cleared her mouth and asked, “May I ask why you are staring?”
He smiled slightly. “I have never watched a woman eat with such enthusiasm. I will admit it is a bit of a turn-on.”
It was her turn to flush.
“I was just trying to not think for a minute. Sorry if I got a little focused.”
“Don’t apologise. The intensity you show when not holding up barriers leads me to hope for the future.”
Lima blinked. “I don’t usually...”
“What? Put up barriers? Of course you do. No one can live in a world where her parent is constantly trying to control them and not put up barriers. Aggression may come with your species, but the control comes from being in a position of authority. You needed to be in control, so that is what you have made for yourself. Control.”
Her beast welled up inside her and agreed. It wanted to laugh when danger threatened to spook its prey, and she never allowed it to. The control irritated her beast.
Lima put her fork down. “Apparently, I am outnumbered here.”
“My beast is on your side.” Lima grumped.
“So, explain this. Is there actually a second mind within you?”
“Yes. The soul of the beast allows us to become the beast completely. It has its own knowledge of how to move, how to fight and how to eat. The human mind blends with it in the form that I use most.”
“The one that you used when I saw you at first.”
“Yeah. That one. Why were they torturing you?”
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. She saw another pale line on his wrist as he moved. She got irritated for not being able to kill more of his tormentors all over again.
“At first, they wanted to know what I knew, and after they didn’t get anything from me, they started going after me for fun.”
Her beast growled. When Lyros blinked in surprise, Lima realised that the sound had escaped. She wrinkled her nose but shrugged away her self-consciousness. “I stand by it.”
He laughed. “I feel the same. It was not part of my life that I will dwell on with fondness, but I am definitely enjoying the way my time there concluded.”
He leaned forward and placed his hand, palm up, on the table.
Lima leaned forward and placed her hand in his. “I am wishing that I could have torn more of them apart.”
He blinked rapidly and laughed. “Of course you do. I am very glad that you took me to safety.”
His fingers closed around hers, and the crackling of their energies ran through her arm and woke her libido. It was a little humbling that this one touch of an elf could have such an effect, but she had touched other fey in her life, and this was not a normal response.
“You have an odd expression on your face.”
She smiled slightly. “I am thinking that folks can go an entire lifetime without ever meeting the person they are meant for. How is it that we got lucky in this particular way?”
He cupped her hand in both of his and turned it so he could rub her palm with his thumbs. “There was blood, there was pain, but there was luck. I think we have paid for this in a lot of ways. Sometimes, you get what you pay for.”
It was such a human saying that she grinned. “We don’t know about that yet. I don’t know if you are strong enough for a full go-round.”
“I think that after the balance ceremony, I will be up for quite a bit. Today, be gentle.”
Her beast laughed, loud and long. Lima’s cheeks were on fire at Lyros’s surprise, and she focused on him and not the heads turning their way in the café.
“Well, I can understand why you use that laugh sparingly.” He winked.
She chuckled. “Thanks for that.”
“It is what you are. Hiding it does no good.”
“Really? What if your position requires that I go somewhere with you and that sound comes out?”