Absorbing Poison – J.L. Weil

Five. It is just a number. How could something so innocuous hold so much importance? It wasn’t like we were talking about a gazillion. Many things can be associated with the number five. It was the age I started kindergarten and demanded my mom braid my hair. It was the number of hotdogs Blake Cash ate in fifth grade on a dare, barfing all over the cafeteria. What had possessed me to sit at his table? It is the number of appendages most starfish have. It is how many senses humans are born with. But most importantly, it was how many months I had left to break the dragon descendants’ curse. Jase, Kieran, Zade, and Issik—the four dragon shifters had swept me off the streets, bringing me to the Veil Isles, a place as dangerous as the breath of the descendants. Before I came along, there had been five descendants. Tianna, the witch who cursed the dragons, imprisoned the last of them on the isles for a hundred years, except for two days a year when they could cross the veil. She took Tobias’s life—well, her curse did, to be more precise. He tested the boundaries of her spell, and paid the price with his life. And now there were four.

My dragons. Since we learned what Tianna wanted and how to break the curse, plans were put into motion. The question we needed to answer was: Whose kingdom did we venture to next, to find the stone that held each dragon’s unique power? That discussion, of course, broke out into a brawl. Living with dragons had its downfalls. Shit got broken. A lot. I had to intervene. What other choice did I have? Throwing myself into the middle of a circle of dragons, I extended my arms into a T. “Wait, before you break another vase or start breathing fire. How about we solve this without violence?” “Where is the fun in that?” Kieran asked in a sexy Irish accent, grinning like the fool he was.

Heaven forbid I suggest doing something practical. I glanced into Kieran’s moss-green eyes. The color seemed brighter than usual, but I noticed that happened when he got fired up, which didn’t happen often. The poison dragon was as lighthearted as they came. He was free-spirited, a joker, kind, and probably sang in the shower when no one was watching. “Fine. Kill each other. Then I won’t have to break this stupid curse.” “Stupid, huh?” Jase countered. He was opposite of Kieran in the circle, and I had to spin around to see him.

He shot me one of his famous raised dark brows. The dragon of Tranquility was smooth. We were in Jase’s study at Wakeland Keep. Zade had his arms folded over his broad chest, feet spread apart, and a scowl marring his full lips. Issik stood across from Zade like an immovable force. His blond hair was pulled back into some sort of man bun, keeping the silky locks off his gorgeous, but hard, face. It would take an act of God to cause Issik to flinch, or maybe flashing my boobs. That might work. He was frosty, not dead. “Yes.

When the four of you are acting like baboons, it’s stupid.” I scolded them, like a pack of two-year-olds. None of them were fazed, least of all Zade. “Let me guess, you want us to pick stones again?” he asked. “It worked well before,” I defended with a shrug. Four groans echoed through the room. I rolled my eyes. “Fine, I have another suggestion. I’ll close my eyes and Jase can spin me in a circle. When I open my eyes, whoever is directly in front of me gets to be the next victim.

” I got no arguments. Amazeballs. With that settled, I waited for Jase to put his hands on my shoulders. Zade, Kieran, and Issik shifted to even out the circle around me. It was like being burrito-wrapped in pure male sexiness. At Jase’s touch, calmness radiated through me. After I closed my eyes, he spun me in multiple circles, and I lost my grip on gravity, my head spinning. His hands remained firmly on my shoulders to steady me. Otherwise, I would have stumbled like a drunken sailor. When my eyes opened, I stared into irises as green as the rolling hills of Ireland.

Kieran—the dragon with the breath of poison. “Hey, Blondie.” Kieran’s eyes traced over my face. The warmth of Jase’s body was still behind me, and the steady stream of serenity stemming from his hands still flowed over my shoulders. It seemed like second nature for him to use his gifts, especially when it came to me. “So, it’s settled,” Jase declared. “We go to Viperus next, to search for the Star of Poison.” That didn’t sound ominous in the slightest. My enthusiasm was written all over my face. Coming closer, Kieran lightly bumped his shoulder against mine, having to bend down to do so.

“Don’t worry. It’s not as bad as it sounds.” “So there aren’t creatures that could potentially eat, poison, or devour me?” I countered, being my usual smartass self. Kieran’s green hair was spiked down the center of his head, and the stud over his eye glittered under the waning sun streaming through the window. “No, there are, but you have four secret weapons: us.” That I did, and I would need all four of them to survive. Releasing my shoulders, Jase walked to the desk. “We leave at first light. I know it doesn’t need to be said, but we must be more alert than ever. Tianna is waiting for us to make a move.

She’ll do whatever it takes to get her hands on the stones.” The Star of Tranquility was carefully hidden away somewhere in Wakeland Keep. Not even I knew where it was, which was supposed to be for my own protection. At the mention of the witch, I shuddered. I was not looking forward to my next meeting with the redheaded whack job. “Can’t wait.” Did I say that out loud? I did. WRAPPİNG the towel around my body, I secured it over my chest, tucking the terry cloth fabric in at the corners. I probably should have remembered to bring a change of clothes with me when I went to the bathing room, but such was my life. Forgetful should have been my first, middle, and last name.

A closet full of pretty dresses sat in the corner of the room, but none of them were me. Give me sweats and a T-shirt, and I’d feel like a queen. I glared at the wardrobe door. Screw it. I was going to strut down the halls in nothing but a towel and pray for the best. Still damp from the bath, I padded out into the hall. Coast was clear. Not a single descendant or staff member in sight. I exhaled and continued to the staircase. The halls of Wakeland Keep were drafty, scattering little goosebumps over my arms.

It was very hopeful to think I would make it all the way to my room without being seen. The descendants were preparing to make the journey to Viperus—Kieran’s kingdom. Hot Lips was my next dragon-curse-breaking victim. I might have been able to accidentally stumble upon the Star of Tranquility, but it was outlandish of them to think I could do it a second time. Or a third. Or a fourth! They were all freaking nuts. I was nearly as clueless as the first day I arrived in the Veil Isles. The only difference was I knew dragons were real, witches sucked, and I was probably never going home again. Finding the Star had been sheer dumb luck. I didn’t have some kind of magical compass that pointed me in the right direction.

I wanted more than anything to free the descendants from Tianna’s curse. To give them back the life that had been stolen from them. To allow them to live, instead of constantly searching for ways to release themselves from the chains that kept them locked to the isles… But how the hell was I going to find the next Star? The four of them looked at me with hope and expectancy. I liked it better without the pressure. Now, I couldn’t fail them. I’d become so lost in my own head that I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was going. Stopping dead in my tracks, I glanced around the long, dimly lit corridor, trying to determine where I’d wandered off to now. This didn’t look like my hallway. In fact, I wasn’t sure I’d ever been to this part of Jase’s castle. Fabulous.

My last few hours in Wakeland Keep and I got lost. I swore to God, I didn’t purposely do this shit. Nibbling on my lower lip, I turned left and then right, deciding which way I should venture. Did it matter? I should sit down and stay put until one of the dragons found me. I’d have better luck of that happening, than finding my own way back. A sigh escaped my mouth as I tightened my hold on the white towel, offering me little warmth. Did I really want to wait for one of them? If I did, I would have to listen to how I still couldn’t find my way around, and that I needed a babysitter at all times. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I could actually hear their voices in my head. Olivia, what are you doing? Wow, that was way too real. It had sounded like Kieran was directly behind me. Determining my best bet was to go back the way I came, I spun around, and ran into a wall of muscle. Kieran’s husky laugh washed over me. The next thing I knew, my arms were flailing in the air, tangling with the descendant’s as he scrambled to catch me. Not the smartest move. His reaction was a tad too slow, on account of him laughing at me. Legs got mixed in there as well, and then we were falling. We went down in a heap.

Somehow, Kieran managed to protect me from breaking my neck. I don’t know how he contorted his body with such speed and accuracy, but he cushioned the brunt of my impact with his body. He was still chuckling, when I blew the damp tendrils of hair out of my eyes to stare down at his face. He smelled delicious, like a woodsy waterfall, earthy and sweet. I basked in his scent, letting it encompass me wholly. I wanted to press my lips into the curve of his neck. Maybe I could ask him to carry me to my room. I wouldn’t get lost, and I would get the added benefit of staying in his arms longer. Before offering the suggestion, I noticed he was distracted. His eyes weren’t focused on me, but elsewhere.

The towel secured around me had slipped free, baring my breasts to the world, or in this case, Kieran’s face. If he so much as moved a fraction to the left or right, he could have done wicked things that would have my body engulfed in flames, and not the kind Zade breathed. I was stunned, but for a moment. A squeal flew from my mouth as I attempted to fix the towel and cover myself, but I made matters worse. My knee bumped into something, and I was afraid of what it might be. His arms came around me, halting my squirming. I narrowed my eyes at him. He wore his shit-eating grin. “Stop moving, Blondie. You’re making this more enticing for me.

” I gasped as my fears were confirmed. “That isn’t a cell phone in your front pocket?” A chuckle rumbled his chest, vibrating my still bare boobs. “Definitely not, and if you don’t want to find out more about it, I suggest you figure out a way to remove yourself from atop of me, without exposing more of yourself. Not that I mind the view.” His green eyes blazed, brightening the longer I stared at him. For the love of dragon’s breath. Why do things like this keep happening to me? My entire body sank into his, and I stayed motionless while I contemplated my options to remove myself and still keep my dignity, if that was even possible. Why couldn’t he be flabby and have a potbelly like some guys get from drinking too much beer? Nope. Kieran had to be ripped and firm in all the right places. The worst part: I was still mostly naked.

“You can stop grinning,” I grumbled at him. He was finding the entire situation far too amusing for my liking. “You have beautiful breasts. They’re perfect. You shouldn’t hide them.” “I bet you would love that.” The grin on his lips spread. “I don’t know a guy who wouldn’t.” I couldn’t believe we were spread out in the hall, discussing my boobs. Had there ever been a more awkward conversation in the history of dragon-kind? Before I could say another thing, a dark shadow appeared over me.

“What are the two of you doing on the floor? And why is Olivia naked? Or do I want to know?” Jase scowled, hovering over us, his voice deep and formidable. Rushing to my feet, I jumped off Kieran to stand. My fingers scrambled to keep the towel from falling to the ground, but at this point, modesty had been thrown out the window. Why did I even bother? I brought the white fabric up around the popular topic of the hour. I’d be happy to never talk about my boobs again. Ever. “Nothing is going on. I fell,” I quickly explain, my cheeks stained pink. “On top of Kieran… naked?” Jase asked. Kieran laughed and pushed himself to his feet, doing nothing to aid the situation.

It seemed like he wanted Jase to think something was going on between us. This whole thing with the descendants was difficult to navigate. I didn’t understand my feelings or how to deal with the four of them. “Yes,” I ground out, a damp strand of hair falling over my shoulder. Kieran shoved his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels. “She’s telling the truth. I found her wandering the halls, and the next thing I knew, she was on top of me with her chest in my face.” A shiver ran down my spine, but not from the cold this time. “Can we stop talking about my boobs for five seconds?” “No,” they both responded. I’d had enough.

“The discussion of my boobs is officially off-limits. Got it? This doesn’t need to become one of those funny stories you tease me about later.” Kieran and Jase grinned at me. This was definitely one of those stories they were never going to let me forget. I groaned. Things had gone from sensual to awkward, to dire in mere seconds. “I should get ready to leave.” “Do you need help getting dressed?” Kieran winked. “If I didn’t need this towel, I would whack you with it.” I clutched the soft material as I collected my composure and stormed down the corridor.

I still wasn’t sure if I was heading in the right direction, but it didn’t matter as long as no one was staring at my chest. It took me ten more minutes to find my room, but the important thing was I had, and was safely tucked away behind closed doors—no dragons to make me feel like my emotions were tied to the end of a yo-yo. I didn’t bother to put clothes on, but faceplanted onto the bed as I let out a muffled shriek of mild annoyance and extreme embarrassment. There. I’d had my momentary freak-out of the day. I had more pressing matters to attend to now. I’d been warned that the journey into Viperus’s woods would be dangerous, not only because Tianna would use every opportunity to acquire what she desired, but the kingdom itself was perilous. Like the waters of Wakeland, the woods of Viperus were home to some unsavory creatures. The mention of snakes gave me the willies. I shuddered thinking about it.

Letting out a pent up breath, I rolled off the bed to gather what little possessions I wanted to take with me. I slipped into the clothes I had arrived in—jeans, a T-shirt, and boots. If I would be traipsing around in the woods, I put my foot down on wearing a dress fit for a goddess. And to be honest, wearing my clothes gave me a sense of security, making me feel like myself, not like someone who was chosen to break a curse. Even though the material was washed, I could still smell me on it. Nostalgia and sadness whipped through me. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about my mom, but in moments like these, when I was feeling alone and scared, it hit me harder. Stiffening my chin, I refocused my mind on the menial tasks of tidying the room, and stuffing the few things I had into my bag. In a few hours, we’d be leaving for Viperus and the pressure was on. No big deal.

I got this. But I didn’t believe a single word of it. Inside, I was trembling. I Chapter Two took one last sweeping glance around my room. What had once been a prison was now a sanctuary. Leaving Wakeland was harder than I’d anticipated. I’d assumed I wouldn’t form any real attachment to the kingdom I’d lived in for the last month, but I was wrong. After living on my own, not answering to anyone and homeless, I realized how much I’d been craving a family. And whether I had been looking for them or not, a family—no matter how unorthodox—was exactly what the descendants had given me. It isn’t the place that makes you feel safe.

It’s Jase, Kieran, Zade, and Issik, I reminded myself. If we were together, I’d be okay. Taking a deep breath, I snatched my bag off the bed and swung it over my shoulder. I walked across the room and stepped over the threshold, heading to what was probably going to be my doom. Not the kind of positive attitude I should have, but some days it was hard to keep your chin up, when the task in front of you seemed so far from reach and daunting. Downstairs, the four dragons waited in the great hall. Zade paced across the floor, muttering to himself, probably grumbling about how long it was taking me. Issik leaned against the wall, looking bored. Kieran stared out the window, and Jase was in the corner, lounging in a leather chair. I could tell tensions were high, and they were anxious to get going.

No one wanted to find the next stone more than the four of them. Their lives depended on it. “Who’s ready for a little adventure?” I asked with a fake smile, as I sauntered into the center of the room. Jase’s violet eyes swept over me, brimming with exasperation. “This isn’t a vacation or a camping trip.” “Good thing. I’ve never done either,” I replied, looping my backpack over both my shoulders. Four sets of eyes stared at me. Shifting the straps on my back higher, I shrugged. “I’m not a fan of nature or flying, at least I wasn’t before.

” Kieran’s pierced lips curled. “Imagine that. Olivia afraid of flying. You seem to have overcome that fear fairly quickly.” Yeah well, I kind of didn’t have a choice, living with four dragons. “Watch it, or I’ll hit you with my tranquility breath.” Kieran shook his head, but the smile on his lips didn’t dull. “We need to teach you how to control your gift, without putting all the isles to sleep.” “And how are you going to do that?” It had been a few days since I found the Star of Tranquility and absorbed its power, giving me the same ability as Jase—to put people in a deep slumber. But I had no idea how it worked, or how to control this sleeping spell bestowed upon me.

As Kieran and I talked about my newfound ability to breathe tranquility, Jase, Issik, and Zade surrounded me, herding me out into the hall while Kieran kept me engaged in the conversation. It wasn’t until the breeze rolling off the sea washed over my face, that I noticed we were outside the castle. My feet stopped moving, staring at the vast trees towering in front of us. “We’re really doing this?” “We are, Little Warrior.” Issik’s cool voice tickled my right ear, and then we were moving again, straight toward the dense forest. I cast a glance over my shoulder, toward the castle for memory’s sake. Harlow stood in the doorway, eyeing me with disdain, and if I wasn’t mistaken, her eyes glistened with tears. It could have been a trick played by the sun, but I didn’t think so. She had a thing for Jase. Because of her treatment of me last month, it was hard for me to feel sympathetic.

I definitely wasn’t going to miss her sunny disposition. One good thing about going to Viperus was, I didn’t have to worry about Harlow trying to stab me in my sleep. The woods of Viperus bordered the southern part of Wakeland. Not long after we entered the towering trees, the air no longer smelled of sea and moisture, but of pine and earth. I’d made this trek once before when the descendants had taken me to the temple of their fathers. The journey was still burned in my memory. “Why aren’t we flying again?” I asked, tripping over a stupid twig for the twentieth time. The woods held us in a tight embrace, making me feel claustrophobic. I wanted space and air. Zade strode up beside me, dwarfing me with his six-foot-plus frame, a scowl twisting his lips.

“Tianna will expect us to be moving. She might not know which kingdom we’ve chosen, but you can bet your cute little butt she will have scouts watching.” “Can we leave Olivia’s butt out of it?” Kieran called over his shoulder, amusement sparkling in his voice. He was leading the group, striding a few paces in front of us, and eager to get home. Who could blame him? I ignored the comment about my butt. Too much talk about my body parts had already occurred, and I wasn’t going to add fuel to the fire, but the tug at the corner of Jase’s lips had me on edge. If I didn’t steer the conversation back on topic, it would derail to my ass or, worse yet, my boobs. Hell no. I’d had enough embarrassment today. “But doesn’t she want me to find the stones?”

.

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