Karma Annesley opened up her Honda Shadow on the long, empty stretch of highway in front of her, needing to feel the cool wind on her face. Needing the freedom of the outdoors, of choosing her own speed, following her own path, forging her own destiny. After the hell she’d endured as a teenager, she needed wide, open spaces. Even the thought of being confined in a small room for too long made her animal go crazy.
There were some who thought Karma had a problem with authority figures. It was more of a lack of trust issue. She made her own rules, refusing to place her life in the hands of another. If she’d learned anything in life, it was that you had to be very careful with who you put your faith in. Even when it came to family. There were only two people in the world who fit in that category where she was concerned—her sister and her cousin. She would do anything for them. Which was part of the reason she was headed to a ranch in Montana. Her family needed her protection. She was good, could take down almost anything that came at her, but she wanted to be better. Needed to be better. They were hidden in a place no one except Karma knew about now, but hunters had gotten to them once. They could again. This was the only way to ensure their safety.
Karma spotted the ranch in the distance and began to decrease her speed, finally turning onto the driveway that would take her to the next part of her journey in life. She came to a stop in front of the large ranch house, slowly putting the kickstand down on her bike before swinging her leg over the seat. Removing her helmet, she hooked it over a handlebar. Her eyes quickly surveyed the property, noting where every car, truck, and building was, before she made her way to the front door. It opened before she could knock.
“You must be Karma!”
Karma looked into the small female’s sky-blue eyes and couldn’t stop herself from returning the woman’s smile with a small one of her own. “Yes.”
“I’m Katia, Colton’s mate.” She stepped back, opening the door wide.
Karma stiffened, her eyes going past Katia into the entryway behind her. She couldn’t stop that small twinge of fear that enveloped her at the thought of going into an unknown place, with unknown people. It didn’t matter who they were. She’d never met Colton Alexander or his mate before. What if she got inside and shit went sideways? Would she be strong enough to fight her way out?
She knew Colton was powerful, so she’d be in trouble if it went that far—but she’d also heard he was honorable and trustworthy, nothing like the asshole dragon who had stolen her, Evalena, and Alayla from their home years ago.
They aren’t going to hurt you, Karma, her dragon promised.
I’m not afraid, Karma protested, even though they both knew it wasn’t the truth. There was a tiny part of her that was terrified to walk through that door.
If you aren’t going to be honest with me, at least be honest with yourself.
Shut the hell up, she snapped irritably.
“Come in! We were just going to…” Katia trailed off, her smile wavering slightly as she watched Karma for a second, but then it was back full force. “Actually, why don’t you meet us around back, Karma? There’s a patio with some big, cushy chairs, and I need to relax for a bit.”
It wasn’t a lie. There was no scent of untruth coming from her. But, Karma knew Katia must have seen something in her eyes that alerted her to Karma’s issues entering her home, and had immediately come up with a solution. There was a reason this woman was the mate of the dragon shifter in charge of the Rogue Enforcers.
“It’s okay,” Karma said, squaring her shoulders and lifting her head high. “We can meet in your house.”
Damn right we can,her dragon growled. You aren’t some fragile little girl anymore, Karma. You are a fierce dragoness. If anyone threatens us, we’ll light their ass on fire. We don’t cower for anyone.
Katia hesitated, then turned and headed through the house, keeping the door wide open behind her. Karma realized she was giving her the option of following, or not.
“Colton’s in his office,” she said over her shoulder. “He was just getting off the phone with one of the other enforcers.”
Karma took a deep breath, then stepped into the house, shutting the door behind her. She made her way past the large, open living room and down a hallway behind Katia, ignoring the dread that was already filling her at being inside an unfamiliar place. She was surprised when Katia took her into a kitchen and through a door that led back outside to that patio she’d spoken of. Swallowing hard at the woman’s thoughtfulness, she said, “You didn’t have to do this.”
Katia sent her another one of those big, bright smiles. “We all have our demons we fight, Karma. There’s nothing wrong with making life a little easier on ourselves sometimes.”
“You know?” Karma asked quietly, her gaze darting over Katia’s shoulder, unable to meet the other woman’s eyes.
“Yes,” Katia admitted. “I don’t know specifics, but we’ve looked into your background as much as possible. We had to, since we are considering bringing you on as one of our Enforcers.” She gave Karma a gentle smile. “Like I said, we all have our demons. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Karma walked to the edge of the patio, staring out over the horizon for a moment, before turning back around to face Katia. “It’s not shame you are sensing, Katia. It’s more worry. The Enforcers take only the best of the best. While my gift is a fairly good one, it sets me on my ass for almost an hour after I use it. Not only that, but my fears hold me back. They would never want someone like me. A woman who can’t even walk into someone else’s house without being on edge.”
Katia cocked an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t it be pretty naïve of anyone to walk into someone else’s domain and automatically trust them?”
Of course, it would, Karma’s dragon agreed.
“Yes, but not trusting someone and being scared to do something are two different things.”
“You overcame that fear, Karma. You not only walked into my house, but you were prepared to have this meeting in Colton’s office, knowing you would be confined in a smaller space with him.”
She has a point. You overcame your fear and did what needed to be done.
“Karma, what you need to realize is that the Rogue Enforcers are different than the Enforcers you are talking about. Every single one of them have something that has kept them from becoming a full-fledged Enforcer. Whether it be their gift, or maybe something happening to them physically.”
“Or maybe they have fears that they can’t quite fully conquer,” a deep voice finished for Katia.
Karma’s hand instinctively went to the gun strapped to her hip.
“While I respect your quick reflexes, you won’t be needing that,” Colton said as he stepped outside and went to stand next to his mate.
Karma lifted her chin slightly, letting her hand fall to her side, but refusing to apologize. She didn’t know this man. This dragon. She knew her pupils had elongated, her eyes taking on that iridescent purplish shimmer they did whenever her dragon was near the surface. The beast had risen to help defend her at the first sign of a possible threat, just as she’d promised.
“You called us, Karma,” Katia reminded her gently. “You came here to see us about a Rouge Enforcer position on your own free will. Whether you stay or go is up to you, but I hope you will stay.” Her eyes lit with humor as she teased, “You are the first female we’ve had work with us. I’d love it if you gave me some sparring lessons. I have no desire to become an Enforcer, but I’d like to learn how to protect myself.”
“I’ll teach you to protect yourself, Katia,” Colton growled, frowning down at her.
Katia tilted her head to look up at him. “No, you won’t. You’ll hold back because you’ll be afraid of hurting me.”
“What makes you think Karma wouldn’t?” he demanded, scowling down at her, and then turning that scowl onto Karma.
Karma wasn’t the least bit intimidated. “I don’t hold back for anyone,” she said. “Besides, I wouldn’t insult your mate like that.”
Colton paused for a moment, then a slow grin spread across his face. “When can you start?”