DAWNS DESIRE (Chapter 1)
London, June 2012
Banan glanced at Elena Griffin in the rearview mirror as he merged into traffic from the helicopter pad. They didn't speak, because as far as the world knew, they didn't know each other.
It was a dangerous game they played with Elena's life, but she was their only link to discovering what was going on at PureGems.
Banan tightened his grip on the steering wheel. The realization that someone at PureGems knew the secret so carefully guarded at Dreagan left him furious. He couldn't wait to discover who it was, and when he did, he was going to make sure their secret stayed hidden.
He and the others who called Dreagan home kept what they were a secret for a reason. The world couldn't know about them. It was bad enough that two human females now knew. After several millennia of it being just the men, having females about seemed...odd.
And human ones, at that.
But Elena and Cassie weren't just any humans. They had the love of a Dragon King--a rare event for sure. Because of that, Banan would risk his own life to keep the women safe.
Fortunately for him, he only had to worry about Elena right now. He wasn't alone though. Banan inwardly smiled because he knew Guy was near, watching Elena. There was no way Guy would allow his woman out of his sight for long. Guy had wanted to be the one driving her, but both Elena and Banan knew in order for their careful planning to work, Guy had to keep his distance.
So Guy relented. Sort of.
"I hope we're doing the right thing," Elena said in her American accent as she lifted her mobile phone to her ear and pretended to use it so they could talk.
Banan slowed the car to a stop in front of a traffic light and watched a mob of people walk across the street in front of the vehicle. "There's no other way. We've been over this."
"I know. It's just..." She paused and sighed. "I worked hard to get promoted to this position in London. PureGems is supposed to be one of the top five companies in the world to work for. How would they have learned about you and the others? More importantly, why do they want to know?"
They were good questions, and ones Banan desperately wanted answered. The fact he and the others were dragon shifters had been a vigilantly shielded secret since they had sent all the dragons to another realm eons ago.
Banan clenched his jaw as thoughts of the dragons and the life he'd once had began to fill him. Instantly, he shut off those memories. He couldn't allow them.
He'd racked his brain, trying to determine how anyone would know what they were. Their company, and their home, Dreagan Industries, was situated deep in the Highlands--very nearly impossible to reach.
He and the others who owned and ran Dreagan had gone out of their way to keep what they were hidden, which was difficult considering they made one of the finest scotches in all the world. But concealing their true identies had been something they'd done since the war with the humans had nearly ended both species.
It wasn't always easy in this time of video cameras on every street corner, satellites, and mobile phones to keep the truth that they could shift into dragons from everyone. People were more aware of others, and if someone tried to hide, they would search even harder to discover just what that person was withholding and why.
Which was why they were careful not to appear as if they were hiding. They were walking on a knife's edge, and one stumble could end it all.
That stumble nearly happened when Elena and her boss, Sloan, had gone caving on Dreagan land. Sloan had died, and the Dragon Kings saved Elena in the nick of time.
Banan glanced up at the sky through the buildings cluttering London as he pressed the accelerator and proceeded through the intersection.
Anger simmered at the freedom he was denied. It had been decades since he dared to spread his wings and take to the sky. There had been a time dragons outnumbered people, but that time was so long ago it almost seemed a dream now.
Banan pressed his lips together. He was a Dragon King, but he no longer had any dragons to rule. They were gone. But at least they were safe.
"All you have to do is discover what they know," Banan said to Elena in order to turn his mind off the past. "Guy will make sure you are no' harmed."
"And you?" she whispered, her gaze meeting his in the rearview mirror.
Banan grinned confidently. "I'm here to ensure that whoever it is who dared to send people onto our land and see us in dragon form can no' talk anymore."
Elena shivered, but lowered her phone and dropped it into her purse. There was no more need for words. It had been said over and over again. And the plan was flawless.
PureGems contacted Elena after learning Sloan had died while they were caving on Dreagan land. It hadn't taken Elena and Guy long to give in to their attraction, or for Elena to tell him all she knew.
Which, fortunately for Guy, hadn't been very much. Yet Elena wanted to get to the bottom of it just as much as the Dragon Kings did.
So when PureGems offered to fly Elena back to London via helicopter, their plan was set into motion. With all Dreagan's connections, it was easy enough for Banan to take the place of a driver at PureGems.
He, Guy, and Rhys made the trip to London ahead of Elena, and it had taken everything he had to keep Guy from going to his woman and ruining their carefully thought-out plan.
As Banan pulled to the curb in front of PureGems, he spotted Rhys hiding in an alley across the street. Banan would hazard a guess that Guy was up on a rooftop somewhere, observing.
"Remember, Elena, as soon as you have information, get out," Banan said. "Guy willna wait long for you."
She leaned forward and grasped the handle of the door. "Just make sure Guy doesn't get hurt."
Banan turned his head and smiled as he rested his arm across the back of the seat. "You keep forgetting we're immortal."
"I don't forget," she said with a roll of her eyes. "I just can't quite believe nothing will harm any of you. I'm doing this to keep Guy and all the Dragon Kings at Dreagan secret."
"And we appreciate it more than you know."
She put her hand atop his. "I hope I can get the information. I've not been here that long. They don't trust me fully yet."
"And Guy willna allow you to risk your life too long. See what you can get. If it's no' enough, then we'll figure out another way. The main thing is that you come out of this unharmed. Guy would never survive something happening to you."
She gave a nod and slid out of the Mercedes. Banan watched until she was inside PureGems before he turned his head to where Rhys hid.
For eons, the magic they used to block romantic feelings and prevent close bonds with humans had never failed. Why had that suddenly changed? Banan had seen how Hal and Guy reacted upon falling for their women.
He didn't want to do the same.
Too much was at stake for him to allow emotions to get in the way. They would only complicate his duty, which was why--no matter what--he wasn't going to allow some woman to jeopardize that.
Jane Holden twisted her ankle as she stepped onto the elevator. "Damn," she muttered, and leaned a shoulder against the wall so she could take her weight off the injury.
For the first time, Jane realized she wasn't alone. She looked over at the blond beauty and realized who she was. "You're Elena Griffin. I'm glad you're back, and so very sorry about Sloan. It was such a tragic event."
Elena's smile was forced, but Jane didn't hold it against her. She'd been through a traumatic experience in that awful mountain in the Highlands of Scotland.
"You're from the States as well?" Elena asked, her sage green eyes kind.
Jane looked at the floor to hide her embarrassment over her clumsiness and tenderly put some weight on her ankle. She wasn't surprised Elena hadn't noticed her before. No one ever noticed her unless she was being her usual klutzy self.
Whereas Elena was stunning, and literally stopped men in their tracks with her wavy blond hair and green eyes, Jane was plain. She'd prayed as a little girl that she would grow out of the nickname Plain Jane, but she'd not been so fortunate.
Her features were too stark, her eyes too large, and her lips too full. Her hair was an awful shade of auburn that couldn't decide whether to be brown or red.
Jane cleared her throat when she realized she hadn't answered. "Yes. Seattle, actually."
"What brings you to London?"
She was wondering how to answer Elena when the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Jane stayed in the back corner as Elena stepped onto the top floor of PureGems and was immediately surrounded by people.
Jane watched her for a moment. She envied how easily Elena carried herself around people. It wasn't until the doors began to close that Jane leaped forward to stop them and dropped her armful of papers in the process.
Her body prevented the doors from closing as she hastily gathered the spilled papers and straightened. She swallowed and smiled when she realized everyone was staring at her with a mixture of laughter and horror.
Jane was forever doing stupid things. Apparently, being a klutz had been programmed into her DNA. Her mother had often joked that it took skill to fall on a flat surface, which Jane did often.
All Jane knew was that it was mortifying.
She straightened her pencil skirt with her free hand and walked to her desk, praying she made it without incident. After plopping the mound of papers on her desk, she sat down with a sigh.
She jumped when Richard Arnold's voice bellowed through the speaker on her desk phone. His voice was full of distaste, and he always looked down on her Americanisms, as if his being British made him a better person.
Jane leaped to her feet and hurried to open the door to his office. She poked her head in and asked, "Yes, sir?"
"Did I hear right? Is Ms. Griffin finally back?"
"Yes, sir. I just rode up the elevator with Elena."
"Lift. It's a lift, Jane. How long is it going to take for you to get it right? Now, why isn't Elena in my office?" Richard asked as he leaned back in his large leather chair and steepled his fingers.
Jane glanced out the windows lining his office wall at the stunning view of London. "People are very fond of her, sir. Elena didn't get two steps off the elevator--"
"Lift," he interrupted.
Jane paused. She hated when he interjected terms they used in Britain. Sometimes she used an American term just to annoy him.
"The lift, then. She got off the lift and was instantly surrounded. I'm sure she'll be along shortly."
Richard sat up and braced his arms on his desk, his dark eyes cold. "Go find her. Now."
"Yes, sir." She closed the door and looked at the stack of papers she'd dropped and needed to get to work on. It was going to be another late night.
Jane walked down the hall to Elena's office and found her standing in the middle of the room, staring blankly at her desk.
"Are you all right?" Jane asked softly so as not to startle her.
Elena whirled around in surprise. A sad smile pulled at her lips when she saw it was Jane. "I'm fine. I was just remembering the last time I was here, Sloan was telling me we were going caving."
"I know this must be difficult. I wish you had more time to adjust--"
Elena laughed and set down her purse. "Let me guess. Richard wants to see me?"
"I think it has to do with the necklace the earl wants made for his daughter's eighteenth birthday."
Elena ran her fingers through her wealth of blond hair before gathering the locks into one hand and securing them into a ponytail. "Well, we mustn't keep Richard waiting."
Jane followed Elena as they made their way to Richard's office. Jane resumed her position behind her desk and began to sort through the pile of papers and manila folders.
She lost track of time, but when she finished sorting the papers, she looked up to find Elena standing beside her desk.
"Do you need me to get you anything?" Jane asked.
Elena frowned. "What? Oh, no. I'm just thinking. Jane, did anyone work in my office while I was gone?"
"I know Mr. Arnold went in there a couple of times looking for things while he handled some of your clients. Is something missing?"
"No," Elena said, a small frown marring her forehead. "No, I don't believe there is. How long have you worked here?"
"Since last summer. Just about a year." Jane was beginning to suspect there was more to Elena's questions than met the eye. She glanced at Richard's closed door and lowered her voice before she asked, "Should I be looking for another job? I know Mr. Arnold isn't exactly thrilled with my work."
Elena smiled and leaned down next to Jane. "He's British," she replied in a whisper. "He thinks he's perfect."
Jane couldn't help but return her smile. Elena always put everyone at ease, which was why she'd climbed the latter of success at PureGems so quickly. Her clients loved her. Coworkers loved her.
Everyone loved her.
"Jane!" Richard's voice shouted again through the desk phone.
She hurriedly rose to her feet, only to be stopped by Elena's hand on her arm.
"He treats you poorly," Elena said, her sage green eyes holding a wealth of sadness and a measure of anger.
Jane shrugged. "Yes, but it's a good job, and I really like my flat. In order to keep it, I need the money he's paying me."
"Jane!" This time his voice bellowed through the door.
Elena's brows snapped together. "I don't care. No one should be treated like that. Don't let him do it to you, Jane."
Jane wanted to acknowledge that Elena was right, but she needed every penny earned--a beggar couldn't be choosy.
"Thank you," she said before she rushed to see what he needed, only to find herself running errands more suited to a mailroom clerk.
Richard kept her dashing about the rest of the day. She even missed lunch. When she finally looked up from the letter she was drafting to grab a drink of water, she noticed it was after six.
Then she saw a sticky note on her computer. She was supposed to go with a company driver and pick up a client at the airport a half hour ago.
Jane grabbed her purse, nearly falling on her face as she jumped up from her chair, and ran to the elevator. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait long for it to arrive, but every second felt like an eternity. She could just imagine how Mr. Arnold would react when he learned she'd been late to pick up his client. It could very well be the end of her employment at PureGems.
By the time she reached the bottom floor, she had all kinds of excuses lined up to present the client, as well as ways to make it up to them.
Jane pushed open the door, and her foot came out of her shoe when she took a step. She tried to turn around to get it--only to find people behind her, stomping on her shoe. Jane dodged several shoulders only to have a briefcase slam into her back as she grabbed her wayward shoe and put it back on.
A rumble of thunder greeted her on the sidewalk as she straightened. A quick look around showed her there was no car waiting. Had they left? Had Richard sent someone else and not told her?
A sick feeling began in her stomach. She parted her lips and took in several slow breaths to stop the quesiness and moved to the side of the building so she could lean against it. The day hadn't started off well, and it was ending even worse.
"You look like you could use a drink."
The smooth, deep voice sent goose bumps over her skin as it wrapped around her seductively. Sensuously.
Her emotions were so strong, so astonishing that she closed her eyes and savored the feel of each incredible moment.
Then she opened her eyes and slowly turned her head to stare into the most amazing gray eyes. They were stormy, like the sky above her, and she could imagine they would be as cold as steel when he was angry.
His dark brown hair was a rich mahogany, tempting her to delve her fingers into the short strands. The trim cut accentuated his chiseled jaw and square chin to utter perfection. Brows, thick and as richly colored as his hair, slashed over his startling eyes. He had wide, full lips that were lifted in a mischievous, all-too-enticing grin.
"I do. More than you know. Too bad I can't right now," she finally said when she could form words again.
"Ah. An American," he said, and pushed away from the building.
He didn't say it with the usual scorn Jane was used to from Richard Arnold. Rather, this impossibly handsome specimen said it as if American accents were a common occurrence.
She swept her gaze over his tall form. He moved with fluid grace that seemed at odds with his height and the bulge of muscle his black suit couldn't hide.
The suit and white shirt were impeccable and fit him as if they were custom made. She let her gaze linger on the breadth of his shoulders and the hint of thickly muscled chest when his jacket shifted.
He looked damned good in the suit, yet it seemed as if he were meant for more than such stiff clothing. She licked her lips as she wondered what he would look like in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.
Her heart hammered in her chest as her blood heated just looking at the man. She dragged her eyes back up to his face to find him watching her.
Jane had to make her feet stay in place despite the invisible pull she felt toward this complete stranger. It wasn't just his amazing looks and mouthwatering body that attracted her, but also the way he looked at her, the way he spoke to her.
As if he were really seeing her.
That in itself was a heady sensation that made her reach out toward the building with her hand. She let the brick grate against her palm in the hopes it would calm her body, which was raging out of control, tilting, spinning. Listing.
"I'm waiting for my driver," she said to fill the silence. Then inwardly cringed.
She was always saying the wrong things around men. She should be flirting, but Jane didn't know how to flirt. She wasn't coy or beguiling. She hated the games people played, and just wanted to find a man she could be herself around.
Every fall, ditzy moment, and disaster she had.
His half smile grew, crinkling the corners of his unusual gray eyes. "That would be me. I'm Banan."
"Banan," she repeated, letting the name roll through her mind. She liked the name.
He gently guided her to where he had parked the Mercedes. "You must be Jane Holden."
He opened the car door, and she easily slid into the backseat. "I'll get you to the airport in plenty of time."
Jane smiled as she rested her head back against the seat. With a grin like Banan's directed at her, for the first time in her life she didn't feel like a Plain Jane.
And she had managed to walk to the car and get in it without incident. Maybe the day was looking up.
DAWNS DESIRE Copyright 2012 by Donna Grant.