STONEFIRE DRAGONS BOOK 4
Arabella MacLeod was tortured by dragon hunters a decade ago. Ever since, her clan coddled and tip-toed around her, most especially her older brother. Desperate for a chance at freedom, she volunteers to foster with the Scottish dragon-shifter clan. She’s determined to stay clear of the charming Scottish leader, but not only does he keep crossing her path, her dragon is drawn to him.
Finlay Stewart hasn’t been able to forget the scarred dragonwoman he met at Stonefire six months ago. When the same female agrees to be fostered with his clan, Finn pursues her. Balancing his clan duties with his need to see Arabella isn’t easy, especially with the existing rift in the clan, but he’s determined to try. Arabella’s inner strength draws him like no other female before.
Will Arabella trust Finn with her past? Or, will the rift in his clan tear them apart?
87,000 words / 18+, explicit language and sexual situations / This contains the entire fourth story of the Stonefire Dragons and has an HEA.
Finlay Stewart eyed his stack of paperwork and resisted the urge to toss it all into the bin. He loved being clan leader of Lochguard far more than he hated it, but there were times when he missed doing things on his own schedule.
His dragon laughed inside his head. You had better hurry. She will be here in a few hours.
She’s not the reason I want to be done with the bloody paperwork. Our clan needs a new sacrifice.
Believe that if you wish. You can never lie to me.
With a growl, Finn took the next stack of papers and signed line one of about fifty. He wasn’t about to be lectured by his bloody dragon.
Aye, Arabella MacLeod was due to arrive in the next few hours to start her trial foster period with his clan. But any clan leader would be anxious at the arrival of someone from a different dragon-shifter clan. Just because Finn enjoyed teasing the lass and riling her up didn’t mean everyone else in Lochguard would feel the same, especially given the divide which still ran deep.
His dragon huffed. You are clan leader. The others will come around.
It’s been nearly a fucking year. I’m impatient and tired of their bullshit.
They will learn.
With a sigh, Finn flipped to the next page of the sacrifice application for the Department of Dragon Affairs. Since the DDA hadn’t been accepting applications for the last two months after the attacks in Manchester and London, Finn wanted to be first in line tomorrow when the requests reopened.
Yet as he signed his name for the umpteenth time, his mind wandered to the BBC interview with Arabella MacLeod. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t forget one sentence she’d said: A group of men held me down, poured petrol on half of my body, and set me on fire.
Clenching his pen so hard it snapped, he cursed as ink spilled over his hand. Not wanting to ruin the DDA paperwork, he rushed to the toilet sink. As he washed his hands, he struggled to contain his anger.
The dragon hunters had fucking set Arabella on fire and he wanted to make the bastards pay.
No matter how much he’d argued the point with Bram Moore-Llewellyn, the leader of Clan Stonefire, Bram refused to plan any more attacks on the hunters for the time being. Visitation passes were just starting to be handed out to humans to visit dragon-shifter lands and Bram didn’t want to fuck that up.
His dragon spoke up. He’s right. Humans are just starting to reach out to us, and like us. We can’t risk ruining our positive image.
He knew his inner beast was correct, but he didn’t like it. I’m used to how humans in the Highlands treat us. They would never turn us over to the hunters. We’ve saved their lives too many times in the past.
His beast didn’t disagree, and for good reason; memories were long in the Scottish Highlands.
Still, as he moved back to his desk and attacked his paperwork again, Finn vowed to make Arabella feel safe while she lived with Lochguard. If the dragon hunters thought her easy pickings and came looking, they would have to deal with the wrath of one particular golden dragon.
Finlay Stewart had yet to have any casualties on his own land while in charge. He wasn’t about to let that change, not even if a whole fucking army of dragon hunters or the ridiculous Dragon Knights came knocking.
After all, Finn had a few tricks up his sleeve.
His dragon added, Let them come. I’m bored of always sitting.
We’ll see, dragon. We’ll see.
Arabella MacLeod watched as the Scottish countryside rolled by outside the car window. Deep down, she wished to see all of the crags and peaks from the sky, but despite her best efforts and her brother’s help with training, she didn’t trust her inner beast enough to shift into her dragon form.
Every time she tried, her nightmares returned.
The inability to shift had nearly cost her the foster position. Only because of her sister-in-law’s support was she still going. What Melanie had said to Bram to allow Arabella to go, she had no idea.
Looking to the back seat of the car, her sister-in-law, Melanie, met her eye and smiled. Mel asked, “You nervous yet?”
Arabella’s brother, Tristan, grunted from the driver’s seat. “Why would you bloody mention that, woman? Now she’ll get nervous for sure.”
Arabella rolled her eyes at her brother. “Do I look paranoid to you?”
Tristan glanced at her and then back at the road. “You’re a MacLeod, which means it’s impossible to tell.”
She smiled. “MacLeod’s are also strong on the inside. If I say I’m fine, I am. I don’t need you doubting me now.”
Tristan grunted and fell silent. Arabella went back to staring out the car window when Mel said, “If anything happens, anything at all, don’t hesitate to call us. I don’t care if it’s date night or I’m in the middle of a wild dragon-sex marathon, we’ll answer for you.”
Arabella shuddered. “I don’t need images of my brother naked and having sex with anyone.”
Mel laughed. “Too bad as he’s quite good, you know.”
Ara changed the subject. “If I’m in trouble, I’ll call. Is that good enough?”
Her brother looked unconvinced, but Melanie answered, “I believe in you, Ara. In six months’ time, no one at Lochguard will want to let you go.”
Mel’s unwavering faith was simultaneously comforting and disconcerting. “We’ll see. If my fan group follows me to Scotland, Finn might be begging you to take me back before long.”
Melanie laughed. “I think it’s cute you have a group who are out to get justice for what was done to you, and will bother any politician who will listen. It won’t be long before they have a law named after you to tighten restrictions when it comes to the hunters.”
Arabella grunted, not wanting to discuss it further.
Grateful for the silence, Ara memorized the landscape until Tristan turned down the final road leading to Lochguard. Before long, the lake, or loch as they called it in Scotland, came into view. Loch Naver had not only given Lochguard its name, it was also beautiful. The late September sunshine danced on the surface. With the hills and peaks surrounding the long lake, it looked like a picture from a postcard.
As the clan’s gates appeared in the distance, Arabella rubbed her hand against her trousers as a last-minute panic squeezed her throat.
The first few minutes on Lochguard’s land would be critical. She wasn’t sure she could handle looks of revulsion or pity. If they all looked at her that way, she may just beg her brother to take her back.
At least, the interview she’d done with the BBC two months ago had allowed everyone to see her face and scars already. It wasn’t as if her appearance would be a shock. Or, so she hoped.
Her dragon’s voice was low when she spoke. We will have fun in Scotland. Stop worrying.
Conversing with her dragon was still difficult for Arabella, but she pushed past her fear. Thank you.
Any time. I am always here, Arabella.
Her dragon backed off and left her alone again.
Arabella let out a sigh. Every adult dragon-shifter spoke of their inner beast as a lifelong friend. She wanted that, too, but after a decade of silence and pushing away her dragon, she wasn’t sure if it would ever happen. She might spend the rest of her life with a cautious stranger hovering at the edges of her mind.
Tristan pulled to a stop in front of a set of stone and metal gates. The words, “LOCHGUARD” were spelled out in twining metal above the entrance. Below, in Mersae, the old dragon language, was the phrase, “Love, Loyalty, and Bravery”.
Her brother opened his door to exit the car and Melanie followed suit. They waited patiently a few paces off.
Her brother and his mate had been extremely patient and understanding over the last year. The thought of not seeing them for six months brought tears to her eyes.
Stop it, Arabella. It’s only six bloody months. You should focus on making new memories. With a deep inhalation, she blinked back the tears and schooled her face into a neutral expression. If she broke down and cried, there was no way her brother would let her out of his sight.
Having a protective older brother was both a blessing and a curse.
Her emotions under control, she opened the door and went over to Melanie and Tristan. She could just make out Melanie saying, “It’s rude, Tristan.”
Arabella interjected, “What’s rude?”
Mel frowned. “You would think someone would greet us at the gate. But no one’s here.”
Glancing over to the gate, she saw nothing but the stone, metal, and wilderness. She looked back over to Melanie. “We’re early.”
Melanie opened her mouth just as a familiar Scottish male’s voice shouted, “I’m here, I’m here.”
The gate opened and Finlay Stewart slowed his pace to a quick walk.
Much like when she’d last seen him in person at Bram’s mating ceremony, he was as handsome as ever. Tall, lean, with wind-ruffled blond hair and an ever-present scruff on his face, he was the sort of male who could have any female he wanted.
He was the kind of male who would never want someone like her.
Remembering him flirting with every unmated female back on Stonefire’s lands, she managed to get past his attractiveness. Yes, he was fit, but the male was nothing but trouble. She was going to stick to her plan to avoid him. She didn’t want his cockiness ruining her first taste of freedom in more than a decade.
Finn approached and Ara schooled her face into borderline boredom. She would be civil, but she wasn’t going to let him slip past her barriers like he’d done six months before. Arabella was stronger. Resisting the dragonman should be easier this time around.