Authors: Jodi Redford
Aiden Fortune’s orders are clear: Find the woman, claim her as a sexual sacrifice—and share her with his horndog twin brother. Distasteful as it is, the Drakoni council insists the ancient custom be honored. Or Aiden will be banished.
One glance at Dana Cooper, and Aiden is thrown into the dragon version of a tailspin. Claim her? Hell, yes, he’ll claim her. Problem is, she has no idea her father signed away her destiny at birth.
Dana has dated enough whack-a-doodles to fill an insane asylum. Two gorgeous men claiming to be dragons? Par for the course. Until they give her a tantalizing glimpse of their inner beasts, which makes her think she’s the one headed for a padded cell—for actually considering their offer of the hottest sex of her life,
Her resistance melts away under the onslaught of two men who pack enough heat to set off smoke alarms in a six-block radius. Especially when she realizes she’s falling for Aiden. But with a town full of dragon hunters and an enemy lurking in the shadows, surviving a week of Aiden and Jace’s double-teaming will be the least of her problems…
Warning: Contains two smokin’ hot dragons and their not-so-unwilling sacrifice. A few wardrobe malfunctions and inappropriate use of paintbrushes. You might want to have your local fire department on speed dial.
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Light My Fire
Copyright © 2010 by Jodi Redford
Edited by Sasha Knight
Cover by Kanaxa
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: June 2010
Light My Fire
To Kelli, the best friend and CP a gal could have. Also to my amazing editor, Sasha, for believing in me and making me a better writer.
“Take your precious contract and shove it up your asses.” His jaw rigid, Aiden Fortune pitched the fat sheaf of papers toward the middle of the massive mahogany table where he was currently sequestered with fifteen members of the Drakoni council. The papers skidded across the slick surface, drawing irate grumbles from Aiden’s colleagues. Truthfully, colleague wasn’t the preferred term he’d use for any of these old farts.
fulfill its terms.” Thomas Kinnit shifted in his seat, his considerable bulk prompting a groan from the leather-upholstered frame. A trace of fire shimmered in his cold obsidian eyes. Obviously he saw no need for his temper to spiral out of control. As head speaker for the council, Thomas expected his demand to be met.
Too bad he didn’t know who the hell he was dealing with.
Aiden surged to his feet, crowding over Kinnit. Gripping the edge of the table with enough force to crack the wood, he granted Thomas a ferocious scowl. “I’d like to see the army you intend on using to carry out your request.”
“It’s not a request,
.” Kinnit shoveled a heaping dose of venomous hostility on the last word.
Thick silence descended on the room. The other council members watched intently, waiting for Aiden’s reaction to Thomas’s verbal gauntlet. He had no intention of satisfying their thirst for a fight. Kinnit’s antagonism was nothing new. The man had made it clear from the start he objected to Aiden being named Supreme Alpha-elect of the clan. Though Thomas argued that a thirty-one-year-old didn’t have the maturity to fulfill the role of leader, Aiden suspected the real reason Kinnit’s briefs were in a twist was because the man had been jockeying for his son to achieve the rank of top dog. Or in this case, top dragon.
Boo-fucking-hoo for him.
“You would break almost nine centuries of tradition? What else do you plan to turn your back on in the name of selfishness?” Ripe contempt underscoring Thomas’s question, he flung his arm toward the massive bookcases lining the far wall. “Next you’ll suggest we hold a giant bonfire and toss the sacred Drakoni texts in for kindling.”
Murmurs of dissent rumbled around Aiden, provoking a growl into escaping his throat. “You know damn well I have no intention of doing any such thing. But I see no point for this ridiculous mission.”
“If you don’t do as told, you leave us no choice but to enforce the banishment doctrine.” Kinnit leaned forward, his hawkish features practically glowing with triumphant glee. “Go ahead and take your walk of shame. I certainly won’t stop you.”
The heavy tread of a chair scraping the hardwood floor preceded a palm landing on Aiden’s shoulder. Cherry pipe smoke—his father’s personal calling card—drifted to Aiden. Turning, he met the regret in Liam Fortune’s expression.
“Thomas is right. It’s your duty to carry out the contract.”
Sharp betrayal knifed through Aiden. His father’s fingers squeezed tighter, a lost attempt to soften the blow of his words.
“I don’t say this to hurt you. But we must uphold the legacy of the Drakoni. Already too many have forgotten the ways of our kind.”
Aiden struggled to corral his frustration. “It’s called evolution. Not necessarily a bad thing.”
A snort heavy with disdain chuffed from Kinnit. “What you call evolution I call demoralization.” His balled fist thudded on the tabletop, sending a shudder through the ancient wood. “People used to quake at the sight of a Drakoni in form. Now they taunt us by portraying our kind on Saturday morning children’s programming. Wearing pink tutus, for all that’s unholy!”
Aiden rolled his eyes. “By God, you’re right.
The Dragon Gang
is a conspiracy cooked up by humans to bring us sobbing to our knees in shame. I wonder how the devil they discovered our secret love affair with sparkly netting?” Jesus, Kinnit’s idiotic paranoia was exhausting at times.
“You are out of line, boy.”
“And you are an asshat.”
He and Kinnit exchanged fierce glares, neither willing to blink and award the other an edge. The soft click of his mother’s high heels tapped a warning on the floor as she approached the gathering. Still he kept his focus centered on Kinnit.
“Aiden, please be reasonable. Now is not the time to ruffle the scales of the council.”
Thomas broke eye contact and smiled at Maggie Fortune. Aiden burned with the desire to smash the smarmy look off the other man’s face.
“Listen to your mama, boy. She’ll steer you well.”
Aiden glanced at his mother and took in her beseeching expression. Her hand lifted and toyed with the silver dragon claw suspended from a delicate chain around her neck. He couldn’t remember ever seeing her without the charm, the insignia of the Drakoni. As a direct, pure blood descendent of Lucius, first of the mighty dragons, she was the closest thing to royalty the clan possessed. The others revered her and in return, she did not take her responsibility to them lightly. As her son, Aiden was expected to toe the same line. Even when everything inside him roared at the injustice of being shackled to an antiquated tradition.
“Fine, I’ll do it.” He bit the agreement out woodenly.
“Good.” Kinnit didn’t disguise the triumph in his booming voice. “I’ve taken the liberty of booking a red eye for you both. You’ll be leaving for Michigan early tomorrow morning.”
Presumptuous son of a bitch. Grinding his molars, Aiden spun from the table. He took three long strides before Kinnit’s statement fully registered with a resounding boom in his consciousness. Apprehension slithering along his spine, he stalled. “
” Slowly, he turned.
A satisfied smirk homesteaded Kinnit’s face. “Surely you didn’t think you’d be the only one fulfilling the contract, given your special circumstances?”
With some doing, Aiden kept his expression bland. “Of course not.” He pivoted and stalked the remaining distance to the large double doors leading from the council chambers. Once in the hall, he buckled to the fury boiling inside him and punched a hole in the wall. Shaking plaster from his fist, he strode to the front entrance of the Seattle-based Drakoni assembly center. He stepped outside, his focus immediately riveting on the monster dually pickup straddling two parking spots in the rear of the lot.
At least he wouldn’t have to go looking for Jace.
Angry smoke funneling from his nostrils, Aiden walked toward the truck, the heavy ring of his boots on the pavement providing his brother plenty of warning that he was five seconds away from receiving company. Should give Jace ample time to wrap up the festivities.
Aiden wrenched the back passenger door open and spied Laurie Kinnit sprawled across the bench seat, her tight pinstriped skirt rucked up around her waist. Jace, Aiden’s twin, had his head buried between Laurie’s thighs. If the delirious moans coming from Laurie were any indication, Jace was busy going to town.
. I’m almost there. Don’t you dare. Fucking. Stop.” Panting, Laurie dug her fingers into Jace’s shaggy black hair, guaranteeing his compliance.
Aiden slammed his boot heel onto the running board, rocking the truck. Laurie jerked her eyes open and shrieked when she spotted him. His disinterested glance skipped over her flushed face. “Sorry to break up the party.” He wasn’t. Not by a long shot. If Kinnit discovered his daughter was getting snacked on by Jace during her lunch break, a shit-storm would erupt. Aiden didn’t have the patience or the time to deal with it. “I need to speak to my brother.
A groan filtering from Jace, he scooted onto his haunches in the cramped quarters. He wiped his mouth on the tail of his tee shirt, his narrowed eyes glinting with annoyance. “This better be damned important.”
“We’re leaving for Michigan in the morning.”
Jace blinked. “Wait, you mean…?”
“Yeah.” Aiden pushed the remaining words through clenched teeth. “We’re sharing the sacrifice.”
“You’re out to get me, aren’t you? This is payback for threatening to replace you with a younger model. Well let me tell ya, this isn’t helping your cause, POC.”
“Hey, lady, do you need some help?”
Blowing a lock of hair away from her eyes, Dana Cooper glanced at the trio of kilted men gawking at her as she straddled the bumper of her Suburban. Apparently they’d never seen a grown woman bitch out an inanimate object before. “No. Got it handled. Thanks though.” Bracing one knee on the rubber ridge of the bumper and an elbow on the left rear door, she threatened POC—aka piece-o-crap—with a trip to the scrap yard. With a mighty tug that almost dislocated her shoulder, she wrenched the stubborn door open. Hopping down from the bumper, she brushed off the skirt of her homemade Renaissance wench’s costume. The men had abandoned her in her time of need. Good, because her boob had popped out of her corset. Again. Grumbling, she tucked her breast securely back in place.
She snagged the piece of plywood she’d fashioned into a ramp and swung it over the bumper. It clattered in place and she maneuvered the bottom part until it wedged tight against the ground. Grabbing the handle of the green kiddie wagon that took up a good portion of the back end of the Suburban, she wheeled it down the ramp. Five minutes later the wagon was loaded with her watercolor prints and she slammed POC’s doors shut.
The voice calling her name from across the fairground’s parking lot brought a groan to her lips and prickles of dread along the nape of her neck. Turning, she spotted Calvin Harris, better known as whack job ex-boyfriend number four, jogging across the heat-scorched grass dotting the lot. He wore a suit and tie. Hopefully it meant he wouldn’t be sticking around.
Breathing raggedly, he skidded to a halt. Perspiration coated his forehead and dampened his hairline, making it look like his meticulously groomed blond hair was in need of a major root dye job. “Those damn jackasses running the lot wouldn’t let me drive up here.”
“That’s because this area is reserved for workers and vendors.” She squinted, giving him her best Dirty Harry impression. “How did you know where to find me?”
Her new intern. Damn it, she’d forgotten to warn him about her whack-a-doodle ex. Tossing her keys in her skirt pocket, she speared Calvin with an impatient glance. “I’m running late. What do you want?”
“You. This trial separation isn’t working. It’s time to stop playing around.”
She gaped at him, dumbfounded that someone who claimed to have an IQ of 140 could be so clueless. “How can you possibly interpret me saying I never want to see you again as a trial separation?”
Calvin’s classically handsome face took on the patronizing look she knew so well. God, what an arrogant prick. Why hadn’t she recognized the signs when they first started dating seven months ago? He must have sidetracked her by brainwashing her with sex. Pretty damn pathetic on her part, since he wasn’t even that decent in the sack. Thank God she’d had a vibrator to take up the slack, and a boatload of erotic dreams featuring some kinky sexcapades with a dragon, of all things.
“We both know you didn’t really mean it. We’re good together, Dana. Admit it.” His hand groped for her cheek.
Swatting him away, she ducked out of reach. “I’m not saying this again. Stay the hell away from me. Don’t call. Don’t send flowers. Don’t forward pictures of your penis to my cell phone.” That last bit had been particularly creepy. “If you continue doing any of those things, I
get a restraining order against you.”
“I’m dead serious. No more.” Tuning out his sputtered response, she grasped the wagon’s handle and strode toward the worker’s entrance to the fairgrounds. She flashed her badge to the guard at the gate and made her way toward her booth.
Thankfully this time the voice shouting her name belonged to Madam Haddie, the woman who ran the tarot booth across from Dana.
“Get your buns over here, girl. The cards are warmed up and raring to go.”
Last weekend she’d traded a box of her hand-painted note cards for three tarot readings. So far, she’d discovered her bank account was drier than the Sahara and her cat was pissed at her because she’d cut back on the kitty treats. While both had landed frighteningly dead center on the bull’s-eye, neither were exactly newsflashes. She was beginning to think maybe she should have traded for one of Haddie’s magical pet rocks instead. Leaving her wagon inside her small artist’s hut, she wandered to Haddie’s table and plopped into the wooden chair across from the elderly woman.
Today Haddie wore a voluminous velvet cape in the same vibrant shade of lavender as her hair. Dana grinned. “Great job color coordinating.”
“Thank you, dear.” Haddie fluffed her frizzy fro. “What do you think of my earrings? My granddaughter gave them to me.”
Dana leaned forward and inspected the tiny Scooby-Doos dangling from Haddie’s lobes. “Oh yeah. Très chic.” For a seventy-four-year-old, Haddie totally knew how to rock the eccentric look.
Haddie rearranged her cape before extending her arms. “Come, let us summon the eye of future enlightenment.” Grasping Dana’s hands, she started humming the theme song from
According to Haddie, that was the best way to dial a 4-1-1 to the oracle community. Apparently they found Alex Trebek hubba hubba sexy.
Satisfied she’d gotten through, Haddie let go of Dana and gestured to the pile of cards sitting between them. “Break the deck into three stacks.” She waited until Dana did as told and then flipped the top card from each section. One stubby fingernail painted with glittery lime green polish tapped the farthest card to the left. “Five of swords. An ongoing battle. Didn’t you buy Ms. Whiskers a bag of goodies like I suggested?”
“Yes.” Dana averted her gaze when Haddie’s penciled-in eyebrows arched. “Okay, they were the generic brand. Things have been tight. She’s just going to have to deal.”
Her mouth twitching into a knowing smile, Haddie returned her attention to the cards. “Three of wands. Something big is headed your way.”
Dana immediately perked up. So far, this reading was going way better than the last one. “Lottery winnings? That would be
“Hmm, try again.” Haddie held up the final card, her grin stretched wide enough to show off her dentures.
An entwined couple graced the glossy surface of the card. Dana read the two words printed in flowery script at the bottom and almost choked on her tongue. Releasing a hacking cough, she shot her hands toward Haddie, making the sign of the cross. “No, no, no.
Haddie’s twinkling brown eyes dimmed, their spidery web of crow’s feet deepening with her frown. “What’s the matter? Usually folks are overjoyed when they see the Lovers.”
“Probably because they haven’t dated a long string of men who escaped from a psych ward.”
“Sorry, my dearie, but the die is cast.” Haddie clucked her tongue. “You can’t turn your back on fate.”
“Wanna bet?” Dana jumped from her seat and pivoted. “See? Easy as pie.” Squaring her shoulders, she stalked in the direction of her booth.
Aiden stared at the back of Jace’s head as his brother rifled through the glove box of their rented Lincoln Navigator. “What are you doing?”
“Scavenging.” Jace clicked the compartment shut with a disgusted exhale. “Why can’t anyone accidentally leave behind an envelope stuffed with cash? Or even some good porn. Shit, I’d settle for that.” Looking severely put out, he slumped against the leather seat.
The perky voice on the GPS unit announced a turn ahead and Aiden flipped on the Navigator’s signal.
“How much longer?”
“You have reached your destination,” the GPS chirped.
Jace grunted. “Guess that answers my question.”
Aiden pulled into the small parking lot for Fancies, Dana Cooper’s art gallery. The only other vehicle was a beat-up yellow station wagon. He coasted to a stop in the space beside it and shut off the engine. Jace followed him inside the small, red-bricked building. A large painting of frolicking nude fairies hung on the far wall. Below it, a young male dressed entirely in black was busy arranging psychedelically colorful glass frogs on a low table.
The kid straightened the instant he spotted them, a provocative grin lighting his face. “Well, double my pleasure and double my fun. Anything I can help you boys find?”
“Yeah. Dana Cooper,” Jace said, beating Aiden to the punch.
“Sorry, she’s working the festival this weekend.”
Aiden frowned. “
“You know, the Ren fair. Lords and ladies and knights…” the kid’s gaze traveled leisurely to the crotch of Aiden’s jeans, “…with big swords.”
Aiden grimaced. Jesus, nothing worse than cheesy sexual innuendo. Especially from a leering dude. “What’s the best way to get there?”
“Dana drew a map. It’s posted on the front window if you want to copy it down.”
Snapping his fingers at Jace—who was staring intently at the nude fairies—Aiden strode to the exit.
“Don’t you two hunks be strangers now.” The kid’s husky laugh trailed them to the door.
Outside, Aiden snatched the map taped to the window. Dana would probably be ticked about him absconding with it, but tough shit. He didn’t have the patience, or a paper and pen to jot down the information. They hopped into the Navigator and he handed the map to Jace. While his brother punched the address into the GPS, Aiden backed out of the lot and headed for the freeway.
A companionable silence enveloped the cab of the SUV for the next thirty minutes, until they reached the turnoff for Dixie Highway. Jace slid his mirrored sunglasses off and hooked them over his visor before glancing at Aiden. “I’ve waited over twenty-four hours now for you to explain why the hell you changed your mind about the contract.”
Aiden reflexively squeezed the steering wheel tighter. “Mom.”
Apparently he didn’t need to elaborate further because Jace nodded. “The old lady can be mighty persuasive when she wants.”
“I couldn’t let her down. Or the clan.”
“Yep, sucks to be you.”
He tried to detect any bitterness in Jace’s tone but couldn’t read anything beyond his brother’s typical sarcasm. “I’ve been meaning to ask how you feel about the council’s decision to name me Supreme Alpha.”
Jace shrugged. “Hell, better you than me.”
Did he mean it? Or was Jace merely putting on a good front?
“That must be the festival ahead,” Jace said, breaking Aiden from his mental rambling.
A line of cars clogged the road, all of them with their left-turn signals blinking. He slowed and clicked his indicator on. Crawling along, they finally made it to the head of the line and the traffic controller directed them into the enormous field being used for parking. Large flags that resembled the royal banners medieval knights carried as they charged into battle lined the roadway, flapping festively in the wind. Since the lot was crammed to the gills Aiden grabbed the first available spot and counted himself lucky. By the time they reached the fake castle towers marking the entrance to the fair, he was damn certain he’d sweated off half of his body weight.
Jace slid him a look and grinned. “Shit, Dana’s gonna catch one look at us and run for the hills.”
“She’s going to run no matter what, once she finds out who the hell we are.” Aiden crossed to the ticket booth and paid for their passes. He waved off the costumed performer who tried to sucker him into dropping ten bucks for a program.
“That dude is wearing
,” Jace grumbled. “What the fuck is the world coming to?”
“Would you quit checking out the guy’s package and get a move on? We need to find her booth.”
Other than a low grumble, Jace thankfully kept his yap shut. For two seconds. “Goddamn, get a load of that turkey leg.” His enraptured stare trailed after a chubby court jester gnawing on a huge drumstick.
Grasping the back of his brother’s tee shirt, Aiden steered Jace forward. They had one purpose for being here and he wasn’t about to let Jace get sidetracked by a five-pound turkey leg. Digging in the rear pocket of his jeans, he removed the map Dana had sketched. Locating her vendor number, he hauled Jace toward Tree Top Lane.
A strolling minstrel plucked the opening bars of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” on his lute. Yeah, that was a big hit during the dark ages. Grunting, Aiden scanned the wooden signposts of the adjacent booths. A stiff wind kicked up, rattling the leaves of the nearby maples. A cacophony of scent eddied in the air. Frankincense and patchouli incense. Cinnamon-coated almonds. A whiff of roasted meat. Presiding over all the delectable aromas was something more subtle. An intoxicatingly sweet pheromone that coaxed a flash-fire inside him.
Slowly, he turned. A woman dressed in a period costume stood outside one of the artist’s huts, talking to an older lady with a wild bush of purple hair. With his supernaturally acute eyesight, he easily detected the frown lines tweaking the narrow bridge between the younger woman’s blonde eyebrows. He battled the strange, overwhelming urge to rush to her side and smooth the small furrow away with his thumb.