Erotic Romance, Paranormal, Shifters, May-Dec, Rubenesque, Suspense
Word Count: 52,000
Moira is on the run—her apartment has been trashed, her bank account hacked, and someone is stalking her. Only one man is dangerous enough to keep her safe … that is, if she can convince him to help her. Neil Deven used to be her father’s best friend until betrayal turned him violent. Neil disappeared, and finding him might be the biggest mistake of her life, but Moira won’t survive alone.
Neil remembers Moira as a sweet little girl caught in the middle of her father’s criminal life. The gorgeous woman who shows up at his door is anything but a child, but he’s already got problems. Dragon shifters are a dying race with no way to change form, yet Neil’s powers keep growing. And Moira stirs long lost instincts—he can’t deny her need. He must protect the woman who will be his mate, or die trying.
What are people saying about Her Dangerous Mistake?
Reader review from Facebook:
“I like your use of Prohibition Era passages. And that teleportation thing? Unexpected, but even more so was your description of how she felt afterwards. Your attention to detail in that moment was amazing. … how did you convey her transformation and her emotions so beautifully??? OMG, it was like I was in her head, her heart.”
Chapter One Excerpt:
This is a mistake. Moira pressed a fist to her chest, but it didn’t help at all. Her heart still hammered against her ribs. She took a slow, deep breath, knowing that she couldn’t stay on this street for long, but she needed to calm down in order to figure out what to do next. And I haven’t been calm since last Tuesday. God. I need help. She stared forward, not really focusing on anything. Just beyond the bus shelter sat a long stretch of busy road. Cars zoomed by, indifferent to the poor suckers waiting to catch their daily ride to work. The rain drained the life out of everything, turning the world gray and damp.
“Miss? You dropped this.” A woman nudged Moira’s arm.
Moira startled, then turned. An older lady held out a frayed scrap of paper, folded into a small square.
Oh God, if I’d lost that… Her thoughts trailed off as she took the paper, pressing the corners into her palm until it hurt. “Thanks,” she murmured, shoving it into her jeans pocket. The edges were wet, and she hoped the water hadn’t smudged the ink.
The woman shrugged, shifting her bulging bag. She readjusted the strap automatically, not seeming to notice the weight. “No problem.” She shuffled past, then eased her overweight body onto the shelter bench and heaved out a sigh, effectively ignoring Moira.
Sensing the old woman’s exhaustion, Moira looked away. Everyone has problems. No one cares about you and your stupid life. She took another deep breath, and then made the decision she’d been putting off for the last three days. She really didn’t have any other choice. They’d trashed her apartment. Hacked into her bank account and shut off access. She didn’t own a car. Her phone had turned into a brick yesterday. She had a hundred bucks in cash, and a small backpack with a single change of clothes. You’re going to die if you don’t do this. They’ll catch you and kill you, whoever they are.
She chewed the inside of her cheek. She hadn’t set eyes on Neil Deven in fifteen years. She could hardly remember his face, and he was certain to look completely different now, anyway. She’d been only six, after all, when her father had fucked up his last good friendship with his drinking and violent rages and idiocy. Neil had been her dad’s best friend, though he had clearly been an ominous influence. What kind of man was Neil now? She had no idea, except she knew he wasn’t a safe option. Even as a girl, she’d felt something … odd about him. Something dark. Something dangerous. But isn’t that what I need? Someone who knows how to survive? Someone scary?
Shuddering, Moira shoved a hand into her pocket, fingering the edges of the paper. She’d found the address of the bar Neil owned using a computer at the library. The next thing to do was get on the bus and hope like hell he remembered the kid he used to bounce on his knee. She remembered him laughing a lot, but she also remembered him beating her dad unconscious. This is the last idea I’ve got, she reminded herself when the bus pulled up.
As she got on, the rain washed away the tears she couldn’t seem to control.
Neil stared at the spreadsheet, frowning. Something wasn’t adding up, but he didn’t have the time or the patience to track it down this morning. He closed the document and clicked his laptop into lockdown. Maybe he’d go over it again it later. Maybe not. He fucking hated doing the books, though he was always careful to keep a close eye on things.
“Boss, someone at the front is asking for you.”
Neil looked up. His bartender, Andy, stood in the doorway, hands full of a stack of clean bar towels.
“Who is it?” Neil leaned back in his chair and massaged the kinks out of his neck. Staring at a computer screen always gave him a headache.
“Didn’t say. It’s an older man. Distinguished looking.” Andy shrugged. “He’s wearing a pricy Italian suit.”
A hot flare of anger rippled through Neil. There was only one person he knew who wore clothes like that and would dare to come knocking on his door in the middle of the morning, when Dracona was closed. He took a deep breath, controlling his rage. Weird things had started happening around him lately when he let his self-control slip. “Thanks. Please let him know I’ll be out in a minute.”
Andy gave him a look that told Neil he knew something was up. Neil wasn’t about to enlighten his friend. He didn’t want Andy mixed up in this, whatever this turned out to be. His father wouldn’t show up unannounced on a whim. Neil sighed, rubbing his temples. His headache had increased about a thousand percent since his bartender had knocked on his door. “I’m fine, Andy. Just let him know.”
Andy grimaced, but he backed out of the office. “Sure thing, Boss.” He headed into the club’s open area, ostensibly to put away the towels and let the man know Neil was coming.
Neil stood up and walked to the front of his desk, then closed his eyes and centered himself. The last thing he needed to do was lose his temper, especially if it was his father out there. He took three deep breaths, and then he took three more. He calmed his mind. When he opened his eyes, his father was standing in the door of his office, face twisted into a mask of disapproval. He wore a grey suit, impeccably tailored, like everything else about him. The color clashed with his dark eyes, but no one would dare mention it. Neil far preferred his own battered jeans and comfortable sweater to his father’s more cosmopolitan style. Arrogance never goes out of style, he reminded himself. And dear old Dad’s got it in spades.
“Your lackey told me you would be right out, and I assumed you were busy, but here you are, doing absolutely nothing. Your lack of respect never falters, does it?” The older man stepped into the room and shut the door behind him as if he owned the place.
Neil gritted his teeth. All the work he’d done to calm himself disappeared in an instant. “Hello to you, too, Dad.” He narrowed his eyes. “Show yourself in, why don’t you? Have a seat.” His father had already lowered himself into Neil’s desk chair.
“This … establishment is beneath you,” his father replied, sweeping an arm out contemptuously. He made sure to pause on the word establishment, as if Neil gave a shit what his father thought, though the note of derision in his voice did grate on his nerves. “It is beneath the Deven legacy,” his father added.
“Dracona is a very successful business.” Neil leaned against his desk. He’d be damned if he’d sit in the frigging visitor’s chair in his own office.
“You mock your heritage,” his father growled, eyes flinty. “You named a filthy bar after our people.”
Neil sighed. His father’s opinion never changed. “Why are you here? Because if it’s to berate me about actually earning an income instead of living off some random trust fund…” he trailed off sarcastically. “Oh, yeah, that’s right. I don’t have a trust fund, do I? Because you already spent all the money my grandfather left to me. How could I have forgotten about that?” Neil raised an eyebrow, positive it would drive his father wild. Even if he never shows it. Neil smiled internally as he saw anger flash in his father’s eyes. I love pissing the old bastard off.
His father straightened his tie fastidiously, fingers a bit stiffer than they should be.
Ha. Got under your skin, didn’t I? Neil thought, pleased.
“Your mother and I have decided that it’s time for you to take your place as a Council guard,” his father said, putting his hands flat on Neil’s desk. “It’s time to stop this foolishness.”
Neil laughed derisively. Never. Not in a million years will I play servant boy to a long-dead race of arrogant has-beens. He took a careful breath, making sure that his control never wavered. “No.”
His father glared at him. “This demeaning insistence on playing human—”
“We are human. None of us have any power anymore, and you know it.” Neil stood up straight, unable to keep his pose of relaxed indifference. “None of us has shifted to dragon form in a hundred years. You and the rest of the Council are delusional.”
His father stood, eyes flashing gold. Neil snorted, unimpressed. His father had one trick: the ability to manipulate others with his mind. But not my mind. You’ve never been able to force me to obey you, and you never will, you perverse fuck. Neil glared right back at him.
“You will come home and take your place, and then we will see about a mate for you. You will continue the Deven line.” His father folded his arms across his chest as his eyes glowed brighter.
Neil stared at his father, and then laughed again, genuinely amused. “Your parlor tricks don’t work on me, remember?” He knew that if he looked in a mirror, his dark eyes would be as golden as his father’s right now. Ignoring his father’s persuasion took little effort, but it still tended to trigger the last, surviving vestige of his heritage. Or almost the last… He banished the thought to the back of his mind. Focus. “I’m immune to your voice and your eyes, as you well know.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Go home, Dad. I have a lot to do before the dinner rush.” He stepped back and opened the door, holding out his free arm to indicate the meeting was over. “Tell Mother I said hi.” He paused, smirking. “Oh, wait, you can’t, because you don’t even live in the same house anymore, do you? You probably had to set up a meeting with her to discuss me.”
His father growled. “You have a responsibility to your race.” He walked over to Neil, doing his best to loom over him. It didn’t work. Neil stood several inches taller than his old man. “If you continue to follow this path, you will be cast out.”
What a hardship. Not. Neil snorted. “Uh-huh. As if that means a damn thing to me.” He deliberately rolled his eyes, just to provoke his father further. “Or to anyone, for that matter. Our people are a dead species. None of us can shift, like the dragons of old. All you can do is force a bunch of poor humans and some of your own people into obeying you. No thank you. That’s not my idea of a fun time.” He jerked his head at the exit. “Goodbye. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
“You will regret this.” His father strode through the door with his arrogance wrapped around him like a suit of armor.
“Unlikely,” Neil muttered to himself as he watched his father weave through the dark wood tables. When he finally stepped out of the bar, Neil slumped against the frame of his office door. Dealing with his father both exhausted and annoyed him. And no way am I going to let myself get roped into a loveless marriage like my parents. I’d rather be single until my death, even if it means being alone for a thousand years.
“Who was that?” Andy asked, edging closer. The towels he’d been holding were gone, but he had three bottles of merlot stacked along his right arm. “He looked like a mobster.” Andy made a face. “A creepy mobster, with a sort of plantation owner vibe going on. All smug and shit. Not cool.”
“Not cool” is the understatement of the year. Neil grinned, his mood lightening. He had better friends than he deserved. “That was my father, though ‘mobster’ isn’t a bad description for him.”
Andy stared at him. “You have a father? I thought you’d sprung full grown from an egg or something. Like one of those raptors from Jurassic Park. You’re always so calm and interested looking, right up until you strike.” The twinkle in his eyes told Neil he was teasing. He certainly didn’t know about Neil’s dragon blood. No one knew of Neil’s true heritage, because it meant nothing. For all intents and purposes, he was human.
Neil laughed, letting the tension from his father’s visit slide out of him. “Sorry to disappoint you. My arrival here on Earth was much more mundane than cracking open a human-baby-sized egg, though I’m sure my mother would argue otherwise.”
Andy smiled. “Now I’m trying to imagine you breaking out of an egg. Yuck.” He pretended to gag. “That’s not a pretty image. Gunk everywhere.” He waved his free arm.
“Like from a horror movie, right?” Neil egged him on. “All claws and teeth.”
“Exactly,” Andy said, grinning. “Screaming humans, alien invasion, yeah… Gross.”
Neil laughed. “Sadly, my birth was entirely normal, except for the part where my mother handed me off to a nanny as soon as I popped out.” Neil tried not to let his bitterness seep into his voice, but from the look on Andy’s face, he doubted he’d succeeded.
“I had no idea your parents were even alive. You never mention them,” Andy said, his smile slipping away. He unloaded the wine bottles onto a nearby table.
“That’s because there’s nothing to say about them.” Neil lifted a shoulder as he wrestled his emotions back under control. The last thing he needed was for his power to manifest and freak his friend out. “My parents are assholes. I try to never speak to them if I can help it. I don’t go home. I don’t invite them here. We’re all better off that way.”
Andy lifted an eyebrow. “So, what was your father doing here? He didn’t look happy about it.”
“He wants me to come back home and marry someone suitable.” Neil shook his head. “No, thank you.”
“Wait, an arranged marriage? I thought that shit went out of style, oh, a couple hundred years ago.” Andy lined up a series of wine glasses on his arm. “That’s totally medieval, man.”
“Yeah, well, my family is weird.” Neil didn’t bother to explain any further. “So, you got the last of the bar stocked and ready?”
“Yup. Just gotta put these away.” Andy grabbed the three bottles of wine with his free hand and headed to the bar, carefully balancing a truly ridiculous amount of glass on his arms.
With something close to amazement, Neil watched him successfully navigate the tables and offload the glasses. If he tried that, he’d probably drop everything in under thirty seconds. “Excellent. You’re a good bartender, Andy, and a better friend.”
Andy tossed him a grin and a salute.
Neil smiled, then glanced around Dracona. The dark wood tables gleamed with polish, the elaborate iron chandeliers were lit and sparkling dimly, and judging from the delicious scents wafting from the kitchen, Chef Joreen had everything under control in the food department.
“Maybe you should take today off,” Andy said unexpectedly, wiping at a nonexistent stain on the bar. “You never give yourself a break. Joreen and I can handle things for one night.”
“I don’t need a break.” I need my parents and the rest of the Council to leave me the hell alone.
Andy snorted. “Yes, you do.” He hung up the damp towel and lined cut fruit up at the end of the polished wood bar. The automatic lights clicked on, reflecting muted blues and yellows on Andy’s bald skull.
Neil grimaced. “Enough with the armchair therapy, Andy. I’m fine.” Ignoring his bartender’s eye roll, Neil headed down the hall behind his office toward the rear back door just beyond the restrooms. He hoped some fresh air would clear his mind. He ignored the emergency exit sign and pushed the heavy metal door open. A cool breeze wafted past his face as he looked out over the gravel parking lot that terraced around the building. A small stream lay at the bottom of his property, and he could just make out the sound of the water bubbling over rocks. He half-smiled as he leaned on the door.
Okay, yeah. This works. He breathed deeply, letting the sounds of nature settle his nerves. When shots echoed through the natural gully, instead of flinching, his first reaction was to punch something. He never got a fucking break. He curled his fingers into fists as his instincts shifted into high alert.
Hunters? Here? It wasn’t uncommon to hear shots in this part of Pennsylvania, but it was early October, and his bar wasn’t that far from Main Street. It’s too early for deer. And those shots are too close to be hunters. The closest shooting range lay five miles south of Dracona. State game lands lay fifteen miles north. Those shots didn’t belong here, not now. Not ever. His dragon, already stirring from his father’s unwelcome visit, woke up in the back of his mind, dark and dangerous and pissed off about the threat to his territory. Neil gripped the edge of the door, taking deep breaths. Now was not a good time for his shifter blood to wake up. Things tended to catch fire around him when that happened.
“Hey, boss, you okay?” Andy asked, putting a hand on Neil’s arm.
Neil turned on him, teeth bared. “Close the door and lock it behind me.”
Andy frowned. “Neil, your eyes…” He trailed off, taking a step back.
Fuck. So much for not burdening Andy with my shit. Neil had a feeling he’d be busy later tonight trying to explain away the glow in his gaze. Right now though, he couldn’t care less. He turned back toward the woods. “I heard shots. It’s not safe out here.”
“Doesn’t that mean you should come inside?” Andy asked carefully.
Persistent guy. Probably why we’re friends, though now isn’t the time to be stubborn. Neil let go of the doorframe and let his gaze roam the lot. Someone was out there. Someone who didn’t belong. “Go inside, Andy,” he said again, more harshly this time. A long moment later, the door clicked shut behind him. He exhaled, concentrating on keeping the energy that curled at the base of his spine under control. When he didn’t keep his focus, the energy spiraled out, searching for something to burn, and the most flammable thing around was Dracona. He didn’t need his bar going up in flames over a few stray shots that might not mean anything.
Branches snapped. Neil walked down to the second terrace lot, ignoring the gravel crunching underfoot as he searched the tree line. His dragon rumbled in the back of his head, huge and impossible. Neil gritted his teeth. He had to keep his cool. He didn’t want to set fire to the cars that were parked at the edge of the lot any more than he wanted to burn down his building. Or the trees. Or the birds… His thoughts trailed off when he caught sight of a woman crouched near the big oak at the north end of his property. Her head was turned away, so he couldn’t see her expression, but her body told him that she was running from something. Her silhouette spoke of both coiled energy and skittishness.
Someone’s after her. Neil took another step forward, not trying to be quiet. He wanted her to hear him coming.
The woman whipped her head around. Fear chased over her face, and then her brilliant blue eyes met his and Neil lost control of everything. His dragon roared silently. Blue flames licked along the gravel, almost invisible.
The woman didn’t notice. She stared at him as if he were her worst nightmare, or possibly her wildest dream—he couldn’t tell which. Neil couldn’t look away either, because he knew her. He never forgot a face, and this one in particular had haunted him for over a decade. He took a deep breath, and then let it out as he called the flames back to himself.