Tempted by Fire, страница 1часть #2 серии Dragonkeepers
Tempted by Fire
Dragonkeepers - Book Two
Nokay Press LLC
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The spire of Saint Basil’s Russian Orthodox Church loomed high in the sky, casting a long shadow down West North Avenue in the heart of Chicago’s Wicker Park. I wanted to disappear in that shadow. Years ago, I could have. I could have let it swallow me up so that anyone passing by wouldn’t even know I was there. Some unsuspecting parishioner might walk right in front of me and feel nothing more than a heated breeze against their cheek. They might stop, turn toward it but shrug it off not knowing they’d just come within inches a dragon. With just one breath, I could have turned that steeple to ash.
It was never my style though. Not even centuries ago when I was an out of control teenager, just learning to harness my powers. That might be something my brother Kian would do. Of the five of us, he’d always had the hardest time keeping his fire cool. It was getting worse. Much worse. I tried to push those thoughts from my mind. It was happening to all of us. Little by little. Each day, I could feel the bonds of control slipping. My dragon simmered closer to the surface. Someday soon, he might take over for good. Then, there would be nothing left to do but hope my mother or one of my brothers would find me in time to kill me before I hurt anyone. Without a mate, the madness would come. There was no cure.
Now, I could only try to stay in the shadows and keep anyone from looking too closely into my eyes. They would flash gold and swirl with fire when I didn’t want them to. Most wouldn’t know what to make of it. Ninety percent of the humans on this planet had no idea shifters even existed, let alone dragons. But, there were plenty of other shifters around and they would know I was something...different. Even they wouldn’t believe it at first. Dragons were extinct. Hunted off the face of the earth centuries ago. Our blood was the only thing that could cure a shifter from the gravest injury or sickness. Steel forged from our fire could restrain even the strongest bear shifters in the world. Bullets tempered with dragonfire could take down a whole wolf shifter pack.
So we went into hiding. As far as we knew, there were no dragons left except my four brothers, my mother, and me, and we were running out of time.
“Are you looking for something?” A deep, strong, heavily accented voice pulled me out of my head. It belonged to a short, round man, bald on top with bushy gray hair at the temples. He pushed a pair of thick glasses up his bulbous nose and smiled up at me. I kept my gaze to the left, not letting him see my eyes.
“Just walking,” I said.
He wore all black, except for his white collar. A priest. Father Dmitriev, perhaps. I’d done my research.
“Ah,” he said. “I’ve been watching you for a while. If you are interested, mass begins in an hour.” He smiled, showing a straight row of nicotine-stained teeth.
“Much appreciated,” I said. “But I really am just walking.”
The priest sighed and turned toward St. Basil’s. There were already people heading up the steps and into the church. With more than an hour to go, I guessed Sunday mass would be standing room only.
He cocked his head to the side and looked at me more closely. “Not eastern European,” he said. “Welsh? I’m usually much better at this. Where are you from, son?”
Son. I suppressed a smile. I’d be three hundred and two years old later this month.
“I’m from everywhere and nowhere,” I answered. He thought I was being cryptic. I was telling the truth. He touched my arm and I went rigid. I should have picked up on what he was right away. I’d been so busy trying to cloak myself I’d missed the telltale signs. The glint in his own eyes, that wild scent, the quick flash of teeth that he tried to cover. Father Dmitriev was a wolf.
A wolf. They were everywhere in this district. As missions went, this one was becoming more dangerous by the second. A few months ago, a pack of wolves had used dragonstone to try and kill my family. They were gone now, but the dragonstone came from somewhere. It was my job to try and find out where. My mother fed on an endless supply of rumors. Her most promising lead had brought me straight into the path of this wolf.
He pulled his hand away. His lips curled in a quizzical smile, but he didn’t seem to sense the truth of what I was. Still, that was close. Too close. Casually as I could, I stepped out of his reach and tilted my head, ready to say goodbye.
“Father? Do you have time for that cup of coffee?”
Her voice came from the other side of the street from the bagel shop. Heat shot straight up my spine. If the priest had been looking at me head on, he would have seen my fire.
Father Dmitriev turned toward the front door of the Bagel Bureau and held his hand up in a friendly wave.
My inner dragon roared to the surface as the girl stepped off the curb and looked both ways. Her long, dark hair swished over her shoulders as she got close to us. I knew her scent already. I knew the curve of her hips and the way her tilted her head when she smiled. She had a quick humor when dealing with customers and never wrote anything down when they ordered. In the week I’d been watching, I’d never once seen her make a mistake.
Grace. Her name was Grace, and it was perfect. She was perfect. She stoked a dangerous fire in me as she got closer. I should have left. I should have risked everything and just taken to the sky. They wouldn’t have seen or felt anything. One instant, I would be there, and the next I would just be gone. Grace and the priest might give each other a startled look, but their minds would never allow them to fully grasp the impossible. They would shrug it off as just a distraction and carry on with their lives.
Fleeing would have been the safest thing for me, but Father Dmitriev was a damn wolf and he was about to get way too close to Grace not to stir every protective instinct inside of me.
Thunder went through me as Grace got to us. She put a light hand on the priest’s arm and looked from him to me.
She was young. Maybe twenty, with a fresh face and dark green eyes. She had a strong, square jaw and a sharp, straight nose. Hers was a hard beauty. Light skin but dark hair and thick brows that came to a natural, high arch. She wore a black t-s
“Is he giving you a hard time?” she said, smiling at me.
“I think he’s lost,” Dmitriev said. I felt frozen to my spot. Grace’s sweet scent washed over me. I felt my talons forming at the ends of my fingertips. I squeezed my hands into fists and dropped them to my side.
If she got any closer. If she touched me...I wasn’t sure I could keep my dragon in check. Dmitriev’s posture shifted; his spine stiffened. He sensed something, but his brain would never let him work out what. His wolf eyes glinted ice blue. I didn’t have to see him shift to know what he was or where he came from. His wolf would be black as night.
“Just out for a morning walk,” I said, amazed I could keep my tone even. Dmitriev had put a hand on Grace’s back. It took everything in me not to breathe fire and push him away.
“Well,” Grace said, “don’t let this one try roping you into anything. He’s a smooth talker. Before you know it, he’ll have you running St. Basil’s youth soccer league. They’re short a coach.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m more of rugby man myself.” How the hell I could manage small talk when that filthy wolf had his hand on her I don’t know.
“Scotland,” Dmitriev said. “It’s faint. But, I can hear it now. What’s your name, son?”
If I told the truth, it would mean something to him. Even in Wicker Park, the Brandhart name would hold weight. I’d already gone way beyond my mission here. This was supposed to be recon only. Get a feel for the comings and goings inside the church. Find out who the players were. Then, Avelina would decide how to proceed.
I could already confirm the biggest suspicion she had about St. Basil’s. There were wolves all around. Wolves meant danger. Never more so than now.
“Gideon,” I finally answered. It was all either of them needed to know.
“Well, Gideon,” Dmitriev said, extending his hand. “It’s good to meet you. I’m not as bad as Grace here likes to make out. I would wager you’re Catholic. Right?”
“Once upon a time,” I answered. It was true enough for now.
“You are welcome here,” he said. His eyes dropped when I didn’t offer my hand to shake his. I’d already stayed far too long.
“Come along, Grace,” he said. “I’ll take that coffee. Perhaps Mr. Gideon here will join us, even if I can’t get him to sit in on mass.”
“I’m telling you,” Grace said. “Give this guy an hour and he’ll have you converted.”
Dmitriev stepped off the curb. He still had his hand on her back. A low rumble started in my belly. I wanted to strike him down. It wasn’t rational. Even as a wolf, he was harmless. Avuncular. Grace had probably known this man her whole life. They were from the same neighborhood. If she belonged to the church, she’d probably had dinner with him. He’d done nothing inappropriate. He was just a wolf. An old one at that. Not even an Alpha. Still, my dragon raged inside. It wasn’t about him at all.
It was her.
I let my thoughts run free, untethered. My dragon simmered. A single word slammed into me, nearly forcing the air from my lungs.
I coughed into my hand to try and cover the rising fire that might erupt from me at any moment. I needed to get the hell out of here and fast.
“Maybe another time,” I managed to say. “I’m late for an appointment as it is. It was nice to meet you Father Dmitriev, Grace.” I realized the man had never actually given me his name. His brow raised. He knew it too.
“Don’t let us chase you off,” Grace said, still smiling. “I’ve seen you around a lot this week, haven’t I?”
Dmitriev’s eyes narrowed. The noise from the crowd near the front of the church grew louder.
“I don’t think I’m going to have time for that coffee,” he said. “There are always a few who like to bend my ear before mass. Why don’t you head on over with me, Grace? We’ll find you a good seat.”
He was talking to her, but he kept his eyes fixed on me. The man had definitely picked up on the fact there was something different about me. He started pulling Grace away.
“Thanks,” she said, but she drew the word out, wary. She was fully human, I was sure of it. But, she seemed to also be able to sense the preternatural tension running between the wolf and me. “I’ve got to get back to the shop. We’ll get a big lunch crowd as soon as the service lets out. Nico will need some help getting ready.”
We were at a stalemate. Dmitriev knew enough to be on guard. I couldn’t make myself leave Grace’s side until he took his hand off of her. Meanwhile, my dragon clawed at me. I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes cool for much longer. This was all kinds of wrong. I knew better. And yet, this girl had me flipped inside out.
“You wouldn’t want to disappoint your flock,” I said. “And I don’t want to keep you. Maybe I will stop for a bite before I head on out. What’s on special today, Grace?”
That did it. Dmitriev’s wolf eyes glinted. He turned his head, trying to shield it. If I were any other kind of man, his movements would have been quick enough to mask what was happening to him. Every second I stood this close to him would make it that much more certain he’d figure something out about me. If I left now, he might just think I was a tiger or some other jungle cat. Certainly not a bear. Where he came from, he would have known too many of those.
“Everything bagel and corned beef hash,” she said. Grace’s voice brightened. This was a normal, casual conversation. She’d cling to it, wanting to convince herself this odd tension between the priest and me was nothing but her imagination.
“Sounds about perfect,” I said. I took a step toward her. That did it. The priest finally took his hand off her back and sidestepped, his wolf instincts flaring. He’d want to give me a wide berth. He couldn’t do that standing so close to Grace. That was good, but I knew I was pushing the envelope. Where there was one wolf, there would soon be more. This close to the Ukranian Village of Chicago was full of them. In the last few days, I’d learned St. Basil’s was a beacon for them. That intel alone was all my mother needed. And yet, here I stood, tempting fate and damn near confronting a wolf head on.
“See you after church, Father,” Grace said. She crossed her arms in front of her and shifted her weight. Dmitriev kept his distance, but he seemed just as reluctant to leave her side as I was.
My back went up and a new flash of heat went through me. Dmitriev had done something. Maybe I’d underestimated him and he was part of an organized pack after all. He made a quick gesture with his chin and the air around me grew colder.
Grace reacted. Her mouth formed a little ‘o’ and she took a few steps back, distancing herself from both Dmitriev and me.
There were three of them, moving fast up West North Avenue and heading straight for us. No question they were pack. Huge. Broad-shouldered, with dark hair and flashing eyes. I could sense their hot urge to shift as they drew closer.
“Right on time,” Dmitriev said under his breath.
Grace changed. Her smile faltered and her face went a little whiter. She tucked a hair behind her ear with a nervous hand. “I’d better get back to work,” she said. “See you around.”
Before I could say something to stop her, she crossed the street, headed back to the bagel shop. The three wolf shifters got to her, and my dragon clamored to get out. One of them stared straight at me, putting his body between Grace and me and shielding her from my view.
Dmitriev had already turned on his heel and started walking briskly toward the steps of the church. The bells inside the great steeple began to chime.
Instinct burned inside me along with my fire. Grace was surrounded by wolves. They were everywhere. This section of the street reeked of them. Reason melted from me as my dragon rose. One step closer and I wouldn’t be able to control my shift at all. I wasn’t sure I had the wherewithal to cloak myself before that happened.
One of the wolves tilted his
She nodded and slowly turned as if she were as drawn to me as I was to her.
I would have done it. At that moment, I had no strength to resist. The fire tore through me and I imagined myself taking Grace and lifting her high above that steeple.
“Gideon!” Finn’s voice cut through me. He and Loch circled overhead. Their shadows darkened the street. Grace looked up. She seemed puzzled there were no clouds. Finn and Loch cloaked their dragons well.
“Time to go!” Finn shouted into my head.
I took a faltering step then found my way back to the curb. I walked backward, keeping my eyes locked on Grace. She caught my gaze across the street. One of the wolves put his arm around her and pulled her into the bagel shop.
It ripped me apart, but somehow I found enough control to disappear back into the shadows. I cloaked myself as the church bells continued to ring. Then, I spread my wings and took to the sky.
I couldn’t even hear myself think. They were all yelling so loud I thought my eardrums might rupture.
“I don’t know what he is, but he’s dangerous,” Uncle Val shouted louder than the rest of them. When my father wasn’t around, he liked to think he was in charge. He was only twelve years older than my brother, and I only called him Uncle when I wanted to irritate him. He was already irritated enough. His wolf eyes flashed silver and he knocked over one of the barstools.