Derek Herman is living a nightmare. Long before he was born, the planet was taken over by a mind-controlling alien race, and everyone is affected except for him. Derek does his best not to draw attention to himself, but it’s not going well.
Ocren Starburst is obsessed with his human neighbor. Every time he sees Derek, he wants nothing more than to grab him, hold him, and keep him forever. And four years of chasing him up the stairs in their apartment building has resulted in Derek refusing to even acknowledge his existence. That is, until Derek accuses Ocren of breaking into his apartment.
Derek found a button on his living room floor, the same kind of button Ocren wears on his police uniform. And while Ocren hasn’t broken in, he knows the button means someone has. Ocren’s race has kept their shape-shifting abilities secret for years, but now his other form wants out to slaughter everyone that dares to get too close to Derek. And staying in control proves hard when threats toward Derek increase.
Will they be able to keep Derek safe without Ocren losing control of his dragon self?
Ocren did his best to stand still. Derek had come to him. He’d thrown a lemon into his apartment, and it burned his nose to breathe in the scent of it, but he’d come.
“You can’t tell me you’re not allowed to talk about lemons.”
They weren’t allowed to talk about lemons. They weren’t allowed to talk about mind-control, though since Derek had reacted the way he did when he’d given him a mental push, he suspected he was aware.
He pronounced it wrong, stressed the last syllable instead of the first, but Ocren liked it. “Yes?”
“There’s a lemon in your apartment.”
“I know.” He’d have to leave. The burning in his throat grew stronger and his eyes threatened to tear up.
“Are you gonna hand it back to me?”
Ocren shook his head, he didn’t turn in the direction of the apartment, as long as he stood in the fresh air by the window, it wasn’t too bad, but if he walked closer, he’d start to cough.
“I want it back.”
“Then go get it.” He gestured for him to climb in through the window.
Derek narrowed his eyes. “If I go in there, what will you do?”
He’d go out on the fire escape. Derek held half a lemon in his hand. He’d get burns if he touched the juice of it.
Derek pursed his lips. “This is the longest we’ve spoken without you trying to break something or eat me.”
“I’ve never tried to eat you.” He didn’t eat humans. There were rumors about Zatera born feasting on human corpses when in shifted form, but it was all horror stories. No Pacurian, no matter what moon they were born under, ate humans.
Derek huffed. “Seriously, though. This has to stop. I will report you. I know all you have to do is bury the report once you get to work, but I can’t live like this. You were in my apartment.”
“I’ve never been in your apartment.” Ocren curled his fingers into fists to prevent claws from ripping through the skin. Being this close to Derek had his control slipping, though not in the way it was slipping when he was away from Derek. He wanted to shift, wanted to curl his tail around Derek and never let him go -- except, he held a lemon in his hand.
Derek reached into the pocket of his jeans. “This is your button.”
He held up a black button. Ocren looked down at his chest -- all buttons were there. “I have all my buttons.”
“On that jacket, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t missing one on another.”
He wanted to reach for the button, but Derek had lemon juice on his fingers. Which meant the button most likely had lemon juice on it as well. “I’ve never been in your apartment, and I’m not missing a button.”
Derek grimaced. “Can I ask you something?”
“What’s with the bracelets?”
Ocren looked down at the maroon stripes around his right wrist. “It means I’m dangerous.”
Derek snorted. “Right.”
With a deep breath, he looked into Derek’s eyes. “They’re warnings. I’m not here because I want to be. I was exiled to Earth, and I live with humans because the others don’t want to be near me.”
Derek laughed. “Oh, come on! You’re expecting me to buy that?”
Ocren flashed sharp teeth, and Derek stopped laughing. As soon as he quieted, Ocren cursed himself. He wanted Derek to laugh, and now he’d scared him—like he scared everyone.
“Okay.” Derek raised his hands, one holding a button and one holding half a lemon. “I get it. You’re badass. It still doesn’t give you the right to break into my apartment, and --”
Ocren snarled. “I haven’t been in your apartment!”
Derek jumped up a step, his fair skin turning pale. “Stay away from me.” He jogged up the stair.
Fuck. “Derek! Derek, I’m sorry.” Ocren climbed out the window which only had Derek running faster. “Derek, please.”
Derek hopped in through his window and shut it with a bang. Ocren stopped outside. “Derek?”
Derek shook his head on the other side of the glass.
“Can you at least take out the lemon?”
Derek raised his eyebrows at him.
“I can stay here, and you can go down the stairs and in through my front door. It’s unlocked.”
Derek opened the window an inch. “Are you serious?”
“Yes ...” They weren’t allowed to talk about lemons, and one complaint against him and he was going into isolation. “... but I never told you.”
“You haven’t told me anything. I asked you if you’re serious, and you said yes.”
“About the lemon.”
“You haven’t told me about the lemon.” Derek gestured in exasperation.