First Look: Trusting the Dragon
As a special treat to my newsletter subscribers, I have the exclusive first look at the opening to Trusting the Dragon, the fourteenth book of my Stonefire Dragons series! You met Sarah MacKintosh Carter in The Dragon Collective (she's Lachlan's sister) and Hudson Wells' late mate was Charlie. (I think that's a good mini-refresher. I know I have a lot of characters, lol.) The full story will be out January 20, 2022. I'll make sure to put the preorder links after the excerpt. Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment. 🙂 Copyright 2022, Mythical Lake Press, LLC.
Sarah MacKintosh Carter had learned at an early age not to fidget. After all, any sort of movement would've drawn her father's eye and attention, and not in a good way.
The bastard had liked to beat his wife and children as he blamed them for all his troubles. So, aye, she'd learned to be as still and small as possible, something that was ingrained in her to this day.
Even now in her late twenties, as she merely awaited a solicitor who wouldn't care if she fidgeted, she did her best to sit still. Some things were just difficult to forget, especially when her life was turning to shite once more.
Glancing down at the papers in front of her, she wished she could burn them and erase the newest set of troubles to come her way. Or maybe rip the papers to shreds and post them back to her ex-husband's parents, telling them what she thought of their rubbish.
But rationally she knew none of that would work. Her ex-in-laws were using human laws to their advantage, which was something Sarah didn't know very well despite being a human herself.
No, she needed help if she was going to keep custody of her two sons. Which was why she sat inside a conference room, one inside the main security building for Clan Lochguard in the Scottish Highlands, and waited for the bloody solicitor to arrive, the one whom the dragon clan leader had found for her.
Aye, she was grateful for Finn Stewart's assistance. Without him working his magic, Sarah wouldn't have been able to stay with the Scottish dragon clan for roughly the past year, despite the fact she wasn't mated to a dragon-shifter, nor mother to one.
No, it had been because her older brother, Lachlan, had mated a dragonwoman named Cat. That was the leverage Finn had used to garner permission for Sarah and her lads to stay.
However, as she glared at the papers in front of her again, everything was about to come crashing down if she couldn't find a way to fix things.
Because the Department of Dragon Affairs—the DDA—had sent a letter saying if she remained unmated to a dragon-shifter, then she'd have to leave Lochguard within the next thirty days. And if she refused by the deadline, she'd be arrested and her children taken from her.
Anger churned her stomach at the thought of her sons being swept away to a family who didn't really care about them but rather only wanted her sons so they could lord it over her and mold them into their versions of what little boys should be.
Which would mean strict discipline, little emotion, and unreasonable expectations. In other words, pure hell for any child, let alone her curious and sweet boys.
No, she needed to do whatever it took to keep her lads with her. Especially since her sons, Mark and Joey, were happier on Lochguard than she'd ever seen before in their lives. To be honest, they'd blossomed without the stress, and rows, and tension that had existed in their home before her divorce from her ex-husband. Not only had they formed a closer relationship with their uncle Lachlan, but for the first time, her lads had positive male role models in their lives, ones they adored more than anything.
Which, after years of dealing with their worthless father, was a breath of fresh air.
Not wanting to think of her rash decision to marry her ex—Rob Carter—as a young woman, Sarah took a biscuit from the plate in the middle of the table and nibbled, doing her best to be patient and not panic.
After a few more minutes, a knock sounded on the door before it opened. The blond, fair-skinned form of Lochguard's clan leader, Finn, walked in first, followed closely by a woman with hair already falling out of her long braid, her cardigan not buttoned evenly, and her glasses slightly askew.
First impressions would say the woman was a mess, but Sarah knew not to judge by appearances. After all, everyone had thought her father the perfect husband while he was still alive, since he'd been able to charm everyone outside of the family. No one was the wiser about how it was part of his schtick to do what he wished inside the walls of his home without suspicion.
Standing, Sarah looked to Finn. The dragonman nodded and then gestured toward the woman. “This is Hayley Beckett, the solicitor here to help you. Ms. Beckett, this is Sarah Carter, the human female we told you about.”
After briefly shaking hands, they sat. Before Sarah could say anything, Hayley jumped right in, her accent telling Sarah she was from somewhere in the south of England. “I'll get straight to the point. If you want to continue living with a dragon clan, there's only one guaranteed way to do that, and that's if you mate a dragon-shifter. So let me start by asking—is there anyone you fancy on Lochguard?”
Sarah blinked. “Pardon?”
“Is there someone you fancy? That'll solve all your problems, if he'll mate you, that is.”
Sarah looked to Finn but saw he was as nonplussed as she was at the blunt opening. Returning her gaze back to Hayley, she said, “No. I've barely received my final divorce papers. Dating was the furthest thing from my mind.”
As Hayley frowned, Sarah's stomach dropped. She had a feeling the woman wasn't going to be as much help as Finn had said she would be. Hayley shrugged. “Well, there are a few other options then.”
Sarah let out a sigh of relief.
Little did she know, it would be short-lived.
Hayley continued, “We can try to fight this, but it will be a long-drawn-out battle, with little precedent since you're unmated with human children, and the odds aren't in your favor. Which is a bloody shame since your ex-husband was only recently let out of jail and isn't exactly the paragon of fatherhood. Clever for his parents to stir this fuss for him since they don't have any blemishes on their record.”
Rob's arrest and short prison sentence was the reason Sarah had won full custody of her lads in the first place.
Sarah opened her mouth, but Hayley carried on without missing a beat. “The other option is to find a dragonman—or woman, if that's your fancy—and have a mating of convenience. Maybe someone who is looking for a friend rather than a lover, and one who'll agree to remain mated for at least two years. I'm sure by then I can either find a way to get you to stay if you divorce, or my colleagues working with the DDA will make it so some individuals can live with a dragon clan, if they so choose, with less uncertainty.” Hayley raised her brows. “How does that sound?”
Blinking, Sarah took a second to find her voice. “You want me to find some random bloke to mate me for a few years and then get divorced again? You do understand I have children, and it's hard enough for my lads this time around. If they grow close to whomever I mate, it'll be even worse.”
Finn finally spoke up. “I know it's not the best situation, lass, but it has a better ending than fighting the DDA and hoping you can win in the end. Normally, I fight them anytime I can. But it's your very future at stake, Sarah. So it might be best to choose the path with least resistance, aye?”
Over the last year, Sarah had learned a lot about dragon-shifters, especially when it came to them fighting tooth and nail to have the same rights as humans.
Oh, aye, things had improved. But true equality was a long way off.
Fighting the DDA would probably end in failure, especially since it wasn't just her involved, but her sons as well.
Damn the Carters for using Mark and Joey as toys in their game to see her destroyed for what they saw as Sarah abandoning Rob, no matter that she had spent years trying to get him help for his problems and gambling addiction.
But when he'd been ready to sacrifice the lives of their sons a year ago, just so he could give a double-finger salute to the dragon-shifters, she'd had enough and left him.
Hayley reached across and took Sarah's hand. Her first instinct was to yank out of the other woman's grip, something she'd learned in childhood to protect herself.
However, the woman squeezed her fingers, and somehow Sarah resisted breaking Hayley's hold. “I know it's not exactly a fairy-tale ending. And given all you've been through, you deserve one. However, from everything I could dredge up about your in-laws, they're horrid people. A few years living with a friend to ensure your boys can stay safe amongst a dragon clan might not be so bad. Right?”
Even putting aside the ridiculous nature of the woman's suggestion, there was a huge flaw in Hayley's proposal.
Namely, Sarah didn't have many friends, and almost none of them were men.
And those she would consider friend-like were her brother's in-laws, and they were all too young and brash for her and her lads to live with for a long period of time.
She'd go mad within a month of living with one of the MacAllister lads, no matter how much her sons, especially Mark, would probably enjoy it.
Sarah filed that away as a last resort, in case she couldn't find another way.
As if sensing her thoughts, Finn cleared his throat and said, “Let me start by saying this isn't public knowledge yet, aye? Only Hayley, Bram, and I know about the DDA's letter and demands. But Bram and I suspected it might come to you having to mate someone to stay, so both of us have come up with a list of possible mates for you, Sarah. If you're interested.”
Bram was the dragon-shifter leader of Clan Stonefire in the North of England. She'd only seen him a few times in the past without talking to him beyond a greeting. For the dragonman to know her personal life in such detail, Sarah didn't know whether she should be embarrassed or furious.
Finn being Finn, carried on as if he hadn't said anything outrageous or daft. “I know it's almost like you're being offered as a potential sacrifice, but there would be no expectation of you needing to bear a child, lass. Not unless you want one, aye?”
Sarah had learned how some human women, termed sacrifices, agreed to bear a dragon-shifter child in exchange for a vial of dragon's blood with healing properties, which they could either use or sell. One of the nurses on Lochguard, Holly MacKenzie, had been one such thing.
But if Sarah wasn't to provide a bairn for some dragonman, she wondered what they'd get out of it. So she blurted, “Then why would they agree to mate me in the first place? Or at least be put on this bloody list?”
Not that she wanted to consider the idea.
Even if she'd seen how the dragonmen—and women—who loved their mates adored them, took care of them, and were a true partner in every sense.
Which was the complete opposite of what Sarah had known her entire life. And as a result, made her a wee bit jealous. On occasion.
Such as every day.
It's not for you, Sarah. Men have only ever let you down.
Pushing aside those thoughts, she focused on Finn's reply. “Some of the males have a desire to help. Others have lost mates before and are lonely. And others have children of their own and thought it might be a good experience for dragon and human children to grow up together, even if it's only for a few years.” Finn leaned forward. “But all of the males on our lists are good blokes, I promise you that. I know you haven't had the easiest life, but none of these candidates would ever hurt you. No matter if you end up on Stonefire or on Lochguard, you'll always have Bram’s and my protection, I vow it.”
She eyed Finn, knowing how seriously the dragonman took his vows. After all, he'd kept his promise to take care of Sarah and her sons, ensuring their acceptance on Lochguard. Well, for as long as he could, before the DDA had taken it out of his hands.
And even then, he was trying to find a way for her to stay with the dragon-shifters.
In other words, Finn Stewart was one of the few people she trusted.
Hayley finally spoke up again. “It couldn't hurt to at least meet with the dragonmen, Sarah. I'll keep looking for other avenues, but I can't guarantee I'll find one.”
Finn nodded. “Besides, you'll be going to Stonefire in a few days for the children's play, aye? One of the candidates has a son who's also in the play. It'd be a good time to chat a bit and see how it goes.”
Only a few weeks ago, Sarah had been sighing in relief over the finalization of her divorce. And now here she was, being almost forced to go looking for a new husband.
Although the thought of leaving Lochguard and heading back to Glasgow, where her in-laws could harass her and make her life hell even if their custody battle failed, wasn't really an option. If she couldn't find a proper job, one that would pay the bills, she could end up losing her sons eventually. After all, it wasn't as if Rob was going to pay anything toward their upkeep, and even with government assistance, her in-laws would no doubt use it to prove she wasn't a good mother.
At least with the dragon-shifters she had references for her work with the children, helping with childcare and the primary-aged classes as a teacher's assistant. Not to mention she'd built a reputation for clothing alterations and custom-made orders. Between the two, she earned enough to take care of her sons without worry.
To keep that life, though, she'd have to find a new husband, whether she wanted one or not.
Someone less cynical might say it was a chance to find a good one.
But Sarah didn't hold out such hope. She had always attracted and picked the wrong sorts of men, probably because they were easily distracted with a smile or tight top. Combined with her constant yearning to be wanted, desired, and loved, she'd also been blind to their major faults in her quest for all those things.
Of course now she was painfully aware of how attraction and desire didn't lead to love or happiness. Rob had taught her that.
Yet as she eyed Finn and Hayley, the more practical side of Sarah reared its head, and she sighed. “I'll meet them, but only in case Hayley can't find any other way for me to stay.”
Finn grinned. “Brilliant. I'll set things up with Bram and Dawn. She's a human mated to a dragon-shifter on Stonefire, one with her own human child and also twin dragon children. Dawn understands your situation better than most and should be a great help.”
Sarah frowned. “She also had to mate someone to stay on Stonefire?”
Finn shook his head. “Not exactly. Blake is her true mate. But her ex's family tried to take her human daughter away as well. With Hayley's help, they won the case.”
Hayley snorted. “More like Dawn's daughter won the case.”
Finn waved a hand in dismissal. “Either way, Dawn won.” He stood. “I'm going to ring Bram now and make sure everything is set up for you to meet at least one of the dragonmen. Come see me later, Sarah, and I'll give you a few more details.”
Sarah could do nothing but nod. Once Finn was gone, Hayley smiled kindly at her. “It's going to all work out for the best, you'll see.”
She did her best to smile, but all Sarah could think about was that she'd met a dragonman from Stonefire roughly two years ago, one with a son. He'd been kind to her when her son had been lost during a holiday to the Lake District, and she'd needed help finding him.
Could it be him?
Then she mentally snorted. Of course it wouldn't be. That would be too happy of a coincidence for her lot in life.
So after she said her goodbyes to Hayley and walked back toward her cottage, Sarah instead focused on all that needed to be done before the children's play. Aye, she'd focus on the costumes that needed to be finished and not on being offered as some sort of horse at auction to a pack of dragonmen. She'd have plenty of time to deal with that scenario later, provided the men were as good as Finn and Bram purported them to be.
And if not, well, she'd just have to scramble for a different plan. But one thing at a time had become her motto over the last year, and she was sticking to it.
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