Sneak Peek: The Dragon Collective
To help everyone waiting on pins and needles for the next Lochguard book, I'm sharing the first chapter from The Dragon Collective (Lochguard Highland Dragons #8). The book will release May 20, 2021 and if you haven't preordered it yet, I'll have links at the end. Enjoy!
2021 Copyright Mythical Lake Press, LLC
Catherine “Cat” MacAllister sat at the large table in one of the rooms of the newly rebuilt great hall on Lochguard and tried to sketch out her latest painting idea while simultaneously keeping an eye on the female opposite her.
One of her many jobs inside the clan was to help the poor lass named Aimee King, one who'd suffered abuse by a former dragon leader down south in England on Clan Skyhunter. She'd been sent to Lochguard to heal, and art therapy had been working well over the past few months, helping to calm her down for longer and longer periods of time.
True, the female wasn't any sort of brilliant artist, but she relaxed as she filled in the paint-by-numbers project Cat had created. So much so that it was hard to remember the lass had suffered so much while still so young, not to mention the fact she had a silent dragon.
Which, to a dragon-shifter, was akin to missing half of one's soul.
Cat could feel her own inner beast stirring inside her mind as if to reassure Cat she was still there, but her dragon knew better than to talk. When her inner beast spoke, Cat's pupils changed to slits temporarily. And flashing dragon eyes sometimes still scared Aimee—related to something that had happened to her while Aimee had been imprisoned, although the female didn't talk about it—and not even Cat's rather chatty dragon would risk spooking the poor female.
Especially since Cat would soon become even busier and didn't want someone to have to start from ground zero when it came to building trust with Aimee.
Besides helping at her mother's restaurant, Cat's own art projects, art lessons with the children, and her sessions with Aimee, she would soon be working with a human male named Lachlan MacKintosh.
Aye, she looked forward to the month-long joint art project between humans and dragon-shifters. But she was a wee bit worried about saying something she shouldn't to the male in charge.
Or, at least, she'd always had a problem with that during their past meetings.
Her dragon moved again, and for once, Cat wished she could speak to her inner beast beyond murmuring, Soon, inside her mind.
She watched Aimee dip her paintbrush into a dark blue just as the door banged open and her younger brother Connor barged in. “Cat—”
Cat barely noticed her brother and instead focused on Aimee.
The lass had trouble around males.
But instead of running to the far side of the room, Aimee stared at Connor. Her brother stared back.
Knowing how Connor wouldn't stay quiet for long—no one in her family could—she stood and shooed him out the door. She grabbed the doorknob and looked at Aimee. “I'll be right back, aye?”
Once the other female nodded, Cat shut the door and said in a scolding whisper, “What the bloody hell were you doing? You know not to barge in when I'm with her.”
Connor crossed his arms over his chest. “It's Tuesday, not Thursday, so how the hell was I to know she'd be in there with you?”
She frowned. “Since when do you know my schedule?”
He raised his brows. “Since when don't you know mine?”
She grumbled, “That's different. If I don't keep track of you lot, then trouble is bound to happen.”
He growled, “I'm not fifteen anymore, Cat. Stop treating me like a lad green behind the ears.”
Her inner dragon spoke up. He has a point.
Now you decide to start talking?
Her beast sniffed. Aimee's not here, so why not?
Ignoring her dragon, she took a deep breath and murmured, “Sorry. Old habits die hard, and all that.”
He grinned, and Cat nearly groaned. There was no way her brother wouldn't tease her about her apology at some point. Or, more likely, use it as proof that he was indeed the male of the house, being the eldest male of the siblings.
In other words, Connor would become even more insufferable than normal.
Needing to change the topic, she asked, “So why did you barge in like that? I hope there's a good reason, or I may have to take my apology back.”
Uncrossing his arms, he rocked back on his heels, his grin growing wider. “As if I'd let that happen.”
She growled, “Connor.”
He shrugged. “Fine. The human male arrived, that DDA bloke, and he's waiting for you at Finn's house. You're supposed to go meet him about something or other, as soon as possible. They didn't tell me the details.”
Finn was Lochguard's clan leader, which meant she couldn't say no or delay going until Aimee's session was finished. “Just let me get Aimee packed up and I'll go.”
The lass had often been staying with Finn and his mate, Arabella. So her clan leader couldn't get mad at her for taking a few minutes to get Aimee sorted and home safely.
Connor cleared his throat. “I can stay until she's finished. I'll even try to stay quiet.”
She looked at him askance. “I doubt that's possible. Besides, she doesn't do well with males.” He opened his mouth, but she beat him to it. “Not right now, Connor. The longer you argue with me, the tardier I'll be. And do you really want to explain to Finn why that is?”
He rolled his eyes. “Just trying to be helpful, but whatever. I'll let them know you're coming.”
As her brother walked away, she wondered a second about his sudden interest in Aimee.
But then she remembered she needed to hurry—Lachlan would no doubt already give her a superior look for taking so long—and she focused on getting the room cleaned up and guiding Aimee toward Finn's house.
Lachlan MacKintosh sat in a chair opposite Lochguard's blond clan leader, Finn Stewart, and did his best not to tap his fingers against his thigh.
All he wanted to do was get started. There were a million things he needed to research on the Scottish dragons' land before he could start setting up the accommodations and workspaces for the artists due to come in the fall.
Two months. That was all he had to learn everything he could about this clan and find a way to make it work for his pet project.
If Lachlan's plan to invite human and dragon artists to this place failed, he could lose his job. He'd bet everything on this event, which meant it needed to go smoothly.
And Lachlan refused to fail.
His job was his life, his purpose, and kept him from returning to his former way of life—that of an angry, irresponsible drunk who hurt everyone close to him.
No. He wouldn't go back there. He couldn't.
So as Finn stared at him silently—going against everything Lachlan had heard about the Scottish dragonman's chattiness—he stared back. He'd worked with dragon-shifters long enough not to be intimidated by them very often.
But as even more minutes ticked by, Lachlan finally cleared his throat and said, “She's late. I'm more than happy to talk with someone else, someone less busy.”
Finn raised his dark blond brows. “Are you telling me that you never had something unexpected come up? It's only five minutes, MacKintosh. The world won't end.”
True, it wouldn't. But Lachlan needed structure. Ten minutes late one day, then an hour another, making excuses for the little things until he eventually ended up pissed in a pub somewhere, losing track of not only time but also himself.
Maybe someone would say it was hyperbole, given how he'd been sober for ten years. But Lachlan knew himself, and he also refused to tempt himself again. Because next time, he might not ask for help or have the strength to fight his self-imposed hell.
And the next time, he could end up like his father.
Not wanting to go down that road—he needed to keep his wits around the dragons—he replied, “I'm sure you don't need me to repeat how important this is and how we both need to get it right. If this is my first impression of working with Ms. MacAllister on this project, I may need another contact.”
Finn leaned back in his chair. “Cat has more on her plate than almost anyone else not in a leadership position, and yet she somehow still finds a way to balance it all.” An almost warning threaded through Finn's voice as he said, “Don't dare question her work ethic.”
Lachlan knew firsthand from the previous exhibition event she'd participated in that Cat did what needed to be done, even if she did it in a laissez-faire way he didn't quite understand.
But there was another reason he was harsh concerning her tardiness, something he'd never tell the dragon leader, not even if he threatened to cut off his bollocks.
He'd spent a full month after his last encounter with Cat dreaming of her smile, her laughter, and how she teased him.
Dreams resulting in him doing much more than kissing her, leaving him hard and frustrated with only his hand for comfort.
She was everything he should avoid, and yet his dreams didn't seem to care.
No, more accurately, his lust and desire didn't care.
So working with her for months on end would most definitely test his resolve. And he needed to resist her. Not only because he wasn't sure how to deal with a relationship since it meant revealing his sordid past, but she was also a dragon-shifter. Merely kissing her could result in him losing his job. A few—very few—kept their positions in the Department of Dragon Affairs, or DDA, after getting involved with a dragon-shifter.
However, Lachlan wouldn't risk it. His job was his life. Without it, he would be lost.
Which is why you need to pull yourself together and focus.
He was about to apologize since he was being unduly harsh, but a knock on the door stopped him. Finn yelled, “Come in.”
While he probably shouldn't have turned, Lachlan did. As the door opened, revealing the lovely dark-haired, pale-skinned form of Catherine MacAllister, his dream of her laughing as he kissed her neck rushed forth.
Except unlike his dream, she was so much lovelier in person.
Stop it. If he could handle facing everyone he'd hurt in his life and owning up to his mistakes, he could handle one woman and her smiles.
Cat shut the door and said, “Sorry I'm late. I was in the middle of something.”
Finn nodded, clearly knowing what it was, but didn't think to share it with Lachlan. The clan leader said, “Aye, I know. Come, sit down, Cat.”
Lachlan stood. “I'd rather not waste time with small talk. We can merely get started instead.”
Finn raised an eyebrow, but it was Cat who spoke up. “Aye, that's fine with me. I have a half-dozen things to do today, so the sooner we finish, the better. Ready Lachlan?”
He nearly blinked at her directness. “Yes. That would be excellent, Miss MacAllister.”
She sighed. “Again with being formal. You're going to be this way the whole time, aren't you?”
If not in the presence of Lochguard's clan leader, he might be tempted to throw back the words she'd said to him months and months ago, back at the art exhibition, about getting shit done. Her expression would be priceless.
But he quickly pushed the temptation away. Even if it would probably make her smile or even laugh—something he'd love to see again to compare to his memories—there was far too much to do. “Shall we go or continue talking about my word choices?”
Cat waved a hand in dismissal. “Fine, fine, speak how you like. But call me Cat because if you use Miss MacAllister, I won't answer.”
Finn snorted, but Lachlan ignored him. He asked, “How about Catherine?”
She scrunched her nose. “Definitely not. It makes me think of my grandmother, whom I'm named after.”
Lachlan knew a thing or two about not wanting to be associated with a family member. He doubted the dragonwoman had anything as bad as his father in her family tree, but for expediency, he gave a curt nod. “Cat it is. Now, let's go.”
Cat studied him a second, her eyes full of questions, but she merely shrugged. “As you wish.” She looked at Finn. “I'll stop by later, Finn.”
He had no idea what for, but Lachlan didn't really care. And as Cat led him out of the room and then out of the cottage, he did his best to match her pace and stare straight ahead.
Otherwise he might notice how the sun highlighted the red parts of her dark hair or how she walked with a confidence he didn't see very often.
No, best to focus on the job. And the sooner he saw the spaces he'd be working with, the sooner he could get to work and dismiss her from his sight.
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