“Thanks,” she said, pulling it on while she watched him crouch easily in front of the fireplace opposite the sofa and arrange a couple of logs and kindling in it. Her only warning was a sharp purr before a lick of flame shot out of his mouth, igniting the kindling. An echo of warm air filled with his toasted-caraway-seed scent reached her a second later.
“Oh wow!” she blurted, as the fire, which had pretty much incinerated the kindling and already had the mossy fir logs snapping and popping, grew.
She knew about dragonish fire-breathing abilities, and of course she’d seen it in videos online and in movies, but it was a whole different experience watching it happen right in front of her. Fire breathing was one of the monstrous abilities that was heavily regulated by the government, so it’s not like dragons just walked down the street doing it.
Tairon grinned at her over his shoulder before pivoting fully. “First time seeing it in person?” She nodded, and his grin grew wider and more rakish. “I have all kinds of dragon tricks to show you.”
She curled her feet under her and sat forward eagerly, tucking her fingers into the cuffs of the cozy robe. “Like what? Tell me all your secrets.”
He pushed up from the floor and came to join her on the sofa, sliding his tail between her and the cushions so it rested comfortably inside the dip of her lower back. “Hm. How about this? I’ll reveal one new thing every day. My very transparent ploy so you’ll keep me around longer. Today you get my flames. Tomorrow, you get—”
“Your dick?” The words slipped out before she could stop them. Heat slammed into her cheeks, and she could feel her ears burning as red as her hair. “I mean, I know we can’t—but I could use my—ack!” Mortified, she covered her face with her terrycloth sleeves.
He was laughing, shoulders shaking and bumping against hers. “If that’s what you really want for Christmas, it’s yours. I have something else for you, too, though,” he added.
She dropped her hands to look at him. “What is it?”
“Something I’ve wanted to give you for a while. A dragon thing. I know it won’t mean the same to you as it does to our kind, but I hope you’ll grasp the intent behind it and accept it for what it is.” His tone was so soft and serious, it marshmallowed her insides, made them light and sticky with curiosity and affection. He was so damnsweet.
“I’m sure I’ll love it.” If she didn’t, she would pretend her darnedest, even if it was something awful, like a pod of monster goo or a very badly sung original composition. Whether he knew it or not, she owed him that kindness, because just this one day with Tairon had been a huge, healing gift to her. She felt cared for.Wanted. Things she hadn’t felt for a long time. “I don’t have anything for you. I’m sorry.”
He grabbed her hand and brought it to his mouth,that tonguesliding up between her first two fingers in the exact same way it’d slid up her inner thigh. Even in this benign location, it was almost unbearably erotic, and her whole body reacted, twisting and squirming. “Youarethe gift. Never doubt it. I know this is all a lot to process, and I don’t want to—”
“Scare me off,” she butted in, unable to help it. James had always hated her impulse to complete other people’s sentences. He had some ugly clinical term for it. But to Ivy, it was a sign of closeness. It meant she wanted to crawl inside someone’s brain and live in their thoughts because they were already living in hers. “Don’t worry, you won’t. I’m sticking around long enough to learn all your tricks.”
Tairon’s mouth quirked up, and she couldn’t tell if his eyes glowed or if they just caught a reflection of the roaring fire. “My ploy is working, then.”
She nodded and laced her fingers through his. Yawning, she rested her head on his shoulder, exhaustion settling into her bones. The hot tub soak—and its two scorching orgasms—had relieved all the tension and worry from earlier in the day. She didn’t know what the new year or the rest of her life would bring. But she looked forward to tomorrow, and that was enough for now.
Ivywokeupalonein a bed she didn’t recognize. The slanted wooden ceiling above her came into focus.
The cabin. Christmas.Tairon.
She sat up, her head reeling from the sudden change in blood pressure. She still had the robe on, but she noticed her bags were on the chair by the bedroom window. He must have carried them up here last night sometime after she crashed out. He must have carriedherup here, too, she realized, after she fell asleep on his shoulder.
Like she’d summoned him, his handsome, horned face appeared in the doorway, along with the rest of him, filling the frame. He lifted the mugs he held in each hand. “I thought I heard you awake in here. I found tea in the cupboard. Want some?”
She nodded, feeling a little self-conscious of her sleep-mussed hair. She probably still had pillowcase creases in her cheek, and he looked freshly showered. His long, red-and-gold hair was pulled up in a knot at the back of his head, though he wore the same clothes as yesterday—the snug leather pants and dark-blue T-shirt that left little to the imagination. He set one steaming cup on the nightstand next to her before taking a seat at the foot of the bed. The mattress creaked under his weight as he shifted to face her. “Merry Christmas. How are you feeling?”
“Hungry,” she admitted, sipping her tea. It was plain black tea, unsweetened. Perfect. They’d been so hungry for each other that they’d skipped dinner last night. Her stomach twisted and snarled when she remembered the bag of baked goods downstairs. “Let me get dressed, and I’ll toast us some bagels. I brought your favorite kind.”
He choked on his swallow of tea, nearly spitting it back in his cup. He inhaled deeply when he’d recovered. “About that. I have a confession…a secret I’ve been keeping.”
“Another one?” She gave a sharp, wary laugh.
He ducked his head sheepishly. “I know my record’s not very good on transparency, but that’s why I need to tell you now. I can’t eat wheat. None of us can. Dragons, I mean. We’re gluten intolerant.”
“But you’ve been—” She shook her head, suddenly very aware that Tairon, while kind and thoughtful and clearly well-meaning, was a complete stranger to her. She didn’t even know hisbiology, let alone his personality. “Every day, you get a bagel. Same flavor foryears.”
“Every day, I get to seeyou,” he corrected. “The bagel is just…an excuse. I order the everything-flavor ones because it’s what you recommended the first time I came in. Do you remember?”
She shook her head, sipping her tea to avoid making eye contact, still processing the fact that, out of all the bagels she’d baked and sold him, over a thousand by her count, he hadn’t eaten even one.
He sighed. “You wouldn’t. It was a big day for me, but it was just a regular morning for you. I’d caught your scent on the street when I rode by—”
“What do I smell like to you?” she asked. Judging by his smile, he didn’t seem to mind the interruption.