Loose ID | All Romance | Amazon
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Heat Level: 4
Word Count: 61,144
Romance Sub-Genre(s): LGBTTQ, Paranormal and Fantasy, Erotic Romance, Shapeshifters, Male/Male
Ian McAdams has spent his entire life developing a game that is finally getting picked up by an international distributor. Unfortunately, the celebration is brought to a violent end when he wakes up with a hangover from hell and a strange tattoo—the mark of the Yellow Dragon.
Ian is kidnapped by the mysterious—and devastatingly gorgeous—Huojin, a dragon in the middle of a celestial war that Ian is officially a pawn of. All Ian wants to do is get back to his tabletops but with dog-demons and flying hands lined up to destroy him, his best bet is with melts-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hands Huojin.
Huojin wants nothing to do with the human who seems to have tapped into the Yellow Dragon’s power. The human makes Huojin burn with thoughts he has no right to have—not with the blood on his hands.
Ian will have to brave the kind of danger that could leave someone at the bottom of a river in order to get his life back to normal. But after spending time with the troubled Huojin, he might just find that there are some pleasures worth the bruises.
The sight was tempting. Ian hadn’t been with anyone in three years, eight months, and twelve days—not that he was counting—and even counting that short romance, he’d never been able to really connect with a guy. His own dick filled with blood and throbbed at the sight. Joel moved to the side of him, leaned back against the pillar, and continued to pump his hand up and down until his breaths were coming out in sharp little gasps.
Ian remained where he was, frozen by the sight as much as by his doubt. Joel was whimpering his pleas now. “I wish it were you wrapping your fingers around my dick.” He laughed a bit, shuddering when he brought his palm up to circle the head. “Maybe even your throat. Come on, man. Do it and I’ll repay the favor.”
Joel pushed his pants down farther so that he could cup his balls in his palm. Ian ran his tongue over his lips, inching forward. His own sac tightened, but…he couldn’t do this.
He put his hand on Joel’s shoulder, trying to keep his eyes trained on his business partner’s. “Put it away. We can’t sleep here anyway. You know I don’t like to mix business and pleasure. Besides, we should check out how the ice is doing.”
Joel looked like he’d been slapped. The drunken glaze in his expression vanished for a second, replaced with a measure of hurt and embarrassment Ian hadn’t been expecting. His interest quickly deflated, and Joel slid away from his reach, laughing nervously. “Yeah, I don’t know what came over me.”
Joel staggered up, tucking himself back into his jeans. He refused to meet Ian’s eyes. “You carved figurines and games tools out of the material, right? The cuts are resting in the sink. I didn’t want to move them until you got a chance to make sure they were solid.”
Ian didn’t know what to say. He was still hard. The sight of Joel with his big black dick out would haunt him for months. Trailing after him, he silently cursed himself. This was exactly why he wasn’t getting any. There was always something that stopped him.
He sighed heavily just as Joel pointed to the large bronze sink at the back of the room. Really, it was a butler’s pantry that lined the wall for a bit of the way, but Ian would never admit to knowing what a “butler’s pantry” was. He just referred to it as a sink with lots of counter space and drawers.
“Whatever that shit is, it freaks me out. Eventually, I will stop asking how it got here.”
He didn’t ask, but Ian knew he wanted an answer. He wished he could provide one. Getting through customs had been a nightmare. He’d been searched a number of times; his luggage had been double- and triple-checked. The hunk of iridescent stone that he’d discovered in his bag the night they’d finally gotten home hadn’t been among his possessions. He couldn’t remember seeing it in any of the stores they’d gone to, and he certainly hadn’t purchased it.
It was just…there. As creepy as that was, he still couldn’t stay away from it. He kept it close while he’d decided what to do with it and was oddly unperturbed by the fact that he had no idea what it was made out of. Still, the moment he’d gloved up and got out his cutting tools, he’d felt connected to the strange bit of stone. It wasn’t very large, no bigger than his combined fists, but he could have sworn he felt a pulse inside it. Like a beating heart.
“You didn’t smuggle it over the border in your ass, did you?” Joel was laughing, but there was a wary edge to his voice.
Ian didn’t respond. Something caught his eye on the edge of the sink. He moved closer, almost without meaning to, until he could just see into it.
“No, we both know your ass is too tight for something that big.” Joel’s voice sounded far away.
There were thousands of papers, unfinished work, and sketches on the worktable, and he had moved some of those to the butler’s pantry while he was dunking the cuts. Amid the sea of ink and pages, the water in the sink seemed to shine. It wavered before his eyes, leading him to think that he hadn’t sobered up as much as he’d thought he had.
There was thrumming in his ears, a kind of undercurrent of power that he couldn’t quite make out. He peered over the edge of the sink and swallowed hard. The basin was only a foot and a half deep, but it looked like it went on forever. He felt like he was standing in a boat in the middle of the ocean, trying to see the seabed. The water was dark and murky, but he could still see the faintest light, something shining at the bottom of a fast-moving river.
Even though he knew what was down there, he squinted, trying to catch a glimpse. Touch it.
Ian’s fingers stopped mere inches from the surface of the water, his concentration broken. When he looked again, the weird glow was gone. In fact, the water was clear, blurring the lines of the cuts but not hiding them. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You’ve been staring at that thing for almost ten minutes. Are you going to check them?”
He nodded before he realized what he was doing. “Yeah. But…later. We really should get you home.”
Joel snapped his mouth shut and shrugged angrily. “Whatever. I can make it on my own. Let me borrow a coat, though. You know how the temp can sink once the sun goes down.”
Ian shuffled around him and practically ran to the only door. He handed Joel one of the black craft smocks off the hook. They were heavy-duty and shaped like regular coats, since he did so many different kinds of crafts in his studio. They even had heavy hoods that protected his face from splatter. “So.” Ian tried to laugh off how awkward all of this was. He put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I’ll see you on Friday, then?”
Joel shrugged off his grip and muttered a “good-bye” that sounded more like a “fuck you.”
Ian watched him leave, and the moment Joel was out of sight, his shoulders slumped. He could probably add this encounter to the growing list of stupid mistakes he was bound to regret. He plowed his fingers through his hair and leaned against the heavy door. Did he have a coat when he’d come in?
He looked around, preparing to leave, but couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. There was still something about the material. Something that made the figurines…different. He stepped back into the room and locked the door behind him. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he muttered.
The sink was still just a sink filled with water when he approached it. He tugged on the same thick rubber gloves he’d worn while shaping the material, and pulled the plastic tub out of the sink. The water drained from holes in the container, leaving only the figurines and tools he’d created. They looked like warriors and mages posed to do battle. Each carried a different object. There was a glittering leaf, a rolled scroll, an hourglass, a set of dice, and a polearm.
His breathing hitched. They were beautiful and impossibly colorful. Even as he carefully removed them from the tub and laid them out on a drying rack, he marveled at their hues. The original material had been a solid white stone, but the end products weren’t.
“This can’t be happening,” he whispered.
The miniatures he’d made were supposed to be several inches long, nothing bigger than what could fit into the palm of his hand. But these were larger. He remembered making them, remembered carving the oddly soft material with careful detail. But he remembered it as if it had happened to someone else, as if he’d seen it in a movie.
He ran his gloved hand over the first piece. It was a stocky warrior wearing a wealth of bulky, heavily detailed armor. The layers of plate were vaguely Chinese in design, but completely impractical for battle. They looked like the kind of armor you would expect for a video game, since no one could actually be strong enough to move efficiently while wearing it.
With his face half-hidden by a heavy helmet, the warrior reminded Ian of Cao Ren from Dynasty Warriors 6. He stood in an aggressive stance with his feet spread apart and his knees bent, as if he were getting ready to charge some hapless peon. In his left hand, he held a long polearm…which was strange because Dice and Ice didn’t feature many of the spear weapons.
Ian didn’t recognize the design of the polearm, but it was remarkable. The kind of thing he would remember researching. It was long and lifelike, the deadly tip curved like a crescent. On the shaft of the weapon was a small white circle.
Ian blinked. No doubt about it. The only portion of the object that remained the original white of the material was a small circle. The rest of the figurine was a kaleidoscope, swirling and changing as he watched. He rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the image, but it wouldn’t go away. He repeated the gesture, this time pulling off one of his gloves. There was no way the colors could be churning like that. Glowing, even. It looked alive, and worst yet, he felt like the warrior could feel him regarding it.
He reached out to touch it with his bare skin, just wanting to stroke the impression.
Something like a clap sounded when his skin connected to the miniature. The figure moved, its hands coming to life until it was spinning the polearm in front of him. Ian immediately dropped it, and it hovered in the air, creating a dizzying whirlwind in front of his face. Ian cried out, tried to move away or duck, but his feet were rooted to the floor. His body locked, and he could barely breathe, let alone flee. Dark and swirly images jumped out of the vortex the polearm made. They danced before his eyes and one slammed into his chest. It knocked into him, stole the taste right out of his mouth. He fell backward, and the last conscious thought that flickered through his stunned mind echoed in the caverns of his head.
“I knew I shouldn’t have gone out drinking.”
* * * *
“I’m dying. Right before your eyes, the last of my life is draining away, and all you can do is laugh.”
“You’re not dying. You’re just really hungover.” The petite blonde reached over him and grabbed two aspirin from the nightstand. Suppressed laughter made her voice higher, which rattled around in his skull like jagged rocks. “And you aren’t listening either, I see.”
“Anne, trust me, there’s no way I could possibly not listen to you at this point.”
“Because I’m such a good friend, I’m going to ignore that jab about my voice. However, I suggest you remember that my apartment is right across the hall, and I could easily leave you here to suffer.” With that, she rolled him back over by his shoulder and thrust the two pills and a Vitamin Water into his hands.
“Now stop being such a baby. Take the meds. Then get up and come to breakfast. I promise you’ll feel better after you eat some of my home cooking.” She leaned in to kiss him on the forehead as she always did, but jerked back. “And hit the toothbrush. Hard. I don’t want you missing the flavor of my special French toast because you have fungus-tongue.”
He grumbled a response, and she tossed him a wink before shutting the door to his bedroom. Even though she shut it carefully, the resulting sound was like a firework to Ian. He clapped a pillow over his head to block out the noise. After a few minutes, he left his fluffy sanctuary and forced the pills down his throat. He chugged the contents of the entire water bottle before collapsing backward. He’d never been much of a drinker, had always preferred to stay home watching Let’s Plays to parties and club hopping. “Now I remember why.”
He groaned, forcing himself to roll out of bed and go to the bathroom. He checked the window and smiled. It was actually a clear, blue Seattle day. He’d slept in his clothing, and it was rumpled and dirty. He couldn’t remember getting home, had to assume Anne had come to get him from wherever he’d been.
He tried to remember what happened, but all that came to him was Joel’s face. The more he tried to clear the fog around the events of last night, the more his head hurt.
Ian grimaced as he pulled his clothes off, feeling the answering tug of pain in his upper chest near his shoulder. As the water heated up for his shower, he turned to the mirror.
“Ugh.” That pretty much summed it up. “What did I do to myself?” There was a square bandage right where the pain originated, and though his memory was made out of mush, he realized it was covering a tattoo. He supposed he should be grateful that he’d gotten it somewhere that would be concealed, but he couldn’t quite manage. He vaguely remembered a Google article that said he should gently wash it twice a day using only his hand.
“Don’t rub, just pat dry,” he repeated to the man in the mirror.
Ian reached for his toothbrush, completely and purposefully putting the process off. He’d have to take the bandage off to clean it. He couldn’t remember what image he’d decided on, and as he worked the paste over his teeth, a sense of discomfort settled in the pit of his stomach. By the time he was spitting out mouthwash, he’d worked himself into a good, healthy panic.
“Okay. I just need to face the music,” he whispered to himself, reaching up a shaking hand. He peeled away the covering and took a deep breath. “How bad could it be?”
That breath whooshed out like he’d been punched in the gut.
The ink on his chest seemed to shimmer. Logically, he knew it was black, but the reflection caught colors that couldn’t have been there. Before his eyes, it shifted, and he felt the ink sliding on his skin. It rolled and moved, repositioning itself to show him impossible images. It was like he was standing in front of a video projector and the scene was captured on his flesh in little pictures that told a story.
“Ahh!’ He stumbled backward and hit the floor hard, the steam from his shower now fogging up the small space. He lay there dazed for a second before a pounding sounded at the door.
“Ian, what are you doing in there? You need me to come in?”
Anne sounded far away with the beating in his ears. He felt the ink shift again on his skin. He couldn’t answer her, wasn’t sure his voice would work for anything besides screaming. Some of the warm air was sucked out of the room when she opened the door, leaving him trembling.
“Damn, kid,” Anne muttered. She hooked her arm around his shoulder and helped him up and out of the bathroom. She supported him until he was sitting on the bench at the end of his bed. “You’re white as a sheet and shaking. You can’t be that hungover.”
“My t-t-tattoo,” he managed to choke out the words.
She leaned back and tilted her head so she could see it. Ian sat perfectly still, even though he could feel the ink crawling around on his body. It made him want to reach up and scratch it off. Something was very wrong with it. He waited for her to freak out, but all she did was blink.
“It’s not what I expected you to get. Looks like letters.”
“Actually, it’s celestial calligraphy,” a deep, amused voice said from the doorway.
Both Ian and Anne jumped and swung their attention toward the man who sauntered into the bedroom as if he owned the place. Adding to the surrealism of the moment, Ian couldn’t help but notice how attractive he was. He looked like he’d stepped out of an Express catalog. Designer jeans hung just right, and he wore a white button-down under a modern argyle-print summer sweater. His sleeves were bunched up at his elbows, showing just a hint of the bright, colorful tats that ran up his arms. Not too much ink, but enough to let everyone know that there was something wild about the man, despite his clean image. His hair was long. His features were lush and obviously Asian. He had dark, soulful almond-shaped eyes.
“Who the hell are you?” Anne moved in front of Ian as if to protect him. It would have been insulting if it weren’t so ridiculous. The stranger was at least six feet six inches tall. The top of his head almost reached the frame of the door. He filled out the space too. Broad shoulders blocked out the natural light coming from the living room, making the bedroom look that much more cramped.
Next to him Anne looked like a child, but she didn’t let that stop her. “How did you get in here? Leave now, or I’ll kick your ass before I call the cops.”
The man frowned, the corners of his mouth slashing downward with disapproval. Ian shuddered. All thoughts of possible danger evaporated, because everything about the man was pure sex. The stranger held his hands up, those deep, brown bedroom eyes of his softening. “I won’t hurt you, and you won’t attempt to bring harm to me. You want to take a nap.”
That wonderful voice rolled out along the air, threw out a wave of compulsion. Ian felt the pull. His eyelids grew heavy with sleep. Anne slid painlessly to her knees and then slumped over. Ian’s limbs were so heavy he couldn’t even reach out to catch her, but three seconds later, the stranger had her gathered up in his arms.
He continued to whisper to Anne in his low, gentle tone. “You’re going to sleep for the next four hours. When you awaken, you will feel refreshed and relaxed. You will not remember meeting me or seeing Ian today.”
Ian forced his drooping eyelids open. He couldn’t stand by and watch the man leave the room carrying his friend. “Don’t,” he forced past his lips. “Don’t hurt her.”
The man swung around and shifted Anne against his shoulder. “I won’t hurt your friend if you cooperate.”
Ian couldn’t help but hear what wasn’t said. The warning hung in the air, hot and filled with promise. The stranger didn’t say he wouldn’t hurt him.