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Her Elemental Dragons: Stroke the Flame: Chapter 20


We stayed off the road as much as we could, eager to remain out of sight between the bandit attack and the Azure Dragon flying over us. I mentally shuddered remembering his dark wings soaring through the sky and that long tail stretched behind him.

I’d seen him once before when I was fourteen. He’d come to a village in the Air Realm I’d been visiting with the traveling merchants. I’d wandered off to pet some kittens in the inn’s stables when the Azure Dragon, Doran, swooped down and landed in the center of the town. I’d peered through the wooden slats of the stables as he changed back into a tall man with blond hair that hung past his shoulders. I was terrified he was going to flood the entire village or drown someone, but all he did was talk to one of the merchants briefly before casting his gaze in the direction of the stables. His eyes were cold and piercing, and I had the horrible sense that he would find me and finish the job the Crimson Dragon had started. But then he turned away, shifted back into his dragon form, and flew off without a word.

Just to be safe, I’d left the village that night on my own. The merchant family had treated me well, almost like another daughter, and I hated abandoning them without a word, but the memory of my parents’ deaths convinced me they would be safer without me around. Later I decided I’d been paranoid, that it was a mere coincidence that the Azure Dragon had shown up while we were there. He had no reason to look for me.

Now I wasn’t so sure.

None of us seemed to feel like chatting much throughout the day, and we made good progress toward the Air Realm without encountering any danger. When night began to fall we paused near a larger town, and Auric pulled out his map.

“We should stop there for the evening,” he said. “According to this map it’s a town called Rockworth and should be large enough for us to buy some new clothes.”

Reven frowned. “It would be safer if we avoided towns entirely.”

“The horses need to eat and rest,” Jasin said. “And so do we.”

Slade rubbed his dark beard. “We should stock up on supplies too if we’re going to be avoiding towns in the future. Especially since we didn’t get anything from that village yesterday.”

I gazed at the wooden roofs of the town, barely visible over the stone wall surrounding it with a small moat, likely to protect it from elementals. “Let’s stop for the night, but be especially cautious while we’re there. Auric, maybe you can borrow clothes from Reven or Slade so you don’t stand out as much.”

The men grumbled, but we stopped in the forest so they could change their clothes. I was already wearing one of my ragged dresses with my cloak over it. Jasin kept his black trousers from his uniform but donned a plain gray shirt from his pack. Auric’s fine silk clothes went in his bag, and Slade gave him a pair of brown trousers, while Reven reluctantly let Auric use one of his black shirts. They didn’t fit Auric perfectly, but they were good enough for now.

Once we all looked like any other group of weary travelers, we headed for the town. I rode with Auric, breathing in his clean, fresh scent as I held onto his back. Of all the men, I felt the most comfortable with him so far, which surprised me. On the surface we had little in common, but something about his cool, logical mind put me at ease. I also appreciated that he wanted to learn as much about me as he could, and the way he flattered me with his attention. And unlike Jasin, he seemed to want me for more than just sex.

Auric’s horse led us to the open gates, where the Onyx Army had guards posted to inspect everyone who went in or out. They regarded us suspiciously and I grew nervous they’d stop us. Reven slipped some coins into their palms as if he’d done it a hundred times before, and then they let us go through with barely a second glance.

Rockworth was more than double the size of Stoneham and many other horses and carriages filled the road, along with people walking along the side of it. We passed a bustling market with men and women selling their wares, before stopping at the first inn we saw.

The inn was called the Knight’s Reprieve and was crowded with dozens of travelers in the tavern grabbing some supper. Slade and Auric arranged for us to get the last two rooms, before we headed into the tavern ourselves. The room smelled faintly of warm food and was loud with the sounds of eating, talking, and music from a man playing fiddle in the corner. Reven slipped through the crowd easily and managed to grab us the last free table, but it only had four chairs.

“It’s fine,” Slade said. “I’ll sit at the bar and see if I can get any information from the other travelers.”

“Good idea,” Auric said.

As Slade took a stool at the bar, Jasin pulled out a chair at the table for me, before immediately claiming the one to my right. Auric got a journal out of his bag and began jotting down some notes, while Reven sat against the wall, his arms crossed as he eyed everyone in the tavern with suspicion.

A waitress with a low-cut dress that probably got her a lot of tips came over to our table, and her face lit up when she saw the man at my side. “Jasin! What are you doing here?”

Jasin flashed her the same charming grin he often gave me. “Just stopping in for a night.”

“Is that so?” She leaned close, accentuating her ample cleavage. “I’m so happy you’re back in town.”

“It’s good to see you, Minda. How’ve you been?”

“Good, but even better now that you’re here,” she said, batting her eyelashes. “My sister will be excited to know you’re back too.”

“Tell her I said hello,” he replied, while my fists clenched under the table. That familiar possessiveness rose up in me again, and this time it was harder to push down. Jasin and the others were supposed to be my mates and all, but even ignoring that, I’d spent the last few days traveling with them, sleeping near them, and fighting alongside them. Maybe I had a little bit of a right to be possessive at this point.

“I will.” She trailed a hand lightly along his shoulders and her voice turned sultry. “And if you need a room tonight, ours is free.”

He cleared his throat, glancing at me. “Thanks for the offer, but I’ve got a room.”

“Too bad. We had a lot of fun last time. Let me know if you change your mind.” She removed her hand, casting me a quick, appraising look. “I’ll get you all some food.”

After she walked away, I turned to Jasin, my blood boiling. “You slept with both sisters?”

“I did, yeah.” His eyebrows darted up. “Long before I met you. Is that a problem?” He gestured at the other men. “And should you really judge me when you’re going to sleep with all four of us?”

“I’m not judging, I’m just—” The words died on my mouth and I looked away, still seething.

“What? Jealous?”

“No!” My cheeks flushed, because that’s exactly how I was feeling.

He gave me that infuriatingly sexy grin. “I told you my bed’s always open to you.”

“Me and every other woman, it seems.” I jumped to my feet, making the guys glance up at me with worried expressions. “I just need a moment. Feel free to start eating without me.”

I headed out the front door of the inn, then walked around the side of it until I was near the stables and away from everyone else. My heart raced, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Gods, why was I so upset? I’d only met Jasin a few days ago and we’d never made any promises to each other. What he did in the past—or even now—wasn’t any of my business. He’d already admitted that he liked women. Lots of women. Which was fine, really. I didn’t have any real claim over him, just some weird magical bond drawing us together. Without that, we would be strangers. So why did it hurt so badly when I saw him flirting with that woman?

“Kira, are you okay?” Auric asked.

I turned toward him, trying to keep my face blank. “I’m fine. Just needed some fresh air.”

He moved closer, making me keenly aware of his height. “This situation is strange and overwhelming for all of us, but especially for you, I’m sure. It makes sense you would need to take a break from it now and then. But I just want you to know I’m here if you ever need to talk about it.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.” I ran a hand through my hair and sighed. “I’m not sure it’s possible to take a break from it either. This is my life now, and for better or worse, I’m stuck with the four of you. And you’re all stuck with me.”

Auric touched my cheek, his stormy eyes locked on mine. “I don’t know about the other guys, but I’m glad I’m stuck with you.”

“You are?” I asked, resting my hand over his. I remembered the moment we’d shared this morning when I’d healed him, and my eyes dropped to his mouth. I’d wanted to kiss him then, but the other guys had been watching. Now we were alone.

“I know you think none of us want to be here, but I do. Everything about this feels right.” He lowered his head, his fingers tracing my lips. “Including this.”

With one hand on my jaw he pressed his mouth to mine, while his other hand slid to my lower back to pull me against him. Sparks flashed between us as he teased my lips open, before stroking me slowly with his tongue. With a soft gasp, I wrapped my arms around his neck, wanting even more. It had been way too long since anyone had kissed me, but my body seemed to remember how to respond. Or maybe it was Auric who did that to me.

At first, I’d thought Auric might be snobbish or distant with his fine clothes and his head always buried in a book, but his kiss was anything but. He took his time with my mouth, learning what I responded to most, and soon he made me forget everything I’d been upset about. All I could think about was this rush of desire that swept through me at his touch, and how I wanted more.

“What the…” Jasin’s voice said from behind me, interrupting the moment.

Auric and I broke apart, although he kept his hand on my back as we turned to face Jasin. My soldier looked stunned and maybe a little angry, but he was still mouth-wateringly handsome. That would never change, I supposed. And with lust already coursing through me thanks to Auric’s kiss, it was hard not to want Jasin too. An image flashed in my head of being pressed between them with both their hands and mouths on me that sent heat straight to my core.

“Jasin.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. I didn’t know if I should feel guilty for kissing Auric or not. Soon I’d be kissing all of them, if everything went according to plan, but I still had no idea how to handle this or how to juggle the feelings of four men. Or my overwhelming attraction to each of them.

“Could we have a moment alone?” Jasin asked Auric.

Auric glanced at me. “Are you all right with that?”

I nodded. “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you for making sure I was okay.”

“Any time.” He brushed his lips across mine, then straightened and gave Jasin a smug look before heading into the inn. I could practically feel the tension crackling in the air between them, and this new development would only make it worse.

Jasin swallowed, and my eyes couldn’t help but linger on his strong neck dusted with stubble. “You kissed him.”

“What? Jealous?” I asked, throwing his earlier words back at him.

“I am, yeah.” He looked down at the ground, with a strand of hair falling over his forehead that I itched to brush away. “I thought I would be the first.”

My heart softened at the vulnerability in his voice. “You’re going to be the first in other things.”

“I know. And I’m sorry about what happened in there. I swear, all of that is in the past. Nothing is going to happen with Minda or her sister or any other woman.” His words warmed my chest, but then he blew out a breath. “But seriously, that guy?”

And now my heart hardened again. “What’s your problem with Auric?”

“He’s a stuffy nobleman!” Jasin’s eyes flared, his jaw clenching. “Although maybe you like that sort of thing. He is rich, after all.”

I propped my hands on my hips. “I like him because he’s smart and kind and attentive, not because of his money. I don’t care about any of that. And if you want to stay in this group, you’re going to have to find a way to get along with him too.”

I brushed past him as I made my way into the inn, my whole body flushed with both desire and anger. I’d never understand how Jasin could be so damn sexy while driving me crazy at the same time. And I was supposed to bond with him in only a few days? Not likely.


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