Fire Rising

Dark Kings (Volume 2 of 4)

Donna Grant

St. Martin's Paperbacks

CHAPTER ONE

 

One month later …

“Hey, sis, it’s me.”

Sammi rolled her eyes at her too bright tone as she drove her fourth stolen car. That would never do. She had to make Jane think it was an unplanned—and quick—visit.

If her half-sister got wind that she was in trouble, Jane would try to help. And that’s the last thing Sammi wanted her to do.

The truth was, she was desperate for some rest. True rest. Not the kind she’d been getting for the last four weeks where she slept for a few minutes at a time because there wasn’t a place she felt safe enough to give into the sleep her body needed to help it heal.

“Jane. It’s me,” Sammi said with a big smile. It quickly faded as she groaned. “I don’t know how to be casual. She’s going to see right through me.”

Nothing had been easy since she ran away from the docks. She didn’t want to chance using her credit cards out of fear the Mob might find her. She couldn’t even access her bank account for the same reason. At least Daniel’s money had been where he had said it was. That alone was what kept her alive.

She resorted to stealing cars that would be better off becoming a pile of metal than a mode of transportation. But she shouldn’t complain. The piece of shite she was driving now had managed to go fifty miles without breaking down.

“Just get me to Dreagan, P.O.S., and I won’t be tempted to torch you.”

As if to let Sammi know she wasn’t in control, the 1982 Morris Marina sputtered before the engine revved again.

Sammi forgot about the car and went back to finding a way to greet Jane without causing suspicion. She had gone through two more scenarios when she slowed the car as she came upon the turn Jane had told her about over a year ago, when she’d invited Sammi to a party after her and Banan’s wedding.

Another invitation she had made up an excuse not to attend. What kind of person was she to lie and not go to her sister’s wedding party?

She didn’t know how she remembered it since Sammi had been taking orders at the pub while on the phone, but somehow she had. And she was most thankful.

Slowing the car, Sammi drove down the long, winding road with two mountains flanking either side of her. On one occasion she thought she glimpsed someone in the dense trees, but it must have been her imagination, which was on overdrive since the incident, as she now called what had happened in Oban.

Sammi felt some of the tension leave her shoulders as Dreagan Industries came into view. Jane had invited her several times, but she had never been able to leave the pub. Now, as she took in the spectacular views, Sammi wished she would have.

She parked the car and wondered where the house was. Jane lived on the property, but all Sammi saw were buildings used for the production of Dreagan’s famous whisky.

For several minutes, she simply took in the white buildings with their red roofs, the sounds of the stills, and the tranquility that seemed to be a part of Dreagan itself as she got out of the car.

Jane had said Dreagan consisted of sixty thousand acres. From what Sammi could see, there wasn’t a part of it that didn’t take her breath away.

For the first time in over a month, Sammi didn’t feel that tickle on the back of her neck that said she was being watched. A look around confirmed that there were no suspicious cars, no dubious men who might be following her.

Maybe here she could finally relax. If for only a few days. She wouldn’t stay longer and bring the Mob to Jane’s doorstep. Not to mention Sammi was certain Jane’s husband, Banan, wouldn’t appreciate bad men coming and destroying the beauty of Dreagan.

“Are you here for the job too?”

Sammi jerked, startled by the voice behind her. The movement pulled at her slow-healing wound, causing her to hold her left arm against her side for protection. She turned to find a young woman with glossy black hair falling over one shoulder.

The woman’s black eyes glanced down to Sammi’s arm, concern clouding her face. “Are you hurt? Can I help?”

Sammi swallowed and gradually loosened her arm. “I’ll be all right, thanks.”

“You didn’t see how pale you were.”

“American, right?” Sammi asked to change the subject.

The woman briefly looked away as she nodded. “My mother was from South Africa while my father had dual citizenship with the US and Spain.”

“How interesting.” As a bartender, Sammi had a knack for spotting people who had a story to tell, and she could see that this woman was one of them.

She took a step closer and shoved her mane of midnight hair off her shoulder. “At least let me help you inside so you can collect yourself before the interview.”

Sammi instantly liked the woman, American accent and all. There was just something about her that told Sammi the woman was as kindhearted as the day was long.

“I’m not here for the interview,” Sammi told her.

The woman paused before she gave a little laugh. “Well, I’m glad. I really need this job.”

“Forget any competition. You have a natural ability with people. If the job involves that, they’d be fools not to give it to you.”

The woman beamed, her large black eyes crinkling in the corners. “Thank you. I’m Lily, by the way. Lily Ross.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Lily. I’m Sammi.”

Lily moved her purse to her other shoulder, causing the sleeve of her sweater that was at least three sizes too big to fall and reveal a huge bruise on her arm.

“That’s one hell of a bruise,” Sammi remarked.

Lily laughed as she moved her sweater over it. “I’m as clumsy as they come. A laundry basket filled high and shoes in the middle of the floor, and I’m a catastrophe waiting to happen.”

“You should get along with Jane famously.” Sammi made a mental note not to have anything breakable around when Lily and Jane were together.

Lily looked Sammi up and down, a frown marring her forehead. “You need to sit. Shall I help you inside?”

“I think I’ll be okay, but I will walk with you.”

They had only gone a few steps when Lily asked, “How do you know I would be a good fit to interact with people?”

“It’s a gift I’ve always had. I can look at a person and just know. I used to run a pub, and I learned quickly that only certain kinds of people could work there and be successful. People like you.”

Lily smiled as she looked at the ground.

When she didn’t say anything, Sammi decided to push her a little. “What kind of job is it you’ll be interviewing for?”

“Oh, it’s nothing too important. It’s for the gift shop.”

“So you would be selling the Dreagan whisky to tourists?”

“I would.”

“It’s perfect for you. Be confident when you go in. And remember, it is an important job, because it’ll be yours.”

Lily’s smile widened, making the charming girl into a real beauty. She wore very little makeup and her clothes were too big and very drab.

Sammi, who had never had a close girlfriend, suddenly wanted to go shopping with Lily and outfit her with proper attire. Something bright and bold to complement her coloring. It must have been all the weeks hiding from the Mob that was messing with her mind.

It was a good thing they came to the door of the shop before Sammi did something really stupid and offer to bring Lily shopping, which might truly offend the woman. Lily might enjoy dressing as a sixty-year-old. Some women were just like that.

Despite her attire, Lily was a striking beauty with her black hair, black eyes, and mocha skin. The same couldn’t be said for her, but Sammi had learned to work with her stubborn hair and pale complexion early in life, thanks to her mother.

As soon as they entered the shop, Sammi looked around at the shelves that covered the walls and were filled with bottles of Dreagan whisky.

Some of the glass bottles where in small, colored casks denoting an added flavor in the whisky, while others were in the tall, rounded tins. There were other bottles that where about half the size, and still others that looked like some kind of cream liquor.

At the far back wall was shelving enclosed in glass with the bottles proudly displayed.

“Those would be the fifty-year-old scotches, and ones that are even older. They’re highly prized by collectors, and highly priced as well,” Lily said.

A woman with long, brunette hair with the top half pulled away from her face came around the counter and smiled at Lily. “You know your whisky.”

Lily turned to the woman and straightened her shoulders. “I’d like to think I do. I was called in for the interview.”

“Ah,” the woman said as she glanced behind her to the clipboard. “You must be Lilliana Ross.”

“Lily, please,” she said and held out her hand.

The woman took it and smiled. “I’m Cassie. Why don’t we go to the back and talk?”

Sammi watched the two Americans interact and recognized by Cassie’s mannerisms that she liked Lily. If Sammi was a betting person, she’d wager a hefty sum that Lily walked out with the job.

“Of course,” Lily said.

Cassie’s dark eyes lifted to Sammi. “Can I help you with anything?”

“Actually, I hope you can. I’m looking for Jane.”

“Jane?” Cassie repeated, some of the spark gone from her eyes.

Sammi wasn’t offended. Jane had mentioned how close everyone was at Dreagan, and now that she thought of it, she recalled Jane mentioning a Cassie.

“I’m Sammi Miller, Ja—”

“Jane’s half-sister,” Cassie finished for her with a kind nod. “Let me call the house and get her over here. She’ll be so pleased to see you.”

Sammi wasn’t so sure of that, but she needed at least a day of rest and to see to her wound again. It felt as if it were becoming infected.

She could barely move her arm now. Dressing and showering was becoming a chore with only one arm, not to mention trying to wash her hair.

Before Cassie made the phone call, she stuck her head around the corner and said something to whoever was there. While she called the house, a tall man with faded jeans riding low on trim hips and a burgundy tee with a dragon design mimicking a tribal tattoo came walking into the shop.

It was hard to tell how long his dark hair was because he had it pulled back in a queue, but his aqua eyes glanced at Sammi before they landed on Lily. After a hesitation, in which he took in every inch of the petite woman, he looked away and walked around the counter to a case of whisky waiting to be stocked on the shelves.

Sammi’s gaze turned to Lily to find she was staring at the man as if he were the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Granted, he was drool-worthy, but Sammi had seen many men like him during her days at the pub. They were gorgeous, and most of them knew it. To those men, females were meant for entertainment and nothing more.

But by the way Lily couldn’t look away from him, Sammi was going to have to caution her. Then she realized that maybe she shouldn’t. Everyone needed to fall in love at least once, and everyone needed to have their heart broken once. That way, when love came again, it was all the sweeter.

At least that’s what her mum had always said. Sammi hadn’t given that piece of advice a try. Oh, she’d had her heart broken when she was a teenager, but she hadn’t fallen in love.

And she never would.

Cassie hung up the phone and met Sammi’s eyes. “Jane is on her way. Lily, why don’t we go in the back?”

Sammi gave Lily a wink of encouragement, and then found herself alone with the man.

“So you’re Samantha,” he said without looking at her.

She turned toward him fully and glared, not that he saw it. He kept stocking the whisky as if he hadn’t just spoken to her. “I prefer Sammi.”

“You prefer a male name?”

“Do you prefer to walk around holding your twig and berries after I kick you?”

He paused. Then he looked at her over his shoulder, a wide smile upon his lips. “I thought you’d be more like Jane.”

“Quiet and demure, or klutzy?”

“Either. Both.”

“Leave her alone, Rhys,” Jane said as she let the door close behind her, though there was no censure in her tone. “Sammi manages to stay upright. As for demure, I think she’s brilliant just as she is.”

Sammi hated when Jane said things like that because it always made her eyes prick with tears. She looked into Jane’s amber eyes and knew everything would be all right.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Jane said and rushed to her.

Sammi tried not to grimace when Jane hugged her, but she didn’t hide it quickly enough. Jane pulled back at the same time Rhys faced her.

Jane’s gaze silently probed her for several minutes before she asked, “What happened?”

“Nothing. Why? Can’t I come see my half-sister?”

“Absolutely,” Jane said, her gaze still searching. “It’s just … well, to put it bluntly, you haven’t.”

Sammi cringed. “I know. I’m sorry. I wanted to take a few days and see you. If you aren’t busy, that is.”

“Not at all. I’m beyond happy that you’re here. Are you sure everything is all right?” she asked again.

Sammi forced a laugh. “Of course it is. Why would you keep asking that?”

“You’ve lost weight, not that you had a lot to lose to begin with. You’ve got dark circles under your eyes too, and you’re holding your left arm oddly. And is that blood coming through your shirt near your shoulder?”

Suddenly, the past four weeks slammed into Sammi. Or maybe it was because she was finally on Dreagan—Jane had let it slip that it was one of the most heavily guarded areas in Scotland—and felt safe enough to let down her guard.

Either way, it was as though her body had simply reached its limit. Sammi could barely hold her eyes open she was so exhausted. She grabbed the counter to keep on her feet and her fatigue at bay while she searched her mind to come up with some lie.

But she didn’t want to lie anymore, not to Jane. She couldn’t tell them the truth, but she could give them something. “It’s a small wound, and it’s better if you don’t know anything. I just need a place to stay for the night.”

“You’ll stay longer,” Jane stated with a nod.

But Sammi was already shaking her head. “No.”

“Banan, tell her,” Jane said.

Banan’s tall form walked around the counter to Jane. Sammi hadn’t even known he had entered the shop. He stood behind Jane, his hands on her shoulders as his gray eyes met Sammi’s. Whereas Rhys’s hair was long, Banan kept his dark brown locks cut short.

“Jane is right. You need to stay,” Banan said.

Sammi knew it was useless to argue now. She would be up early and gone before they knew it. Now that she knew she was at Dreagan and could stay, she could barely keep upright. Her stomach growled, her wound ached, and her eyes fought to stay open.

“Let’s get you to the house,” Jane said as she turned Sammi and guided her to the door. “Banan will get your things. Once you’re fed and rested, I want you to tell me what’s going on. I can help.”

Sammi kept her gaze straight ahead and put one foot in front of the other by sheer will alone. She refused to collapse. There was nothing Jane could say that would convince Sammi to tell her any of her troubles. The less Jane and Banan knew, the better.

At least that’s what she prayed for.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Donna Grant

Excerpt from Burning Desire copyright © 2014 by Donna Grant