Chapter 4: The Mating Game

She belonged to no one but herself.

- Nikki Rowe

"Making us fight wasn't enough?" Serafine demanded, glaring up at where she imagined the fey were watching. "Now you want to see a live, interspecies sex show?" With her luck, they'd film it and turn her into a realm-wide porn star. "You people are sick."

The fey didn't even deign to respond. No surprises there.

Shifter heats were intended for one thing and one thing only: procreation. The faux heat would only end when Ra'ger ejaculated inside of her. Luckily, Serafine didn't have to worry about making any unwanted babies. Despite the fact that magi had low fertility rates and could only conceive with humans, Serafine had been taking extra precautions for ages. She'd been brewing her own form of birth control since she was sixteen. The effects of her potion protected her for up to six months at a time. And, as far as she knew, male shifters couldn't catch or carry STDs, so she didn't have to worry about those either. Thank goddess for small mercies.

Yet, none of those things made their current situation any easier.

Pacing back and forth, Serafine chewed on her thumbnail. "Great," she muttered, staring at her nibbled nail in disgust. "I'm becoming a 'thumbnail chewing' person. What is happening to me?" Panic swam in her stomach. Her nerves were building at the same pace as her lust. The space between her legs was growing softer and slicker by the second. Tick tock, Serafine. Tick tock.

The draakon rumbled predatorily in his throat, watching her every move. She was amazed he hadn't lunged at her yet. For whatever reason, he seemed to be holding himself back. His big body was standing unnaturally still, his hands curled into painful looking fists. His tensed muscles were shaking slightly. His scar seemed to stand out more against his now stark face.

He must've sensed that something wasn't right. He must've been picking up on her anxiety, despite the fact that she now surely reeked of lust.

It gave her a little bit of hope. Perhaps he wouldn't pin her down and take her with the full force of his strength – something she doubted she'd survive. Perhaps he'd retained enough comprehension to know that she was breakable. Maybe his instinct to protect his 'mate' was stronger than the heat…

Still, Serafine knew that he wouldn't be able to hold himself back forever.

Hell, she knew she wouldn't be able to hold herself back forever.

Resisting the simulated heat would only continue to make it worse. The harder they fought it, the more mindless they'd become. Giving in was the only way to ease it.

She was better off taking control of the situation now, while she was still able to form a coherent sentence. It just might increase my chances of coming out of this alive.

"Alright, Smaug." She lifted her head, using her bravest voice. "It looks like we're doing this." Heart pounding in her chest, she slowly approached him. "You know, you're the only male who's ever defeated me in combat." A thrill ran through her at the thought, even though part of her was nursing a bruised ego over her humiliating loss. He's magnificent, a voice in her head whispered. He's worthy. She shook it off. "Of course, I was at a disadvantage from being in this awful place, and I'm not entirely unconvinced that my collar wasn't still weakening me somehow—and I definitely demand a rematch—but there you have it. You actually beat me."

If she was going to be forced to copulate with a male, at least it was one of his caliber. She could definitely have it worse. She'd be lying if she said she didn't find him insanely attractive. Even without the heat.

His rumble turned into an almost purr as she slid closer. She tentatively reached out and placed her hand in the middle of his chest, knowing that he'd tried to communicate with her through the same gesture earlier. His heart was pounding like a stampede of wildebeest. His eyes went hooded and he let out a low groan at her touch. "Really?" she bit back a nervous laugh. "From me just touching your chest? It doesn't take much to seduce you, does it?"

His dark, heavy lidded eyes answered that no, it didn't.

Her face turned somber. "Dear Dragon God," she continued softly. "It isn't fair that they are making us do this. I'm sorry you're caught up in this, too. I know you can't understand me, but please be gentle and go slowly. I don't want you to accidentally kill me with your dick. Thank you and amen."

Gradually, as if not to spook her, he mimicked her pose and placed a hand that was triple the size of hers over her heart. Then he let out a soft growl. She couldn't be sure, but she thought it was his way of assuring her.

In that moment, she decided to kiss him.

She normally didn't kiss her hookups, but for some inexplicable reason, she needed to know what his mouth felt like over hers. Unfortunately, he was too tall for her to reach, even on her tippy toes. "This height difference is gonna be an issue," she muttered. "And I don't fancy needing a chiropractor when we're done here."

Dropping her hand from his chest, she moved to grasp hold of his wrist. Her fingers barely enclosed it. She blinked, still awed by the sheer size of him. "You couldn't have picked a mate more anatomically compatible?" she grumbled, tugging him towards the bed. He allowed her to direct his movement, following her lead obediently.

"Sit," she instructed. He clearly didn't know what she meant, so she pushed on his shoulders until he got the hint. "Good dragon."

If she was going to go through with this, she was going to need to pretend there were no cameras. Just imagine it's a regular hookup at the bar, she coached herself. A hookup with the hottest, most well-endowed guy you've ever seen. No pressure.

"Right," she rambled. "This is totally not awkward. We're just two horny strangers who are about to get to know each other in the biblical sense. We're totally not being drugged or coerced at all. There are no freaky fey watching our every move. This is totally normal. Totally natural."

The draakon growled impatiently and grabbed for her. She found herself toppling onto his lap. His very naked, hard lap. He immediately shoved his nose into her neck.

"Whoa! Hold on! No grabbing!" she scolded, squirming on his lap and trying to avoid his massive, frankly terrifying erection. "Grabbing is not acceptable foreplay. Kissing is foreplay."

Come to think of it, had the dragon ever kissed anyone before? Was he a virgin? Feral shifters weren't exactly known for being friendly. If he hadn't decided that she was his mate, he would've killed her by now. Sex would've been the last thing on his mind.

She was obviously no virgin, but she might as well have been with what he was packing. She'd need three things to survive their encounter: foreplay, foreplay, and foreplay.

"Do you even know what a kiss is?" she asked.

He bucked his hips, ignoring the question. The head of his shaft nudged her still clothed core. Pleasure sparked behind her eyelids and she let out a surprised gasp. "Ngh. Stop that," she demanded. "Slow down."

Amazingly, he listened. A whine of distress left him and he jerked his head from her neck. Had he remembered what the word 'stop' meant from before?

The worry in his eyes made a foreign emotion tug at her. I want to soothe him, she realized, shocked. It must've been the zeta hormones – they were tricking her into feeling icky things like affection. "I'm okay," she reassured him. "Considering our current situation, you're being quite the gentleman…er…dragon. Believe me, I'm grateful." And she truly was.

Any other creature might have ravaged her to death by now.

When the worry in his expression lingered, she leaned up and slowly brushed her lips against his. For a second, he didn't react. He cocked his head to the side and merely stared at her, confused. Then he let out a loud purr and bumped his chin into hers, demanding another kiss.

Serafine smirked. "Liked that, did you?" She connected their lips again, slowly opening her mouth and teasing the seam of his lips with her tongue. He groaned and all but attacked her mouth with his. The texture of his tongue was somewhat rougher than she was used to. Yet, that weirdly worked for her.

It wasn't the best kiss. There weren't bells and whistles, and it didn't make fireworks go off in her head—the draakon was too eager and unskilled for that—but it left her panting nonetheless. There was something different about kissing him.

She used men because she could; because it was one of the only ways she knew how to fight the constant, unending numbness that haunted her. She wanted so desperately to feel something—anything at all—but in the end, she only felt number than she had before. She'd once dissociated so thoroughly during sex that she'd accidentally turned herself invisible.

The draakon didn't make her feel numb.

He set her insides on fire. Made her forget that she'd ever felt the cold.

It's the drugs, she told herself. It has to be.

Their affect was growing stronger. Want, her mind whispered. Mate.

Wait—what the hell? Had she just thought the word 'mate'?

Before she could be suitably horrified, the draakon flipped her onto her back and tore off her black dress—literally rending it in half in one yank—and buried his face between her legs.

"Hey! That was my only dress!" she complained. She tried to close her legs but he shoved them open with a warning growl, scowling down at her black lace panties like he hadn't expected another barrier.

"Don't even think about it," she tried to threaten, but her panties went flying over her head as he made quick work of them, too. "You realize I now have nothing to wear, right?" she said angrily. Her mind went blank at the first lash of his tongue. "Ooooh my goddess. Never mind. That's—ah—you can keep doing that."

She normally wasn't a fan of receiving oral—she hated being splayed out, open and vulnerable, but the dragon was making her reconsider her stance. He tongued at her sex, lapping at her wetness as voraciously as he'd attacked her mouth. She'd never had a partner so thoroughly enjoy pleasuring her before. It was like he was addicted to her. Like he craved her taste.

The man might not have been much of a conversationalist but…damn…did he make up for it in other ways.

Before she knew it, she was clutching fistfuls of his thick hair, spurring him on. Her spine practically bowed every time his roughened tongue found her swollen clit, making the bundle of nerves come alive. "You're—ah—going to need to come up for air sometime," she panted in jest. His tongue found her entrance, plunging inside her in one hot stroke. "Wait, wait…I…ngh, I lied. You don't need to breathe. S-screw breathing. Oxygen is overrated."

Her orgasm came over her quickly, surprising her. In what seemed like no time at all, she was writhing around his face, riding his tongue. She would've been embarrassed that she'd come so quickly—and so loudly—but she was too wound up to care.

Sweat beaded on her forehead. Her skin was becoming uncomfortably tight and hot. Her thoughts were breaking into delirious fragments, growing more urgent.

Inside me. Inside me. I need him inside me.

He'll never fit, the not-lust-drunk portion of her brain warned.

Her toes curled as Ra'ger continued to lick at her; she was too sensitive after that truly brain melting orgasm. She locked her thighs together, trying to escape his relentless attentions. A deep, threatening snarl vibrated out of his chest. He clearly didn't appreciate being pushed away. His eyes were more feral than she'd ever seen them – like he was drunk on her.

She fought back a shiver. Again, she was reminded of how much stronger he was than her. Of how dangerous it was to be here with him like this.

"Calm down, big guy," she said cautiously, "I'm not going anywhere."

She wasn't ready to take him yet (was there even such a thing as being ready for that much dick?), but that didn't seem to matter. Unbelievably, her release had only made the ache inside her worse. The pain was becoming more than she could bear. It was as if her body was telling her that it wasn't fooled – that it hadn't been satisfied in the way it truly desired.

Her pussy throbbed emptily. Need him. Need to be filled.

Suddenly, she couldn't wait any longer.

She wanted him inside her more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life.

"I-if we're gonna do this, I n-need to be on top," her voice was shaky. She could barely speak but she forced herself to keep talking. The draakon needed to hear her voice. She knew he couldn't understand her but listening to her seemed to have a positive and calming effect on him. And she desperately needed him to cooperate right now.

He eyed her warily as she pushed on his shoulders, but he allowed her to climb on top of him. She maneuvered herself into position and took his cock into her hand. It was even more intimidating up close, all marble hard and veiny with precum weeping from the tip. I am so never going to be able to walk without a limp again.

She placed the blunt head at her opening and pushed down. Nothing happened.

"Oh goddess," she panted accusingly. "I knew it. I knew you wouldn't fit."

His answering growl sounded pained. She was terrified that he'd try to force himself inside her.

"D-don't worry." Gyrating her hips, she rubbed her slick, wet center over him. "I've got this. I'll make it work." She pushed down harder, working herself over him. Slowly, ever so slowly, the head of his cock breeched her.

Ow. Ow. Ow. The pain was as intense as the pleasure.

The draakon hissed violently, his muscles tightening and bulging. Her eyes widened in alarm – sharp, black claws had elongated from his nails. They were piercing the mattress. That's…not good. No wonder he was keeping his hands off of her. He was clearly struggling to hold himself back. His hips jerked up like he couldn't help himself, wedging his length deeper.

Alas, she was too horny to be properly scared.

"Ah!" she cried, accidentally scratching her nails down his chest for purchase. Too full.

She forgot about everything. About the cameras. The fey. The fact that they were being watched.

All she knew was him and the sweet, hot burn of how he stretched her – filled her. The powerful surge of his cock inside her. I'm being fucked by a god, she thought deliriously. And I never want it to stop.

She began to ride him, even though she only had half his length inside her. "Unh," she gasped out. So good. She worked her hips desperately, but no matter how open and slick and wanton she became, she couldn't take all of him. Her release was building quickly. Already she could feel herself hurtling towards the edge. Closing her eyes, she threw her head back and gave in to the sensation, enjoying the growls he made as she moved over him.

Suddenly, the draakon lunged upwards, locking her in the cage of his arms. Her eyes flew open. Why do his teeth look so pointy?

His fangs were sinking into her neck before she could properly react.

Biting wasn't unheard of in the supernatural community. Serafine even had a few friends who enjoyed having their blood sucked by vampires. But Ra'ger hadn't given her any old love bite.

He had given her a bond bite.

He'd just mated them. Permanently.

"No," she gasped out. But it was too late. His claim was already taking hold of her.

She struggled against him but he held her still, snarling. The sting of his teeth was quickly replaced with white-hot pleasure. She swore she could feel every single one of her nerve endings coming alive as endorphins exploded inside her.

Her orgasm crashed over her – violent and so good it hurt. Roaring, he ejaculated inside her, impaling her on both his teeth and his cock. His semen was so hot she was surprised it wasn't burning her.

She'd never felt so owned. So completely possessed.

And in that moment, she realized how totally and completely doomed she truly was.

Because the draakon would never let her go.

He released his teeth from her neck with a content sounding purr.

Anger quickly replaced her lust. The heat lifted, clearing like a fog. "Why did you do that?" she yelled, smacking ineffectively at his stupidly strong arms.

Ignoring her, he gingerly licked over her fresh bite mark, still sounding way too pleased with himself. She hated how good it felt. His cock was already hardening again inside her.

What did it say about her that his bite had made her come harder than she ever had in her life?

"You're delusional if you think we're going for round two!" She squirmed to free herself but he wasn't letting her budge.

She didn't even know how it was possible - Magi weren't supposed to have mates. But the bond he'd created between them was undeniable. And all too real.

She didn't know how to explain it…but she no longer felt alone in her body. It was like her lifeforce had joined with his. She was hyperaware of him. He was a presence now, in the back of her head. Something she couldn't shut out.

He rubbed his forehead against her shoulder, trying to calm her.

"No!" she cried angrily. She needed him away from her. She needed him out of her. Goddess, she just needed some fricking space to breathe. "Stop!"

The word worked like a charm. His arms unlocked from around her on a whine. She scrambled off his lap, ignoring how cold and empty she felt now that they were no longer joined. Her legs were shaky as she climbed up from the bed, her thighs still wet with his hot seed.

He claimed me. Panic clawed at her. She snatched up her ripped dress, covering her nudity. "I hope you sick fucks enjoyed the show!" she yelled at the fey.

This was all their fault.

She'd promised herself that she wasn't going to be like Elena. That she was never going to belong to a man. No one was ever supposed to wield such power over her.

What am I going to do now?

She was trapped. Trapped in Queen Almithara's prison and trapped by Ra'ger's bond. Breaking their connection would be almost impossible…and she certainly couldn't do it from in here.

She would've cried if she didn't consider it beneath her.

"Do you have any idea what you've just done?" she ranted at the dragon. "You just bonded us for life, you jerk! As in 'till death do us part!' As in 'more permanent than marriage!'" She'd never even had a long-term relationship before and now she was all but the draakon's wife. She wasn't built for that sort of commitment. "Goddess…I'm going to be sick."

The draakon merely blinked at her, looking hurt and confused. He was almost pouting.

"Oh, don't use your puppy eyes on me!" she scolded. How a creature as menacing and dangerous as he was managed to look so innocent was beyond her. "And this—" she pointed to where he'd bitten her above her collar, "this is going to scar! I didn't maintain a seven-step skincare routine since I was 13 just so I could have two gaping holes in my neck! I am not a chew toy!" She couldn't even have Mabel heal it when she got home. Mating bites were impervious to magic.

Whining louder, he reached out for her.

She ducked out of his grasp. "I don't care what I have to do, you better lawyer up because we are getting a divorce! Do you hear me?" She yelled up at the fey, "You haven't won! I am breaking this sham of a bond as soon as I get free!" She pulled the dress tighter around herself. "Now, if you perverts will excuse me, I am having a shower—" she narrowed her eyes at Ra'ger, "and you are not joining me because you are never touching me again!"

With that, she stomped off towards the private bathroom.

Naturally, he followed after her. She closed the wooden door in his face but a large cracking sound echoed throughout room as he pulled it from its hinges and tossed it aside. Right, she thought. Of course, he ripped off the door. What else did I expect?

"Stop!" she ordered, holding out a hand to keep him at bay. "Stop! Stop! Stop!"

Again, the word had the desired effect. He scowled down at her hand but didn't come any closer. He seemed to understand that she wanted him to stay put. Her shoulders slumped, relieved.

She hurried towards the walk-in shower and cranked on the water. The room was as nice as the rest of his 'cell'. If her circumstances were different, she would've been impressed by the décor, but she wasn't about to give the fey the luxury of even secretly admiring their design skills.

She assumed that there were cameras in the restroom, too, but there was no point in being modest now. The fey had already gotten an eyeful. Besides, she'd never been insecure about her body. She had a slamming figure. To hell with it, she thought, tossing aside the ruined dress and stepping under the spray.

The water felt heavenly on her skin. It was restorative and cleansing – literally. It's enchanted, she realized. It was crystal clear and sparkled like it contained tiny, liquid diamonds. She didn't need soap or shampoo. It washed her skin just by rinsing over her.

A predatory rumble reminded her of the draakon's presence. He made a move like he was going to join her, but she narrowed her eyes into two of the meanest slits she could manage and held up a warning hand. He stilled, despite obviously not wanting to. His black eyes were blazing with lust again, obsessively scanning every naked, wet inch of her body. His ever-present erection was hard and at the ready.

She pushed down a shiver of want, ignoring her tightening nipples. His dick really does deserve a gold medal at the Size Olympics. As sore as she was, she could still feel the phantom ache of him inside her. "What did I tell you about round two?" She punctuated strongly, "Not. Happening."

He let out an angry growl as she gingerly washed his ejaculate from between her legs. "Sorry, fire breath," she quipped, "but I'm not about to stay sticky just because of your weird kinks." She knew his reaction had something to do with her removing his scent but she couldn't bring herself to care about his shifter eccentricities.

Feeling as clean as she was going to get, she shut off the water. She quickly grabbed a white towel to dry her hair and then wrapped it around herself, barreling passed him. "I need to find something to wear," she complained loudly. "Thanks to a dragon who shall not be named, my clothes are in tatters."

The complaint was barely out of her mouth before a neatly folded, fresh jumpsuit magically appeared in her hands. Apparently, the fey had heard her and had delivered. "If you're expecting a thank you," she told them, "you can still go to hell." Nevertheless, she put on the suit.

Next up, getting the draakon to put on some damn clothes.

"I know you're all about the nudist lifestyle." She rescued a pair of boxers from his closet and marched over to him. "But I'm going to need you to develop an affinity for clothes. My sanity depends on it." She demonstrated putting on the boxers by pulling them over her jumpsuit. "Ta-da! See how easy it is?" Handing them to him, she instructed, "Now it's your turn."

Once again, he merely growled and tossed them on the floor.

She threw her hands up into the air. Of all the dragons in all the realms, I had to get stuck with this one: a feral exhibitionist who's allergic to perfectly good clothes. "Fine. You win. Stay naked. See if I care."

But she did care. More than she wanted to admit. How was she supposed to suppress her longing for him when he paraded that ridiculously insane body everywhere?

The draakon's nostrils flared and his head suddenly jerked to the side. She was immediately faced with his broad back as he began to walk across the room. Pursing her lips, she quickly averted her gaze from his taut, muscular behind. Truth be told, she'd always been more of a 'washboard ab' kind of girl, but the man had the glutes of a champion. Giving herself a mental shake, her violet eyes refocused on what had captured his attention.

Two plates had appeared in the center of the wooden table. One of them was piled high with raw meat, while the other was filled to the brim with… "Gruel!?" Serafine wrinkled her nose, having approached the table. "Why do I get gruel?! I deserve a five-course meal after what you put me through today. Humph."

But the fey didn't acquiesce. Maybe telling them to go to hell wasn't the brightest of moves…

Pouting, she pushed the bowl away from her. As hungry as she was, there was no way she could stomach more gruel. The smell alone was making her nauseous.

Ra'ger paused from where he was devouring his plate of raw meat. His fangs had descended and he now had blood all over his mouth, making him look twice as savage as he already did. He looked down at her gruel, then back up at her unhappy expression. Before she knew it, he was trying to hand her a piece of raw meat.

"Uh, no thank you." Her nose wrinkled further. "Call me crazy, but us magi prefer our food cooked." And since there was no stove in his cell, she didn't see that changing anytime soon.

Frowning, his scar becoming more apparent, he tried offering her a piece of his meal again. For some reason, it seemed very important to him that she eat. He growled at her as though giving her an order.

Ugh, she thought to herself. He's probably trying to provide for his 'mate'. At least he wasn't trying to give her freshly slaughtered animal carcasses or anything…though she wouldn't put it past him.

His black eyes continued to flicker between her and the raw meat. His brow was furrowed, as though he was deep in thought. She could practically see the wheels in his head turning. Without warning, he let out a burst of fire, roasting the piece of meat. Then he looked at her as if trying to gage her approval.

The smell of barbecue filled the air and Serafine's stomach grumbled. Shocked, her mouth dropped open. "How did you know to do that?"

Ra'ger offered her the meat again, a hopeful expression on his face.

Part of her wanted to deny him just to be difficult—she was, after all, still mad at him for his stupid bond bite—but she was too ravenous. She hadn't eaten anything but a single bowl of gruel in days. And it smelled so good. Before she knew it, she had accepted his proffering and was greedily tearing into the meat with her teeth, not even caring how unladylike she was being. "Mmm," she moaned as the rich flavor exploded on her tongue. "Real food." It tasted like an unusual mix between chicken and steak. She had no idea what kind of meat it was (she was definitely going to pretend it was beef for her own peace of mind) but in that moment, it was the most glorious meal she'd ever eaten.

Satisfaction filled Ra'ger's face. He quickly picked up another chunk of meat, gave it the fire treatment, and held it out for her.

She snatched it up. "Don't mind if I do. You know," she joked sarcastically, her mouth full as she filled her hungry belly. "You could have your own show on the Food Network. Cooking with dragons in one easy step. The ratings would be off the charts. You could give up this whole slaughtering and maiming lifestyle and become a professional chef. And I'm not just saying that because your food is preferable to eating gruel…." Giving a giant, cocky grin, she asked, "What do you think? Am I onto something here?"

Naturally, the draakon didn't respond. In fact, he looked like he hadn't heard a word she'd said. He was too busy staring at her face like it was the second coming. Seriously, the dude looked awed. His brows were drawn and his mouth was open slightly, his breathing shallowed. One of his arms lifted and a big hand cupped her chin.

"What?" she swallowed the last hunk of meat, her smile dropping. "What's going on? Do I have something on my face?"

A loud, happy purr reverberated out of him. The pad of his roughened thumb caressed her bottom lip.

"You are in serious violation of our new no touching rule, buster," she warned.

Undeterred, his thumb prodded the corner of her mouth, as if to lift it upwards. For a confusing moment, she had no idea what he wanted…and then it hit her. He wants me to smile, she realized, shocked.

The draakon looked awed because she'd smiled at him. An unthinking, mischievous grin. Probably the first one she'd given him. How lonely did a creature have to be to react that way to a silly smile?

She stepped backwards, suddenly uncomfortable, and his hand fell away. "Sorry, buddy," she told him, her voice less calm and collected than she wanted to admit, "I don't give out free smiles. This isn't Costco." Brushing her black hair out of her eyes, she continued, "People don't smile at you often, I'm guessing. ProTip: that tends to happen when you murder everyone you come in contact with. Breaking skulls doesn't exactly put you on a lot of people's friend's list."

The draakon blinked at her in the way he did when she threw too many words at him. He looked profoundly disappointed. Yet, he also looked determined. The wheels were spinning in his head again. He stalked over to where she'd discarded the pair of his boxers and gave them a long, hard stare.

And then, to her utter amazement, he slipped them over his strong thighs.

Walking back over to her, he pointed at her face as if to say, 'See what I did for you? Now smile.' He looked so eager to please her that it would have tugged on her heart strings – that is, if she'd been in the possession of any. Alas, she'd been told on more than one occasion that she was a heartless bitch.

He got dressed for you, a voice in her head refuted. He's trying. In his own weird, animalistic way.

"No," she told him flatly.

He made a hurt noise in the back of his throat, his eyes wounded. He pointed to her face again.

"No," she repeated.

He whined louder, more stubbornly.

I'm not affected, she told herself. I'm not affected.

Okay…so maybe it was getting to her a little. But only because the sound was grating on her nerves. That was all.

"Enough already," she rolled her eyes. "Fine. You want a smile? I'll give you a smile." She flashed her pearly whites at him in the most exaggerated grin she could muster.

His entire body seemed to light up, his shoulders standing taller as he beamed at her right back.

Serafine faltered, suddenly feeling sucker punched, because hoo, boy, what a grin.

The smile changed his entire face, making him look less like a hardened warrior and more like a boyish Hollywood heartthrob. He was…dare she say it…cute.

The draakon was evidently so pleased by her reaction that he immediately darted to his closet and pulled on a second pair of boxers over the first. They ripped slightly. His eager black eyes sought hers as if to say, 'Did I do a good job? Am I making you happy?'

Serafine let out a startled laugh. "That's…not how that works." Crazy dragon. "The one pair was already sufficient. Please don't put on a third."

Despite her disapproving words, her laughter seemed to please him more. His chest puffed up, and then, moving with supernatural speed, he swept her up in a giant bear hug, his nose going right back to her neck with a purr. She shivered as his hot breath ghosted over her bond mark. The wound was still fresh and achy, yet it still managed to send pulses of need through her body.

In the deep, dark recesses of her mind, a sick part of her may or may not have even wanted him to bite her again.

"Hey! No touching!" she reminded him. "Release me at once!"

Her order went unheeded as he picked her up and carried her towards the bed, ignoring her flailing limbs as if she weighed no more than a feather.

At first, she thought he was going to try to ravage her again, but she quickly realized it was even worse - he was trying to cuddle. Settling them onto the mattress, he arranged himself so that he was spooning her, and then pulled her back into his hard chest. His nose again found his favorite spot—her neck—as he released a deep, contented breath.

"Annnd apparently you're a cuddler. Great. Lucky me. FYI, this does not mesh with your tough rep at all."

Craning her neck, she saw that his eyes had closed.

Unbelievable. The bastard was actually going to sleep.

"I don't cuddle," she complained. "Especially after sex."

She squirmed, wriggled, and smacked at his chest, but received only a grunt in response. The damn dragon was unmovable. His arms were all but steel bars curled around her.

Cuddling had never been her forte. She saw no use for it. As far as she was concerned, cuddling was for humans who'd watched The Notebook one too many times. It served to do nothing but make her feel claustrophobic.

And yet…her usual claustrophobia wasn't settling in. She didn't feel like she'd rather claw out of her skin than curl up beside Ra'ger. As restrictive as his hold was, he was also a warm, solid presence at her back. Against her inner warnings, her body began to relax and her eyelids grew heavy. Protector, her mind whispered. Warrior.

The thoughts scared her and she quickly shoved them away.

Why don't I just tell him to stop?

The draakon would probably release her, as 'stop' had become her magic word.

But for some reason the word wouldn't come.

Perhaps she was more tired than she'd realized. Between being kidnapped, forced to fight a god in an arena, and then drugged with heat pheromones, she hadn't had the best week.

That, and the fact that his bed was way more comfortable than the cot she'd had back in her cell.

She'd certainly earned a little nap.

"I'm still mad at you," she told him. "And I want you to know that I am cuddling with you against my will." And then she promptly fell asleep.

Serafine jolted awake at the sound of a violent, earth quaking roar.

She'd jerked up so quickly that she'd accidentally rolled herself right off the bed. She hit the floor with a thump.

Smooth, Serafine. Real smooth.

The roar had sounded like Ra'ger's. But it hadn't come from him. It had come from above. Do the fey have another dragon here?

Almost as soon as she finished the thought, an alarm started blaring. The lights—the electricity in Ra'ger's cell—shut off and Serafine was plunged into pitch black.

The weight around her neck loosened as her collar made a decompressing hiss and clicked open. Her magic rushed to the surface, surging to life inside her. Before the collar could reactivate, she yanked it off and disintegrated it in her palm. I'm free, she thought, hardly able to believe it.

What was going on?

Had somebody taken out the feys' main power center? With the amount of technology they used, Serafine knew they had to have one somewhere. She'd been planning on taking it out herself, but hey, this saved her the trouble.

Now all she had to worry about was kicking a little fey ass. Maybe Ra'ger would even help her out. Even if he was loyal to the fey, she was his 'mate' and that trumped everything. She had no doubt in her mind that the two of them were a force to be reckoned with. Tactically, it was her best move. She'd just have to figure out how to ditch him later.

Creating a ball of energy in her hand, she used it to light the room. She peered toward Ra'ger to see if his collar had also released. It had. It lay next to his feet, where he had risen from the bed. Every hard line of his body was tensed, making his muscles stand out even more, a dangerous, raw energy radiating from him. Yep – the fey were in big trouble now.

"Ready to fuck things up, Bonnie and Clyde style?" she asked cockily, eager for them to make their escape.

His gaze cut towards her and she almost gasped.

Because his eyes were no longer pure black.

His irises were a bright, clear red—the same red as the markings on his body—and his pupils were visible. There was an intelligence in them that hadn't been there before. But there was also hatred—the same hatred from when he'd gone berserk on her in the courtyard. He wasn't looking at her like she was his mate; he was looking at her like she was the enemy.

And somehow that made him ten times scarier than he'd ever been before.

"Shadowside," he snarled.

AN: Hey guys! Hope you're all doing well. Sorry for the wait! Hopefully the chapter length makes up for it.

See ya next chapter! xoxo