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Danburn moved to the side of the large lake and stripped off his boots. It wasn’t
necessary for him to take his clothing off, but he wanted to just sit in the grass for a few
minutes before he headed home. He looked over at the large castle and smiled. Some home,
he thought. It was bigger than the hotel he’d just left a few days ago.
He stood at the very edge of the water and calmed his inner beast. He was hungry
for some time of his own, and Danburn had been promising it to him for weeks now. It
would give him what he wanted, or Danburn would suffer at his hands. It wouldn’t be
painful, not really, but it would be annoying. And home was the only place that Danburn
could give him the freedom that they both so craved.
Diving into the water, he felt his beast take him. Not all at once, but enough to know
that his beast was just as anxious as he was to be free. Parallel with the water, he felt him
take all of him, and as soon as he hit the water, there was nothing left of the man he had
The water was deeper than it looked. Much like the castle, there were hidden coves
and outlets in this lake that no one except a few that he trusted knew about. Danburn
swam the distance of the entire lake before flipping and making his way back to swim
beneath the earth into the deepest part of it.
Swimming like this wasn’t the same as flying, but it was close. The beast, a dragon,
was much larger than Danburn by nearly ten times, and weighed several tons. His wings
alone were as wide as several football fields laid end to end, and his tail was nearly fifty
feet long, covered in thick spikes and dark scales. Danburn had never understood the
dynamics of what he was and what he could become, but he did enjoy the way it made
He was in need of some air several hours later, and slowly rose his snout to the
surface of the water to take a breath. As he was breathing in the oxygen, he caught a scent
that startled him. Fresh blood. And a great deal of it. Moving to the reeds behind him,
Danburn lifted his big head out of the water to look around, knowing that he would be
well camouflaged if anyone were to look in his direction. There was not a measure of
sound, not a ripple of movement, on the water or around him.
The scent was stronger now, but he could see nothing out of the ordinary. He
continued to search just to make sure that nothing was going to come back and bite him
in the ass later. It was, after all, his property, and usually everyone knew better than to
trespass on his land. As he watched, something moved at the corner of his vision. It was
then that he saw what his nose had already told him.
The woman was making her way to the water, slowly looking around as much as he
was for something to come upon her. He could see that she was hurt. The blood stained
the water even as she made her way to the deeper part, which was several hundred yards
from where he was. Danburn looked around again when she ducked under the water,
knowing that she’d not be able to stay under long because of her being human. He could
taste it in the scent of her blood as she hid below the surface.
A man—or now that he could see them, men—were walking to where she was.
Danburn didn’t want to interfere, especially in his current form, so he waited. When one
of the men lifted a rifle, pointing it in the direction the woman had gone, Danburn dipped
beneath the water just as the shot was fired.
When he saw her, it appeared she’d been hit. Her eyes were closed, not in death, but
in pain. Blood pooled around them both as he reached her. Grabbing her gently with his
clawed hand, he pulled her body to his and swam to the underground tunnel of his home.
He knew that someone would be there. His friend and go-to man, Noah, would be there
if no one else was. Emerging from the water, he handed the limp woman to Noah and
dove back into the waters without a word. He had to make sure that she was safe,
whoever she was, as well as his home.
Two of the four men were in the water when he emerged from the reeds. Danburn
didn’t even bother trying to figure out what they were doing there, or even what they
had wanted the woman for, but pulled them both under the water and held them there
until they no longer struggled. When he was satisfied that they were no longer a threat,
he moved to the surface again and waited for someone, either man, to come into the water
to retrieve the now floating bodies of their comrades.
They were being very cautious, but he was a very patient man and could wait them
out for hours. Just as one of the men moved to the edge of the water, he heard the sounds
of the sirens coming. Noah, he thought, had called someone for him. As the men
scrambled away, leaving the dead for him to deal with, Danburn sank beneath the surface
again and headed back to the cove where he’d taken the woman.
Noah was there, as was his personal physician, Pierce Cunningham. Noah said
nothing as he held out a towel for him when he shifted to his body and climbed out of
the water, shaking a few of his scales into the depths to replenish what he’d done to it.
Leaving the dead behind would harm the lake only a little, but he hated doing it. Noah
fussed at him then, telling him he should have taken better care. Noah was sometimes
worse than his mother could be when it came to him.
“I couldn’t let her die, you know.” Nothing but a small huff of a sound. As he took
the towel and dried his legs, he was handed a shirt and tie. “We have a guest?”
“Yes. A party. In your mother’s honor. I’m not sure what we’re to do with this injured
woman, but I’m just glad that we have no guests coming. I don’t think it would bode well
for you if anyone found out.” Danburn paused in getting dressed and looked at the
woman, then back at Noah. “Pierce is doing the best he can with her. The beating she
took was bad, but Pierce said that with a little rest she’ll be good as new. The gunshot
wounds, however, will need some tending to.”
“Wounds? As in more than one?” Noah told him there were two total on her person.
“I only heard the one shot. I had no idea that…by the way, there are two bodies in the
lake. They drowned.”
Noah tisked at him, and Danburn had to hide a smile. The man was such a prude. As
he pulled on his pants, not bothering with the underwear held out for him, he asked Noah
what the police were called for.
“I’ve no idea, my lord.” He was in trouble if Noah was calling him lord. “Perhaps
they heard of a large dragon swimming in the waterways and drowning people, and
someone took it upon themselves to call the law. Or perhaps they think that having a shot
up woman in their realm is something else that they might fumble into, and half blindly
find the culprit.”
“You’re in a mood, aren’t you?” Noah snatched the towel from him and walked
away. “I’m fine, in the event you were going to ask. No shots to my poor body.”
“We should be so lucky, my lord.”
Danburn was still laughing as he made his way to the upper levels. He made sure
that the woman was cared for and put into one of the many bedrooms, but out of sight of
the household. He had no idea who she was, but no one physically hurt women—and
that was all there was to it.
When he entered the living room, his mother stood up and came to him.
“You smell of lake water.” He kissed her on the cheek and told her she smelled
wonderful. “Good save, but it does not negate that while I was here wasting away,
waiting for you to come and wish me a happy birthday, you were having a nice dip in
the water. Danburn, you know I hate it when you’re late.”
“I know, Mom, but this couldn’t be helped.” He told her what he’d come upon, and
she wanted to see the woman right away. “Pierce is working with her. He’s to come and
get me if there are any problems with her when she wakes. He said she took a hell of a
“You didn’t really kill those men, did you? Right on your own lake?” He told her that
there was little choice in that too. “I’m sure that once their bodies are found there will be
questions. Do you know who the other two were?”
“No, but I know what they look like and what they smell like.” Dinner was
announced, and he escorted her into the dining room. There would be cake later, after
her favorite meal of lobster and steak, then he’d give her his gifts. He might have
forgotten about what the date was, but he never forgot her birthday.
Dinner was a quiet affair with just the two of them. He did try to get Noah to come
and have cake with them, but he only glared, something that he was quite good at, and
told them that he’d have some later, with the rest of the staff.
No one could put themselves in a class better than Noah did. The man was pompous
as well as correct, but Danburn loved him with all of his heart. And he was pretty sure
that Noah loved him as well. The two of them had been together for as long as Danburn
had been alive, and that had been a long time.
“I’ve been thinking of taking a trip.” He didn’t mention that he had the same idea for
her in the form of a cruise, but only nodded at his mom’s statement. “With you closing
up the house here, I just don’t think I can stand to be around to see it. We’ve been here
for so long, Danburn, that I don’t know what I’ll do without being able to come here.”
“I’m closing the house, not tearing it down. And I’ve told you several times, you can
live here for as long as you want. I just need to be closer to my work.” She nodded, but
he could see the sadness there. “Mom, what is it really? Is it Dad? Do you not want to
He knew that his mom went to talk to his dad daily. He’d died some two hundred
years ago when he’d let an infection get into one of his wings and it had spread to his
heart before they could do anything about it. Even as immortals there were things that
could kill them, and poisoning of the blood was the biggest one.
“I can talk to him anywhere, but yes, that’s part of it.” She sat down before the blazing
fire and looked at it instead of him as she continued. “I love this place. I understand that
you need to be closer to your job and all. But this is home to me. And to you. I wish…there
are times when I wish I had taken my own home instead of coming here to yours. I should
have thought that if you found a mate, she’d want to run her own home and not have me
“Don’t say that, Mom. Please don’t. I’m not going to have a mate this late in my life.
And even if I do, if she doesn’t like you, there is no way I’m going to love her. I’m not
going to sell this place or leave it to ruin. I just think it’ll be better in the long run for me
to settle elsewhere. At least for the time being.” He didn’t tell her the real reason, but he
had a feeling that she knew. The house was lonely without his dad there. He’d been a
rock in his otherwise turbulent life. “Why don’t you let me give you my gifts? I know that
you’ve been trying to get information from Noah.”
“Yes. And he’s as stubborn as you are.” After winking at her, he went to get the boxes.
There were several of them; he would find things for her throughout the year and send
them here to give to her for this occasion. “Oh, so many. Danburn, you spoil me rotten,
you know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, but you make it so easy.” She hugged him to her, longer and tighter than
normal, and he pulled her to him when she started to back away. “I love you, Mom. And
Long after she went up to bed, he sat in the den watching the fire. He’d been to check
on the woman, and there was no change in her. He’d also asked Noah to find out where
the police were going, and so far there was nothing on that either. Only that they’d gone
to the property near him, the one where he knew the new owner was up to no good. Not
until someone knocked on the front door did he realize how late it had become. Or that
it had started raining.
Kendrick felt like a drowned rat. Her hair was plastered to her head, and her coat
was as soaked clear through. The boots she had on, usually made for this sort of weather,
had gotten a leak in them a few days ago, and she’d thought for sure she’d be able to
afford a new pair by now. Then her sister.... Well, it is always Louisa, now isn’t it? Kendrick
thought. One thing or another was always befalling her sister. Reaching for the giant
knocker on the door again, she nearly screamed when a man suddenly opened the door
and stared at her.
“I was wondering if I could use your phone.” He stood there so still she wondered
for a moment if he was real. “I broke down a few miles back, and I dropped my phone in
a puddle and it no longer works.”
Lie, she told herself as her face heated up at the fib. The phone didn’t work because
Louisa had stolen her money for the bill and it had gone dead for lack of payment. Like
her boots and her now overdue rent, there was no money to take care of even the simplest
things, including food. Louisa was going to ruin her more than she already had.
As the man continued to stare at her, she had the most overwhelming urge to snap
her fingers in front of him to see if he was sleepwalking.
“Or not. I guess we can just stand here, staring at each other until one of us dies from
the cold and wet. I’m thinking it’ll be me, since you’re all snug as a bug in the house.” He
still did nothing. “Christ. Is there someone here that speaks? Any language? I know a few
that we can try out.”
“The master of the house has gone to bed.” Well, big fucking deal. She didn’t want
the master of anything, just a fucking phone. “If you were to wait here, I’ll retrieve the
phone for you and you may use it.”
The door closed so fast that she had no time to tell him to forget it. She stood there
for several seconds, wondering why she was even bothering about this, then turned and
made her way back to the driveway. Fuck this shit. Louisa was on her own.
Three hours ago, Louisa had called her and told her that she was in trouble, which
by Kendrick’s estimation happened about four times a day. It was out of the pan and into
the fire for her sister. Just trying to figure out how she did it was usually more of an effort
than she cared to make any more. But the call had come, and she’d driven her piece of
shit car to where Louisa said she was, to bail her out if she could. There was no money,
so if that was going to be it, Louisa was going to have to deal with it on her own. But who
the fuck knew there really was an English castle here?
The night was so nasty and cold that she wished now that she’d stayed home. No
matter what she did for Louisa, it was never enough, nor did it keep her out of the next
bout of trouble. But when she’d mentioned guns and men, like an idiot, Kendrick had
dropped everything to come to her rescue. And more than likely had lost yet another job
because she couldn’t stay until the end of her shift. Life with her sister was as bad is it
came, she thought.
“I should have my head examined. Again.” She huddled into her soaking wet coat
and stomped her way back to the main road to her broken down car. “Come and get me,
she said. They have guns and they’re going to kill me. Perhaps I’d get some peace and
quiet if they did.”
Stopping in her tracks, Kendrick felt herself start to cry at what she’d said. There was
no way she’d leave Louisa to get shot just so she’d leave her alone. She loved her sister
more than she did herself at times. But it was becoming too much. She was broke, thanks
to her, late on all her bills, again thanks to her sister, and she’d not had a decent meal in
longer than she could remember. Her belly seconded that comment by growling loudly.
Louisa was a good person when she wanted to be…mostly when she needed
something or someone to do something for her. Her troubles, Kendrick knew, happened
because she was so demanding, and when someone told her that she was going to get
this or that for her troubles, she believed them. Kendrick had learned her lessons at the
hand of a very nasty person, namely her own mother, and knew that trusting anyone
could get you killed. Or worse.
“Beat me once, shame on you. Beat me a couple of dozen more times, and I have to
learn to run and hide better.” She stood in the middle of the field, not having a clue where
she was, and then heard a sound behind her. “Fuck.”
Diving into the brush closest to her, she lay as still as she could, trying not to think
about what might be sharing the place with her as two men walked by her. One of them,
she knew, was the quiet man at the door.
“I was bringing her the phone. Why would she leave when I told her that I would
bring her the phone?” The other man said nothing but grunted. “It’s not my fault that she
has not the sense of a toad to get in out of the rain. I guess I could have talked to her more,
but I was so shocked to see her there that I was rendered speechless for too long.” She
wanted to get up and tell him had he invited her in, she’d not have been in the rain, but
The two of them were just passing her when they stopped suddenly. Sure that they’d
found her, she wished now that she’d brought some sort of weapon with her. A rock
would have made her feel better than she did at the moment.
“She’s here. I can smell her.” The other man lifted his nose to the air, and Kendrick
had a feeling that he really could smell her. She’d left work so quickly to get to Louisa
that she’d not had time to change her clothing. She knew she smelled of french fries and
greasy meat. “You look over there and I’ll go this way. And for Christ’s sake, Noah, don’t
step on her. Danburn is pissed enough about this.”
“Yes. I will try. She didn’t appear to be injured. But I will be careful.” The other man—
Sniffer, she decided to call him—told him to hush. As Sniffer made his way toward her,
she closed her eyes and wished she was home in her own bed, wished it as hard as she’d
wished for a great many things lately.
Peeking beneath her lashes, she knew that someone was standing over her. She saw
his boots first. And the insane thought of how expensive they looked and how totally out
of her league they were was running through her mind when he bent his knee to become
eye level with her. He didn’t say anything but put out his hand to her, which she refused
“I just wanted to call someone. I don’t know who it might have been, but I thought
someone could help me out.” He said nothing but kept his hand where it was. “Why
don’t you pretend that you didn’t find me? I’ll go back to my car and sit there until either
this monsoon takes me away or the sun comes up. I’m sure this Danburn person wouldn’t
care a fig if you just left me here.”
“It won’t work. He’s very stubborn. And until one of us shows up with you, my boss
will make us keep looking for you. He is, at this moment, looking in the opposite direction
that you took, by the way. Did you know that you are about five feet from the lake?” She
didn’t even bother turning. It would be her luck that it was just a ploy to catch her off
guard…or maybe there really was a lake behind her. One with a great big monster in it.
“There is one. It’s deeper than it looks, and holds all sorts of secrets that you are better
off not knowing.”
“Right now I wouldn’t care if something lurking it in came out and gobbled me up.
I’m so fucked right now.” He nodded, but said nothing more. “I don’t suppose you know
a woman by the name of Louisa Barrera, do you? She’s my sister, and the reason I’m out
here this late at night.” He told her that he did not. “Well, it was worth a shot.”
Standing up on her own, she watched the man as he put two fingers into his mouth
and made the most amazing sound she’d ever heard. Being called a simple whistle wasn’t
enough. It was perfectly pitched and loud enough to wake the dead. The man from the
doorway came toward them with a small flashlight. It occurred to her then that she had
one in her glove box, but the battery was more than likely dead. Why should that work
out for her?
“You should have waited, miss. I was returning with the phone.” She wanted to say
something along the lines of she hadn’t felt welcome, but didn’t. “The master of the house
is most upset with you. He said he has enough going on right now, and he’s right.
Danburn is usually right.”
“Me? Why is he upset with me? I didn’t do anything but ask to use the phone. You
guys came out in the rain to find me. And I doubt very much he’s always right. Bossy
more than likely, but not always right.” She was sloshing back with them in the event
that one of them would offer to give her a lift back to her car, which she’d only just
realized was in the opposite direction from where they were headed. “I think we’re going
the wrong way. I just want to go home now. I’ll find her in the morning. Why I believed
her when she said that men with guns were after her, I have no idea.”
“Guns? Your sister told you there were men with guns after her? Well, if that’s the
case, I think we might know her after all.” She stopped moving when Sniffer spoke. She
was still standing there when he turned and looked at her. “Blonde with dark eyes. A
mark on her left arm that looks like someone touched it with a curling iron?”
“I have no idea what color her hair is now. It’s been a couple of days since I’ve
actually.... Never mind. The mark, it was a branding iron. One of her boyfriends thought
it would be cool if they branded each other. She was first, and he chickened out when she
screamed and fainted. Where is she? Dead? Please tell me she’s all right.” He assured her
that when he’d left to find her she was fine. “I can take her now if you’ll just let me use
the phone to call in a favor. My car won’t…it’s too far for me to take her back by walking.”
“She’s been shot.” Kendrick felt her knees just give out, and something—or she
supposed someone—scooped her up before she fell. The voice of the man, strong and
angry, made her struggle against him, but he commanded her to be still and she did.
“What were you thinking walking around in the rain like a fool? You could have been
killed or drowned. Do you have the sense that God gave you?” She struggled again and
he told her to be still. “If you fall now, I will simply have Noah get the car and run you
over several times for scaring the household.”
“You are a charmer, aren’t you? I bet all the women around just fall at your feet from
the way nice things just roll off your forked tongue. Let me go, you buffoon. I just want
to get my sister and get the hell away from you people.” He laughed, and Kendrick
wanted to hit him, but they were suddenly standing in the hallway of the most beautiful
area she’d ever been in. “Where the hell am I? Dead?”
“No, you are not dead. There is something decidedly wrong with you, isn’t there?”
She looked at him then, really looked, and wished to Christ she hadn’t. Men like him,
handsome and sexy, were not something one like her saw much of. If ever. “This is my
home. And you are an unwelcome intruder. Had you not upset my household, I would
be sleeping in my bed, not soaked to the skin looking for you in the rain.”
“Danburn!” The woman’s voice coming from the staircase sounded shocked. It took
all the energy Kendrick had to tear her eyes away from the hunk of nasty beauty to look
at her. “Nous ne traitons pas invité cette façon. Quel est ton problème?”
“I’m not a guest, but an intruder, as he called me. And if you’re going to speak a
different language to chew him out, you should know that I can speak more than most
people.” Kendrick looked at the man, then back at the woman. “As for what is wrong
with him. I would say that he’s not any different than he normally is, a nasty
dispositioned prick that got up on the wrong side of the bed today, and is taking it out
on the people around him like it’s his job. Like he does daily.”
The woman laughed and reached out her hand. “Hello, my dear. I’m the nasty
dispositioned prick’s mother, Lady English. I’m to understand from Noah that your sister
is here. Let me take you to her.”
As they moved by the big man, Kendrick couldn’t help herself. She stuck her tongue
out at him and flipped him off. There was going to be hell to pay for that, she was sure,
but right now she felt like she’d won a small battle. And she had a feeling that there were
going to be a few more battles before this was done.