Chapter 4:

"Bran?" Vincent asked, his eyebrows rising in mirth and a little bit of surprise. "I knew I recognized that sce-," he stopped and cleared his throat, realizing he was about to make a mistake with Rhylie around. "I mean, I knew I recognized this place."

The other man looked at Rhylie and immediately knew what why he had changed what he was going to say. The scent of the woman made it well-known that she was human. Still, it wasn't a normal human scent. There was something off and Bran was determined to figure out just what it was.

"It's been a while since you've been here, Qhuinn," he said, showing that he understood the need to cover. In reality, Vincent had never been to his favorite soldier's home; not this particular one, anyway.

Vincent smirked and answered with a simple, "It has."

"Enough about me, who's this little thing you have here?" Bran was looking Rhylie up and down, admiring her physique. If she wasn't anything special to his friend, he wouldn't mind taking a turn with her.

Vincent barely suppressed the growl threatening to bubble up in his throat and his teeth and nail beds itched. He vied for nonchalance rather than violence. "This is Rhylie Pendreghast. She's a client. Rhylie, this is James Brandy or Bran, as he often goes by."

At Vincent's introduction, Brandy stepped close to Rhylie and offered his hand to her. "It's a pleasure to meet my new neighbor."

She took the offered appendage, but instead of the expected shake, the man bent and kissed the back of her hand before smiling charmingly. He had sensed the other male's anger when he had simply looked at the woman. Now, it had spiked tenfold.

"Likewise," she agreed more out of necessity than sincerity. She was too tired to find pleasure in much of anything.

"Anyway," Vincent ground out. "It was nice seeing you again, Brandy. We'll have to catch up sometime. Come on, Rhylie. We shouldn't be standing in the middle of a hallway."

Rhylie failed to point out that there were no windows in this particular hallway, and thus no way a sniper could take her out. She was too relieved to be able to go inside and get some rest.

Not paying much attention to the interior of the lavish penthouse, she found a bedroom and immediately collapsed onto the King inside. Maybe if she tried hard enough, she could turn the past day into a crap-tastic nightmare.

When he heard her breathing slow and he was sure she was asleep, Vincent quietly padded out of the apartment and into Bran's. The other male was waiting for him on his couch with one beer in hand and another on the table.

"Want a beer?" he asked casually. Vincent nodded, took the beer, and sat beside his long-time friend.

"You've missed a lot, my friend." Vincent said quietly. He never was one for small talk. Instead, he liked to get right to the point.

Brandy looked at him. "Like you ascending the throne?"

Vincent growled. "It's not a throne, Brandy. It's a damn obligation to our race. You know that. I don't want this anymore than the next idiot. Actually, I want it a hell of a lot less."

"It might as well be a throne, man." Brandy laughed with a hint of a bitter edge. "You do know that that council will be literally bowing to you now, right? The fact that your official title is 'Master of the Dragon's Guild of Warriors' means nothing. It certainly doesn't change the fact that you have power over the entire race. In fact, it just gives you more power." He grinned and stood to bow mockingly. "Just don't forget the little Dragons, your highness."

Vincent wasn't amused by his friend's lame attempt at a little humor. "I'm not royalty, Brandy. I didn't ask for this power. All I wanted was to fight for the brother I lost. Those damn Guild bosses were the ones who had it in their minds that I'm the only candidate for the role."

"You are, Vincent," the other Dragon said. "Other than your father, you are the only one left who can do what you can. And we definitely don't want him of all Dragons in the position. He's everything we work to fight."

Vincent knew that Bran was referring to his Flame when he mentioned what Vincent could do. All Dragons had a specific Flame that they could conjure. About ninety percent of them were bound to blue, white, or red Flame. Like with normal fire, color was determined by heat, and intensity. But with a Dragon's Flame, it was also an outward projection of the Dragon's status and strength, along with any other abilities they might have.

For instance, a Dragon who wields a red Flame would be near the bottom of the community. Most of them were pacifists and lacked any inherent battle skills or extra abilities. A white Flame, on the other hand, usually came with a more dominant, aggressive Dragon. They also tended to be accompanied by some extra sixth-sense abilities. For the most part, the abilities were extremely low-level and nothing to worry about.

When it began to get worrisome was when other parts of the spectrum were explored. Dragons with special flames were the most dominant and aggressive of the species, making them good fighters and dangerous enemies.

Vincent was the rarest of the rare. Not only did he have a special-case Flame, he was the special case. Vincent Qhuinn could wield Dark Flame. This made him infinitely powerful and dominant over the rest of the dragon community. It also meant the community worshiped the ground he walked upon like he was some kind of monarch.

If he really wanted to, Vincent could easily make himself a King among his people. As it was, he was already controlling the warriors of the Guild. After pondering this for a moment, he replied to Bran.

"No, I'm just the strongest candidate. Doesn't mean I'm any good at politics," Vincent answered. His power had hindered him more than helped him throughout his long life.

"No, but that's what you've got people like me for." Brandy grinned. "I've decided to rejoin the council. I'll be your right hand man again."

Vincent's eyebrows shot up at that news. "But what about Kristen?"

The sad look in Bran's eyes almost made Vincent regret saying her name. "Kristen was my mate. I'll always love her, but I'm ready to move on. My job didn't get her killed. I did."

Vincent nodded, satisfied with his answer. He stood up. "I'm sure I'll be seeing a lot more of you, now. For now, though, I've got to get back to Rhylie." He turned and walked toward the door but paused for a moment when Bran called to him.

"And Vincent, don't think I don't know. Go be with your woman. Just remember that if you touch her once, then it's over. You can't fight it. The firestorm will eat at you and eat at you until you consummate."

Vincent simply growled something about not touching and walked out of the apartment and into Rhylie's.

Rhylie woke again when she heard Vincent come through the door. It took her a moment to get her bearings and remember what had happened. When she did, however, she buried her face into a pillow and groaned. Here she was, hoping it was all a terrible dream or a misunderstanding.

When she was through wondering about how her life had gone so downhill so fast, she sat up to take a look around her. The room, while lavish and expensive looking, was pretty bare. There was the King-sized bed that she was on, a dresser, an empty book shelf, a plush looking leather chair, and an empty desk in the corner. There were also two doors, which she was sure led to a master bath and a walk-in closet.

The color scheme of the room was what she didn't like about it. It was utterly boring. The walls were a creamy beige color, with white trim, white floors, and white furniture. Along with clothing, she'd have to add furniture, paint, and color to her list of shopping needs.

Standing up, she looked at her phone to find a missed call from Pyper. She smiled. Shopping would be the perfect way for her to ditch her body guard.

Rhylie smiled again when she heard the shower in the other bathroom begin pouring water. For once, things were going her way. She grabbed the set of car keys hanging by the door and quietly slipped out of the apartment and took the elevator down to the lobby.

When she reached the ground floor, Rhylie took out her phone and called Pyper.

"Hello? Rhylie?"

"Yeah, it's me," Rhylie answered. "How soon can you be home? I've ditched the guard for now."

There was a slight pause and Rhylie heard the car engine in the background. Good, she was already in the vehicle. Rhylie only hoped that Pyper wasn't too far away.

"Twenty minutes, maybe." There was a slight pause on the other line. "Wait. How are you getting there? You can't possibly be planning to catch a cab in your pajamas?

Rhylie chuckled. "I made off with his keys. I'll meet you there?"

Pyper laughed loudly. "Damn, girl! I knew you were my best friend for a reason. See you soon." Click.

Vincent knew the exact moment that Rhylie had left the penthouse. He had set up his own security system. A non-human security system. I was called Ryge. It was smoke from his Flame, invisible to the naked eye, set around an area. Because it was from his Flame, Vincent was intensely aware of and in tune with the Ryge. He had felt it when Rhylie had gone through, and it set flames of a different kind coursing through his veins.

Vincent wasn't, by any means, stupid. He knew exactly what was happening to him. He had been told about the firestorm and everything it meant for a male Dragon. Supposedly, it meant that he had found his mate. But he'd never believed in any of it. He'd never wanted to believe any of it.

Vincent Qhuinn was not, under any circumstances, in the market for a mate. A mate meant that he would have more people to protect and care for. It also meant children to protect. A man in his position did not need an extra person to protect. He already had his hands full with all of his warriors.

But more than that, a mate meant love. He scoffed to himself for even thinking the word. He didn't know what love even was, let alone how to feel or show it. In fact, he was pretty sure that love didn't even exist.

The more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that Rhylie deserved better than a miserable old bastard like him. He should have sent one of his men to protect her while they found Dragyn. As it was, he no longer had that option. He'd made his bed and now he had to lay in it. With or without a mate.

Twenty-five minutes later, Rhylie eased the black SUV into the lot of Pyper's apartment building. It made her homesick. Before her mother had eventually convinced Rhylie that she needed to move, she had spent eight months in this same apartment building. The apartments were small and not very luxurious, but Rhylie found them cozy. She felt more at home here than in either of the penthouses her mother had forced her into.

Sighing, Rhylie got out of the SUV and hurried into Pyper's apartment. Looking around, she was hit with another burst of homesickness, but she pushed it away. She was a woman on a mission.

"Pyper!" she called out. Immediately, she could hear her friend moving toward her from the single bedroom.

"Rhylie! I thought you may never show up!" Rhylie failed to remind her bubbly friend that she had only arrived five minutes after Pyper. For Pyper, five minutes was sometimes an eternity.

After borrowing some of Pyper's clothes, which were far too tight and revealing for Rhylie's taste, they both jumped in Pyper's car before heading to the mall.

Upon finding his vehicle gone from the lot, Vincent growled. He hadn't thought she'd be able to get anywhere very fast in her state of dress. Worst case scenario would have been a friend picking her up. At least she wouldn't be alone. But, no. She had taken his keys and could be anywhere by now. Alone.

Taking out his black cell phone, he called his HQ and asked Zero, one of his men, to use the tracker in his car. After a few minutes, he was given the coordinates of the building and had some men with a car on their way.

Half an hour later, an SUV nearly identical to his and a sleek black sports car pulled into Rhylie's lot. He took the keys and thanked Zero for his help. He'd start at the coordinates of his SUV, though he doubted Rhylie would be stupid enough to stay with it.

Upon reaching the SUV, he found no Rhylie in sight and went about searching the vehicle. Stuck to the steering wheel was a small piece of paper. He growled as he read it.

Don't bother looking for me. I'll be back soon. ;)

A./N.: Okay, I had quite a bit of trouble with this chapter. This is like the fifth time I've rewritten it and tried to get my ideas out. I realize it's still not that great and it probably doesn't make much sense. Still, I'd enjoy your thoughts on this bit and what I can do to go back and make it better.