Monday, June 27, 2016

Lee The Emerson Wolves Release Blitz 6/27/16


No matter how hard she tried, Kimber Gray always seemed to manage to get knocked back down a peg or two. She was a top rate chef and graduated at the top of her class, but no matter how hard she tried no one would acknowledge it. Now, blackballed in the only profession she knew, she was a failure to the one that mattered most--her daughter, Hannah. With no recourse left to her, she'd have to grovel and beg her aunt for help.

Lee Emerson was glad to be back home for a while. He loved what he did, being a food critic and helping failing restaurants was a dream job come true. But he was tired of the traveling and just wanted to take care of things around the house and relax for a change.

Slone, Hunter's mate, wanted to open a fancy restaurant and have Lee run it. He wasn't so sure about that, but he'd love nothing better than to hire that chef that had prepared the last meal he'd had in France before he left. It was the best meal he'd ever eaten, and he had been disappointed when he found out the man had left before he could tell him so. The slush claiming to cook the meal, wasn't the cook and he'd bet his last dollar on it.

Kimber had had it. Her aunt had gone too far this time, and there was no way she'd expose her little girl to such meanness again. They'd live on the street first, and she was trying to tell Slone that she wasn't a charity case. That she could provide for her daughter somehow, when the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen cornered her, snarling that he'd protect her with his life.

Ah, hell no. Who in the hell did he think he was?

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Chapter One 

Chapter 1  
“He’s in his cups again.” Kimber only nodded. The woman standing in front of her started to tap her foot. “Well? Are you going to take over or not? Wendell has said that he’d rather die than to have to work in his place again, and Mark said that he is sick of working hard for him and getting no credit. It is up to you to take over for this evening’s dinner.” “I’m only the fourth cook, not the chef by any means.” Kimber knew she could do it, but it would be bad for her if she did. “He’ll fire me.” “No, he won’t. Who would he get to take over for him should he do this again? No one, I’m telling you. He’s done this too much, and no one wants to cover for him. There are no others that can or will do this. You are all we have.” Kimber glanced at the clock above Mrs. Stanton’s head. “You have plenty of time, yes?” “I’ll need help. And I won’t clean up after.” Mrs. Stanton looked pissed, but finally nodded. “And I want to have my own menu. Not his.” “You are going to make him upset, but I need a cook. Do what you must. But you had better be ready in time if you don’t want to have to worry about him firing you.”  Kimber nodded and moved to change her jacket. As the fourth chef in a restaurant this size, and always busy, all she ever got to really do was the garnish on the plates, make the salads when they were different than the regular salad, and occasionally she’d be allowed to do the side dish. Not often, but enough for her to feel good about still working here. Kimber Gray was a first-rate cordon bleu chef and had worked in one of the most prestigious restaurants in Europe. Someday it was going to look good for her to have that on her resume when she applied to work as first chef somewhere. At ten minutes until the dinner hour, she stepped back from her counter. The dinners would be perfect…the steaks were cut, and the fish—trout that had been earmarked for a trout almandine—had been changed to a stuffed trout with wrapped grilled asparagus, with a baby-laced Swiss sauce. Everything was as ready as she could make it. And when the first order came in, Kimber let out a long breath and began working on it.  The night wasn’t really busy, but she kept on top of everything. Appetizers were inspected to make sure that they fit with what the customer was ordering. Plates were spotless when she put her food on them, and looked like works of art when they left to be served. Kimber even made sure that two of the staff had clean jackets just before they left to work.  Things were just as perfect as she could make them. After all, she wanted this to be perfect, her solo night as head chef. She was pleased when very little came back on the plates that had been sent out, and even less of the small desserts that she’d made up when she’d realized there wasn’t any to be had.  The strawberries had been fresh and the cream would have gone bad by tomorrow, so she used them both to create a lovely dessert. The fresh blueberries had been sitting in their juices since yesterday, but they were usable and she wanted some color on the plate. 
By the time the restaurant was ready to close, she was more than ready to go home. But the last minute order had her staying just a little longer to complete it. The special had gone over well. And with this order, a single person had gotten the last of it. The wrapped asparagus was perfect even though it had been made up in advance, and there was leftover sauce that she put in one of the small cups and sent out with the meal. By the time the dinner was out the door, she had nothing left but a slice of cheese and a single dessert with some smashed blueberries on the side. Pulling on her coat, she watched as the rest of the staff scrambled to clean up. As per her arrangement with Mrs. Stanton, she wasn’t going to be joining them. Kimber did notice that the work station that she normally worked at wasn’t even touched as yet, but it wasn’t her problem. Home was awaiting her. She was so excited when she got to go back in the employee area to clock out for the night. She was nearly home when her phone rang. “One of the last patrons would like a word with you. I think he wishes to complain.”  It was Chef Hayes. His voice was slurred and he sounded very pissed. But Kimber knew that she’d done just what had been asked of her. Had he been sober, she would not have had to do his job. “I’m sorry, but if he wishes to complain, that would be to you or to Mrs. Stanton. I’m nearly home.” He started cursing and she felt her anger rise. “What is his complaint?” “Get your skinny little ass back here and find out. And you left your station in a mess. How many times have I told you to make sure that your area is cleaned when you are finished?” He huffed. “You will never be more than a grill cook for so long as you live. Why I took you on is beyond me. And I might not have if things had been different.” “Different how? And I had an arrangement with Mrs. Stanton.” He started laughing and Kimber felt the hair on her arms dance with her anger. “She said so long as I did the cooking, that others would clean my area. Also, had you not been in your cups, as she calls it, none of this would have mattered. Someone had to do your job, and I think I did a fine job of it.” “Fine job, is it? I’ll say what is a fine job and not. It was shit. It’s always shit when you’re working. And since when is she in charge of my kitchen?” Kimber felt her own anger take on a new level when he laughed again. “You will be here in the morning first thing. I will take care of this posthaste. Do not be late, Gray, or you will rue the day that you came to think you were a chef.” She was a chef. And for the rest of her walk home in the rain, she let her tears fall. She was a chef, damn it, and she wanted to someday work in the finest restaurant as one. But there had been stumbling blocks along her journey, and she had had to work harder at her life choices. It seemed to her that for every step forward she had made, there had been four to take her back. Kimber was sick of it. As she entered her tiny apartment, she looked at the woman who cared for her home and daughter while she was away. Fern Blue had been with her since Hannah had been born. And now, eight years later, they were more like mother and daughter than sitter to employer. Fern had needed her as much as Kimber needed Fern, so it had worked out well for them both. She woke when Kimber opened the door to hang her coat. 
“All tuckered out, she was. I had her take a lovely bath at around six and she fell asleep on my lap. We had us a good bowl of popcorn before.” Kimber nodded and sent Fern to her room. Going to her daughter’s room, she paused in the doorway to watch her. Kimber would bet anything that Hannah had been up since she’d been in this room. “What are you doing up so late, young lady?” Hannah turned and grinned at her, the book she’d been reading still in her hands. “What is it you’re reading now?” “Moby Dick.” Kimber moved into her daughter’s room and looked at the worn book. “Mr. Fillmore gave it to me. He said it was a classic. I think Mr. Fillmore is a classic.” “I’m sure he is too. But you should be sleeping. Don’t you have school tomorrow?” Hannah nodded and wrapped her body around Kimber’s when she picked her up. “You’re almost too heavy for me to carry anymore. When will you be carrying me?” Hannah laughed as she put her in bed. As her daughter closed her eyes, sleep taking her almost immediately, Kimber looked around the room. She felt tears fill her eyes when she thought of all the ways she’d failed her only child. The furniture in the room was second hand. Some of it was third or fourth hand, even. Her clothing was all things that she’d picked up here and there…a friend’s child had outgrown them, a tag sale that she’d found out about. Her books were new. Not the writers that her daughter adored, but her work books and other subject books for her classes, and the extra classes that she’d been taking.  Hannah was brilliant, read well beyond her years, and was a whiz at math. While her age had her listed as a third grader, the teachers at her school had been giving her work well beyond her grade level for months now, and it had improved Hannah’s wellbeing by not being bored in her classroom.  Dozing slightly, Kimber got up and went to the kitchen. There was just enough food in the cupboards to last until her next check. Instead of eating anything, Kimber made herself a cup of tea, her only luxury, and sat down to drink it. Something was going to happen tomorrow, and Kimber knew that with her luck, it wouldn’t be good. ~~~ Lee watched as the women worked the line. He’d arrived early this morning, just as the sun was coming up, and he wanted to make sure that everything he’d put in place before he left was where it should be. Then he was going to take a long, well-deserved nap. For about three days, if he was lucky.  The smack to the back of his head had him turning to his father. “You should have called when you were coming in. Someone would have picked you up at the airport. Now we have to figure out how to have a welcome home party on such short notice.” Lee hugged his dad and told him he loved him. “I love you too, boy. But you should have called. What are you doing here this early?” “I wanted to make sure that Dawn’s lines were working well before she went into production next week.” The two of them watched the line of women, three at the first part of the line and two more at each station after. The line, nothing more than a long set of burners that had been strung together, was going to make it so that Dawn could make ten to twelve batches of jams and jellies at each place, rather than just three or four as she’d been doing at her single stove. When he was satisfied that the work table was close 
enough to the stove so as not to be a bother, he moved to the other part of the building. His dad asked him if he’d gotten things set up for Sloan. “Yes. I made sure she had good people in the kitchen and that they know what she wants done each day. I think that if I ever open my own business, I’m going to make sure that there is a kitchen with staff on duty like she has. It’s a nice place to eat. The food is healthy without being stale, and it’s a great place for them to go and relax. I do think that she’s going to need to expand in a few years, but she said that would be something that she’d have to look into. I think she said she was landlocked.” “Yeah, I heard her telling Hunter that when the time was right, she’d have to go over there and see to it. I’m thinking that they might be making a trip when that baby is here. She’s looking ready to pop.” Lee nodded. He knew that Sloan only had a month to go, and he was excited about holding his niece soon. “You hear about the little one that Luke and Jack got? He’s a pistol, all right. And he’s looking forward to having a fishing day with me soon. Mike and his boy have come down and they showed us what we need. When you gonna make me a granddaddy?” “I’m thinking that I should find a mate first, don’t you?” His dad snorted at him. “I’ve been sort of busy. And so you know, I’m not in all that big of a hurry to find her right now. I have a house, but it’s being worked on. I have a job, but I’m all over the world trying to make it work, and in the event that you didn’t notice, I’m working more than I am socializing.” “Yeah, I’ve seen that too. What do I have to do, go out and find her for you like I did the rest of them?” Lee just lifted his brow at his dad. “You know that I had to get Sloan and Hunter together. Luke would still be dangling at the end of his sticks had I not charmed my way into Jack’s heart first. And then there is Ellis and Jarrett. I’m about worn out keeping the women coming in just to find your mates for you all.” “I think you should just let the women find us. Graham has finished school, but he’s got things going on, and I have to find my own niche in life before I can even think of settling down.” Lee thought of his brother Graham. “Has he…you know, has he moved on yet?” “Not that I can see. Finding that body nearly done him in. I know that the police never thought he’d done it, but I think he still has him a few dreams about it. Can you imagine working on a log jam and finding a woman all wrapped up in them limbs? She’d been there for some time, too, those people said.” His dad watched the line as it moved in the right direction. “You thinking that he’ll stay holed up in that house of his for the next fifty years?” “I don’t know, Dad. When I talked to him last week, he told me that he’s doing fine, but he sounded like he wasn’t. I’m going to try and see him while I’m here. Sloan said that his house is coming along well.” His dad nodded. “But as for my mate, I think I can wait her out, don’t you?” “You mean wait until she falls in your lap before you figure out she’s the best thing that could have happened to you.” Lee had changed the subject on purpose, just to bring his dad around from thinking about it too much. His dad seemed to have gotten the hint for now, and asked about what he was looking at now in Dawn’s building. 
“Jack told Dawn that she’d save big bucks if she printed her own labels. Jarrett set her up with the right kind of printer and the perfect paper, and all Dawn has to do is make what she needs. This will save her from having tons of inventory around just waiting to be used. Jack also told her that if she wanted to add something to them, like sugar-free if she went that far, then it would be easy to print up a few labels instead of a million or so that might not work out.” The machines were still now, the labels having been printed up a few days ago, but he liked the way it had been streamlined to not take up too much of her upper level. “I didn’t have anything to do with this part, but I can see that they had Jarrett up here. It’s nice.” As they made their way around the large building, Lee noticed that the kitchen area that he’d suggested be set up was well underway. Sandwiches were in the coolers right now, but he knew that in a few days, when people started to show up to work, there would be hot food as well as some cold for the employees. All of it was a perk to working here. He had also suggested to Dawn that she open a little shop one day and have some of her jams for sale in it, along with her scones and breads.  His dad moved to the large desk at the front of the building when they were nearly finished with their self-guided tour. Martha Brooks was running the phones today. Lee had heard from Hunter that Mary Peacock and Claribel Sharp had been taking turns working the desk for Dawn. The women had come from Hunter’s pack, but he knew that they loved working for his brother and his wife.  He was startled when the phone call that had just come in was for him. “I just found out that you’re in town.” He could hear the hurt in Sloan’s voice. “You go and see your brother before me? How could you?” “I haven’t seen Ellis or Dawn at all since I got here. I thought they were down there.” She told him she didn’t know anything anymore. “I’m sorry, honey. I just got in a few hours ago and had the plane bring me here instead of home so that I wouldn’t have to worry about this the entire time I’m home with you guys.” “Good save.” He laughed with her. “I’m just bored, if you want to know the truth. Your dad and I have put in as much garden as we dare already, but I want to get out there and dig the places up for my tomatoes. Did your dad tell you that we have first leaves already? They’re beautiful.” “No. He’s been hounding me about a grandbaby.” His dad popped him in the back of the head. “And he’s abusing me too. I tell you, I’d be better off just staying away sometimes.” “Oh no, don’t do that. What would I do without my family around me?” He didn’t answer her but smiled. “I’ve been thinking about some things that I’d like for you to look into. I have this place here in town that I want to convert into something…I don’t know, bigger. Like a steakhouse, but not.”  “You mean something more than the diner in your town, and with bigger ticket items.” She told him that was about right. “I ate a late dinner last night at this place where I was staying called simply Parfaitement Fait, or Perfectly Made in English. I had a stuffed trout that was so good I tried to go back and hire the chef. They told me that the chef had 
gone for the night, and all I got for my troubles was some drunk blowing his drunk-assed breath on me.” Her laughter made him smile. “And what would you have hired him for? You’re not thinking of being my competition, are you? I’m hoping so. Because I have to tell you that sounds delicious. Actually, everything sounds good to me. I’m always starved.” “You’re eating for two, so small wonder. And no, I’m not going to be competing with you in anything. I like to keep my own little corner of this world pissed off Sloan free. And the guy I talked to last night, I had a feeling…well, he didn’t strike me as the one who had made the meal. There was something…I don’t know. I knew that he was lying and he had no idea what I was talking about. He said I was to have had trout almandine and that I had it wrong. Like I said, he smelled of liquor too.” “Let me make a few phone calls. I know the restaurant. I don’t know what I can do, but I can find out for you. Perhaps we can persuade him to come here and open our venture.” Lee said nothing. He had thought when he went to school that he wanted to be this great cook. And now that he’d been working for Sloan and Hunter, he’d discovered that while he loved to cook, he was more into making the place work than being the chef. He enjoyed what he did more than anything he’d ever done before. Being a food critic for some really important newspapers was a dream he’d never even considered, but he loved it as much as he did figuring out problems at some really nice restaurants.  “Just let me know. Dad and I will be there by tonight. I’m telling you now so you won’t be disappointed that I will be there for dinner, but I need to go to bed. I think I’ve been up for three days straight.” She told him that they’d expect him for dinner, and that maybe Ellis and Dawn could make it back as well, and that he should ask them. “I’ll see what I can do.” After hanging up, he told Dad what they’d talked about as they made their way to Ellis’s house. The building that Dawn was in was close to the house, so they opted to walk. As soon as they were in the yard, Lee stood back and stared.  “Yeah, nice, huh?” He glanced over at Ellis as he came out of the barn just behind him. His brother looked very relaxed and happy as he continued. “We weren’t sure that we wanted it this big, but the more we thought about it, the bigger the house got. There’s room if you want to stay tonight. I know that Dawn would love it.” “Sloan and the rest of them are expecting all of us for dinner.” Ellis nodded and took him to the house. “Christ, this is gorgeous. What the hell? Did you win the lottery?” “No. We ran into some unexpected money.” Lee nodded. He’d heard about the inheritance from Dawn’s family, and that they had accepted her into their family with open arms. “When we showed them the house we were building before we left for our honeymoon, they were happy. But when we got back, there were more rooms on the framing, as well as a whole upper level that we’d had no idea about. Her grandparents said that when they come to visit they want to burden us with their presence.” Lee laughed and so did Ellis. He was taking them in the front of the house just as Dawn came from the back of it. He hugged her tightly, ignoring the growls coming from Ellis. Dawn looked wonderfully happy too. 
“You’ll stay for dinner?” He told her what he’d told Ellis. “Oh. I guess we should go. The family has been excited for you to come home for weeks now. I’m so glad that you’ve made it home safely. How long will you be here?” “I’m hoping a couple of months. I have some projects here that I can take care of, and two on the burner for Sloan. But I’m hoping everything can be worked on from here.” She asked him about his house. “I’m hoping to get it done too. Mostly it’s just moving stuff in that I’ve already ordered. There are some decisions that I need to make. Most of them are things that I could probably have taken care of over the phone, but I wanted to be there too. I miss you guys.” “We missed you too. I guess you’ve been to the plant?” He nodded. “I’m so nervous. Not about the lines that you helped me get set up, but all of it. I’m so worried that I won’t be very good at this.” Ellis laughed before talking. “Yeah, those nearly two million dollars in orders mean that she’s going to fail big time. I mean, who would want to buy her things anyway?”  “You have that much in pre-orders?” Ellis told him that was just on her website. She had nearly double that for stores wanting to carry her line. “Holy shit, Dawn, that’s wonderful. I’m very proud of you.” “I’m nearly sick with it.” Lee looked at Ellis over her head when he hugged her again. He mouthed the word Basil and he nodded.  Her uncle, a man by the name of Basil Combs, had been found criminally insane by the courts. Other charges were pending: kidnapping, murder, as well as abuse to a corpse. But those were on the back burner until they could figure out the names of all the women, some dead and others still coming forward, that had in some way been harmed by the man. Basil’s mother had been murdered as well, and they were still trying to pin that on his list. The man had been taking women or children from their homes for decades. His “wife,” Neva, had been one of many that had been brought into the house as a play-thing, and had ended up living out the rest of her life with him. He’d also kidnapped Dawn’s mother, and had made her daughter’s life a living hell when she’d told him off. Life, as far as Lee could see it, was a never-ending line of people shitting on one another to get to where they wanted. Thank goodness his family wasn’t like that. As they boarded the plane a few hours later, Lee was dozing in the seat when his dad touched his arm. He had to stare at him for several seconds before he realized that he was talking to him about the phone.  “You okay, son?” He nodded and took the phone from his dad. “You look like you’ve not slept in about a month. You sure you should be going to dinner tonight?” “Yeah, I’m fine. Just really tired.” He put the phone to his ear just as the pilot was telling them they were ten minutes from landing. Lee said his name in the phone as he started to pull on his seat buckle. “Mr. Emerson? Is this Lee Emerson, the food critic? I’ve heard so many things about you.” Lee told him that he was in flight, and that he needed him to tell him why he’d called. “Sir, there is a problem with the request that I have in for Mrs. Emerson. She called my restaurant just today requesting the information on the chef that had cooked the night 
you were there. I’m sorry, sir, but the chef said that the person you were asking for is no longer with the restaurant.” “I see. Can you tell me why?” He said that he wasn’t sure. That as the owner of the restaurant, he had given full control over the kitchen to his chef. “And so you have no idea that the man you left in charge was drunk when I saw him just before leaving? Nor that the meal that I had that night was one of the best that I’ve ever eaten?” “Drunk? Oh no, sir. That couldn’t have been our chef. He no longer drinks.” Lee looked at Ellis when he touched his arm. They were at the airport, but he wanted him to take his time with the call. “He said that when he spoke to you, you were confused about the food that you were served. Are you sure you had the right restaurant?” “I’m sure. And you can be sure of this…if he fired this person that cooked for me, then you have made the stupidest decision you have ever made when it comes to running a restaurant. And I’m going to write up an article on it and say that, too. Not only did the staff look relaxed and happy, but the food, all of it, was outstanding. I noticed that when I was speaking to him that the entire kitchen staff looked like they were ready for him to explode. And he did, twice, while I was there.” “I assure you, sir, that I’ve never heard of anything like this from this restaurant. You can be assured that I will look into this. There are some…well, I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve noticed some issues on the paperwork on that particular place. I’ll take care of it.” Lee told him he’d better if he wanted to remain in business for long. “If I do find that you are correct, I will get back with you.” “You do that. But I have a feeling that the next time I talk to you, you’re going to be telling me that you’re going out of business and that it was all because of the chef you have now. If I were you, and you know my reputation if you’ve heard my name, I’d be looking into the chef you have now and start asking questions. You’re about to get a rude awakening.”  

Monday, June 13, 2016

Danburn The English Dragon Release Day & Giveaway 6/13/16

Danburn English is the ninth earl of the English castle. He and his dragon alter ego have been on this earth for a very long time. Danburn is accustom to his orders being followed to the letter, no questions asked, so when this feisty young woman bucks his authority he is beyond angry.
Kendrick Barrera can't seem to get caught up. Every time she turns around, her sister is in trouble again. Now, because of her sister's new mess, she's being evicted and has nowhere to go.
Danburn's intentions were to defend her honor, but when Kendrick intervenes, she steps in front of a punch intended for her mouthy landlord. Now Danburn has to step back and take a good long look at himself, and he doesn't much like what he sees.
Kendrick doesn't care for the overbearing lord of the manor and makes no bones about telling him so either. No one, especially him, is going to tell her what to do or how to act or dress.
There is something about the feisty woman that has touched Danburn's heart. She has a rare honesty and bravery that has him take notice. A woman like that is hard to find and should be protected and cherished. The chemistry is there, they've both felt it, but controlling his mouth just might get in the way of winning Kendrick's heart....


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Chapter 1
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
him feel.
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
leave him?”
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
will forever.”
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
said nothing.
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
to take.
“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.