This week you may read Chapter 4 of Dragon’s Confession. Victor has taken his fated mate Ingrid to the beautiful tropical island of San Michaela in the Dutch West Indies. Victor and Ingrid do not actually go snorkeling, but San Michaela has a reef like this one. I hope you will enjoy this week’s jigsaw.

I am hard at work on Phoenix Aflame. Harrison and Tasha are battling their troubles together and forging a strong new love to mend their battered hearts. Coming April 23!

Billionaire Dragon Lords has released. If you pre-ordered this bundle, Amazon should have notified you by email to let you know your book can be downloaded. This set is also in Kindle Unlimited.

Keep the comments and emails coming. I love hearing from you.

CHAPTER FOUR

  Victor had returned her to the dubious comfort of the settee’s worn horsehair upholstery and upright slipperiness. He was seated at her feet. Like a supplicant. As if. He had changed. He was taller, broader, harder. A man instead of a boy. She would be crazy to think he was the same sweet youth she had frolicked with six years ago. Crazy to believe his story. And yet to her heart his words felt like the truth.

One hand smoothed his hair. His immaculate, crisp blond hair that was too short to need adjustment. Did that mean he was anxious about her answer? His face was impassive. Of course he was an officer now. Veteran of many campaigns, if the medals that occupied so much room on his jacket were real. No, that was unfair. Victor Lindorm might be many things, but he was still painfully honest. And he still didn’t know how to talk to a girl.

“Do you think I’m beautiful?” The question popped out. She was no longer a slim, svelte girl.

He cleared his throat. “Yes.” His face went pink.

“That’s it?”

“Poetry is not in my gift. You are more beautiful than the dawn over the Gulf of Bothnia.” He might have been reading a list of regulations rather than paying a compliment.

She laughed and his face fell. “Is that beautiful?” she asked.

He smiled. “Oh, yes. But perhaps it is an acquired taste.” He shrugged. “Tell me about your accident.”

“Does that mean I am an acquired taste?” she teased.

“I acquired it in one afternoon,” he said in his new hard flat voice. The voice of an officer who expected unquestioned obedience. “Your accident.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you are bossy?”

“Thank you.”

“It wasn’t a compliment,” she snapped.

“Tell me.” His voice grew still more authoritarian.

“Some idiot careened into me in Switzerland while I was training. He knocked me flying and I crashed into a tree. Just a fool skiing beyond his skill level.”

“Let me see.”

“What?”

“Take off your boot. Your ankle ought to be healed after a month.”

“Six weeks for broken bones, Lindorm.”

“Not for a dragon shifter. Take off the boot.

Her foot was encased in a removable green cast. An outer black boot provided extra protection. She held her leg out. “Okay.”

Victor undid the buckles and laid the plastic boot aside. He opened the two halves of the fiberglass cast and put his hands over the swollen and bruised joint. It shouldn’t have stopped the throbbing pain, but it did. “Did they pin it?” he asked.

“No, but they are threatening to.”

“Hmm. When was the last time you took dragon?”

“Six years ago.”

She had surprised him. His mouth dropped open and shut with an audible snap. “That’s it? You’ve never flown?”

“As I remember, it hurt like hell to turn into a dragoness. Like all my bones were broken at once. Why would I ever do it again?”

His hands pressed lightly around her ankle and moved up her calf, squeezing gently. Lightning shot up to her crotch and her pussy melted. He bent and kissed her knee through her leggings. More lightning.

“For that too I apologize,” he murmured. He carefully replaced the cast and boot and stood up to swing her around so that her injury was supported.

“Frau Aber will eat me alive if she finds out I’m putting my feet on the furniture.” She could pretend a calm she did not feel. As if being turned on by an impersonal examination was routine for her.

“Who is Frau Aber?”

“Our housekeeper.”

“A person of great importance. And yet you should keep that foot elevated.”

“And you know this how, Kapten Lindorm?”

His smile was genuine. “I’ve been trained in emergency medicine. That’s just basic first aid.” He rose smoothly to his feet and went out into the hallway. He returned with a sturdy wooden stool. “Your footman found me this.” He arranged her foot on it. “Comfortable?”

“As good as it gets,” she said truthfully.

“I prescribe hydrotherapy,” he returned.

“Hydrotherapy?”

“My family has an island in the Caribbean. Let me take you to San Michaela to swim in the warm sea and try out your wings.”

“And you?”

His face grew grave. The playful light in his blue eyes faded. He knelt beside her and took her hand. “Don’t tease me, Ingrid,” he begged. “I may deserve it, but be merciful. Don’t play with my heart.” There was only sincerity in his voice and on his face.

“I don’t know what Horst will say.”

“Let me deal with the Graf von Schwalm. I have already explained that further support from the House of Lindorm is contingent on my courtship.”

Her heart seized up. “So, I was right. You’ve bought me.” She tried to get up.

His hand held her still. “I have bought only the right to court you as you deserve. Your brother gets his money – whatever you decide.”

“I’m a grown woman. I can do what I wish.”

“And yet you would prefer to be on good terms with your brother.”

“He’s my only family.”

Victor inclined his shining head. “I was sorry to learn that your father had died.”

“Horst is worried about keeping this place.” She looked around the Blue Salon and the shabbiness beneath the gilded furnishings.

“The upkeep must be brutal,” Victor said. “Horst loves you, Ingrid. But he is struggling with the clash between the reality of his bills and his wish for you to be happy. But what interests me is your happiness.”

“So does he get a bride price for me?” Ingrid asked bluntly. “In addition to a courtship fee?”

“Of course. The only question is will my family pay, or some other House?”

“I could choose a mortal,” she dared to say.

His hand tightened. “No. Not really. My uncle let me stew in my own juices for six years thinking of you free in the world, while he kept you well-guarded against predatory dragons. If not me, then you will be claimed by some other dragon.”

His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “There are many honorable dragons who would make you better husbands than me. But none who would love you more.”

“You don’t really know me.”

“My intuition tells me all I need to know about you.”

“Well, why don’t I know all I need to know about you? What’s wrong with my intuition?”

“The same thing that is wrong with your ankle. You need to shift and get your hormones primed.”

* * *

San Michaela, Dutch West Indies

“It’s gorgeous.” Ingrid looked out over the sea and picked up her coffee cup again.

Victor’s spirits rose. She was happy. Sunlight turned the turquoise waves to shining glass. The sparkling sand was almost pink. Only the distant reef broke the horizon. There were no people, buildings or boats. She was right, the view was gorgeous. And so, doubly so, was she.

His heart soared. He grinned across at his bride. In her casual T-shirt and shorts, she made his pulse race, but even on this shaded veranda, the sun reflecting off the sand could burn her skin before breakfast was over.

“You need sunblock,” he said. “And a hat.”

“You’re as fair as I am. Maybe fairer. Where’s your hat?” Her voice was tart.

He remembered he was trying not to be bossy. “I’m a dragon. I don’t get sunburned.” He held out a pale arm adorned with just a few blond curls. He cleared his throat. “I prefer your skin as it is.” Damn, that hadn’t come out right.

Her brows flicked together. They were no longer almost white. She darkened them now. But the color that came and went in her cheeks was her own. She ignored his clumsy attempt at a compliment. “I’m a dragon now. Why do I burn?”

He shrugged. “My mother doesn’t, so I suspect it’s because you haven’t put in the work.”

“Work?”

“Sure, from the day of my first shift, I worked at developing my talent.”

“Weren’t you born a dragon?”

“I thought you knew all about us? The von Schwalms have been marrying their daughters to dragons for over three centuries. Lots of your cousins are dragons, even if your branch of the family is not.”

“Of course, I grew up knowing there were dragon shifters. But we didn’t discuss the details. So tell me.”

“It’s part of puberty. When I was thirteen, I came into my talent. Just around when my voice broke and my face broke out in zits, one morning I woke up with scales.” He chuckled. “Of course, I was expecting it. Looking forward to it. And it was exciting. But I didn’t know how to get back into human.”

She laughed too. “So you went into training?”

“My Papa and my big brother Theo taught me to fly. To change rapidly. To breathe fire.” To fight.

“Oh. And your mother went into training too?”

“I have no idea. But she flew with us when we were boys, and I believe she flies often with my father. We live on our own island in the Gulf of Bothnia, so we have more opportunities to fly than most dragons. No mortal eyes to see us and take photos.”

“I assumed there would be other people here on San Michaela.” It was a question.

“I asked the staff to come only every other day. We should have lots of privacy to teach you to fly.”

She held her boot out to the side of the table. “I don’t know.”

“Let’s start with swimming,” he suggested.

“There are a lot of stairs.” She waved a hand to the beach below them.

“The house is built high to be safe from storms. It will be my pleasure to carry you down the stairs. Go put on your suit while I get us towels and find some loungers.”

She hobbled off to her room on her crutches without arguing. He had not given her a choice of bedrooms. Given himself a choice. He already knew that he desired her. That she desired him.

Maybe they had not had the world’s most exciting sex on that evening in Loire-du-Bois, but they were both athletes. Sexual expertise would come easy. It was whether he could win Ingrid’s love that was in question, not whether he could satisfy her body.

By the time she came back out to the veranda, he had raked the seaweed off the beach and set out two loungers. She had put on sunscreen – the scent of coconut wafted down the beach to him.

She was wearing the huge and floppy straw hat he had put on her bed that morning. Her one-piece swimsuit was plain black fabric cut high at the neck and low at the leg. A racing suit. Everything was covered by a gauzy white wrap. She looked luscious. But then she always looked luscious to him.

He bounded back to the house over the hard, wet sand and took the wooden stairs three at a time. “Ready?”

“I guess.”

“We’ll have fun.” He knelt and unbuckled her boot so he could remove the cast. “We need to keep the sand out of these,” he said. “Boot and cast.”

“They can be washed,” she said.

“Rinsed. But even a few grains of sand will wear a hole in your skin.” He released her ankle from the green cast.

She was balanced on her crutches, her right ankle dangling. He was pleased to see that the skin on her foot and leg was less blotched today. Perhaps his hands had begun her healing. A good sign – if he wasn’t deluding himself.

“Leave those.” He picked her up.

She bit her lip and let the aluminum crutches fall. “I’m too heavy,” she protested.

He laughed. “This is why we lift weights, sweetheart. You weigh almost as much as a pack and full body armor, and less than a rocket launcher. I won’t drop you.”

Her arm went around his neck and she smiled. “Why aren’t there any motor boats?” she asked, “Charging up and down and making noise?”

“Too shallow and too many sandbars. You can sail on the other side of the island – if you know where the channels are. And we shall, if you like sailing.”

“I do. Water skiing too.”

“That is forbidden. My uncle’s rule. He says it disturbs the wild life.”

“Wild life?” Ingrid looked around at the trees and bushes that grew almost to the water line. The dry part of the beach was only ten feet deep.

“We do have a few mammals here. Uncle Thorvald means the fish and crustaceans. And Aunt Inge.” Her lips curved. “That would be Lord and Lady Lindorm?”

“It would. The Eldest and his wife. We do what he wants because he is the head of our House.” “And the boss of you?”

He set her down on one of the loungers and lifted her feet onto the seat. “He is our leader, Ingrid. My father is his youngest brother. The Eldest is the patriarch of our House. Of our extended family. Our commander, if you will. We are a warrior race. Chain of command works for us.”

“Lindorms or dragons?” She peeked up from under that absurd hat.

He shrugged off his beach coat. “Both I suppose.” He shucked his shorts and stood before her in his black briefs. “Shall we?”

She flipped off the hat and stared at him. “Do you actually have a pink rosebud on your chest?” “I do.”

She untied her jacket and drew it off. “Isn’t that a mite girlie for a warrior from a race of warriors?”

Should he tell her? He smiled and covered the rosebud which rode over his heart. Heat scorched his palm. “I think of it as a badge of courage, myself,” he confessed. “Ready?” At her nod, he scooped her up and carried her into the sea.

“Ooh, it’s warm,” she said.

“First time in the Caribbean?”

“No. But I always forget.” She floated on her back. Her braid bobbed gently in the waves. “Nice.” “How does your ankle feel?”

She wriggled her toes. “Great. Supported but not cramped.” She rotated her ankle and winced. “Maybe not moving it is better.”

“I still don’t understand how you got knocked over. The expert slopes of Gstaad are not for novices.” “Want to know the truth?”

“Of course.” Had she lied to him? A dragon’s fated mate should not deceive him. His rosebud stabbed him.

“I think he was a groupie who bribed his way onto the slopes where we were training.” Her lips twisted.

“A groupie?” he could not keep the astonishment out of his voice.

“We have them,” she said.

“Of course you do. I was just surprised that they are allowed to bother you.” He tugged her a little further out to sea. Touching her made his palms tingle and his blood race. “The water is shallow and really calm today, but the waves will wash us ashore if we don’t keep moving,” he explained.

“I had never spoken to him,” she said. “But I’d seen him, on and off for months. He would stand in hotel lobbies and stare at us – at me. Norway, Austria, Switzerland. He was always there. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I think the little creep meant to wangle an introduction.”

“Creep?”

“You don’t have to shout at me, Lindorm. There is nothing the matter with my hearing.”

“Sorry. You were explaining how some creep has been stalking you for months – while my kinsmen stood by and let it happen.”

“When you put it that way.”

“How else would I put it? You were stalked. The stalker injured you – potentially ending a successful career and knocking you off the Olympic Ski Team.”

She patted his arm. Ran her hand down it to his hand. “Calm down. He was just a kid. Slim. Blond. Blue-eyed. Maybe five-eight? Just a male ski-bunny. He never spoke to me. Or to anyone on my team. But he would show up wherever we were staying. I noticed him, but he never approached me until he ran into me. He was apologetic.”

“And your trainer permitted this ski-bunny to follow you from country to country?”

“If they don’t do anything, we really have to accept that it’s part of the package. Like having to give interviews after a competition run when your nerves are jumping and maybe your score isn’t going to take you to the final. Or signing autographs at the airport when you’ve been flying for eighteen hours.”

“So what made you use the word creep to describe this particular fan?” That was the heart of the matter. “Besides the fact that he knocked you down and broke your ankle?”

“He made my skin crawl, although I can’t say why. And he never did get that introduction. The medics had me on a stretcher before he could get near me.”

“Fair enough.” He would investigate later. “Would you like to try out your wings now?”

“What about my ankle?”

“Turning should heal it almost at once.”

“Really?” She flipped onto her front and began to flounder trying to stay off her foot.

He steadied her with hands under her torso. Brushing her breasts was torture but he resisted temptation. He tried to talk normally. “Take it easy. When you are in dragon, you heal fast. Your ankle is nearly mended. Transformation ought to complete the process.”

“Won’t I have to use it to land?”

“I’ll take care of your landing. Of you. It’s launching that could be the problem. See that tower over there?” He pointed to a stone structure on a promontory.

“The lighthouse?”

“It’s more of a watchtower. But that’s what I meant. We’re going to take dragon and then I’ll carry you up there. You can take your maiden flight.” He looked at her white face. “Unless, are you afraid of heights?” Could dragonesses be afraid of heights?

“What do I do, Lindorm?”

“Ski down the sides of steep mountains,” he said sheepishly. “So what’s the problem?”

“Those rocks.” She indicated the broken jumble at the base of the tower.

“I would never let you fall.” He set his hand over the rose on his heart.

This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2017

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