Wynter Dawn had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She had gone to the mall to get a well-deserved birthday present for her mother when all hell broke loose. She had taken four bullets herself, but too many others had died. Now, the police were trying to say she was an accomplice and pin the blame for the others’ deaths on her. They were going for the death penalty.
Tristan Manning had never met Wynter before, but when Xavier rescued her from the courthouse, Tristan was called to Cooper’s home. When he arrived, the dragon tattoo, the one he’d had since birth, came alive and was clawing his way forward. The pain was excruciating. When he entered the room, Wynter was screaming in pain as her dragon tattoo was doing the same. When the dragons came forth in a burst of magic, both Tristan and Wynter passed out.
Eric had been tasked centuries ago with killing any and all newborn dragons before the eggs could hatch. But somehow he’d missed one and he needed to rectify that there would be hell to pay….
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Cooper Manning and his five brothers were true dragons. Centuries ago, when the humans had turned on their kind, their father sacrificed himself to save his sons by casting a powerful spell which allowed them to walk among the humans. Even centuries later, Cooper couldn’t seem to let go of the past and despised most humans.
Carson Langley was exhausted. After being forced to work thirty-six hours straight, she unwittingly complained to the new plant owner, now she knew she was fired. There was nothing left to do but go home and cry about it later.
Cooper was sent by his brother to retrieve the helpful woman and bring her back to the plant, and he wasn’t happy about it either. It didn’t help that when she answered the door she shared his sour mood, and when he touched her hand, the magic that surged between them meant only one thing—she was his other half, and she was human…. Cooper was seeing red.
Winnie wasn’t happy with Cooper at all. She had only done as ordered and had spent five years in prison because of it. Cooper was supposed to protect her, but he didn’t. Now the dragon king wanted her to protect them all from the new slayers in town? How was that fair? The sooner she completed her mission, the sooner she could move on and leave it all behind her.
Hudson had been told that Cooper had hired a man by the name of Wendall. He just wanted to meet him so he could measure his worth, but when the door opened, the woman behind it was writhing in pain. He only meant to help her, but the moment he touched her, her pain became his as well.
Winnie had been appointed by the Dragon Board to be their protector long before last names were given. She had hunted her first, expecting to be paid by coin, but was rewarded instead with magic and a title. She didn’t have time to take a mate, much less a Manning. She had too much work to do.
The word “no” wasn’t in Hudson’s vocabulary. Winnie was his mate and he’d do whatever he had to claim her.
With slayers lurking in the shadows, Winnie has her hands full, and can’t let a new mate distract her. She had to remain on her toes or all would be lost….
Lincoln figured the new artist in town would be one of their mates. He’d heard she was a real ball buster and thought that maybe she would be Tristan’s mate because Tristan said he couldn’t handle that. But when Ginger introduced him to her sister, Grace, he knew from the moment he touched her she was meant for him.
Grace was in shock. Garrett had taken her into his office when the show was still going on and told her that she had all but one of her paintings sold, including the twelve that she’d given him permission to sell. Twice now she’d had to put her head between her knees, which wasn’t easy with the dress she had on, in order to not pass out. Sold all but one? How was that even possible?
Lincoln sat at her feet on the hem of her dress. His attempt to calm her shaky nerves had her about addled, and when Grace suddenly stood, the dress ripped from shoulder to hip. Standing there trying to get herself covered, she felt her temper snap. Now, what was she supposed to do? Grace didn’t know whether to kick him or beg him to help her.
Micky had been alone since her fiancé had taken his own life, just days before they were to be married. The note he’d left had put all the blame on her. It was in his handwriting, but she wasn’t so sure that it was a suicide. She had her suspicions that it was staged to look that way, but the police were in a hurry to close the case and that was the end of it. So, Micky had packed up and moved to a small town in Ohio, took employment as a cashier in a grocery store, and kept to herself. She liked it better that way. No one else would die because of her.
Lucas Manning hated hospitals. His dragon hated hospitals even more. Only days after becoming an immortal, during a bank robbery, he took a bullet to the chest. By all rights, he should have died. His doctor told him he was under too much stress as well and if he didn’t do something about it, immortal or not, he could be in some serious trouble.
Taking the doctor’s advice to heart, Lucas decided to make some serious changes in his life. Eating healthier was a smart change, so he went shopping.
When the man put his things on the line she was in, Micky told herself that she was going to quit at the end of her shift. There wasn’t any point in working much longer. And the sooner she got moved, the sooner— She realized that the man was staring at her oddly.
“I’m sorry. Did you say something to me?” He shook his head and she started ringing up his things. A health nut came to mind when she rang up salad makings, coconut milk, and vitamins. When she was finished and told him how much it came to, he stared at her as if he’d never seen a woman before. “Are you all right?”
“I am now. What’s your name?” She pointed to her name badge, thinking that he was off his noodle. “My name is Lucas Manning, and you’re my mate.”
Micky could have gone her entire life without those words.
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“Okay. I don’t understand, but I guess that’s all right too.” Winnie told her that her mom would be there soon. “You couldn’t just pop there and pop back here like you did for me? Nice that, but scary as fuck too.” “No, she’s in the car with Xavier. If I were to pop in, they’d have an accident. Not that it would hurt Hudson—he’s an immortal—but your mom might be hurt. Probably. I’d say that there is a ninety-nine percent chance—” “Shut up.” Winnie was having a blast. This was the third time that Wynter had told her to shut up. Winnie didn’t even mind. “Christ, of all the people I have to get tangled up with— Did they tell you that this sucker came up off my leg? Like it was begging to be petted? Who the fuck in their right mind would want to pet a fucking dragon?” “You sure do have a potty mouth. Do you kiss your mother with that?” Wynter just glared. “You’re also very good at that. Glaring, I mean. You might even be better at it than Carson.
She’s not as good as me, but she’s close to you.” “What are you?” Winnie sat down on the bed and touched the device that Wynter had on her ankle. When it fell off, while Winnie had hoped to distract the other woman, she just thanked her. “Now, again, what the hell are you? Something, I’m betting, that has you popping in and out of trouble all the time.” “Actually, I rarely pop in and out of shit. I usually just face it head-on. Something like you do.” Wynter said that she didn’t face anything. “Really? Okay then, tell me what happened on the night that you were arrested. Not the night, I guess, but when all those people were shot at the mall.” “No.” Winnie knew, but she thought that if Wynter told her, she might be able to find out why she’d been arrested. Something, though not likely, that she’d missed. “Don’t think that I didn’t notice that you didn’t tell me what you are.” “I am all.” Wynter nodded. “That’s it? You’re satisfied with me just telling you that I’m all? I have a feeling that you have about ten million questions right now.” “You say that you’re all. That guy, the attorney, he told me he was a dragon.
Okay, I’m a little stressed out right now, so let me ask you this. Will you prove to me that you’re all bad assed?” Winnie stood up. She could almost taste the other woman’s fear. Asking her not to run, she shifted to her true form. “Holy shit. You’re beautiful. And I’m betting that’s the point too—beauty to distract someone before you…. What? Blow them out of the water?” “You’re stressed out, I can feel it, yet you sound as calm as I am right now. Why?” Wynter laid down on the bed, careful to cover up the dragon. “We all know that he’s there. We might not know why he’s there or what he is right now, but we know about him.” “I have known all my life, so good for you. I didn’t know that he could come up off me.” She didn’t move, and Winnie felt a little sorry for her. “When I was a small child, about the time I started school, the other kids, they’d make fun of me. Even when I wore long pants to cover him up, it had gotten around that I was a freak. So, Mom, she homeschooled me until I was old enough to get out on my own.
I was going to be an attorney.” “I’m sorry about that too. There isn’t any reason that you couldn’t finish your education now. People will just think you’ve gotten a really amazing tattoo.” Wynter looked at her. “Well, whatever they want to think, you can tell them to shut up. You’ve been really good at that with me.” “I’m a convict, in the event you didn’t remember that. I’m going to be in so much trouble when they find out where I am.” She heard someone coming up the stairs. “Is that my—? Oh my God, it’s fucking moving. Up my leg and over my body.” Winnie tore the cover off Wynter’s leg and watched it climb up her ribs. It was digging its nails into her skin like it was using her flesh to help it move. And when the door flew open and hit the wall behind it, Tristan cried out too, falling to his knees, tearing off his shirt. Winnie watched as Tristan crawled to the bed, his hand stretched out and his dragon, which had been on his back, moving down his arm. Glancing at Wynter, Winnie saw that she was doing the same; her dragon was at her hand, his nose over her fingertips like he had consumed a part of her. As soon as they touched fingers the room exploded, and suddenly the two dragons left their bodies and were standing in the room. No one moved. Winnie had stayed when she’d been asked to by Wynter, and the dragons, a pair of them, turned and looked at her. After bowing before them, she saw them glance down at her sword. Putting it away, she apologized to them. “I hadn’t realized that I had pulled it, my lord and lady dragon.” Tristan and Wynter both were passed out. “Will they be all right?”
“Yes.” Their voices were the same too, blending together like only one of them was speaking. “They are our masters. We are their dragons. We have waited a great many years for her to be born and to survive life. They will rule us.” Cooper entered the room and they bowed before him. He looked clueless and terrified at the same time. When he sat in one of the chairs, Winnie wanted to laugh at him. But if she was honest with herself, she was just as clueless and terrified as he was. “They’re here.” She nodded, not sure what else to say to him. “I’ve read over the book. Sadie said that there had been a girl dragon born, but she was put under a spell that would keep her safe until a time when she could be ready to receive her mate. I’m assuming from the looks of things that Tristan is her mate.” “It would appear so. At least, the dragons came from them.” Kicking Tristan in the foot, Cooper told him to get up. “Shall I wake the young miss? I’d not kick her if I were you. She’s a tad on the stressed the fuck outside.” “So am I.” Tristan sat up and looked at the woman on the bed. “I had no idea what was going to happen when I got here. My dragon, he spoke to me. Freaked me out for a little bit, then I felt the need to come here. I’ll pay for the door.” Cooper looked at Winnie before speaking. “Winnie, the dragons—can you speak to them?” The dragons, again as one being, told him that they could speak well. He wasn’t sure if they were one being or two. Then the female spoke to him.
“We have been awaiting a great king and for the female to be born. We knew that you had been created, Lord Cooper, but the female, we had to wait for her to be born and for her to live. This is the seventh time that we have had a female born so that we could come to you.” She looked at Tristan then. “You are a great man, Tristan Manning. A good man for your mate too. You will, unlike others, have children that will repopulate the world with dragons. But sadly, they will never be as great or as large as the six of you.” Wynter woke up and moved back off the bed away from all of them. The female dragon moved to sit on the bed with her, but Wynter wasn’t having it. Standing up on her knees in the bed, she pointed her finger at them. “You just stay the fuck away from me. I don’t fucking know why you’re suddenly here— I’m fucking stressed out. I’m going to prison and I didn’t do anything, and now I have…there are two of you now, and I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do. You came from my body, damn it. Does anyone else find that to be fucking weird?” Tristan stood up off the floor and put his hand out to Wynter. “No. I don’t need any more shit going on. I could almost think that I’d rather be in prison right now than all this. Where is my mom?”
“I’m here, honey,” Winnie asked if they’d give her some time. While Carla held her daughter, Tristan looked as out of it as Wynter did. Instead of leaving when she told him to, he sat in the chair that Cooper had been in. “I have to stay. I don’t know what’s going on either, but I need to be here.” The dragons nodded at him. “They seem to think so too. I promise, if I freak out again, which I’m still wondering if I’m over the first time, I’ll yell for you. Also, if any more dragons come from us, I’m going to have a fucking stroke.” “We are the only two, my lord.” Winnie laughed when Tristan just stared at them. “They will be safe with us, Wendell the dragon protector.” Leaving them wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be. They were safe; she knew that for some reason, and her staying there, it wouldn’t make them any safer. Instead, she went to get answers. And she was sure that at some point, she’d have to hurt one of the dragons to get them to tell it all. Smiling, she thought that she might just hurt one of them for the fun of it. She so loved this family. Carson was pacing and Cooper was bent over the book that Sadie had given them. Xavier was the only one of them that looked relaxed and like he was having fun. She asked him what he was thinking about. “She’s not my mate. I have a feeling from just speaking to her once that she’s going to be hard on Tristan. Not that Tristan couldn’t handle her if she’s like the others—I’m sure that he could. But I can’t.” She cocked a brow at him and asked him why he thought that. “I’m delicate.” She smacked him on the shoulder and sat at the table.
The book and the pad of paper were shoved at her. Winnie shoved it right back at Cooper. She asked him what he’d figured out. “Nothing more than that she’s like us. Sort of like us, I mean. She was born a dragon and changed into a human, but she’s much more powerful than she looks. Her mother gave up her life for her by changing her into what she is now.
Her dad died sometime before she took Wynter to the safe home.” Winnie said that explained the footsteps disappearing in the snow. “I would guess that too. But that’s it. We’ve not found any more about her. There is nothing about her uniting with one of us and making two dragons, either. Can Wynter shift? I don’t know, because she’s denying having any kind of dragon in her. Can she do anything other than scream at us? I don’t know that either. There is nothing more here.” “We should have asked the dragons.” Everyone turned to Xavier. “I’m just saying they should know why they’re here. Also, they did say that they’ve tried this several times, to have Tristan and a mate to come together. I’m betting that they know just why they’re here and what they can do for us as a family.” “He’s right.” They started forward, to no doubt talk to the dragons, and Carson stopped them. Cooper asked her what she was doing. They needed answers. “Do you need them so badly at this very moment that you’re willing to scare that poor woman more? She had a lot of shit handed to her today. I doubt very much if she could handle much more without her having a stroke. Just let them settle, and then we’ll bombard them later.” She glared at Cooper when he started to push her aside. “Did that at all sound like it was a request? Did you think that I was kidding when I said, ‘let’s do it later’? I was not if you’re wondering. Sit your ass down and enjoy your family, before I make it so that you all are never able to have sex again.” They sat. Carson smiled at her. “Winnie, could you do me a favor and make sure these idiots don’t leave the table? I’m going to see about my baby and dinner. I’m guessing we’ll all be hungry in a little while.” Pulling out her sword, Winnie grinned at them all.
“Anyone want to try and get past me? Come on. It’ll be fun.” No one took her up on her offer. “Spoilsports.” ~*~ Tristan watched the dragons. They would answer his questions, which weren’t all that helpful to anyone, but he had to do something. Finally, after Wynter and Carla talked to each other for a while, Carla looked at him and smiled. Tristan smiled back. “We’ve been having some issues, I guess you could say,” Tristan told her that he could see that. “Oh no, the dragons are the least of our worries. I mean, it’s not to say that we’re not worried but…oh bother. I’m mucking this up.” “What she’s trying to say is that I’ve been trouble for her for a while now,” Carla told Wynter that she had not. “Well, I seem to have this dark cloud over me since I turned eighteen, and I can’t seem to get enough umbrellas to keep the black shit off my head.” “Wynter, there is no reason to be rude to the man. He looks as confused as we are.” Tristan smiled. “What is your name, young man? If you don’t mind me asking you that—I don’t mean to be rude.” So they were going to ignore the large dragons in the room. For now, he supposed, it was the best course of action. Clearing his throat, he put out his hand to Carla. She took it into her smaller and calloused one.
“I’m Tristan Manning. This is my brother Cooper and his wife Carson’s home. I have four other brothers, all of whom I believe you’ve met.” Carla told him that they had. “Good. And they told you, I’m assuming, that we’re dragons. The men are anyway. I’m so sorry about this.” “What do you have to be sorry for? About me being tossed out of college? Or about me being arrested for the murder of eight people at a mall? Could it because a dragon that has been on my flesh since I was born rose up off my leg? That it let your other brother pet him? Or could it—?” Carla told Wynter to behave. “Yes, ma’am, but you have to realize that I’m in over my head here. I’m a good person. Or I try to be. Why is all this crap going on?” “I would imagine that it has a great deal to do with what you are.” He looked at the dragons. “They’re a matched pair. And from what I’ve been told from my brothers, when yours was on your leg, it looked just like the one on my back. We, I guess you could say, were meant to be together.” “That is right, my lord. Since the beginning of the end of dragons, you were meant to be with a female that would be your match and mate in all things.” The female dragon laid her head down on the floor and the male joined her. “We have been waiting for generations for you, Wynter Snow. I think we were ready to give up hope that you’d ever be born.” “Great, I was born to be a screw up.”
Tristan laughed. “What do you find so funny? If they’re right, and at the moment I can’t see anything wrong with their logic, then we’re together. But I’m going to be spending the rest of my life behind bars, if they don’t put me to death instead.” “There will be no sentencing for any of those. I’ve spoken to my brother, and he said that you’re going to be exonerated for the mall incident, as well as what happened at the hospital.” She asked him what had gone on there. “You disappeared.” “Oh, yes, well, your brother freaked us all out with the dragon. Did they tell you that he rose up from my flesh so that he could pet him? What sort of fucked up shit is that?” She looked at her mom. “I’m sorry, Mom, but you have to agree—it’s messed up.” “I do agree. But what happens now? I mean, other than that the dragon is no longer a part of her.” The male dragon stood up. “Do you know what happens now? I don’t even know what to call you.” “We have no names as yet, my lady. We are just male and female dragon.” Wynter asked if they were to name them. “If you wish to name us that would be fine. But it does not matter to us. We both belong to the two of you. We are mates as well.” “Does this mean that I can’t shift into my dragon anymore?” That had only just occurred to him. And it would piss him off if he weren’t able to fly anymore. Male told him that he could. So could the young miss. “She’s able to be a dragon?” “Wait, wait, and wait. I don’t want to be a dragon. No offense to you guys, but I’m happy being the plain old human that I am.” Tristan told her that she wasn’t human, never had been. “Oh, but you’re wrong about that. I’m a human, damn it, and you’d better not be fucking around with me to make me anything else.”
“You’re immortal too.” He had no idea—insanity, he supposed—why he was aggravating Wynter like he was. She sure had a fine temper, and she was very expressive with her hands. Like the way she doubled up her fist at him. “You can’t hurt me.” “Why not?” He told her. “I’m not going to be your mate. It has nothing to do with this shit…stuff going on with the dragons, but I’m bad luck. I don’t even like to be around my mom so much—I don’t want her to be dragged into my trouble.” “I’m sure that it was all because you were going to meet me this way.” He didn’t even glance at the dragons, fearful that they’d tell him that that wasn’t it. “We’re going to get this all cleared up, and once we do, then you and I will live happily ever after.” “You’re certifiable; you know that, don’t you?” He grinned at her. “You’re not charming either. No matter how many other women have told you that. As a matter of fact, why don’t you go out and find one of them now? I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to see you.” “I’m not leaving you. We have a lot to talk about.” She said that she was done talking to him.
“I’m sorry that you feel that way, Wynter. But there are a great many things going on that we have to figure out. Like, why were you created with a dragon on your leg and not your back? Who were you parents? Where were they for all those decades before you were born? There are a great many things that we have to figure out. Plus, keeping you safe needs to be a priority—I don’t want anything to happen to you. For some reason, and I don’t know why we’ve never thought of this before, someone wants you to be in prison. To get you alone, perhaps? I don’t know. But it bears talking about.” Clara stood and so did Tristan. “I need to use the restroom. I don’t know that I’ll return here, because I think that Lord Manning is correct. You both need to talk things out. In the meantime, I’ll be making arrangements for a hotel or someplace that we can stay until we get those answers.” “I have a large house that we can all live in together.” Clara told him that was all right, but she could find something. “I insist. I can keep an eye on you both, and if Wynter wants, she can become her dragon. There is plenty of room for that too.” Clara left and Tristan stayed where he was. Wynter was jumpy enough without him lying on the bed with her like he wanted. Instead of talking to her about anything serious, he started telling her about himself. “I’ve been around for a very long time. When we were born, we were dragons; the world was a much different place than it is now. We, the dragons, blackened the skies when we were around. Helping out our human friends was easy for us.
Then they realized that we were worth much more dead than alive.” Wynter told him she was sorry. “Thank you. My mother, she’d been killed some months before my father gave his life for us to be human. And since then, we’ve been trying our best to blend in with humanity so they’d not kill us.” “I don’t understand any of this.” He said that he understood. They both looked at the dragons. “Do you really think it’s possible that I could turn into a dragon? Being that size would make people back off from me a little, don’t you think?”
“You’ll be much larger than them.” She looked at him. “Wynter, I know this is a great deal to throw at you, but we really do need some answers. Mostly it has to do with why you’re a dragon that no one told us about. Why are we paired with matching dragons? My head is overwhelmed with all this. I can’t imagine what is going through yours right now.” “My wound is healed. I’m betting if they remove this cast that I’ll be all right there as well. Is that part of the magic?” He nodded. “I’m terrified out of my mind right now. And all I can think about is you wrapping me up in your arms and holding me. Not that I’m asking you to do that, but I just need one thing to go normally. I really could use a dose of normal about now.” “I’m afraid that went out the door with yesterday’s wash.” They both laughed. “Come on downstairs and we’ll have something to eat, and talk. I’m sure that Winnie or Carson has the others tied to a chair or something to keep them away.” “I don’t have anything to wear but this gown from the hospital.” She looked down at herself.
“What I wouldn’t give for a nice thick pair of socks and some warm pants and a too large sweatshirt.” Before he could tell her to watch what she wished for, she was dressed in what she’d said. He had to admit, he thought, she certainly looked more comfy. When he started to tell her that she could do that, to change out of her outfit too, Wynter put her hand up. “I don’t want to talk about it. Nothing happened, all right? Please?” He nodded at her. “Good. I got dressed, and now I’m going to eat. I’m sure nothing will pop out of the kitchen in front of me, will it?” “I have no idea anymore.” She nodded and took his hand. The dragons said that they’d see them downstairs, as they needed to stretch their wings. “Do you want to watch them fly? It’s beautiful, and perhaps—” “No. There are no dragons. I’m visiting an old friend and I had a frightful dream, that’s all.” Tristan laughed and she grabbed his balls in her hand. “Don’t make me have to test that theory of yours about hurting you, buster. I’m fucking stressed out.” “Yes, ma’am.” Tristan walked behind her, thinking that he might just be as nutty as she was feeling. But Christ, she was beautiful, and her temper made her cheeks flush pink. He wondered if her nipples did the same. But he was smart enough to know not to say a word. Not until later, of course.