Authors: Jessie Donovan
Tags: #Fiction / Romance / Paranormal
The Dragon’s Dilemma
(Lochguard Highland Dragons #1)
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Holly Anderson paid the taxi driver and turned toward the large stone and metal gates behind her. Looking up, she saw “Lochguard” spelled out in twisting metal, as well as some words written in a language she couldn’t read.
The strange words only reminded her of where she was standing—at the entrance to the Scottish dragon-shifter clan lands.
Taking a deep breath, Holly willed her stomach to settle. She’d signed up for this. In exchange for trying to conceive a dragon-shifter’s child, Clan Lochguard had given her a vial of dragon’s blood. The money from the sale of that dragon’s blood was funding her father’s experimental cancer treatments.
All she had to do was spend the next six months sleeping with a dragon-shifter. If she didn’t conceive, she could go home. If she did, then she would stay until the baby was born.
What was a minimum of six months of her life if it meant her father could live?
That’s if you don’t die giving birth to a half-dragon-shifter baby.
Readjusting the grip on her suitcase, Holly pushed aside the possibility. From everything she’d read, great scientific strides were being made when it came to the role dragon hormones played on a human’s body. If she were lucky, there might even be a way to prevent her from dying in nine to fifteen months’ time, depending on the date of conception.
This isn’t work. Stop thinking about conception dates and birthing babies.
After all, she might luck out and never conceive at all.
Holly moved toward the front entrance and took in the view of the loch off to the side. The dull color of the lake’s surface was calm, with rugged hills and mountains framing it. Considering she was in the Scottish Highlands in November, she was just grateful that it wasn’t raining.
She wondered if it was raining back in Aberdeen.
Thinking of home and her father brought tears to her eyes. He was recovering well from his first course of cancer treatments, but her father’s health could decline at any moment. If only dragon’s blood could cure cancer, then she wouldn’t have to worry.
But since cancer was one of the illnesses dragon’s blood couldn’t cure, surely the Department of Dragon Affairs would grant her another few weeks to help take care of her father if she asked.
As the taxi backed down the drive, Holly turned around and flagged for the driver to come back. However, before she could barely raise a hand, a voice boomed from the right. “Lass, over here.”
She turned toward the voice and a tall, blond man waved her over with a smile.
Between his wind-tousled hair, twinkling eyes, and his grin, the man was gorgeous.
Not only that, he’d distracted her from doing something daft. If Holly ran away before finishing her contract, she’d end up in jail. And then who would take care of her father?
The man motioned again. “Come, lass. I won’t bite.”
When he winked, some of Holly’s nervousness faded. Despite the rumors of dragon-shifters being monsters, she’d followed the news stories over the last year and knew Lochguard was one of the good dragon clans. Rumors even said the Lochguard dragons and the local humans had once set up their own sacrifice system long before the British government had implemented one nationwide.
It was time to experience the dragon-shifters firsthand and learn the truth.
Pushing her shoulders back, Holly put on her take no-crap nurse expression and walked over to the dragonman. When she was close enough, she asked, “Who are you?”
The man grinned wider. “I’m glad to see you’re not afraid of me, lass. That makes all of this a lot easier.”
Before she could stop herself, Holly blurted, “Are you really a dragon-shifter?’
The dragonman laughed. “Aye, I am. I’m the clan leader, in fact. The name’s Finn. What’s yours?”
The easygoing man didn’t match the gruff picture she’d conjured up inside her head over the past few weeks.
Still, dragons liked strength, or so her Department of Dragon Affairs counselor had advised her. Her past decade spent as a maternity nurse would serve her well—if she could handle frantic fathers and mothers during labor, she could handle anything. “You’re not a very good clan leader if you don’t know my name.”
Finn chuckled. “I was trying to be polite, Holly.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Some say we’re monsters that eat bairns for breakfast. I was just trying to assure you we can be friendly.”
Confident the smiling man wouldn’t hurt her for questioning him, she stated, “You could be acting.”
“I think my mate is going to like you.”
At the mention of the word “mate,” Holly’s confidence slipped a fraction. After all, she’d soon be having sex with a dragon-shifter to try to conceive a child. That was the price all sacrifices had to pay.
And there was always a small chance she turned out to be the dragon-shifter’s true mate. If that happened, she might never be able to see her father again. Dragons were notoriously possessive. She didn’t think they’d let a mate go once they found one.
Finn’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Let me take that suitcase, Holly. The sooner we get you to my place, the sooner we can settle you in and answer some of your questions.”
Finn put out a hand and she passed the case over. She murmured, “Thank you.”
“Considering that you’re helping my clan more than you know, the least I can do is carry a bag.”
She eyed the tall dragonman. “You don’t have to comfort me. I know what I volunteered to do.”
Finn raised a blond eyebrow. “You looked about ready to bolt or cry a few minutes ago. I think a little kindness wouldn’t hurt.”
He was right, not that she would admit to it. After all, she was supposed to be strong.
Holly motioned toward the gates. “How about we go so you can give me the spiel and then let me meet my dragonman?”
The dragonman’s smile faded. “So you’re giving orders to me now, aye?”
Even though Holly was human, she still sensed the dominance and strength in his voice. She could apologize and try to hide her true self, but that would be too tiring to keep up long term. Instead, she tilted her head. “I’m used to giving orders. In my experience, as soon as a woman goes into labor, her other half goes crazy. If I don’t take charge, it could put the mother’s life as well as the child’s in danger. I’m sure you’ve read my file and should know what to expect.”
The corner of Finn’s mouth ticked up. “Aye, I have. But I like to test the waters with potential clan members.”
Finn cut her off. “Give it time, lass. You may well become one in the long run.”
Without another word, Finn started walking. Since he was at least eight inches taller than her, she had to half-jog to catch up to him. However, before she could reply, another tall, muscled dragonman approached. He still had the soft face of late adolescence and couldn’t be more than twenty.
The younger dragon-shifter motioned a thumb behind him. “Archie and Cal are at it again. If you don’t break it up, they might shift and start dropping each other’s cattle for the second time this week.”
Finn sighed. “I should assign them a full-time babysitter.”
The younger man grinned. “You tried that, but my grandfather escaped, as you’ll remember.”
“That’s because he’s a sneaky bastard.” Finn looked to Holly. “This is Jamie MacAllister. He’ll take you to my mate, Arabella. She can help you get settled before you meet Fergus.”
“Who’s Fergus?” Holly asked, even though she had a feeling she knew.
Finn answered, “Fergus MacKenzie is my cousin, but he’s also your assigned dragonman.”
Of course she’d be given the cousin of the clan leader. After all, Holly was the first human sacrifice on Lochguard in over a decade. They’d want to keep tabs on her.
Holly didn’t like it, but since she had yet to meet this Fergus, she wouldn’t judge him beforehand. For all she knew, Fergus MacKenzie might be a shy, quiet copy of his cousin.
Not sure what else to do, Holly nodded. After giving a few more orders, Finn left to address the problem and Jamie smiled down at her. “There’s never a dull moment here, lass. Welcome to Lochguard.”
Holly wasn’t sure if that was a warning or a welcome.
Fraser MacKenzie watched his twin brother from the kitchen. His brother, Fergus, was due to meet his human sacrifice in the next few hours and instead of celebrating his last hours of freedom, Fergus was doing paperwork.
Sometimes, Fraser wondered how they were related at all.
Taking aim, he lobbed an ice cube across the room. It bounced off his brother’s cheek and Fraser shouted, “Goal.”
Frowning, Fergus glanced over. “Don’t you have a hole to dig? Or, maybe, some nails to pound?”
Fraser shrugged a shoulder and inched his fingers toward another ice cube. “I finished work early. After all, it’s not every day your twin meets the possible mother of his child.”
As Fraser picked up his second ice cube, his mother’s voice boomed from behind him. “Put it down, Fraser Moore MacKenzie. I won’t have you breaking something if you miss.”
He looked at his mother and raised his brows. “I never miss.”
Clicking her tongue, his mother, Lorna, moved toward the refrigerator. “Stop lying to me, lad. You missed a step and now have the scar near your eye to prove it.”
Fraser resisted the urge to touch his scar. “That was because my sister distracted me.” He placed a hand over his heart. “I was just looking out for the wee lass.”
Lorna rolled her eyes. “Faye was sixteen at the time and you were too busy glaring at one of the males.”
“He was trouble. Faye deserved better,” Fraser replied.
Fergus looked up from his paperwork. “Where is Faye?”
Lorna waved a hand. “The same as every day. She leaves early in the morning and I don’t see her again until evening.”
Fraser sobered up. “I wish she’d let us help her. Does anyone know if she can fly again yet?”
His younger sister, Faye, had been shot out of the sky by an electrical blast nearly two months earlier while in dragon form and her wing had been severely damaged. While she was no longer in a wheelchair, the doctors weren’t sure if Faye would ever fly again.
His mother turned toward him. “I trust Arabella to help her. Faye will come to us when she’s ready.”
Jumping on the chance to lighten the mood again, Fraser tossed the ice cube into the sink and added, “I’m more worried about Fergus right now anyway. Who spends their last few hours of freedom cooped up inside? Even if he doesn’t want to go drinking, he could at least go for a flight.”
Fergus lifted the papers in his hand. “For your information, this is all of the new procedures and suggestions from the Department of Dragon Affairs. Finn worked hard to make Lochguard one of the trial clans for these new rules, and I’m not about to fuck it up.” Lorna clicked her tongue and Fergus added, “Sorry, Mum.”
Lorna leaned against the kitchen counter. “I still applaud you for what you’re doing, Fergus. After the last fifteen years of near-isolation, the clan desperately needs some new blood.”
Fergus shrugged a shoulder. “It’s not a guarantee. Besides, how could I pass up the chance to help our cousin?”
Fraser rolled his eyes. “Right, you’re being all noble when I know for a fact you just want to, er,” he looked to his mum and back to Fergus, “sleep with a human lass.”
“No one around here has stirred a mate-claim frenzy and I’m not about to look in the other clans. I’m needed here,” Fergus replied. “A human sacrifice is my only other chance.”
“And what if she’s not your true mate, brother? Then what?” Fraser asked.
“I’ll still try to win her over. If she gives me a child, I want to try to convince the human to stay.”
Lorna spoke up. “Her father’s ill, Fergus. Let’s see how things go before you start planning the human’s future.” Lorna looked to Fraser. “Let’s just hope she has spirit. I can handle anything but fear.”
Fraser answered, “If Finn picked her out, then we should trust that he chose a good one.”