June 17, 2024

Vamps 4

 Chapter One

Every vampire had a gift. 

Keegan’s came with a curse. 

He could see the future. Every possible version of it, spread out before him like an intricate network of threads, each one a possible path, a possible choice. Sometimes many threads led to the same conclusion. Other times they diverged and split up. Some threads were thick and strong, while others were thin and fragile, like spider silk. 

When he had a vision, all the potential paths that led to it would light up like he was being guided by his very own psychic GPS.

All his visions worked like that, except for one; the first one he’d ever seen. 

His curse. 

It haunted him, taunting him by lighting up every single thread in the network. 

*Whatever path you choose,* it seemed to say, *this is where you’ll end up.*

It was ridiculous. The future wasn’t written in stone. No one knew that better than Keegan. 

And yet.

This one vision seemed inevitable. 

In it, he found himself facing a young dragon shifter in baggy street clothes. Tears streaked the shifter’s pretty face, and he held a stake in one shaking hand.

He looked terrified, desperate in a way Keegan could not explain.

Keegan was on the ground before him, always. His chest felt heavy and he could not get up or speak. His whole body burned as if he was on fire. He wanted to say something to the shifter but the words weren’t there, even if he’d had the breath to speak them. 

The shifters lips were moving, but Keegan could never make out what he was saying.

Then the shifter raised the stake and plunged it into Keegan’s heart.

Every single time.

The stake would bury itself in his chest and Keegan would snap back to reality. 

“You all right?” His best friend, Mordyn, asked.

“I’m fine,” Keegan replied automatically, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

Mordyn didn’t look convinced. They were at the club, which was busy as usual for a Friday night. The air was filled with music, laughter and the hum of conversation. The smell of blood, sweat, and alcohol was thick and familiar.

“You were staring into space,” Mordyn said. “You’ve been doing that a lot lately. More than usually.”

Keegan wanted to wave his friend off, but Mordyn was right. He’d been acting like a fledgling, distracted by the onslaught of visions he couldn’t control. “I don’t know what’s going on,” he admitted. “There’s this one vision I can’t shake, and it’s been dropping by uninvited.” 

He picked up his wine glass which was still half-full of blood and took a sip. Mage blood tonight. Maybe he should cut back on it. The stuff always seemed to make his visions more vivid. 

“What kind of vision?” Mordyn asked. “Anything I need to worry about?”

Keegan shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been seeing this one for…” He made a show of counting on his fingers. “Almost a hundred years.”

Mordyn arched an eyebrow at him. “Are you being serious?” 

Keegan put on a fake smile. “It’s like an old friend by now.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

“Maybe not,” Keegan agreed. He took another sip of his blood. “But I’ve been doing fine ignoring it for a hundred years so I don’t think there’s anything for you to worry about.”

“It’s become more frequent, though?” Mordyn eyed him closely. “You don’t think that means anything?”

“Who’s the expert here?” Keegan asked. “You or me?”

Mordyn held up his hands. “Fine, fine. Have it your way.” He looked at the dancefloor where a pair of female dragons were dancing, their bodies moving together seductively. A few weeks ago, Mordyn would likely have tried to join them. Now, though, he had reunited with his mate. 

“How are things going with you and Apollo?” Keegan asked. 

Mordyn glanced at him. “He’s working late tonight. As always.” Mordyn grinned. “Do you think I’d waste my time with you if my mate was available?” 

“Mh…” Keegan felt himself smile back at his friend. “You’re in all of my futures, so yes.” 

“Damn. I’m not getting rid of you, huh?” 

“Nope.” Keegan lifted his glass once more and emptied it. “Any special plans for the weekend?” 

Mordyn snorted. “He doesn’t know it yet, but we’re going to watch the Solstice fireworks. The rest of his team is coming too.” 

Keegan had almost forgotten about the celebrations going on in town that weekend. He’d barely left the club, recently. Too busy trying out different ways to boost his powers.

“You should come,” Mordyn said, as if catching on to his thoughts. “You spend too much time at your computer.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“It might do you some good.” 

“I don’t know.” Keegan was about to get up and order himself a refill when his vision went dark for the shortest of moments. He saw himself at the fireworks, the cheers of the crowd in his ears as the sky lit up. 

He blinked hard, coming back to the present.

“Something wrong?” Mordyn asked.

Keegan rubbed his temples. He hadn’t had intrusive visions like that in years. Aside from that one fatal vision, anyway. “It’s nothing,” Keegan said. “Tell me about the fireworks.”

“What’s there to tell? They’ll be loud and colorful, I guess. The theme this year is ‘fire and ice’ to celebrate our country’s new union with the ice kingdom.”

Another vision. This one showing him ordering food for Apollo and his teammates. 

There was an odd certainty to the vision, as if it was decided that he was going.

He looked up to realize that Mordyn was still talking and he’d missed half of what the other vampire was saying. Something about a parade. 

“I’ll come,” Keegan decided. 

He didn’t know why his powers were trying to nudge him in this direction, but usually it was for the best when he listened.

“Great.” Mordyn clapped him on the shoulder. “It’ll be fun, you’ll see.”

Keegan didn’t think it would be *fun* exactly, but it would be something.

Something would happen tomorrow.

He had to find out what.

***

The next night, Keegan made his way through the crowds at the solstice fair, his senses assaulted by the scents of fried food and sweet drinks mingling in the warm summer air. Mordyn walked ahead, one arm casually draped over Apollo’s shoulders as they bantered back and forth.

“That’s not what I said!” Apollo insisted. “I said my work was important. I didn’t say yours wasn’t.”

“You implied it.”

“I did not.”

Keegan had lost track of their argument a few minutes ago. The two were in good spirits, though, and he wasn’t inclined to intervene.

Up ahead, Keegan spotted a group of people waiting–no doubt Apollo’s teammates that Mordyn had mentioned.

As they approached, Keegan’s breath caught in his throat. There was a dragon shifter among them. Not an unexpected sight at all–this town was ruled by dragons, after all–but this one… The moment Keegan laid eyes on him, a vision of the future super-imposed itself on reality.

This was the one.

The man who would kill him while tears ran down his face. 

There were no tears now. 

The shifter was smiling, and laughing, and looked as innocent as any dragon could. He had beautiful red wings, poking out of holes cut into the back of his shirt, and his hair was dark and curly.

He was talking to a green-haired woman, who looked vaguely amused at whatever he was saying.

“Hey!” Mordyn called, waving at the group.

Everyone turned around, including the young shifter.

His brows rose when his gaze met Keegan’s, and he took a step back, bumping into the green-haired woman.

She grabbed his shoulder to steady him. “Careful,” she muttered.

The dragon nodedd and curled his tail around his leg.

Keegan frowned.

He seemed nervous, but why? 

If anything, Keegan should be the one to freak out. 

Oblivious to the tension, Mordyn rested a hand on Keegan’s shoulder and introduced him to everyone. Keegan barely listened, though, until Mordyn named the dragon. “Jaron Tymera.”

Keegan repeated the name in his head. 

Finally he knew the identity of the dragon who was going to kill him. 

The dragon licked his lips, then took a step toward him and offered his hand. “Nice to meet you. Keegan, is it?” The way he looked at Keegan, Keegan realized the man wasn’t nervous. He was excited. His heart was racing, the sound loud in Keegan’s ears.

“That’s right.” Keegan took Jaron’s hand.

Jaron’s grip was strong. Confident. Warm–just like his brown eyes.

Under ordinary circumstances, Keegan might have been charmed.

These were anything but ordinary circumstances. 

Keegan felt more like he was stuck in a bizarre kind of dream.

“I’ve heard you’re a seer.” Jaron grinned. “Any chance you can tell me the lottery numbers?”

“I don’t take part in gambling.”

“Ah. Well. It was worth a shot.” Jaron’s smile didn’t falter. “I feel like I’ve already drawn a winning number anyway.” 

What was *that* supposed to mean?

The woman standing behind Jaron groaned. “Don’t mind him. He’s already had a few drinks before coming here.” 

“Did not,” Jaron protested easily. “You didn’t leave any for me, remember? You emptied the wine so you could work up the courage to ask out Ianair.” He half-rolled his eyes. “Like the guy hasn’t been making eyes at you for ages.”

“Jaron!” The woman smacked him on the arm. “Don’t give away all my secrets.”

Jaron laughed. “It’s not a secret if everybody knows, Chess. Even Apollo noticed.”

Apollo took offense at that. “What do you mean, even I noticed?”

Mordyn drew him aside. “You don’t notice much that doesn’t concern your mission.”

“Didn’t mean to insult you, boss,” Jaron said. “You do the boss thing pretty well.”

Apollo huffed but didn’t argue further. “Let’s find a good spot before the show starts.”

“Right.” Jaron turned his attention back to Keegan. “Can I buy you a drink?”

Keegan had no desire to drink anything offered to him by his would-be-killer. “I’m good, thanks.”

“Are you sure?” Jaron pressed. “Because I saw some stands selling blood and–“

“Jaron,” Ceska warned. “Leave the poor guy alone.”

Jaron fell back and muttered something to Ceska that sounded like, “Don’t blame me for shooting my shot just because you prefer to pine from a distance.”

“What are you even saying?” she hissed at him.

Keegan followed their banter for a moment longer. His head was starting to hurt.

None of this made sense. 

He’d never imagined that he would meet his killer before his end. 

He *certainly* hadn’t imagined that his killer would try to flirt with him.

As a seer, he wasn’t often surprised by the curveballs life tried to throw at him, but this was something else. 

Mordyn sidled up next to him. “You look constipated.” 

“Charming,” Keegan replied drily. 

Mordyn laughed, greatly amused by Keegan’s distress. The bastard. “C’mon. That looks like a great spot for a picnic up ahead, and we’ll be able to see the fireworks well from here. Try to let go and have a little fun.” 

Right. Because it would be so easy to ‘let go’ and ‘have a little fun’ while he was having a picnic with the dragon who was literally going to murder him one day. 

Coming had been a terrible idea.

Or had it?

It was certainly a good thing that he knew Jaron’s identity now. He could look him up later—on his computer and in his future sight. The more information he had to work with the better. His talent might like to insist that his end was inevitable, but that couldn’t *really* be so.

The group found a grassy spot near the edge of the fairgrounds to set up their picnic blankets. 

Keegan sat down, and to no one’s surprise, Jaron plopped down next to him, their arms almost brushing. He smiled. Keegan kept his face blank. 

He was not going to encourage this behavior. 

“So how’d you end up getting turned?” Jaron asked as if they were friends having a casual chat. He leaned back on his palms, eyeing Keegan from the side. 

“You know how every vampire has their own special powers?” Keegan asked. 

Jaron nodded. “Makes some of them harder to kill.”

Keegan wanted to ignore that remark, but he couldn’t. “You know a lot about killing my kind?” 

Jaron shrugged as if it was no big deal. “Kind of comes with the job, you know? We’ve had a lot of raids on vampire covens recently, because they tend to do awful things to mortals.” 

Keegan couldn’t fault Jaron for that, but he wanted to. “Do you enjoy it?”

“Do I enjoy what?” 

“Do you enjoy killing vampires?” Keegan spoke the words into a lull in the general conversation around them and everyone turned to him. 

Cool. So now he was the bad guy for making their meeting uncomfortable. 

“Forget it,” Keegan said. 

“No.” Jaron straightened. “I don’t enjoy killing. It’s just necessary sometimes. I’ve never attacked anyone who didn’t attack me first.” 

Am I going to attack you?

Keegan wanted to ask, but didn’t. There was no way for Jaron to know anything about the future. 

“Why did you start talking about superpowers?” Jaron asked. 

“You asked how I got turned,” Keegan reminded him. “My sire’s superpower was being able to tell who would make an exceptionally talented vampire. He wanted me for obvious reasons.” 

Jaron laughed, giving Keegan a once-over. “I can see that.” 

Keegan scolded himself. He’d worded that poorly. 

“So you just agreed to be a vampire for the guy?” Jaron asked. 

“I was young and I was promised exceptional power.” Keegan glanced up at the night sky, the memory lingering at the edge of his mind. “I guess that part wasn’t a lie.” 

“Would you make the same choice again?” Jaron asked, surprisingly perceptive. 

Keegan barely knew Jaron, though, and he wasn’t about to bare his soul to the man. He wouldn’t tell Jaron that he’d often wondered if he’d make the same choice again. What did it matter anyway? The past couldn’t be changed. 

The future could. 

“I don’t waste my time worrying about decisions I’ve already made.” 

Jaron hummed thoughtfully. “I guess that’s a superpower all by itself. I think about all the ways I’ve fucked up all the time.” 

There was something disarming about his honesty. It wasn’t his only attractive feature either.  The man was handsome and he had an easy, open way about him that invited closeness. 

Unbidden, Keegan’s gaze strayed to Jaron’s torso. Most dragon shifters ran around with barely any clothes on, but Jaron was different. He wore a shirt and actual pants. The clothes weren’t well fitting either. Keegan didn’t know if he was trying to hide something or if that was some sort of fashion statement. 

In any case, he was *a little* disappointed that there was no way to tell what the dragon’s physique might be like underneath the fabric. 

Even more unfortunately, Jaron caught him wondering. 

A grin spread over the dragon shifter’s face. “Like what you see?”

“Nothing to see,” Keegan said as flatly as he could. 

“What a sad state of affairs for a seer.” Jaron gave Keegan a sly smile. “You don’t see me naked in your future?”

Keegan stared at Jaron. 

*I see you killing me in my future.* The words sat on the tip of his tongue. 

He didn’t voice them. Instead, he rose to his feet. He had to get away from Jaron for a while, clear his head. “I’m gonna grab some snacks from the vendors. Anybody want anything?”

A chorus of requests went up from the group. 

“Got it,” Keegan said, walking away.

“I’ll help you carry everything!” Jaron offered.

Before Keegan could protest, the dragon had already gotten up and was at his side.

Keegan’s mouth tightened. “You’re persistent.” 

“Are you gonna tell me to fuck off?”

Keegan sighed. “I’m not that crude.” 

“That’s your choice.” 

“So what’s your deal?” Keegan asked. “Are you one of those guys who enjoy being bitten?” There were quite a few of them around at the club every night. If Jaron had a kink for getting bitten, it would explain why he acted like he was glued to Keegan. The only other vampire around was already attached to his boss, after all. 

“I don’t know,” Jaron said, as if the idea had only just occurred to him. “Something about you fascinates me. Maybe the hair? I don’t think it’s your fangs, though I wouldn’t say no.” 

“Wonderful.” Keegan resisted the urge to connect his palm with his face. Jaron didn’t even know what his deal was. “I’m not interested in biting you.”

“Why not?” 

Keegan arched an eyebrow at him.

Jaron laughed, holding his hands up. “All right, fine. I’m sorry if I’m being too much. I’ll tone it down. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. You just… the dragon inside of me really wants you.” 

That was quite the statement. Keegan had never really understood how shifter brains worked, but he knew that their instincts sometimes overwhelmed their capabilities for reason.

He decided to cut Jaron some slack as they lined up at the hot dog stand.

“Should I go back to the group?” Jaron asked, looking as if he’d actually take Keegan’s wishes into consideration this time.

Keegan hesitated.

He *should* tell Jaron to leave him alone. But what harm could the shifter do? Yes, Keegan had seen Jaron kill him, but that vision wasn’t going to come true tonight, and besides…

It was almost impossible to reconcile the tear-streaked man in his vision with the one standing next to him now.

Maybe if Keegan spent more time with him, he could figure out how to prevent that vision from coming to pass. 

“It’s fine,” he said. “You can help me with this.”

Jaron smiled, a softer, realer smile than the ones he’d shown so far, as if Keegan’s small concession made him genuinely happy.

It made him look like someone Keegan might want to sink his fangs in.

He tried to brush the feeling aside.

Tried not to wonder what Jaron’s blood might taste like. 

Dragon blood had always been his favorite.

*Don’t even think about it,* Keegan told himself firmly.

He wasn’t going to bite the man who would eventually stake him.

He wasn’t.


Jaron knew he had a chance.

He’d seen the way Keegan looked at him.

Ceska could say whatever she wanted, Jaron was going to get that vampire. He only needed to play it cool and not scare the guy off before Jaron could wear down his defenses.

Easier said than done, in all honesty. 

His inner dragon had been on edge ever since he’d turned around and laid eyes on Keegan earlier that night. 

“I didn’t know you had a thing for vampires,” Ceska said in a hushed tone of voice, taking him aside when he was done distributing snacks among the group. 

“I didn’t know either,” Jaron admitted. He’d never been attracted to a vampire before. 

Did he suddenly want to get bitten, like Keegan had suggested? 

The idea didn’t seem completely unappealing, but that wasn’t it. 

He would have wanted Keegan even if the man wasn’t a vampire. 

Ceska studied Jaron’s target from a distance. “You really want to get with a seer?”

“Do you find his powers offputting?” 

“I don’t know.” Ceska made a face. “I also don’t like the pale skin. Or the fangs.” 

“Yeah, but your taste can’t be trusted,” Jaron reminded his friend. “You like Ianair.” 

“Ianair’s hot,” she insisted. 

“Case in point. Terrible judgment.” 

She punched his arm. “Says the vampire lover.” 

“Our boss is fucking a vampire,” Jaron said. “Can’t be such a bad thing. Recetently he looks quite satisfied when he rolls into the office in the mornings.”

Ceska made a face again, which made Jaron laugh. “You’re awful,” she said. “I don’t want to think about Apollo’s love life.” 

“Just saying,” Jaron pointed out. “He used to hate vampires and he’s not complaining about his lot so his lover’s got to have some mad skills.”

“I give up,” Ceska said, biting into the veggie skewer Jaron had gotten her. “I think the fireworks are about to start.” 

Jaron took that as his cue to make his way back to Keegan.

The seer was looking at the sky.

Jaron sat down next to him. “Excited for the show?”

Keegan glanced at him. “No, I was wondering where I’d heard your name before.”

“Wondering about me?” Jaron couldn’t stop the grin from showing on his face.  

“Tymera,” Keegan said, turning to look at him. “Your family owns some sort of big business, don’t they?”

Jaron suppressed a sigh. He prefered not to talk about his family. “They make jewelry,” he said. “You know, all that fancy stuff. Phones you can transform into earrings, bracelets that turn into keys… all the shit vain dragons need so they can run around in loincloths that don’t have pockets.”

“You don’t like jewelry?” 

“I like pockets.”

Keegan looked at Jaron’s baggy pants. “Evidently.” 

“This thing has six pockets.” Jaron gestured. “I can carry all the shit I need and a couple things I don’t.” 

“Like what?”

Jaron pulled a ball of deep blue yarn out of one of his pockets. 

“You carry yarn?” Evidently, Keegan had not expected this. 

Jaron grinned. There was something extra fun about surprising a seer. He got the feeling Keegan wasn’t surprised often. “It’s very soft,” he said, because he didn’t want to admit outright to the fact that he *hoarded* yarn. This was one of his most favorite part of his hoard. “It’s magical too. It changes color to match the aura of its wearer.” He unraveled a string and wrapped it around Keegan’s finger before the vampire could protest. 

The string turned a shade somewhere between red and orange.

The color of a sunrise.

Keegan stared down at his finger as if he didn’t know how to react. “What does that mean?” he asked after a moment. 

“I don’t know,” Jaron admitted. “But it’s pretty.” 

Keegan took the yarn off his finger and eyed it a little more closely. 

Following an impulse, Jaron took a small pair of scissors out of another pocket and cut a piece off the yarn. “Here.” He placed the strip of yarn in Keegan’s hand. “Keep it.” 

Keegan looked at the strange gift he’d been given, almost as if he wanted to refuse it, but before he could, the sky above them errupted into a myriad of colors. 

None as beautiful as the yarn in Keegan’s hand, however. 

This only proved it. 

He didn’t even feel bad about cutting up a piece of his hoard.

Keegan would take good care of it, wouldn’t he?  

While everyone else watched the fireworks Jaron watched the vampire by his side, trying to puzzle out what it was about this man that drew him in and refused to let go. He was no stranger to crushes, but this felt different.

More consuming. 

Because it wasn’t just his dick that wanted Keegan, was it? It was the dragon in Jaron as well, the most primal part of himself. He’d never felt as connected to the beast under his skin as he did now, studying the lines of Keegan’s face as the fireworks exploded above.

It was funny in a way. Jaron had never thought of himself as very ‘dragonly.’ He scoffed at the way his peers pranced around half naked all the time, showing off their abs, spewing fire at the slightest provocation and generally being obnoxious.

And now this vampire’s presence forced him to admit that he was still a dragon deep down because suddenly there were thoughts in his head about *claiming* Keegan the way a primitive creature might claim its treasure.

The way a dragon might claim his mate. 

It was a little insane. 

Keegan turned to him. “What?” 

“Nothing,” Jaron lied. What else could he say? 

He looked up at the sky, pretending to watch as the finale started and a magical display of fireworks painted shapes in the air, forming ice blue and fire red dragons, dancing with each other the way Jaron wanted to dance with Keegan.

He risked another glance at the vampire. 

Could he have found his mate? 


Chapter Two

Jaron hated Sunday meals with his family, but unfortunately, there was no way around them if he wanted to keep in contact with his little brothers, both of whom he didn’t want to abandon to their parents’ care completely. So once a week, he hauled his ass to the mansion that his parents called home, ate his food, and pretended to be polite. 

At least he always got a good dinner out of it. Tonight, he was served roasted pheasant and creamy mashed potatoes infused with truffles and aged parmesan. None of it had been cooked by his parents, of course. They had staff for that. 

“I hope everything is going well with you?” his mother asked, addressing him. She was dressed up as usual. Not in fabric, but in jewerly. Shiny gems adorned her fingers and her long, curly hair, and a necklace with a huge emerald hung around her neck. Her breasts were covered by glittering strands of gold.

Every piece of her outfit was highly magical and would have cost more than most people earned in a month.

“I’m doing fine,” Jaron made himself say, pretending to ignore the critical look his mother shot *his* outfit. His hoodie was neither expensive nor pretty to look at. 

That was why he liked it. 

“I don’t understand why you insist on dressing like a slob,” she said. 

“Leave it be, darling,” his father said. “It’s his rebellious phase.”

“He’s too old for that.” She shook her head. “And think of the poor example this is setting for Fei and Casca.”

Jaron bit back the urge to tell his mother he wasn’t the one setting a poor example for his little brothers. “I’m doing fine,” he repeated himself, picking at his food. “And I’m not rebelling. I’m simply choosing to live my life a little differntly than you live yours.” 

His youngest brother, Fei, who was only six years old, frowned and tilted his head, clearly trying to understand what was being discussed. He looked at Jaron curiously. “Why do you hide your skin?” he asked.

Jaron chuckled. “I’m not hiding anything. I just think this is comfortable.”

His mother huffed. “That can’t possibly be comfortable.” She shook her head once more, then let the topic rest. It was on old point of contention between them, and there were so many more things he did these days that were so much worse than his fashion choices. 

Like his joining of the mortal rights task force which was *clearly* beneath him. 

If his parents knew he was also thinking about dating a vampire, they’d probably lose their shit. 

He smiled to himself as he chewed another bite of pheasant. 

His father flicked his wrist at the air above the table and a large holo screen flickered to life, broadcasting the evening news. 

Jaron was glad that his dad wanted to focus on TV rather than him, until the newscaster started talking about King Nevin’s latest speech regarding the reintegration of mortals into their society. 

Inwardly, Jaron cringed. Of all the things the news could have chosen as their main story today.

“King Nevin has only been reining for a few short years, and in that time he’s brought great change to our nation.” The blond dragon on TV smiled. “We celebrated the success of our new trade relationship with the ice kingdom only last night. A lot of people have criticized our king for marrying an ice dragon prince, but the marriage has been nothing but fruitful. In his speech last night, King Nevin asked us to remember that while we’re celebrating his union with King Earnan, he has another husband who is mortal, and much more needs to be improved in our country for mortals to live their happiest lives. He asked us to think critically about the ways we treat others who are different from us.”

“Not this again,” Jaron’s mother said. “It’s been nothing but mortals this, mortals that since King Nevin married.”

“What can you expect from a half-breed?” Jaron’s father asked gruffly. 

It wasn’t a statement he would ever make in public, but Jaron knew in certain circles, the fact that King Nevin’s mother had not been a dragon still rankled some of the nobility.

“Why is it bad that he’s a half-breed?” Ten-year-old Casca asked. He was just starting to think for himself, which Jaron both celebrated and dreaded. Life in this family was hard when one didn’t blindly follow the status quo.

“You know why, darling,” his mother said. “Interbreeding makes us weak.”

Jaron took a deep breath and held it. 

Oh, the bomb he could drop if he told them about the vampire he liked.

But he wasn’t going to mention that while his baby brother might be caught in the explosion. 

“Are you saying that our king is weak?” he challenged his parents instead.

“Of course not,” his mother replied immediately. “But he could have been stronger.”

“I would say he’s the strongest ruler we’ve had in a while,” Jaron mused. “He can shift into his full dragon form. None of us can do that.” It was a rare power for a dragon-shifter to possess these days. Some said that interbreeding had diluted their powers to a degree they could not shift anymore. King Nevin however was living proof that this theory was bullshit. 

“It’s because he found his fated mate,” Casca said. “Miss Jaynara said so.” 

Their father grunted. “As if a mortal could be a dragon’s fated mate. You’d do best not to listen to those rumors. If King Nevin and Prince Curren can shift, it is because their father’s blood runs strong in them.”

“Their father couldn’t shift,” Jaron pointed out. 

“You know, Jaron.” His father fixed him with a long look as if he’d finally had enough of Jaron’s insolence. “I’ve been very indulgent with you. Allowing you to do as you please, but I think it’s well past time you stopped acting like a child.”

Jaron bristled. “How am I acting like a child, Father? Because I have a mind of my own?”

“You’re twenty five years old and your littlest brother understands the world better than you do.” He pointed at Fei. “Why are we better than mortals?”

Fei perked up, eager to prove that he did in fact know the answer. “They don’t have magic!”

“Exactly,” Jaron’s father said. “They hid away from the world and missed out on the gift of magic as a consequence. They stopped evolving. It should not be our responsibility to protect them from the consequences of their decisions.”

Jaron’s mouth tightened. “So you think it’s fine when witches harvest them for organs or vampires keep them as blood slaves?” 

“Jaron!” his mother scolded him. “Not in front of the children!”

“Oh I forgot you don’t want Fei and Casca to know what’s really going on out there.” He pushed away his plate. “Maybe they’d grow up to be decent people instead of spoiled assholes who can’t think for themselves.” Jaron got up from his seat, ignoring his parents’ protests, and walked out of the dining room.

He’d had enough.

“Jaron Krotfric Tymera!” his father’s booming voice chased him all the way to the door, where Jaron slammed it shut behind himself.

Then he spread his wings and launched himself into the sky, flying high over the city of Solea.

In the darkness, the city’s lights sparkled below him like the diamonds his family valued above all else.

How silly when there were so many more valuable things. 

Unbidden, his thoughts strayed to his yarn. He wanted to be with his hoard now, wanted to curl up on a pile of yarn like a dragon of old slept on a mountain of gold. 

But his mind kept coming back to the small piece of his yarn he’d given away. It was somewhere down there now. Somewhere in the Rubyville district. His gaze flicked in that direction. 

What might Keegan be doing now? 

Would he mind if Jaron showed up at the vampires’ night club unannounced?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Before Jaron knew what he was doing, his wings were taking him to Rubyville.

He landed on the street outside the club and retracted his wings. The first time he’d come here a few weeks ago, he’d thought the place was kind of shabby. Definitely not his scene. He liked bright, colorful things and this place was dark as hell.

But he could put up with a little darkness if it meant seeing Keegan again. 

The redhead hadn’t left his thoughts since he’d met him the previous night. He’d dreamed of him, even, when he’d gone home after the fireworks show. Dreamt of the way the vampire smiled, of his scent, and of the taste of his lips…

Jaron licked his own lips. What he wouldn’t give to taste the vampire’s lips for real.

His dragon stirred inside him, restless, as he stepped into the club.

The music was loud, but not a lot of people danced to it. Maybe it was too early in the evening, or maybe everyone was still tired from last night’s festivities. 

Jaron went up to the bar and looked around, hoping to spot Keegan’s red hair, but there was no sign of him. “Hey, uh…” Jaron turned to the bartender who had approached. A young woman with silver hair and pale vampire skin. “Do you know Keegan?”

 “Are you asking me if I know my own coven-mate?” She arched an amused eyebrow.

“Oh. Yeah.” Jaron laughed. “Stupid question. Can I see him?”

“He’s not in.”

 Jaron deflated. “When will he be back, do you know?”

The vampire shrugged. “I don’t keep track of him. We all have our own things to do, you know?”

“Right.” Jaron sighed. “Thanks anyway.”

“Anytime,” the vampire said, already losing interest in him and going back to polishing the glasses she’d lined up behind the bar.

Jaron was about to turn around and walk out of the club when a hand landed on his shoulder and almost made him jump. He whipped around, ready to defend himself–and found himself facing a familiar face. “Mordyn! Hi.”

 “What brings you here, dragon?” Mordyn asked, grinning as if he knew *exactly* why Jaron had shown up here and he was greatly amused by it. “Looking for someone?”

“I was, actually.” No use hiding it. “Do you know where Keegan went?”

Mordyn sat down on one of the bar stools, patting the one next to him as if to invite Jaron for a chat.

Feeling somewhat awkward, Jaron took the offered seat. He didn’t know Mordyn all that well–aside from the fact that his boss was fucking this vampire.

Mordyn ordered a cider for Jaron and nothing for himself, calling the bartender ‘Vitra.’

“What’s your fascination with Keegan?” Mordyn asked, sliding Jaron’s drink over to him when it arrived.

Jaron took a sip, trying to find an appropriate answer for this. “I’m not sure,” he admitted eventually. “I don’t know him well.”

“But you think he’s hot?” 

“D’uh.” What a dumb question. “You got eyes, don’t you?”

Mordyn laughed. “I don’t look at Keegan that way, but hey, if you do…” He shrugged one shoulder. “But you’ve got to understand that he won’t make it easy for you.”

Jaron frowned. What did he mean by that?

“Do you know where Keegan spends most of his nights? In this building. In his room, in the lounge or at the club. And yet he just happens to be out tonight. Can you guess why?”

Jaron looked down at his drink. “Are you saying that he’s avoiding me?”

“I didn’t know that you were going to be here,” Mordyn said. “But you can bet he did.”

Jaron frowned. Had he done something to piss the vampire off last night? If he had, he wanted to hear it from Keegan straight. “I could wait here,” he mused. “He’s got to come back at some point.”

“I’m sure Keegan can find somewhere else to stay for a little while,” Mordyn pointed out. The vampire seemed more than a little entertained by Jaron’s behavior. “You really want to waste your whole night sitting here just for a chance that he might show up?” 

Well, put like that, it did make Jaron seem desperate. 

“What would you do?” he asked Mordyn. 

“For one, I wouldn’t pursue Keegan.” 

Jaron crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Good,” he said. “You shouldn’t.” 

Mordyn laughed again. Then he eyed Jaron a little more closely. “You seem serious about this, and since my friend seems to want to avoid you… You probably have a good chance at getting somewhere with him.”

Jaron shot the vampire a confused look. That made no sense. 

“Trust me,” Mordyn said. “If you were any random guy who had the hots for him, he’d just shoot you down and be done with it. I’ve seen him do it plenty of times. Keegan doesn’t go out of his way to predict someone’s moves unless they matter.” 

“Are you trying to tell me I should be flattered?” 

“Maybe a little. If you want to date a seer, you should get used to being confused.” 

Jaron took a sip of his cider, considering this. “What if I could confuse him instead? He can’t possibly predict everything I do, right?” There had been a lot of little moments last night when Jaron was sure he’d surprised Keegan. The vampire had never seen the yarn coming, for one. 

“That’ll be difficult to do while he’s paying close attention to you,” Mordyn said. “You’re on his radar now.” Mordyn paused. “I don’t understand exactly how his powers work, but he sees different versions of the future, multiple possibilities. If you want to catch him off guard even a little, you’ve got to make sure the future that actually comes to pass is the least probable one. That’s the one he typically doesn’t prepare for.”

Jaron mulled over Mordyn’s advice as he nursed his cider. Make the least probable future happen, huh? That was easier said than done when he had no idea what Keegan’s visions showed him. For all Jaron knew, the seer had foreseen this very conversation and already had countermeasures in place.

“He’s not all powerful,” Mordyn said as if to encourage him. 

Jaron glanced at Mordyn. “Thanks for the advice. Why are you helping me anyway? Isn’t Keegan your friend?”

“Let’s just say that Keegan’s meddled a lot in my love life and I’m happy to return the favor.” 

“I see.”

Jaron considered his options. 

Catching Keegan off guard, doing the least expected thing… Jaron had a feeling that no matter what he tried, the seer would see it coming from a mile away.

Honestly, Jaron wasn’t good at this kind of thing, playing cat and mouse. When he liked someone, he was pretty straight-forward about it, and if he got shot down, he could live with that. 

Keegan hadn’t shot him down yet, but he also wasn’t giving Jaron a chance to approach him. 

If Keegan was anyone else, Jaron would take the hint and leave him be, but…

The dragon in him did not like that thought at all.

He bit his lower lip. 

Maybe he could still do things his way and surprise Keegan at the same time. He only needed to be even bolder than usual. 

He looked at Mordyn. 

“Could you help me leave a gift for him in his room?” 

***

Keegan leaned against the bar of a different night club in a different part of the city, sipping his glass of O-negative mage blood as the pulsing beat of the club’s music vibrated through his body. 

He had no great interest in partying, but he knew Jaron would not show up here, and that was all that mattered for now. 

He’d spent countless hours unable to sleep during the day, trying to see as much as he could of Jaron’s future. 

He didn’t see as much as he would have liked before he exhausted himself, but the paths of Jaron’s future he did manage to follow taught him a few things about the shifter. 

For one, Jaron seemed to fight with his parents often. He’d likely joined the mortal rights task force because they gave him a sense of community he didn’t find at home. He’d even moved in with an elderly witch who seemed to take care of him not unlike a mother. 

In return, Jaron helped her take care of her herb garden, cooked her meals sometimes and knitted her warm clothes from yarn that wasn’t part of his hoard. 

That was another thing that had become clear to Keegan; Jaron *hoarded* yarn, and the little strip he’d given Keegan had been part of that hoard once. 

Idly, Keegan put his hand in his pocket where he kept the piece of string, feeling for it with his fingers. 

It was extremely unusual for a dragon shifter to part ways with their treasure, even if just for a moment. To give it away entirely…

Keegan took another sip of his blood, puzzling things over in his head once more while his eyes scanned the crowd around him. There were a number of beautiful people on the dancefloor. One or two of them had even tried flirting with him, but Keegan wasn’t interested.

The only man Keegan was interested in was the one who would eventually end Keegan’s life. 

He’d seen *that* vision again too. 

Frustratingly, it hadn’t revealed any new clues to him. Knowing who Jaron was didn’t make it make sense. 

In fact, it made even less sense now. 

How could the flirtatious, cheerful dragon he’d met last night be the same person he saw crying in his vision, ramming a stake in Keegan’s chest?

“You look lonely.” A woman with fox ears sidled up to him. “Would you like to share a drink with me?”

Keegan shook his head, smiling apologetically at her, then he left his empty glass with the bartender, walking outside to get some fresh air.

It was a warm night. A short one too. He’d have to go home or find other shelter for the day soon. 

According to his earlier deep-dive into the future, it was roughly 75% safe for him to go home. In most of the possible futures he’d seen, Jaron didn’t stick around after visiting the club and not finding Keegan there. The majority of the time, he talked to Mordyn and left. Keegan couldn’t determine the exact contents of the conversation–his visions were rarely that clear–but he got the feeling that Mordyn was a little too enthusiastic about Keegan gaining a fan. 

There was something to be wary about there. 

And there was still a non-zero chance that if Keegan went back to Rubyville now, he might encounter Jaron there. And if he did… there was another non-zero chance that he might do something he would regret. 

When he ignored his visions and his knowledge of their terrible future for a moment, Keegan was attracted to Jaron in a way that was beyond stupid. 

Something in him just couldn’t equate the shifter with the cheeky smile with the tear-streaked man from his vision, and it was this willfully ignorant part of him that wanted to let Jaron come close enough for Keegan to taste his blood.

Or kiss his lips.

He’d seen visions of *that* too.

Of himself kissing Jaron. The two of them naked, bodies pressed together on Keegan’s bed, Jaron’s hands running through Keegan’s hair, Keegan sinking his fangs into Jaron’s neck…

He shuddered, pushing the images out of his mind. 

Jaron was his killer. 

Keegan’s powers tried to tell him that he was something else too, but Keegan wasn’t ready for that particular truth. 

How fucked would he be if Jaron was his fate in more ways than one?

Too fucked for words. 

Halfway home, he stopped and pulled out his phone to dial Mordyn’s number. “Has he left yet?” he asked when the other vampire picked up. 

“You mean your dragon?” 

“You know what I mean.” Keegan rubbed his face, tired. 

“Couldn’t you peek into the future and find out?” 

“I’m exhausted. Just tell me. I already know you and Jaron plotted something behind my back, so you owe me a simple answer.” This accusation was a gamble. Keegan wasn’t a hundred percent sure that Jaron and Mordyn had talked tonight, but it was very likely that they had, and that Mordyn had delighted in it.

“He’s left,” Mordyn said. “You can come home.”

“Thanks,” Keegan said, hanging up without another word. 

Home sounded really good. 

***

When Keegan arrived back at the coven’s base, he was glad to find that Mordyn had not lied to him. 

Something was up, though, because Mordyn was smiling in that way that meant he was too pleased with himself for Keegan to relax.

“Where have you been?” Mordyn asked, following Keegan down the stairs to the vampires’ living quarters. “Hiding?”

Keegan shrugged. “I checked out some other clubs to see what the competition is doing.” 

“Anything we need to worry about?” 

“Nah.” Keegan turned to look at his friend. “How long was Jaron here?” 

“Maybe an hour.” 

“You talked for an hour?” 

Mordyn quirked a brow. “Is that an issue?” 

“No issue.” Keegan licked his lips, not wanting to reveal too much. “A little curious, though. I didn’t think the two of you would have too much to talk about.” 

“I’m sure he would have prefered to talk to you if you hadn’t fled the nest like a scared chicken.”

Keegan shook his head, ignoring the jab. “I made the best choice I could make given the circumstances.” He didn’t expect Mordyn to understand, not truly. Mordyn was one of his closest friends and Mordyn loved him like family, but there was no way Mordyn could understand what it was like to be a seer. His friends thought that it was all about meddling in people’s affairs and manipulating timelines for fun–and sometimes it was that. 

Most of the time, though, he simply tried to mitigate risks, for all of them. Often, that involved not telling anyone what he knew because that knowledge would influence their actions in ways that made the future less predictable, and thus, less safe.

His friends joked that he liked to be mysterious, that he didn’t *want* people to understand him or how his powers worked, but that wasn’t really it. 

He often wished he could confide in them about things, to show someone the world as he saw it, but in the end, it was always too great a risk to take. 

And so he remained an enigma, acting behind the scenes as the only one who could.

It got lonely sometimes, but that was just the price tag that came with great power. Keegan wasn’t going to cry about it. 

“If you don’t mind,” he said to Mordyn, “I’m going to get some sleep.”

Mordyn nodded, but he didn’t move away when Keegan opened the door to his bedroom, as if he was waiting for something.

Keegan half-expected Jaron to jump out at him from behind the door, but the room was empty.

He was about to exhale in relief and ask Mordyn what he was still standing there for when he spotted a flash of color on his desk, right next to his laptop.

A bottle of bright red blood.

Keegan stared at the bottle of blood on his desk, his brows furrowing. “What is this?”

“A gift,” Mordyn said, grinning. “From your dragon.”

“My dragon?” Keegan repeated, taking a step closer to the desk. The blood was a vivid crimson, and even from a distance, Keegan could smell its richness. Dragon blood. Jaron’s blood. “Why would he leave me this?”

Mordyn shrugged. “Maybe he’s trying to get your attention.”

Keegan reached out and picked up the bottle, eyeing it curiously. The blood sloshed inside, and a sudden, intense temptation tugged at Keegan’s guts. He wanted to taste it, to let it coat his tongue and slide down his throat. He wanted to know what Jaron tasted like.

“Are you going to drink it?” Mordyn asked, his tone teasing. “Or are you too much of a coward?”

Keegan glared at him. “I’m not a coward.”

“Then why don’t you knock it back?”

“Because it’s weird,” Keegan said, setting the bottle back down on the desk. “Who the hell leaves a present like this?”

Mordyn laughed. “Your new fan, that’s who.”

Keegan’s lips thinned. “He’s not my fan.”

“Oh, please. He couldn’t keep his eyes off you, and now he’s obviously trying to get your attention.” Mordyn gestured at the bottle. “I’d say he made quite the statement.”

“And you helped him.” There would have been no other way for Jaron to gain access to Keegan’s room.

“You’re welcome,” Mordyn said, still smiling.

Keegan turned to him. “You don’t think this is a little extreme?”

“How else do you surprise a seer?” 

Keegan’s gaze narrowed. “What makes you think I want to be surprised?” 

“Fine, maybe you don’t want to be surprised,” Mordyn conceded, “but I think you need to be.” 

“That’s bullshit.” 

“You can’t live your whole life in a calculated way. You’ll never find love like that.” 

Keegan wanted to scream. Who said he wanted to find love? And even if he did, Mordyn knew nothing about what Jaron was going to do to him in the future. “This is payback, isn’t it? Because I got you and Apollo together?” 

“You’ve had this coming for a long time.”

Keegan wanted to ask Mordyn to stay out of this, but by the look on the other vampire’s face, he knew his friend would never listen. He sighed. “Just leave me alone. I need to get some sleep.”

“You’re not going to taste it?”

Keegan shot Mordyn a hard glare.

Mordyn held up his hands in mock surrender. “Alright, alright. I’ll leave you to your brooding.” He turned to leave, but not before throwing one last teasing remark over his shoulder. “Don’t think too hard, Keegan. Sometimes it’s better to just go with your gut.”

Keegan waited until he heard Mordyn’s footsteps recede before he turned his attention back to the bottle of blood. He hesitated for a moment, then picked it up again, uncorking it and bringing it to his nose. The scent was even stronger now, rich and heady and making Keegan’s mouth water.

Keegan’s fingers tightened around the bottle as he stared at it, his mind warring with itself. He shouldn’t drink it. Tasting Jaron’s blood would only complicate things further. 

But it smelled so damn good.

And what could it hurt, really?

This wasn’t a highly addictive drug he held in his hands. He was a vampire. Blood wouldn’t harm him. 

Before he knew what he was doing, he’d brought the bottle to his lips and taken a sip.

The moment the blood touched his tongue, something inside of Keegan broke—while something else snapped into place. It was the strangest sensation. The blood was the sweetest he’d ever tasted, and as he gulped it down, he slowly realized that the thing that had broken was his self-restraint. He couldn’t stop drinking, couldn’t make himself pull back and put the bottle down.

Dragon blood had always been his favorite. He’d expected to enjoy this blood, but he hadn’t expected it to be this good.

It was as if every single drop he swallowed awakened something deep inside of himself.

The thing that had snapped into place.

A craving for more than just blood, but while blood was all he had, he took it greedily until the bottle was empty and he was licking the last drops from his lips.

As he set the bottle down on the desk, a wave of dizziness washed over him. He braced himself against the desk, his vision blurring and then sharpening with a clarity he had never experienced before. But instead of seeing the future, he found himself looking into the past.

He saw a young dragon-shifter, no more than seven or eight years old, standing in a courtyard surrounded by other dragon children. They were all taking turns breathing fire, but when it was this child’s turn, only a weak puff of smoke escaped his lips. The other children laughed and pointed, their voices cruel and mocking.

“Breathless!” they chanted, pushing Jaron around. “Breathless Jaron can’t even breathe fire!”

Jaron’s face was flushed with shame and anger, his small hands clenched into fists at his sides. He opened his mouth, trying to summon even the tiniest flame, but nothing came out. The other children only laughed harder.

Keegan’s heart ached for the young Jaron, and he found himself wanting to reach out and comfort him. But before he could do anything, the vision shifted and changed, and he saw Jaron, only a little older, being scolded by his parents.

“You must try harder, Jaron,” his father said sternly. “You’re a Tymera and you’re supposed to excel, not embarrass your family.”

His mother shook her head. She didn’t say a word, but her disappointment with her son was clear on her face.

Jaron looked like he wanted to say something back, but he didn’t dare. His parents continued lecturing him for several more minutes, and Keegan watched helplessly as Jaron’s shoulders sank lower and lower. By the time he was dismissed, he looked utterly defeated.

“You’re not worthless,” Keegan murmured under his breath. He’d known the dragon for all of two minutes, but he already knew this much. There was a kind person hidden in the hoodie. The sad thing was that Keegan could not reach into the past and tell him that. 

As the next vision materialized, though, someone else told Jaron in his place. The elderly witch Keegan had seen in another vision when he’d done his deepdive earlier that day. Malkira, the woman Jaron who would eventually open her home to Jaron. 

Jaron was maybe twelve or thirteen in this vision. He sat on a bench with a teenage scowl on his face. 

Malkira approached him with slow but steady steps. She had long, white hair that flowed down her back, and her face was lined with wrinkles that spoke of a life well-lived. 

She sat down next to Jaron and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “What’s got you looking so sad?”

Jaron shrugged, not looking up. “Nothing,” he mumbled.

“It doesn’t look like nothing to me.” Malkira reached into a bag at her side and pulled out a handknit scarf, the yarn a soft, muted blue. “Here,” she said, wrapping the scarf around Jaron’s shoulders. “Take heart, Jaron. It’s not your fault your family is so narrow-minded they can’t see the bright future ahead of you.”

Jaron looked up at her then, his eyes wide with surprise. He fingered the soft yarn of the scarf, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He didn’t mention that dragon shifters never got cold, so the scarf was unnecessary. Instead, he wrapped it more tightly around himself like the precious gift it was.

“Thank you,” he said softly.

Malkira patted his shoulder. “You’re welcome, child. Remember, never let other people define your worth.”

Jaron nodded, his smile growing wider. He stood up, clutching the scarf close to his chest. “I won’t forget,” he promised.

He took the scarf home and awarded it pride of place in his growing hoard of yarn. 

The next vision, finally, showed him something that hadn’t happened yet. He saw himself and Jaron walking together through a moonlit park. The details were hazy, as they always were in visions of the future, but Keegan could feel the warmth and affection radiating from himself towards the dragon shifter.

They were talking, their lips moving. Keegan couldn’t make out the words they spoke, but he could see the way their hands were intertwined, fingers laced together in easy intimacy. 

As they walked, Jaron reached into a bag he carried and pulled out a familiar blue scarf – the same one Malkira had given him all those years ago. With a tender smile, he wrapped it around Keegan’s neck, his fingers brushing against the vampire’s skin in a feather-light caress.

Keegan smiled and leaned in, pressing a soft, gentle kiss to Jaron’s lips. The dragon shifter’s arms came up to encircle him, holding him close as they lost themselves in the moment.

Keegan gasped as the visions shifted once more, this time flooding his mind with an endless array of possible futures. In each one, he saw himself and Jaron together, their lives intertwined as if there was no other way for them to be. 

The different possibilities blurred together, one bleeding into the next like watercolors on a canvas. 

In one, they were curled up together on a couch, Jaron’s head resting on Keegan’s chest as they watched a movie. Keegan’s fingers were tangled in Jaron’s hair, idly playing with the soft strands as they laughed at something on the screen.

Another vision showed them in a kitchen, Jaron wearing an apron and covered in flour as he attempted to bake a cake for his younger sibling who’d come to live with them. Keegan was perched on the counter, watching with an amused grin as Jaron cursed under his breath and tried to salvage the disaster.

The next moment, Keegan saw them both dressed to the nines in suits that had clearly been tailored to fit them perfectly. They were dancing together, their bodies moving in perfect sync as if they’d been doing this for years. Jaron dipped Keegan low, then pulled him back up and spun him out before tugging him close again. 

Yet another glimpse revealed a quiet moment, the two of them sitting on a moonlit beach, Jaron’s head on Keegan’s shoulder as they watched the water roll toward them in lazy waves, their hands clasped together.

There were other visions too, of walks in the park, lazy Sunday evenings in bed, evenings spent curled up together reading or talking or simply enjoying each other’s company.

He saw birthdays and anniversaries, laughter-filled game nights with their friends. 

Snapshots of a life Keegan had never dared to imagine for himself.

As the visions began to fade, Keegan found himself on the carpeted floor of his room, staring up at his ceiling. The taste of dragon blood lingered on his tongeu while his head was swimming, his body tingling as if he’d been plugged to a high voltage wire.

Reality felt unbearably cold without his mate by his side.

That was what Jaron was, undeniably. 

The missing piece of his soul, the partner fate had intended for him, but…

Keegan blinked, struggling to clear his head as he sat up. 

But how could those visions come to pass if Jaron was going to kill him?

Keegan reached for his powers, but he was drained. He couldn’t check if he’d missed any potential thread in his future that *didn’t* lead to his demise at Jaron’s hands, but it had to exist. It had to. 

How else could he have seen what he’d seen just now?

Was it possible that all of those visions would come true *before* Jaron inevitably killed him?

Keegan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The future he’d seen… 

He wanted it. 

But was it worth dying for?


New Chapter 

Jaron stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing his bleary eyes. He’d tossed and turned all night, his mind spinning with thoughts of Keegan. 

Did he drink the blood Jaron had left for him? 

Or had he tossed it, thinking Jaron a total lunatic?

It was a bit weird, wasn’t it? Leaving someone a bottle of your own blood. 

Jaron wished he could have seen Keegan’s reaction. 

If he did drink it, did he like it? Would he want more? 

Jaron licked his lips, trying and failing not to lose himself in thoughts about what it might feel like to have the vampire bite him. 

He’d never been into that kind of thing before, so what the hell? 

He made himself sit down at the kitchen table. Malkira was already there, always up a little earlier than he was. When he joined her, she looked up from her tea, one eyebrow arched. “Well, don’t you look like something the cat dragged in. Rough night?”

Jaron grunted, pouring himself a mug of strong coffee. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Mmhmm.” Malkira hummed. “And I’m sure it has nothing to do with whoever put that silly grin on your face the night of the festival. You looked like you’d found hidden treasure when you came home.”

If Jaron had taken a sip of his coffee yet, he would have choked on it. Damn it. He could never hide anything from Malkira. 

“It’s nothing,” he mumbled, focusing intently on his mug. 

Malkira snorted. “Nothing, my left foot. I know that spaced out look, Jaron Tymera. You’ve got it bad for someone.”

Jaron sighed, running a hand through his rumpled hair. “Fine, yes, I met someone. But it’s….” Jaron trailed off. He was about to say that it was complicated, but was it, really? 

Just because the guy he liked was a vampire? 

And a seer?

Malkira patted his hand sympathetically. “Want to tell me about them?”

Not really, no. 

Malkira wouldn’t judge him the way his parents would, but she might tell him to be reasonable, and that was the last thing Jaron wanted to be. 

Just as he opened his mouth to deflect her questions, a loud knock sounded at the front door. He leaped to his feet, grateful for the interruption. 

“That’ll be Ianair. We’re heading to work together today.”

Malkira shook her head, a small smile playing about her lips. “This conversation isn’t over, you know. I expect details later!”

Jaron rolled his eyes fondly, grabbing his bag. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll see you tonight, you nosy old witch.”

He ducked out the door before Malkira could swat him with a dish towel, grinning at Ianair. The other dragon shifter cocked an eyebrow at Jaron’s rumpled appearance.

“Rough night?” Ianair asked as they took flight.

Jaron groaned. “Not you too! Malkira was about to interrogate me as well.”

Ianair chuckled. “She’s just looking out for you, man. So spill, what’s got your tail in a twist? Meet a cute girl at the festival?”

“Guy, actually,” Jaron said. “Vampire.”

“Really?” Ianair whistled. “I’m sorry I was busy that night and couldn’t see you embarrass yourself.” 

“What makes you think I embarrassed myself?” 

“The fact that you’re not bragging about your conquest.”

Jaron scoffed. “Maybe I’m just being a gentleman and not kissing and telling.”

By the Gods, he wanted to kiss Keegan. And then he wanted to do a lot more than that. 

Ianair snorted. “Right. Because you’re known for your discretion.”

“I can be discreet!” Jaron protested. At Ianair’s skeptical look, he sighed. “Fine, I didn’t ‘conquer’ anything. We just talked.” And then I gave him a piece of my hoard. Jaron kept that last thought to himself, feeling oddly protective of that private interaction he’d had with Keegan. 

“Uh huh. What’s this vampire’s name?”

Jaron hesitated. Was Ianair going to make fun of him? 

Probably. 

That was what best friends were for. 

“Keegan,” Jaron said finally. “His name is Keegan.”

Ianair’s brows rose. “The Rubyville seer? Really? Damn, Jaron, you really know how to pick them.” 

Jaron shrugged, trying to play it casual. “He’s interesting.”

“Interesting?” Ianair repeated, a sly grin spreading across his face. “Is that code for ‘smoking hot’?”

Jaron rolled his eyes at his friend—even though he wasn’t wrong. “Shut up. What about you and Ceska, huh? Has she finally made a move?”

It was Ianair’s turn to look embarrassed. “What? No, we’re just friends.”

“Uh huh. Sure.”

Ianair narrowed his eyes. “Don’t try to change the subject. We’re talking about you and your vampire crush. You think you got a chance with the guy?”

Jaron sighed, knowing Ianair wasn’t going to let this go. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I hope so. He’s…” Jaron paused and swallowed hard. “The dragon in me wants him, like, really wants him. I’ve never felt anything like that before.” 

Ianair shot him a look. “Damn, Jar, do you think…? Like, could he be your mate?”

Jaron didn’t know what to think. He’d considered the possibility, but it felt too big a thing to happen to an unimportant dragon like him. Sure he was part of a prestigious clan, but only by accident. He was an adult now and he could stillbarely produce fire. He wasn’t like those royal dragons who’d found their mates. 

“I don’t know,” he said out loud. 

“How cool would it be if he was?” Ianair asked, sharing none of Jaron’s hesitation. “Just imagine, you could shift into your true dragon from like King Nevin.”

Jaron couldn’t even process that thought. They called themselves shifters, but 99% of dragons these days could not shift. They’d retained their wings and tails, but their full draconic forms had been lost to them. 

To most of them, anyway. 

Recently both King Nevin and Prince Curren had managed to shift, and they credited this feat to their fated mates. 

Miracles like that didn’t happen to dragons like Jaron, though. 

But if he could shift…

His parents would really have to eat crow then. 

Before Jaron could say any of that to Ianair, they reached the building that housed the Mortal Rights Task Force, their place of work. 

Inside, Ceska greeted them with a strained smile, her green hair pulled back into a messy bun. 

“Hey guys, glad you’re here. Things are a bit crazy this morning.”

Jaron frowned, noticing the tense atmosphere in the office. Everyone seemed to be rushing around, talking in hushed, urgent tones. “What’s going on?”

Before Ceska could answer, Apollo’s voice rang out across the room. “Everyone, we need to have a team meeting. Now.”

Jaron exchanged a worried glance with Ianair as they followed Ceska into the conference room. Apollo stood at the head of the table, his jaw clenched and his eyes hard. 

“We have a situation,” he said without preamble. “Two mortals have gone missing overnight. A young woman named Holly Meadows and a middle-aged man named Trevor Bricks. Finding them is our top priority.” Images of the two appeared on a screen behind him as he spoke. 

Jaron’s stomach clenched. Mortals going missing again? He’d thought they’d finally put a stop to the blood-slave trade in the area. No wonder everyone was so tense. This was a major blow to the high of victory they’d been riding on since they’d brought the Nightfall coven to justice. 

Was this some other vampire coven’s doing? 

Jaron worried his lower lip. 

Keegan wouldn’t have anything to do with it, would he? No, surely not. Keegan’s coven was one of the ‘good’ covens. It was racist to think all vampires were involved in bad things. 

Apollo continued, “Aside from these two mortals, three members of the paranormal community have also gone missing the same night.”

A murmur of surprise and concern rippled through the room. Jaron leaned forward, his brow furrowed. “Wait, so it’s not just mortals? Who else is missing?”

Apollo consulted his notes. “A wolf-shifter named Luca Fare, a dragon-shifter named Senna Kane, and a mage named Rowan Strifeburg.” More images appeared on the screen. 

Jaron sat back in his chair, his mind racing. This changed things. If paranormals were also disappearing, it was unlikely that this was a case of vampires abducting mortals for their blood. But then what was it? Who would target both mortals and paranormals?

For what reason?

“Do we have any leads?” Ianair asked, voicing the question on everyone’s mind.

Apollo shook his head. “Not yet. But we’re going to find them. I want everyone on this. Canvas the city, talk to your contacts, follow up on any and all leads. Figure out if there is a connection between the missing mortals and these specific paranormals. We’re not resting until we figure out what’s going on.”

Jaron nodded, determined to make himself useful. 

This was why he loved his job. He could actually help people here instead of just selling them shiny things in exchange for too much money. 

He was about to sit down at his desk and look at all the information they had so far when Apollo approached him. 

“I’m heading out to talk to some of the mortals’ friends and family. Come with me?” 

“Sure.” Jaron followed Apollo, matching his boss’s hurried pace. “Where are we going?” 

“Holly, the missing woman, has two children. We’re going to talk to the father.” 

***

A few hours earlier

Keegan paced his room, unable to sleep even though the sun would be up in a short hour. He knew where Jaron was going to be later today. It would be so easy to head out and meet him at Iskander’s home. He’d even have the perfect excuse to be there—to support his friend’s mate in their time of trouble.

That would be the decent thing to do, right?

At the same time, though, he didn’t want to use Iskander like that. The man had never been anything but honest and straightforward with him. A true friend, even when Keegan hadn’t necessarily deserved his kindness. 

Deciding to be a good friend in return, Keegan picked up his phone and called Iskander. 

Keegan took a deep breath as he waited for the other vampire to pick up. Iskander responded shortly after the third ring. “Keegan,” he said, his voice even but strained. It sounded as if he expected Keegan to have more bad news for him. “Why are you calling?”

“To see how you’re doing. I know about Holly,” Keegan said, getting straight to the point. He hated how often his friends thought he existed to spread doom and gloom, but he couldn’t fault them for it. The faster he dispersed the notion, the better. “How are you and Rhyme holding up?”

There was a pause, and Keegan could picture Iskander running a hand through his short black hair. “It’s been rough,” he admitted. “Rhyme is beside himself with worry. They fought so hard for their freedom.”

Keegan grimaced. Holly and Rhyme had both been blood-slaves. For one of them to be kidnapped again after they’d finally escaped that life…

It was beyond cruel. 

“I’m so sorry,” he said softly. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Actually,” Iskander said, “Apollo will come by in the morning. He might have use for a seer’s help in this case.”

Keegan hesitated. He could look into the case, but he hated to use his powers that way, as if everything he saw was definite. When he wasn’t well connected to the people whose futures he tried to see, the results were often lackluster. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “I would need Altair’s permission to aid an organization other than our coven with talents.”

I don’t think Altair would have a problem with this,” Iskander said. “This concerns Rhyme’s children, and Rhyme is part of our coven through me.”

Iskander had a point there. It was a loose interpretation of coven, but not one Altair would squabble with. 

Still, this all felt too convenient. As if fate really wanted him to meet Jaron today. 

But what else could he do?

Deny his help to Iskander?

That wasn’t really an option either. 

“Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll come over.”

“Thank you,” Iskander said as if Keegan was doing this solely to help him and Rhyme. Keegan would do everything he could to support his friend and solve this mystery. 

But there was another riddle he wanted to solve along the way. 

The puzzle of his own fate.

***

Keegan arrived at Iskander’s place just before the sun rose. Iskander had left the door ajar for him after he’d rung the bell downstairs, and as Keegan stepped through the doorway, he saw his sitting on the couch, his arm wrapped around Rhyme’s shoulders. Rhyme looked pale and drawn, his eyes red-rimmed from crying.

A mug of tea sat on the small table in front of them and the scent of chamomille hung in the air. 

Iskander looked at Keegan. “Thank you for coming.”

Keegan nodded, moving to sit in a chair across from them. “Of course. I’m so sorry about Holly.”

Rhyme lifted his head, his gaze meeting Keegan’s. “Did you see this coming?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “With your future sight?” 

Keegan wasn’t sure if Rhyme meant to make his question sound like an accusation or if that was Keegan’s own paranoia. Too often, people blamed him when things got wrong, as if he should have the absolute power to prevent every bad thing from happening ever. 

“I didn’t see anything about this,” he said. It wasn’t the full truth, because now that this was happening, a few things he’d seen started to make sense. Disconnected visions that hadn’t made sense before.

Sometimes he connected the dots too late to warn anyone. 

Rhyme scowled. “It’s not fair,” he complained angrily. “Why Holly? What did she do to deserve this?”

Keegan wished he had an answer, but he didn’t. He didn’t know Holly, but he was sure the mortal hadn’t done anything that warranted this kind of fate. “I promise,” he said, “I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that your friend and the others are found and brought home safely.”

Rhyme nodded grimly. 

They talked for a little longer, Keegan doing his best to reassure Rhyme and Iskander that he would use his powers to figure out who was behind this. 

Eventually, Iskander convinced Rhyme to settle down to sleep for an hour or two before Apollo would arrive and then he and Keegan were alone. 

“It’s a damn shame,” Iskander said, closing the door to the bedroom. “Rhyme’s family only just got used to not being food anymore.”

“I don’t think there’s vampires behind this.”

“Are your visions telling you that?”

Keegan thought about how to respond to that. “I saw that it’s not only mortals missing,” he said eventually. “There are some victims who wouldn’t fetch a high price among vampires.”

“I see.” Iskander glanced at the door to the bedroom, then back at Keegan. “How much have you really seen?” 

Keegan licked his lips. When he’d looked at the future, he’d been more interested in predicting Jaron’s actions than he’d been in predicting the futures of those kidnapped. “I didn’t see anyone die,” he said to reassure Iskander. 

It was the truth. 

Even if the only reason he hadn’t seen anyone die was because he hadn’t looked.

The way Iskander regarded him, he knew Keegan was full of shit.

They’d been friends for too long, really. 

Keegan held up his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t focus on the things I should have focused on.” 

Iskander raised an eyebrow at him, waiting for him to say more. 

Keegan blew out a breath. “I was following the path of someone else’s actions when I came across Holly’s kidnapping.”

“Whose actions?”

Keegan hesitated. Should he tell Iskander…?

It felt imprudent to tell people about his mate when he didn’t yet know if that connection was worth pursuing or not, but on the other hand… none of his friends were more reliable than Iskander. “Don’t tell anyone,” Keegan said, “but I was following the actions of my mate.”

If Iskander was shocked to hear this, he didn’t show it. His eyes widened only marginally. “You found your mate? And they’re caught up in this?” His gaze narrowed. “Did they get kidnapped as well?”

“They didn’t get kidnapped,” Keegan said quickly. What a horrible thought. “He works with Apollo.”

Iskander processed that. “Is he going to come here?” 

“Yes,” Keegan admitted. “Most probably.”

Iskander nodded. By now, he must have understood that Keegan had come here to meet his mate, but he didn’t seem upset about it. Then again, it wasn’t in Iskander’s nature to get upset about things like that. 

What mattered to him was that Keegan had come, and that he’d offered his help. 

“Could you not have met your mate elsewhere?” Iskander asked. 

“It’s complicated.” 

Iskander looked at him, not satisfied with that response. 

Keegan sighed. If he was going to tell anyone about this, it might as well be Iskander. “I don’t know yet if it would be wise for me to have a relationship with him.” 

“Does he have a problem with vampires?” 

Keegan almost laughed at the question. That had become a theme in their little friend group, hadn’t it? Mortal mates struggling with the concept of dating a vampire. “It’s not that,” Keegan said. “He’s a dragon, and though he does work with Apollo, I don’t get the feeling that he has an issue with the undead. He flirted with me pretty aggressively during the solstice fireworks.”

“I’m sure dragons can recognize their mates.”

Keegan nodded. He hadn’t looked at it from that point of view, but Iskander was probably right. Jaron had latched on to him for a reason. 

“What’s the problem?” Iskander asked.

Keegan grimaced. 

How to put it…? 

“The very first vision I ever had was of my own death,” Keegan said. “And he was in it.” 

Iskander stared at him. For once, Keegan had managed to surprise him. 

It very nearly made Keegan want to smile. Alas, his situation was not a happy one. “He kills me in my vision,” he unveiled the full truth. 

Iskander’s expression turned grim, his eyes narrowing as he pondered the information. “Can you change that future?” he asked. “You mentioned once that you can see different versions of the future. You said what you see is only possibilities.”

Keegan was grateful that his friend immediately turned to problem-solving rather than indulging in pointless melodrama over Keegan’s eventual fate. He didn’t think he could have handled outrage or even sympathy. 

Iskander didn’t want to cry with him.; Iskander wanted to help him. Keegan appreciated that.

Even though he had to shoot him down. “I’ve looked countless times, even before I knew my killer was going to be my mate. I’ve spent years trying to find a way around my own death. I was kinda upset by it, if you can imagine,” Keegan said, only half-joking. “It seems to be fate, though.”

Iskander didn’t look like he was willing to accept this truth so easily. “There’s got to be something,” he insisted. “How do you die?”

“Stake through the heart,” Keegan said simply.

Iskander shook his head. “Your mate stakes you? Why?” 

*If only I knew…*

Keegan forced a smile. “I must deserve it. Maybe I left the door open and our dog ran away.”

“You get a dog?” 

“No.” Keegan closed his eyes for a moment. “I don’t know why he does it or what I did to force his hand.” But Jaron had to have a good reason, because the dragon Keegan had met, the one he’d seen in all his other visions… He wasn’t a killer. Keegan’s throat constricted. “It’s not like Jaron to hurt someone just because.”

“Jaron,” Iskander repeated the name. “That’s him?” 

“Yes.” Keegan licked his lips. “I know this all sounds insane, but I want to see him to see if…” Kegan trailed off, struggling to put his feelings into words. He wanted to be with his mate, to taste his blood again, to share all those happy moments his visions had teased him with… He just wasn’t sure if it was the right choice to make, for either of them. 

Iskander nodded as if he could relate without Keegan having to put his conflict into words. “I won’t pretend to understand your abilities,” he said, “but I know what it’s like to find your mate. I know what it’s like to try to stay away from them too.” 

Keegan got that. Iskander hadn’t physically stayed away from his mate, but he’d certainly tried not to pressure him into a relationship while he was recovering from all the abuse he’d been though at the hands of other vampires. 

“It’s very difficult,” Iskander said. 

They both knew it was an understatement. 

“I don’t want to die,” Keegan said. 

“But you’re going to take the risk.” It wasn’t a question. 

“I guess that’s why I’m here,” Keegan confirmed. He wanted to say that he hadn’t decided yet, but he couldn’t deny Iskander’s conclusion. 

He most likely was going to take the risk. 

***

It was an hour later when a knock came at the door. Iskander rose to answer it, and Keegan heard Apollo’s voice in the hallway. But it was the second voice that made his heart skip a beat.

Jaron.

Keegan took a deep breath, trying to compose himself as Iskander led Apollo and Jaron into the room. He stood to greet them, his gaze meeting Jaron’s.

For a moment, Keegan was transported back to the visions he’d had the night before. Visions of a future where he and Jaron were together, living their happiest life at each other’s side.

He blinked, forcing the images away. He’d come here to see this dragon, yes, but he also had a job to do. 

Keegan schooled his features into a neutral expression, extending his hand to Apollo. “Thank you for coming,” he said, doing his best to keep his voice steady despite the storm of emotions inside of him. 

Apollo shook his hand, his grip firm. “Of course. We’ll do everything we can to find Holly and the others.”

Keegan nodded, then turned to Jaron, heart racing as he took in the sight of his mate staring back at him with bright, curious eyes, obviously surprised to see him. 

Something fluttered in Keegan’s belly, a sense of excitement and nervousness that was entirely new to him. 

“What are you doing here?” Jaron asked. 

“Iskander is part of my coven,” Keegan said, nodding at his friend. “Your missing mortal is the mother of his mate’s children.” 

Jaron took two seconds to process Keegan’s words. “That sounds complicated.”

Keegan snorted. Iskander and Rhyme’s relationship was the least complicated thing Keegan had thought about all night. 

“What’s so funny?” Jaron wondered, and then, looking straight at Keegan he asked, “Did you get my gift?” 

Not one to back down, Keegan returned the stare. “Do you really want to discuss that in front of your boss?” he challenged—while Jaron looked as if he wanted nothing more than to take this conversation somewhere else.

Meanwhile, Apollo’s eyebrows rose, probably wondering what this ‘gift’ was and picturing some sort of sextoy. 

Jaron glanced between Keegan and his boss. He didn’t decide to clear up the confusion. Instead, he said, “My boss isn’t easily scandalized. He used to be the first person to arrive at the office every morning until he started dating his vampire and when he’s late now, we all know it’s not because there was a long line at the coffee shop.”

“Jaron!” Apollo shot the dragon a sharp look. 

“Oh please,” Jaron waved him off. “You’re sleeping with their best friend.” He motioned at Iskander and Keegan. “They know.” 

Apollo looked like he was seconds away from exploding at Jaron, but Jaron didn’t seem concerned.

“Okay, okay,” Jaron said. “We’re here to do our job. I know. Relax.” He turned to Iskander. “Is your mate around?” 

“I’ll wake him up.” Iskander disappeared into the bedroom.

While they waited for him to return, Keegan offered for Apollo and Jaron to sit down. “Would you like some tea as well?” he asked them. ” I can offer chamomile.”

Neither of them wanted tea, so Keegan settled into a chair as Apollo and Jaron took their seats on the couch. Keegan asked Apollo how things were going with Mordyn. 

Apollo shrugged and said mentioned that they were looking at apartments near the coven’s base as if moving in together wasn’t a big deal. 

Jaron didn’t let that slide, of course. “Haven’t you only dated for a few months?” 

“We’re mated,” Apollo replied. “It doesn’t get more serious than that.” 

Jaron considered this. “Are you guys fated?” 

“Yes.” There was no doubt in Apollo’s response. He didn’t tell Jaron about the past life stuff, and it wasn’t Keegan’s place to bring it up, but Keegan wondered if Apollo ever told anyone about that part. 

Jaron looked at his boss intently. “Do vampires generally know who their mates are? I’ve heard mortals tend to struggle with it, and vampires were mortal once, right?” 

“Why don’t you ask the vampire in the room?” Apollo motioned at Keegan. 

Keegan licked his lips, watching Jaron open his mouth to ask, but before the dragon could say anything, they were interrupted by Iskander emerging from the bedroom with Rhyme following close behind. 

Rhyme looked exhausted, but it was obvious that he wanted to be part of this. “Thank you for coming,” he said to Apollo and Jaron before sitting down. 

“I’m sorry we have to trouble you,” Apollo said. 

“No, I would do anything for Holly.” An expression of determination settled on Rhyme’s features. “She’s my best friend as well as the mother of my children.” 

“We’ll find her,” Apollo promised. He pulled out a notepad. “Can you think of anyone who might want to harm her? Has she mentioned meeting anyone new recently?” 

Rhyme shook his head. “No, she didn’t leave the gated community much, as far as I’m aware. Only to come here to visit with the kids.”

“So you don’t think she went anywhere she doesn’t usually go? Did she take up any new activities? Has she said anything that made you wonder?” 

“No, nothing like that. We have twin toddlers. There’s really no time to do anything but take care of them.”

Apollo gave Rhyme a sympathetic smile and nodded as he jotted down a few notes. 

“I’m sorry I don’t know anything more helpful,” Rhyme said. 

“Do you know the other mortal who was kidnapped? Trevor?” 

Rhyme shook his head again. “He wasn’t part of my community.” 

“I see. That’s fine. Ceska is talking to some of his friends today.” Apollo turned to Keegan. “You’re a seer, aren’t you?” 

“I am.” 

“How good are you?” 

“I’d say I’m the best, but you should ask your mate. You distrust vampires too much to take my word for it.”

Apollo’s gaze narrowed. “Mordyn’s told me that you like to stir up trouble.” 

“Some might see it that way,” Keegan said. The truth was that he didn’t try to create trouble, he merely manipulated the future to best suit his interests and the interests of those he cared about. “Did he also tell you that I brought you two together?” 

“Our relationship was not your doing.”

“Sure.” Keegan was used to this. People blamed him when things went wrong, but he never got any credit when things went right. “It’s on you to decide whether you want my help or not.” 

“Would I have to pay your coven?” 

“Only if you want to stay on good terms with Altair, which I would recommend.”

Apollo thought about this. “Let’s see if you can find out anything useful before I hand over cash.”

Keegan wanted to tell this mortal to go fuck himself. He’d overused his powers over the past 48h. He was tired and he didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. But this mortal made Mordyn very very happy, and Keegan had already promised Iskander his help. 

“I’m going to need blood,” he said because his last marathon vision had burned through most of what he’d ingested.

“I don’t keep blood here,” Iskander said. 

That made sense, of course. Iskander didn’t drink bottled blood anymore, not while he was living with his mate, and while his mate’s blood was the only thing that could sustain him. 

Keegan was about to say that someone would have to go fetch him a bottle from a store when Jaron spoke up. 

“You can drink from me,” the dragon said, touching his neck. “I don’t mind.” 

“No,” Keegan said immediately. As much as he enjoyed the taste of Jaron’s blood, if he indulged in it now… He wasn’t likely to be able to focus his visions on the missing persons. 

Jaron frowned. “Do I taste bad?” 

Quite the opposite.

Keegan had never tasted anything as good as the dragon. Involuntarily, he wetted his lips. “You gave blood just recently,” he said. “You shouldn’t offer yourself again so quickly.” 

Apollo looked at Jaron. “You gave blood?” 

Jaron ignored Apollo, keeping his gaze trained on Keegan. “I didn’t lose that much,” he insisted. “You can have more at any time.” 

Keegan swallowed. 

God, why did this dragon have to tempt him like that? When Keegan closed his eyes for a second, he caught the scent of him in the air. The scent of his sweet, sweet blood rushing through his veins. 

Keegan wanted to sink his fangs in Jaron’s neck and drink from him. 

How powerful could he become, he wondered, with his fated mate by his side? 

He pushed the thought aside. 

This was neither the time nor the place to be entertaining those fantasies. 

Never mind that it didn’t matter how powerful he became if he had to pay the ultimate price for that power. 

“I’m not drinking from you now,” he made himself say.

“But it’s not because I taste bad.” Jaron searched his face, and then he smiled. “Is it because you’re scared of what you’ll do once you’ve had a taste?”

Keegan huffed, scrambling to come up with a good response when the shifter hit so close to the truth. And that smile.

Damn that smile.

It made it very difficult for him to be quick-witted.

“Jaron,” Apollo said. “Please remember that you’re at work, and please don’t piss off the vampire,” he added in a lower tone of voice. Louder, he said, “There’s a vending machine down the street. Go fetch a bottle from it.”

Keegan struggled to keep his face neutral at that suggestion. Vending machine blood was awful. 

But if it meant that he could avoid drinking from Jaron and got the man out of the apartment for a moment… 

“There’s a store around the corner as well,” Iskander, his hero, pointed out. “Grab a bottle from there. It’s better quality.”

“Thank you,” Keegan said. 

Iskander only nodded. 

Jaron rose. “All right. The store it is. Any preferences?” 

Keegan stopped himself from mentioning that his favorite kind of blood was dragon blood. “Any blood will do.”

“Got it. You’re not picky.” He headed for the door. “Be right back.”

***

Jaron trudged out of Iskander’s apartment. Secretly, he was more than a little disappointed that Keegan had refused his blood, and the cool night air did little to soothe his agitation as he made his way to the 24-hour convenience store down the road. 

Why wouldn’t Keegan just take what he offered freely?

Didn’t vampires always prefer real warm blood to the bottled stuff?

Keegan should have thanked him rather than shot him down. 

So why did Jaron have to go to the store now?

It wasn’t the taste, was it? 

Jaron didn’t want to think so. 

Hadn’t he seen a flicker of desire in Keegan’s expression when he’d first offered?

There had to be some other reason the vampire was holding back. 

Wasn’t there?

A sinking feeling settled in Jaron’s gut. Had he imagined Keegan’s desire? Perhaps Keegan simply didn’t feel the same connection that thrummed through Jaron’s veins whenever they were near each other. 

Was Jaron making a fool of himself by pursuing someone who didn’t want him?

Jaron sighed heavily as he entered the harshly lit store, heading straight for the refrigerated section. He scanned the shelves, grabbing a few bottles of the highest quality synthetic blood available. As he paid, he couldn’t suppress a pang of rejection at the idea that Keegan preferred this cold, lifeless substitute to the blood running through Jaron’s veins.

Bottles clinking in the plastic bag, Jaron hurried back to the apartment. He found Apollo and Keegan looking at Apollo’s phone, images of the missing people on the screen. 

“This is Holly, Rhyme’s friend,” Apollo was saying as Jaron approached. “And these are the other mortals that have been kidnapped.”

Keegan nodded, his brow furrowed in concentration. He glanced up as Jaron held out one of the bottles. “Ah, thank you.”

Their fingers brushed as Keegan took the blood, sending a jolt up Jaron’s arm. He opened his mouth, wanting to ask if Keegan didn’t feel that, but the redhead was already turning away.

“I’m going to need some privacy to do this,” Keegan said, heading for the bedroom. “The more I can focus, the clearer the visions will be.”

The door closed behind him with a soft click. Jaron stared after him, frustration and longing warring in his chest. 

To his surprise, Apollo rested a hand on his shoulder as if he could guess what was going on with Jaron. “Let him do his job,” he said. “This isn’t the time.”

That was easy for Apollo to say. He was already with the man fate had chosen for him. 

“All I want is to have a conversation,” Jaron murmured. To be more precise, he wanted answers. 

Why was Keegan treating him this way?

Was Jaron coming on too strong?

Could vampires not recognize their mates after all?

Jaron turned to Apollo. “Your vampire didn’t struggle with the idea of fated mates, did he?” 

Apollo looked at Jaron for a long moment, and then he looked at the door Keegan had disappeared through before focusing on Jaron again. “Is that what this is about?” 

“Don’t push him,” Iskander said. 

Jaron turned to Iskander in surprise. He’d almost forgotten that the vampire was in the room with them. “Did he say something to you?” 

Iskander only shook his head. Jaron understood the vampire’s meaning. If Keegan had said anything to him, Iskander wasn’t going to discuss it. 

“It’s like your boss said,” Iskander said after a moment. “This isn’t the right time.” 

“Vampires get tired too,” Rhyme chimed in, “after using their powers a lot. Keegan was exhausted when he got here.” He paused. “You can tell by a vampire’s skin color, you know.” 

Apollo raised an eyebrow at Rhyme. “Aren’t they always pale?” 

“There are degrees of pale. You learn to tell after a while.” Rhyme looked a little uncomfortable as he said this and Jaron realized he didn’t want to know exactly how Rhyme had acquired this particular power of observation. 

“Okay,” Jaron said before anyone could pose further questions to Rhyme. “Bad timing. I get it.” He slumped on the couch. “I think I’ll have some of that tea now.” 

***

Jaron watched as Keegan emerged from the bedroom an hour later, his eyes drawn to the vampire’s face. Rhyme was right – when Jaron paid close attention, he could see the signs of exhaustion in the way the vampire carried himself. Had it been very difficult for him to use his powers just now? 

Not for the first time, he wondered what it must be like, to be a seer, to be constantly bombarded with glimpses of the future, some of which were undoubtedly unpleasant or even horrifying. Did Keegan ever wish he could unsee the things he’d witnessed? 

The urge to go to Keegan, to wrap an arm around his shoulders and offer some form of comfort, was almost overwhelming. But Jaron held himself back, remembering the others’ words. This wasn’t the time to push the vampire, no matter what the dragon inside of him said about this being his right. 

As Keegan approached the group by the couch, Jaron quickly stood up, offering his seat. “Here, sit down,” he said softly.

Keegan gave him a tired smile of thanks and sank into the cushions. Apollo leaned forward, his expression serious. “Did you see anything that could help us?” he asked.

Keegan nodded slowly. “I know who might be targeted next,” he said. “And I also know what the targets have in common.”

Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath, waiting for Keegan to continue. A sense of dread settled in Jaron’s stomach, and it only intensified with Keegan’s next words.

“The kidnappers are going after fated couples.”

A chill ran down Jaron’s spine.

He glanced at Apollo and Iskander, both of whom had found their fated mates. Were they in danger?

And what about himself and Keegan? If they were truly meant to be together, did that put them at risk as well?

If so, he had to keep an extra close eye on the vampire to make sure he wasn’t gonna be kidnapped. He also had to make Keegan acknowledge the connection between them so that Keegan would know to be careful. 

“I’ve got to talk to you,” he said, cutting through a conversation Keegan was having with Apollo about the next possible victims he’d seen. 

Apollo shot Jaron a reproachful look, but Jaron ignored his boss, all of his attention centered on Keegan. 

“We’re talking right now, aren’t we?” Keegan asked him. 

“I need to talk to you in private,” Jaron specified. “Now.” 

“Jaron,” Apollo started, probably to remind him again that they were at work, but Jaron didn’t care. He held up a hand in his boss’s direction. He’d apologize for his insolence later. 

Keegan looked between him and Apollo. Finally, he nodded. “Excuse us for a moment,” he said to Apollo before rising. 

He walked into the bedroom. 

Jaron followed. 

***

Jaron closed the bedroom door behind them with a soft click. He turned to face Keegan, his heart beating rapidly. There was something about the vampire’s presence that just did that to him. Even more so now that they were practically alone together—in a bedroom. 

Jaron’s gaze flicked to the bed. 

Oh, how he wished he could throw the vampire in it and climb on top of him, claim him the way a dragon should. 

He took a deep breath.

He didn’t normally bow to his dragonic instincts, and he wasn’t going to do so now either. 

“What’s the matter?” Keegan asked, as if he had no idea whatsoever why Jaron had wanted to talk to him alone. 

Jaron took a step forward, his hands clenched at his sides. “Stop pretending like you don’t know,” he said.

The seer’s expression remained frustratingly unreadable. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

Oh for crying out loud. Jaron crossed the room in two strides, stopping just inches from Keegan. “Are vampire senses really that dull?” he asked.

To his credit, Keegan didn’t back away when Jaron leaned in close. There was interest in his eyes. He didn’t hide it quickly enough for Jaron to miss it. 

“My senses are not dull at all, though I can’t say how they compare to a dragon’s.”

“Have you seen our future?” Jaron asked. 

Keegan’s gaze flickered away. 

He’d seen something, hadn’t he? 

Something he hadn’t liked. 

What was it? Jaron was going to go mad if Keegan didn’t give him something to work with. Why was he refusing to talk to Jaron? “You said fated couples are being targeted,” Jaron reminded him. “You and I, we’re fated too, can’t you tell? Is it so hard for vampires?”

Keegan grew very still, his eyes searching Jaron’s face. The silence stretched between them, and Jaron started tapping his foot, unable to stand it. 

Finally, Keegan exhaled, a soft sigh that seemed to come from deep within. “Vampires can tell their fated mates,” he admitted quietly, “at the very latest after they’ve ingested their blood.”

“Did you drink my blood?” Jaron asked immediately. “Or did you toss it because you don’t want to know? Is that why you refused me today? What’s wrong with me?” Jaron gestured at himself. “Am I so off-putting to you that you must fight your instincts?” 

Jaron didn’t normally have that problem. He wasn’t the most handsome dragon in existance, and certainly not the strongest, but he was attractive enough to get what he wanted. Usually. 

“You should want me,” Jaron said, almost pouting. “I’m pretty sure that’s one of the laws of the universe. Everyone should be attracted to their mate.”

If not, the universe would be a cruel, cruel place.

He was attracted to Keegan. Had been from the moment he’d first seen the vampire at the solstice celebrations. Something inside of him had just snapped to attention at the sight of the redheaded vampire with the cutting green eyes. Jaron wanted to see those eyes darken in pure pleasure, wanted to hear the sounds he’d make when Jaron explored all the most sensitive spots of his body. 

If only Keegan would let him. 

“It’s not that,” Keegan said. 

“Then what’s the problem?” Jaron didn’t want to yell, but he was close.

Being with your fated mate should not be this hard, damn it. 

At least the stories had always made it sound like things would just click into place once you found the other half of your soul. The difficult part was supposed to be finding them in the first place, not everything that came after. 

Keegan shook his head. “Let’s discuss this later.” He moved toward the door. 

Jaron caught his arm, grip firm. He wasn’t going to let the vampire off the hook this easily. “When?” 

Keegan had the gall to look amused at Jaron’s insistence. He met Jaron’s gaze with the smallest of smiles. “You’re a persistent one.”

Jaron wanted to kiss him—show him that Jaron was not only persistent but also persuasive. He was sure that if he just got this vampire to share a kiss with him, or to drink his blood, things would become easier between them. 

But Keegan freed himself from Jaron’s grip while Jaron was caught in the vampire’s smile. “Come round the Rubyville nightclub this evening,” he said. “I’ll meet you in my room.”

“In your room,” Jaron repeated dumbly before his brain came online again. “Should I bring lube?” 

Keegan snorted. “You don’t think I keep any around?” 

“Maybe I have a favorite kind.” 

“Suit yourself.” Another smile, and then Keegan headed into the living room again. 

Jaron stared after him. He didn’t know what game Keegan was playing, but he might finally get some answers this evening. 

Maybe even more than that. 

***

Keegan sipped his drink, his eyes darting around the nightclub as he waited for Jaron to arrive. Altair sat across from him, his brow furrowed with concern about all that Keegan had told him so far. 

“The visions showed that fated couples are being targeted in these kidnappings,” Keegan summarized. “Keep a close eye on Sven, Alt. Don’t let him out of your sight.”

Altair nodded, his jaw tightening. “I always do. You know that.”

Keegan drained his glass, the synthetic blood leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. “I know. I just… I have a bad feeling about all of this.” 

His visions had been even less clear than usual. 

Though maybe that was only because he’d used his powers so much over the past two nights. 

“Apollo wired me some money, by the way,” Altair said. “For your services.” He slid a piece of paper across the table. “I’m adding this to your account.”

Keegan glanced at the number scrawled on the paper and tucked it into his pocket. “Thanks.”

He hadn’t done it for the money, but it was a nice bonus. He was about to say something to that effect to his friend when the door to the nightclub swung open and his gaze was drawn in that direction. 

Jaron walked in, still wearing a full set of clothes, but the shirt and jeans he wore now were not baggy at all. Instead, they worked to accentuate the shape of his body in all the right places.

As if Keegan needed any more reason to be obsessesd with him…

“Someone you know?” Altair asked, noticing his distraction.

“My date,” Keegan said simply.

Altair’s eyebrows rose, but he did what any good friend should. He rose from the table and patted Keegan’s shoulder. “Don’t scare him too much,” he said before leaving. 

Keegan shook his head at his lord and friend. He didn’t mean to scare anyone, least of all Jaron.

He might, though. 

Unintentionally.

Already, the dragon shifter’s tail wrapped tightly around his leg, mirroring the tension Keegan felt in his own body as Jaron approached the table.

“You came,” Keegan said, gaze fixed on the man who would not leave his thoughts. 

Jaron’s lips quirked into a smile as a tiny bit of his tension seemed to leave him. “Did you think I might not?” 

Keegan shook his head. “There wasn’t a single chance you wouldn’t.” He’d checked, despite the headache he got from using his talents now. After all of this, he would have to sleep for a couple of years to recover. 

Jaron’s smile stretched. “Nothing could have kept me away.”

“Seems that way.” Keegan’s mouth went dry as Jaron’s gaze on him intensified. 

The things he wanted to do to that dragon…

The things this dragon clearly wanted to do to him…

Keegan licked his lips. “Would you like a drink?” 

“You know what I want.” Jaron’s gaze flicked to Keegan’s groin, still with that smile.

Keegan swallowed hard as his cock stirred in his pants. 

Having a body with a will of its own was so damn inconvenient. 

Keegan got up from the table. “Follow me.”

He felt the eyes of the other vampires on him as he led Jaron to the door in the back of the club that led to their living quarters downstairs. 

They were all thinking he was about to have a wild night with a hot date. 

Vitra even winked at him as he walked by. “Nice catch,” she said.

“Thank you!” Jaron shot back, not minding at all. 

“C’mon,” Keegan said. “My room is this way.”

***

As soon as they entered, Keegan’s room, Jaron made a beeline for Keegan’s desk and picked up the empty bottle of blood that sat on top of it.

“You did drink my blood!” he exclaimed, whirling around to face Keegan with a smile that made Keegan want to undress him and cover his body with his own.

Keegan held himself back, however. “I did,” he admitted, doing his best to keep his voice steady in spite of the fact that he had the object of his desire in his bedroom. 

“So you know,” Jaron said with a triumphant glow in his brown eyes. “Did you like it?”

Keegan suppressed a sigh, hating that he was going to have to disappoint Jaron. He had liked the blood, and it had made him see wonderful things… but it hadn’t changed how things were going to end between them.

He sat on his bed and looked at Jaron. “I have seen things,” he said, “that make all of this complicated.”

“Complicated how?” Jaron’s brows knitted together in confusion.

Keegan wasn’t sure how to tell him—or how much to tell him. He had spent most of the day trying to decide. Spilling too much about the future to other people always carried a certain risk.

“I can’t tell you,” he said.

“You’ve got to tell me something,” Jaron insisted. “That’s why you asked me to come here.” He paused, thinking. “So bad shit is going to happen if we get together? Is that what you’re saying? Why you’re being so resistant?” He looked miserable at the idea, and Keegan’s heart ached at the sight of his mate in distress.

Already, the instinct to take care of Jaron, to protect him from harm, was strong. Ridiculously so. 

Maybe because it was simply because he knew that Jaron was the one for him. Maybe it was because of all those visions he’d had—as if he’d lived through their entire life together in the span of one night.

How strange was it, to be guided by memories of things that hadn’t even happened yet?

“Sit with me,” Keegan said, patting the empty space beside him. 

Jaron didn’t hesitate. 

No surprise there.

He didn’t leave any space between them either, and Keegan didn’t make himself inch away from the shifter. He didn’t want to. 

Instead, he rested his hand on top of Jaron’s, meeting the dragon’s gaze. “Not everything I saw was bad,” he said, hoping the notion might console Jaron. “In fact, most of it wasn’t bad.” 

“How much did you see?” 

Keegan licked his lips and glanced at the empty bottle on his desk. He wanted to be truthful with Jaron, at least as far as that was possible. “After I drank your blood, the visions just kept coming, kind of like an avalanche. I saw the two of us living together. Different versions of our future, but all of them were happy.”

Jaron listened closely. “But then why…?”

Keegan closed his eyes for a beat. “I’ve been aware of the bad thing for a lot longer. It was the very first vision I ever had.” That alone should signify its importance. “It’s not just bad.” He looked at Jaron. “It’s catastrophic. It would destroy you and me both.”

That was all the detail he could give. He hoped it would be enough, that Jaron would believe him.

Jaron’s brow furrowed, his grip tightening on Keegan’s hand. “It was only a vision, though. There’s no guarantee it’ll come to pass. I’ve looked into it. Divination isn’t an exact science.”

Normally, Keegan would have had to agree. 

But this one vision… it was different from the others. Keegan saw no way around it—and he’d looked for years. “If you believe that you and I are fated, you must believe that some events are fated to happen as well.” 

“If that’s the case,” Jaron shot back, “won’t it happen whether we get together or not?” 

He had a valid point there, but still… “I don’t want to give up that easily.” 

“But you are giving up.” Jaron’s tone sharpened with a hint of accusation. “You’re so scared of something that hasn’t even happened yet, you won’t give us a chance.” His brown eyes narrowed. 

Keegan’s heart clenched. Why wouldn’t Jaron understand? “You haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”

“I don’t care what you’ve seen,” Jaron said brusquely. “I care about what’s happening right now, and that’s you rejecting me because you’re scared.”

“It’s you I’m scared for,” Keegan defended himself. 

If it was only his own death at stake, Keegan would have taken the risk easily. He would have chosen to enjoy whatever time he had with Jaron, living the life his good visions had promised him, a life full of love and laughter and mutual affection. He would have taken care of Jaron, cherished him for as long as he could. 

He wanted that so badly his throat tightened when he thought of denying them both that simple happiness. 

But he had seen how things would end not only for him but also for Jaron. 

The dragon shifter he saw in his vision… 

He never wanted for Jaron to turn into that man. 

Keegan didn’t care if he died in exchange for loving Jaron, but he couldn’t let his death tear Jaron apart. 

He’d seen his tears, the pain on his face. This gentle dragon would not survive turning into a killer. 

“What are you talking about?” Jaron asked. “Don’t try to tell me that you’re rejecting me for my sake. That’s the lamest excuse ever.” A defiant sort of anger sparked in his warm eyes, a fierce intensity that demanded all of Keegan’s attention. “The future doesn’t scare me,” he declared, voice low and rough with emotion. “The only thing that scares me is losing you before I even have a chance to love you.”

“Jaron…” Keegan whispered, his hand coming up to cup the shifter’s face in spite of himself. 

He wasn’t prepared for so much insistence from Jaron. 

He’d figured he’d tell Jaron that things would end tragically and that would be that. Jaron would accept that they had no future together and that would be that. 

Jaron, it seemed, had not gotten that memo.

“You’re my mate,” Jaron said, his own hand closing around Keegan’s wrist. “I don’t know how vampires feel about their mates, but as a dragon, I can’t ignore that.” He laughed. It was a short, almost breathless sound. “I’m not much of a dragon in any other way but this. For the first time in my life, I think my inner beast and I are in total agreement. We’re going to keep you.”

Keegan didn’t know how to respond to that. 

It seemed no matter what he said, nothing was going to change Jaron’s mind. Nothing was going to dissuade him. 

Maybe that was why Keegan’s vision had always seemed so damn inevitable. There wasn’t any timeline in which Keegan could fend off Jaron’s advances. 

Damn him for being a treasure-hoarding dragon. 

Damn Keegan for being his treasure. 

Jaron’s thumb rubbed over the inside of Keegan’s wrist, a slow caress that made Keegan’s skin tingle. “What do I need to do,” he said in a soft whisper that sent shivers through Keegan’s body, “to convince you to give us a chance?”

Keegan’s mind raced, his thoughts scattering in every direction. 

He still didn’t know how to respond, caught in Jaron’s gaze, in his grip. He could have tried to wrench himself free. His strength was nothing compared to a dragon’s, but he wasn’t powerless. 

He didn’t have to let Jaron corner him like this. 

But he was starting to understand that Jaron was going to stop at nothing to claim him. 

His thumb continued to rub against Keegan’s wrist, and Keegan wanted more than that. He knew all the reasons he shouldn’t give in to his desires, and yet…

“I know you want me,” Jaron said. A small, confident smile graced his lips at Keegan’s hesitation to reject him again. It was a knowing, teasing smile that made Keegan weak with affection. “We both want this,” Jaron said. “Why fight it?”

“Because you’ll regret it,” Keegan breathed, but he was losing ground.

“No,” Jaron insisted, moving his face closer to Keegan’s, still with that easy smile, his breath warm on Keegan’s lips. “I’ll never regret this.” He leaned in, closing the last bit of distance between them, and captured Keegan’s lips in a kiss.

Keegan’s resolve shattered like glass.

This dragon was too much for him. 

How had he ever thought he could win a battle of wills against a creature that valued nothing more than claiming what was theirs?

He didn’t resist the press of Jaron’s mouth against his–couldn’t resist the temptation.

Jaron was not the only one who felt the pull of fate between them. Keegan had tried to fight it, but in the end, Jaron was right; Keegan wanted him like he’d never wanted anything. 

Keegan sighed into the kiss, his lips parting to let Jaron’s tongue slide against his own. The dragon tasted as sweet as his blood had, and he smelled like a crackling fire, like a warm summer’s day, his skin radiating heat everywhere they touched, as if he was a miniature sun. Except that he wasn’t lethal to Keegan. 

Not yet, anyway.

The thought and the sense of foreboding that came with it were swept away when Jaron’s hand released Keegan’s wrist to wrap around the back of his neck instead, holding him close as he deepened the kiss. His other arm snaked around Keegan’s waist, pulling their bodies flush together as if he was still afraid that Keegan might try to pull away.

Keegan was too busy keeping his mind from spinning, overwhelmed by the sensations of being so close to his mate. 

Reality was more intense than his visions had been. 

It had been a while since he’d been with anyone, and no one had ever made him feel quite like this. Dizzy with need and desire, aching to be touched.

Craving more.

His fingers curled into the fabric of Jaron’s shirt as his fangs dropped without his input. 

Fuck. He wanted blood. 

His ears focused on the sound of Jaron’s heart pumping his blood through his veins and his teeth itched to get a taste as if he was a primitive animal who could not control his urges. 

Jaron made a low, approving sound in his throat as if he understood and approved

Keegan hesitated for a moment longer, his fangs still extended, his body trembling with the effort to hold himself back. He knew he shouldn’t do this, knew that drinking from Jaron would only make it that much harder to hold back in the future, but Jaron’s blood called to him like a siren’s song, and he was powerless to resist.

With a low groan, he sank his fangs into Jaron’s neck, piercing the soft skin and letting the rich, heady taste of the dragon’s blood flood his mouth.

Jaron gasped, his fingers tightening in Keegan’s hair, but he didn’t pull away. If anything, he seemed to melt against Keegan, his body going pliant and soft, offering himself up to Keegan’s hunger.

As soon as the blood hit Keegan’s tongue, the visions started.

He saw glimpses of himself and Jaron, tangled together in bed, naked and lost in each other. He saw Jaron’s face, flushed with pleasure, his eyes half-lidded and dark with desire. 

He saw them walking hand in hand through a moonlit park, Jaron’s laughter ringing out like music. He saw them curled up on the couch together, Jaron’s head resting on his chest as they watched a movie, content and at peace.

He saw a thousand moments of happiness, big and small. Lazy evenings spent in bed, stolen kisses in the shadows, heated encounters that left them both breathless and satisfied.

And then, just as quickly as they had come, the visions faded, leaving Keegan breathless and aching with longing, the taste of Jaron still on his tongue.

He pulled back from Jaron’s neck, licking the last drops of blood from his lips. Jaron was watching him with heavy-lidded eyes, his chest heaving as he caught his breath.

“Fuck,” he said, rubbing his neck. “Now I’m really horny.”

Before Keegan could respond, he found himself pinned to the mattress by a very eager dragon. Jaron’s lips were on his again, kissing him with a desperate hunger that sent Keegan’s mind spinning all over again. His hands slid under Keegan’s shirt, his warm touch a stark contrast to the coolness of Keegan’s skin.

“I hope you didn’t joke about keeping lube around,” he murmured against Keegan’s lips. 

Keegan laughed, struggling to keep his mind functional under the onslaught of sensation—under the onslaught of all these goddamn *emotions* this cheeky dragon evoked in him. Affection, lust, the desire to protect, to love, to cherish him with all his heart. “You didn’t bring your own after all?”

Jaron shifted on top of him, bringing their groins in contact, pressing his hardness against Keegan’s own. “You know what? This might be the first time ever that I regret not wearing a loincloth.”

“Your pants getting uncomfortable?”

“Yeah.” Jaron rolled his hips, drawing an involuntary moan from Keegan’s lips. “I’d say yours are too,” he added, leaning down to rest his forehead against Keegan’s. His breath was hot as it brushed Keegan’s skin.

Keegan reached up and tangled his fingers in Jaron’s hair, pulling him into another kiss. He couldn’t help himself. No amount of wisdom, plotting, scheming or future knowledge could keep him from wanting this dragon. 

He’d let his caution drop for one moment, and just like that, Jaron had turned him into an addict.

It seemed that Jaron hadn’t had enough yet either. 

His hand slid under Keegan’s shirt, exploring the planes of his chest and stomach, and Keegan arched into the touch with a low moan. He tugged at Jaron’s shirt in return, wanting to feel the dragon’s skin against his own.

“Want this gone?” Jaron teased, pulling back just enough to yank his shirt over his head and toss it aside. 

Keegan’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of Jaron’s bare chest, all smooth golden skin. He reached out to run his hands over the expanse of it, marveling at the heat that radiated from Jaron’s body.

Why did he hide that under baggy clothes?

“It’s a crime that you wear so much fabric all the time,” Keegan said, touching. “Look at you.”

Jaron grinned, preening a little under the attention. “You wear just as much fabric,” he said, tugging at Keegan’s shirt. “Let me see you.”

Keegan sat up just enough to pull his own shirt off, tossing it in the same direction as Jaron’s. He felt a flicker of self-consciousness as Jaron’s gaze raked over his pale, lean form, but it was quickly chased away by the heat in the dragon’s eyes.

“Fuck, you’re gorgeous,” Jaron breathed, leaning down to press a trail of kisses along Keegan’s collarbone. 

“If you’re into pale skin, I guess.” 

“Never seen anything hotter,” Jaron insisted. 

Keegan huffed a laugh, even as Jaron pinned him back down to the bed and reached for the zipper of his pants. 

“Impatient,” Keegan murmured, but he made no move to stop Jaron. Instead, he lifted his hips to help the dragon free him from the confines of his pants. 

They had become uncomfortable. 

Keegan’s cock was hard and aching for attention by the time Jaron freed him from his underwear with a low whistle and a hungry gaze. 

Keegan would have called himself average, but Jaron obviously liked what he saw, and he wasted no time in getting his hands on the object of his desires. 

“Jaron,” Keegan gasped out, his fingers digging into the dragon’s shoulders as Jaron’s fist closed around his cock, pumping him as if he wanted to drive every thought from Keegan’s brain while sealing his lips with a kiss.

Keegan nipped at Jaron’s bottom lip, enjoying the way the dragon groaned into his mouth. He could feel the heat of Jaron’s body seeping into his own, warming him from the inside out. It was a heady feeling, being this close to his mate, and Keegan knew he was in danger of losing himself completely.

But he couldn’t let that happen. Not yet.

He knew how dragons claimed their mates, knew that if he let Jaron take him now, there would be no going back. Their bond would be sealed, and Keegan wasn’t ready for that. 

He couldn’t make that kind of commitment when he didn’t yet know how to avoid tragedy. 

“Jaron,” he huffed out, a little more firmly. 

The dragon looked at him. “What?”

“Move,” Keegan said. He grabbed the shifter’s sides and tried to roll them over so he could be on top. 

Jaron wouldn’t budge, though. “But I like being on top of you,” he said with a smirk.

Keegan was physically weaker than a dragon, but he had other talents. 

He let his hands roam the dragon’s back, feeling the ridges of his spine and the powerful wings that sprouted from the base of his shoulder blades. Jaron’s tail twitched as Keegan’s fingertips brushed the area where skin turned into scales. 

He knew from his visions how sensitive Jaron’s wings were, knew that just the lightest touch could drive the dragon wild.

And sure enough, as soon as Keegan’s fingers brushed against the soft, leathery skin, Jaron let out a choked moan, eyes fluttering closed.

Keegan dug his fingers into the base of Jaron’s wings, right where they met his back, and Jaron’s body went rigid above Keegan’s.

“Fuck,” he panted. “What are you doing?”

Keegan smirked, using Jaron’s momentary distraction to his advantage. He surged up, flipping them over so that he was the one straddling Jaron’s hips, his hands braced on either side of Jaron’s head.

“Making you feel good,” he said, leaning down to capture Jaron’s lips in a searing kiss.

Jaron moaned into his mouth, his hands coming up to grip Keegan’s hips, his fingers digging into the flesh hard enough to bruise. Keegan relished the sensation, the sharp sting of pain mixed with the heady pleasure of Jaron’s touch.

He ground his hips down against Jaron’s, feeling the hard length of him through the fabric of his pants. Jaron bucked up to meet him, his breath coming in harsh pants as they moved together, the friction delicious and maddening all at once.

Keegan grinned and pushed Jaron’s pants down just enough to free his cock, letting out an appreciative hum at the sight of it. Jaron was thick and long, his shaft flushed and already leaking precum. Keegan’s mouth watered at the thought of tasting him.

He gave Jaron’s cock a few firm strokes, relishing the way Jaron’s hips jerked up into his touch. The dragon was already panting, his chest heaving with each breath.

“You like that?” Keegan murmured, leaning down to press a teasing kiss to the tip.

Jaron let out a strangled sound, his fingers tightening in the sheets. “Keegan…”

Keegan smiled before taking Jaron into his mouth, swirling his tongue around the head. He relished the weight of Jaron’s cock on his tongue, the musky taste of him. He took Jaron deeper, hollowing his cheeks as he bobbed his head.

Jaron cursed loudly, his hips jerking up despite his obvious effort to hold still. Keegan could feel the tremors running through his body, could hear the harsh pants falling from his lips. He looked up at Jaron through his lashes, meeting the dragon’s heated gaze.

Jaron’s pupils were blown wide with lust, his face flushed. He was gorgeous like this, all carnal desire.

Keegan wanted to possess him—and not just sexually. He wanted to claim this dragon as his own forever, to keep him by his side for as long as he was alive.

It was a dangerous desire, and one he couldn’t afford to indulge. But as Jaron’s hands tangled in his hair, urging him on, it was hard to remember all the reasons he was supposed to resist. 

He wanted to bite Jaron again. He wanted to fuck him and bite him at the same time, turn Jaron into *his.*

He wanted that bad.

He pulled off Jaron’s cock with a lewd pop, giving it a few more firm strokes. Jaron whined at the loss of Keegan’s mouth, his hips chasing the friction as Keegan nipped at the column of his throat, unable to resist the urge to mark him. He trailed a path of stinging kisses down to Jaron’s collarbone, relishing the way Jaron squirmed beneath him.

Reaching between them, he took both of their cocks in hand and stroking them together. The slide was easier with the precum that had gathered at the tips, and Keegan groaned at the sensation. 

Jaron’s hands scrabbled at his back, his blunt nails scratching Keegan’s skin. Keegan reveled in it, loved the way his dragon was coming apart, losing his mind to Keegan and turning into the beast he harbored inside.

Wanting to push him to his limits, Keegan increased the pace of his strokes, twisting his wrist on every upstroke in the way he knew would drive Jaron wild. Jaron let out a broken moan, his back arching off the bed.

He cursed again. “Fuck,” he huffed sharply. “Fuck, Keeg, I want, I need…” He panted. “I need more than that.”

A thrill went through Keegan at the raw desperation in the dragon’s voice. 

He was doing that to him.

“I want to fuck you,” Jaron begged, unashamed. “I have to–“

Keegan silenced him with another kiss. He wasn’t unsympathetic to Jaron’s needs. He could imagine how hard Jaron’s inner dragon was driving him to mate. It was obvious in the way he kissed Keegan, like a man starved, wild and untamed. 

He tried to roll them over.

“Nu-uh,” Keegan stopped him, leaning back. “We’re doing this on my terms or not at all.” He reached into his nightstand drawer and got the lube he kept there while Jaron watched him with hungry eyes.

Keegan uncapped the lube. “I’m not bottoming for you tonight,” he stated plainly. 

Jaron made a low sound in the back of his troat. Very nearly a growl. 

This moment, he was more dragon than man, Keegan thought. A dragon that wanted to claim and possess. That wanted to fuck and mark Keegan until their bond was set and sealed.

“I need this,” Jaron insisted. “You don’t… You don’t get it.”

Keegan leaned down and pressed a kiss to the dragon’s jaw, then nipped at his earlobe. “Trust me,” he said. “I do.”

Jaron groaned, hands gripping at Keegan’s hips again, his fingers flexing restlessly. “I want you so fucking bad,” he said. “I need to be inside you… Need… Fuck.” He lost his words as Keegan idly stroked the scales of his wings.  

Keegan’s own arousal throbbed between his thighs, wanting him to give in, but one of them had to stay in control–and it wasn’t going to be Jaron.

“I know,” he murmured, trailing kisses down Jaron’s neck. “I know you do.”

He slicked up one finger, reaching between his and Jaron’s bodies to tease his entrance. “Would you let me fuck you?” he asked, pushing the tip of his finger inside. “If you can’t be inside me, would you let me fuck you?”

Jaron groaned, a tortured sound. This wasn’t what he’d been asking for, but when Keegan pressed the rest of his finger past that ring of muscle, his eyes rolled back in his head. Keegan worked him open slowly, savoring the feeling of Jaron clenching around his finger. He could imagine that tight heat around his length, and fuck, he wanted.

“I’m gonna fuck you,” he murmured. “And you’re going to love it, won’t you?” Another finger joined the first, stretching Jaron further.

Jaron was practically incoherent by now, his body trembling with frustrated desire. “Please,” he begged, fingers digging into Keegan’s skin hard enough to leave marks. “Please, I need… I need…”

“Shh,” Keegan soothed him, curling his fingers to brush Jaron’s prostate. Jaron let out a keening sound, his hips bucking off the bed. Keegan did it again, enjoying the desperate sound he drew from the back of Jaron’s throat.

He wanted to make this good for the dragon, to make him forget that he’d been begging for something else initially.

“That’s right,” Keegan praised him for his moans. “Just let me take care of you.” 

Jaron shuddered beneath him, eyes squeezed shut. “Keegan… Please…”

“Ready for me?” Keegan asked, pressing his lips to the dragon’s jaw again.

Jaron nodded, his breath coming in ragged gasps. Keegan withdrew his fingers and slicked up his cock. Then, finally, he lined up with Jaron’s opening and began to push inside, inch by inch.

It was almost too much, the sensation of that tight heat enveloping him. He had to fight not to lose himself to it right then and there, had to fight himself not to let his fangs drop and sink them into Jaron’s neck again.

Jaron moaned beneath him as their bodies came together, and Keegan paused for a moment to let them both adjust. He pressed his forehead against Jaron’s, breathing hard. His whole body was taut with the effort it took not to thrust into Jaron, to fuck him into oblivion right now, consequences be damned.

“God,” he said hoarsely, trying to find his bearings again. “You feel so fucking good.”

The dragon let out a shaky laugh.

“What?” Keegan looked at him.

“Nothing,” he panted. “You just sounded so amazed.” There was a teasing lilt to his voice.

“Can you blame me?” Keegan asked as he started to move, rolling his hips in shallow thrusts, drawing another low groan from the back of Jaron’s throat. “I’ve got you exactly where I want you.”

Jaron’s fingers tightened on Keegan’s waist, urging him on. “Yeah?” he challenged him, his voice strained but amused. “You wanted me on your cock?”

Keegan laughed and snapped his hips forward. “Yes,” he said, withdrawing and burying himself to the hilt in one swift motion. “Just like this.”

Jaron threw his head back, eyes squeezing shut as Keegan repeated the motion, setting a relentless pace, knowing that Jaron could take it, knowing that Jaron *needed* it to forget about the itch that Keegan *wasn’t* letting him scratch.

Determined to drive every unnecessary thought from Jaron’s mind, Keegan changed the angle of his thrusts, hitting that spot inside Jaron that made the dragon see stars. Jaron cried out, his back arching off the bed as Keegan pounded into him.

“Keegan,” Jaron panted, his voice wrecked. “Harder… fuck… please…”

Keegan wrapped a hand around the base of Jaron’s cock, stroking him roughly. Jaron’s whole body tensed as he neared his climax, his muscles clenching deliciously around Keegan.

Keegan’s fangs dropped without him consciously willing them to, and he didn’t have the strength to force them back. That was okay, though, just so long as he didn’t give in to the desire to bite.

Jaron let out a choked moan as Keegan squeezed him hard.

“Come for me,” Keegan demanded, his voice rough with arousal. “I want to feel you come on my cock.”

Jaron didn’t stand a chance against that command. Not while Keegan pumped his cock in time with his thrusts. His whole body shuddered as he came, spilling over Keegan’s hand with a cry.

Keegan fucked him through it, chasing his own release, until finally the pressure coiling in his gut snapped and he came with his lips pressed against Jaron’s neck, fangs scraping the sensitive skin.

He didn’t bite, but it was a damn near thing.

Too near for comfort, really.

But before Keegan could withdraw to safety, Jaron wrapped his arms tightly around him and held him close.

“Mine,” he murmured sleepily, his lips brushing Keegan’s temple. “All mine.”

And fuck if Keegan didn’t feel the same, bonding or no.

To be with his mate, though, he would have to find a way to change their fate.

Ironic, wasn’t it?


New Chapter 

Jaron stumbled through the front door to the house he shared with Malkira just after sunrise, knowing how he must look, his hair tousled and clothes askew. He tried to sneak past the kitchen, but a knowing voice stopped him in his tracks.

“And where have you been all night, young man?” Malkira sat at the table, sipping tea as if she’d known exactly when Jaron would be home.

Jaron felt his cheeks flush, heat creeping up his neck. He wasn’t usually shy about his conquests, but last night with Keegan had been different. More precious, like a delicate treasure he wanted to guard close to his heart rather than share with the world.

Cozy and just for him, like the knitted clothes he hoarded. 

“Oh, you know,” he mumbled, rubbing his neck. “Out and about.”

Malkira snorted. “Out and about? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” She set her mug down, and her smile was not unkind as she looked at him. “Are you still seeing the same person?”

Jaron sighed, knowing he couldn’t hide anything from her. His real mother would never acknowledge that he was seeing anyone unless he showed up with a marriage amulet, but Malkira always knew when he had a crush. “His name is Keegan. He’s…” Jaron licked his lips, not sure how Malkira would react to this next bit of news. “He’s a vampire.”

Malkira quirked an eyebrow. “A vampire, mh?”

“Yes.”

Malkira hummed thoughtfully. “Sit with me for a moment.”

Jaron sat down at the table, his fingers drumming nervously against the wood. He could feel Malkira’s gaze on him, assessing and curious.

“Is Keegan being a vampire going to be a problem?” she asked gently.

Jaron shook his head. “No, of course not. I don’t care about that.”

Malkira hummed. “And your parents? Will it be a problem for them?”

A bitter laugh escaped Jaron’s lips. “I couldn’t care less what they think. In fact, I’d be delighted to see them angry about it.” His smile faded. They probably would explode, once they heard. They didn’t have high expectations for Jaron, not anymore—which was why he got away with doing things like joining the Mortal Rights Task Force—but him dating a vampire would be hard for them to ignore. 

They might decide that he was a bad influence and keep him from seeing Fei and Casca. They’d threatened to take those actions more than once. So far they hadn’t, but this might just be the thing to push them over that line. 

Malkira studied him silently, as if she could tell a bit of what he was thinking. “Family often complicates things,” she said. 

Jaron swallowed hard. “I’m not going to let them complicate this,” he decided, and in a lower voice, he added, “I think Keegan is my fated mate.”

Her eyes widened a fraction. “Your fated mate? Are you sure?”

“Yes.” It still felt preposterous to say, to think that a powerless dragon like him should have been blessed enough to find his fated mate when there were so few of them left in the world, and yet… Jaron knew what he’d felt last night, that insane urge to claim Keegan, to solidify their connection. It had nearly made him lose his mind. 

If only Keegan hadn’t fought him so hard…

Part of him had wanted to overpower the vampire. 

He could have. 

He knew better than to force himself on anyone, though. That wasn’t the kind of person he wanted to be. Certainly not the kind of mate he wanted to be. 

He had wrestled a kiss goodbye from the vampire before he’d left, even though Keegan had tried to feign sleep as if it wasn’t totally obvious that he was awake and brooding over whatever.

Malkira smiled softly. “Congratulations, Jaron. Finding your fated mate is a rare and precious thing. I’m happy for you.” She reached a hand across the table to rest on top of his. ” But there’s something else, isn’t there? Something that’s making you sad.”

Jaron sighed again. She wasn’t going to stop until she had the full truth, was she? “Keegan is a seer. He… he saw something bad happening in our future if we mate.”

“A seer?” 

Jaron nodded. 

Malkira frowned, her brow furrowing. “What did he see that makes him so scared?” 

Jaron shrugged helplessly. “He won’t tell me exactly what he saw, just that it’s bad. Really bad, I think.” He’d been able to tell that much just from the way Keegan behaved. 

Malkira looked as if she thought hard about this. Jaron appreciated that about her. Anyone else might have waved his worries off with platitudes. Not her. “Seers can be… difficult,” she said carefully. “I’ve known some of them who spent so much time looking at the future they completely forgot what was happening in the present.” 

“I don’t know if Keegan is like that.” Jaron bit his lower lip. The vampire had seemed pretty ‘in the moment’ in bed last night when he’d worked Jaron open and made him desperate for his cock. 

Hell, if he continued that line of thought, he was going to blush again. 

“Sometimes they forget that the future isn’t set in stone.”

Jaron pounced on that. “Exactly! That’s what I said! Just because he saw a scary thing doesn’t mean the scary thing has to happen, right? But he won’t listen.” Jaron ran a hand through his hair, tugging at the strands in frustration. “It’s like he’s completely convinced himself it’s inevitable.”

“That sounds rough.” Malkira looked down into her mug of tea as if it might reveal something about the future to her.

“I’m not giving up,” Jaron said, determined. “I’m not going to be scared of something that might not even happen.” 

“Good for you.” Malkira smiled at him, and then she slowly rose from the table. “Do you still have that scarf I gave you?” 

“Of course I do.” Jaron watched Malkira curiously, that was an odd change of topic. 

“Could you get it for me, please?” 

Jaron blinked but got up and went to his room to retrieve the scarf from his hoard. It was one of his most prized treasures, not because it held great monetary value, but because of the sentiment with which Malkira had bestowed it on him. Up until that point in his life, no one else had shown him so much kindness. 

Jaron returned to the kitchen, the deep blue scarf clutched in his hands. 

He hesitated before handing it over to Malkira, his dragon instincts screaming at him not to let anyone else touch his hoard. But this was Malkira, the woman who had taken him in and treated him like a son. She had made the scarf herself, and surely she wouldn’t steal it from him now.

Malkira took the scarf from him gently, her fingers running over the fabric with a thoughtful expression. She held it up to the light, examining it closely, before nodding to herself.

“Jaron,” she said, her voice soft. “Did I ever tell you that I put a protective spell on this scarf before I gave it to you?”

Jaron blinked, surprised. “No, you didn’t.”

Malkira smiled. “I wanted to make sure you were always safe, even when I couldn’t be there to protect you myself.” She handed the scarf back to him. “The spell is still active, and it’s a powerful one.”

Jaron held the scarf close to his chest. He imagined that he could feel the magic thrumming through it now that he knew it was there, a warm and comforting presence.

“I think you should give this to your mate,” Malkira said. “It will help keep him safe from whatever he saw in his vision.”

Jaron’s heart skipped a beat at that idea. “You think so?”

Malkira nodded. “I do. The spell is strong, and it’s tied to you. If you give it to someone you love, it will protect them as well.”

Jaron looked down at the scarf. Dragons didn’t usually give away their treasures, but he’d already given Keegan a piece of his yarn, and that had been surprisingly easy. 

When he gave something to Keegan, it didn’t feel like he was giving something away. Mated or not, his dragon had already claimed the vampire. Keegan was his, and what was Keegan’s was also his, and everything that was Jaron’s was Keegan’s. 

Like this scarf. 

If it could help keep his mate safe, he’d give it up without any hesitation at all. 

To think that ther’d been a protection spell on it all this time…

“Thank you, Malkira,” he said, his voice thick. “For everything.”

Jaron hugged Malkira tightly, the scarf still clutched in his hand. He was so lucky to have her in his life, and he wasn’t too proud too admit it. She always seemed to know just what to say or do to make him feel better.

“Now, now. You don’t have to thank me. Why don’t you head upstairs and get ready for work? Don’t you have that new case you need to work on?” 

She was right, of course. 

Keegan had given them a list of people the kidnappers might go after next, and Apollo was putting his team on guard duty in shifts. Jaron’s would start in just an hour. 

He couldn’t be late. 


Perched on a bench across the street from a popular café, Jaron and Ianair presented the picture of nonchalance. The women they watched laughed over their lunch, completely unaware of their presence.

“Look at them, completely clueless that they’ve got their own personal dragon guard,” Jaron mused, stretching his legs out in front of him. 

Ianair grinned. “They should feel honored. Not everyone gets this kind of VIP treatment.”

Jaron snorted. “Yeah, I’m sure the brunette would be thrilled to know she’s potentially being targeted by a kidnapper.”

Ianair shrugged. “At least it means she’s got a fated mate out there somewhere. Isn’t that what your vampire said?”

Your vampire.

A warm flush spread through Jaron.

He’d never imagined he’d feel so happy about claiming a vampire like that. 

“You listening?” Jaron asked. 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m listening.” Jaron straightened. “Keegan did say the kidnappers are going after fated mates.” Information that made Jaron a little uneasy when he thought about it. What if they targeted Keegan himself while Jaron wasn’t with him? 

Was that what Keegan had seen in the vision that scared him so much? 

Jaron’s fingers went to the scarf he’d slung around his neck. He’d better deliver that to Keegan tonight. If it truly had protective power, it might be of use to him.

Ianair looked at him curiously. “What’s it like, being with a vampire?” 

“It’s…” Jaron thought for a moment, remembering Keegan’s fangs piercing his skin. He grinned. “It’s hot. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m a total snack.” 

Ianair laughed. “A snack?” 

“Yup.” Jaron’s grin widened. “I wouldn’t mind if he ate me for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Ianair shook his head. “You’re a goner.”

“Well, if he drained me dry, I’d die happy.”

Ianair laughed again. “Must be nice, being with your mate.” 

“It is. His skin is so cold too, but I kinda like that. Super different from being with another dragon. We all run so hot.”

“Well, I guess that’s one way to keep cool in the summer,” Ianair quipped.

Jaron rolled his eyes dramatically but chuckled along. The banter was a welcome distraction from the tedium of their stakeout.

Hours had passed since they’d started following this woman, and so far, she hadn’t done anything interesting.

“You know,” Ianair said as he watched a waiter approach the women with their bill, “if nothing happens soon, I might start hoping we get abducted instead—just for something to do.”

Jaron let out a hearty laugh at that. “Don’t even joke about that. Apollo will have our scales for belts if we manage to get ourselves taken.”

“Probably true,” Ianair admitted. 

Jaron’s tail flicked. “I can’t believe we’re spending the day babysitting.”

Ianair stretched, his wings unfurling slightly before settling against his back. “Could be worse. We could be stuck in the office filling out paperwork.”

“Guess you’re right,” Jaron conceded with a grimace. “At least we’re out in the fresh air, and I don’t have to smell that damn sandalwood incense Ceska has been bringing in lately.”

“Cut her some slack,” Ianair said, predictably. “She’s trying to create a calming atmosphere.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Jaron waved his friend off and decided not to tease him about obviously being into Ceska. His gaze drifted back to the café as the brunette they were watching stood up, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she prepared to leave. “Time to get going,” he muttered, nudging Ianair with his elbow.

They kept a discreet distance as they followed the mortal home, trying not to stick out. The woman walked with a bounce in her step, completely unaware of the shadowing dragons.

“She seems cheerful for someone who might be in danger,” Ianair observed.

“Maybe ignorance really is bliss,” Jaron replied, his eyes never leaving their charge.

When she went back to her house in the guarded community, Jaron prepared to pose as one of the guards when his phone vibrated sharply against his thigh, cutting through his thoughts. 

Apollo’s name flashed on the screen.

Jaron pressed the phone to his ear. “Tymera here.”

“We need you back at the office,” Apollo’s voice was terse.

“What’s going on?” 

“Just get here.” The line went dead.

Jaron exchanged a quick glance with Ianair. “Apollo wants me back at the office.”

Ianair nodded. “Go. I’ll keep an eye on the mortal.”

Jaron’s wings unfurled as he took to the sky, making quick work of the distance back to headquarters.

Upon entering the office, he found Apollo pacing like a caged animal. Ceska hovered nearby, looking displeased.

“What’s happened?” Jaron asked, a sense of dread settling in his stomach.

Apollo turned to face him. “Someone’s been taken. Someone who wasn’t on Keegan’s list.”

Jaron’s heart sank. “What? How is that possible?”

“I don’t know.” Apollo ran a hand through his hair. “But while we were busy watching the people Keegan identified, they slipped right under our noses and grabbed someone else.”

Jaron cursed under his breath. This wasn’t good. If Keegan’s predictions were wrong, then they had no idea who might be targeted next. And if they couldn’t trust Keegan’s visions…

“You don’t think he did this on purpose, do you?” His gaze narrowed on Apollo. He wasn’t going to let anyone accuse his mate of misleading them deliberately.

“I don’t know,” Apollo said. “But I would like to know.” 

“He wouldn’t,” Jaron insisted. What cause would Keegan have to point them the wrong way? “Remember that his friends are caught up in this.” 

Apollo sighed. “He’s still a vampire. Who knows what his motives might be?”

“Your mate is a vampire,” Jaron pointed out. 

Apollo grimaced. “My mate has also told me that Keegan works in mysterious ways.” 

Jaron swallowed down the response he wanted to give to that. Mordyn had helped him get closer to Keegan, and Apollo was still Jaron’s boss. 

And it was also the truth that Jaron didn’t quite understand Keegan himself. He didn’t yet know him well enough. 

But he wasn’t going to stand here and let Apollo drag his character through the mud. “I’ll go talk to him,” he offered. 

Apollo nodded. “I would appreciate that. If anyone can get a good answer out of him, it’s probably you.”

Jaron left without wasting any more time.

He would get to the bottom of this–and hand Keegan the scarf while he was at it. 

He only hoped his gift would be accepted. 

***

Jaron landed in front of the Rubyville Nightclub only to find the doors closed to him.

Of course. 

It was still light out. 

No matter, though. He would just call Keegan. Surely this was important enough to warrant a call even if it was still daytime. 

Jaron pulled out his phone, tapped on the screen, and then realized that he didn’t have Keegan’s number. He groaned. What a rookie mistake.

 He stared at the closed doors and his reflection stared back at him from the dark glass. With a resigned sigh, he pressed the doorbell and waited.

Silence.

He pressed it again, more insistently this time. 

He pressed it a third time. 

A crackling voice broke through the quiet. “We’re closed, come back at dusk,” a disgruntled vampire lady said.

Jaron leaned closer to the intercom. “I need to speak with Keegan,” he said. “It’s important.”

“Keegan doesn’t do daylight hours,” the vampire snapped, irritation evident even through the static.

“I’m Jaron Tymera,” he persisted, “Keegan’s mate. Please, let me in.”

A long pause followed before the vampire spoke again. “Keegan’s what now?”

“His mate,” Jaron repeated, louder this time, hoping to convey the urgency without sounding desperate.

The vampire on the other end of the intercom muttered something about Keegan and his stupid plans always bringing trouble. A series of clicks and whirs sounded before the door slowly slid open with a reluctant groan.

“Thank you,” Jaron called into the intercom as he stepped inside.

“Yeah, whatever,” came the grumbled reply before the connection cut off.

The nightclub was a different world without its pulsing lights and thrumming music. It looked almost mundane now, if a little gloomy. The vampire who’d let him in stood by the bar, polishing glasses. She was probably preparing for the club’s opening later, and she wasn’t happy to have been disturbed. 

Jaron approached her. “Where can I find Keegan?”

“You’re really his mate?” She eyed him suspiciously.

He held out both hands in a placatory gesture. “I promise, we’re mates and I just really need to see him. It’s important.”

The vampire studied him for another moment. “So you’re the reason he’s been so manic lately?”

“Manic?” 

“Not sleeping,” the vampire specified. “We’re all a little worried about his behavior.” A pause. She frowned. “You’re not causing him trouble, are you?” 

“I wouldn’t!” Jaron defended himself quickly. He never meant Keegan any harm, and if the vampire wasn’t sleeping, well that was probably because of that vision that scared him. That was *tangentially* related to Jaron, but it wasn’t really his fault. 

It was good, though, that Keegan had a family that worried about him. 

Jaron smiled at the vampire. 

She responded by eyeing him even more suspiciously. “What are you so happy about?”

“Nothing,” Jaron said hastily, schooling his features. “It’s just nice that you’re all looking out for each other.” 

“We’re coven,” she said simply. 

Jaron nodded, accepting this explanation. “It’s nice to meet you…” He left a pause for her to supply her name.

“Vitra.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Vitra.” He offered his hand.

She eyed it warily before giving his hand a single firm shake. She had a strong grip. “Likewise.” She turned her attention to her task again, wiping at an invisible stain on one of the wine glasses. After a few seconds of silence and Jaron hovering awkwardly beside her, she let out a huff of exasperation and put the glass down. “Follow me,” she said. “I’ll take you downstairs.”

***

Vitra led Jaron down a staircase, their footsteps echoing in the narrow space. She stopped in front of a nondescript door and rapped her knuckles against it. “Hey, Keegan, you up?” 

No response.

She knocked again, harder this time. “C’mon, I know you don’t sleep that long.”

A muffled grumble that sounded suspiciously like “go away” filtered through the door.

Vitra rolled her eyes. “This dragon who claims he’s your mate showed up.”

The door swung open shortly after that, revealing a disheveled Keegan. Jaron’s heart stuttered at the sight of him. Even with his red hair sticking up at odd angles, he was still the sexiest vampire Jaron had ever seen. But he also looked awful, like he hadn’t slept in days.

Keegan’s gaze flicked to Jaron, and he let out a heavy sigh. He reached out, grabbed Jaron by the arm, and tugged him into the room, shutting the door behind them.

“What are you doing back here so soon?” Keegan asked, his voice rough with exhaustion. “You’re aware that most vampires are asleep at this hour, right?” 

“I’m surprised you even know what hour it is,” Jaron murmured absentmindedly while he took in the state of Keegan’s room. Star charts were strewn across the floor, interspersed with loose papers covered in scribbled notes. It looked like the workspace of a mad scientist. 

“What’s all this?” Jaron asked, gesturing to the chaos.

Keegan rubbed his face. “I’ve been trying to find a way to expand my talents, to figure a way out of the future I’ve seen.”

Jaron’s brow furrowed with concern. “Have you even slept at all?”

Keegan shrugged. “They say ‘you can sleep when you’re dead,’ not when you’re undead. No vampire’s ever died to lack of sleep.”

“So vampires don’t need rest?” Jaron asked with a note of obvious sarcasm.

“What I need is answers,” Keegan countered. “I need to find a way to change what I’ve seen.”

Jaron reached out, his fingers brushing against Keegan’s arm. “I’m sure you will. But not like this. Not by running yourself into the ground.”

Keegan pulled away from Jaron’s touch. “You don’t understand. Every time I close my eyes, I see it. I see you…”

He trailed off, his jaw clenching.

“See me what?” Jaron prompted gently.

Keegan shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is finding a way to stop it.”

Jaron watched as Keegan’s eyes darted around the room, as if the answers he sought might be scribbled in the margins of his own frantic notes. He needed to know what Keegan had seen, needed to understand how they could avoid that future.

“It does matter,” Jaron insisted. “Tell me what you’ve seen in your visions.”

“No.” Keegan took a firm stance. “I can’t share what I see. It’ll alter the future in ways I can’t predict. It’s dangerous.”

Jaron huffed in frustration. “Is that why the predicted kidnapping victims were wrong?” 

The color drained from Keegan’s face, leaving him even paler than usual. “What do you mean?” 

“Someone not on your list was kidnapped,” Jaron explained with a twinge of dread. “Apollo is wondering…”

“Wondering what?” Keegan pressed. 

“If you did it on purpose.”

Keegan stared at Jaron for a second, then he snorted. “I’m not evil.

“I never said that!” 

“No,” Keegan admitted. “I suppose you didn’t.” He sat on his bed and ran his hand through his hair. “I didn’t fuck up on purpose,” he said quietly. “I’m not scheming or plotting anything right now.” 

Jaron chose not to comment on the fact that Keegan felt the need to qualify his statement like that. ‘Not plotting anything right now.’ That said a lot about the vampire. 

“What went wrong?” Jaron asked. 

Keegan shrugged. “It happens sometimes. It’s just that this was such an easy prediction that I never considered I might have missed something.” He frowned. 

“Could you be missing something about your other vision as well?” Jaron tried, somewhat hopeful. 

Keegan looked at him for a long time. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” he said in the end, gesturing at the notes and starcharts strewn all across the room.

Jaron picked up one of the starcharts. “How does this help you?” 

“Honestly? I’m not sure that it does, but I’m willing to grasp at straws.” There was such an open and honest quality to his words that Jaron felt disarmed. 

If only he knew what it was that scared Keegan so much… 

His lack of information made him helpless.

“Shouldn’t we be tackling this issue together?” he asked. “As a team?” 

Keegan’s lips drew into a thin line, which somehow made him appear even more tired. Jaron almost regretted that he’d asked, except that he’d had to. “I would love to be a team with you,” Keegan said. “But I need to figure this out first.” 

Whatever ‘it’ was. Jaron was starting to hate it.

“So what do you expect me to do?” he asked. “Stay away? Because that’s out of the question.” He’d found his mate, and his dragon would never let him abandon Keegan, no matter what Keegan saw in his visions that was so horrible. 

“I know you won’t stay away.” Keegan sighed, but there was no great emotion behind it. “I don’t want you to stay away. I just need to find a solution for both our sakes.”

“What kind of solution?” Jaron sat on the bed next to Keegan, half-tempted to reach out and draw his vampire into a hug—he looked like he needed one—but he wanted to hear him out before he derailed the conversation. 

“The event in my vision is fated to happen,” Keegan said with grim confidence. “So I need to find a way to change fate.”

Change fate…

Yeah… right. 

“Is that all?” Jaron asked, faking easy confidence for his mate’s sake. 

“Yeah.” Keegan gave him a weak smile. “Sometimes the future is written in stone.” 

“Stone can be smashed.”

“Not easily.” 

Jaron puffed out his chest and unfurled his wings. “I’m a dragon, hear me roar.” 

The image he presented must have been so absurd that it got Keegan laughing. 

Good. 

“I don’t care what fate says,” Jaron insisted. “I’ll face any obstacle with you.”

Keegan gave a short laugh. “That’s ironic.” 

“How so?” 

“Because that’s also fate’s doing,” Keegan said. “You want to be with me because we’re ‘fated mates’.” He made air quotes around the words. 

“Is that how vampires see it?” Jaron asked, genuinely curious, because that wasn’t exactly what he’d been taught on the subject, and maybe he could get Keegan around to his way of thinking. 

Keegan frowned at Jaron’s question, looking slightly puzzled. “Is there another way to look at it?”

“Yes.” Jaron shifted closer to Keegan on the bed, their thighs now touching. “A dragon’s mate isn’t chosen by fate. Not really.”

“Oh?” Keegan made no effort to move away. 

Jaron looked down at their thighs, organizing his thoughts. How to put into words a truth that was as old as his kind? “A dragon’s mate is the other half of his soul, separated by the goddess a long, long time ago,” he recited the stories he’d heard growing up. “If the two halves meet again, they cannot be kept apart, but not every dragon finds their mate. In fact, most dragons never do.”

Keegan listened intently, his gaze fixed on Jaron. “So, you’re saying our meeting was more like a cosmic coincidence than fate?”

Jaron waved the question away. That wasn’t the part that mattered. “I don’t know if it was fate that led me to you, but I know it wasn’t fate that made you my mate.” He reached out, his fingers gently tracing the line of Keegan’s jaw. “You would be my other half regardless.”

“Is that so?” 

“Yup.” Jaron put both of his hands on Keegans shoulders and pushed him backwards until he lay on his bed. Then he climbed on top of him, pinning him to the mattress. He half expected Keegan to fight the treatment, but he didn’t. Instead, he gazed back up at him with those piercing green eyes that always seemed to see more than anyone else did, making Jaron’s heart race as he looked down at the vampire, his mate, the missing piece of his soul. In that moment, he wanted nothing more than to claim him, to make Keegan his in every way possible.

“I don’t care about fate.” Jaron leaned down, pressing his forehead against Keegan’s. “I care about you.”

Keegan let out a shuddering breath, his eyes closing. For a few seconds they stayed like that, frozen in that moment.

“I wish…” Keegan started, then paused. He opened his eyes, meeting Jaron’s gaze with a look that spoke of all the longing he kept in his heart, all the things he hid from Jaron for reasons Jaron could not understand.

“Tell me,” Jaron urged. “What do you wish?”

Keegan smiled at him then, but there was a sadness to the curve of his lips. “I wish our story could end happily.”

Jaron swallowed hard at the weight behind those words.

Jaron swallowed hard at the weight behind those words. This was more than Keegan had been willing to share so far. He’d seen some kind of terrible ending for them–and no way to avoid the tragedy. 

No wonder he was so reluctant to give in to their connection.

But Jaron refused to surrender. “How far away is our ending?”

Keegan’s brows furrowed. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. 

“Days, months, years?” Jaron prompted. 

Keegan hesitated. “Impossible to tell.”

“In that case,” Jaron leaned close to press a gentle kiss to Keegan’s neck, breathing in the scent of him, “shouldn’t we make the most of the time we do have?”

Keegan’s hands slid over his shoulders and into his hair. “I don’t–“

Before Keegan could finish that sentence, Jaron kissed him, effectively shutting him up. Whatever Keegan had been planning on saying, Jaron knew he wouldn’t want to hear it. So what if this was going to end badly? Was that reason enough never to have it in the first place? Never to have each other?

No. No, it wasn’t.

So what if he wasn’t going to get a fairy tale ending? He’d never expected one. 

Even if he only got to spend a few days with his true mate, that already made him luckier than he’d ever thought he would be. Luckier than most other dragons out there.

Oh how they’d laughed at him on the playground, the little dragon who couldn’t breathe fire. ‘Not a real dragon,’ they’d called him. Well, who was laughing now, huh? He had something they would never have. He’d found his other half.

He wouldn’t give that up for anything, no matter the consequences.

“Let’s not worry about the ending,” he murmured against Keegan’s lips, trailing kisses over his chin and jaw until he reached his ear. “Let’s focus on the now.”

Keegan let out a shuddering breath. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jaron nipped at his earlobe. “Sure I do,” he whispered. “Let me show you.” If Keegan just gave him the slightest opportunity, Jaron would claim him, show him that he wasn’t afraid of anything. He wasn’t going to back down.

“Please,” he breathed against Keegan’s skin, pressing the hard bulge in his pants against Keegan’s thigh.

“Jaron… No.” Keegan pushed at Jaron’s shoulder, and Jaron reluctantly moved back to give him space.

A frustrated sigh lodged itself in his throat, only overshadowed by the growl that also wanted to escape. His inner dragon was getting increasingly agitated at being rejected by his own mate.

Jaron took a deep breath, fighting his instincts as best he could while Keegan got up and sorted his notes as if those were important now.

Urge to growl: rising.

Urge to nail Keegan to the floor and fuck him right on top of those notes? Astronomical.

Jaron pushed it down. He was a civilized dragon. He would not let himself be ruled by base instincts. He would *not.* 

He bit the inside of his lip hard enough to make it bleed. 

“I’m sorry,” Keegan said, not looking at him.

Something inside of Jaron softened. “It’s alright,” he managed to squeeze out past the lump in his throat. He got up from the bed and helped Keegan pick up some notes to busy himself.

After a short pause where he stared down at his notes, Keegan finally looked at Jaron. “I know this must be difficult for you.”

Difficult was an understatement.

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I want you more than anything.”

A guilty expression flashed across Keegan’s features, then he turned away again to put his notes in order. “I’ll find a way,” he said. “I promise you.”

“To avoid the bad ending?”

Keegan’s lips thinned. “Yeah.”

There was still something he wasn’t sharing, something important. But Jaron was starting to understand that he wasn’t going to get anywhere by trying to push Keegan. “You might be able to think more clearly if you got some sleep first,” he suggested. 

“I’ll consider it.” 

Right. 

Jaron grabbed the bag he’d brought and pulled the blue scarf out of it while Keegan wasn’t looking, busy with some papers on his desk. Jaron stepped up to him and looped the scarf loosely around his vampire’s neck.

Keegan startled at the contact before his gaze fell on the scarf. “You’re giving me this now?” 

What an odd question to ask. Maybe not so odd from Keegan. “Have you seen it before?” 

“In a vision.” Keegan touched the soft material of the scarf. “You got this from the witch you live with.” 

Jaron had never told Keegan about Malkira, but he wasn’t surprised the seer knew anyway. 

“I knew you were going to give this to me,” Keegan said, running his fingers over the wool. “I just hadn’t expected it to be so soon. This thing means a lot to you.”

“It does,” Jaron conceded. “But so do you.” He tugged lightly on the scarf to draw Keegan closer. “You’re my other half,” he murmured, brushing his lips against Keegan’s, “anything I own is yours. Besides,” he drew back a little, “it’s got protective power. I don’t know how much help it’ll be, but it might come in handy.”

Keegan fingered the material. “This is enchanted?”

So he hadn’t know that much. Jaron grinned. “Yup.”

“To keep me safe, huh?” There was something odd about the way he said that, as if the sentiment amused him and made him sad at the same time.

Jaron didn’t understand, but he was starting to accept that he would never understand everything Keegan said or did. He’d drive himself mad trying. “Do you like it?” he asked instead of trying to dig deeper. 

Keegan gave him a smile that warmed his heart. “I love it.”

Jaron was tempted to kiss his vampire again, but just when he was about to go for it, his phone rang in his pocket, startling them both.

With a frustrated groan, Jaron pulled back and fished his phone out of his pocket. He glanced at the screen and saw Malkira’s name. He couldn’t ignore her call.

“Hey,” he said, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.

“Jaron, I’m sorry to bother you, but could you come home? We have a bit of a situation here.” Malkira sounded apologetic, but there was an undercurrent of tension in her voice.

“What’s wrong?” Jaron asked, his brow furrowing.

“Your brother is here. Casca.”

Jaron’s eyes widened. “What’s he doing there?”

“He seems a bit upset. I think it would be best if you came home to talk to him.”

Jaron sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Alright, I’ll be there soon.”

He ended the call and turned to Keegan, who was watching him with a curious expression. “I have to go,” Jaron said. “Family emergency.”

Keegan nodded. “Go, talk to your brother.”

Jaron was about to ask how Keegan knew about Casca, but he caught himself before the words could slip his mouth. “Do you know why Casca’s upset?” he asked instead. 

Keegan looked at him for a long moment, as if weighing his answer. “He doesn’t have the easiest path ahead of him,” he said in the end. 

Well, that was helpful. 

“He’ll be fine,” Keegan added, as if he could see that he’d worried Jaron. “He’s got you.”

“Right.” 

“Go home,” Keegan said. “I’ll make another attempt at figuring out the kidnappings while you’re gone.”

Jaron didn’t like that idea. It was good that Keegan wanted to make up for his mistakes, but there was no guarantee that he would get it right if he looked again, and every guarantee that the exercise would exhaust him more. “You’re going to fall over if you keep pushing yourself.”

Keegan waved off his concern. “I’m sturdier than I look.”

Jaron shook his head at the vampire, but what more could he say? “I’ll be back later. Reserve at least some energy for me, will you?” 

Keegan laughed. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

“You don’t think I’ll be back tonight?” 

Keegan tilted his head at him. “Maybe you will. You tend to surprise me.”

“I like surprising you.” To underline his words, Jaron did go in for another kiss. He kept it short and sweet because he didn’t want to be carried away while his brother might need him, but it was worth it for the look on Keegan’s face, as if Keegan might have wanted to keep him from leaving after all. 

Jaron grinned at him. “See you later.”


New Chapter 

Jaron came home to find Casca and Malkira in the living room, engrossed in the flickering images on the TV screen. He paused in the doorway, still wondering what his brother was doing here. Malkira’s house wasn’t a long way from their parents’ house, but Casca had never dropped in unanounced before. 

“Cas, shouldn’t you be at home?” Jaron asked as he sank onto the couch beside his brother. “What’s going on?”

Casca huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m never going back there,” he declared, his gaze still fixed on the screen.

Jaron raised an eyebrow. “You can’t mean that,” Jaron said, but even as he spoke the words, he understood where Casca was coming from. As his little brother turned into a teenager, he was developing a mind of his own, and Mom and Dad weren’t happy about it. 

Casca turned to face Jaron, his expression stormy. “Why not? You left.”

Jaron grimaced. “It’s different for me,” he tried to explain. “I was already an adult when I moved out, and my relationship with Mom and Dad is… complicated.”

“How’s it complicated?” Casca asked. “Because you can’t breathe fire?”

Jaron winced. They didn’t usually talk about this. 

“You and your brother are each unique,” Malkira said, resting a soothing hand on Casca’s shoulder. “And you each have your own unique relationship with your parents.” 

That was a good way to put it. Jaron didn’t want to be pressed to explain that their parents wouldn’t let Casca out of their grasp as easily as they’d let Jaron go because they still had high hopes for Casca. He was a bright kid and a strong firebreather. He was sociable and people liked him. 

“Tell me what happened to make you come here today,” Jaron prompted. 

Casca’s jaw tightened, and he glanced away, his fingers drumming a rapid rhythm on his knees. Jaron recognized that look, the bottled-up frustration just beneath the surface.

“I told them that I want to become a doctor and go help people in poorer countries like the fringes.”

Jaron’s heart sank as he absorbed Casca’s words. Their parents felt like they had a legacy to uphold, and it didn’t include their offspring straying from the traditional paths of power and prestige that they so adored. Healers, especially those who worked in the forgotten corners of the world, were a far cry from the image his parents curated.

“They believe dragons don’t have any business in healing,” Jaron murmured. “They’ve always said that’s a fae’s calling.”

Casca nodded energetically. “Exactly! But there are dragon doctors!”

Jaron looked into his brother’s eyes, seeing the same fiery determination that had pushed him to join the Mortal Rights Task Force—an act of rebellion against their parents’ ideology.

He’d hoped it would be a few more years before Casca decided he didn’t want to be the golden son. 

“Mom and Dad want you to inherit the business,” he said carefully.

Casca scrunched up his nose. “But jewerly is boring,” he said, even as the several gold bracelets he wore dangled from his wrist. 

“Our parents take pride in it.” 

Casca huffed again. “Fei can have it, then.” 

“Maybe you two can discuss that when he’s a little older,” Jaron advised. “For now, you need to keep your head down. Just focus on school and make sure you get good grades so you can be a doctor in the end. Mom and Dad can’t stop you when you’re old enough.”

“I wish I was old enough now.” Casca sighed. “I don’t want to pretend. I also don’t want them to be disappointed in me.” 

“You’re not disappointing anyone by being true to who you are,” Jaron reassured him. “You’re just disappointing their expectations of who they think you should be.”

Jaron watched his Casca wrestle with that concept. 

Maybe it was a little much for him to process right now. 

“You’ll be fine,” Jaron said. “And you can always come hang out here when it gets too much at home.”

Casca glanced up, a sliver of hope flickering in his eyes. “Really?” A moment later, though, he remembered that he wanted to be a tough teenager and looked away. “I mean, I know.”

Jaron suppressed a laugh. “All right. How about we have some spicy hot chocolate?” That had always been his little brother’s favorite drink.

“Sounds great,” Casca said.

Jaron smiled at him and made his way to the kitchen, passing Malkira. 

“You handled that well,” she said softly to him. “I need to fetch some herbs from the market before it closes,” she announced in a louder voice.

Jaron caught her gaze and understood—she was giving them space.

“Thanks, Malkira,” he whispered back. 

In the kitchen, Jaron warmed milk on the stove and adding in chunks of dark chocolate along with a pinch of cayenne pepper and cinnamon, enjoying the smell of the chocolate as it melted into the milk. He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

When he was done, he and Casca settled in front of the TV with their mugs, the rich aroma of chocolate filling the air between them as they picked out an action movie from the streaming service.

Jaron sipped at his drink and leaned back against the cushions.

As the warmth of the chocolate spread through his body, Jaron’s mind drifted to Keegan. Had the vampire foreseen that Jaron would spend the evening watching movies with his little brother? Was that why he’d said Jaron wouldn’t be back? 

Had he guessed that Jaron would always choose to be there for his siblings?

Maybe he’d seen it. 

That seemed likely.

Just as Jaron felt the tension in his chest beginning to unravel, a loud banging on the door shattered the peaceful moment.

Of course. 

Jaron didn’t have to be a seer to know who that was.

He set his mug down and went to open the door.

“What do you think you’re doing?” his mother demanded before he could even utter a greeting.

“I’m taking care of my brother,” Jaron replied evenly.

“You’re filling his head with your silly ideas!” Her voice rose like thunder, accusing him of leading Casca astray just as he’d strayed himself.

Jaron stood firm in the doorway. “He came here because he needed someone who would listen.”

“Listen?” His mother let out a sharp laugh. “Like you’re not the one who made him want to be a doctor in the first place.”

Jaron gritted his teeth, fighting the urge to lash out in return. He wasn’t going to lose his cool now. “It wasn’t my idea, but even if it was, it’s not a *bad* thing to be a doctor. You can’t force Casca to take over the family business just because that is what *you* want for him.” 

She glared at him. “I let you get away with a lot, Jaron Tymera. I looked the other way when you decided that you didn’t want to wear our jewelry and I didn’t stop you from joining that ridiculous task force you work for, but I won’t let you put Casca within reach of this ‘woman’ you live with.” The way she said the word suggested that she wanted to call Malkira something far worse than a woman. 

Jaron’s heckles rose. “There’s nothing wrong with Malkira.”

His mother waved his words aside like an annoying mosquito. “Oh please, everyone knows she hates dragons and you’ve been turning into less of one with every month you spend living with her as if you’re suddenly ashamed of your heritage when you should be proud. She’s filling you with her hate, corrupting you!” 

“Shut up,” Jaron burst out. “Malkira’s been more of a mother to me than you ever were!” 

His mother flinched as if he’d struck her, and he knew he’d gone too far. 

“All I’m trying to say is that she loves me,” he said quickly. “For who I am.” 

The proud dragoness who had birthed him looked at him for a long moment. “And who is that, Jaron? A dragon who can’t breathe fire? Who’s given up on even trying? A son who turns his back on his family’s legacy? Is that who you want to be?”

Jaron didn’t have the words to respond to that adequately. 

“I’m sorry that I’m not the son you wanted,” he said quietly, and then, for a long moment, neither of them said anything. 

Finally, his mother pushed past him. “Casca?” she called. “It’s time to come home.”

Jaron watched helplessly as his mother grabbed Casca’s arm, pulling him towards the door. Casca shot Jaron a pleading look. He obviously didn’t want to go, but his teenage bravado had left him, and he didn’t dare speak up against their mother’s wrath. 

“Let’s go,” their mother snapped coldly. “We’ll discuss this further at home.”

Casca hung his head, his shoulders slumping in defeat as he allowed himself to be dragged away.

Jaron wished there was something he could do, but for now, there wasn’t. Even if he’d tried to stop her from taking Casca, she was rich and powerful, and the authorities would be here to take his underage brother home within the hour. 

As the door slammed shut behind them, Jaron let out a frustrated growl, his fists clenching at his sides.

Huffing, he stalked back to the couch and snatched up his mug of hot chocolate, taking a long swig of the now-lukewarm liquid. It did little to soothe his frayed nerves as he sank back into the cushions, his mind racing with thoughts of Casca and their mother’s stubborn refusal to see beyond her own expectations.

Minutes ticked by as Jaron stared blankly at the TV screen, not really seeing the movie that still played. His phone buzzed beside him, and he glanced down to see a text from his mother. His stomach twisted with dread as he opened the message, finding a link to an old news article.

Frowning, Jaron clicked on the link, his confusion growing as he scanned the headline: “Local Witch Implicated in Deadly Disease Outbreak.” The article detailed accusations against Malkira, claiming she had been involved in the creation of a potent disease that had escaped from a magical research facility where she worked at the time.

The virus had come to be known as the scarlet curse. 

Jaron’s blood ran cold.

He’d heard of that disease, of course. Every citizen of this kingdom had. It was the disease that had befallen their late king, as well as his son, their current ruler. 

But Malkira couldn’t have had anything to do with it. 

She’d always been kind and nurturing to him. Not the kind of person who’d spend her time inventing deadly diseases—nor the kind of person who’d unleash those diseases on the public. 

Jaron scanned the article without taking in much of the information. 

The key part was that Malkira hadn’t been prosecuted. She hadn’t been found guilty of anything. 

His mother was just grasping at straws, bringing old rumors back to life in order to make Malkira look bad. 

Even as Jaron sat the phone aside, though, the story wouldn’t leave his head. 

And this was the real reason Jaron didn’t wind up going to visit Keegan that evening. He waited for Malkira to come home so he could ask her about the news article, hoping she wouldn’t feel insulted by his curiosity. 

When Malkira finally returned home, her arms laden with bags of herbs and ingredients, Jaron approached her cautiously. “Hey, can we talk for a minute?”

Malkira set her bags down on the kitchen counter and turned to face him, her brow furrowed with concern. “Of course. What’s on your mind?”

Jaron hesitated, unsure of how to broach the subject. “My mom sent me an article,” he began, his voice trailing off as he tried to find the right words. “It was about you and some kind of disease outbreak a long time ago.” He hesitated. “The scarlet curse?”

Malkira’s face paled, but she gestured at the kitchen table. “Take a seat.” 

Jaron swallowed and did as he was told. He’d almost wanted her to deny all accusations outright, but maybe it was better to have a proper talk about this. 

“I had hoped that was all in the past,” she said in a soft voice as she sat with him. 

Jaron’s heart sank at her reaction. “So it’s true?”

He didn’t want it to be, damn it. 

He didn’t want the witch who’d cared so much about him to be a bad person. He also didn’t want his mom to be ‘right.’

Malkira shook her head. “Not the way the story went around the media,” she. “I was working at a research facility, yes, but I had nothing to do with the creation of that disease. When I found out what they were doing, I tried to stop them, but it was too late.”

Jaron listened intently as Malkira recounted the story, her voice trembling with the weight of the memories. She explained how she’d tried to convince her higher-ups that the experiments they were doing were too dangerous, but that the damage had already been done. The disease had escaped, and all dragonkind had suffered the consequences.

Was that why his mom claimed Malkira hated dragons?

“Why did the article make it sound like it was your fault?” Jaron asked with a growing sense of injustice. 

“Because I was nobody,” Malkira said simply. “It was easy for them to shift the blame on me. They tried, at least. I was never prosecuted because there was no evidence against me.” She sighed. “But the rumors persisted, and my reputation was ruined. That’s why I left my old town and came here, to start over.”

Jaron felt terrible for dragging her right back into the past she’d tried to leave behind. “I’m so sorry,” he said softly. “I had no idea.”

Malkira squeezed his hand, a sad smile on her face. “It’s not your fault. I should have told you, I suppose, but I didn’t want you to think less of me.”

Jaron shook his head. “I could never think less of you. You’ve been like a mother to me, and I know you would never do anything to hurt anyone.”

Malkira’s smile widened and the corners of her eyes crinkled. “Thank you, Jaron,” she whispered. “That means more to me than you know.”

Jaron returned the smile, his heart warming at her words. 

He wasn’t going to listen to his mother’s poison. 

What did she know?


New Chapter

The next morning, Jaron knew he was going to come off desperate, but he couldn’t help himself. Before he knew it, he was standing outside the Rubyville nightclub, just after first light. 

He tried to rationalize his behavior to himself. He had to see Keegan before work, right? To see if he had any new information on the kidnapping case that Apollo would want to know about.

Deep down, though, Jaron knew that wasn’t why he was here. He just wanted to see his mate after spending a whole night away.

Stupidly, he still hadn’t asked Keegan for his number, so he found himself in front of closed doors again. This time, though, when he rang the doorbell, someone let him in quickly. The vampires were still cleaning up the bar area inside and hadn’t gone to sleep yet.

The vampire who greeted him first, a short man with pale blond hair, eyed him up and down curiously. “You Keegan’s dragon?” 

“Yup, that’s him,” someone called from the back. 

Jaron turned to the sound of that voice to spot Mordyn. This morning, his hair was a shade of blue that reminded Jaron of midnight storms. 

Jaron met him by the bar. “Hey.” 

Mordyn smiled at him while putting away a rag he’d used to wipe down the bar counter. “You here for our seer?” 

“Maybe I just wanted a drink,” Jaron suggested, trying to appear more casual than he felt. “You know, hair of the dog and all that.”

Mordyn snorted. “I’m an empath.”

Well, fuck. Jaron might as well stop trying to appear anything less than desperate then. “I came to check on Keegan,” he admitted. “Figured I’d try to catch you before you all turn into bats and hang from the rafters for the day.”

“We don’t have anyone here who can turn into a bat,” Mordyn said. “We’ve got a few crows hanging around, though, but I know you’re not here for those.”

“No. Could you show me to Keegan’s room?”

“I would,” Mordyn said, “but that’s not where he is.”

Jaron’s heart sank. Did Keegan leave? Was he trying to avoid Jaron again? 

Had Jaron pushed too hard last time? 

Mordyn turned around and motioned for Jaron to follow him down the stairs. 

So Keegan hadn’t left the building. That was good, right?

“Where are you taking me?” 

Mordyn grinned and held a finger to his lips as if he wanted to tell Jaron to be quiet. 

Jaron wasn’t sure what that was about, but he shut up and followed Mordyn down another corridor. At the end of it, Mordyn carefully opened a door that led into a room that resembled a small library. 

Jaron spotted Keegan hunched over a book, dead to the world, the scarf Jaron had given him still wrapped around his shoulders. The vampire’s chest rose and fell with the slow, steady rhythm of sleep. He must have worked himself into exhaustion until his body had finally given out.

Jaron approached slowly, trying not to startle Keegan now that he was finally getting some rest. He pulled out a chair next to Keegan and sat down, taking a moment to just observe his mate. Keegan’s hair fell over his face, obscuring his features, but even in sleep, his brows were wrinkled. 

“If only you didn’t think you had to tackle everything by yourself,” Jaron whispered, not loud enough to wake the vampire. 

This might not be the most restful break for him, but at least it was something.

It wasn’t fair, really, how much weight Keegan had to carry just because he could see what others couldn’t. 

Jaron used to dream of being powerful when he was small, so that people would stop making fun of him, but maybe great power wasn’t all it was chalked up to be. 

Maybe Keegan had gotten both their share. 

Jaron’s gaze drifted to the books stacked next to his vampire, all about the various workings of fate. There was a piece of paper under Keegan’s right hand as well, with a few almost unintelligible words scribbled on it. Jaron leaned closer, trying to make out what Keegan had written before sleep had claimed him. 

It looked as if Keegan had stopped mid-writing, just after the words, ‘fate demands sacrifice.’

A cold shiver went down Jaron’s spine. 

What was that supposed to mean? 

What kind of sacrifice was fate demanding of Keegan? Of them? 

He reached out and brushed a strand of hair away from Keegan’s face, tucking it behind his ear, tempted to demand an answer from his mate. Keegan stirred slightly at the touch but didn’t wake. 

Jaron’s heart clenched. He wished he could take away whatever burden Keegan was carrying, whatever vision was haunting him. 

“Can’t you live in the present with me?”

“Can’t you live in the present with me?” he whispered, his fingers tracing the edge of the blue scarf he’d given Keegan the day before. 

Keegan blinked one sleepy eye open. “Jaron?” He yawned.

Jaron licked his lips. Part of him wanted to tell his mate to go back to sleep, to get the rest he so obviously needed. But another part of him couldn’t ignore the ominous words scrawled on the paper beneath Keegan’s hand.

“Keegan, what’s this about?” Jaron asked softly, tapping the note. “What do you mean, ‘fate demands sacrifice?'”

Keegan shook his head as if trying to clear the cobwebs of sleep from his mind. He sat up straighter, rubbing at his eyes. “I’ve been trying to find a way,” he said. “A way to change what I saw. Our fate.”

Everything inside of Jaron drew tight. “And?” he made himself ask. 

Keegan met his gaze, his expression grim. “It can’t be done without sacrifice.”

“What kind of sacrifice?” Jaron demanded. 

He’d do anything for Keegan. 

Well, almost…

He wasn’t going to kill another person so he could be happy with his mate. 

The way Keegan looked at him, though, he got the feeling that was exactly what they would need to do if they wanted to change their fate. 

“There’s got to be another way,” Jaron said before Keegan could even speak the words. 

Would the vampire consider it seriously? Sacrificing someone? 

“There isn’t another way,” Keegan said.

“There has to be,” Jaron insisted. “I’ll help you find it.”

Keegan looked as if he wanted to protest again, then changed his mind. 

“You’re stubborn, you know that?”

“It’s one of my best qualities,” Jaron said. “Along with my dashing good looks and charming personality, of course.”

Keegan snorted. “Of course.”

Jaron glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. He wasn’t prepared to let this topic go, but he knew he had to get to work. Apollo was counting on him, and they had a kidnapper to catch.

“I have to head into the office,” Jaron said reluctantly, standing up from his chair. “Apollo will be expecting me.”

Keegan’s hand shot out, grabbing Jaron’s wrist before he could take a step. “Wait.”

Jaron looked down at his mate, raising an eyebrow. “What is it?”

Keegan let go of Jaron’s wrist and grabbed a piece of paper, scribbling something down quickly. “I worked on this before I started my research,” he said, handing the paper to Jaron. “It’s an updated list of potential victims. I’m sure I got the right names this time.”

Jaron scanned the list, his heart sinking at the thought of more people being taken. He looked back at Keegan, trying to muster up a smile. “But nothing is ever written in stone, right?” he asked, hoping Keegan would catch the subtle reference to their own fate.

Keegan’s expression remained impassive, though, and he didn’t take the bait. “Just be careful out there,” he said instead.

Jaron nodded, folding the paper and tucking it into his pocket. He turned to leave, but then paused, looking back at Keegan. “Hey, before I go, can I get your number?”

Keegan hesitated for a moment, then held out his hand. “Give me your phone.”

Jaron handed it over, watching as Keegan typed his number into Jaron’s contacts. When he was done, Keegan passed the phone back.

“There,” he said. “Now you can reach me whenever you need to.”

Jaron grinned, feeling a little thrill at the idea of being able to contact his vampire whenever he wanted. Oh, the dirty messages he could text him, the pictures he could send… He quickly typed on his display, and a second later, Keegan’s phone buzzed in his pants. 

“And now you have my number, too,” he said.

Keegan pulled out his phone and looked at the text Jaron had sent: “Get some sleep. I’ll see you in your dreams ;)” 

Keegan rolled his eyes, but Jaron caught the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“I’ll be back tonight,” Jaron promised. “We can tackle this fate thing together, okay? Two heads are better than one and all that.”

Keegan sighed. “I don’t know if-“

“Nope,” Jaron interrupted, holding up a hand. “No arguments. I’m helping, and that’s final.”

Keegan looked like he wanted to protest again, but then he just shook his head, a wry smile on his face. “Your mind really is just as unchangeable as fate, huh?”

“Damn right,” Jaron said. He reached out, brushing his fingers along Keegan’s cheek. “Do get some rest, okay? I will be back tonight.”

Keegan leaned into the touch for a moment before pulling away. “I’ll try,” he said, but Jaron had a feeling that Keegan wouldn’t take his advice.

Jaron rested a hand on Keegan’s shoulder. “Want a snack before I go?” Maybe some blood would help his vampire feel better. 

Keegan thought about it, his gaze lingering on Jaron’s neck in a way that made something warm unfold in Jaron’s gut. Ultimately, though, he shook his head. “I can’t seem to drink from you without seeing visions of us.”

“What kind of visions?” 

Keegan smiled faintly. “Happy ones.” 

Those words made all the rest of Jaron light up too. “Sounds like a good thing to me.” 

Keegan’s expression changed to one of longing, but only for a split second, then he averted his gaze. “Makes it difficult to focus on anything else,” he said. “And I need to focus on finding a way to make that future possible.”

Jaron couldn’t argue with that. It tugged at his heart, Keegan’s determination to make them possible.

“I’ll see you tonight,” he said, but he wasn’t going to leave without a kiss. He leaned down to press a quick peck to Keegan’s lips, supressing the dragon inside of him that demanded more than that. 

One day he’d get that. Maybe even tonight.

He’d try, anyway. 

***

Keegan reached for another book after Jaron left, but the letters quickly swam before his eyes. Fatigue weighed on him, a dull ache behind his forehead. He squinted and rubbed at his temples, frustration bubbling up. A sigh escaped him. His mind kept drifting back to Jaron.

He shouldn’t have mentioned the sacrifice. Jaron wasn’t the kind of person could stomach that kind of thing. Underneath all his attitude, he was too sweet, too kind. He needed to be protected from the cruelty of their fate, not burdened with it.

Too late for that now. 

Jaron wasn’t going to forget what Keegan had told him so carelessly.

Biting back a sigh, Keegan made himself focus on the book in front of him again. Maybe it would tell him something to solve his issue. 

The words blurred, though, after only a little while. His head nodded forward, eyes closing of their own volition. Sleep crept in. 

He wasn’t surprised to dream of Jaron. 

In the dream, Jaron stood in an alley, his posture tense and defensive, wings spread as if he wanted to make himself appear bigger. He wasn’t alone; a young mortal girl clung to his side, her eyes wide with terror. A figure Keegan didn’t recognize lurked at the alley’s entrance. A mage? They were murmuring incantations that sounded more than a little threatening.

Jaron said something to the mortal and then placed himself between her and the mage. His normally cocky expression hardened into one of fierce determination while the girl pressed herself against the wall, trying to make herself as small as possible.

The mage at the mouth of the alley raised both hands, eyes glowing a pale, eerie blue. They chanted quickly, their voice growing louder with each syllable. 

Keegan couldn’t make out the words, but he got their intent. He wanted to shout for Jaron to get out of there, but the dream held him as a helpless observer.

The air around the mage crystallized, frost spreading rapidly on the brick walls and grounding into icy spikes. With a sweeping gesture, shards of ice launched toward Jaron. He covered the girl with his body, taking the full brunt of the attack. 

He grunted, staggering as the ice tore into him. Blood bloomed across his hoodie, dark crimson. Keegan wanted to scream, but no sound left his mouth. Visions flickered rapidly in his mind—different ways this fight could go down. 

Jaron falling to his knees, his skin frozen and his breath rattling.

Jaron getting a hit in, but paying for it with blood, pain, and broken bones.

Jaron dying.

No.

No!

The images faded to black before the worst one came to pass. When the darkness receded, Keegan found himself back in the little library where he’d fallen asleep, his mind calculating Jaron’s odds as if on autopilot.

How high was the chance that Jaron would die? 

Low, very low. 

So low, in fact, that if Jaron had been anyone else, Keegan would have dismissed the dream outright as an insignificant possibility. But he couldn’t do it. 

Even if Jaron didn’t die, he would almost certainly get hurt. 

That wasn’t something Keegan could tolerate.

He pushed himself up from the chair, his muscles stiff from the uncomfortable position he’d fallen asleep in. He paced the room, his mind racing as he tried to figure out what to do. The sun was up, which meant he couldn’t personally go to help Jaron. If he stepped outside, he would burn.

But he had to do something. He couldn’t just let Jaron walk into danger like that.

If he called Jaron and told him what he’d seen, would Jaron trust him enough to abandon his mission? Keegan stopped in his tracks, trying to predict Jaron’s reaction to such a call. He reached for his power, but pain lanced through his head, making him wince. He pushed anyway, gritting his teeth against the agony. This was too important.

Visions flashed through his mind, each one a different possibility. In some, Jaron listened to him and turned back. In others, he brushed off Keegan’s concerns and kept going. And in a few, he got angry at Keegan for trying to interfere.

Keegan pulled himself out of the visions, his head throbbing with a blinding headache. He staggered, catching himself on the edge of the table. It took a moment for the pain to recede enough for him to think clearly again.

At least it gave him an idea of what to say to Jaron.

He pulled out his phone and dialed Jaron’s number, his fingers shaking slightly. It rang once, twice, three times before Jaron picked up.

“Keegan?” Jaron’s voice came through the speaker, sounding surprised but pleased. “What’s up?”

Keegan took a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves. “I need you to come here,” he said.

“Miss me already?” 

“Yes,” Keegan made himself say. “I think I’m ready to tell you about what I saw, about our fate.”

On the other end of the line, Jaron was stunned into silence. Clearly, he hadn’t expected that. 

Which was why this approach might just work. If Keegan had just told him that something bad might happen to him at work… Jaron would probably just have insisted that a certain amount of risk was part of the job, and that he couldn’t make someone else take the fall for him. 

Keegan didn’t care about anyone else, though. 

He only wanted Jaron safe. 

“You’ll tell me?” Jaron asked. 

“Yes.” 

“After I’m done here?” 

“No,” Keegan said. “It has to be now. Come here as soon as you can.”

“But I’m at work.” 

“Find a reason to get out of work. You’re smart. You’ll think of something.”

Jaron was silent for a moment. Keegan pictured his foot tapping on the ground as he thought. “You’re serious,” he said after a moment. 

“Very serious.”

“Why now?” 

“There’s no time to explain. Please, Jaron, trust me on this.”

There was a beat of hesitation, then a heavy sigh filtered through the speaker. “Fine,” Jaron conceded. “I’ll think of something and be there as fast as I can.”

Relief flooded Keegan, followed swiftly by a pang of guilt. He was manipulating Jaron—for his own good, but still. Surely this wasn’t how one was supposed to behave in a relationship. Keegan couldn’t say. He’d never been in one before. 

“Thank you,” he said into the phone. 

He heard the shuffle of movement on the other end as Jaron prepared to leave work. “You owe me one hell of an explanation,” Jaron warned before hanging up.

Keegan ended the call and placed the phone down on the table. He dragged a hand through his hair and sank back into his chair. 

The crisis he’d dreamed of had been averted, but what was it going to cost him?


***

Keegan paced near the entrance of the nightclub, waiting for Jaron to arrive. When he finally did, Keegan couldn’t help but smile, despite all his nerves. 

As long as Jaron was here, he wasn’t going to be hurt. 

Keegan stepped aside to let him in, his fingers brushing against Jaron’s arm briefly. “Thanks for coming,” he murmured, guiding Jaron toward the bar area, now cast in the stark overhead light they never turned on during the night.

Jaron settled onto a barstool, his eyes never leaving Keegan. “What’s going on? Why did you want me here so urgently? You’re not just horny, are you?”

Keegan turned his back to Jaron and reached for a bottle of synthetic blood behind the bar. As he poured himself a drink, he felt Jaron’s gaze boring into him. He took a slow sip, savoring the metallic taste as it slid down his throat.

What to say, what to say?

“I just really wanted to see you.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. His heart did leap at the sight of Jaron. It always did. 

For a moment, Jaron’s expression softened, flattered by Keegan’s words. But then suspicion crept back into his eyes. “Did you see something?”

Keegan worried his lower lip, trying to find the right words. “I don’t want to lie to you,” he began cautiously. He always had to lie to everyone. He didn’t want that to be the relationship he had with his mate, but how to act differently?

It wasn’t as if he lied because he enjoyed it so much. 

He only did it to steer people in the right direction as much as he could. The same way he’d done with Jaron tonight. 

“You saw something but you can’t tell me about it?” Jaron asked. 

“Telling you would risk the goal I’m trying to achieve.”

Jaron leaned forward, elbows resting on the bar. “What goal is that?” 

Keegan reached out and took one of Jaron’s hands in his own. “Keeping you safe.” 

Jaron met his eyes, searching. “You saw something bad happening to me at work?” 

Keegan’s silence was answer enough.

Jaron sighed, running his free hand through his hair. “I know I’m not much of a dragon, but I’m still a dragon. I’m not exactly fragile.”

“I know that,” Keegan snapped, his frustration getting the better of him. “But even dragons can be killed, Jaron. And I can’t…” His voice broke, and he had to take a moment to compose himself. “I can’t lose you. Not when there’s something I can do to protect you. Not when I’ve only just found you.”

His words disarmed Jaron. 

Funny, Keegan thought, how uncomfortable the truth could feel to speak—and how effective it could be. 

“You won’t lose me,” Jaron said. 

“Will you stay, then?”

“You can’t get rid of me now.”

Keegan released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He tugged on Jaron’s hand, pulling him off the barstool. “Come on, then. Let’s go somewhere more private.”

He led Jaron through the nightclub and down the stairs. As soon as they entered, Keegan closed the door behind them and turned to face Jaron. He didn’t give the dragon-shifter a chance to speak, pressing their lips together in a fierce kiss. Jaron responded instantly, his hands gripping Keegan’s hips and pulling him closer.

A low growl rumbled in Jaron’s chest, the dragon in him reacting to Keegan’s touch, craving more. Keegan sensed it in the way Jaron’s grip tightened, in the heat radiating off his body. Keegan’s own desire flared in response, and he deepened the kiss, trying to push Jaron further into that mindspace. 

If Jaron was consumed by his dragon, he would stop asking questions that Keegan didn’t want to answer for a while. 

Keegan only needed to push a little bit and Jaron’s animal instincts would kick in and do the rest.

But Jaron wasn’t so easily distracted. Even as his body reacted to Keegan’s ministrations, his mind remained sharp. He broke the kiss, panting slightly, and tightened his grip on Keegan’s waist, keeping him close.

“Wait,” he said, his voice rough. “You said we could talk.”

“Is that really what you want to do right now?” Keegan challenged, arching an eyebrow. He ran a hand under Jaron’s shirt, tracing his fingertips along the hard planes of Jaron’s stomach as Jaron’s tail wrapped around Keegan’s leg–probably without conscious input from Jaron. Keegan smirked. His dragon’s desire was so obvious.

“You’re trying to distract me,” Jaron accused.

“Maybe I’m just really horny.” Keegan brushed his lips against Jaron’s ear. “Aren’t you?”

Jaron’s breath hitched as Keegan nipped at his earlobe. “Always,” he admitted. “When you’re around.” His fingers gripped the fabric of Keegan’s shirt and twisted as he turned a heated gaze on Keegan. “I want to fuck you.”

Keegan shivered at the intensity of his words, his arousal spiking. God, he wanted that too. Badly. “You can have a conversation or sex,” he said. “Choose.”

Jaron let out a frustrated sound, his tail coiling tighter around Keegan. “You drive me fucking insane,” he muttered.

Keegan chuckled softly, his hands trailing down to cup the bulge in Jaron’s jeans. “I know what I want you to choose.”

Jaron groaned, rocking into Keegan’s touch.

Keegan squeezed. 

Jaron shuddered, a low growl vibrating through his chest. Keegan could feel the tension in Jaron’s body, the war between his dragon instincts and his rational mind.

Jaron’s hands moved to Keegan’s waist, gripping him tightly. “You’re impossible,” he murmured.

“Says the man with the dragon wings,” Keegan teased as he continued to fondle Jaron. 

Jaron’s gaze burned with intensity, a mixture of exasperation and lust. “You’re going to be the death of me.”

Keegan’s heart skipped a beat at those words. 

Quite the opposite, actually.

When had that stopped mattering to him? 

If Keegan couldn’t find a way to change the future, this man was going to kill him one day. And yet, Keegan didn’t care. He’d suffer any fate to be with this dragon. 

He just didn’t want Jaron to suffer.

“Keegan?” Jaron had noticed his distress because of course he had. All his attention was focused on Keegan, and he cared—more than anyone else had ever cared about Keegan. 

That was going to be his downfall of Keegan’s visions came to pass.

“Take me out of my mind,” Keegan said.

He leaned into Jaron’s touch, letting the heat of his dragon’s body seep into him, chasing away the cold fear that always lurked at the edges of his mind, just out of sight.

Jaron’s fingers dug into his waist, a reminder of the strength he possessed even in his human form. Keegan relished the pressure, a grounding force against the chaos in his head that could never be silenced. 

“You sure about this?” Jaron’s voice was strained, filled with a mixture of concern and desire.

“Yes,” Keegan whispered, nuzzling against Jaron’s neck. “Fuck me.”

That was all it took. Jaron’s restraint snapped, and he pulled Keegan even tighter against him, their bodies melding together. The dragon-shifter’s mouth claimed Keegan’s with a fervor that left no room for doubt or hesitation.

Keegan surrendered to the kiss, to Jaron’s lips and tongue, feeling the tension in Jaron’s muscles, the barely restrained power that hummed beneath his skin. 

He let Jaron guide him to the bed, let Jaron climb on top of him without a word of protest. 

Jaron’s hands roamed over Keegan’s body, and Keegan closed his eyes and arched into Jaron’s caress, a soft moan escaping his lips as Jaron’s fingers found sensitive spots he hadn’t even known existed.

Jaron’s mouth trailed hot kisses down Keegan’s neck, his teeth grazing Keegan’s skin and sending shivers of pleasure through his body as he tangled his fingers in Jaron’s hair, pulling him closer, craving more contact. He knew he shouldn’t let this go too far, shouldn’t let Jaron complete their bond, but Jaron wasn’t the only one affected by their connection.

Keegan wanted Jaron just as much as Jaron wanted him. Maybe even more so because he’d actively held himself back before. 

Now his thoughts were all but consumed by the warm presence on top of him, the smell of Jaron’s skin, the smell of his *blood.*

God, he wanted to taste him again, wanted to bind him to himself. Jaron was his mate, his perfect prey. The siren whose call he could never resist.

His plan had been so smart. He’d push Jaron until Jaron lost his mind and his dragon took over and then he’d forget to ask Keegan details about his visions. 

Keegan had forgotten to take his own desire for Jaron into the equation. 

He’d thought he could stay in control and end things before they did something stupid.

But when Jaron’s hands slid under Keegan’s shirt, all Keegan wanted to do was to let Jaron have him. 

His plan was good, as all of his plans were. He was just fucking up the execution. 

He gasped as Jaron’s thumbs brushed over his nipples, the touch sending jolts of electricity straight to his groin. He ground his hips against Jaron’s, feeling the hard length of the dragon’s arousal pressing against him.

Jaron grinned down at him. “You want me to take you out of your mind?”

Keegan nodded breathlessly. It was the only thing he could do. 

Jaron’s hands slipped lower, teasing the waistband of Keegan’s pants. “Easy,” he said with a smile so bright Keegan almost felt like he had the sun back in his life. 

Jaron unzipped Keegan’s pants and freed his cock, then leaned down, his warm breath ghosting over Keegan’s hardened length. Keegan arched his hips upwards, involuntarily. Jaron chuckled, the vibrations of his laughter sending shivers down Keegan’s spine.

“Today I’ll take care of you,” the dragon promised. 

Keegan wanted to say something, to counter with a smart remark to show Jaron that he hadn’t lost his mind yet, to show himself that he was still in full control of his mental capacities—and then Jaron’s mouth was on him, hot and wet and completely overwhelming. Keegan’s thoughts scattered, any semblance of control slipping through his fingers like smoke. 

Keegan’s eyes rolled back as Jaron’s tongue swirled around the sensitive tip, teasing him mercilessly. He tangled his fingers in the sheets, gripping them tightly to keep from grabbing onto Jaron and demanding more. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this alive, this consumed by another person.

Jaron slid down further, taking more of Keegan into his mouth, and Keegan couldn’t hold back a moan that echoed through the room. His hips bucked upwards involuntarily as Jaron worked him with practiced ease, his tongue swirling around the head of Keegan’s cock before taking him deeper, until Keegan could feel the back of Jaron’s throat.

The sensation was too much, too good, and Keegan’s entire body tensed, his muscles coiling tightly as he fought against the rising tide of pleasure. He didn’t want this to end, didn’t want to lose this connection, however fleeting it might be.

Jaron seemed to sense his struggle, his pace never faltering as he continued to drive Keegan closer and closer to the edge. Keegan’s vision blurred, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps as he chased the release that was just out of reach.

And then Jaron’s mouth slipped off Keegan’s cock just as he’d almost reached his climax. 

“Fuck,” Keegan cursed. “Why did you-“

He didn’t get to finish the sentence before Jaron was on top of him, their lips crashing together. Jaron kissed him with a ferocity that took his breath away, the taste of his own pre-cum still lingering on Jaron’s tongue. Keegan clung to him, his body aching with need for the release he had been denied. 

He didn’t even *think* to protest when Jaron pulled Keegan’s pants the rest of the way down before opening the zipper of his own.

But then Jaron’s phone rang. Jaron cursed out loud. “That’s the ringtone I set for work.”

“Ignore it,” Keegan said.

It wasn’t just that they were in the middle of things, he also had a bad feeling about that call–one that wasn’t unfounded. He pulled himself together, just for a moment, to think. If work was calling Jaron, something might have happened. 

One of the many things Keegan had known could happen when he’d told Jaron to abandon his task. 

Jaron answered the call, and within moments, his face paled. “They’ve got Apollo,” he said to Keegan. “The kidnapper’s got Apollo.”

“Oh,” Keegan said, and hoped he looked surprised.

Of course the future had chosen the worst possible path in response to his actions.


New Chapter 

Jaron’s heart beat a million miles a minute—roughly the pace he was going—as he rushed back to the office, his mind consumed with worry for Apollo. 

Damn it, this was all his fault. If he hadn’t left work early, Apollo wouldn’t have gone on that mission in his place. Apollo was always fearless, never backing down from danger despite being a mortal —and Jaron respected that— but sometimes he took it too far. 

Bursting through the doors, Jaron found the office in chaos. His colleagues were all visibly frantic with the news of Apollo’s disappearance, some of them audibly blaming each other for not stopping him from going in the first place. 

Ceska seemed to be taking it very hard too. She sat in a corner with Ianair, fussing over dragon while wiping at her eyes. 

Jaron went over to them. 

“Are you okay?” Jaron asked, noticing Ianair’s pained expression. “I came as fast as I could.”

“Probably got a few broken ribs,” Ianair admitted, wincing. 

“You should have gone to see a healer!” Ceska scolded. 

“No,” Ianair protested. “I had to come back here and report about Apollo.”

“You were out with him?” Jaron asked. 

“Yeah.” Ianair took a deep breath, features contorting. “We were out guarding a young mortal,” he recounted. “Then this mage attacked us out of nowhere. He took Apollo and the mortal. I tried to stop him, but…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “It’s my fault,” Ianair said. “If I’d reacted a little bit faster…”

“No,” Jaron said, disgusted with himself. “I should have been there. It should have been me and you, not you and Apollo. If I hadn’t ditched you to go and see Keegan…”

“That’s why you left?” Ianair shot him an incredulous look. Jaron was sure, if not for his broken ribs, he would have grabbed Jaron by the shirt. 

Ceska rested a hand on Ianair’s shoulder to calm him down, but she didn’t look amused herself. “You went to see the vampire?” she asked. “The one who’s been feeding us false information?” 

“He didn’t do that on purpose,” Jaron argued for Keegan’s sake. After all, what reason would Keegan have to misslead them like that? “Besides,” Jaron added, “he did predict today’s victim.” 

“Yeah, and then he made it so Apollo would get kidnapped too!” Ceska’s features darkened. 

The accusation left Jaron speechless. Almost speechless. He still found the breath to defend his mate. “He didn’t! What happened to Apollo is not his fault!”

“Isn’t it, though?” Ceska argued back. “Didn’t you leave work for him?” 

Jaron couldn’t fault her logic, but still… “It was an emergency.”

“What kind of emergency?” 

That was a good question. Keegan had never quite told him why he’d called Jaron over so urgently, except… “He thought I was in danger.” 

Ceska and Ianair shared a look. 

“What?” Jaron asked. 

Ceska and Ianair shared a look. 

“What?” Jaron asked, barely hiding his annoyance. Keegan wasn’t a bad guy because he’d worried about Jaron, and Jaron wasn’t going to let them make him out to be a villain. 

“Keegan is a seer,” Ianair said as if that explained everything. 

“Yeah, so?” 

“If he saw what would happen if you stayed, don’t you think he also knew what would happen if you didn’t?”

Jaron clenched his fists, a hot surge of anger mixing with the gnawing worry in his gut. He opened his mouth to defend Keegan, but something about Ianair’s words resonated with his own doubts—with the complaints he had about Keegan’s evasive behavior. 

The implication hung heavy. Could Keegan have known this would happen? Could he have seen Apollo’s fate and chosen not to prevent it?

“Keegan isn’t like that,” Jaron said, but the conviction in his voice wavered, just a fraction.

“How can you be so sure?” Ceska asked. 

“I just know.” It wasn’t the most convincing thing Jaron could have said, but it was the best he had. He would stand by his mate, no matter what. 

Ianair shifted, grimacing with the movement. “You believe in him that much?” he asked.

“Yes,” Jaron said immediately. The certainty in his voice surprised even himself. Yet as the words left his mouth, a sliver of doubt crept into his mind. What if Keegan had seen this outcome and hadn’t warned them? What if…

No. Keegan had acted only out of care for Jaron.

He’d seen just how hard Keegan worked trying to forge a better future for them. 

He also understood that Keegan wasn’t omniscient just because he was a seer. If he did know everything there was to know, he wouldn’t have to exhaust himself trying to look at the future from a million different angles again and again. 

“Give it a rest, Chess,” Ianair said, taking a labored breath. “We can discuss who to blame after we bring the boss home.”

He was right, of course. Ceska could see that too. “First, I’m getting you a healer,” she said. 

“It’s really not that bad,” Ianair said, but she’d already walked off. 

“You can stop pretending to be tough now,” Jaron said. “She already likes you anyway.”

Ianair waved him off. “We’ve got more important things to talk about, like figuring out who the fuck is behind these kidnappings and why they’re targetting people’s fated mates.”

Jaron could only agree with that. 

Before he got to work, though, he made a plan to go back to Rubyville that night. He needed to have a serious conversation with his vampire. From here on out, he would demand to know every detail of Keegan’s visions. 

If they were going to be a couple, they needed to be able to trust each other. 

And Jaron needed to know what fate Keegan was trying so hard to fight. He wasn’t going to let the vampire get away with hiding crucial information any longer. 

***

When Keegan reached Altair’s office the room was thick with tension, Mordyn pacing like a caged animal, his usual devil-may-care facade shattered by the gravity of the situation.

Altair stood by his desk, face grim. “We’ll bring him back,” he promised. “Anything this coven can do to help you, we will do.”

Mordyn turned on his heel, fists clenched so tight his knuckles blanched. “I can’t let anything happen to him,” he said. “I won’t.”

The weight of Keegan’s earlier decision press against his chest, suffocating. He had known there was a risk in drawing Jaron away, but he had accepted it.

He would have ensured Jaron’s safety at any cost. 

That didn’t mean he didn’t feel bad about the way things had played out. He’d never wanted for Mordyn or his mate to suffer. Being who he was, Keegan had never found it easy to make friends, not even within his coven. Sure, they were friendly to each other and loyal to a fault, but the other vampires respected Keegan as ‘part of the coven.’ Not because they liked him. Most of them felt at least a little uncomfortable around him. 

Mordyn had never given him that vibe. Mordyn didn’t give a shit about Keegan’s powers. He hung out with Keegan, joked around with him and put him in his place when he needed to be put in his place.

In short, he was a real friend. 

Today, Keegan had betrayed that friendship by looking out for himself first. 

He’d allowed Mordyn’s mate to be kidnapped when he knew exactly how hard that would hit Mordyn. 

“We’ll find him,” he promised Mordyn. 

Mordyn turned sharply, eyes boring into Keegan. “Did you see this? Did you see any of this coming?”

Keegan hesitated, words tangled in his throat. The truth felt like barbed wire around his tongue. “I… There was a very small chance.”

Mordyn’s eyes flashed. “A very small chance?” He closed the distance between them, hand fisting in the front of Keegan’s shirt. “You knew and you didn’t warn me?”

Keegan stumbled back, but Mordyn’s grip was iron. He could have broken free, but he didn’t. He deserved this, even though he knew Mordyn’s rage wasn’t really for him. He was just the person who was there, who could be blamed.

“I didn’t think it would happen,” he said. “A hundred other things could have happened.”

“Well, you thought wrong.” Mordyn shoved Keegan away, sending him stumbling back into the wall. Keegan could have caught himself, but he let himself hit. 

The pain was nothing compared to what he was putting his friend through. 

“Get out,” Mordyn said, turning away. “I can’t deal with you right now.” 

“Mordyn,” Altair said, voice quiet but firm. “That’s enough.”

Mordyn rounded on him. “Enough? Apollo is gone. Taken by some lunatic because he,” he jabbed a finger at Keegan, “didn’t think it was important enough to mention.”

“I know you’re upset,” Altair said, holding up a placating hand. “And we will find him. But this? Tearing into each other? That’s not how we do things.”

“I don’t care how we do things. I care that my mate is in danger.” 

“Keegan is not the one who took Apollo,” Altair reminded him. “He’s not responsible for every little thing that happens in the universe just because he has the power to observe it happening.”

Mordyn blew out a breath. His fists were still clenched, but Keegan didn’t get the feeling his friend was going to swing them at him anymore. 

He glanced at Keegan again. “I don’t really think it’s your fault,” he admitted after a moment spent collecting himself. “I just need to do something.”

“I understand.” 

“Do you?” Mordyn studied him for a long moment. “That dragon, is he your mate?” 

Keegan froze. He didn’t want to discuss his mate with Mordyn, not now, not like this. But after everything that had happened, he felt like he owed his friend the truth.

“Yes,” he said eventually, the word dragging out of him like it had hooks. “He is.”

Mordyn’s gaze bored into him, intense and searching. “Then why haven’t you completed the bond?”

Keegan looked away. “It’s complicated.”

“Uncomplicate it for me.”

Keegan’s jaw clenched. “I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Does it matter?” Keegan snapped, frustration boiling over. “It’s not happening.”

“It should,” Mordyn said. “You know what will happen if you complete the bond. You’ll be more powerful than you’ve ever been. Powerful enough to see who’s got Apollo.”

Keegan didn’t know how to respond to that. Mordyn was right. Once they were bonded, drinking from Jaron would make Keegan more powerful. He might be able to see things more clearly than he had before. His predictions would probably become more accurate. 

But Keegan remembered being a freshly turned vampire and how much his powers had overwhelmed him during those early years, constantly showing him things he didn’t want to see, even when he wasn’t trying to look, starting with the vision of his own death. 

He’d gotten his powers under control, for the most part, but it had taken a long time, and an increase in base power might just wrest control away from him all over again. 

Frankly, he didn’t want greater powers than he already had. 

But how to explain that to Mordyn when Mordyn only wanted him to find his mate?

“It’s complicated,” he said again, lamely. 

“You’re gonna stick with that?” Mordyn stared at him. “My mate is missing. Taken by some psychopath doing gods know what to him. And you’re telling me you have the power to find him, but you won’t use it because it’s complicated?”

“Mordyn,” Altair said again, warningly. “Keegan is doing what he can. We will all do what we can.” 

Mordyn wasn’t pleased. “Fuck that,” he bit out. “Fuck both of you.” With that, he stomped out of the office, looking as if he was going to charge right out of the building as well, even though the sun was still up. 

Keegan wanted to hurry after him, but Altair stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “Leave him.” 

Keeagan’s fists clenched. That was probably sound advice. Mordyn needed to cool off and there was nothing Keegan could do to help with that. But still… “This is my fault,” he admitted. “I have to fix it.” 

Altair raised an eyebrow at that. “Did you kidnap Apollo?” 

“Of course not.” 

“Then it isn’t your fault.” 

Keegan huffed. It wasn’t that simple, but Altair wouldn’t understand and obviously didn’t want to understand. “I’m still going to fix it,” Keegan said, because he knew that it was his fault, and because Mordyn was his friend.

“What are you going to do?” Altair asked. 

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll figure something out.” 

Altair nodded. “I’ll leave you to it, but do keep me updated on any useful information you uncover.” 

“Of course.” Keegan turned to leave but paused in the doorway. “Alt?” 

“Hm?” Altair had sat back down at his desk, and he looked as if he was about to call in some other vampires to coordinate their search for Apollo. 

“I think it would be best if you keep a close eye on Sven.” 

Altair’s gaze narrowed. “Do you think he’s in danger?” 

“I think everyone with a fated mate is in danger.”

Altair took this in with a grim expression. “What do they want with fated mates?” he wondered. 

Keegan had an idea, but not one that he wanted to voice at this point. “I don’t know,” he said and left it at that. 

***

Keegan returned to the library where he’d been researching how to change fate and opened the book he’d been in the process of reading earlier when he’d fallen asleep. A knot of dread twisted in his gut as he considered the kidnapping and everything else that had been happening lately. 

What if…?

No, it couldn’t be. 

The worst suspicion nagged at him, a possibility he didn’t want to entertain but couldn’t shake.

Forcing himself to focus, he read the text again. The words seemed to mock him from the page, stating that changing fate was no easy matter and required a great amount of cosmic energy. The kind of energy that could be released when a fated couple was torn apart, their destiny altered by the hands of another.

Keegan stared at the page, worrying his lower lip.

Did the kidnapper also want to change fate the way Keegan did?

Were they collecting fated mates to sacrifice them, using their bond to steer the future in a certain direction? 

Why, though? 

And how would they know about fate’s plans the way he did? 

Unless…they were also a seer. The realization hit him like a punch to the gut. It would explain how he had gotten the first set of victims wrong, if someone was playing chess with him without his knowledge. 

They would have to be another vampire or a highly trained magic user. 

Keegan’s hands trembled slightly as he closed the book. He didn’t want to go up against another seer. What a fucking headache that would be. Especially if they were more powerful than Keegan.

Could they be?

And what event did they want to change? 

Closing his eyes, Keegan tried to sense if there was anything unusual going on with the threads of the future. He reached out with his mind, seeking any anomalies or disturbances in the delicate web of fate. 

It was no use, though. He couldn’t sense anything with how drained he was. 

Should he tell Altair about this?

No, not until he knew more. Right now he had nothing more than a suspicion. 

He left the library in search of blood. A bottle or two should fill him up enough for him to be able to see if anyone had been messing with the future. 

Best case scenario, he’d find nothing. 

If the kidnapper had already acted on their plan… they would already have sacrificed someone. 

Keegan shoved the thought aside. He needed to get blood and then he needed to look at Apollo’s future and though he was not a religious vampire, he prayed to every God he knew that he would find something other than impending death there. 

Apollo’s connection to Mordyn was incredibly strong after everything they’d been through with Apollo being the reincarnation of Mordyn’s first mate. Severing that bond would release a lot of energy. 

What evil villain could resist such power?

Keegan opened the door to the lounge. Usually the lounge would be deserted at this time of day, but a couple of vampires had woken up and abandoned sleep today, no doubt because of what had happened to Apollo. The mortal wasn’t officially a part of the coven, but since he belonged to Mordyn, he might as well have been. 

Vitra approached Keegan while Keegan went straight for the fridge and grabbed the first bottle of blood his fingers touched. 

“What’s going on?” Vitra asked. “Do you know who took the mortal?” 

“No,” Keegan said a little more sharply than he’d meant to. “But I intent to find out.” He uncapped the bottle and emptied it in huge gulps. It was mage blood. AB negative. 

Not Keegan’s favorite, but at this point, he didn’t care. 

He grabbed another bottle while Vitra watched him with an expression of mild concern. “Are you even tasting anything?” 

“Nope.” Keegan emptied the second bottle as well. 

There, that should get him through one or two sessions. 

He wiped his mouth and handed the empty bottles to Vitra. “Put these away for me, will you?” 

“Are you going to look at the future?” 

“Yes, and I’m going to lock my door. Please spread the word that I don’t want to be disturbed for any reason at all.”

“What if the club’s on fire?” Vitra asked. 

“Then put out the fire instead of bothering me with it.”

Vitra shot him a disbelieving look but accepted his response after another minute. “What if that dragon of yours shows up again?” she asked just as Keegan was about to leave her standing there. 

“*Then* you may knock.”

“So that’s how it is.” 

“Yes,” Keegan confirmed. “That’s how it is.” 

***

Keegan settled onto the floor of his room, legs crossed beneath him. The scent of sandalwood and frankincense from the candles he’d lit filled the air, and though he didn’t really believe they boosted his psychic powers the way the woman who’d sold them to him had claimed they would, he liked the way they smelled. At this point, he’d take any extra focus he could get.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, reaching for the place inside himself where his power resided. It came to him slowly, sluggishly. He frowned but didn’t let that deter him. Instead, he pushed harder, calling Apollo to mind and inspecting all the threads of the future that were connected to him.

The visions that came to him were faint and blurry like someone had smeared Vaseline over a camera lens. Either someone was trying to interfere with his ability to see clearly or he was far more tired than he’d thought he was.

A headache began to build in the back of his skull as he tried to force the images into focus, but he ignored the pain and kept pushing.

Finally, the vision cleared enough for him to make out Apollo in a room with the other victims. All of them had their hands bound behind their backs, and some of them were wearing anti-magic collars around their necks. Apollo’s eyes were closed, his head lolling to the side. Keegan couldn’t tell if he was unconscious or just sleeping.

He tried to take in more details about the room, but the vision wouldn’t cooperate. It kept slipping away from him, fading back into blurriness no matter how hard he strained to see it clearly.

He caught a glimpse of a symbol painted on the floor in what looked like blood before the vision dissolved completely, leaving him gasping and clutching at his head as pain lanced through it.

“Fuck,” he gritted out, massaging his temples.

That symbol… Hadn’t he seen it in one of his books?

He’d have to do some research, confirm where he had seen that symbol and if it was really the same. He needed to write it down. As he got up, though, his head was pounding and his stomach contracted in a way that let him know, if he’d still been mortal, he would have thrown up. 

He cursed again, making his way to his desk where he grabbed a piece of paper and hastily scribbled down what he’d seen. 

It wasn’t much, but it was a start. 

And at least he hadn’t seen Apollo die. 

That was something, right?

Sadly he also hadn’t seen the villain who was holding him. He’d have to take another look, be more specific about the kind of information he was looking for. 

Before he could, though, a knock came at the door. 

Keegan dragged himself to the door.

That had better be Jaron or he was going to have to rip someone’s head off.

To the great fortune of everyone in the coven, it was indeed his mate who greeted him on the other side of the door. Jaron smiled at him at first, that smile of his that made everything seem right with the world for a moment, but then his brows quickly drew together. 

“You look like hell,” he said, pushing past Keegan into the room.

Keegan closed the door and leaned against it, lacking the energy to argue. “I’m fine.”

“Like hell you are.” Jaron turned to face him, his eyes narrowed. “How often do I have to tell you that sleep is important?”

Keegan waved a dismissive hand. “Now’s really not the time for sleep.”

Jaron huffed. “And how do you think you can be of any use to anyone if you’re falling apart? I swear it was easier to put my brothers to bed when they were five.”

“No, listen—” Keegan started, but Jaron was already dragging him towards the bed.

“I’ll listen to what you have to say after you get some shut-eye,” Jaron argued, pushing Keegan down onto the mattress. “Now, do I have to read you a story? Sing you a lullaby? Feed you a bottle of my own blood? What’s it gonna take?” 

Keegan almost laughed—and he would have if he hadn’t thought that his furious dragon mate was being dead serious.

Also, it was really fucking nice to be lying down. 

Keegan knew he would be out within seconds once he closed his eyes. 

He sighed, admitting defeat. “I’ll sleep.” 

Jaron shot him a look of suspicion. “I’ll stay the night so you can’t crawl out of bed again the moment I leave.”

Keegan did laugh at that. Did Jaron think Keegan needed watching over? Apparently, he did. And he wasn’t wrong either. “There’s things I need to do,” Keegan protested. 

“Let me do them.” 

Keegan stared up at his mate. 

“I mean it,” Jaron said. “I’m your mate. Let me help you.” 

Keegan swallowed. He hadn’t wanted to bother Jaron with the things he’d found, but they concerned him too, didn’t they? Keegan couldn’t shield him from the truth forever, however much he wanted to. 

“There must be something I can do,” Jaron insisted, brushing Keegan’s cheek with the back of his fingers. 

“There’s a book in the library,” Keegan said, giving in. “‘Weaving Fate.’ Look at it and compare the images in it to the drawing on my desk.”

Jaron’s voice softened. “Is it related to your visions of us?” 

“Maybe. I don’t know, but I need to know if there’s a match.”

“All right, I’ll look at it,” Jaron promised. “And while I do that, you rest.” 

Keegan nodded but his eyes were already closing. He felt Jaron’s lips on his forehead, and then he was drifting off, the world fading away as he slipped into darkness.


Jaron lingered a moment longer, watching the steady rise and fall of Keegan’s chest. The vampire looked so peaceful in sleep, the lines of worry and exhaustion smoothed from his face. Jaron exhaled a breath of relief, feeling something warm in his chest. He’d been rushing from one place to the next all day, always worrying about one thing or another. 

At least he’d managed to do something about his worry for his workaholic mate. 

And he’d even gotten a task so he could do something more for him. He picked up the drawing from Keegan’s desk and eyed it curiously, treasuring the amount of trust that Keegan had put in him.

Quietly he slipped out of the room and made his way to the library. The musty smell of old books greeted him as he entered. That was the problem with underground vampire abodes. Terrible ventilation. 

Jaron wrinkled his nose. They really should get a spell for that or something. 

Stepping up to the sheves, he scanned them until he found the tome Keegan had mentioned: “Weaving Fate.” It was a heavy, leather-bound volume with gilt-edged pages.

Jaron carried it over to a nearby table and carefully opened it. The pages were filled with dense text and intricate illustrations. He flipped through until he found the drawing that matched the one on Keegan’s desk.

What was that about? 

Keegan had seen it in a vision, hadn’t he? 

Jaron’s eyes glew over the text that accompanied the drawing. It described a ritual to sever the bond between fated mates and harvest the energy released. Jaron’s stomach turned as he read the details. 

‘Sever the bond.’

That had to involve killing people. How else would you de-couple a fated pairing? 

He read a little more, trying to understand why anyone would want to do this. 

To alter the course of fate.

Wait, wasn’t that what Keegan wanted to do for them? Were these the sacrifices he’d talked about before? 

The sacrifices were other people’s fated mates?

Jaron’s head spun. 

He would never agree to this, not in a million lifetimes. If this was the only way for him and Keegan to live happily ever after, if the foundation of their joy had to be built on the misery of others… He didn’t want it. 

He swallowed hard, bile rising in his throat as he snapped the book shut. 

He wanted to go and yell at Keegan, except that he didn’t want to wake the vampire now that he’d finally gotten him to close his eyes and sleep.

Jaron left the library, unable to quiet the urge to do something, anything, to distract himself from the growing sense of unease in his gut.

He climbed the stairs to the club area. Maybe some fresh air would help. Maybe a drink would help. As he stepped into the club, though, he spotted Mordyn pacing in front of the exit, clearly waiting for the sun to go down so he could go out and search for his missing mate.

Jaron froze, unsure what to say to the vampire. Guilt twisted in his chest, a heavy weight that made it difficult to speak. 

This was Apollo’s mate. 

And it was Jaron’s fault that Apollo had been kidnapped. If he hadn’t left work early, if he hadn’t abandoned his duty…

Mordyn turned around, and for a brief moment, Jaron caught a flash of raw pain in the vampire’s features before his expression smoothed over into a mask of calm. “You feel guilty,” Mordyn observed, a hint of a question in his voice. 

Empath.

Right. 

Jaron licked his lips. Mordyn could probably sense the turmoil raging inside him. “It should have been me,” Jaron said, the words spilling out before he could stop them. “Keegan saw something bad happen to me, so he told me to leave work. That’s the only reason Apollo left the office, to cover for me.”

Mordyn’s eyes widened, and Jaron thought he saw a flicker of anger in their depths. But then the vampire’s shoulders slumped, and he let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t blame you,” he said, his voice tired. “And I don’t think Apollo would either. He made his own choice to go out there and try to protect that mortal.”

Jaron shook his head, the guilt still gnawing at him. “But if I had just stayed at work, if I hadn’t listened to Keegan—”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Mordyn cut him off. “I’d love to blame you and Keegan for everything and to tear your heads off. That would feel really good for a minute or two, but it wouldn’t change a thing, would it?” He shook his head. “Apollo would have found a way to place himself in the path of danger whether you did your job or not. That’s what he does, and I will save him as many times as I can. That’s what I do.” 

Jaron shifted uncomfortably, at a loss for words. “I’m sorry,” he said again, the words feeling hollow and inadequate. “I’ll do anything I can to help.”

Mordyn studied him for a long moment, as if debating with himself. “There is one thing you can do.”

Jaron nearly jumped at the chance. “What is it?”

“Complete your bond with Keegan.”

Jaron blinked, confusion washing over him. How would that help Apollo and Mordyn? “I don’t understand.”

“You didn’t know?” Mordyn asked. “When a vampire drinks from their bonded mate, it makes them much more powerful. If you and Keegan were fully mated, he might be able to see who took Apollo and how to get him out.”

Jaron’s mouth went dry. No, he had not known that. 

“It’s the least you two can do for us,” Mordyn continued, his voice taking on a hard edge. “Pull your heads out of your asses and get mated already.”

“I would love to do that,” Jaron admitted. He wasn’t the problem. He would have claimed Keegan as his in a heartbeat if the damn vampire had let him. 

Keegan must have his reasons for refusing, though, and Jaron was never going to take him against his will. 

He only wished he understood those reasons. 

“I’ll talk to him,” he promised Mordyn, his voice coming out a little rougher than he’d intended. He’d wanted to talk to Keegan anyway. 

He needed to know what the vampire had seen that was making him hold back, and he wasn’t going to leave this building again before he did. 

“Good,” Mordyn said, eyeing Jaron for a moment longer. “If nothing else helps, get your blood on his lips while you fuck. That’ll do it.” 

Jaron stared at Mordyn, that was certainly a piece of advice he hadn’t expected to get. 

“He needs to drink from you while you have sex to seal the deal,” Mordyn explained. “And you need to drink his blood at the same time. Don’t let him tell you anything different.” 

That sounded needlessly complicated to Jaron. “Dragons just have to fuck.” At least, that was what his instincts were telling him to do, to sink his cock in Keegan’s ass. 

Mordyn shrugged. “That’s how a blood bond is established.” He turned to the door, then left through it without another word. The sun had set. 

Jaron stared after Mordyn for a long moment, feeling stupid. He’d never really given much thought to the intricacies of vampire mating rituals before, but now that he was faced with the reality of it, he realized just how little he actually knew.

It was no wonder Keegan had been able to keep things from him so easily. 

No longer. 

With a sigh, Jaron turned and made his way back to Keegan’s room. The vampire was still fast asleep, his face peaceful and untroubled in a way that it never was when he was awake.

Jaron sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled out his smartphone. He dug a pair of earphones out of his pocket and put them in, then brought up a search for informational videos on vampires and vampire mates.

The latest magitechnology allowed his phone to project a screen in the air in front of him for easy watching. 

The first video he tapped on featured a serious-looking woman with dark hair and piercing blue eyes who introduced herself as a vampire historian.

“When a vampire finds their fated mate,” she began, “the bonding process is not as simple as it is for other species. While dragons, for example, need only engage in sexual intercourse to seal their bond, vampires must exchange blood during the act of mating.”

Jaron nodded to himself, remembering what Mordyn had said. He clicked on the next video, titled “The Power of the Blood Bond.”

This one featured a male vampire with silver hair and a regal bearing. “When a vampire drinks from their bonded mate,” he explained, “they are able to draw on the strength and power of that bond. It enhances their abilities and makes them far stronger than they would usually be. There are, of course, downsides to this. A vampire who has bonded this way can never drink from another person as long as his mate is alive. They are also incapable of harming their mate or forcing them into giving up their blood, which puts them in a difficult situation should their mate choose to deny them.” 

Jaron’s brow furrowed as he took this in. He glanced down at Keegan’s sleeping form and gently ran his fingers through the red dark hair, marveling at the softness of it.

“That’s not what you’re afraid of, is it?” he whispered. 

Jaron would never deny Keegan anything, least of all his blood. 

He kind of liked the idea of being the only person in the world his vampire could drink from. 

He liked it a lot. 

If only Keegan would let him be that person for him. 

Supressing his longing for his mate as best he could, Jaron turned back to his phone. 

By the time Keegan woke, he would be prepared with all the information he could gather. 

***

A few hours later, a soft rustling drew Jaron’s attention, and he turned to see Keegan stirring awake. The vampire blinked slowly, his eyes focusing on Jaron with a hint of surprise.

“You’re still here,” Keegan murmured, his voice rough with sleep.

Jaron smiled, reaching out to brush a stray lock of hair from Keegan’s forehead. “Of course I am. How did you sleep?”

Keegan stretched and slowly sat up. “Better than I have in a long time,” he admitted. His gaze drifted to the screen floating in the air. “What are you watching?”

“Videos on vampire customs,” Jaron said easily. “Figured I should inform myself since I’m going to mate a vampire. I felt pretty dumb when Mordyn had to tell me how you guys mate.” 

“Mordyn… what?” Keegan’s eyes widened slightly. 

Hah. “You didn’t see that coming?” 

Keegan shook his head. “What did he tell you?” 

“Just the basics.” Jaron shrugged and turned the video off. “Now I know that you have to drink from me and I have to drink from you to form a blood bond.” He paused, eyes focused on Keegan to take in his reaction. “I also know that my blood will boost your powers once we’re bonded.” 

Keegan looked as if he regretted waking up for this conversation. “Everyone assumes that’s a good thing,” he muttered. 

“It’s not?” Jaron could only speak for himself, but he had always wanted greater power, pretty much from the moment the other kids had laughed at him for his inability to produce fire. “You could help Apollo,” he pointed out. 

A shadow fell over Keegan’s features. “You don’t understand.” 

“Then explain it to me.” He gestured at his phone. “I’ve been watching videos for hours, but videos can only teach me so much. You’ve got to help me here. I *want* to understand, believe me.” 

Keegan sat up fully, drawing his knees to his chest. His eyes, usually sharp and calculating, held a rare vulnerability. “When I first got my powers, it was like being hit by a freight train. I couldn’t control anything. It was like… like there was something alive inside me, pushing and pulling at my thoughts, making me see things I didn’t want to see.”

Jaron listened intently. “What do you mean?”

Keegan’s gaze grew distant, as if he were looking into a memory rather than at Jaron. “It was… difficult. I didn’t understand how to handle what I knew, so I tried to warn people of all sorts of things that I knew were going to happen, but I wasn’t always right, and sometimes my advice caused the thing to happen in the first place.” His lips curled in displeasure. “Have you ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? I made a lot of those.” 

So that was why he was so secretive now…

Still, Jaron had to protest. “But you got better. You learned.”

“Yes, but a lot of my initial struggle was because I was overwhelmed. I don’t like to talk about this, hell, I don’t even like to think about this, but when my powers first awakened I spent a solid month not knowing what was real and what was just in my head and while I was…” He stopped and his eyes darted to Jaron, searching for something—understanding, maybe. His fingers curled in the sheets. 

Jaron reached out to him, resting his hand on top of Keegan’s in a silent show of support. “What happened?”

Keegan swallowed hard, his throat working visibly. “While I was trapped in my nightmares, something happened to my sister.”

Jaron’s throat grew tight. He had never heard Keegan speak of his family before. 

“Her name was Isabella,” Keegan said, his voice cracking slightly. “She was everything to me. We grew up together in a rough part of Rubyville. Our parents were gone, and it was just the two of us against the world. I promised her I’d make things better for us. That’s why I became a vampire in the first place—to get power, to protect her.”

Jaron squeezed Keegan’s hand. He knew exactly what it felt like to wish for the power to be able to protect your siblings. 

What wouldn’t he give to keep his brothers safe?

“But while I was stuck in my head, unable to tell what was real or not,” Keegan continued, “another vampire found her. He turned her without her consent.”

Jaron’s heart clenched at the thought of Keegan’s sister being turned against her will. “What happened to her?”

Keegan’s voice wavered as he answered. “She couldn’t handle it. The transformation broke her mind, and she… she didn’t survive.” He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as if trying to steady himself. His eyes narrowed. “I made sure the bastard who did it to her got what he deserved, but it never takes away the pain.”

Silence hung heavy between them for a moment as Jaron processed everything Keegan had just shared. 

“I don’t want to be that useless again,” Keegan said. “If I bond with you, it might not help me find Apollo. It might just have the opposite effect.”

Jaron’s heart hurt for his mate. He couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain and guilt Keegan must have carried all these years, the weight of his sister’s death bearing down on him. 

“I’m so sorry,” Jaron murmured, squeezing Keegan’s hand harder. “That must have been horrible.” He shifted closer, his other hand coming up to cup Keegan’s cheek. “But it would be different this time,” he said softly. “You wouldn’t be alone. I’d be right there with you, every step of the way,” he promised. “I’d ground you.” 

He didn’t have any great powers of his own, but this, he could do. 

Keegan leaned into Jaron’s touch, his eyes fluttering closed for a moment. When he opened them again, there was a hint of longing in their depths, a desire to believe Jaron’s words. 

Jaron wished he would.

But something still held him back.

If Jaron had a guess… “The real reason you’re holding back,” he said slowly, “it’s because of that vision you saw, isn’t it? The one of our bad ending?”

Keegan was silent for a long moment, his gaze fixed on the bed. “It was the very first vision I ever saw.”

“What did you see?” 

Jaron almost expected Keegan to deny him the details again, but surprisingly, Keegan didn’t. He looked right at Jaron and said, “I saw you killing me. I have seen you killing me a thousand times.”

Jaron stared at Keegan in stunned silence.

Had he heard that right?

He couldn’t have. 

“That’s bullshit.” 

“I’d love to think so. Now you know why I didn’t want to tell you.”

“You can’t be right,” Jaron insisted, his voice shaking slightly. “How is that possible? I would never hurt you. Never!” There had to be some mistake. Maybe Keegan was misinterpreting his visions. Maybe he saw some twisted form of the future that would never come to pass. 

Keegan was his mate. The other half of his soul. 

Jaron would never do anything to harm him. 

The dragon in him would not allow it. 

“I don’t accept that future,” Jaron said fiercely. “Whatever you saw, it’s not going to happen.” 

“It will,” Keegan insisted. “Unless we find a way to change fate.”

“That isn’t our fate. It’s not.” Jaron was aware that he was raising his voice, but he couldn’t help it. He’d never wanted to reject reality as much as he did now. It couldn’t be his fate to kill his mate. What kind of fucked up bullshit was that? “Fate can’t make me hurt you. I won’t.”

“I don’t see any other outcome for us.”

“Maybe you would see one if we bonded, if you became more powerful!” 

Keegan looked at him with a face that said he didn’t think so. 

“You won’t even try?” Jaron demanded. 

“What if I try,” Keegan said, “and it doesn’t work? Then we’re mated, and our souls become intertwined, and I’ll be the most precious treasure you’ve ever added to your hoard, and still something is going to happen that’ll lead to you killing me and it will destroy you.” 

Again, Jaron was stunned into silence. Not because Keegan still insisted that this awful future was going to happen, but because of the horror in Keegan’s voice when he spoke of how this would affect Jaron. 

Keegan wasn’t scared for himself.

He was scared for Jaron.

And how the hell was Jaron supposed to respond to that? “Nothing’s going to destroy me,” he said in a low tone of voice, “because I’m not going to hurt you.”

“You don’t know—”

Jaron surged forward and shut him up with a kiss, earning himself a surprised yelp from Keegan. Gods, he loved surprising his seer, and he’d surprise him in this matter too. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he repeated. 

Keegan opened his mouth as if to protest. 

Jaron pressed a finger to his lips. “That future can’t exist. I won’t allow it.”

“But fate—” 

“Fuck fate,” Jaron decided. “We’ll shape our future ourselves, you and me.”

Keegan looked as if he desperately wanted to believe that, or maybe he was just desperate for someone to take him out of his head. Jaron could grant him that second wish, at least.

His lips crashed against Keegan’s, his tongue demanding entrance that was readily granted. Keegan moaned into the kiss, and Jaron couldn’t help but wonder at how difficult things must have been for him.

For almost as long as he’d been a vampire, he’d been tormented by visions of his own death at Jaron’s hands, and yet here he was, allowing Jaron to touch him, to kiss him—maybe even to do other things. 

The dragon in him wanted that so badly, the urge to claim overriding any rational thought inside his mind. 

Jaron’s hands moved down Keegan’s slender body, caressing every inch of smooth skin he could reach. Heat pooled between his legs as he imagined what it would be like to have his vampire beneath him, pliant and moaning his name. The thought alone was enough to make his cock harden further in his pants.

A needy sound escaped Keegan as Jaron’s hand brushed against the growing bulge in his pants, and any remaining restraint Jaron had snapped. He needed more; needed his mate.

Keegan’s breath came in short, ragged gasps as Jaron’s mouth moved lower, his hands deftly stripping away the barrier of clothing that separated them. The sight of Keegan, spread out before him, was enough to make Jaron’s head spin.

He took a moment to simply look at his mate, to appreciate the beauty of the trust Keegan had placed in him, to acknowledge the gravity of the gift he was being given.

The dragon within Jaron stirred, an insistent and possessive force that demanded he claim, to own. But beneath that primal urge was a profound tenderness, a need to cherish and protect this fierce, haunted creature whose soul called out to his.

Jaron leaned down, pressing gentle kisses along the column of Keegan’s throat, feeling the vampire’s breath catch. His hands explored the contours of Keegan’s body, mapping out every dip and curve, longing to commit them to memory.

“Jaron,” Keegan whispered, his voice a hoarse plea for more, and the sound of his name on Keegan’s lips was enough to ignite a fire within Jaron’s veins.

Funny how he’d never been able tobreathe flames but Keegan made him feel like he was burning on the inside.

With a growl that was half man, half dragon, Jaron gave in to the desire that coursed through him, settling in between Keegan’s legs. His dragon roared in approval, clawing at his insides with an intensity that threatened to overwhelm him. But he held back, refusing to let the beast dictate his actions. This was about Keegan, about showing him that he was cherished and safe in Jaron’s care.

That Jaron would never do anything to hurt him.

He got the bottle of lube out of the bedside table’s drawer and coated his fingers. Keegan watched him, wordlessly. He had to know what Jaron meant to do, and yet, he wasn’t protesting. 

Was that consent?

Not quite good enough. 

Not when he’d been so reluctant before. 

“Will you let me top tonight?” Jaron asked. 

Keegan licked his lips, gaze drawn to Jaron’s fingers. Jaron would have given a lot for someone to tell him what exactly was going on in that vampire’s head. Probably some needlessly complicated calculation. 

Jaron gave him another quick kiss, if only to pull him out of his thoughts. “Please?” he tried, whispering the word into Keegan’s ear. 

“Fuck,” Keegan muttered softly. 

Jaron would have loved to take that as confirmation, but ‘fuck’ wasn’t ‘yes.’

It could turn into yes, though. 

Jaron prodded Keegan’s hole with his fingers, much the same way Keegan had done to him the other night. “Let me in?” he asked. 

Keegan’s eyes fluttered closed. “I know you think you won’t hurt me,” he said, and Jaron realized he wasn’t talking about sex but about their future. “But I can easily picture myself doing something to deserve it.” 

Jaron stared at Keegan. That was the most ridiculous thing he’d heard all day. “Listen to me,” Jaron said. “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you could ever do to make me hurt you. I don’t care what mistakes you might make or what your visions show. I might yell at you or tell you that you’re being a fucking asshole, but I will never lay a hand on you in anger. Never.”

Keegan’s eyes searched Jaron’s, a flicker of hope warring with the shadows of doubt. “You don’t know that. What if—”

“No.” Jaron leaned forward again. “No more what-ifs,” he whispered against Keegan’s mouth. “I choose you, Keegan. I choose us. And I will fight tooth and nail against anything that tries to tear us apart, even fate itself.”

A shudder ran through Keegan’s body, and he surged up, capturing Jaron’s lips in a kiss. Jaron could taste Keegan’s desperation in it, felt the way his mate clung to him as if he were the only solid thing in a world turned upside down.

Jaron was okay with Keegan clinging to him. More than okay.

Whatever the future threw at him, he’d find a way to deal with it.

Anything for his mate.

He smoothed his hands over Keegan’s back, trailing kisses along the vampire’s jaw. “Let me take care of you,” he murmured, trailing kisses along Keegan’s jaw. “Let me show you how precious you are to me.”

A soft, needy sound escaped Keegan’s throat, and he nodded, his fingers tangling in Jaron’s hair. “Please,” he breathed, and there was no mistaking the consent in his tone.

Jaron’s heart soared, and he lowered Keegan back onto the bed, settling between his legs once more.

Sowly Jaron pushed one slick finger inside, enjoying the gasp that fell from Keegan’s mouth. He took his time, working Keegan open with gentle, thorough strokes, watching him all the while. 

Keegan’s half-lidded gaze as Jaron moved his finger in and out of him was a sight he could get addicted to. 

Jaron smiled and added a second finger, suppressing the dragon in him that wanted to get on with the main act right away— before Keegan could change his mind again. He wasn’t going to risk harming Keegan, though, even if his cock was painfully hard in his pants, wanting inside.

He shoved his fingers deep, watching Keegan’s eyes close once more as a breathless noise spilled from his lips. 

“Fuck,” Keegan cursed as Jaron curled his fingers just a little.

Jaron groaned. Gods, he didn’t think he could hold back much longer. He needed to know what it was like to bury himself in Keegan, needed to feel the vampire squeeze around his cock the way he squeezed around his fingers now. 

“Jaron, please,” Keegan panted, obviously wanting the same thing. “I’m a vampire, I don’t need more prep.” 

In response to those words, the last dregs of Jaron’s self-restraint evaporated.

The need to claim, to bond, was an overwhelming force that coursed through his veins like liquid fire.

Quickly, he got rid of his pants and positioned himself at Keegan’s entrance, and then, with a deep, steadying breath, he pushed forward, feeling the ring of muscle yield to him, inch by slow inch.

Keegan was tight around him, a snug embrace that seemed to hold the promise of a connection deeper than anything he had ever known.

He’d never thought that he’d find his mate, that he’d get to have this. Now that he did, he was overwhelmed.

Keegan seemed to struggle with a different problem. One of impatience. “Move, Jar.” His hands grabbed Jaron’s buttocks, urging Jaron deeper. “Don’t stop.”

Jaron complied. How could he not, with his mate looking at him like that, all desire and lust and need?

Keegan’s hips rose to meet each thrust with a breathless moan, his fingers digging into Jaron’s back as he pulled Jaron in deeper and held him close. 

This was a different experience from the sex Jaron had had so far, and not only because he was with his mate. Quite simply, he’d never fucked a vampire before, and vampire bodies were *cold.* Not icy, but not hot and sweaty like some other races tended to get.

Honestly it made his cock inside of Keegan feel hotter by contrast and Jaron couldn’t decide if that was weird or wonderful, didn’t have room to think about it with Keegan clamping down around him with every push and pull. The dragon inside Jaron growled, chasing that deeper connection that he longed for.

Possessive urgency drove Jaron on, and he quickened his pace, his hips driving in harder and faster with every thrust, seeking to bury himself as deep inside Keegan as he could go, as if that could seal their bond.

Something was off, though. Something was missing. 

Something kept their souls from merging as they should.

Keegan’s eyes sought his, wild and unfocused, his chest heaving as he panted as if he was desperate for their bond to be completed too. 

All his reasons to refuse Jaron had been rational, but emotionally, primally, he wanted Jaron too. 

“Jar,” he said, and Jaron could hear the strain in his voice. The dragon within Jaron roared in response, eager to take possession of Keegan, to give them both that satisfaction.

But how?

Then it clicked into place.

Blood.

They needed to exchange blood to truly bond.

The thought made his heart race, not with fear but with urgency.

“Bite me,” he growled, leaning down to whisper in Keegan’s ear.

There was a sharp intake of breath, and for a moment, he thought his mate would refuse. But then Keegan’s green eyes darkened, an unmistakable hunger sparking within them. His fangs had already elongated, vampire instincts kicking in.

Jaron shuddered. He’d never wanted to be a vampire’s prey so much.

Keegan didn’t bite him immediately, though. Instead, the vampire brought his own wrist to his mouth and pierced the skin, causing drops of blood to well up. Then, he offered his wrist to Jaron. 

Jaron hesitated. He’d never drunk blood before, and the idea made his stomach turn. But for his mate, he’d do it. For the chance to fully claim Keegan as his, to complete the soul bond that felt so tantalizingly close, he’d do anything.

With a growl, he leaned forward and lapped at the wound, the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth. It wasn’t something he’d ever craved, but mixed with the scent and taste of Keegan’s skin, it wasn’t as bad as he’d feared.

The next moment, all his thoughts fled his mind as Keegan’s fangs sank into his neck. 

The sting of it sent a jolt of arousal through him, and he moaned, burying himself deeper inside Keegan as his cock twitched. All this time he’d thought about how much he wanted to possess Keegan. He’d been so obsessed with the idea he’d failed to realize how much he wanted Keegan to own him in return. 

Until now. 

It was a thing of instinct, a primal need to be possessed, to be marked, and the sensation was overwhelming.

Keegan suckled at his neck, pulling his blood into his mouth, and Jaron felt his vision swim as the pleasure of it shot straight to his groin.

Jaron closed his eyes and lost himself in the feeling of Keegan’s lips on his skin, the dragon inside of him quieted for once, happy to let his vampire take charge of the moment, happy to let his vampire do whatever the fuck he pleased with Jaron. 

Jaron was his, wholly and completely.

For a heartbeat or two, Jaron’s perception dissolved and all he could feel anymore was Keegan, his thoughts and fears, as clearly as if they were his own. It was strange and yet, at the same time, it felt entirely natural, as if his soul had been crying out for this kind of closeness all along.

“Jaron,” Keegan whispered his name as he let go of his neck, closing the wound, and Jaron knew that he felt the same way. Keegan’s skin might be cold, but his presence inside Jaron’s heart was a warm and comforting weight that seemed to fill the hollow places in his soul. 

Pulling back slightly, Jaron gazed down at his mate, the vampire’s green eyes dark with desire and something else, something soft and vulnerable that took Jaron’s breath away. It was a look he had never seen on Keegan’s face before, and it made his chest ache with a tenderness he had never known he was capable of feeling.

Keegan’s lips were stained red with Jaron’s blood, and Jaron couldn’t resist leaning down to kiss him, gently at first, then deeper, as the reality, the joy, of their bond sank in. They were mates, tied together in a way that transcended time and space, and nothing in this world or any other could ever tear them apart.

Not even fate. 

Jaron wouldn’t let it.

He moved again, rocking his hips against Keegan’s in a slow, steady rhythm. There was no rush now, nothing but the need to savor the moment, to revel in the connection of their minds and bodies.

Every stroke of Jaron’s cock inside Keegan seemed to send a jolt of pleasure through them both, and soon Keegan was gasping, clutching at Jaron as his orgasm approached with relentless certainty.

Jaron could feel it building inside of him as well, the tightening of his balls, the tension coiling within him. With every thrust he felt the edge approaching, until finally it was upon him and he tumbled over, his orgasm, both their orgasms, sweeping through him with the force of an avalanche.

It was a different kind of climax than any he’d had before, one that seemed to shatter him and remake him anew, leaving him raw and shaken in its wake.

He collapsed atop his mate, his breathing ragged and heavy, his heart racing in his chest as he came down from the high of ecstasy.

Keegan’s arms wrapped around him, holding him close and anchoring him, keeping him from drifting too far from reality in the aftermath. Jaron nuzzled Keegan, the dragon within him utterly content to curl around Keegan’s soul brushing against his own.

For the first time since meeting his mate, everything was exactly as it should be.

Jaron’s mind was silent, his dragon sated.

He had what he wanted.

And he would do whatever needed to be done to keep it. 


New Chapter 

Keegan woke up after what felt like a few hours of sleep to find Jaron still curled up against him, sound asleep and looking utterly content. 

A smile stole on Keegan’s face. He couldn’t help it. His dragon was too adorable. His mate. 

The enormity of the thought struck Keegan. 

He should have refused Jaron, should have resisted him, but he hadn’t managed. He’d wanted everything that Jaron promised him too desperately to refuse.

Gently, Keegan leaned in and pressed a tender kiss to the sleeping dragon’s forehead. Jaron stirred slightly but didn’t wake, his breathing remaining deep and even. The taste of Jaron’s blood still lingered on Keegan’s tongue, a reminder that it would be the only blood he’d drink from here on out. As he gazed at his mate, a sudden flash of vision struck Keegan, showing Jaron’s mother calling him in a rage.

Keegan huffed. He wasn’t going to let that woman disturb this moment. 

Acting quickly, Keegan fished Jaron’s phone out of the pocket of his discarded pants and turned it off. He’d apologize later.

Maybe.

Keegan looked at the phone in his hand a moment longer. 

The vision just now had been so clear. He’d even been able to hear the words Jaron said in response to his mother. ‘I don’t care what you think. He’s my mate.’

Jaron’s parents weren’t going to be happy with their son’s relationship. Of course not. High society dragons like Jaron’s family would never be seen mingling with the likes of vampires. 

Keegan had no doubt, though, that Jaron was well aware of his parents’ opinion and didn’t give a shit. The very clothes he wore were an act of rebellion. “I love that about you,” Keegan murmured. “You dare to be different.”

Things had not been easy for Jaron growing up; Keegan was aware of that, but there was something commendable about the personal strength Jaron had found in his misery. He hadn’t let his weakness get him down. Instead, he’d become a dragon who looked out for those even weaker than him. 

Keegan wasn’t like that. Keegan had more power than he knew what to do with at times. 

More than he knew how to handle some days.

Carefully he climbed out of bed and stretched. He looked around his room, at the star charts still spread out on his floor. He glanced at his own phone to know the time. The sun had already risen, so the stars were of no relevance now. 

Truth be told, he wasn’t sure they ever were. 

He swept the charts aside and sat down on the carpeted floor, back against the wall. 

He should take his new powers for a test run. They itched underneath his skin, flowing through his body like a current., wanting out, wanting to be used. Already they’d given him one unprompted vision. 

There’d be more if he didn’t burn off some energy. 

Did he dare look at his own death again?

What if he still couldn’t see a solution to that problem?

No, he couldn’t let fear hold him back.

Neither his fear of his future, nor his fear of his new powers. 

Keegan took a deep breath, feeling the surge of magic coursing through him. He closed his eyes, ready to reach for the energy when a rustle from the bed made him pause. Jaron turned over, his sleepy eyes squinting at Keegan from under tousled hair.

“What are you doing over there?” Jaron mumbled, reaching out a hand. “Come back to bed.”

Keegan laughed softly. “I was going to test the gift you gave me.”

Jaron blinked, comprehension dawning slowly. He yawned and sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Do you feel more powerful?”

Keegan nodded. “I had a short vision just now. Your mom’s going to call you in a rage.”

That woke Jaron right up. His eyes widened as he fumbled for his phone. “Where’s my phone?”

Keegan held it up with a slight smirk. “I turned it off to spare you the trouble. Are you going to call your parents?”

Jaron shook his head but looked troubled, glancing at the phone in Keegan’s hand like it was about to bite him.

“What’s wrong?” Keegan asked, sensing Jaron’s unease through their bond. 

“It’s not about me,” Jaron admitted, running a hand through his hair. “My parents have been more troublesome than usual lately because my younger brother has been developing a mind of his own.”

Keegan raised an eyebrow. “It’s good of your to care so much about your siblings.”

Jaron sighed, leaning back against the headboard. “Casca’s just starting to find his own path, and our parents hate it. They’re trying to force him back into their mold.”

Keegan felt the weight of Jaron’s worry through their bond and moved closer, placing a comforting hand on Jaron’s shoulder. “He’s lucky to have you looking out for him.”

Jaron smiled faintly, but the tension in him didn’t ease. “I just wish there was more I could do, but my parents think I’m a bad influence.”

“Because of your trouble breathing fire?” Keegan sat on the edge of the bed. 

Jaron shook his head. “Lot’s of reasons.” He glanced at the phone that Keegan was still holding. “If my mom was gonna call me to yell at me, I wonder if someone saw me coming in here.”

“In my vision you told her about me,” Keegan supplied.

“She’ll hate that. She also hates that I live with a witch. If it was up to her, I’d probably never talk to anyone who isn’t a dragon.”

Keegan lay an arm around Jaron’s shoulders and drew him closer. “Now that would be boring.”

“Right?” Jaron looked at him. “My mom’s just stuck in the old days and if she thinks I’m going to give you up, she’s wrong.” His features hardened. “Not like I could give you up after the night we had.” 

“Do you regret it?” 

“No!” The question seemed to offend Jaron. “Never!”

It was almost cute, how upset he was at the mere suggestion. Keegan could only hope, though, that Jaron would never regret his choice. 

“I know what you’re thinking,” Jaron said. “And I’ve already told you not to worry about it. The future you saw won’t come to pass, so could you be in this moment with me and be happy?” 

“I’m not going to stop being a seer.” 

“I’m not asking you to.” Jaron sighed in an exagerated fashion. “Just spend some time in the present, every now and then.” 

“So you don’t want me to tell you about that vision I had of your little brother moving in with us in the future?”

Jaron’s eyebrows rose. “When he’s older? My mother will never allow it while he’s still a minor.” 

“He did not look like an adult in my vision.” 

Jaron’s brows furrowed. “How do I convince her?” 

Keegan shrugged. “I don’t know. All I can tell you is that it’s possible.” 

Jaron mulled this over, then he turned to Keegan again, [ eyes serious. “Just like it’s possible for us to change our fate. But not the way you think.”

The way you think. What was that supposed to mean? 

Jaron straightened and looked at him squarely. “We’re not going to be sacrificing other people’s fated mates. That book you made me read, that was horrible! We can’t do that!”

“No,” Keegan agreed. “That’s what the kidnapper is doing.”

Jaron blinked. Obviously, he hadn’t reached that conclusion yet, too caught up thinking about his own supposed fate. “Fuck,” he cursed. “You think the kidnapper is going to kill these people? That he’s going to kill Apollo? To change fate?” 

“That’s what it looks like,” Keegan confirmed. “Did you find that drawing in the book?” 

Jaron’s face paled. “You saw that in your vision?” 

“In the room Apollo was kept in.”

Jaron cursed again. “What else did you see?” he demanded to know. “We’ve got to get him out of there. We’ve got to get everyone out of there.”

Yes, that was the goal, and yet, Keegan had selfishly wanted to use his newly gained powers to look at his own future first. That would have been worth the risk to him more than anything. 

But of course he couldn’t ignore the debt he owed to his friend. 

“I didn’t see much else,” he admitted. “But I’ll look again.”

Jaron leaned against Keegan as if he could sense his hesitation. Through their bond, he probably could. “I’ll be right here with you,” he promised. “If you get lost in the future, I’ll guide you back home.”

Keegan shot Jaron a smile. “I’ll always come back to you.”

“You had better.” 

Keegan nodded, then he took a deep breath, feeling the cool air fill his lungs. He closed his eyes and reached for his power. The moment he did, he felt it surge through him—immense and overwhelming. What had once been a manageable river now roared like a tidal wave, threatening to drown him if he couldn’t find a way to ride it.

His heart beat out of rhythm as the power cascaded over him, pulling him in countless directions at once. Images flashed before his mind’s eye: visions of futures, possible outcomes, fragments of moments yet to come. Each vision clashed with the next, a chaotic torrent that threatened to tear his consciousness apart.

He saw Apollo’s face, twisted in pain, then Casca hiding from their parents. Jaron’s mother screaming accusations, and somewhere in the mess, a vision of his own death resurfaced—a stake aimed at his chest.

Keegan gasped, struggling to maintain control. The visions layered over one another, each demanding his attention. He tried to focus on one thread, but another would yank him away before he could grasp it fully. 

A vision of Apollo chained in a dark room dissolved into another of Jaron confronting his mother. Keegan’s head throbbed with the strain of trying to keep up with the rapid shifts. He felt himself slipping, losing grip on reality as the visions threatened to consume him entirely.

Fighting against the tide was like trying to hold back the ocean with his bare hands. The more he struggled, the more fragmented and chaotic the visions became. Panic clawed at him; he couldn’t breathe under the weight of so many futures pressing down on him at once.

Then he felt it—a warm hand clasping his own.

“Keegan,” Jaron’s voice called out firmly. “Focus on me.”

The sound of Jaron’s voice anchored him, pulling him back from the brink. Keegan latched onto it, using it as a lifeline amidst the storm of visions. He squeezed Jaron’s hand tightly, grounding himself in that simple touch.

Slowly but surely, the tidal wave began to recede. The visions still swirled around him, but they were no longer an uncontrollable maelstrom threatening to sweep him away. 

“You’re not alone,” Jaron said softly. “We’ve got this together.”

Keegan took another deep breath and centered himself in Jaron’s steady presence. The chaos ebbed enough for him to start sifting through the visions with purpose instead of being dragged by them blindly. 

One clear image emerged. 

To Keegan’s surprise, it wasn’t one of Apollo, though that was who he’d been trying to see.

Instead, a shadowy figure came into view. The features were indistinct, blurred as if deliberately concealed. Keegan strained to make out more details but couldn’t pierce the veil that hid the person’s identity.

“Who are you?” he whispered into the void.

Was this another seer? Someone who knew he would be spied upon?

Keegan focused harder, trying to see past the magical shield that obscured the person’s features, but it was like trying to see through dense fog.

The figure didn’t respond to his whispered question. Instead, it moved within what looked like a laboratory. Tables covered with vials and jars lined the walls. Shelves filled with arcane ingredients reached up to the ceiling. 

The shadowy figure stood at a central table, carefully mixing a potion in a glass beaker that emitted a soft glow. The air seemed thick with the scent of herbs and something acrid Keegan couldn’t identify.

The figure picked up a vial from the table and added its contents to the beaker. The mixture hissed and bubbled violently before settling into a calm swirl of iridescent colors.

What were they making?

Keegan’s eyes fell on a book resting beside the figure. Its title was clear: The Subtle Art of Mind Control.

Keegan’s breath caught.

Opening his eyes, he returned to the present moment with Jaron beside him. “I saw someone,” he said slowly. “Someone who’s shielding themselves from magical observation.”

Jaron looked at him intently. “Did you see anything else?”

Keegan swallowed hard. “A laboratory… and a book about mind control.”

“Mind control!” Jaron’s eyes widened. “Who do they want to control? Wait, do you think it’s me? Cause that’s the only way I would ever…” He trailed off, but Keegan understood what he was talking about, and it made perfect, chilling sense.

The only way Jaron would hurt Keegan was if he was being controlled by someone else. 

They sat in silence for a moment, the weight of their discovery heavy on their shoulders. The pieces were falling into place – the shadowy figure, the book on mind control, Keegan’s visions of his own death…

Jaron broke the silence first. “We need a plan. We can’t let this happen.”

Keegan nodded, his mind already racing ahead. “First, we need to find out who they are and where they’re hiding. And we need to find a way to protect you from them.”

Jaron’s brow furrowed. “Protect me? How?”

“I don’t know yet,” Keegan admitted. “But there has to be a way. A spell, an amulet, something. We’ll figure it out. I won’t let them control you.”

Jaron’s jaw set with determination. “We’ll stop them. Together.”

A flicker of warmth spread through Keegan at that word. Together. It was still a foreign concept, having someone by his side in this fight. He’d always had his coven, of course, but that was different. Jaron was here only for him. 

He always would be.

That was a powerful feeling and not one Keegan wanted to lose. 

“We should talk to Altair,” he suggested. “He needs to know about this. And he might have some ideas about protection from mind control.”

“You think so?” 

“He’s been reading up on the topic for reasons.”

Jaron looked at him curiously. “What reasons?”

“His own mate has recently developed the talent to control others through their blood.” 

Jaron’s eyebrows rose. “I didn’t know vampires could do that.”

“It’s a rare gift. In any case, we need to get dressed.”

Jaron agreed, ready to spring into action. Quickly, they put their clothes back on and left the room. The building was quiet. Most of the vampires had gone to sleep. 

Keegan and Jaron found Altair still in his office. Sven lounged in an armchair in the corner, yawning widely. Altair’s eyes were closed, his fingers twitching slightly—likely monitoring the city through the eyes of his crows.

Sven looked up when they entered. “Oh, hey,” he greeted softly, rising from his seat. “What brings you here?”

Keegan glanced at Jaron before speaking. “We need to talk to Altair.”

Sven nodded and crossed the room to Altair’s side. He placed a gentle hand on Altair’s shoulder. “We’ve got visitors.”

Altair’s eyes fluttered open, and for a moment, he looked uncharacteristically disoriented. The lines of fatigue etched into his face made it clear he’d been trying to find some hints regarding Apollo’s whereabouts all day.

“Keegan,” Altair said, shaking off the remnants of his trance. “Is there news?” His gaze flicked between Keegan and the dragon he didn’t know, weary but sharp. “Did you mate?” 

“Yes,” Keegan admitted. “But that’s not why we’re here.”

Altair’s expression sobered. “You saw something?”

“I had a vision,” Keegan said, taking a deep breath. “I think I saw the kidnapper. They have a lab filled with arcane ingredients and a book called The Subtle Art of Mind Control.”

Altair’s eyes narrowed as he processed the information. “Mind control…” He glanced at Sven before returning his focus to Keegan and Jaron. “Do you have any idea who this person might be?”

Keegan shook his head. “Their features were obscured by some kind of magical shield. But I saw them preparing a potion.”

Jaron stepped closer to Keegan, adding his own thoughts. “We think they’re targeting fated mates to change fate by sacrificing them.”

A heavy silence settled over the room as Altair and Sven absorbed this bit of information. 

“Is that possible?” Sven asked.

“I didn’t think it was,” Keegan said, “but all my research seems to indicate this is what they’re trying to achieve.” He didn’t mention the fact that he’d only done this research because he’d been trying to do something similar himself. 

That was beside the point, wasn’t it? 

Altair’s brow furrowed. “Why would this kidnapper want to change fate?”

Keegan took a deep breath, organizing his thoughts. “I think they might be a seer too. It would explain how they’ve been able to outmaneuver me. Maybe they saw something in their future they didn’t like and are trying to alter it.”

Everyone in the room looked surprised by this idea. Sven exchanged a glance with Altair, who seemed to mull over the new information.

“A seer,” Altair repeated slowly. “That would indeed explain a lot. But why the mind control?”

Keegan hesitated before speaking again. “In one of my visions, I saw Jaron being controlled. The shadowy figure was manipulating him to stop me.” That wasn’t the whole truth, but it was close enough. 

Next to him, Jaron stiffened, but he didn’t contradict Keegan. 

Altair walked over to his bookshelf, scanning the titles. “I’ve been educating myself on the topic of mind control recently,” he said as if this was a normal thing to do. He pulled out a thick, leather-bound book and flipped it open.

“There are several ways to protect oneself from mind control,” Altair explained. “One method involves wearing enchanted items—amulets or charms specifically designed to block mental intrusion. Another approach is mental fortification through meditation and specific exercises to strengthen one’s mental barriers.”

“I don’t think we have that much time,” Keegan said. What he wanted was a foolproof way to make sure that nothing was going to touch Jaron’s mind. 

“I understand.” Altair paged through the book, deep in thought. “An enchanted amulet might be best in that case.”

Sven leaned in, peering at the book over Altair’s shoulder. “Do we have anything like that?”

“No,” Altair said. “And items like these don’t come cheap.”

Jaron’s expression darkened, his brows knitting together. “If money’s all that’s required, don’t worry about that. I’ll get the funds.”

Altair eyed him curiously but didn’t press further. Keegan had a suspicion about where Jaron would get the money—probably from his family. The thought of Jaron having to go back to them, even for something as important as this, made Keegan’s stomach twist.

He wished he didn’t have to make Jaron do that, but this was too important.

“Very well,” Altair said, turning back to his book. “I’ll try to locate an object for purchase. In the meantime, Keegan, focus on finding out more about the kidnapper. Anything you can uncover will help.”

Keegan nodded. The kidnapper might be trying to hide, but Keegan would uncover their identity sooner or later. He only needed to learn to control all this new power he’d been given a little better. 

He turned to leave but stopped himself to look at Altair once more. “Have you heard from Mordyn?” he asked quietly.

Altair shook his head tiredly. “No, not yet.” 

Keegan worried his lip and nodded again before exiting the room with Jaron by his side.

As they walked down the corridor, Keegan glanced at Jaron, who was deep in thought. “Are you sure about this?” he asked softly.

Jaron’s eyes met his, a determined look in them. “Absolutely. There’s gotta be some advantage to being born a rich kid, right? Don’t worry. I know what to tell my parents to get money.”

Keegan squeezed Jaron’s hand. “I’d offer to come with you but I know that wouldn’t help.”

“How much have you seen of my parents?” 

“Enough to know I don’t like them.”

Jaron gave Keegan a weak smile, the kind that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Don’t worry,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “I know how to play my parents.”

Keegan’s concern deepened. He hated the idea of Jaron facing that kind of stress alone. “Are you sure? I could look at the future for you, give you some advice on how to handle the confrontation.”

Jaron waved him off with a dismissive hand. “Nah, don’t waste your energy on small matters like that. Save your strength for the big stuff, like finding Apollo.”

Keegan frowned, but he understood Jaron’s point. They had more important things to worry about. 

Hah.

As if there was anything more important than Jaron’s wellbeing to Keegan. 

Jaron leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to Keegan’s lips, lingering just long enough to make Keegan’s heart flutter. “I’ll be back later,” Jaron promised.

Keegan watched as Jaron turned and walked up the corridor toward the stairs, wishing there was more he could do to make things easier for him.

As Jaron disappeared from view, Keegan walked back toward his own room. 

If he was going to stop this kidnapper, he had to figure out who they were.


New Chapter 

Jaron landed in front of his parents’ mansion, stomach in knots. The front door swung open before he could knock, revealing the household’s loyal housekeeper, Nidra.

“Master Jaron.” Nidra offered a polite nod, her tone respectful though her eyes were sharp, always taking in every detail.

“Hey, Nidra. Is my mother around?” He stepped inside.

“She’s in the sunroom. Alone,” Cedra replied, leading the way down the hall adorned with paintings of Tymera ancestors. Jaron felt the familiar weight of those judging stares as they passed.

Finding his mother in the sun room, Jaron prepared for the inevitable confrontation. She looked up, her expression as cold as the marble floors. “Why is your phone off? I’ve been trying to reach you.”

“It ran out of battery,” he lied smoothly, leaning against the door frame. “What did you want?”

“What do I want?” she echoed, standing up slowly, elegance wrapped in disdain. “I want you to stop associating with vampires. The neighbors have started talking.”

Jaron scoffed. “Why do you have to care so much about what the neighbors think?”

“The gossip is bad for our reputation.”

“You’ve always cared way too much about our reputation.”

“Reputation is everything, Jaron,” she said. “Do you believe people would buy our jewelry if we weren’t respected? They wouldn’t. And then how would I feed your siblings? Do you ever think about that?”

Jaron’s cheeks heated. He didn’t want her to be right, but she made it so difficult to argue sometimes. “We don’t have to live in extravagance.”

“Would you have us live in poverty?”

“You’re being dramatic,” Jaron said. “It’s not all black and white.”

His mother arched an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t think you knew that.” 

Jaron took a deep breath, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. He needed to play this right if he wanted any chance of getting the funds for the amulet. “Can we not argue for once?”

His mother’s eyes narrowed as if she wondered what his agenda was, but then she made herself relax. “Very well,” she said. “You’re right.” She gestured at the armchairs by the window. “Sit with me. Let’s have a serious conversation for once. You’re certainly old enough for it.” 

Jaron sat down and his mother sat opposite him, folding her hands in her lap.

“I want to apologize for what I said last time,” she began, surprising Jaron. “I was agitated and worried.”

He bit back a retort, recognizing this as an olive branch. For the sake of peace and his mission, he nodded. “I appreciate that.”

A soft smile touched her lips, one that almost transported him back to his childhood when he’d still believed his parents loved him. But he quickly pushed the illusion aside.

His mother turned her gaze out the window, the sunlight catching in the rubies she wore around her neck. “People used to tell me I was blessed for having so many children,” she said quietly. “It’s highly unusual for a dragon couple to have more than one or two at most, yet I bore three sons.”

Her focus returned to Jaron, and he could see the weariness in her eyes. “They don’t understand how difficult it is to raise so many children.” She paused before continuing. “I let you get away with too much because I was focused on your little brothers.”

Jaron’s jaw tightened. “You let me get away with things because I wasn’t important enough to be watched closely,” he snapped. “By the time I entered kindergarten and still couldn’t breathe fire, I was an embarrassment to you and the rest of the family.”

His mother grew quiet, her eyes searching his face for something she seemed unable to find. Finally, she sighed, a heavy sound. “You’re right,” she said softly. “You weren’t what we expected.”

Jaron’s heart pounded in his chest, a mix of anger and a flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, she’d acknowledge her arrogance for once.

“In a way,” she said, “I always thought the fault lay with myself. Even now, I look at you and I wonder what I could have done differently. Should I have eaten more meat when I was pregnant? Should I have taken better care of my body? Would you have developed your powers if I’d been more attentive when you were a toddler? Are you rebeling because your father and I weren’t strict enough?” She shook her head. “I struggle to be fair to you because I see your failings as my own.”

The words stung. His mother had never been this honest with him, but the truth wasn’t comforting. Jaron wasn’t happy to hear that his lack of talent made his mother so miserable that she’d never managed to be a good parent to him. 

He stared at her with a raw ache in his chest. The admission felt like a double-edged sword; it explained so much but healed nothing. “That doesn’t make it better.” 

“No, I suppose not.” Her gaze flicked away again, looking out over the yard. “In any case, you are not making things better either, meeting with all those vampires.” 

“It’s only one vampire,” Jaron said, feeling defensive. 

“Be that as it may,” she looked back at him, “you know that reputable dragons don’t mix with the likes of vampire. If this is another act of rebellion, what will it take for you to stop?”

Jaron took a deep breath, bracing himself. “I’m not rebelling, Mother. Keegan is my mate.”

His mother’s eyes narrowed. “Fated mates are the stuff of fairy tales, Jaron. You’re too old to believe in such nonsense.”

“I know what I feel,” Jaron countered firmly. He’d known his mother wouldn’t like this news and part of him enjoyed breaking it to her. “I trust my inner dragon on this.”

She licked her lips before pointing out, “You’ve never been very in tune with your dragon.”

Jaron’s jaw tightened. That was a low blow. After the conversation they’d just had, he’d expected better, but his mother was too set in her ways. Things would always be like this betwene them. “On this matte, I am in tune with my dragon. If you’d ever found your fated mate, you’d understand.”

“If there truly was a fated mate out there for you, he would not be a vampire,” she declared. “You’re better than that.”

Jaron smiled wryly. “I’m not better than Keegan. If you met him you’d see that too. He’s powerful in all the ways that I’m not.” Maybe that was the way the universe balanced itself out. 

“There is no way any child of mine is bound to a vampire,” his mother insisted. “You are taking things too far.”

“I’ve already completed the mate bond,” Jaron said with some pleasure. “There’s no going back now. You need to accept reality.”

The color drained from his mother’s face. “You did what?” Her voice shook.

Jaron held her gaze, refusing to back down. “Keegan and I are bonded for life.”

Not the most diplomatic thing he could have said, but he didn’t care about being diplomatic just then, he only wanted to see her explode. 

His mother’s face twisted. “How could you be so reckless?”

“It’s not reckless, Mother. It’s love. I know that’s a foreign concept to you.”

“Wait until your father hears about this!” 

“Oh? What’s he going to do? Disown me? What will the neighbors say about that?”

Her face reddened. “Jaron Tymera.” Her voice rose. “Do you think this is a joke? You’ve put our entire family at risk with your foolish actions!”

There she went, being dramatic again. 

“Do you understand what you’ve done?” she demanded. “This scandal could ruin us! How could you be so selfish?”

Jaron’s fists clenched at his sides. “Selfish? For finding love? For following my heart?”

Her voice grew shrill. “Love? This isn’t love, Jaron. This is madness! You’re jeopardizing everything we’ve worked for!”

He stood up abruptly, his chair scraping against the floor. “Enough, Mother.” He held up a hand. “I’m not a child anymore. You can’t lecture me and expect me to just sit here and take it.”

She froze, her mouth half-open in mid-rant.

“I’ve made my decision,” Jaron continued. “You need to accept it.”

Her eyes narrowed to slits. “You think you can just walk in here and demand acceptance for this… this abomination?”

“Yes,” he replied calmly. “Because it’s my life. Not yours.”

She took a step back as if he’d struck her.

“And another thing,” Jaron added, taking advantage of her silence. “I’ll be discrete about my relationship with Keegan. I’ll give you time to do whatever damage control you need. But only if you do me a favor in return, otherwise I’ll shout my love from the rooftops.” 

“What do you want, Jaron?” 

“I need to borrow Dad’s credit card for a day.”

His mother’s gaze bored into him. “And what, pray tell, do you intend to buy with it?”

Jaron crossed his arms over his chest, matching her gaze. “I can’t tell you that.”

“You can’t or you won’t?”

“Both,” he replied, maintaining his stance.

She considered him quietly, her displeasure contained but not concealed. The silence stretched.

“If I’m going to stay quiet for the sake of the family’s wealth,” Jaron continued, “then I want access to that wealth. Isn’t that only fair?”

Her lips pressed into a thin line. The weight of her disapproval bore down on him, but he stood firm.

Finally, she sighed and straightened her shoulders. “Very well,” she said slowly. “But there are conditions.”

Of course.

There were always conditions. 

“You have to agree to wear a suitable outfit for the next month,” she said, predictably. She was always on him about his clothes. “And you have to keep quiet about this… arrangement for at least a month.”

His jaw clenched. “A month?”

She nodded curtly.

He glanced out the window, then back at his mother’s stern face. It was infuriating to have to negotiate like this over the truth of his mating, over something that felt so right and natural to him, but he knew better than to push further.

“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

Her expression softened slightly, but only just. “I’ll get your father’s card.” She rose from her seat and left the room without another word.

As Jaron waited, he exhaled slowly. Their conversation had been rough, but at least he was getting what he’d come here for.

Minutes later, his mother returned and handed him the card with an air of reluctant acceptance.

“Remember your promise.”

“I will,” Jaron replied, taking the card from her hand.

Money. The one thing he could count on his family for. 

Jaron pocketed the card and turned to leave the sunroom, tension easing from his shoulders. At least that part of his day was over with and he could get back to Keegan.

As he reached the front door, it swung open, and a small figure darted inside. Fei, his youngest brother, beamed up at him with bright eyes. “Jaron!” Fei exclaimed, bouncing on his toes.

“Hey, kiddo.” Jaron smiled, ruffling Fei’s hair. “What’s got you so excited?”

Fei’s face lit up even more if that was possible. “I set a tree on fire today! By accident,” he added quickly, “but it was so cool! All my friends said I’m the strongest dragon they know!”

Jaron chuckled, genuinely impressed despite himself. “A whole tree? That’s something.”

“Yeah!” Fei nodded vigorously. “The teacher wasn’t happy though. I got scolded for it.” His excitement dimmed for a moment before brightening again. “But my friends thought it was awesome!”

Jaron crouched down to Fei’s level, resting a hand on his shoulder. “That’s because it is awesome,” he said with a grin. “Just try not to burn down any more trees, okay? We don’t need any forest fires.”

Fei giggled. “Okay, I’ll try.”

Jaron patted his head affectionately. Despite everything he felt towards his parents and their expectations, he didn’t begrudge Fei or Casca their powers. If anything, he was grateful they wouldn’t have to endure the same struggles he had.

“Keep practicing,” Jaron encouraged him. “But be careful.”

“I will!” Fei promised before dashing off down the hall, probably eager to share his adventure with someone else.

Jaron watched him go with a mixture of pride and melancholy. He silently thanked the sun goddess for blessing his brothers. 

Prodigies that they were, they’d never have to go through what he went through. 

It puzzled him sometimes, that the same set of parents could produce such children as vastly different as him and his brothers, but life was just like that sometimes, wasn’t it? 


New Chapter 

Keegan sat cross-legged on the worn rug in his room, eyes closed, trying hard to focus. He inhaled deeply and reached out to his immense new powers. Without Jaron there, though, everything felt…off. His powers were a tornado within him, something that refused to be tamed. 

He attempted it anyway, looking for clues about the kidnapper’s identity. Instantly, visions surged forward—fragments of faces, places cloaked in shadows, disjointed scenes of chaos and pain. His head throbbed with each pulse of foresight pressing in on him. He fought to anchor himself but felt as if he were slipping on ice. The harder he tried to grasp a solid vision, the more elusive it became.

Just push a little harder, he told himself. You can control this.

The pressure built behind his eyes until he couldn’t bear it any longer. He wrenched himself free from the visions and fell back onto the rug, gasping for breath. The ceiling above spun in lazy circles as he tried to steady himself and make sense of the impressions he’d gotten. 

There was no point, though. 

It was all too disjointed. 

Too different from the neat and tidy network he’d been able to arrange his visions in before. 

If only he could go back to that…

Maybe he could, if he stopped trying to look at the kidnapper for now. The shielding magic on the villain probably complicated things. If Keegan wanted to gain control over his new powers, he needed to start smaller, simpler. 

Focusing again, he tried peering into the immediate future instead. This time, he concentrated on Jaron’s return from his parents’ mansion. Images flickered at first—a fleeting glimpse of Jaron’s mother’s stern face, the heavy door of their mansion swinging open—and then finally, Keegan managed to see his network again. 

He exhaled a sigh of relief. 

This felt like coming home. 

How many hours of his life had he spent in this space? And it looked even better now! So much sharper. It was as if he’d switched from high-definition to 4k.

Every thread glowed with new clarity, offering him details about his visions he’d never have noticed before; the fire in Jaron’s eyes as he argued with his mother, the minute twitch of her fingers as she clutched her pearls.

But when Keegan focused more on the threads themselves, something disturbing caught his attention. 

They were fraying. 

Coming apart.

All of them. 

All of them. 

What the hell? 

What was going on? Was someone messing with Jaron’s future?

Frantically, Keegan looked at other futures, at visions unrelated to Jaron, but they were all the same. This issue wasn’t isolated to Jaron. There was nothing wrong with Jaron’s future. 

There was something wrong with the future in general.

Keegan pulled himself out of his visions with a sense of horror. How had he missed this before? 

He got up, struggling to make sense of the discovery he’d made. What could possibly be threatening the future of everything?

The other seer? 

Their ritual to change fate? That had to be it! 

And now Keegan knew just how pressing it was that he put a stop to them. Everything was on the line. 

Literally.


New Chapter 

Before Jaron returned to Keegan, he swung by his work place. Pushing open the door to the Mortal Rights Task Force office, he was greeted by a familiar buzz of activity. Everyone was on high alert.

No wonder.

The kidnapper had made things personal by taking their boss. 

Jaron found Ceska in Apollo’s office, but she wasn’t alone. 

Along with Ianair, she stood in front of Apollo’s desk, seemingly engrossed in a hushed conversation. The tension between them was unmistakable—the way Ianair’s hand hovered near Ceska’s arm, the slight flush on her cheeks.

Jaron paused paused in the doorway, watching as Ceska tilted her head up, lips parting. Ianair leaned in, and for a brief moment, it seemed like they might actually kiss. Jaron couldn’t help but grin. About time those two found each other.

Ianair suddenly straightened, catching sight of Jaron. He stepped back quickly, clearing his throat. “Jaron! We weren’t—this isn’t—”

“Relax,” Jaron said, waving a hand dismissively. “I’m happy for you guys. Really.”

Ceska looked flustered but managed a small smile. “Thanks, Jaron. But we really should focus.”

“Yeah,” Ianair agreed, running a hand through his hair and looking everywhere but at Ceska. “Not exactly the best timing.”

“Right,” Jaron said. “But still… I’m glad to see it.” In his mind, everyone should be as happy as he was with Keegan—as happy as he was going to be with Keegan once they put this whole kidnapping case behind them. Quickly, he shifted gears. “Anyway, I have some info about the kidnappings.”

Ceska’s eyes sharpened with interest. “What did you find out? Anything about Apollo?”

“Not exactly,” Jaron said, “But Keegan believes they’re targeting fated mates to unleash some sort of cosmic energy in a ritual designed to alter fate itself.”

Ianair frowned deeply, processing the information. “You think he’s right?”

“I do,” Jaron confirmed.

Ianair kept frowning. “Why would they do that?” 

“I don’t know,” Jaron admitted, hiding the fact that he’d love to change his own fate too, if the necessary means weren’t so grizzly. 

“I guess it doesn’t matter why,” Ceska said. “What matters is stopping them. Our mages have narrowed down the part of town where the victims are being held. So far we’ve struggled to get the exact location, but if they’re going to be performing a ritual… we can probably trace the spike in magic that would cause.” 

Ianair nodded. “I’ll let everyone know what to look out for.” 

“It would be better to stop the ritual before it begins,” Jaron said. 

“Of course,” Ceska licked her lips. “The city guards are currently searching the area we pointed out. Hopefully they can find the scumbag before they can do anything.”

“That would be for the best,” Jaron agreed, but somehow he knew that things wouldn’t end that easily. 

“It would be good to know when exactly this ritual is going to take place,” Ianair pointed out. “Can your seer predict that?” 

“I’ll ask,” Jaron promised. “I’m going to see him now.”

“Good,” Ianair studied him for a moment longer. 

“Are we sure this vampire can be trusted?” Ceska threw in. Obviously, she was still not a fan of Keegan’s. All because he’d messed up that one prediction—and possibly because he’d pulled Jaron out of work the day Apollo was kidnapped. Jaron couldn’t forget about that. “There are a lot of lives on the line here,” she said as if she had to justify her caution. 

“I know,” Jaron said. “But I trust him. I’d know if he was lying to me.”

“How so?” Ceska asked. 

Jaron smiled. “Because we’re bound to each other now.”

Ianair’s eyes widened. “You claimed him?” 

Something about the way his friend worded that didn’t sit well with Jaron. Yes, the dragon inside him had also thought about ‘claiming,’ but in the end, that wasn’t what had happened. “Our bonding was a mutual thing. I could never have claimed him if he hadn’t claimed me as well.”

Ianair continued to look at him in wonder, reminding Jaron what a rare thing it was that he had found with Keegan. Jaron’s siblings might have been blessed with the gift of fire, but Jaron had been blessed in his own way. 

“You and the vampire,” Ceska asked, “you’re a thing now? Like Mordyn and Apollo?” 

“Yes,” Jaron agreed. “Like that. Keegan is definitely on our side. He wants to help Mordyn as well.” 

Ceska nodded slowly, somewhat mollified. “Mordyn came to talk to me during the night. I don’t know where he is now, but…” She shuddered. “I know he’ll rip the kidnapper to pieces when he finds them.”

That only made sense. Jaron would react the same way if anyone tried to harm his mate. 

Fortunately, Keegan was safe. 

For now. 

Jaron’s fists clenched, thinking about all that Keegan hald told him about his vision of his own death. 

“Something wrong?” Ianair asked. 

“Nothing,” Jaron lied. “I should get going.” Keegan was waiting for him, and Altair was waiting as well, for the money Jaron had talked out of his mother. 

He needed to get some protection against mind-control. 

He sighed. He also needed to stop by home and get changed. 

Much as he hated it, he had to keep up his end of the bargain he’d made with his mother. 

***

Keegan sat hunched over his laptop, next to the star charts on his floor, his eyes darting frantically across the screen as he scoured the internet for any information about the fraying threads of fate he had seen in his visions. His fingers flew over the keyboard, typing in search terms and clicking on links the led nowhere.

The door creaked open and Jaron walked in, but Keegan barely glanced up. Someone had said something ridiculous on the internet a few months ago, calling all seers liars and Keegan needed to respond to them and put them in their place.

“Hey, I’m back,” Jaron said.

“Mm,” Keegan grunted, not really hearing him.

“I got the money.” 

Keegan nodded absently. 

Jaron sighed. “Keegan, hello? Anyone home in that genius vampire brain of yours?”

“Huh? Oh, uh huh, that’s great,” Keegan mumbled. He was almost done writing his message.

Without another word., Jaron strode over and poked Keegan hard in the shoulder. Keegan whirled around, an annoyed retort on his lips, but the words died in his throat. 

Jaron stood there, wearing nothing but a loincloth and an array of shiny jewelry: ornate, golden bands adorned his biceps, rubies glittered against his collarbone, mirroring the color of his wings, and intricate patterns covered his wrists and fingers.

Keegan’s mouth fell open as he stared at Jaron.

He looked so different now that he dressed for his status, and his stature. 

“Wow,” he breathed. “You look…”

“Incredible? Sexy? Irresistible?” Jaron supplied with a cheeky grin. He turned in a slow circle, giving Keegan an eyeful from every angle.

“I was going to say ridiculous,” Keegan lied, trying to regain his composure even as his gaze roamed hungrily over Jaron’s body. “What’s with the getup?”

Jaron shrugged. “Just had this lying around. You like?” 

“Meh, it’s alright I guess. If you’re into that whole regal gym rat look.”

“Ouch!” Jaron laughed. “You know how to wound a dragon’s pride.”

“It’s not hard, your egos are so fragile,” Keegan shot back with a smirk.

“Oh, I’ll show you just how hard I can be,” Jaron raised an eyebrow suggestively.

“Really? That’s the best line you can come up with?”

“Why waste my best material when you’re already drooling over me?” Jaron reached out to cup Keegan’s face, his thumb brushing across Keegan’s bottom lip.

Then however, he pulled away, as if he just enjoyed being a tease. “What were you doing with that?” he gestured at the laptop.

Keegan hesitated, his fingers hovering over the keyboard as if they could somehow erase the visions from his mind. He swallowed hard, trying to push down the dread clawing at his insides. Sharing his thoughts felt like peeling back a protective layer, leaving himself vulnerable and exposed.

Jaron’s hand settled on his shoulder. “Hey, we’re mates now,” he reminded Keegan softly. “Whatever it is that’s bothering you, we can face it together.”

The words hung in the air, wrapping around Keegan like a warm blanket. He was so used to bearing the weight of his foresight alone, to grappling with the knowledge and the isolation it brought. No one had ever truly understood what that was like. 

How could they? 

Keegan looked up at Jaron, his eyes searching the dragon’s face. 

If there was anyone he could share his knowledge with… it had to be Jaron. 

“You saw something bad, didn’t you?” Jaron asked, sitting down beside Keegan.

Keegan nodded slowly. He took a deep breath, trying to find the words to explain the horror he had witnessed in his visions.

“I saw the threads of the future,” he began. “They were fraying, unraveling before my eyes. It was like the very fabric of fate itself was coming undone.”

Jaron tilted his head even as his brow furrowed in concern. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” Keegan admitted, frustrated. He had a guess, but he didn’t want to be right. “I have a feeling it has something to do with the kidnapper and their ritual. They’re messing with forces they don’t understand, and it’s causing ripple effects throughout the timeline.”

Jaron was silent for a moment, processing this information. 

“We’ll just have to stop their ritual then,” he said as if it was that simple. 

Maybe it was. 

Keegan exhaled, glad that he’d confided in Jaron, that he had this dragon by his side to keep him rooted in the here and now when he wanted to obssess about potential futures. 

“You said something about getting the money?” he asked him, closing the lid of his laptop. 

“I did.” Jaron gestured down at his loincloth. “This is the price I had to pay.”

“Your parents are making you wear that?” 

“Somehow you don’t sound like you disapprove.”

“That’s because I don’t.” Keegan allowed himself a smile. “All the visions I’ve had of you, I’ve never seen you look like this.” 

Jaron grinned back at him. “Doesn’t that mean we’re making significant changes?” 

Jaron’s words stopped Keegan short; the dragon was right. This outfit of his was unforeseen. 

What else might happen that Keegan hadn’t been able to predict? 

For some people, the future was an open field of endless possibilities. It hadn’t been like that for Keegan for a long time. Instead, he’d been relying on his psychic GPS to navigate. ‘Take this turn to get to this event faster.’ 

He’d found comfort in that. 

Now, for the first time, he found a spark of joy, a glimmer of hope, in the unpredictable. With Jaron by his side, maybe he could return to the open field. 

“Thank you,” he said, drawing his mate in for a kiss. 

Jaron kissed him back readily, but a hint of confusion showed on his face. “You’re welcome, but for what?”

Keegan ruffled the dragon’s hair. “Just for being your stubborn self.” He rose to his feet, pulling Jaron up alongside him. “Let’s talk to Altair and see if he’s been able to find something that’ll protect you against mind-control.” 


***

Keegan rapped on Altair’s office door, Jaron close behind him. 

“Come in,” Altair’s voice called out.

Pushing the door open, Keegan stepped in. Altair sat behind his desk, a crow perched on his shoulder while Altair looked at something on his computer’s screen. 

“Found something?” Keegan asked.

Altair nodded, a small, satisfied smile tugging at his lips. “I did. An amulet, specifically designed to counteract mind-control spells.”

He swiveled the monitor around to give them a clear view. On the screen was an image of an antique amulet, a dark metal, encased with intricate carvings that caught the eye. 

“Looks… impressive,” Jaron remarked, leaning in to get a better look. “Where can we get it?”

“From a supplier I’ve dealt with before.” Altair leaned back, folding his knuckles lightly under his chin. “Normally, Mordyn would close the deal, but considering the circumstances…”

“He’s still out there looking for Apollo,” Keegan finished, sensing an unspoken concern from his boss.

“Exactly. So, I’ll go myself once the sun sets.”

It was unusual for Altair to go himself, but it made sense. With his ability to read minds, he could make sure the article he was being sold wasn’t fake. 

“You got the money?” he asked, turning his attention to Jaron. 

Jaron stepped forward and handed him a credit card. “That should cover the asking price, whatever it is.”

Altair turned the credit card over in his hands, then pocketed it. “All right. I’ll return this to you once the transaction is complete.”

Jaron nodded. “Is there anything else I can do?” His tail flicked restlessly, but he seemed unaware of this. 

Altair shook his head and an air of kindness softened his voice when he spoke again. “Get some rest. It’s still a few hours before it gets dark enough for us to really do anything.” 

Keegan exchanged a glance with Jaron, sure that neither of them truly felt like resting. He wasn’t going to talk back to Altair over this, though. “Let us know when you’ve got the amulet,” he said instead.

“Of course,” Altair said by way of dismissing them.

Keegan and Jaron left Altair’s office and made their way back to Keegan’s room. Inside, Keegan fell back onto the bed. Jaron lounged beside him, propped on one elbow.

“So, what now?” Jaron asked. “Nap time?”

“Do you really want to nap?” 

“No,” Jaron admitted. Idly, he looked around the room. “Tell me something, Kee. What do you like to do when you’re not charting the future? What kind of life would you live if you didn’t have your powers?”

The question took Keegan aback. No one had ever asked him such a thing. 

“I don’t really know,” he confessed. “My powers are as much a part of me as my need for blood.”

“Sure,” Jaron said, nodding thoughtfully, “but imagine if they weren’t. What would you do? Who would you be?”

Keegan closed his eyes, allowing himself, for the first time, to truly entertain the thought. “Maybe I’d travel. I don’t know. Just… live.”

“That’s sounds nice,” Jaron remarked softly, a smile audible in his voice. “Where would we travel?”

Keegan opened his eyes to look at Jaron. “Where would you want to go?” he turned the question around. 

Jaron took a moment to think about it. “I’ve always kind of wanted to see the Fringes.” 

His response surprised Keegan. The Fringes weren’t exactly a popular tourist destination. “Isn’t that where Apollo is from?” he wondered out loud. “I’ve heard it’s a lawless place.”

“That is what makes it so appealing,” Jaron said. “There aren’t any dragons there who lord over everyone else. No one there would care about the way I dress.”

Or about your lack of magical prowess? Keegan wanted to ask but didn’t, knowing that the question would have hurt Jaron. 

He put it a different way. “Do you think your life would be very different if you had more power?” 

“Yes,” Jaron said without hesitation. After a few seconds, he added, “But I don’t know if it would be better.” 

Keegan sat up, considering Jaron thoughtfully. “How so?”

Jaron’s gaze drifted as he pondered the question. “I’ve always had to live with the knowledge that I was disappointing my family. That I wasn’t living up to their expectations or the potential they saw in me.”

He paused, his expression shifting to something more resolute. “But in the end, it freed me from the expectations that my younger siblings now have to carry. The pressure to be perfect, to always put the family name first.”

Jaron met Keegan’s eyes. “I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I’d had powers. I would have been molded into someone else entirely.”

Keegan reached out, his fingers brushing Jaron’s cheek. “That would be a shame,” he said, “because I like the person you are now.”

Jaron leaned into Keegan’s touch. “You do?” he asked, not in that confident, challenging tone of voice he used when he was playing with Keegan. It was a genuine question this time, and there was genuine hope in it, as if even their mating hadn’t fully convinced him that he was good enough.

Keegan’s heart melted for his dragon. “Of course I do. You’re brave and kind. You stand up for what you believe in, even when it’s not easy. That’s a rare thing.”

A smile lit up Jaron’s face. He turned his head, pressing a kiss to Keegan’s palm. “You’re not just saying that because of my lack of clothes?”

Keegan laughed, giving Jaron’s shoulder a playful shove. “You’re incorrigible.”

“But you love me for it,” Jaron teased back with just a hint of insecurity.

Keegan didn’t miss a beat. “I do,” he said, the words coming easier than he’d expected. “I really do.”

Jaron’s expression softened, the playfulness giving way to something more tender. Keegan leaned in, capturing Jaron’s lips in a gentle kiss. Jaron responded immediately, his hand sliding to the back of Keegan’s neck, pulling him closer.

When they parted, Jaron’s eyes were half-lidded, his breathing slightly uneven. “Bite me,” he whispered, tilting his head to expose his neck. “Please.”

Keegan’s gaze was drawn to the pulse point on Jaron’s neck, the steady throb of his heartbeat visible beneath the skin. The scent of Jaron’s blood, rich and enticing, filled his nostrils.

This time, Keegan didn’t resist. He didn’t want to. He wanted to taste Jaron again, to feel that connection, to reaffirm their bond.

Slowly, almost reverently, Keegan lowered his head. His lips brushed against Jaron’s neck, feeling the dragon shiver beneath his touch. Then, with a gentleness that belied his vampire nature, he sank his fangs into Jaron’s flesh.

Jaron gasped, his body arching into Keegan’s. His fingers tangled in Keegan’s hair, holding him close as Keegan drank.

The taste of Jaron’s blood was just as Keegan remembered – rich, powerful, and addictive. It flowed over his tongue and down his throat, warming him from the inside out.

But more than that, it was the connection that Keegan craved. As he drank, he could feel Jaron’s emotions, his love, his trust, his joy at their connection. It was a heady mix, one that left Keegan wanting more, always.

As Keegan drank from Jaron, the visions came again, but this time, he didn’t fight them. With Jaron’s presence anchoring him, his powers felt like a gentle stream enveloping him. He allowed his mind to drift, content to let the visions show him what they wanted.

At first, Keegan half-expected to see his future with Jaron again, but instead, he found himself transported to the scene of his own death once more. This time, however, everything was clearer, with more detail than he had ever seen before.

In the vision, Jaron was bending over him, the amulet they had been seeking hanging around his neck. Had that been there before? Keegan tried to think, but it was difficult to focus on anything other than the scene unfolding before him.

Jaron’s voice broke through the haze, and for the first time, Keegan could make out the words. “I don’t want to do this,” Jaron said, his voice thick with emotion.

Keegan heard himself respond, his own voice sounding distant and resigned. “Do it.”

The vision ended abruptly, leaving Keegan reeling. He pulled back from Jaron’s neck, his breathing heavy as he tried to process what he had just seen. The amulet, Jaron’s presence, his own apparent acceptance of his fate – it was all too much to take in at once.

Jaron, sensing Keegan’s distress, pulled him close. “What is it?” he asked, his voice soft with concern. “What did you see?”

Keegan didn’t want to tell Jaron because it was all too horrible, but he had to, didn’t he? 

They were supposed to be in this together. 

“Kee,” Jaron prompted as if he wanted to remind him of this also.

“I saw… my death again,” Keegan managed. “But it was different this time. You were there, with the amulet. And I… I told you to do it.”

Jaron’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Do what?”

“Kill me.” Keegan was quite sure of that. In his vision, he’d wanted Jaron to kill him. 

But why? 

“That can’t be right,” Jaron insisted. “You’re misinterpreting what you saw. Why would you ask me to do that to you? How could you expect me to do that?”

“I don’t know.” Keegan couldn’t explain anything to Jaron since he didn’t understand himself. 

“The amulet didn’t help?” 

“I don’t think you were being controlled that time, so maybe it does.” It just wasn’t going to change the outcome of that fateful event, just the path they took there. 

“Take another look,” Jaron said. “We gotta know more. There’s got to be something that will make this make sense.”

Keegan rubbed his temples, trying to clear his mind. The vision still clung to him, vivid and unyielding and Keegan didn’t want to look at it again. Jaron’s insistence gnawed at him.

“I don’t see how it will help,” Keegan muttered, getting up to pace the room. 

“You won’t know unless you try,” Jaron insisted, stepping into Keegan’s path. “What if we’re missing something important?”

Keegan stopped, staring into Jaron’s eyes, so bright, so determined. In his vision, they’d been filled with tears. 

He swallowed. 

He really didn’t want to see that again. 

But Jaron was right. This wasn’t the time to shy away from the truth. 

“Fine,” he relented, sitting back down on the bed. “I’ll try again.”

Jaron sat beside him as Keegan closed his eyes and reached for the vision once more. The familiar scene unfolded: his own death, Jaron with the amulet, his own resigned acceptance. But there was nothing new here, no hidden details revealing themselves.

Keegan broke free from the vision, shaking his head in frustration. “It’s the same,” he said. “Nothing’s different.”

“Try again,” Jaron urged. “But this time, focus on the surroundings. Maybe that’ll give you a clue when and where this is happening.”

That actually wasn’t a bad idea. 

So far, Keegan had always been completely focused on himself and the dragon who killed him.

Taking a deep breath, Keegan closed his eyes once more and let the vision wash over him. This time, he forced himself to look beyond himself and Jaron. The edges of the vision sharpened as he paid attention to their environment.

They were in a large room filled with unfamiliar scientific equipment—metal tables covered in strange devices and blinking lights. It looked like a lab of some sort, but nothing he recognized.

His gaze shifted to one corner of the room where Apollo and several other victims were bound and unconscious. A chill ran down Keegan’s spine as he noticed something else as well.

The shadowy figure from before lurked nearby, still hiding from his sight but unmistakably there.

Keegan’s heart pounded as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Why would they be in a lab? What kind of experiments were being conducted here?

Breaking free from the vision once more, Keegan opened his eyes and looked at Jaron. “The kidnapper is involved,” he said breathlessly. “They’re in a lab with scientific equipment… Apollo and others are there too…”

Jaron’s expression turned pensive. “Maybe we shouldn’t be there,” he said eventually. 

Keegan shot him a questioning look. 

“What if we ran away?” Jaron suggested. “You said you wanted to travel. We don’t have to stick around here for the kidnapper to drag us into their evil machinations. It seems like they need us for some reason, like maybe they need the power of our fate bond, so we should make sure they can’t get us.”

Keegan hesitated. The idea of running—of abandoning everything and everyone he knew—felt alien. Running from their fate, from the inevitability of what he had seen, seemed impossible. Their future wasn’t something they could simply escape from by taking a different path. The vision was carved into his mind like stone, unchangeable.

“Jaron,” Keegan began, voice strained with the weight of his thoughts. “I don’t think we can just…run away. This isn’t something we can evade by skipping town.”

But Jaron was insistent. “We have to try,” he pleaded. “I can’t sit around waiting to become your killer.”

The raw intensity in Jaron’s voice struck Keegan hard. Jaron didn’t want to hurt Keegan, and Keegan didn’t want that for him either. 

They had to find a way out of this.

Didn’t Keegan owe it to Jaron to try everything?

“What if this is one of those self-fulfilling prophecies you mentioned before?” Jaron pressed. “If you’d never seen this future coming, you wouldn’t be so paralyzed by it. We wouldn’t stick around here. We’d go traveling, living our best lives.” 

Keegan couldn’t deny that Jaron’s words had a certain logic to them. His powers had always been a burden as much as a gift, shaping his life in ways he couldn’t always control. If he didn’t have them, would he be free to live the life he wanted? To be with Jaron without the shadow of a dark future hanging over them?

But even as he entertained the thought, another question nagged at him. He looked at Jaron, searching his eyes. “Are you really capable of running away while our friends are hurting?” 

Keegan’s visions hadn’t brought the kidnappings about. 

Jaron winced, but he didn’t change his opinion. “We wouldn’t be running away,” he argued. “Think about it. The kidnapper clearly needs us to complete their plan. If we remove ourselves from the equation, we’re not abandoning our friends. We’re helping them the best way we can.”

Keegan didn’t want to argue, not with Jaron. His dragon had a point, but the thought of abandoning everyone left a bitter taste in his mouth. “I understand what you’re saying, but running away feels… wrong.”

“It’s not wrong if it keeps us alive,” Jaron countered. “Can’t you see? I don’t want…” He struggled with his words. “I don’t want us to end before we can really start.”

Keegan wanted to reach out to him, but instead, his fingers absently tracing the scarf around his neck—the one Jaron had given him. He remembered their first meeting vividly: Jaron’s brash confidence, his playful teasing, and how quickly everything had escalated between them. 

Through their bond, he felt as if Jaron was part of him; as if he’d known him forever.

In reality, though, they’d only been together a short time. 

Keegan couldn’t blame his dragon for wanting more than that. The difference between them was that Keegan had always known that Jaron would be his end. 

He just hadn’t known how much Jaron would mean to him. 

Enough to leave his friends and run away with him for a few stolen days spent together before fate could catch up with them and ruin them forever. 

Was that too much to ask?

“Where would you go?” Keegan asked softly.

A tentative smile brightened Jaron’s face at Keegan’s question. “Anywhere you want,” he replied. “I’ve still got my dad’s credit card to buy tickets.”

“Won’t your parents chase you down when they see the records of purchase?” 

“No. They’ll be glad I left the country, ‘laying low’ like I promised them I would do. They won’t come after me.” 

Keegan nodded and closed his eyes for a moment, imagining the two of them in a far-off place, away from all the chaos and danger that surrounded them now. It was tempting—so very tempting—to lose themselves in each other, if only for a little while.

He opened his eyes and met Jaron’s gaze. “Let’s go then,” he said. “As soon as we can.”

“Yes!” Jaron pulled Keegan into an embrace, holding him tightly as if afraid he’d disappear. “We’ll be okay,” he said as if he truly believed this. 

Keegan did not, but he didn’t mention this. Old instincts urged him to look into their future to choose the perfect travel destination, but Jaron stopped him as if he could exactly what Keegan was about to do. 

“Don’t look ahead,” Jaron said. “Just live in the moment with me for this vacation.” He smiled at Keegan, but there was a hint of worry in his gaze as if he too knew that this thing they were planning wasn’t a solution, but he wanted to hold on to the illusion for as long as he could. 

Keegan was reminded of the conversation they’d had when Keegan had first revealed to him that their story wasn’t going to have a happy ending. Jaron’s reaction had been to enjoy the time they were giving before the ending for all it was worth. 

Was that what he was doing now?

Did he have the same idea as Keegan?

The thought made Keegan’s chest constrict. Somehow, Jaron giving up was so much sadder than Keegan giving up. 

Except that Jaron hadn’t given up. A fire still burned in his eyes. “We’ll go somewhere no one can touch us,” he said. 

“Yes,” Keegan agreed. “You choose the place.”


New Chapter 

Jaron emerged from the swirling portal, one hand clutching Keegan’s and one the amulet around his neck, which he’d received from Altair before they’d stolen away. His dragon instincts felt uneasy about the sudden plunge into an unfamiliar environment, but the sight before him stole his breath away.

Aquavaris unfolded in shimmering luminescence, an underwater city bathed in gentle light from the bioluminescent dome overhead. Schools of vibrant fish swam lazily above the dome, their scales reflecting the glow in myriad colors. Elegant structures of coral and glass rose from the ocean floor, interconnected by streets that seemed to flow like rivers.

Keegan stepped through the portal behind him, eyes wide with wonder. “It’s beautiful.” 

Jaron nodded, equally entranced. “Ready to explore?”

Keegan glanced around, taking a deep breath as if to steady himself. His usual tension had melted away, replaced by a sense of awe and wonder. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he admitted. “It’s like something out of a dream.”

Jaron laughed. “Glad you like it. I wanted to find a place where we could both feel safe. This seemed perfect because the sun doesn’t reach down here.”

Keegan looked up as if that thought hadn’t occured to him. 

In fact, the only light illuminating the city came from the dome. There was no sun to be seen. 

“I wonder why this isn’t a hotspot for vampire tourism,” Jaron mused. 

“Most vampires don’t tend to travel much,” Keegan explained. “I shouldn’t have left my territory either, without permission from my lord.” 

“You mean Altair?” 

“Yes. It can reflect badly on us if the local covens think we’re intruding.” 

“Sounds stifling,” Jaron said. The portal had spit them out near a market area, and Jaron tugged on Keegan’s hand to lead him toward it. 

The stalls displayed a variety of underwater treasures: glowing shells, crunchy seaweed delicacies, and exotic marine life preserved in crystal-clear spheres.

Most of the vendors were water dragon-shifters, but Jaron spotted a few sirens as well. Keegan and he stuck out among the market-goers, but no one seemed to pay them much attention, which was just as well. 

Their fingers intertwined as if they were an ordinary couple, taking in the sights and sounds of Aquavaris.

If only that were true…

Jaron willed himself to believe that it was as he marveled at the colorful coral sculptures around him and the shimmering scales of the fish that swam overhead. It was like stepping into a dream, a world so different from their own. It helped him forget the troubles he was trying to leave behind.

“Look at that,” Jaron said, pointing to a stall selling glowing seashells. 

Keegan picked up one of the shells, turning it over in his hands. “I wonder how they make them glow like that.”

“Magic, probably,” Jaron said with a grin. “Everything here seems magical.”

They continued on, stopping to sample some of the local delicacies. Jaron wasn’t sure what half of the things were, but he was willing to try anything once while Keegan watched him curiously, unable to eat himself. 

Jaron ate something that looked vaguely like a lemon but tasted like watermelon. Then he turned around and kissed Keegan, shoving his tongue into the vampire’s mouth. 

“Got a good taste?” he asked with a grin. 

“Not bad,” Keegan said with a smile. “But I might need another taste to be sure.” 

Jaron laughed and walked on. “Next I’ll find something disgusting for you to taste.”

“You’d have to eat it first,” Keegan pointed out. 

Jaron flashed his mate another grin. “That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.” 

Keegan shook his head as if this was all very hard to deal with for him, but Jaron knew better. In truth, his vampire was more relaxed than Jaron had ever known him to be, his shoulders loose and his face free of the worry lines that usually creased his brow. It was a good look on him.

“What are you staring at?” Keegan asked, catching Jaron’s gaze.

Jaron shrugged, a smile tugging at his lips. “Just admiring the view.”

“Oh yeah?” Keegan pulled Jaron closer. “Maybe it’s time we checked into our hotel.”

“Wait,” Jaron said. “I want to do one more thing.” He pointed to a stall up ahead where an artist was painting pictures of people. 

“You want a painting?” 

“Well, we can’t take a picture, can we?” Vampires didn’t show up in photographs, after all. 

Jaron led Keegan to the artist’s stall. “Excuse me,” he called out to the artist, a mermaid with scales that shimmered in the low light. “We’d like a painting.”

The mermaid smiled warmly. “Of course, please have a seat.” She gestured to a pair of chairs set up in front of her easel.

Jaron and Keegan settled into the chairs, their hands still intertwined. The artist studied them for a moment, her eyes flicking between their faces. “Such an interesting couple,” she mused as she began to mix her paints.

Jaron chuckled. “You have no idea.”

As the artist worked, Jaron stole glances at Keegan. The vampire had to put some work into keeping his smile in place now, but he did it for the sake of their portrait. 

Jaron squeezed his hand silently. Maybe he shouldn’t have reminded him that this vacation would end eventually, but he did want this painting. 

At least it didn’t take the artist long to complete her work. She probably used some sort of magic to speed up the process. After only a few moments, she stepped back from her easel. “All done,” she announced with a flourish.

Jaron and Keegan stood up and moved to see the painting. It was stunning—a perfect capture of them in vibrant colors, leaning toward each other.

“It’s beautiful,” Jaron said.

Keegan nodded in agreement, but he didn’t say anything, almost as if he didn’t have the words. 

Jaron pulled out his credit card and went to pay the artist, but Keegan stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Let me cover this one.” 

Keegan payed before Jaron could protest that this had been his idea.

The mermaid thanked Keegan and handed him the painting carefully wrapped in protective paper. “Enjoy your stay in Aquavaris.”

“We will,” Jaron promised as they walked away from the stall. Whatever came next, he would always treasure this painting and the moment it had been created. 


New Chapter 

Jaron and Keegan checked into their hotel, and Jaron led the way up to their room. With his dad’s credit card, Jaron had booked them the most luxurious suite money could buy. 

When they stepped inside, Keegan’s eyes widened. The room was expansive, with floor-to-ceiling windows that offered an unparalleled view of the underwater cityscape. Every detail screamed opulence, from the marble floors to the chandeliers that glittered like captured starlight.

“Not bad,” Keegan said. 

Jaron grinned, pleased that his mate had kept his promise not to look ahead and spoil the surprise. “Only the best for us.”

Keegan walked further into the room, his gaze catching on the bed. There, arranged on top of the sheets, were pieces of coral in the shape of a heart. Keegan picked one up and sniffed it. “Is this…candy?”

Jaron nodded. “Yup.” He grabbed a piece and popped it into his mouth. It was sweet and fruity, dissolving on his tongue.

Keegan watched him, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Is this a honeymoon suite?”

Jaron shrugged, trying to play it cool. “We just got mated. I thought it was only appropriate.”

Keegan’s smile widened, and he stepped closer to Jaron, sliding his arms around his mate’s waist. “I didn’t know you were such a romantic,” he teased.

Jaron leaned in and kissed Keegan, letting the vampire taste the sweetness on his lips. When he pulled back, he said, “There’s a lot about me you still don’t know.”

They hadn’t spent enough time together yet. 

Maybe they never would. 

Jaron hated that thought, so he pushed it aside. 

“What do I not know?” Keegan asked. “Tell me everything.”

Jaron gave his vampire a smile and drew him onto the bed. 

He leaned back against the pillows, pulling Keegan close. He ran his fingers through the vampire’s silky hair as he began to speak. “When I was a kid, I used to sneak out of the house at night and go flying. I’d soar over the city, feeling like I could touch the stars. I got caught so many times but I never stopped.”

Keegan chuckled. “A little rebel from the start, huh?”

“You know it.” Jaron grinned. “I also had this weird obsession with collecting rocks. I’d fill my pockets with them and then forget about them until they wound up in the laundry.”

“Why rocks?” Kegan asked, tracing patterns on Jaron’s chest with his fingertips.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Jaron said. “I guess I just found them more interesting than the gem stones the rest of my family fawned over.” 

Keegan hummed. “So you like rocks and flying. What else?”

Jaron considered the question. “I love the sound of rain on a rooftop. The smell of freshly baked bread. The feeling of the sun on my face.” He paused, then added softly, “And you.”

“There’s the romantic again.” Amusement tinged Keegan’s voice. 

“Is that a problem?” 

“No.” Keegan leaned up to look at him. “I just never thought I’d end up with a romantic. Then again, I never really pictured myself in a relationship at all.” 

“You never wanted one?” 

“I never thought I could have one,” Keegan corrected. 

“And then you met me.” Jaron flashed his mate another grin. “And I wouldn’t let you get away.” He turned on his side and extended one of his wings over his vampire. “Now you’re mine.” 

“All yours,” Keegan agreed. “And I want to know more about you. Tell me everything,” he asked again. 

So Jaron did. He told Keegan about his childhood adventures, his hopes and dreams, his fears and insecurities. He shared stories of his family, his friends, and all the little things like the fact that he hated humid weather because it made his scales itch. 

And through it all, Keegan listened intently, his gaze never wavering from Jaron’s face. It was as if Jaron was the only thing that mattered in the world, the only subject worthy of the vampire’s undivided attention.

“What about you?” Jaron asked eventually. “Tell me something about you.”

“There’s not much to tell.” 

“I don’t believe that.” 

“Okay.” Keegan thought for a moment. “You said you wanted to touch the stars when you were young. That goes for me too. I don’t keep those star charts around because I really think they help. I just find them cool.”

Jaron laughed. What a dork. “It’s okay, I won’t tell anyone about your secret nerd side.”

Keegan smacked Jaron’s chest playfully. “You better not. I have a reputation to maintain.”

“Oh yeah? And what reputation is that?”

“That of the mysterious vampire seer, of course.” Keegan flashed his fangs in a smirk.

“Right. Well, your secret is safe with me.” He pulled Keegan closer, nuzzling into his neck. “I kind of like being the only one to know. I like being the only one you drink from too.”

Keegan hummed, tilting his head to give Jaron better access. “Is that so?”

“Mhmm.” Jaron placed a soft kiss on Keegan’s skin. “Makes me feel special.”

“You are special,” Keegan murmured, his fingers threading through Jaron’s hair.

Jaron lifted his head to look at his mate. “Yeah?”

Keegan nodded, his gaze soft and sincere. “Yeah. I’ve had a thousand visions, but you’re the one that takes my breath away.”

Jaron stopped, chest tightening. “Because I kill you.”

He expecetd Keegan to argue or say that that wasn’t how he’d meant it, but instead, Keegan’s lips twitched. “You’re the only one who’s allowed to,” he said. “I’m yours. My life, my soul, all of me.” He kissed Jaron before Jaron could protest and Jaron melted into him. 

Jaron rolled them over, settling his weight on top of Keegan as he deepened the kiss. His hands roamed over his mate’s body, mapping out every curve and plane. Keegan arched into his touch, a soft moan escaping his lips.

Hungry for more, Jaron broke the kiss to trail his lips down Keegan’s jaw and neck, nipping and sucking at the pale skin. Keegan’s fingers dug into Jaron’s shoulders, his breath coming in short gasps.

“Jaron,” he whispered, his voice rough with desire.

Jaron lifted his head, meeting Keegan’s gaze. The vampire’s blue eyes were dark, pupils blown wide with want.] It sent a shiver down Jaron’s spine.

Quickly, clothes were shed, tossed carelessly aside as they lost themselves in each other. 

Jaron surrendered himself to Keegan’s touch, letting the vampire take control. Keegan’s hands and lips roamed over Jaron’s body, igniting sparks of pleasure everywhere they touched. Jaron arched into the sensations, his eyes fluttering closed as he focused, desperately, only on the here and now.

Keegan’s mouth trailed lower, his tongue flicking out to taste Jaron’s heated skin. Jaron gasped, his fingers threading through Keegan’s hair as the vampire explored his body with agonizing slowness. 

“Keegan,” Jaron breathed, his voice rough with need. “Please…”

Keegan lifted his head, meeting Jaron’s gaze with a dark look. “Patience,” he murmured, his fingertips skimming along Jaron’s thigh. “Let’s make tonigth a night to remember.”

Jaron couldn’t argue with that. 

After all, wasn’t that exactly what he wanted too? 

He let his head fall back, trusting Keegan to take care of him, to make him feel good.

And Keegan did. 

Jaron’s breath hitched as Keegan’s cool mouth closed around the tip of his cock. The contrast between his heated skin and Keegan’s icy touch sent a shiver through him, making him groan. Keegan looked up, meeting Jaron’s eyes with a mischievous glint before he took more of Jaron into his mouth.

Keegan’s tongue was wicked, swirling around the sensitive head, tracing patterns that made Jaron’s toes curl. 

The hint of fangs grazed ever so slightly against Jaron’s sensitive skin, not enough to hurt but enough to send a thrill of danger coursing through his veins. His dragon instincts screamed at the touch, a primal part of him awakening to the tantalizing threat. His hips bucked involuntarily, and Keegan held him down with surprising strength.

“Gods, Keegan,” Jaron whispered, his fingers tightening in the vampire’s hair.

Keegan hummed around him, the vibration sending sparks of pleasure shooting up Jaron’s spine. He hollowed his cheeks, creating a delicious suction that had Jaron biting back a plea for more. Just when he thought he couldn’t take it any longer, Keegan would slow down, easing off until the fire in Jaron’s belly dulled to a simmer.

Jaron’s fingers twitched with the need to curl in Keegan’s hair and guide him faster, harder. But he restrained himself. He didn’t want this to end. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

He let go off Keegan and fisted his hands in the sheets, his breath catching as Keegan took him deeper, tongue swirling in maddening circles.

He was so close.

So fucking close. 

Keegan seemed to sense this, teasing him mercilessly with every stroke and lick of his tongue. The vampire’s eyes locked onto Jaron’s face, watching every reaction with an intensity that made Jaron feel both exposed and cherished. He felt like he was teetering on the edge of a precipice, every nerve ending singing.

He wanted to come, but he didn’t.

He wanted this moment to last forever. 

But then Keegan pulled back. 

“I wonder,” he mused while Jaron wanted to yell at him. 

Before Jaron could accuse his mate of torture, Keegan found a bottle of lube in the bedside drawer and flipped Jaron over. 

“Don’t you dare waste time on prep,” Jaron nearly whined. “Just fuck me.”

His need to be united with his mate was greater than his need for anything else. 

“I’ll make it quick,” Keegan promised, sliding a finger inside of him without preamble. 

Jaron’s muscles clenched around the intrusion, but quickly relaxed as the lube warmed him. That wasn’t regular lube, was it? “Did you read the label?” he asked Keegan. 

Keegan paused. Apparently, he had not. “It says ‘magical heat.’ Pretty generic description. Does it feel bad?” 

“No,” Jaron admitted. “Just… warm, and I think… Try three fingers.” His insides tingled where the lubed finger had touched him and he felt boneless. 

Keegan complied and pressed three fingers inside of him. They went without a hitch. “You’re loose.” 

“Watch how you talk to your mate.” 

“Am I wrong?” 

“Not really.” Jaron turned to grin at Keegan. “But my loose days are behind me. Now fuck me.” 

“Demanding,” Keegan murmured, but he didn’t make Jaron suffer any longer. 

With a smooth thrust, Keegan entered him, filling him completely. Jaron gasped at the sudden fullness, quickly turning into pleasure as Keegan set a steady rhythm.

Jaron gripped the sheets, his breath coming in ragged gasps as heat flowed through his body.

“Keegan,” he moaned, his voice breaking.

Keegan leaned over him, his breath hot against Jaron’s ear. “I’ve got you,” he whispered, his tone filled with love and promise.

Jaron clung to Keegan, his nails digging into the vampire’s back as they moved together. The world narrowed down to just the two of them, to the slide of skin on skin and the mingling of their breaths.

In that moment, nothing else mattered. Not the future, not their fate, not the challenges that lay ahead. There was only the two of them, lost in each other, in the pleasure they created together.

Keegan’s thrusts grew faster, more urgent, and Jaron met him every step of the way. They chased their release together, their bodies moving in perfect sync until finally, with a shared cry of ecstasy, they tumbled over the edge.

Jaron held Keegan close as they came down from their high, their chests heaving and their skin slick with sweat. Keegan pressed soft kisses to Jaron’s face, his touch gentle and soothing.

“I love you,” Keegan whispered, his voice raw with emotion. “No matter what happens, remember that. I love you, Jaron.”

Jaron swallowed past the lump in his throat, his heart swelling with the force of his own feelings. “I love you too,” he said softly. “Always.”

***

***

Jaron stirred, his eyes fluttering open as he slowly emerged from the depths of sleep. A lazy smile curved his lips as he saw Keegan laying next to him, propped up on one elbow, watching him with an intensity that made Jaron’s heart skip a beat. 

But as he studied Keegan’s face more closely, Jaron’s smile faded. The vampire’s jaw was clenched, his brow furrowed, and his eyes held a distant, troubled look. Jaron sat up, his own stomach knotting with sudden unease. “Did you see something?” He’d known their happiness couldn’t last, but did it have to be over so soon? “You promised you wouldn’t look.”

Keegan sighed, his gaze flicking away in a guilty fashion. “I can’t help it sometimes,” he admitted. “You’re going to get a call in a few minutes, and then our vacation will be over.”

Jaron’s heart sank. He wasn’t ready to face the future yet, wasn’t ready to let go of this precious time they had together. “What if I don’t take the call?” 

“You should take the call. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

“I’ll also regret it if I do.” Jaron was sure of this, sure that whatever news awaited him on the other end of that call… it wouldn’t be good.

Keegan didn’t argue.

Jaron looked at him a moment longer, and then he drew the vampire in for a kiss. They still had a few minutes, didn’t they? 

Jaron wanted to make every one of those count. 

They clung to each other, hands roaming, breaths mingling as they lost themselves in the taste and feel of each other. Jaron poured all his love, all his longing into that kiss, as if he could somehow make this moment last forever.

But all too soon, the shrill ring of Jaron’s phone shattered the silence. They broke apart, both breathing hard, and Jaron reached for the device with a heavy heart.

“Hello?” he said, his voice sounding strained to his own ears.

“Jaron.” It was his father’s voice, tight with worry and barely controlled anger. “Are Casca and Fei with you?”

“No, they’re not. Why are you asking?” Jaron glanced at Keegan, but the vampire had no more revelations for him.

“They weren’t in their beds this morning. Your mother is convinced they must have gone to you, or that they’re trying to in any case.”

Jaron shook his head even though his father couldn’t see him. “I haven’t talked to either of them since I left your place the day before yesterday.” His blood rushed in his ears. 

Had something happened to his siblings? 

Had the kidnapper gotten to them?

Oh, please, no. 

His little brothers couldn’t be dragged into all that. 

“Where else have you looked?” he demanded to know. Maybe the two of them had only run off to hang out with a friend. 

Deep down, Jaron knew it wouldn’t be that simple. Keegan had told him this call would end their vacation. 

Jaron had suspected it would be bad, but this?

This was catastrophic. 

On the phone, his father was rattling of a list of places they had looked and people they had called. 

“I’ll be right there,” Jaron said, ending the call. 

He was not going to let anything happen to his little brothers. 

“Did this happen because we tried to run away?” he wondered out loud while throwing all his stuff into his bag. “Tell me this isn’t our fault.”

Had his siblings been taken to bring him back home? If so, the kidnapper was an evil fucking mastermind, pulling the one string that would yank Jaron back to town in an instant. 

“I don’t know,” Keegan said, watching Jaron with a worried expression. “I didn’t look at the future before this trip.” 

And whose fault was that? Jaron’s. 

He gritted his teeth. “I get the message. No more running away from our problems. We’re going to find out who this kidnapper is, we’re going to find them, and we’re going to take my brothers back.” 

“Of course.” Keegan didn’t utter a word of protest, though he knew what going home and facing the criminal might mean for him and Jaron. 

Jaron knew it too. They were hurtling toward the fulfillment of their fate at full speed. 

Sadly, the brakes had been disabled. 


New Chapter 

As they approached the Tymera mansion that night, Keegan clenched his fists, knuckles turning white. Jaron might be blaming himself, but Keegan knew who had really brought all this misfortune upon this family, and he was going to set things right. 

One way or another. 

The door opened, revealing Jaron’s parents, both of them looking distraught. Their eyes darted to Keegan, and Mrs. Tymera sneered. 

“Do you really think this is the time to be parading your vampire boyfriend around, Jaron?” she spat, an icy edge to her voice.

Ignoring the barb, Jaron stepped forward. “Mother, Father, Keegan is here to help. He’s a seer.”

Jaron’s father crossed his arms, distrust evident in his posture. “A seer? And you think this bloodsucker can be of any use?”

Keegan swallowed the reply he wanted to make. He was here for Jaron and his siblings, not to engage in petty arguments.

“Listen,” Jaron said, voice firm. “Keegan’s visions can lead us to Casca and Fei. We have nothing to lose by letting him try.”

“Nothing to lose?” his mother snapped. “Our reputation—”

“Means nothing if Casca and Fei are dead!”

Silence followed that truth, thick and oppressive.

Keegan glanced at his mate. Jaron might not be able to breathe fire, but he wasn’t a dragon to be taken lightly, and Keegan was so proud of him. 

Stepping forward, Keegan addressed Mr. and Mrs. Tymera. “I just need access to their rooms. Their belongings can help me focus my visions.”

Another strained moment passed before Jaron’s father sighed heavily, shoulders slumping. “Fine. But if this backfires—”

“It won’t,” Jaron interrupted. “Keegan, let’s go.”

They made their way up a grand staircase, Jaron’s parents following. Keegan felt their scrutiny intensely, but he stayed focused. 

His task was more important than what those stuck up dragons thought.

Jaron opened the door to Casca’s room first, and Keegan stepped inside. 

It was the typical space of a pre-teen boy, with Lego blocks scattered across the floor, some finished and some half-built creations standing proudly on shelves. A soccer ball rested in the corner. On the desk, a laptop sat closed, surrounded by a few gaming controllers and a stack of comic books.

Turning to Jaron’s parents, Keegan cleared his throat. “I need some time by myself. Please leave the room.”

Jaron’s mother opened her mouth to protest, but his father placed a hand on her shoulder, looking at Keegan. “You had better not be messing with us, you hear me?” 

“Of course.”

Mr. and Mrs. Tymera didn’t look pleased, but they stepped out, closing the door behind them.

Jaron stood beside him. “What’s your plan?” 

“I think the kidnapper made a fatal mistake,” Keegan said.

“How so?”

Feeling restless, Keegan began to pace. “I’ve always had the easiest time seeing the future of those most closely connected to me. Casca and Fei might not be my brothers by blood, but through our mating bond, they technically are.”

Jaron’s eyes widened. “So you think…”

“The kidnapper now has two people closely connected to me. That might be enough for me to cut through their warding spell. I might finally be able to see who it is.”

“Really?” 

“It’s our best shot,” Keegan said. “I’ll give it everything I’ve got.” He placed a reassuring hand on Jaron’s shoulder, feeling the tension there, feeling it through their bond as well. 

This mattered so much to Jaron. 

Keegan wasn’t going to let him down. 

“I need your blood again,” he said. “I’ve got to be as juiced up as possible if we want this to work.”

Without hesitation, Jaron tilted his head, exposing the pale skin of his neck. “Take what you need.”

“Think of Casca,” Keegan instructed.

As Keegan’s fangs sank into Jaron’s neck, the familiar taste of dragon blood, of Jaron, filled his mouth. It spread through him, igniting his senses. Images began to rush in—visions blending together in a chaotic swirl.

He focused on Casca, letting the threads of the young dragon’s future pull him deeper into the vision. It was almost too easy; visions cascaded like a waterfall, each one vying for attention. There must have been a million of them. 

This particular dragon had the potential to live a very long life, a thought that made Keegan optimistic. 

In one vision, he saw him operating on someone as a surgeon. In another, he lifted his daughter above the crowd at a festival. 

Keegan didn’t linger on those far-off visions. He needed something more immediate if he wanted to make sure that those futures had a chance of coming to pass. 

Finally, clarity emerged.

Casca and Fei appeared before him in a brightly lit lab—the same one he’d seen in his earlier vision. They were huddled together, clinging to each other. And there stood their captor.

Malkira.

The witch who had raised Jaron. Sadness clouded her eyes as she gazed at the two young dragons.

“I wish there was another way,” she said as if she meant it. 

Keegan pulled back from the vision with a gasp, releasing Jaron’s neck. His mind reeled from the revelation.

“Malkira,” he whispered hoarsely. “It’s Malkira.”

Keegan watched Jaron’s face carefully as he revealed the truth about Malkira. Shock, disbelief, and then a flicker of anger passed over his mate’s features.

His immediate reaction was denial.

“No,” Jaron said, shaking his head vehemently. “That can’t be right. Malkira would never do something like this.”

“I know it’s hard to believe, but I saw her with my own eyes. She had Casca and Fei in a lab.”

Jaron began to pace the same way Keegan had before, his movements agitated. “Malkira took me in when I couldn’t stand being with my parents anymore. She’s like a mother to me! She wouldn’t hurt anyone, let alone my brothers.”

Keegan reached out, placing a hand on Jaron’s arm to still him. “I get that this must be a shock, but I know what I saw. We have to face the possibility that Malkira isn’t who you thought she was.”

Jaron pulled away, his eyes flashing with a mix of emotions. “You don’t know her like I do. There has to be another explanation. Maybe someone is forcing her to do this. Or maybe it’s an imposter.”

Keegan felt nothing but sympathy for his mate. To have someone you trusted, someone who raised you, betray you like this… 

He wanted to let Jaron hang on to his denial, but that wasn’t going to do anyone any good. “I know you want to believe the best of her, but we have to consider the facts. My vision was clear. Malkira had Casca and Fei, and she seemed to be in control of the situation.”

Jaron shook his head again. “We have to get her side of the story.”

Keegan hesitated, unsure if confronting Malkira directly was the best course of action. But he could feel Jaron’s determination through their bond, and he knew there would be no dissuading him.

“Alright,” Keegan said finally. “We’ll go see her. But we need to be prepared for the worst. If Malkira really is behind this, we can’t let our guard down.”

Jaron nodded, his jaw set. “I know. But I have to believe there’s more to this. The Malkira I know would never hurt anyone. There has to be an explanation.”

Keegan hoped, for Jaron’s sake, that he was right.

***

Keegan followed Jaron into Malkira’s home, a sense of unease settling in his gut. What would the witch tell them when they confronted her?

As it turned out, they weren’t about to find out. The place was eerily quiet. No one was home. 

“Malkira?” Jaron called out, going up the stairs.

No response.

Jaron glanced back at Keegan, an unspoken question on his face. Do you think she knew we were coming?

“Let’s just see if we can find any clue as to what’s going on,” Keegan said. “Can we look at her room?” 

Jaron didn’t seem to like that idea, but he nodded. It was commendable that he didn’t want to invade the witch’s private space, but if it increased his chances of finding his siblings alive and well, he would open the door to Keegan. 

“I still think this is insane,” he muttered as he led Keegan inside. 

Keegan didn’t say anything, he only looked around. 

The room was a mess. Papers were scattered everywhere, covering every surface. Books lay open on the floor, their pages marked with hastily scribbled notes. The air was heavy with the scent of incense and something else, something sharp and acrid that made Keegan’s nose wrinkle.

“This isn’t like her,” Jaron said as if he needed to defend Malkira while he walked to the window and opened it to let some fresh air in. 

Keegan picked up a nearby piece of paper, his eyes scanning the dense text. It was filled with complex magical formulas and diagrams, the kind of advanced magic that was way beyond his understanding.

“What was she working on?” Keegan muttered, more to himself than to Jaron.

Was this the kind of spell that could alter the fate of the universe?

“I don’t know,” Jaron said. “I didn’t think she was working on anything other than her garden…” 

“Well, this isn’t nothing.” Keegan gestured at all the papers. 

Jaron picked some of them up. “I can’t make sense of this.” 

Neither could Keegan. “Maybe something here will mention a location…” 

“We should take all this to the office,” Jaron said, clearly refering to his work place. They probably had mages there. 

“We will,” Keegan said. “Let’s just look for a moment longer. Help me with this.”

Jaron nodded, though he still seemed uncomfortable rooting through Malkira’s things. 

After a few minutes, Jaron uncovered something that made him go still. 

Keegan walked over to him and looked over his shoulder. Jaron was reading an old newspaper article called “Promising Researcher Dismissed from Institute.”

The article talked about Malkira, painting a picture of a brilliant but controversial researcher. There were mentions of unethical experiments involving a magical virus.

“We talked about this a little while ago,” Jaron said softly. “She claimed she wasn’t really at fault, but what if she was?”

Keegan met Jaron’s gaze, seeing the pain of betrayal in his eyes. He rested a hand on his mate’s shoulder. “We don’t know for sure.” 

Jaron’s brows furrowed. “What if she’s really kidnapped my little brothers? What if my mom was right about her?” 

Keegan heard the words he didn’t say: Then it would be all my fault.

“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Keegan assured him. “Your brothers will be okay.”

“Can you promise me that?” Jaron asked. “Can you look into the future and promise me that?” 

That wasn’t how his powers worked. He saw possibilities, not definites—most of the time. But that wasn’t what Jaron needed to hear now. “When I searched for Casca,” Keegan said, “I saw a very long life for him.”

Not a lie.

There was a chance Casca was going to live a very long life, and that hope was what Keegan needed Jaron to cling to. 

The muscles in Jaron’s jaw tensed. “Let’s keep looking.”

Keegan sifted through the papers with Jaron, frustration mounting as nothing useful surfaced. Nothing but incomprehensible spells. Then, without warning, his vision tunneled. The papers in his hand slipped through his fingers, fluttering to the floor.

The world around him dissolved, replaced by a stark, sterile lab. Malkira stood in the center, surrounded by glowing runes and arcane symbols etched into the floor. Her hands moved with precision as she prepared ingredients for a ritual. Keegan could see Casca and Fei bound to chairs, their faces pale and eyes wide with fear.

A clock ticked loudly in the background, each second a hammer blow to Keegan’s heart. 

He understood what his powers were trying to tell him.

They were running out of time.

The vision shattered like glass, and Keegan staggered back, gasping for breath. His knees buckled, and he would have collapsed if Jaron hadn’t caught him.

“Keegan!” Jaron gripped him tightly. “Are you okay?”

Keegan steadied himself. “Malkira… she’s preparing the ritual now. Casca and Fei are there.”

An expression of horror settled on Jaron’s face. “Where? Did you see where?”

Keegan shook his head, trying to clear the fog from his mind. “No… just the lab… it’s happening soon.”

Before they could process further, Keegan’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He fumbled for it and held it to his ear without checking who was on the other end of the line.

He was surprised to hear Mordyn’s voice. 

“I found them,” his friend said. 

“Mordyn,” Keegan said. “Where are you? Are you all right?” 

Mordyn ignored the second question. “Apollo’s people told me what district to look in, and just a few minutes ago I sensed an unnatural surge of fear. Tracked it to a building.”

“You think the victims are in there?” 

“My mate is not a victim,” Mordyn said sharply, “but he’s in there. I know that. The place is crawling with wards and enchantments. I’m going to find a way in.”

“Mordyn, wait. We—”

“I’m sending you the location. I’ve sent it to Altair and Apollo’s people as well.” That was all he said before the call cut off. 

Keegan turned to Jaron. “We got a location,” he said, showing him the text from Mordyn that had just arrived on his phone. 

Jaron seemed to commit the address to memory. “Let’s go.”

New Chapter

The address Mordyn had given them led them to a decrepit building. Ivy clung desperately to the crumbling bricks, an attempt by nature to reclaim what had been lost to time and neglect. Shattered windows stared blankly into the street, black voids that seemed to swallow the light. 

This wasn’t just an old building, though. 

The hairs on Keegan’s neck stood on end as he sensed the potent weave of enchantments cloaking the place. Magic wafted through the air, an almost tangible force humming beneath the surface.

The sound of footsteps drew Keegan’s attention. A group of mages approached, their expressions hard with determination. All of them wore the same red cloaks, and they were led by a dragon who wore the crest of the royal family. A high ranking officer of the city guard, no doubt.

The Mortal Rights Task Force must have passed Mordyn’s information on to them as well. 

“Let’s get to work, people,” the guard barked.

Keegan stepped back, giving them room to operate. Each mage positioned themselves at a strategic point around the building. Incantations began, words of power woven with the elegance and precision of a master artisan. Magic shimmered into being, luminescent tendrils snaking towards the invisible wards.

The air crackled with energy, and the wards began to react, a mesmerizing dance of light that shimmered and vibrated under the assault. Pulses of raw energy flared, meeting the mages’ magic with resistance. 

Keegan watched, spellbound, as the spells wove through the wards, seeking weaknesses and unraveling defenses. 

They would get through, eventually.

Keegan closed his eyes, trying to tap into his foresight, to see what would await them. Flickers of visions flashed before him—disjointed, chaotic images of what was to come. He saw glimpses of all the victims, their faces contorted with fear. He saw Jaron, his features twisted in anger and pain. And always, lurking at the edges, was the specter of his own death, an inevitability that gnawed at him.

He came back to the present breathing hard.

A part of him wanted to linger on his own fate, but that wasn’t all he’d seen. 

Wards weren’t the only thing protecting the building. 

It was teeming with mages on the inside as well. 

Keegan wanted to go and tell the guard when a storm of crows dove down from the sky and then Altair stood next to him. 

Keegan’s lord looked at the building, then at Keegan. “Anything I need to know that Mord didn’t tell me?”

Keegan told him about the mages and let Altair take care of telling everyone else while more and more vampires appeared around them. His whole coven was assembling, it seemed. 

The only one Keegan hadn’t seen yet was Mordyn. Had he already found a way inside? 

That was something Keegan would worry about later.

In a little bit.

For now… 

“Jaron, I need to talk to you,” he said, pulling his mate away from the crowd of vampires and mages. 

Jaron shot him a worried look. “What is it?”

Keegan took a deep breath, struggling to find the right words. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen inside. But my visions… they’re still showing the same ending for us.”

Jaron’s face tightened. “No.”

It was all he said, a simple refusal. As if it was that easy.

Keegan loved him for that, but he also needed him to understand this. He grabbed Jaron’s shoulders and rested his forehead against the dragon’s, feeling the tension in his mate’s body. “No matter what happens,” Keegan said, “I won’t blame you. Even if we can’t be together after this, I want you to live your best life, free of guilt.”

Jaron shook his head. “I won’t hurt you. Not ever.”

Before Keegan could respond, one of the mages raised their voice above the hum of magical energy. “The wards are sufficiently weakened! We can enter now!”

The atmosphere shifted abruptly. Tension thickened, an electric charge sparking between everyone present as they readied themselves for action.

Keegan exchanged another look with Jaron. 

It was time to go in and face whatever was coming at them. 

***

The air inside felt thick, almost tangible, and the scent of mold mingled with something more acrid, like burning rubber. 

Jaron didn’t let the stench stop him. 

He was going to protect Keegan and stop Malkira. Failure wasn’t an option.

Keegan moved beside him, eyes distant and glazed as he tapped into his foresight. Jaron’s frustration bubbled beneath the surface—if only he could breathe fire like a true dragon-shifter, he could be useful too.

Except that it would be a really dumb idea to breathe fire in an enclosed building, of course. 

A couple of mages walked ahead of him and Keegan. Jaron wondered what they planned to do when suddenly, the building erupted into chaos. Spells zipped through the air like angry hornets, leaving trails of sizzling energy in their wake. 

Keegan stumbled as a spell exploded near them, and Jaron’s arm shot out instinctively to steady him. “Stay close,” he urged, raising his voice to be heard. 

The cacophony of magic crackling and clashing around them was nearly deafening.

“That way,” Keegan pulled Jaron to the left, down an empty corridor. They were splitting from the main group, but Jaron trusted that Keegan knew what he was doing. “I can find us a safe way,” he said. “Down the stairs here, quick.” He opened a door and shoved Jaron through it just before a part of the ceiling came down behind them. 

“Fuck,” Jaron cursed. “That could have…” 

Keegan shook his head. “Stay focused.” 

They could still hear the sounds of battle not too distant from them. 

“There’ll be mages on the lower levels too,” Keegan said. “I’ll try to avoid them, but I think we need to go all the way down.” 

“Why are all these people helping Malkira if she’s trying to end the world?” 

“I don’t know,” Keegan said, taking Jaron’s hand and guiding him onward. 

Jaron followed Keegan around another corner, his senses on high alert. The sounds of battle echoed through the building, reminding him that they couldn’t be taking their time about this. 

Keegan held up a hand, signaling for Jaron to wait. “I need to check where we should go from here,” he said, his eyes already distant as he delved into his visions.

Jaron nodded, taking up a defensive stance. He scanned their surroundings, poised for action.

While Keegan was figuring out where they had to go, it was on Jaron to protect his mate.

A flicker of movement caught his eye.

One of the mages, a small man, emerged from the shadows, hands already weaving a spell. Jaron didn’t hesitate. He leaped forward, placing himself between the attacker and Keegan.

The mage snarled, hurling the spell at Jaron. Magic sizzled past him, cutting into his skin on its path, but Jaron didn’t let that stop him. With a roar that was more dragon than human, he tackled the mage to the ground.

They grappled, rolling across the floor in a tangle of limbs. The mage was skilled, but Jaron had raw draconic strength on his side. He pinned the mage down, his grip unbreakable.

“Why are you doing this?” Jaron demanded, his voice a low growl. “What’s Malkira planning?”

The mage shook his head. “We’re only doing what needs to be done.”

Jaron tightened his hold, his fingers digging into the mage’s arms. “Tell me,” he demanded.

The mage’s eyes narrowed. 

Jaron realized the man was going to cast another spell, something to throw him off, but then, instead of attacking, the mage started crying. 

Just like that, he was bawling under Jaron. 

Jaron blinked. 

What…?

Was this a trick?

“That one’s got a lot of issues.” 

Jaron looked up at the sound of the voice and saw Mordyn stepping out of the shadows.

Was this his doing somehow?

Mordyn gave a small shake of his head as if he knew what Jaron was wondering about. “Emotions are my playground,” he said. “Or battleground, if need be.”

Before Jaron could ask him to explain further, Keegan snapped out of his vision, his eyes focusing on the scene before him. He took in the crying mage and Mordyn’s presence without a flicker of surprise.

“Took you long enough to get here,” Mordyn said to him. 

“We don’t have time to chat,” Keegan replied. “We need to keep moving.”

With that, he turned and strode down the corridor, leaving the mage behind. Jaron and Mordyn exchanged a glance before following suit.

After a few steps, Keegan slowed down and turned to Jaron, his gaze zeroing in on Jaron’s shoulder. “You’re hurt,” he noted, eyes narrowing at the wound where the spell had hit.

Jaron shrugged, ignoring the sharp twinge of pain the movement caused. “I’m fine,” he said, his voice tight. “There are more important things to focus on right now.”

Jaron followed Keegan and Mordyn down the stairs, his senses on high alert for any signs of danger. The deeper they went, the more oppressive the atmosphere became, as if the very air was trying to suffocate him.

Or maybe that was just his growing awareness that they were ever closer to getting answers he might not like.

Had Malkira really betrayed him, after all this time?

Why?

Jaron’s jaw set. He’d find out one way or another, and he’d face the truth, whatever it was. 

They encountered another group of mages on the next level, their hands already weaving spells. Jaron was ready to fight, but Mordyn stepped forward, his eyes glowing red.

The mages faltered, their spells fizzling out as they stared at Mordyn in confusion. Then, as one, they turned and fled, their faces twisted with inexplicable terror.

Jaron shot Mordyn an impressed look. “Handy trick.”

Mordyn shrugged, but Jaron could see the toll it was taking on him. The vampire’s face was as pale as Keegan’s had been when he was working himself into the ground.

It must be because Apollo was missing. 

Without his mate’s blood to sustain him, Mordyn was running on fumes.

But there was a steely determination in Mordyn’s eyes, a resolve that Jaron understood all too well. Mordyn would do whatever it took to save Apollo, just as Jaron would do anything for Keegan.

Still, it would probably be best to avoid too many confrontations. 

Keegan pushed them onward, his steps quick and purposeful. 

They could hear more mages ahead of them, and Jaron braced himself for a fight, but Keegan veered sharply to the left, leading them down a narrow side corridor.

“This way,” he said, his voice tight. “We’re getting close.”

Jaron’s heart pounded painfully as they descended another flight of stairs. He could feel it, the sense that they were nearing their goal. Somewhere in this building, Malkira was preparing her ritual, and Jaron would stop her.


New Chapter 

Jaron burst into the ritual room, Keegan and Mordyn at his heels. The scene that greeted them was one of chaos and terror. The kidnapped victims, including Jaron’s siblings Casca and Fei, and Mordyn’s mate Apollo, were unconscious and shackled to the walls. Glowing, arcane bonds encircled their wrists, the eerie light pulsing and flowing towards the center of the room.

There, at a large lab table, stood Malkira. A complex array of alchemical equipment was arranged around a central, glowing sphere. The sphere pulsed with the same eerie light as the shackles. 

Clearly, Malkira was already drawing power from the victims for her dark ritual.

Mordyn tried to run for Apollo, but several mages intercepted him—and while he got them to stop, it seemed to be costing him all the energy he had just to keep them from attacking.

Jaron swallowed hard, his attention drawn back to the witch at the lab table. The woman he’d thought he knew. 

She gazed at him with a sad look on her face. “I’m truly sorry it had to come to this.” 

Jaron stared at her, a mix of betrayal and confusion churning in his gut. “Why?” he demanded. “Why are you doing this?”

Malkira sighed. “You don’t understand the forces at play here, Jaron. The sacrifices that must be made for the greater good.”

“Greater good?” Jaron spat. “You’ve kidnapped my little brothers!” Jaron glanced over to them, and noticed, for the first time, that the shackles they wore didn’t glow red like the shackles on the other victims did. Theirs were glowing blue. 

He didn’t know what that meant, but it probably wasn’t good. 

“I don’t want to hurt children,” Malkira said, “but these children weren’t conceived in the natural way.”

“What the hell do you mean by that?” Jaron demanded, his voice shaking. He felt Keegan’s hand rest on his shoulder, a silent gesture of support.

Malkira gave Jaron a long, searching look before she spoke again. “Your mother was desperate for another child when she came to me. At the time, I sold all thoughts of spells for cheap, having been let go from my job.”

Jaron shook his head, trying to make sense of her words. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” 

His mother had sought help from Malkira? Because she’d needed another child? Because Jaron failed to live up to expectation?

“At first, I didn’t know how to help her, but then I had an idea,” Malkira continued, shaking her head. “I was younger then, and stupid. Too brilliant for my own good.”

“What did you do?” Jaron demanded. His voice rose against his will.

Malkira met his gaze, her eyes filled with regret. “The virus we’d been working on,” she said, “I changed it and infected your parents.”

Jaron felt like the ground had been ripped out from under him. His parents, infected with a virus? His brothers, conceived through some unnatural means? He couldn’t wrap his mind around it.

“What virus?” 

“The one that used to be the scarlet curse,” Malkira said. “Normally it eats a person’s magic, but I managed to make it act in a different way. I infected both of your parents and the virus established a magical link between them, almost like a bonding.”

That was possible? “But why?” 

“All that magic helped your mother have more children, didn’t it? Very powerful children.” She looked down at a pot that sat on the table before her. 

Idly, Jaron wondered if it contained the mind-control potion. 

She’d never get him to drink it now. 

“Why does it matter that Casca and Fei are powerful?” Jaron asked, still trying to process the fact that Malkira and his parents had worked together at some point. 

“They carry the virus too,” Malkira said. “And it’s mutated inside of them. I never accounted for that.”

“It’s mutated?” 

While Jaron’s mind was still reeling, Keegan dug his fingers into his shoulder. “All this time,” he muttered, “I thought the other seer was threatening the future with this ritual… but I got it all wrong, didn’t I? It’s the children.” 

“What?” Jaron whirled to him. “My brothers are innocent!” 

Keegan winced. “I know that.”

“The virus inside them is drawing magic out of the atmosphere around them and growing stronger,” Malkira said. “It’s going to keep eating and eating and with its ability to link to other people, it’s going to destabilize the balance of the world before long.”

“No,” Jaron said, refusing to believe that. “That isn’t happening. My brothers never hurt anyone.”

“It’s not up to them.” Malkira’s expression was pained, but there was a steely resolve in her eyes. “I wish it was different, but this is the only way to undo my mistakes.”

“By undoing them?” 

How could that be her conclusion?

How could she think Jaron would stand here and let her hurt his baby brothers?

He didn’t care what virus lived inside of them. He’d find another way to excise it. 

“If what you’re saying is true,” Keegan said, “why did you have to drag all these other people into your ritual? Wouldn’t it be enough to… focus on the children?” 

He said ‘focus,’ but Jaron knew he meant ‘kill.’

His stomach drew tight. 

Keegan had a point, though, when Jaron let himself think about this. Why this whole ass ritual?

“Simply killing them would just release the virus,” Malkira said, not mincing her words. “I’m going to need all the energy gathered here to contain it when the deed is done.”

The deed.

How could she talk about it like that? Like his brothers were pests to be eliminated. They weren’t. Jaron glanced at his unconscious siblings, remembering the day Casca had taken his first steps, arms outstretched and legs wobbling as he made his way toward him with the biggest smile of his face. He remembered Fei drawing pictures of their family. *In this picture, you can breathe fire too,” he’d told Jaron proudly. 

Jaron returned his attention to Malkira, anger burning through him. 

The witch’s gaze hardened. “Sometimes, to save the many, we must sacrifice the few.”

Jaron shook his head vehemently. He wasn’t going to let her do this. The next second, he lunged for the glowing sphere, intent on stopping the ritual, but Malkira threw out a hand, a blast of magic sending Jaron flying back.

He hit the ground hard, the breath knocked out of him. Keegan was at his side in an instant, helping him up.

“Are you alright?”

Jaron nodded, his gaze locked on Malkira. She was watching them, her hands poised over the sphere, ready to continue the ritual at any moment.

She had been like a mother to him. How could she do this?

The level of her betrayal twisted his guts. 

“Is this why you took me in?” he demanded. “So you could keep an eye on my family? So you could get access to my brothers?”

Malkira’s expression softened, and for a moment, Jaron saw her the way he used to see her, as a kind old witch. The woman who’d gifted him that scarf, who’d told him to believe in himself. “Oh, Jaron,” she said, shaking her head. “I truly wish I did not have to do this to you. I did come to care for you.” 

Jaron waited for the ‘but.’ There had to be one.

“Your siblings were not the reason I took you in. I didn’t need you for that.” Her gaze flickered to Keegan and Jaron’s chest tightened with horror. 

No.

Somehow she’d known he was connected to Keegan.

Had she foreseen that?

But why did it matter?

What did she need Keegan for?

Jaron’s stomach churned. He wanted to throw up. 

Had he let his mate to this witch? He’d certainly made him come here.

“What do you want from me?” Keegan asked, coming to the same conclusion as Jaron.

“To be a seer is to establish a connection to fate itself,” Malkira said. “Without that connection, observing its workings would be impossible.”

Keegan’s eyes widened, understanding dawning in them. Jaron could almost see the pieces falling into place in his mind. 

He only wished he understood himself.

“I’m a natural seer,” Keegan said slowly, “which means my connection to fate is firmer than yours. Especially now…”

Jaron swallowed hard, understanding the implication in Keegan’s words. He was refering to the fact that he was more powerful than ever before. All because he and Jaron had bonded. A bitter taste filled his mouth, remembering how supportive Malkira had been of him pursuing his mate. 

She’d only wanted that so she could use Keegan for this. 

“You need my help to conclude this ritual,” Keegan stated, his voice flat.

Malkira nodded. “I couldn’t do it without you, dear.”

A silent fire burned in Keegan’s gaze. “I’ll never help you hurt my friends or Jaron’s family.”

“I thought you might say something like that.” She reached for the pot on the table and filled a cup with its contents.

Jaron watched her, clutching the protective amulet around his neck. What was she going to do with that mind-control potion? Surely she couldn’t think he or Keegan would drink it willingly.

She might be a witch, but she would have a hell of a time forcing that stuff down their throats. 

Malkira didn’t try to get them to drink it, though—she drank it herself.

The realization hit Jaron like a lightning bolt. The potion didn’t put someone else under mind-control; it gave the drinker the power to control others.

And she wasn’t planning to control Jaron.

He whirled around in a desperate bid to rip the amulet off his own neck and place it around Keegan’s, but he was already too late.

Keegan’s eyes glazed over as Malkira’s power took hold.

***

A dense fog shrouded Keegan’s mind, muffling everything that was happening around him. Jaron’s desperate pleas reached him as if from a great distance, distorted and meaningless. He felt his body moving against his will, fighting the strong arms trying to restrain him.

“Keegan, stop! It’s me, Jaron. You have to fight it!” Jaron’s words.

Keegan wanted to listen to them, to listen to his mate, but it was impossible. His thoughts were scattered and slippery. His limbs moved with a purpose that wasn’t his own, throwing Jaron off balance as he shoved at him.

Jaron’s draconic strength was noteworthy, but vampires weren’t weak either, and Keegan had superior agility. The moment he broke free from Jaron’s grip even for a second, he moved out of the dragon’s reach. 

“Yes, come to me,” Malkira’s voice resonated through his head, drowning out all other thoughts. “You understand now, don’t you? The ritual must be completed. It’s the only way to save the future.”

Keegan felt himself nod, his body no longer his to command. The world around him blurred and shifted, but Malkira remained clear, her presence anchoring him to a newfound purpose.

Jaron’s voice cut through the fog once more. “Keegan, please! This isn’t you. Don’t let her control you!”

But Keegan’s gaze remained locked on Malkira, her words etching themselves into his mind. The virus within Casca and Fei, the threat it posed, the necessity of the ritual – it all made perfect sense now.

“We must cleanse the world of this danger,” Keegan heard himself say, his voice sounding distant and foreign to his own ears. “The ritual will set things right.”

Malkira smiled, her approval washing over him like a warm embrace. “Together, we will save the future.”

Keegan felt a sense of calm settle over him, the last vestiges of resistance fading away. He knew what he had to do. The ritual would be completed, and he would be the conduit for all the power Malkira had gathered here.

For some reason, Malkira reached for him and removed the scarf. He wanted to protest. Jaron had given that to him. His protest was swallowed by the haze, but somewhere in the depths of his consciousness, a glimmer of his true self remained awake, fighting against the fog that enveloped his thoughts. He could hear shouts and the sounds of a struggle as the mages broke free from Mordyn’s hold, but he couldn’t act on any of it.

His body moved without his consent, touching the glowing sphere. Its energy flowed out to him, enveloping him in its otherworldly radiance. He became a vessel for its power.

The life-force of the unconscious victims, including Casca and Fei, began to transfer to him, drawn out by the ritual’s dark magic. Keegan wanted to scream, to break free and stop this from happening.

Somehow, he had to…

Amidst the chaos, a sound pierced through the haze – Jaron’s cry of pain as one of the mages wounded him. 

Something inside Keegan snapped back to life at that sound. A spark ignited in his mind, burning through the layers of control Malkira had imposed on him. His eyes cleared for just a moment, enough to see Jaron clutching a wound on his side, blood seeping between his fingers.

“Jaron!” The name escaped his lips before he could think, filled with an urgency that pierced through the haze.

He surged forward, power pulsing outward from him as he broke free from the magical grip that held him. 

The mages were thrown aside by the blast, even Malkira, temporarily knocked out by so much raw energy.

Jaron yelped too, but his system wasn’t as sensitive to being overloaded by magic. 

Keegan knelt beside him, his hands shaking as he assessed the wound. “Jaron, I’m here. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t… I couldn’t fight it.”

Jaron looked up at him, his eyes filled with pain and relief. “You’re back. You broke free.”

Keegan wanted to nod, to embrace Jaron and tell him that everything was going to be okay, but he couldn’t make any false promises to Jaron. 

Keegan felt the ritual’s power coursing through his veins, an unstoppable force that had taken hold of his very being. The moment he had touched the glowing sphere, his fate had been sealed. The magic had found its vessel, and there was no turning back.

He looked down at his hands, watching as tendrils of energy danced across his skin. It was a beautiful and terrifying sight, a manifestation of the raw power that now resided within him. He had become the ritual, a conduit for the dark magic that threatened to consume everything in its path.

And with that realization came a sickening clarity. The vision that had haunted him, the one where he had begged Jaron to end his life, suddenly made perfect sense. It was the only way to keep everyone else from dying here. 

Keegan looked at Jaron. 

God, he wished he didn’t have to ask this of him. 

But he’d heard himself ask this before, in one of his visions. The first time he’d been able to hear what was being said. 

“Listen to me,” Keegan said, his voice strained with the effort of fighting against the magic that threatened to overtake him completely. “The ritual can’t be stopped now. It’s too late for me.”

Jaron shook his head. “No, there has to be another way. We can destry the sphere.”

They both looked to the sphere. It had stopped glowing. It wasn’t necessary anymore. All that power was inside of Keegan now. 

Keegan reached out to cup Jaron’s face. How he loved that face. Those kind eyes. He would remember them long after he was gone. “There is no other way. The magic, it’s a part of me now and it’s going to keep working. If I don’t die, everyone else will.”

He could see the pain in Jaron’s eyes, the desperation to find a solution that didn’t involve losing the one he loved. But Keegan knew, with a certainty that came from the depths of his being, that this was the only path forward.

He also knew that Jaron was strong enough. 

He’d seen it. 

“You have to do it, Jaron,” he whispered, his voice barely audible over the crackling energy that surrounded them. “You’re the only one who can end this now.”

Jaron’s jaw clenched, tears trickling down his face as he struggled to come to terms with the reality of their situation. Keegan could feel his mate’s sorrow, the agony of being faced with an impossible choice.

But there was no choice, not really. If Jaron didn’t do this, his brothers would die. 

Keegan looked deep into Jaron’s eyes. He knew that what he was asking of his mate was an impossible burden, but there was no other way. Time was running out, and they had to act.

“Jaron, I know you can do this,” Keegan said, stroking his cheek. “The ritual is almost complete. If you don’t stop it, it will kill me, but if you end my life first, at least no one else has to die.”

He could see the conflict raging within Jaron, the desperation to find another solution warring with the realization that there was none.

With a gentle hand, Keegan drew him into a long, tender kiss, pouring all of his love into that one final moment of connection. When they parted, Keegan reached for a stake that had fallen from one of the unconscious mages and pressed it into Jaron’s hand.

Jaron’s fingers curled around the weapon. “But the fate of the world,” he tried to argue, as if that suddenly mattered to him.

“I’ll take care of it,” Keegan promised.

“How?” Jaron demanded.

Keegan didn’t have the time to explain. “Trust me.” 

When Jaron killed him, the snapping of their bond would release a tremendous amount of energy, compounding the magic already coursing through his veins.

In that moment, as his soul departed his body, Keegan would tap into his connection to fate itself. He would harness all of that raw power, all of that potential, and do everything in his power to set things right. It was a gamble, a desperate hope that he could continue to be undead for just a little while longer, just long enough to undo the damage that had been done.

That was why Jaron had to be the one to put that stake through him. Keegan would need that extra energy from a fate-bond severed so brutally. 

“Please,” Keegan said. “Don’t make me complete this ritual.”

An inhuman sound wrenched itself free from Jaron’s throat, a cry of pure emotional anguish that echoed through the lab. Keegan’s heart ached for his mate, but this was the path they had to take.

It had always been the path they had to take. 

“Do it for your brothers,” Keegan pushed. “Do it for me.”

Jaron’s tears flowed freely now, streaming down his face as he struggled with himself. 

“Never blame yourself,” Keegan whispered. 

Jaron nodded, and then, with a swift, decisive motion he lifted the stake and buried it in Keegan’s chest.

The shock of it was so sudden, so intense, that Keegan couldn’t even cry out. He felt the sharp, searing pain as the wood pierced his heart, felt the rush of energy as his soul began to dissolve into raw power.

But even as he lay dying, Keegan’s mind remained focused on his final plan. He reached out with every fiber of his being, tapping into the vast well of energy that now coursed through him.

He could feel the strands of fate, the delicate web that connected all things, became one with it more than ever before. This was his moment to shine.

The one chance he had to course-correct fate.


New Chapter 

Jaron’s hands were trembling as they held tight to Keegan’s limp body. His breath came in ragged gasps, each one sharper than the last. He’d promised himself he would never hurt Keegan, and now here he was, cradling the lifeless form of his mate. 

He didn’t know how long he knelt there, the weight of Keegan’s absence pressing down on him like a physical force. The room’s oppressive silence was shattered only by his uneven sobs. Jaron’s focus was wholly on Keegan, unable to let his gaze or thoughts stray from the fallen vampire.

A rustle, then Malkira’s voice pierced through his haze. “What have you done?”

Jaron snapped his head up, rage overtaking his sorrow. This was all her fault. He lunged at the witch, fury fueling his wearied limbs, but she evaded him. 

“I understand that you’re angry, but there was nothing else I could do,” she attempted, her tone almost pleading.

He didn’t care what she had to say. He would never care again. But before he could tell her as much, out of nowhere, Mordyn appeared, drawing his blade. One fluid motion and Malkira’s head separated from her shoulders, her body crumpling to the floor in a lifeless heap.

Jaron stared. 

Mordyn met his gaze, unflinching. “I don’t know what you did, but all the kidnapped victims are still breathing.”

Jaron glanced around, barely registering the forms of Casca, Fei, and Apollo still shackled, unconscious but alive. His hands almost burned as he took the scarf from Malkira’s fallen form, wanting to cry all over again. 

The fabric was warm and holding it felt like holding on to a piece of his mate. For a moment, it was as if Keegan was still with him.

Mordyn moved to check on Keegan. A sob rose in Jaron’s throat as he watched, but he bit it back.

Mordyn pulled the stake from Keegan’s chest. He frowned, observing Keegan’s body closely. “He hasn’t dissolved into ash.”

“What does that mean?” Jaron’s voice cracked.

Mordyn glanced back at Jaron, his brow furrowed. “Vampires’ bodies dissolve when they die.” He gestured around the room. “Can you feel the magic in the air? Something’s going on.”

Jaron tried to force himself to focus, clutching Keegan’s scarf closer to his chest. He could feel the magic, and it felt like Keegan. He closed his eyes and let that energy surround him, envelop him in its warmth.

Keegan had planned something, hadn’t he? Was he trying to change fate even now, from beyond the veil of death?

What are you doing? Jaron asked fervently, as if Keegan could somehow answer him, could hear his desperate plea.

He didn’t get a response, of course, except for the oddest feeling, a certainty that settled deep in his bones. He knew exactly what Keegan needed. More energy, more magic. He didn’t know how he knew this, but the knowledge was there, undeniable. His mate’s soul was struggling, and it needed Jaron’s help.

Jaron didn’t know how to feed energy to his deceased mate. 

He glanced down at the scarf in his hands and was struck by a sudden realization.

This was what still connected him to Keegan. The literal threads that bound him to his love. He could feel magic there. Connection.

If he could only…

Jaron took a deep breath, steeling himself. Keegan had believed in him, had trusted him with everything. Jaron wouldn’t let him down. Not now, not ever.

He opened his mouth, and for the first time in his life, breathed fire onto the scarf, feeding all his magic into it, willing it to reach Keegan wherever he was.

***

Keegan struggled to mend the fraying strands of fate. Most of his power had been used up purging the virus from Casca and Fei and connecting them back to their rightful fates without killing them in the process. That had taken a lot out of him, yet there was still so much more to do, so much damage to repair. 

The strain bore down on him, but he couldn’t stop until he’d fixed everything. Only then could he rest in peace. 

Only then would he know that Jaron’s future was safe. 

He felt like he could feel Jaron’s presence with him now. As if he could hear his voice in his head. What do you need?

Just a little more, Keegan thought, desperation lacing his mental plea. 

Then, suddenly, warmth flooded him. It was like fire igniting his very soul, a force stronger than anything he’d ever felt before. A rush of power surged through him, and with it, the energy to fix the last strands of fate. The fraying edges straightened, the chaotic ends smoothed and bound, each destiny restored to its rightful path.

Keegan stilled, the work finally done. Relief washed over him. He thought he could rest now, let the darkness take him as he severed his ties to the world. But the fiery energy didn’t fade. It pulsed, warm and inviting, beckoning him.

Jaron.

It was so unmistakably Jaron that it hurt. 

Keegan hadn’t know he’d have the capacity to feel pain, to feel longing after dead, but he did. 

If only he could…

Realization struck him. 

He still had power. Jaron’s power. Enough of it to change one more fate—his own. 

***

Jaron cradled Keegan’s lifeless body against his chest, his heart shattered into a million pieces. He had poured every ounce of his magic, every bit of his love and desperation into the enchanted scarf, hoping beyond hope that it would be enough.

He closed his eyes, tears streaming down his face as he held Keegan tighter.

“Look at that,” Mordyn said. 

Look at what?

Jaron’s breath caught in his throat as slowly, impossibly, the gaping wound in Keegan’s chest began to close, the flesh knitting itself back together as if by some divine miracle.

Jaron watched, transfixed, hardly daring to breathe. 

Could this really be happening?

Then, Keegan’s eyes fluttered open, those beautiful, piercing eyes that Jaron had thought he’d never see again.

“Keegan?” Jaron’s voice was barely a whisper, his hands shaking as he cupped Keegan’s face.

Keegan blinked, his gaze focusing on Jaron’s tear-streaked face. “Jaron,” he murmured, his voice hoarse but filled with wonder. “We did it.”

Jaron let out a choked sob, pulling Keegan into a fierce embrace. He buried his face in Keegan’s neck, breathing in his scent, vowing never to let him go again. 

Keegan’s arms came up to wrap around Jaron, holding him just as tightly. “You saved me,” he said softly, his fingers tangling in Jaron’s hair. “Your love, your magic… it let me change our fate.”

Jaron pulled back just enough to look into Keegan’s eyes and with a sincerity that came from deep within himself, he said, “Fuck fate.”

Keegan’s fingers brushed against Jaron’s cheek, wiping away the remnants of tears. “I felt you with me when I needed you the most.” 

Jaron pressed his forehead against Keegan’s, eyes closed. “I tried so hard to reach you. Don’t ever leave me again.”

Jaron felt Keegan’s breath against his skin, cool and real. He clung to that sensation, grounding himself in the reality that Keegan was here, alive, in his arms. The nightmare was over, and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, Jaron allowed himself to breathe freely.

“I promise,” Keegan said, voice steady despite the exhaustion etched on his features. “I’m here to stay.”

“Good.” 

They stayed like that for a moment longer, wrapped in each other’s arms, savoring the reality of their survival. The room around them was still, except for Mordyn working to get the magical shackles off his mate and the other survivors. 

“We should help him,” Keegan said. “Get everyone out of here.”

“Agreed.” Jaron hated letting go of Keegan, even for a minute, but the vampire was right. They could celebrate their reunion later. For now, he still had other matters to take care of. 

Like his brothers. 

He would take them to get checked by a healer and then he would take them home.

Home…

Jaron glanced at Malkira’s dead body and winced. 

He was going to have to find a new home for himself and for his siblings. He was not returning Casca and Fei to the care of his parents. 

“Hey,” Keegan said as if he could tell that Jaron’s thoughts were spiraling. “We’ll figure it all out, okay? One thing after another.”

“Right.” 

Keegan smiled at him. “I see happy things in our future.”

Jaron gave him a brief kiss, shorter than the one he really wanted to indulge in, and then he got up and got started, safe in the knowledge that whatever came next, he wasn’t going to be facing it by himself. 


New Chapter

Jaron sat on the edge of the bed, watching his brothers sleep. He ran a hand through his hair, the exhaustion of the past few days catching up with him. They’d left Ceska, Altair and the others to deal with the authorities so they could ‘go home and rest.’ 

Right now, ‘home’ was Keegan’s room. 

Now Keegan had gone to the kitchens to get him something to eat, leaving Jaron alone with his thoughts—and his worries. 

He’d talked to the task force’s medics and they’d looked at his brothers and told him they were fine, just sleeping, but what if they were not?

He couldn’t help but feel responsible for what had happened. He should have noticed something was off with Malkira sooner. Maybe he could have stopped her before she’d taken Casca and Fei.

Maybe if he’d listened to his mother…

No, that was not a thought he would allow himself. 

And, speaking of the devil, his phone buzzed again.

Jaron glanced at it. His parents had been trying to reach him since he’d shot them a quick message saying that he had Casca and Fei, that they were fine, and that he would drop by in the evening to talk. 

That wasn’t enough, of course. They wanted answers, and explanations, and Jaron didn’t have the energy to give them.

They’d kept him in the dark about shit for years. They could stand to wait a few hours now.

He turned his phone off.

A soft groan drew his attention, and Jaron’s head snapped up. Casca was stirring, his eyes fluttering open. Jaron was at his side in an instant, helping him sit up.

“Hey,” Jaron said. “How are you feeling?”

Casca blinked, looking around the unfamiliar room. “Where are we?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“We’re at Keegan’s place,” Jaron explained. “Keegan is my vampire friend. You and Fei are safe now.”

Casca’s eyes widened as the memories seemed to come flooding back. “Malkira,” he whispered, his face paling. “She… she did something to us.”

Jaron nodded, his jaw clenching. “I know. But it’s over now. She can’t hurt you anymore.”

Casca looked at Jaron, his eyes filling with tears. “I was so scared,” he admitted, his voice breaking. “I thought… I thought we were going to die.”

Jaron pulled Casca into a tight hug, holding him close. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured, his own eyes stinging with tears. “I should have protected you better.”

Casca shook his head, pulling back to look at Jaron. “It’s not your fault,” he said firmly. “You saved us.”

Jaron managed a small smile, ruffling Casca’s hair. “Yeah, well, I had some help.”

As if on cue, the door opened and Keegan walked in, carrying a tray of food. He smiled when he saw Casca awake, setting the tray down on the bedside table.

“Hey, Casca,” he said warmly. “Glad to see you’re up. I brought some food if you’re hungry.”

Casca looked at the unfamiliar vampire with open curiosity, but then his stomach growled, and he grinned sheepishly. “Food sounds good.”

Jaron chuckled, feeling the tension in himself ease. “Well, dig in then,” he said, handing Casca a sandwich with bacon and tomato. 

As if roused by the smell of food, Fei stirred under the covers. His small nose wrinkled, and he blinked sleepily at the room around him. When his eyes landed on Jaron, he sat up abruptly.

“Jaron!” Fei’s voice was small and scared, his eyes wide with confusion and fear.

Jaron was beside him in a heartbeat, scooping him into his arms. “Hey, buddy. You’re safe now.”

Fei buried his face in Jaron’s chest, his tiny body trembling. “I had a bad dream,” he mumbled against Jaron’s shirt.

Jaron hugged him tightly, his heart aching for his youngest brother. “I know, but it’s over now.”

Fei lifted his head, glancing around at the unfamiliar room and then at Keegan. He eyed the vampire warily before turning back to Jaron. “Who’s that?” he whispered.

Jaron smiled reassuringly. “That’s Keegan. He’s my friend. He helped us find you and Casca.”

Keegan gave Fei a warm smile and waved a little. “Hi there, Fei. I brought some food if you’re hungry.”

Fei sniffed the air, clearly tempted by the aroma of bacon and tomato. 

“Come on,” Jaron said, guiding Fei to sit next to Casca on the bed. “Let’s get you something to eat.”

Keegan handed Fei a plate with a sandwich identical to Casca’s. Fei took it cautiously, glancing up at Keegan before taking a bite. Then he quickly took another.

“This is good!” Fei exclaimed between mouthfuls.

Jaron chuckled, feeling a warmth spread through his chest at the sight of his brothers, alive and well. 

Casca finished his sandwich and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “When are we going home?” he asked.

Jaron exchanged a glance with Keegan, feeling a knot form in his stomach. He didn’t want to take his brothers back to their parents—not after everything he’d learned about them. He wanted to talk to his mother and father about a few things first—by himself.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Jaron said carefully. “You’ve got to rest up first.”

Casca’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he didn’t press the issue immediately. Instead, it was Fei who piped up, his small face scrunching in confusion.

“But why can’t we go now? I want to see Mom and Dad.”

Jaron took a deep breath, searching for the right words. “It’s complicated, Fei,” he said. “I need to talk to them first.”

Fei crossed his arms, looking every bit the stubborn little dragon-shifter he was. “But I want to go now!”

Before Jaron could respond, Casca surprised him by stepping in. “Listen to Jaron,” Casca said firmly. “He’s right—we need to rest. Tomorrow isn’t so far away, right? You can be a big boy and wait.”

Fei looked between Casca and Jaron, clearly torn. “But—”

“Trust me on this one,” Jaron said. “I wouldn’t lie to you, right?”

Fei huffed but finally nodded. Then he looked at Keegan. “You’re a vampire?”

“Yep, I’m a vampire,” Keegan confirmed. “But don’t worry, I won’t bite you.”

Fei seemed to consider this for a moment before nodding solemnly. “Okay. But you better not bite my brother either.”

Jaron was glad he had not taken a sandwich for himself because he would have choked on it. 

“I think that’s between me and your brother,” Keegan said.

“Why?” Fei asked. 

“You’ll understand when you’re older,” Keegan said. 

Jaron wanted to drag his palm down his face. That was the worst possible thing to say to Fei. He’d never stop asking now. 

“I’m already old,” Fei said. “I’m nine. That’s almost ten, and that’s two full hands.”

Couldn’t fault that logic. 

“I’ll tell you when you’re my age,” Keegan promised. 

Fei’s eyes narrowed. “How old are you?” 

“79,” Keegan said. 

“No way.” Fei shook his head. “I’m not waiting seventy years to find out. That’s too old,” he said with emphasis. 

“You’re only 79?” Jaron turned to Keegan. “Somehow I thought you were older.”

Keegan shrugged. “I’m still old enough to be your daddy.”

“Ew,” Casca said loudly.

Jaron laughed. “Yeah, no. Let’s not go there.”

Keegan picked up the empty plate. “I’ll get you some more, and this time you’ll eat something as well,” he said to Jaron. With that he left. 

Jaron looked after him a moment. If his brothers hadn’t been around, he might have said something about Keegan needing a snack too. 

Later.

***

By the time the sun went down, Fei was sleeping again. Casca was still up, however, watching a movie on Keegan’s laptop. 

Jaron sat down beside him. “Keegan and I are going to head out for an hour or two. Will you be okay watching Fei for that long?” 

He didn’t love the idea of leaving his siblings for even a minute after he’d just gotten them back, but he knew the whole coven would keep an eye on them, and besides, this was important. 

“Where are you going?” Casca asked. 

“I need to talk to Mom and Dad,” Jaron admitted. 

“I want to come.” 

“I know.” Jaron had expected that. “I promise I’ll tell you everything in the morning, just please let me handle this tonight.”

It was a lot to ask of a stubborn twelve-year-old dragon shifter.[

“Why won’t you tell me now?” Casca asked. At least he was keeping his voice low so as not to wake Fei.

“It’s a long story,” Jaron said. “But if you let me do this, you might not have to go back.” 

He let that sink in while Casca pretended to look at the movie screen. 

Casca nodded. 

Jaron squeezed his shoulder and got up. It was time to sort things out with his parents. 

***

Jaron stood in front of the mansion door, heart pounding hard. Keegan squeezed his hand. Jaron glanced at his mate, incredibly grateful that he didn’t have to do this by himself. 

“Are you ready?” Keegan asked.

Jaron took a deep breath. “I’ll never be ready,” he admitted. “But I have to do this. There are so many things I need to know.”

Keegan nodded, and together they stepped inside. Instantly, Jaron’s father thundered down the stairs, his face a mask of fury.

“Where are my sons?” he demanded, ignoring Keegan completely.

Keegan raised an eyebrow. “One of your sons is right here.” 

But Jaron’s father only had eyes for Jaron. “You said they were with you. Where are they?”

Jaron’s mother joined them, her expression just as frantic. “Jaron, please. Where are your brothers?”

Jaron steeled himself and stood his ground. He could tell the two of them were genuinely worried, but if he gave in to their demands, they wouldn’t listen to him. He’d learn nothing. “I won’t tell you anything until you answer a few questions of mine.”

His parents stared at him in disbelief. 

“How dare you,” his father growled. “You have the audacity to keep information from us at a time like this?”

“I think I have every right,” Jaron shot back. “Considering what I just learned about our family.”

His mother paled. “What are you talking about?”

“Malkira told me some interesting things,” Jaron said, fidgeting with a ruby bracelet that went with his ridiculous outfit. “About how Casca and Fei were conceived.”

For a moment, neither of his parents spoke. Then his father’s face hardened.

“That woman is a liar and a criminal,” he spat. “I don’t care what she told you. Nothing she says can be trusted.”

Next to him, his mother wrung her hands. “Jaron, please. Just tell us where Casca and Fei are.”

“They’re safe,” Jaron said. “But I want to hear the truth from you before I let you see them again.” 

“Let us?” his father practically roared. “You can’t keep us from our children.” 

Somehow, Jaron kept himself from flinching at his father’s tone. “I don’t want to do it, but there are things I learned that would make the relevant authorities think twice about letting you have custody. Things that could ruin the reputation of the family business.” He stared fixedly at the sparkling gems on his mother’s necklace. 

Jaron’s father’s face turned an alarming shade of red. “How dare you threaten me, boy? Who do you think you are?”

Jaron felt all of five years old, faced with his father’s wrath, but he kept his voice steady. “I think I’m your son. The one you never wanted to have. The one who was never enough.”

Keegan inched closer. Jaron brushed his fingertips against Keegan’s, drawing strength from the touch. He would be okay. He’d accepted long ago that he’d never live up to his family’s expectations. He’d just never known the far-reaching consequences that sentiment had for his parents.

His mother swallowed hard, eyes darting between Jaron and his father. She didn’t deny anything. “You have to understand,” she said. “We only wanted another chance.”

Another chance at a capable heir. She didn’t say it, but Jaron knew that was what she meant.

“You injected yourselves with a terrible virus for that chance,” Jaron accused. “How many laws did you break in the process? Did you even care what might happen if that virus escaped?”

“Fei and Casca were miracles,” his mother insisted.

Jaron shook his head. His brothers hadn’t been brought about by miracles but by mad experiments. He didn’t love them less for it, but he needed his parents to see that what they’d done was insane.

Jaron took a deep breath, trying to keep his anger in check. “The virus lived on in Casca and Fei,” he explained. “That’s why Malkira took them. She was trying to fix the mistakes she’d made.”

His mother’s eyes widened. “Casca and Fei are not mistakes,” she insisted, her voice rising.

Jaron couldn’t hold back any longer. “The virus inside them could have brought on the end of the world!” he snapped, his hands clenching into fists.

His parents exchanged a glance. “But it’s gone, isn’t it?” his mother asked.

Jaron stared at them, realization dawning. They must have felt it when Keegan purged the virus. It must be gone from their bodies too. Everything Malkira had told him had been true.

“She came to us a few years ago,” his mother admitted, surprising Jaron. “She tried to tell me there was something wrong with my children.” She shook her head. “I thought she was just trying to scare me into giving her more money. We paid her a small fortune to get the job done. She used it to buy that house.” Jaron’s mother looked disgusted. “She should have been satisfied.” 

“It wasn’t about the money,” Jaron spat. “You always think everything’s about money.” 

“Usually it is,” his father said. “Now where are my sons? Don’t tell me that witch still has them.” 

“That witch,” Keegan said, “is dead, while you are allowed to live on in ignorant arrogance.”

“Get out of my house,” Mr. Tymera bellowed. “You can’t come in here and insult me.” 

“If Keegan is leaving,” Jaron said, “so am I.” 

“You’re not going anywhere before you tell me—”

“I’ll bring your sons by tomorrow,” Jaron cut the older dragon off. “But I won’t force either of them to stay here. If they choose to live with me and you won’t let them, I promise you I’ll do exactly what you were always scared I’ll do. I’ll ruin this family.”

“How could you?” Mr. Tymera demanded. 

“I’d do it out of love,” Jaron said. “I don’t expect you to understand.” 

He turned to leave, but before he went for the door, he turned to the potted plant that sat to the side of it. It had deep green leaves and it was almost as tall as Jaron was. His father fashioned called himself a gardener sometimes, but he wasn’t even the one who watered the plants inside the house. Everything that grew inside and out of their home was all their staff’s work. 

“What are you doing?” his mother asked. 

Jaron smiled at her, turned to the plant, and set it on fire with one breath. 

Both of his parents’ faces were ashen when he left. 

***

“You handled that well,” Keegan said, following Jaron out of the house. 

Jaron stopped a few feet away from the door, looking back. “Are they ever going to change?” he wondered out loud. 

He hadn’t meant for Keegan to look into it for him, but the vampire did anyway. His gaze went distant, and Jaron knew he was seeing something other than what was right in front of them. 

After a minute, he snapped out of it. 

“They might surprise you,” he said.

“In what ways?”

“You might never have the relationship with them you desired as a child.” Keegan rested a hand on Jaron’s shoulder. “But they’ll be better parents to Casca and Fei, because of you. They’ll know you’re watching.” Keegan paused. “In all likelihood, Fei will choose to live with them. Casca can go either way. There’s a chance he’ll spend a few more years at this house to make sure Fei is okay.” Keegan’s lips curved. “He’s takes after you in that regard.” 

“I don’t want him to take on that role.”

“You should leave it up to him,” Keegan advised. “Just let him know our home will always be open to him.”

“Our home,” Jaron mouthed. “Where will that be?”

“Do you want me to spoil every surprise the future holds in store?”

Jaron thought about it. 

“I’ll give you one hint,” Keegan said before he could answer. “You’ll receive a letter a week from now.”

“A week from now?” Jaron’s eyebrows rose. “You want me to wait that long to figure out what that cryptic hint means?” 

Keegan grinned. “I could tell you now, but where would be the fun in that?” 

“Fine,” Jaron said, realizing what Keegan was doing. The vampire was trying to take his thoughts off his messed-up family situation. It was working too. “But this surprise had better be a good one.”

“I don’t know about that,” Keegan said. “I think you’ll appreciate the gesture eventually.”

Jaron was definitely intrigued now.

Sadly, his mate was not dispensing any more information. 

“Let’s go,” the smug bastard said. “Casca’s looking at inappropriate things on your phone while we’re gone.”

“What? You’re joking, right?”

Keegan shrugged. “It’s one of many possible things he could be doing.” 

“You can’t see the presence. Only the future.”

“You don’t know when I looked.” 

Jaron groaned. 

Keegan drew him close. “You’ve got a lifetime of this to look forward to. I hope you don’t regret that you’ve brought me back.”

“A lifetime of this, huh?” Jaron gazed into Keegan’s eyes and smiled. “Sign me up.”


New Chapter 

Just as Keegan had predicted, the letter arrived for Jaron a week later, after his siblings had already gone back to their parents house—for the time being, anyway. Casca had already decided he would stay over with Jaron and Keegan for the summer, when they had their own home set up. 

Keegan figured the boy had made this decision mostly because he’d casually mentioned that he’d watch ‘those violent’ movies with him that his parents thought he was too young for. He said this while Jaron was out of ear-shot, of course. 

Jaron was still trying too hard to be reponsible where his siblings were concerned, so it fell to Keegan to be the fun caretaker. 

It was easy, though, because he liked the boy, and because he liked who Jaron was around his little brothers. 

Right now, Jaron was looking at the letter that Altair had brought to Keegan’s room for him. 

“Who sent this and how did they know I’d be here?” Jaron asked, turning the envelope over in his hands. “It looks official.” 

“It is official,” Keegan confirmed. 

“What’s in it?” 

“Why don’t you open it and find out?” 

Jaron shot Keegan a glance, and then he did as he was told and opened the envelope, pulling out two large sheaths of paper. His eyes flew over the lines. Keegan watched his expression shift as he read, from confusion to wonder to disbelief. 

When he was done, he turned to stare at Keegan. “She left me her house?” 

“We can sell it if you don’t want to live in it,” Keegan said, understanding how difficult this must be for his mate. For a long time, Malkira had been like a second mother to him. He’d lived with her, trusted her, and then she had betrayed that trust in unspeakable ways. 

Yet she’d named him as her heir. 

Jaron’s tail twitched as he stared at the letter again. “I’ve been wondering, you know…” 

“About what?” 

“The scarf. We knew it was enchanted, but we never knew in what way. She said it was a protection spell, but what if it wasn’t? What if the enchantment is what allowed me to keep my connection to you when you were… fighting with fate.” 

Keegan had entertained the thought himself. It was a bit much to believe that the piece of fabric had just naturally acted as a substitute for their bond. 

“Malkira gave me that scarf and told me to give it to you. She was the one who enchanted it.” Jaron looked at Keegan. “Did she know? That things would play out the way they did? That I would… save you and you would save everyone?”

“We’ll never know for sure,” Keegan said. Since the scarf had been burned, there was no way for them to know what spells had been woven into its threads. 

“Do you think it’s possible?” Jaron seemed like he wasn’t sure what he wanted to believe. Keegan understood. Even if Malkira had foreseen everything, she couldn’t have known for sure what would happen. 

She could only have gambled, and it was people’s lives she’d gambled with. 

“I do think it’s possible,” Keegan allowed. “But that doesn’t absolve her.”

“No,” Jaron agreed, then he paused. “Would it be wrong of me if I chose to believe that she wanted us to win? She used me, she manipulated me, and still…” He nearly crumpled the letter in his hands. 

Keegan went over to him and drew him into his embrace. “You loved her,” he said. “That’s a wound that takes time to heal. Don’t be mad at yourself for that. I love your big heart.” 

Keegan held Jaron close as the dragon shifter struggled with the conflicting emotions Malkira’s letter had brought up. He could feel Jaron’s tension in the tightness of his shoulders and the way his tail wound around Keegan’s leg.

“We should sell the house,” Keegan said after a moment. “Start over new, somewhere else.”

Jaron pulled back to look at him, his brow furrowed. “You think so?”

Keegan nodded. “We can find a place close to my coven. A home of our own, where we can make new memories. Somewhere we can live without dwelling on all the shit that’s happened.”

Jaron leaned into Keegan’s touch, his eyes fluttering closed. “That sounds perfect.” 

Keegan pressed a soft kiss to Jaron’s forehead. “It will be.”

Jaron’s arms tightened around Keegan’s waist, pulling him closer. “Did you see that in your visions?” 

A smile tugged at Keegan’s lips. “I know that without even looking.”


Epilogue

Two months later 

Jaron stood back and looked around the living room. The space felt warm and inviting, with plush furniture, vibrant artwork, and personal touches that made it uniquely theirs—like the artsy deck of tarot cards on the coffee table and the decorative midnight blue pillows that had the constellations printed on them.

His gaze lingered on the painting of Keegan and himself. The one they’d purchased in Aquavaris when they’d tried to make their escape from reality. 

It hadn’t worked out the way they’d planned, but they’d still won in the end. 

As if sensing his thoughts, Keegan approached from behind, slipping an arm around Jaron’s waist. “Everything ready?” 

Jaron leaned into the embrace, a smile playing on his lips. “Everything is perfect,” he agreed. His eyes caught on a stack of letters in Keegan’s hand. “What are those?” 

“Just something I’ve been working on. Gifts for our guests.” 

Before Jaron could press further, a knock sounded at the door, signaling the arrival of their first guests. Keegan gave Jaron’s waist a gentle squeeze before stepping away to answer the door.

Jaron took a deep breath. Time to get this housewarming party started. 

Their guests arrived one after the other as Jaron prepared a snack table in the living room. Only with ‘normal’ food, though. 

Mordyn couldn’t help commenting on that when he entered the room with Apollo. “I see you’ve got plenty of food for the non-bloodsuckers, but what about us vampires? Don’t tell me you forgot about your undead pals.”

Jaron rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “Even if I’d offered you blood, you couldn’t drink it.”

“True,” Mordyn conceded. “Good thing I brought my own food.” He grinned at Apollo.

Apollo shook his head, but didn’t fight the kiss Mordyn pressed to his lips. He looked good, all things considered, and Jaron was glad to see him. He’d cut back on his working hours after the kidnapping. Jaron had wondered if that was due to trauma, but when Jaron had gone to him to apologize for his involvement in everything, Apollo had assured him that he was fine. 

He just wanted to spend more time with Mordyn.

Jaron glanced at the vampire and remembered the way he’d sliced off Malkira’s head. The memory made his stomach want to turn, though he understood why Mordyn had done it. 

Jaron didn’t blame him for it. 

“You’ve had enough to eat today,” Apollo said, giving his mate a playful shove. 

“I’ll never have enough.” Mordyn went in for another kiss and Jaron turned away from them to greet Ceska and Ianair who walked into the living room with raised eyebrows. 

“Hey, Jaron,” Ceska gave him a quick hug before going for the snacks. 

Ianair gave Jaron a pat on the back. “Nice place.”

“Thanks,” Jaron replied with a grin. “I’m glad you two could make it.” 

“Wouldn’t miss it.” 

Altair and Sven arrived after that, almost at the same as Rhyme and Iskander. Jaron pointed the Vegan food platter out to Rhyme who thanked him with a bright smile before grabbing one of the wraps.

“What’s it like, living with Keegan?” he asked. 

“I’m grateful to have him with me every day,” Jaron said, surprised by his own honesty. He would never take his mate for granted. 

Rhyme nodded solemnly. 

And then Keegan stepped into the middle of the room, holding up the envelopes Jaron had seen him with earlier and Jaron wondered if the vampire was about to do something to challenge the feeling of gratitude Jaron had just expressed. 

***

Keegan surveyed the room, taking in the faces of those he held dearest. Mordyn and Apollo shared a private laugh. Sven leaned against Altair on the couch, and Iskander stood back and watched with a smile as Rhyme talked to Ceska about the best recipe for salad dressing.

For a moment, Keegan felt a pang of guilt. These vampires were his friends, his family. And he had manipulated them all at one point or another, bending their actions to fit the future he envisioned. Seeing Malkira’s twisted control over Jaron and himself had been a harsh lesson. 

A long overdue wake-up call.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the center of the room, catching everyone’s attention. “I want to say something.” 

All eyes turned to him, curiosity mixed with concern.

“I’ve been given a gift—or maybe a curse—of seeing into the future,” Keegan continued. “And I’ve used that gift to manipulate many of you. I used to tell myself I had the best intentions, but that’s not enough.” He locked eyes with Altair as he said this, the vampire he’d hurt more than anyone in his quest for vengeance for his sister. 

He’d manipulated Altair into killing his own brother. 

Sure, Nephariel had deserved it, but Altair would never have done it if Keegan hadn’t worked to bring about the perfect set of circumstances by allowing Sven to be taken from Altair. 

Altair nodded now, but said nothing. 

Keegan turned to Mordyn. “I meddled in your life more times than I can count.” 

Mordyn’s expression softened. “I’ll continue to pay you back every chance I get,” he promised. 

Keegan allowed himself a smile, then he addressed Iskander. “I hope one day I can be as honest to you as you’ve always been to me.”

Keegan reached into his pocket and pulled out three envelopes, each marked with a name. “These letters contain detailed descriptions of visions I’ve had about each of your futures and any advice I can offer to help you find the best path forward. No cryptic remarks, no riddles to solve.”

He handed them out one by one, feeling a weight lift from his shoulders with each letter given.

“Your futures are yours to do with as you will,” Keegan said as they took the envelopes from his hand. “I’m sorry.”

The room was silent for a moment, the gravity of his words sinking in. And then Altair stepped forward, placing a hand on Keegan’s shoulder.

“None of us are perfect,” Altair said, “but we’re coven.”

Keegan nodded, pressing his lips together so as not to get too emotional. 

Jaron appeared by his side, taking his hand and leaning in. “I’m proud of you,” he whispered into Keegan’s ear. 

Keegan drew him into an embrace and then into a kiss. Someone cheered. Someone else laughed and someone toasted ‘to new beginnings.’ 

Keegan smiled into the kiss.

He didn’t need new beginnings. He was already heading down his perfect path.

***

The door clicked shut behind the last guest, and the house settled into a comfortable silence. Keegan glanced around the living room, taking in the aftermath of the party. Empty glasses and crumpled napkins littered the tables, but the warmth from earlier still lingered in the air.

Jaron stretched, his shirt lifting slightly to reveal a sliver of toned abdomen. He’d gone back to wearing clothes rather than jewelry, but his sense of fashion didn’t lean into ‘baggy’ quite so heavily anymore.

“Well, that was something,” the dragon said, his voice tinged with exhaustion but satisfaction.

“Yeah,” Keegan replied, stepping closer to him. “It went better than I expected.”

Jaron turned to face him, eyes softening as they locked onto Keegan’s. “You did good tonight.”

Keegan shrugged. “Had to make things right.”

Jaron reached out, gently tugging Keegan closer by the waistband of his jeans. “You did,” he whispered before leaning in for a slow, lingering kiss. Keegan felt Jaron’s fingers slide under his shirt, grazing the skin of his lower back and sending shivers up his spine.

“Let’s take this to the bedroom,” Jaron murmured against Keegan’s lips.

Keegan nodded, allowing himself to be led down the hallway to their room. Once inside, Jaron closed the door before turning back to him. Jaron’s eyes sparkled as he reached for Keegan’s shirt, pulling it over his head in one swift motion.

Keegan couldn’t undress Jaron quite so easily, because of his wings, but he managed to pop the buttons on the back of his shirt after a little fiddling and got it off his mate. Their hands roamed each other’s bodies with both familiarity and hunger as they moved towards the bed.

Jaron gently pushed Keegan onto the mattress before climbing on top of him. The weight of Jaron’s body pressed down on him in a way that felt grounding and exhilarating all at once.

“I love you,” Jaron said softly, brushing a strand of hair away from Keegan’s face.

“I love you too,” Keegan replied, pulling Jaron down for another kiss.

The heat between them intensified, and Keegan’s fingers traced the muscles of Jaron’s back, lingering on the base of his wings.

Jaron pulled back slightly, his eyes glinting with mischief. “You know, I was thinking I’d be on top tonight,” he said, voice low and teasing.

Keegan raised an eyebrow, a smirk playing on his lips. “Oh really? And what if I have other plans?”

Jaron leaned in, nuzzling Keegan’s neck and planting soft kisses along his jawline. “My plans are better,” he murmured against Keegan’s skin, the words sending shivers down Keegan’s spine.

Keegan chuckled softly. “That’s debatable.”

Jaron shifted to meet Keegan’s gaze, a challenging look in his eyes. “I guess we’ll just have to see who’s more convincing.”

Keegan grinned. “You’re on.”

Jaron’s hands roamed over Keegan’s body, fingers brushing over sensitive spots that made Keegan arch into his touch. “See, you like me on top,” Jaron declared confidently.

But Keegan wasn’t beaten yet. With a swift motion, he wrapped his arms around Jaron’s neck and pulled him down for a deep kiss and as they broke apart, both breathing heavily, Keegan knew he had his mate exactly where he wanted him. “Let’s see how you handle this,” he whispered before sinking his fangs into Jaron’s neck.

The reaction was immediate. Jaron moaned loudly, the sound vibrating through both their bodies as his muscles relaxed under Keegan’s bite. The taste of Jaron’s blood—sweet and intoxicating—flooded Keegan’s senses.

Taking advantage of Jaron’s momentary weakness, Keegan rolled them over until he was straddling Jaron, looking down at him with a feeling of triumph.

“Looks like I win,” Keegan said smugly, licking the remaining blood from his lips.

Jaron looked up at him through half-lidded eyes, a dazed but satisfied expression on his face. “You play dirty,” he muttered with a lazy grin.

“You enjoyed it.” Keegan ran his fingers through Jaron’s hair. The strands felt like silk against his skin, and he marveled at how much comfort he found in these small, intimate moments.

Jaron’s hands rested on Keegan’s hips. “I’ll allow you your win this time.”

Keegan chuckled, feeling a warmth spread through him that had nothing to do with their physical proximity. “How generous of you.”

Their playful banter felt like a balm to Keegan’s weary soul. They’d had such a rough start, marred by visions of death and tragedy. But here, in this moment, it was just them—no impending disaster, no manipulation of fate. Just two beings who had found solace and love in each other.

Keegan shifted slightly, adjusting his weight on Jaron’s lap as he traced the contours of Jaron’s chest with his fingertips. The steady rhythm of Jaron’s heartbeat under his touch was grounding, reminding him that despite everything they’d been through, they were still here—alive and together.

Keegan leaned down once more, capturing Jaron’s lips in a slow kiss that conveyed all the love and gratitude he felt. This was what he’d fought for—this connection, this bond that transcended all the chaos and danger they faced.

With Jaron thoroughly pliant beneath him, Keegan reached for the nightstand, his fingers closing around the bottle of lube they kept there. He slicked up his fingers, never breaking eye contact with Jaron as he prepared him with slow, deliberate strokes.

Jaron’s moans filled the room, his body arching off the bed as Keegan’s fingers worked their magic. He didn’t try to muffle the sounds he made, didn’t try to hide his pleasure from Keegan. He never did, and Keegan loved that about him. 

As closely bonded as they were, it would have been impossible for Jaron to conceal his feelings from Keegan, but he could have been quieter. He could have tried not to move his hips, to stay still. 

But Jaron wasn’t like that. 

Jaron let it all show, every ounce of desire he felt, every little whimper of need that rose to his lips as Keegan’s fingers worked him open. 

It was intoxicating to watch him, to listen to him, to drive him higher. 

Keegan took his time, drawing out the process until Jaron was a writhing mess beneath him, begging him for his cock.

Only then did Keegan position himself at Jaron’s entrance, his gaze locking onto the dragon’s as he slowly pushed inside. The tight heat of Jaron’s body enveloped him, and a low moan escaped his lips at the sensation.

Jaron’s breath caught, his body stretching to accommodate the vampire’s length.

His hands found their way to Keegan’s back, his nails digging into skin as he adjusted to the intrusion. Keegan stilled, allowing Jaron to become accustomed to the feeling of fullness.

Once Jaron’s body relaxed, Keegan began to move, setting a slow, torturous pace. Each thrust brought a new wave of pleasure, the intensity of their connection driving them both closer to the edge.

Jaron’s nails raked down Keegan’s back, leaving trails of fiery sensation in their wake. Keegan’s hips moved with increasing urgency, driven by the heady mix of his own desire and the overwhelming waves of Jaron’s pleasure crashing through their bond. He felt Jaron’s body tighten around him, each squeeze sending jolts of pleasure straight to his core.

Their breaths mingled in the air, heavy and ragged, as they lost themselves in the rhythm they created together. Keegan’s fingers dug into Jaron’s hips, grounding himself in the tangible connection between them. 

Keegan felt the telltale signs of Jaron’s impending climax not only through their link—the tightening muscles, the quickening breaths, the frantic grasping at his back. It mirrored his own rising tide of pleasure, a synchrony that made his heart race even faster.

Jaron’s voice broke through the haze, a desperate plea wrapped in a moan. “Keegan… I… I’m close.”

Keegan nodded, his thrusts becoming erratic as he chased that ultimate release. 

And then it hit—an explosion of pleasure that radiated from where their bodies joined and echoed through every fiber of their being. Keegan cried out Jaron’s name as he felt his climax crash over him, amplified by Jaron’s simultaneous release. The dual sensations merged into a singular, blinding burst of ecstasy that left them both trembling and gasping for breath.

Their bodies shuddered together in the aftermath, hearts pounding in unison as they clung to each other. Keegan buried his face in the crook of Jaron’s neck, breathing in the scent that was uniquely his mate’s—a grounding reminder that they were here, together.

Jaron’s hands moved soothingly over Keegan’s back, tracing gentle patterns on the skin he’d scratched mere moments ago.

Keegan lifted his head to meet Jaron’s gaze, finding love and contentment reflected in those familiar eyes. “I love you,” he whispered again.

Jaron smiled softly, brushing a kiss against Keegan’s forehead. “Are you sure? I couldn’t tell.”

Keegan laughed, and in that moment, everything else faded away—their past struggles, future uncertainties—all eclipsed by the simple joy he felt right here and now. 

He’d never understood people who lived solely in the moment, but now he thought he did. 

What was life, after all, but a series of moments?

“What are you thinking?” Jaron asked. 

“That I could live for moments like this.”

“Silly vampire.” Jaron closed his eyes.

Keegan settled next to him, drawing his warm body into his arms. “Not silly,” he murmured, playing with the hair on the back of Jaron’s neck. “Just happy.”