Sacrificed to the Dragon Bonus Epilogue

Melanie groaned, rolled over on the bed, and slowly blinked her eyes open. Although the light was faint through the curtains, she couldn't miss the empty half of the mattress—Tristan's half.

Since it was Saturday, she knew he wouldn't be up early for work. He was also caught up with markings and exams, and didn't have any sort of extra training or activities until late in the afternoon. True, he could just be up at the crack of dawn, but he almost never left the bed without giving her at least a kiss.

Although usually more than that. The man had a way of waking her up rather quickly with his tongue.

Well, at least since the twins were old enough to sleep through the night. But they had for a long while now.

Trying not to frown—she'd become way too attached to her dragonman being her alarm clock—she got out of bed just as a loud crash came from downstairs.

Since the twins were old enough to walk, and somehow, some way, found ways to escape their rooms and knock over any baby gate they had, she ran. First to their room, which was empty.

And yes, the gate at the top of the stairs was open.

Damn it. They'd better be okay. She hadn't nearly died for her two adventurous children to get themselves killed.

Fighting tears, Melanie flew down the stairs, nearly tripped but caught the railing, and finally reached the living room. But she stopped, placing a hand over her heart in relief, and smiled.

Tristan's stern-yet-soft voice reached her ears. “If you do something bad, you need to tell me and your mum. Lying is bad.”

Annabel, looking at Tristan with big eyes, asked, “Why, Daddy?”

No doubt Tristan's pupils were flashing as he talked with his dragon about how to answer. Usually his dragon half was more patient than the man.

Although Tristan was way better than he'd been before, back when he'd thought a toddler could understand a rational argument.

Just thinking about it made her want to laugh, especially given how Tristan was a teacher, of all things, and knew better. And yet, with his own children, he expected miracles. But what he got was a whole lot of stubbornness, courtesy of both their parents.

Her dragonman grunted. “Because.”

Annabel, the more chatty of the twins—not to mention the one who asked why about five hundred times a day—asked again, “Why?”

Jack had lost interest and started wandering toward the kitchen. Melanie decided she'd intercept her son and help out her mate. As soon as she lifted Jack into her arms, she said, “Because if you don't tell the truth, and lie, then you have to lie more and more. Someday, it might hurt you, or me, or your dad, or Jack. But we need to keep our family safe, right?” Annabel bobbed her head. “And we also need to keep Stonefire safe, right?” She nodded again. “Right, then tell me and your dad what happened. Why is the cat statue in pieces on the floor?”

Melanie looked at the shattered ceramic figure, one she'd “helped” the twins paint with glaze a few weeks ago.

Annabel sniffed. “I'm sorry, Mummy. I just wanted to see it again.”

And her daughter promptly broke into tears.

Jack stilled at his sister's crying—they had a rather close bond, most of the time—but before Melanie could do anything, Tristan scooped up Annabel and placed his forehead against hers. “Sshh, it's okay, little one. Don't cry.”

As Tristan murmured soft words to their daughter, Melanie hugged Jack closer against her body. Sometimes she was frustrated with her children, sometimes she wished they would be better behaved, but then moments like this happened. Her mate calming their daughter down, trying to make her smile, and her son merely leaning against her as he still sucked his thumb.

And in moments like these, she remembered why she loved her twins and mate so damn much, to the point her heart hurt.

Not wanting to cry herself, Melanie cleared her throat and walked to Tristan's side. At least Annabel had stopped crying. “Annabel, love, it's okay. Next time, just ask me or Daddy to help you, okay? That way, it won't break.”

Annabel sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “But it broke. Now I can't see it.”

As her daughter's lower lip trembled, Melanie readjusted Jack and gently tucked some hair behind her daughter's ear. “It's okay. If you promise to ask for help from me and Daddy next time, we can go make another one.”

Annabel's eyes brightened. “Can we, Mummy? When?”

She smiled, shared a quick look with Tristan, who nodded, and replied, “If you help clean this up—very carefully, following Daddy's directions—then all of us will go today. I'm sure Dylan will have another cat statue for us to decorate.”

Even though Dylan was the clan's silversmith, he also made pottery. As a side business, he ran a studio for anyone to paint pieces and have them fired.

Usually, Jack had trouble focusing for more than five minutes and would complain about going back so soon. However, Melanie had a sense he'd focus today, if only to make sure his sister was happy again.

Oh, he'd go back to taunting or lightly terrorizing her again later, such as knocking over her latest block building, but he loved his sister and already knew when it mattered to be nice to her.

He already showed signs of being as protective as his father one day, complete with Tristan's trademark scowl and everything.

Tristan said, “Right, do you want to help me clean it up, Annabel?”

“Yes, Daddy! Let's hurry!”

She wiggled until Tristan put her on the ground and Jack wanted to join her. Melanie set him down, and the pair ran after their father. In no time, they had “helped” by putting their hands on the broom Tristan held, brushing it together.

Once the pieces were placed in the trash, Annabel jumped up and down. “Can we go now? Please, Mummy?”

Melanie laughed. “Not yet, dear. Dylan is probably still sleeping.” Her daughter's face fell, and she quickly added, “But we need a nice breakfast first, anyway. So let's all go and make pancakes. Sound good?”

The twins cheered and raced into the kitchen. Tristan came to her side, put his arm around her waist, and kissed her. A quick one, but even so, it truly felt like it was time to get up now.

She leaned against his side. “I know you wanted to go flying today with Kai and some of the other Protectors, to practice evasive moves. Are you sure you can reschedule it?”

He grunted. “Of course. I've been doing them for years now. Missing one weekend won't hurt, especially if it means I can make my daughter and mate happy.”

Resting her head against his shoulder, she replied, “Look at who's gone all soft. I bet the guy you were before I showed up on Stonefire never would've imagined how he’d want to go paint a cat statue with two kids, surely deal with at least two bickering sessions during it, and help make smiley pancakes.”

He groaned. “Not the smiley pancakes.”

Melanie laughed. “That's where you draw the line?”

He sighed. “Why make them happy? We're just going to cut them up and eat them. It seems rather pointless and gruesome to me.”

She lightly hit his chest. “Only you would make something cute seem like murder.”

He squeezed her waist. “I will do almost anything for you, Melanie. Even make gruesome pancakes.”

Melanie lifted her head and loved the amusement in his eyes. “I love you, Tristan MacLeod. And I always will. So you'd better get used to smiley pancakes because I plan to be sixty and still make them.”

He smiled, stopped, and turned her toward him. “And because I love you, I'll endure it somehow.”

As they laughed, Melanie reveled in the solid, warm presence of her mate. She never would’ve guessed at how the grumpy asshole she'd met that first day would end up the love of her life.

But he had, and she couldn't imagine a life with anyone else.

Then the kids shouted for them to hurry up, and they went about making extra cheery smiley pancakes, complete with whipped cream hair. And not even when Tristan looked at her, made a slicing motion against his neck, and then cut into the face did she falter in her love.

She had the happy ending she'd always wanted, and she was never letting it go.