THE RED DRAGON by Tianna Xander
What’s an older woman do when a handsome dragon decides she’s his? She goes with it.
Emily is seventy-six years old. It's a good thing she looks and feels as though she's only sixty. Otherwise, she might have had a stroke when she visits the site of her love’s resting place. She thinks he's dead. She definitely doesn’t expect him to rise from the ground in dragon form and carry her off as though she's some sacrificial virgin.
Whatever she imagined she would find in Scotland, it certainly wasn’t an adventure with a handsome dragon who had chosen to age with her, a well-kept secret revealed, and a new life as an ancient dragon’s most treasured possession.
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Emily slid from the back of the limousine and stretched. Her old bones didn’t take long trips well anymore. This trip was the longest she’d been on in years. Her doctor would probably have a cow if he found out she went to Europe. At least she wasn’t alone. Her friend, Summer, and her significant other accompanied her, along with two of Summer’s sisters and their husbands.
She stared up at the large castle that loomed before them. Thick ropes of ivy grew over the stone walls, moss grew along the northern side, and it looked as though it had seen better days.
Was this Declan’s house? She didn’t expect him to have neglected his home so thoroughly. Had he really come here when she rejected him? If he had, did he come here to die, or to hole up in the lair she knew all dragon males possessed? Whatever the case, she had to find him. She had to tell him she was sorry she had wasted their lives, their chance at happiness. Her eyes filled with tears when she thought of the loneliness he must have felt all the long centuries he’d lived.
Closing her eyes, she hummed the song he’d taught her. She always felt closer to him with the melody in her mind. He had told her the song was one his mother sang to him when he was young.
After a moment, a strange feeling pulled her, tugged her to her left. Ignoring her companions, Emily opened her eyes and began to walk.
She was about halfway between the neglected castle and a steep cliff when she stopped and looked down. At her feet was a large round stone, shaped like a giant seal with odd-looking letters carved into its surface.
Lowering herself to her aching knees, she reached out, slowly removing the weeds and thick heather that had tried to hide it.
“I wish I knew what it says.” She glanced up at her entourage. Tears filled her eyes and slid down her cheeks. Something told her this was where Declan had gone all those years ago, after she rejected him. She stared down at the stone that must have been his grave marker and willed herself not to cry for her lost love. “He’s in there, isn’t he?”
She didn’t want anyone to tell her that he was gone, that she was too late to tell him she was sorry. Still, she needed an answer. She needed closure.
Adrian, Summer’s dragon mate, bent down and rested his hands on his knees. He frowned at the beautiful script before reading it aloud. “Here lies the Red Dragon, red for the rubies he guards and for the passion he holds for his one true mate.”
Emily grasped the center of her chest. The pain would have brought her to her knees if she hadn’t already knelt down upon them. She bent over, sobbing onto the stone that covered the body of the only man she had ever loved.
Her sobs only grew worse when he continued. “Open only if you wish to experience the wrath of Declan Brus. Here he shall remain, resting forever.”
“Okay. I could be wrong, but doesn’t that sound like he’s still alive in there?” Summer’s sister, May moved around the outside of the stone, her mate, Damek, always hovering close.
They didn’t know. They couldn’t feel the deep, heart-wrenching loss she felt at Declan’s absence. Emily had stopped feeling their connection long ago. Then, she had been certain he had found another. Nothing had prepared her to find out that he had willed himself to die. Alone. Like all dragons without a mate, he was always alone.
“It sounds that way to me,” Summer said as she made a circuit around the large, beautifully carved stone. “So, how do we open it?”
What would be the point? Emily wanted to scream at them all. Why bother? They were too late. She was too late. He was dead, which was the only explanation she could think of for why he was buried beneath the earth and his once beautiful castle falling to pieces.
“I don’t know. It is likely that there is something in the castle, but until we can legally get inside, we won’t know anything.” Adrian straightened and stared at the stone structure, standing so forlorn and forgotten. “Do you think there is a caretaker here?” He frowned toward the castle. “If there is, he hasn’t been doing his job keeping the structure in good repair.
“If there isn’t, someone has to be paying the rates and taxes. Otherwise, the government would have seized and sold it by now. I would hypothesize that Declan has someone watching over his home while he’s in mourning.” Damek turned to look at her. “Though you are still with us, he mourns your loss.”
He mourned the loss of his mate and willed himself to die. He was buried here, deep in the ground, and she was too late to tell him she was sorry. Emily buried her head in her hands and sobbed again. Why had she turned him down all those years ago? Why hadn’t she trusted him to love her the way he claimed he did?
The others spoke around her. She was certain that something important was going on around her, but she didn’t care. How could she care when her mate had given up on living because she had rejected him so many years before?
Her heart broke all over again as she knelt atop his grave and cried for all the things that could have been, if only she had been brave enough to love a dragon.