Dragon Isles, Book 4
Out of options. Out of time.
Sasha, The Lionhearted, is the youngest child and only daughter of one of the main Perfume Isle clans. After Sasha rejects every marriage candidate presented to her, her frustrated parents organize a betrothal to Bruceous, The Businessman. He’s much older, and yuck! Worst contender ever. The notion of living with this bum-pinching, leering dragonman appalls Sasha.
Furious, she leaves to visit her best friend and never arrives. Her routine flight becomes an adventure when she breaks through the protective barrier surrounding the Dragon Isles. Now, she’s trapped on the mainland where humans supposedly persecute dragons.
Maxwell Lombardy is drowning under commitment. After his parents’ sudden death, he’s responsible for his much younger brother. Max’s grandparents have started legal proceedings to gain custody of his brother, and his busy job leaves him with limited time. The nanny option isn’t working either until he meets the gorgeous and mysterious Sasha.
Sasha needs a job and accommodation, and Max requires a fake fiancée to present to his grandparents and the court. Problems sorted, except for one slight difficulty. Sparks fly between the pair. Maxwell becomes as enamored as his brother, but his sexy fiancée harbors secrets, and when he discovers what they are—let’s say they have the potential to blast his house of cards apart with the force of dragon fire.
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“Sasha, come out here. We need to talk about this.” Her mother’s voice sounded closer. “Your father and I expect you to be with us when Bruceous arrives.”
Sasha inhaled, struggling for composure. Tears pricked her eyes, and she willed them away. Dragons were tough. They didn’t cry, but oh! This was so unfair.
“Sasha.” Annoyance shaded her mother’s tone this time.
“I heard you,” Sasha said, and pride radiated through her because her voice remained steady and didn’t crack. “I’ll be here.”
“You’ll return this evening. If I don’t receive your promise, I’ll refuse my permission for you to visit Isobel.”
Sasha squeezed her eyes shut. The thought of getting personal with Bruceous brought a shudder of revulsion. He’d pinched her bottom at the Samhain celebration several months ago. Not once, but twice. Disgusting old dragon. If Bruceous leered at her mother in the same way, her parent would have second and third thoughts about this marriage.
“Sasha! Answer me.” Impatience snapped in her mother, and it sounded as if she stood right outside Sasha’s door.
Sasha wilted for long seconds before straightening her spine. “You have my promise. I will return this evening in time for dinner.”
“Don’t make me regret giving you this freedom. You won’t get another chance.”
“Yes, Mother,” Sasha said, her stomach twisting. Her parents had warned her if she didn’t choose, they’d make a decision for her. Although why she had to marry when her older brothers remained free made no sense.
Silence fell, and Sasha held her breath, praying her mother had finished with her lecture. Eventually, her mother’s footsteps retreated, and Sasha relaxed. Her parents assured her they wanted her happiness. Huh! Their choice of dragons was abysmal.
Sasha opened her terrace door and slipped from her clothes. She embraced her dragon, letting the shift take her in an explosion of power. She scooped up her bag in one talon and took to the air.
As always, the rush of freedom filled her with joy. Her pulse raced faster with each flap of her wings. When she glided, everything was peaceful.
“We’ll lose what independence we have if we accept Bruceous,” her dragon said.
“True,” Sasha agreed. “I’m at a loss to understand why our parents wish this match. Could they be short of money? Or is it because Mother settled with Father when she was younger than us? Let’s fly for fun instead of traveling straight to Isobel’s house. I wish to skim the waves and feel the sea breeze on our face.”
Her dragon banked away from the land and darted over the sea. Today, the waves reflected the sunlight and appeared a stunning jade green. The clouds were a puffy white, and the faint breeze cleared the cobwebs from her mind.
She’d speak with her brothers on her return. Perhaps they’d help her parents understand a lifelong partnership with Bruceous wasn’t suitable for her.
“We’re skilled with plants and grow amazing flowers,” her dragon said, her tone strident. “They should give us a chance to prove ourselves. Let us start a business and allow us to embrace our courageous designation.”
An old, well-trodden discussion between her and her parents. Sasha had broached the subject of more independence, and her mother and father rejected every argument she’d offered. The bottom line—female dragons should follow a proven path rather than trespassing into masculine territory. Daughters must accept the directives handed down from parents since they had their child’s best interests at heart.
We only want your happiness, Sasha.
Her parents didn’t understand she was at her happiest when her hands were digging in the soil, and she laid her eyes on a plot of beautiful flowers. That was true joy, and her success brought a sense of satisfaction. Her dragon was right—if they acquiesced to this marriage with Bruceous, her limited freedom would dissipate like dragon’s smoke.
“We should turn back now,” she told her dragon.
“Just a little longer before we visit Isobel.”
Sasha scowled at the mention of her friend. Isobel had recently become engaged to a dragon from Hissing Isle. He seemed nice enough. Isobel was happy with the arrangement, but she wasn’t crazy-mad in love or attracted to her fiancé.
Sasha wanted to know what came later. Her parents informed her love grew in time, and an arranged relationship was practical for both parties. Sasha doubted she’d ever like, let alone love the ogling Bruceous with his wandering hands.
What happened when he tired of her?
Sasha could easily imagine Bruceous pinching bums and embarrassing her at parties. He’d harassed young females for years, and she doubted he’d change. Others would pity her. Once the news spread, they’d sympathize. Then there was the whole sex thing.
Sex with Bruceous. Yuck!
“Stop those nasty thoughts,” her dragon implored. “You’re making me nauseous. If you think Bruceous is bad, you wait until his dragon makes an appearance. I bet he’s twice as ugly and even more reptilian than the man.”
“We can’t let this betrothal go ahead.”
“At least it’s a betrothal at this stage and not a marriage.”
“Huh!” Sasha spat. “Once the arrangement becomes formal, there is no wriggling away from Bruceous’s trap. I still can’t understand why Mother and Father consider this a suitable match. No matter how hard I try to place myself in their shoes, the logic of their decision fails me.”
“The air over there is strange,” her dragon murmured. “Oh, look! Pretty rainbows.”
Before Sasha could caution her dragon, a single wing beat took them gliding through the sparkle of colors. Her dragon faltered at the sudden force of dense air. She strained to move her wings, doubling her effort. Without warning, her dragon shot forward and veered downward. They skimmed the waves and stabilized their flight path.
“Are you all right? What was that?” Sasha asked.
“I’ve never encountered anything of the sort before. The air thickened, and it was exhausting to maintain our height.”
“There’s land over there. Let’s rest on the beach,” Sasha suggested.
Four slow wing beats later, they landed on a strip of sand.
“Where are we? I don’t recognize this area,” Sasha said.
Her dragon inhaled and exhaled a breath along with several smoke rings. “I don’t recall the landmarks either. It doesn’t smell like Perfume Isle. Where are the spices and the beautifully scented flowers? All I can distinguish is the brine of the sea and a dead animal. A hint of smoke. And a layer of something strange. I can’t describe it, but it makes me want to sneeze. Do you know what it is?”
“No,” Sasha said.
“Wait, is that weeping?”
Sasha listened along with her dragon. “The crying is coming from over there. Should we investigate?”
“Whoever it is sounds so unhappy. Perhaps we can help. Maybe they’ll give us directions to return to Perfume Isle.”
Sasha frowned, caution making her hesitate. “We should shift and dress in case it is a human. Our dragon scares some humans.”
“But we are beautiful. We are a delightful shimmering bronze color with stunning and unusual blue eyes.” Her dragon fluttered her eyelashes and preened.
Sasha huffed. “Our appearance won’t help us escape Bruceous.”
“Unfortunately not. We will do as you suggest.”
An instant later, Sasha used human hands to unfasten her bag and pull out clothes. Much to the despair of her mother, Sasha had commandeered her older siblings’ discarded apparel. She pulled on black trews, a tight undergarment to support her breasts, and a blue shirt. Last, she shoved her feet in sandals.
“Right,” she murmured. “Let’s do this.”
The sobs had them striding up the beach and into the dunes.
“The hour grows late here,” her dragon commented. “We weren’t in the air for that long, yet darkness will fall soon.”
“Ah, there,” Sasha whispered. “It is a human child.”
“His face looks strange. Too big. Wide and flat.”
“Yes, but he’s so sad. We have to help him.” Sasha crouched, not too close to the child in case she scared him. “Hello there,” she said and smiled. “What is making you so sad?”
He knuckled the tears from his almond-shaped eyes and stared at her like an intent owl. “Lost.”
“What’s your name, sweetie?”
Sasha held out her hand in the way she’d noticed humans did when they met someone new. Noel frowned at her hand before touching it with his fingertips. Confusion filled Sasha. She’d watched humans grip another’s hand and pump it up and down for two or three beats. Was this a nuance she’d missed?
“Hello, Noel,” she said. “My name is Sasha.”
His mouth didn’t form her name correctly, but she didn’t mind. “Would you like me to help you go home?”
He nodded, his gaze strangely penetrating while the tip of his tongue poked between his lips.
“We need to pick up his trail. If we can’t find Noel’s scent, we might follow his footprints back to his family,” her dragon said.
“He’s too young to stay out in the dark alone,” Sasha murmured. “Noel, if you hold my hand, I’ll take you home.”
He rubbed his face and hesitated a beat longer before standing and lifting his hand. Sasha curled her fingers around his and inhaled the air. Although confident she had Noel’s scent, she still scanned the ground for his footprints.
“His stride is off,” her dragon announced.
“Yes.” She walked two steps before she felt the drag on her arm. “He has a slight limp.”
“He’s a funny little fellow. So serious. Not a chatterbox.”
Sasha slowed her pace to match Noel’s. “A chatterbox would drive us both crazy.”
“What should we do after we find Noel’s home?”
“Where are we is the better question? None of the isles have dunes.”
Her dragon paused. “I cannot sense other dragons. We do when we’re on Perfume Isle. There are always other dragons around, or at least their scent fills the air. I cannot smell a single one here.”
“We should maintain our human form until we learn our location. Can you sense other humans?”
“No, just Noel.”
“Ugh, it appears Noel walked in circles for a long time. No wonder he was upset.” Sasha surveyed the scuffed footprints in the sand. The scent trail worked best, although that led them in large circles too. The sun passed beneath the horizon, taking the last of the light. Other than the swish of the waves and a lone bird wheeling across the sky, Sasha could hear nothing.
“Don’t like dark,” Noel whispered, his small fingers clenching hers tighter. “Can’t see.”
“You’re in luck then,” Sasha chirped. “I have excellent night vision. We’ll have you home in no time.”