BURN FOR YOU EXCERPT
Purrs4You: Hey handsome. Wanna fuck? I’ve never ridden a dragon before.
I bit back a laugh and stared at the words, astounded by her lack of effort. Seriously? Was this what amounted to dating these days? Just sign up on a website and fire off a few risqué sentences with the hope someone responds? And her username? A dig at her shifter form, most likely. Probably some type of cat—I hadn’t bothered to read her profile.
Purrs4You: Well? You interested, baby? Bet I can set your loins on fire.
And not in a good way, I assumed. Who the hell was this woman? Did she honestly think this sort of message would work? I shook my head, about to close down the conversation when I saw those three little dots scrawling across the screen, indicating an incoming message.
Joy of joys.
Except, instead of more text, a picture popped up on my screen. A picture of… Whoa. I blinked, equally surprised and amused by this turn of events. Definitely a pussy staring back at me. And not the four-legged kind.
Clearly, she expected a response. I imagined her sitting at a desk somewhere, tapping these long nails against the wooden top as she waited for my answer, a predator among prey. Well, dragon trumped kitty any day of the week. And this dragon had zero interest in making her purr.
I typed out a quick message. Simple and succinct.
Keats: Not interested.
Purrs4You: Bet I can change your mind. No one can resist petting my mouse.
Her…what now? I wasn’t entirely up on modern-day slang, but I think I got the gist of that one. I exhaled and tossed my phone down onto my own desk.
My phone dinged again, but I ignored it. Ever since Jasper signed me up on that stupid site, it’d been one message after another. Ding, ding, ding. Nonstop alerts filling up my phone until I wanted to break the damn thing.
God, I hated dating.
The entire process was maddening. The wooing, the flowers, the pretty words, the false promises… Not to mention the most difficult part: meeting someone. People often said the first obstacle was the hardest to overcome. But, seriously? What the hell did these women expect from me?
Back in my day, dating seemed so simple. Find a beautiful dragon-shifter, charm her with hordes of gold and plumes of fire, then settle down, marry, and pop out a few kids. I’d done all of that, only to find myself widowed and alone within twenty years—a shockingly short timespan when dealing with shifters.
Nowadays, it seemed like women wanted so much more. Not to mention my chances of finding another female dragon-shifter were slim to nil. We were a dying breed. The world had given way to the wolves and the lions—the more adaptable breeds. We dragons were caught in the past. We missed our castles and riches, and the days when we could spread our wings and take to the skies. Now we needed a bloody flying permit. Even had to register with the Federal Aviation Administration. Somewhere in my wallet, I literally had a card that read recreational pilot.
I leaned back in my cushioned chair and stared at the matchmaking website in front of me. MeetYourAlpha.com—Where Happily Ever Alphas Are Only A Click Away. Catchy, I suppose. When Jasper first told me about this site, he’d claimed it catered to the paranormal community, though they did allow humans to join if they so desired. How my happily-married second-in-command had heard about this site, I hadn’t a clue. Nor did I intend to ask. Ignorance was bliss.
Jasper had even gone so far as to make me a profile, seeing as he was one of the few who not only understood technology but reveled in it. The marvelous things modern technology can do, he’d said. Truthfully, I’d nearly torn a few scales off his hide when he’d first mentioned this to me. Until I’d spotted the hopeful gleam in my clan members’ eyes. For five years now, I’d been without a mate, and it seemed they were of the unanimous decision that I needed to find someone new who would care for me and my daughter. It didn’t matter to them that I’d already had my chance at true love.
And lost it.
You deserve more than this pitiful existence of yours. And when that hadn’t worked, they’d driven the knife a little deeper, practically cutting out my heart. Jinx deserves better.
Jinx—or Virginia as her mother had named her—was my twelve-going-on-thirty-year-old daughter. The clan had decided she needed a new mother. Guess me being a single father wasn’t good enough for them—an accusation I knew rang true. Jinx never complained, though Jasper’s biting response had been she’s never home to complain.
I pushed those thoughts aside and re-read the biography Jasper had put together for me. It wasn’t anything special. Just my photo and a quick blurb telling those interested that I was the alpha of the Baton Rouge Dragon Clan, a widowed single father, and a rabid LSU Tigers fan. Though, after the messaging disaster with Purrs4You, I clicked edit and added one single line: serious inquiries only. The last thing I wanted was more of those dreaded booty-calls as Jasper called them. And, by the skies, I did not want to know how he’d learned about those.
I guided the mouse over to the save button and hovered there, suddenly contemplating deleting the entire profile. Jasper never needed to know. In the two days since he’d signed me up, not a single female had caught my interest. Only one woman ever had.
My gaze strayed to the silver picture frame on my desk. I reached out and brushed my fingertips against the glass. Losing Ella had nearly destroyed both Jinx and me. A part of me worried about putting my daughter through that again.
She needs a mother… Jasper’s wife had said. Renee was the only other female in our clan, and she and Jasper had married nearly three decades ago. The two made a wonderful couple, if a tad nosey. They’d found their bliss, and now they’d made it their goal in life to ensure everyone else found theirs.
I clicked save, then leaned back in my chair.
Seconds later, my phone rang. I glared at the dreadful thing, then noted the incoming number before connecting the call. “Yes.”
“It’s me.” Jasper’s voice breathed through the line. “We have a problem.”
I arched a brow.
“Noel decided he needed some air and took an unscheduled flight.”
That boy would be the death of me one of these days. Fifteen and already convinced he knew everything about this world. “Trying to impress some female, I assume.”
“Where is he now?”
Jasper huffed. “The local PD has him in holding. They won’t release him until you or one of his parents bail him out.”
“And where are they?”
“I haven’t been able to reach either of them yet. Renee suggested there might be some problems at home.”
A low growl rumbled deep in my throat. This was the perfect example why I didn’t want a new mate. Noel’s father had always belonged to my clan. His mother, on the other hand, was a panther-shifter. Our entire clan had been more than relieved when their son had shown his dragon-side. We needed the numbers. But while Noel had taken after his father in the physical sense, he’d inherited his mother’s wild streak.
“Are they charging him?”
“He’s a minor, so they’re releasing him with a warning this time. But Keaton? He almost crashed into a plane. Hundreds of people could have died.”
Christ. I pinched the bridge of my nose and swallowed a mouthful of flame. “Fine. I’ll handle this.”
I was about to hang up when Jasper called out to me. “How’s it going on the dating site?”
You’ve got to be kidding me. I leaned my head against the cushioned computer chair and rolled my eyes. Lately, my clan seemed incapable of thinking about anything else. As though they believed I’d find the perfect mate within a matter of days.
“I’ll take that heavy sigh as a good,” Jasper teased. “Okay, so don’t get mad at me, but Renee and I signed you up for one of Meet Your Alpha’s cruises.”
I snapped up in my chair. “You did what?”
“Oh, don’t be such a grump. You need a getaway. The past five years haven’t been easy for you. What harm is there in taking a vacation?”
“I’m more worried about the harm it’s going to cost you,” I growled.
“Come on, Alpha. Think about it. It’s already paid for. I’ll email you the information so you can look it over and fill everything out. You wouldn’t believe their selection. We chose the Caribbean. It’s perfect for an old single bat like you.”
Perfect wasn’t the word for it. “Jasper.”
“Just hear me out. A week away won’t hurt the clan, but it’ll give you a break. You’ve been nonstop since Ella’s death, understandably. We all think it’s time you take a breath and start living again.”
Fury flamed deep in the pit of my stomach. My skin warmed, and embers shot past my lips. This was so far beyond acceptable. “Too bad. You’re going to call the company and ask for a refund—”
“It’s too late,” Jasper breezed on, oblivious to my boiling rage. “I chose one with a close date. They hadn’t filled all the cabins, so we were able to secure two rooms. One for you and one for Jinx. They even gave me half-off for hers.”
My nostrils flared with smoke. “You dragged Jinx into this?”
“You couldn’t very well leave her home. It’s during spring break.”
Holy flames, I was going to flay him alive.
“Before you start spitting fire—”
“We’re way beyond that—”
“Trust us. You know Renee and I would never do anything to endanger the clan or you. You need this. And since the cruise is through Meet Your Alpha, it’s mostly shifters. I just sent you the details. They need yours and Jinx’s passport information. We’ve handled everything else for you.”
I drew a deep breath, my gullet warming with the flames that threatened to erupt past my lips. Jasper was lucky he’d chosen to deliver this news over the phone. Or perhaps it’d been deliberate, a means of maintaining a safe distance. “I can’t even begin to tell you how far you’ve overstepped yourself.”
“We knew you’d be angry, but we’re doing what’s best for you.”
No one had asked them to butt their noses into my dating life. And certainly not to include Jinx in their asinine scheme.
“Think about Jinx. She could use some time away.”
“Jinx will be in school until June. And then she’s going to summer camp.”
Jasper’s silence weighed on the line. “You were planning on making her stay there over spring break?”
“Those were the arrangements I’d made with the academy.”
Jasper grunted under his breath. I knew his objections without him speaking them. The entire clan thought I was doing more harm than good by sending Jinx away for school. They believed she belonged here with me.
“Have you…checked on her recently?” Jasper asked. “To see how she’s doing?”
“She’s fine,” I growled. “If something was wrong, her teachers would call.”
“Keaton…” A thump carried over the line, as though he’d struck something. “Don’t you like…ever call her? She must be lonely.”
A rough laugh slipped past my lips. “She’s in a school with four hundred other shifter children. She has friends there. I highly doubt she’s lonely.”
“We worry about her. That prep school is so far away. And she can’t just come home if she’s unhappy.”
Meddling little pains. “Jinx is fine. And neither of us are in need of a vacation.”
“It’s her first year actually living there, though. What if she hates it?”
“Jasper,” I snapped, annoyance rekindling the embers. “She’s fine.”
Silence crept over the line until, finally, Jasper sighed. “All right. Well, I’ll let you go. You need to see to Noel. And don’t forget to check your email. Even if you don’t take Jinx, you need to go. It’s completely paid for. So, if you don’t, you’re wasting Renee’s and my money. Not to mention throwing a gift back in our faces.”
He disconnected the call.
I stared at the ceiling and swallowed the burning flames creeping up my throat. Jasper and Renee meant well. The entire clan did. But their good intentions annoyed the hell out of me. Jinx was perfectly fine in her school. They’d built Brookview Academy with shifters in mind, providing them with a top-notch education while growing up among their own kind. I received her quarterly report cards. Straight A’s in everything except history. Nothing that warranted my concern.
This vacation was entirely unnecessary, but unfortunately, I didn’t see a way out.
I groaned and rose from my chair. Noel awaited me at the police station. I had to take care of that before anything else. I stalked across the living room floor, the sound of my footsteps echoing through the empty house. Once upon a time, the silence had bothered me. Especially after we’d lost Ella. Not long after, Jinx had slipped into an impenetrable depression. We’d both lost someone devastatingly important to us. Her mother and my soul mate. Few bounced back from that.
But I’d done my best. Kept her busy with afterschool programs and sports, hired nannies and babysitters. Then this year, she’d been old enough to enroll in the boarding program at Brookview. I’d leapt at the opportunity. Anything to stop her from wallowing in the memories of her dead mother. Out of sight, out of mind. Keep her active and blissfully unaware. The clan missed her, but it was for the best. And she had a cell phone if she needed to text me. Not that she ever did. But I took that to mean all was well.
Grabbing my leather jacket, I slipped it over my shoulders and headed out into the brisk air. I hopped into the Jeep and breathed a little fire into my hands, blasting away the chill. The Jeep had heat, but my way was faster so long as I didn’t burn my interior.
Once toasty warm, I started the engine and backed down the driveway. The fifteen-minute drive would give me plenty of time to ponder this damn cruise fiasco.