The dragon pulled its head back enough to look at the Ghost.
He grunted. “No, I’ll take care of it. If you kill them, you might bring more trouble down on your family. I’ll do it.”
A low rumble vibrated from the dragon’s throat. The mother pulled the young dragon against her chest, wrapping it in her front limbs. Balancing awkwardly on her hind legs, she jumped. Wind blasted me as she laboriously lifted herself into the sky, wings pumping with booming concussions.
The male dragon’s eyes—a solid blue so deep it was almost black—turned to me. I stared back at him, then the dragon took a few running steps that made the ground quake. He sprang into the air after his mate, and they sailed into the blue sky, the air rippling around them. Between one blink and the next, they disappeared.
The Ghost sat for a moment more, then heaved himself up. With clumsy movements, he dumped his supplies back into the tote and snapped the lid on. Then he walked away, leaving the tote where it was.
“Hey,” I gasped, scrambling up. Lightheadedness swept through me, and I stumbled as I rushed after him. “You forgot the tote.”
“I’ll put it away later.”
I glanced back. “What about the horse? Shouldn’t you unsaddle it?”
“Lallakai is rounding up the animals.”
“But … where are you going in such a hurry?”
He lengthened his stride. “To shower.”
Now that he mentioned it, I noticed he was drenched in blood. His white shirt was ruined, his jeans were soaked, his arms were coated from fingertips to biceps. I wasn’t nearly as bad, but I still looked like I’d taken a wrong turn in a slaughterhouse tour.
“Didn’t think you’d be that squeamish,” I muttered.
He reached the pasture fence and climbed over it with a lot more care and a lot less grace than before. He landed heavily on the other side and I thought he was about to eat dirt. Instead, he pushed forward, striding toward the house.
I had to jog to keep up, and another wave of dizziness washed over me. “Oy!”
As he crossed the porch to the door and shoved the front door open, I snatched his arm—and my balance disappeared. I staggered into him and he grabbed the doorframe before he fell. Jerking away from me, he stumbled across the entryway toward the bottom of the staircase.
“Go shower,” he snapped.
“Wait up,” I panted. Holy crap, I did not feel so hot. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you practically falling everywhere?”
“You fell into me.” Gripping the railing, he ascended the steps with all the coordination of a drunk on the verge of passing out. “Go shower!”
“Why are you so obsessed with showering?” I shouted up the stairs, my feet planted firmly on the landing.
He clutched the door handle at the top, swaying so violently I prepared to dive out of the way when he inevitably pitched backward down the stairs.
“Dragon blood is toxic to humans.” He shoved the door open. “Go wash it off before you absorb any more.”
He vanished through the doorway, and I gaped at the empty rectangle. Then I grabbed the railing and hauled myself up the stairs after him. At the top, I careened around the corner and glimpsed a huge room that was part library, part workshop, part laboratory, part studio apartment, and all chaos.
My attention shot to the open doorway in the corner, fluorescent light shining out. I scrambled toward the spacious bathroom. Inside it, the Ghost stood on the tile floor, peeling his shirt off with one hand.
“What do you mean, it’s toxic?” I demanded.
He spun to face me—and pitched sideways. His shoulder hit the wall and he barely stopped himself from falling into the tub behind him.
“Would you go take a damn shower!” he yelled.
“Not until you explain the toxic blood thing!” I shouted back. “Am I poisoned? Do I need an antidote?”
“You. Need. To. Shower.” Each word came out through gritted teeth. He threw his shirt into the sink and kicked off his boots, then turned the taps on full blast. Water sprayed from the showerhead into the tub. “Are you leaving?”
“No! I want answers before—”
Unbuckling his belt, he shoved his pants down. My mouth fell open, words forgotten. Stepping out of his pants but leaving his black boxer briefs on, he climbed into the tub. Water hit his chest and red rivulets rushed down his body.
As he stuck his head under the showerhead to soak his hair, my mouth opened, then closed. Jaw clenching, I grabbed my bloody shirt and yanked it over my head, dislodging my ponytail in the process. Toeing off my shoes as I undid my fly, I pushed my jeans down and stepped out of them. Leaving my bra and underwear on, I stalked across the bathroom floor.
He pulled his head out of the water as I was stepping over the lip of the tub. He jerked back, green eyes widening. “What are you doing?”
“Showering,” I snapped, elbowing him out of the way so I could get under the stream.
Ice-cold water hit me like a slap to the face and I leaped backward with a shriek, crashing into him. Straightening, I reached for the faucet. With a twist of the tap, the temperature rose significantly.
“Much better,” I announced, moving back under the flow and facing him.
His jaw tightened, water dripping off his chin. “There are three other bathrooms with showers.”
“Yeah, but then I wouldn’t be close enough to hear all about dragon blood toxicity. Spill it, druid boy.”
Growling, he stepped closer, forcing me against the tiled wall. Turning around to let the water sluice through the blood splatters on his back, he grabbed a bar of soap and scrubbed his arms.
“Dragon blood is a mild toxin unless ingested,” he explained flatly. “Absorbed through the skin, it causes slowed cognition, loss of balance, lightheadedness, slurring, muscle weakness, and drowsiness.”
“Sounds like getting drunk.”
“Similar, except the drowsiness will turn into extreme fatigue. Expect to sleep for twelve hours.”
Oh goody. “Can I have the soap?”
He passed over the bar. I scrubbed my skin, half watching as he rinsed off. The water flowed down the contours of his muscles, tracing hard pecs and washboard abs. Goddamn. My whole body flushed and I wished I hadn’t adjusted the temperature. Cold water would have been good right about now.
I put my back to him, facing the wall as I washed off my front. After surreptitiously cleaning under my soggy bra, I pulled my hair out of the way and reached awkwardly over my shoulder, trying to reach that pesky spot between my shoulder blades.
A warm hand ran over mine, stealing the soapy suds off my fingers, then slid across my shoulder blades. I froze as he gave my back a quick, thorough scrub.
“You’re good,” he told me.
“Right,” I said breathlessly. Gulping, I swiveled around to rinse—coming face-to-chest with him. He was tall. Like, really tall, with broad, muscular shoulders, currently uninterrupted by any fae tattoos. And he was standing very, very close.
“Um.” I held up the soap. “Want me to …?”
He turned and braced one hand on the wall. His back was just as sexy as his front, all dips and planes of muscle. The man didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. Soaping up my hands, I pressed my palms to his skin, half afraid that touching him would cause me to spontaneously combust. I meticulously cleaned away all traces of dragon blood, washing from his shoulders down to his waist.
Yeah, I would just keep telling myself that genuine concern for his health was why I took my sweet time running my hands over his back.
When I couldn’t reasonably pretend that he wasn’t spotlessly clean, I rinsed my hands off and clambered hastily out of the tub. Halfway through the motion, the room spun and I clutched the towel rack for balance. Holy shit.
A moment later, the water shut off. The Ghost climbed out and, just like me, lost his balance halfway through. I caught his arm and he almost pulled me over before we straightened ourselves out. I tugged a towel off the rack, but he brushed past me, dripping water all over the floor. Scrunching my hair with the towel, I stumbled after him.
He drunkenly wove across the cluttered room, not managing a straight line for more than two steps, and stopped beside a rack on the wall where several dozen crystals hung on cords. Selecting one, he dropped it over his head, then pulled off a matching one and held it in my direction.
I wobbled through the obstacle course of tables, boxes, bins, crates, and junk and stopped in front of him. He looped the crystal over my head and the cool stone thumped against my ribs just below my bra.
“Cleansing crystal,” he slurred. “Clears out toxins faster.”
“Are you sure?” I squinted at his hazy eyes. “You might be too drunk to magic.”
He ignored me and headed for the large bed in the corner, the blankets tangled on one side. I hastened after him, dizzy and stumbling.
“Hold up,” I said. “You can’t get into bed soaking wet.”
I caught his arm but he didn’t stop, and I almost fell on him as he collapsed onto the mattress. He rolled onto his back, eyes already closed.
His pink crystal had slid off center, and I nudged it back onto his chest. Exhaustion weighed on my limbs and my eyelids were too heavy to keep open. I thought about my bunk bed, a whole obstacle course away. In my condition, I had a ninety percent chance of dying on the stairs. No thanks.