Dragon Lore, Book II
Publisher: Taliesin Publishing
Release Date: 1/2/14
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Dragons have always fascinated me. Creatures fresh out of legend, they tempt the soul to stretch its wings. This book is dedicated to Kheladin and Tarika, two wonderful dragons who live in my imagination and who were generous enough to grace the pages of my books.
Jonathan Shea is a software engineer. When pressed, he admits to being a closet witch, but he’s always been a shade ambivalent about his magic—until a dragon shows up in Inverness, and then all bets are off. Along with others in his coven, Jonathan is both charmed and captivated by the creature fresh out of legend.
Britta is a dragon shifter. Dragged from the Middle Ages by the Celtic gods, she and her dragon prepare for a battle to save Earth. The first human she lays eyes on in modern times is Jonathan. There’s something about him. She can’t quite pinpoint it, but he has way more magic than any witch she’s ever come across before. Aside from magic, Jonathan is drop dead gorgeous. For the first time ever, Britta questions the wisdom of remaining a maid.
Surrounded by dragon shifters, Celtic gods, Selkies, and a heaping portion of magic, Jonathan comes into his own fast. Good thing, too, because fell creatures have targeted him, Britta, and the dragons. In the midst of chaos, he finds passion so poignant and love so heartbreakingly tender, it will change his life forever.
…Jonathan tried not to stare, but it was a losing battle. The woman—no, the dragon shifter—was the most perfect, the most alluring, creature he’d ever laid eyes on. Tall, with high, rounded breasts, a slender waist, and curvy hips, she looked like a goddess. Who knew? Maybe she was. The Celts had had many deities. He fumbled with his rucksack, pulled out a turkey sandwich on rye bread, and handed it to her.
She yanked the wrappings aside, dropped them onto the floor, and stuffed food into her mouth, chewing quickly. “Ye said there were two of these meat and bread things.” Britta surveyed him, golden eyes alight with interest.
“Yes, I did. If I give you both, I’ll be hungry.”
She shrugged. “Not my problem. Also, I requested mead.”
Jonathan’s lips twitched. He corralled the smile that wanted out. Britta was an imperious bitch, yet there was something so undeniably appealing about her straightforward nature, it was impossible to feel offended. “No mead. At least I don’t have any. We could ask the other witches, or if we found you some clothes, we could go into the city and buy a proper meal, and as much to drink as you wanted.”
She cocked her head to one side and popped the last bite of sandwich into her mouth. “I can go as I am. Shall we walk or use magic, witch?”
“Um, no, you can’t. You’d be arrested.”
She tilted her chin up. “Why? I can see where I might freeze to death, but who would give a jolly fuck whether I’m dressed or not?”
Before he could craft an explanation, Kheladin stalked over, trailed by three female witches stroking the scales on his lower body. “Lachlan kept a clothes chest against the far wall.” He pointed with a talon. “I am certain some of his shirts and tights would work, though there’s little to be done by way of shoes.”
Her gaze landed on a particularly large heap of gold jewelry and coins. “I could borrow a bit of money from your hoard, just a coin or two, and—”
Kheladin’s eyes whirled faster, glittering dangerously. “I doona think so.”
“Well then,” Britta turned a brilliant smile on Jonathan and tapped his chest with her index finger, “he can buy me what I need.” Magic shimmered around her. “Come close, witch. We are leaving.”
Kheladin stumped to Britta’s side. The counter spell he summoned to dampen her power sparkled; strands wrapped around her. Her lips curled in fury, and she raised her hands to call magic of her own. “Not so fast,” Kheladin snapped. “First, ye’ve forgotten ye need clothes. Second, Tarika was in an all-fired hurry to find me. Such a big hurry, ye went without food or rest. Why?”
Britta shook her head so hard her hair danced about her body. She swept the heels of her hands down her cheeks, distorting her perfect features. “Och aye, whatever is wrong with me? Nay, I know the answer. The Morrigan is furious because Lachlan triumphed over the black and red wyverns, and their dragon shifter mages.”
“Good the old battle crow even noticed,” Kheladin growled and breathed a fiery gout of flames.
“She did more than notice. She cast a spell to disrupt our memories. If ye wouldna have reminded me… Hell, ’tis surprised I am we got here at all. The Celtic gods, Gwydion and Arawn, sent us to warn you and Lachlan. They told us their magic would trump hers, but not forever.” One corner of her mouth turned down. “’Twould appear I just ran up against forever. Or mayhap their magic got subverted by your wards.”
“What impact has the Morrigan’s mischief had on the rest of our kind?”
“Those in Fire Mountain are safe so long as they remain there. The casting only traps them when they set foot on Earth.”
“Did the Celts try to neutralize it?”
She cast a look Kheladin’s way that said he should ask something worth her time answering. Johnathan watched the exchange, chest tight with excitement, feeling he’d fallen into one of the old tales where heroes and heroines walked amongst humans.
“All right. Let me try again.” Kheladin sounded exasperated. “Did the Morrigan wake the black wyvern’s mage, Rhukon?”
“’Twas the first thing she did.”
“So all our effort was for naught.” The dragon clanked his jaws together. “I must alert Lachlan. Where did the Celts find you?”
Britta rolled her eyes. “Not in Fire Mountain, though I admit Tarika and I retreated there after Rhukon, Connor, and their dragons teamed with the Morrigan, and things werena looking good. Nay, the Celts plucked us out of the sixteen hundreds, told us enough about what the future held to alarm us, and sent us on our way. I am far from certain, but it seems they might be gathering reinforcements beyond Tarika and me, so ye and Lachlan willna have to fight alone.”
Kheladin inclined his head. “Thank you for coming.”
A warm smile lit her face. It softened her features and made her look barely more than a girl. Jonathan’s cock stiffened where it pressed against his jeans. Breath caught in his throat, and he fought against touching her, running his hands down her golden skin. He drew magic around himself to mask his lust, make it unobtrusive, but she noticed anyway.
Britta turned an appraising glance his way. “Aye, ye’d do well to hide your rut from me.”
Embarrassed at being caught out but curious, too, he asked, “Why?”
She tossed her head at Kheladin. “Tell him, dragon. Mayhap he’ll believe it if he hears it from another, ahem, male.” Her last word dripped sarcasm.
Kheladin blew so much steam he looked like an old-fashioned train. Jonathan bristled. Worse, his cock didn’t seem to be in the mood for retreat. He tried for dignity. “Look. If it’s all the same to you, I’d just as soon move on. I withdraw my question.”
“Nay.” Kheladin got his mirth under control. “Many have tried to mate with Tarika—and Britta too. I believe they fancy themselves reincarnations of Artemis. ’Tis why they bonded one to the other.”
Jonathan’s brows crawled up his forehead. “The virgin huntress?”
“Good ye know your mythology.” Kheladin clanged his jaws shut for the second time.
“I thought you were Celtic,” Jonathan sputtered. “Artemis was Greek.”
Kheladin bathed him in smoke until he bent over coughing. “I picked a deity ye might recognize, witch. Most of our goddesses have fallen out of human memory. How Britta is isna entirely her fault, though.”
She put her hands on her hips and glared. Breasts peeked through a curtain of hair. “I’m not sure whether to thank you or let Tarika out to throttle you. How would I have had the time to either find a mate or attend to him once found?”
“Lachlan dinna have a wife, either.” Kheladin’s tone was mild.
“Aye, but he fucked enough women to make up for it.” Britta narrowed her eyes. “As I recall, there was a string of housekeepers in addition to a bevy of local maids.”
“He was laird of Clan Moncrieffe. ’Twas natural enough maids would wish to be his lady.” Kheladin defended his shifter bond mate.
Jonathan felt as if he’d wandered in at the midpoint of a very old argument. He cleared his throat. “Was there a specific reason neither dragon shifter wed?”
Britta snorted. “Ye know nothing of what it takes to become a dragon shifter. I studied long—as did Lachlan—and forsook much. A man would have just gotten in my way, as would bairns. I could have made certain I dinna conceive, but what man doesna wish heirs?”
Kheladin leaned closer to Jonathan. “Her da was a powerful mage and laird of Cumbria. Many a swain wished to share her bed—and her dowry.”
“Men! Cretins, the lot of them!” Britta threw a hand in the air, spun, and strode toward where Kheladin had indicated Lachlan’s clothing chest was.
Jonathan cleared his throat and sent a thought to Kheladin since he didn’t want to be the butt of Britta’s scorn. “Temperamental, isn’t she?”
“Ye doona know the half of it, laddie. Yet she is courageous—and compassionate. ’Twasn’t accidental the gods picked her to locate us.”
“Guess I’ll wait until she’s dressed and then take her into Inverness. We can find more clothes, some shoes, and a meal.”
“Aye, and then ye must return here. While ye’re gone, I’ll raise Lachlan.”
“Whatever are the two of you whispering about in mind speech? Sounds like a buzzing beehive over here.” Britta sashayed to them wrapped in a cream-colored linen shirt that fell just south of her groin. A pair of black tights was draped over her arm.
Jonathan eyed her. “Are you going to put those on?”
She focused her golden eyes on him and slowly, deliberately, shook out the tights and rolled one leg. Still watching him intently, she raised her leg, giving him a clear view of tight red-gold curls before she shoved it into the woolen pants. Heat raced through him; it was so intense he could barely breathe. His cock strained against his pants. For one long, awkward moment, he was afraid he’d come in his shorts.
For Christ’s sake. I haven’t had this much trouble controlling myself since I was a teenager twenty years ago. Because he couldn’t force himself to look away, he squeezed his eyes shut and thought about breathing. Just breathing. Not about burying himself to the hilt inside her gorgeous pussy. His cock jerked. It didn’t want breathing. It wanted fucking and reminded him it had been months since he’d paid any attention to his sexual needs.
Time passed. Kheladin’s energy pulsed to one side. Jonathan could pick out witches he knew from how their psychic emanations felt. Maybe I should get one of the women to feed her and get her some shoes…
“Och aye, and that wouldna be nearly this much fun,” she purred.
He pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “Stay out of my head. A man’s thoughts need to be, well, private.”
She ignored his plea. “Do ye think I’m dressed enough to be decent?” Her scent eddied closer, lavender, musk, and something he couldn’t identify. Maybe amber. “Ye’ll need to open those lovely eyes to answer me.”
He felt her magic zing into him; his eyes snapped open, and he took a couple of steps back. “The only way this is going to work,” he gritted out, “is if you stop teasing me with your body. It really is incredible, but I’m sure you already know that.”
“Is it now? I have lived amongst dragons and our mages for so long, I’d nearly forgotten. But now ye are near and fawning, I find I’ve missed human attention.”
“We all have,” Kheladin cut in. “Yon lad has a point. His cock is ready to burst from his pants. If ye expect him to sit with you, share a meal and mayhap information about this era—about which ye know nothing, I might add—ye will need to behave better.”
“I doona understand.” Britta drew her perfect brows together. “He can simply tap a serving wench, satisfy his lust, and return to my side.”
Jonathan chuckled. “Ha! I always wondered what it was truly like a few hundred years back. There aren’t too many handy serving wenches willing to lift their skirts—or drop their pants, more likely—these days. I’d have to wine them, dine them, at least pretend to care—”
She waved him to silence. “I am starting to understand. I willna flaunt myself, though ’tis great fun to know I can still heat a man’s blood.”
Heat a man’s blood, is it? He bit back a laugh at the idea and the Gaelic inflection in his thoughts. For a moment, he’d sounded just like his da. “You do way more than that.” He let himself look at her. The tights were in place, waist string tied, but she had yet to button the shirt. Apparently sensing his thoughts, she hastily looped square, wooden buttons into their holes.
She held her arms to the side and twirled in place. “There. Will I do?”
He found he could breathe again. Although still aroused, the desperate edge had receded. Jonathan nodded. “Yes. Your magic or mine?”
“Yours. I am still depleted from my travels.”
He glanced at Kheladin, now surrounded by ten witches, all patting and fussing over him. The dragon almost glowed beneath their attention. “How soon do you need us back?”
Kheladin bathed him in steam. “I would verra much like to tell you to take your time, but I fear ’tis something we may well be running short of. Enjoy a meal. Find the lass some footwear and a warm jacket. Mayhap other clothes that fit her better. Then return.”
“Ye can link to me if something happens,” Britta said.
Kheladin included her in the steam bath. “Aye, ’tis been long since I’ve had another dragon shifter—at least one on our side—near to hand. Thanks to you again for coming.”
“My pleasure. Once we return, Tarika and I want to know about the magic that allows ye and Lachlan the freedom of your bodies yet maintains the bond.” She turned to Jonathan. “I stand ready, witch.”
“Wait.” Kheladin held up a foreleg and chanted a few notes mingled with fire. “There, my wards are open.”
Jonathan threw his rucksack over a shoulder. He summoned magic, wrapped them in it, and aimed for a thick grove in one of Inverness’ many parks. If they got very lucky, they wouldn’t disturb a couple in the midst of enjoying one another. The cave’s walls glimmered, thinned, and turned to black as he ferried them away from Kheladin and the phalanx of adoring witches.
Providence was on his side. It was dim where he brought them out in a thick hawthorn grove. And cold. He slid his iPhone from a pocket and glanced at the time. Just closing on seven. Not so bad, except it meant they’d need to shop first, else the stores would shut for the night.
Britta inhaled noisily. “It smells odd.” She drew closer to him. “Is the air poisoned?”
“It’s just car exhaust. The air’s better here than in a truly big city.”
“Car exhaust? Neither word means aught.”
Where to begin? “Let’s get you some clothes. I’ll explain what I can over dinner. In the meantime, it might be best if you didn’t ask too many questions.”
She drew herself up and squared her shoulders. “And why not?”
“You don’t want people to think you’re odd. Or that you don’t belong here.”
A shiver ran through her body. He glanced down and saw her shift from one bare foot to the next on chill, damp ground. “Come on.” He hooked a hand beneath her arm and tugged. “Shoes first. Then clothes.”
She fell into step beside him. “They will have to measure me. It takes several days to craft a pair of boots.”
“Not anymore. We’ll find what you need readymade.”
“Really? Will the quality be acceptable?”
Spoken like a true countess. “Probably not, but you’ll make do. It’s better than being cold and barefoot.” He tightened his hold on her arm, wanting to protect her, care for her. It would take her time to get used to the modern world—if she stayed here long enough to learn about it. Jonathan examined the feelings coursing through him. Was it possible she’d snared him in some sort of spell?
“I did no such thing.” Enough outrage ran beneath her words, he believed her.
“Look here.” He kept his voice low. “You have to stay out of my thoughts.”
“But how else will I know about them?”
He chuckled. “How about if you ask me questions and satisfy yourself with what I’m willing to share. Turn this way.” He pushed open a swinging door and followed her into a brightly lit shoe store. He blinked a few times to ease the transition from daylight to neon.
She shielded her eyes with a hand. “What manner of magic creates light this strong?”
“Hush. We call it electricity. Come on.” He guided her to a display rack and selected a serviceable pair of lace up boots. “What do you think of these?”
She wrinkled her nose. “They’re ugly and shoddily made.” She flicked a loose thread with a fingertip.
“Then you pick something.”
She glanced about and trailed her hands over tennis shoes and sandals as she walked through the store. After oohing and aahing over several pairs of high heels, she let him guide her back to the place they’d begun. “Britta. It’s summer, but the nights are always on the chilly side. Your feet will get cold unless you get sturdy boots and socks. How about if we try these.” He pointed. “And those.” He pointed again.
“I suppose ye’re right. Do ye think either could be dyed black?”
A clerk had been hovering. “We have that style in black, ma’am. What size should I get for you?” He glanced down and inhaled audibly. “B-but you’re barefoot. Your feet must be freezing.”
Color stained Britta’s cheeks. “’Tisn’t so bad as all that, laddie.”
Jonathan thought quickly. He closed his hand around Britta’s arm and gave it a warning squeeze, hoping she’d understand not to contradict him. “My sister just gave birth. Err, twins. Her feet got bigger. Much bigger. Nothing fits but her house slippers, and she was too embarrassed to wear them. How about if you measure her?”
“Certainly. If you’d just sit over there?” The clerk gestured to a bank of chairs.
After shooting Jonathan an annoyed look, Britta followed the clerk.
An hour later, they had two pairs of shoes, one black, one brown, socks, underwear, three pairs of warm corduroy pants, sweaters, T-shirts, and two jackets. Jonathan was a thousand pounds poorer but considered the funds well spent. She’d stopped trying to seduce him from the moment they’d left Kheladin’s cave, which meant he’d simply enjoyed her company.
She led the way out of the clothing store he’d selected after they finished with the shoe store and turned to him. “Can we get something to eat now?” Both of them were laden with bags.
“Sure. What do you feel like?”
She leaned close. “I doona know. Everything here is so strange, I feel I am playacting, yet without knowing my lines. Pick something. Simple food and stiff spirits.”
“Have you heard anything from Kheladin?”
She shook her head. “Nay, but Tarika isna pleased. She believes we waste valuable time. ’Tis possible she will settle once we find food. She is hungry.”
Jonathan considered their options. He didn’t want to bring her to a noisy pub where they’d have to strain to hear one another. Nor did he want a nightclub. He looked up and down one of Inverness’ main streets. His gaze settled on a smallish place where a sign promised EXCELLENT FOOD IN AN INTIMATE ATMOSPHERE. Sounded perfect.
“Let’s try over there. Maybe we’ll have enough privacy to answer some of those questions I’ve seen dancing behind your eyes.”
She smiled at him. Really smiled without coquettish edges. “Ye’ve been truly kind to me. I apologize for…well, for how I was earlier. I shouldna have been such a tease.”
“Apology accepted. I do understand, though.”
She cocked her head to one side. “Do ye?”
He grinned. “Sure. Sex is power. Or it can be. But being friends is better.”
She grinned back. “To friendship, then. Find us a bottle, and we can drink to it.”
Ann Gimpel is a mountaineer at heart. Recently retired from a long career as a psychologist, she remembers many hours at her desk where her body may have been stuck inside four walls, but her soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry. Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), she managed to finagle moving to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains. It was during long backcountry treks that Ann’s writing evolved. Unlike some who see the backcountry as an excuse to drag friends and relatives along, Ann prefers her solitude. Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company. Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.
Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist.
In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. She lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)