Authors: Tianna Xander
Tags: #Paranormal, #Romance, #Dragon, #Shifter
“That wasn’t an answer.” Jasmine continued to glare at the stranger through narrowed eyes. She might have told him to kill her before, but that had only been because she felt sorry for herself. Now that she had had a good cry, she realized she really didn’t want to die, no matter how screwed up her life had become.
“No,” the man finally answered with a chuckle. “It was
a taste test.” He lowered himself to the ground. “It was nothing more than good manners,” he added in that deep voice that was a mixture of a Scottish and English accent.
Good manners? Could that be it? She looked at him, wondering if that was really why he kissed her hand. His clothing
rather dated, not to mention half rotted and falling off him. His attitude left a lot to be desired, though. What was it about these European types that always made it seem Americans lacked in good comportment? Even dead, the man had a superior mind-set. How annoying!
“Wouldn’t good manners also dictate that you introduce yourself?” Jasmine couldn’t help but raise her brows. “Yet, you have clearly not done so.” She almost smiled at the way his cheeks reddened, but frowned instead. Could dead men blush? She didn’t think so.
“Ryuu Drakard at your service.” He waved his arm and bowed his head, though he remained seated on the ground.
“Ryuu…I don’t think I’ve ever heard that name before.”
“It means dragon spirit.” Leaning back on his hands, he stretched his long legs out and then crossed them. “I’m not sure which language it is from.”
“I would guess Japanese, by the sound of it, though I could be wrong.” What was she doing sitting here talking to a zombie? Did she
have a death wish?
Standing, she glanced back to the large home Drake had rented for her and wondered where Drake’s men were. “Look, I have to get going. The men my brother-in-law left to guard me will be looking for me soon, if they aren’t already. I kind of snuck off when they were busy.” She bit her lip. “I hope they took care of the rest of the zombies that were chasing me.” Tilting her head, she stared at him for a moment. “I’ll not tell them about you, but just so you know, my magic doesn’t last long. I wouldn’t wander too far from your gravesite, or you could end up anywhere.” He seemed like a nice zombie and she didn’t want to see him end up in someone else’s casket.
“How many times must I tell you that I am not dead?”
He looked kind of cute when he turned red like that. She pressed her lips together, again wondering if a dead man could have blood rush to his face. The other zombies never had a heartbeat—at least that’s what Drake had told her. If he didn’t have a pulse,
blood rush to his face?
She didn’t once think that he could be telling her the truth. After all, the other zombie that managed speech just wanted to eat her brain. Maybe this one wanted to study her. Whatever the case, she couldn’t afford to let her guard down around him unless she truly wanted to die.
“Then how can you explain just wandering out of the woods in the middle of nowhere?” She spread her arms wide and turned in a circle. “This is the boonies. No one even lives close.” That was one thing her brother-in-law, Drake, had made sure of when he rented the place for her. No one lived close and no one had been buried here in over one-hundred years. Too bad the rental agent had lied. Including Ryuu, there had been four zombies today alone.
“Boonies? What in the devil are you going on about, woman?”
“See. Even your speech patterns are all wrong. You sound like some ancient lord of the manner, or something. You definitely don’t sound like a modern man.” She narrowed her eyes. “Were you in a mausoleum? I suppose the hot and dry air inside could account for your lack of decomposition. Not to mention the fact that your clothes look ancient and are falling off you in tatters.” It would also explain the lack of dirt on his raggedy clothing.
She turned a bit to glance behind her, while keeping an eye on him. The last thing she wanted was for him to take her by surprise and bash her brains in. She might be depressed, but with the exception of a few minutes of temporary insanity, she wasn’t suicidal. Not really.
Jasmine stared at the man who still sat on the ground, his arms stretched out behind him, and tried not to stare at his broad chest. “You know, it’s too bad you’re dead.” She smiled, looking at his dark hair and silver eyes. “You’re very well put together.”
He raised a brow, his mouth quirking up at the corner. “Does that mean what I think it means?” he asked, apparently ignoring her other comment. It seemed that even male zombies had selective hearing.
“It means that you’re handsome, since you’re fishing for compliments.” Since when were dead men conceited? She ignored the dimple that appeared on his cheek when he gave her a full smile. He
very good-looking in a tall, dark, and handsome kind of way. She looked at his long legs stretched out in front of him and wondered just how tall he was. He had to be at least six-foot-six if he was an inch.
Shaking her head, she brought her thoughts back under control. Whatever the case, she had to go and, as crazy as it seemed, she had rather enjoyed their conversation. The last thing she wanted was to have to sic Drake’s goons on the poor guy, zombie or not.
“I have to go. My brother-in-law’s men are bound to find us eventually and I don’t want them to have to take care of you the way they had to get rid of the others. You seem like such a nice zombie, I’ll just leave you here to drop dead again after I leave.”
Why did that thought make her feel bad? It wasn’t as though
was killing him. He was already dead, for crying out loud. “So…” she started to back away. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be going.”
“No. Don’t go.” He stood and moved closer.
Jasmine looked up at him and for the first time she realized just how big he was and how alone they were. Swallowing thickly, she backed away again, afraid to look away from him for fear that he would attack.
“How many times do I have to tell you that you are mistaken?” Ryuu moved so quickly, Jasmine barely saw him move. One minute, he was a good fifteen feet away from her, the next he was standing right in front of her. He was so close, she could feel his breath on her neck and it frightened her.
Taking her by the upper arms, Ryuu stared deep into her eyes with his intense, molten silver gaze. For a minute, it looked as though he would kiss her. However, she didn’t have long for that idea to creep her out. Instead, he shook her slightly before saying, “How many times do I have to tell you. I am
a dead man?”
“You soon will be if you don’t release her.”
Ryuu looked up with a growl. He barely stopped himself from changing into his dragon and attacking the three men who all but challenged him. What fool dared to tell him to release his mate?
“I will release her when I am good and ready.” He yanked her to his side with a bit more enthusiasm than he had intended and wrapped his arm around her when she stumbled against him.
Looking at the three men, Ryuu wondered what their interest was in his mate. If either of them planned to claim her, they would have one hell of a fight on their hands. Shifting his gaze down to Jasmine, he asked, “Do you know these men?”
He had attempted to sound gentle, but Ryuu wasn’t certain he succeeded. He knew she must accept him or he could never claim her. However, his dragon didn’t like the other males near her and had become difficult to control, at best. It was all he could do to keep himself from changing into his other self.
While she might accept the fact that there were men who could rise from the dead, he had no doubt that she had never seen a Spirit Dragon before. As much as he hated to admit it, Ryuu knew he was a legend amongst his own kind.
He stared down into her large green eyes surrounded by thick, sooty lashes and lost himself in her gaze. The fates could not have chosen a mate better suited to him. He could raise the spirit of anyone who had crossed over, as long as he didn’t have a personal tie to them, and she brought the dead back to life. Not only was she the embodiment of every one of his fantasies, like him, she could raise those who had fallen. Together, perhaps they could right many wrongs.
“Do you know these men?” he asked again. It was a challenge to keep his voice low and even when his heart hammered against his ribs. His blood rushing through his veins and his pulse pounding in his ears like a war drum, made it even harder.
“Of course I do.” Jasmine pulled from his embrace to move to stand next to the largest of the three men who stood glaring at Ryuu as though he had broken some law of which he was unaware. She waved her arm in front of the three, looking at him as though he were some surly, recalcitrant child. “These are my brother-in-law’s men. I told you about them, remember? They’re the ones who have been out
I told you about.” She stressed the words as though worried that he would somehow convince her companions he was one of the zombie creatures she kept going on about.
“You cannot kill something that is already dead,” a blond man said as he reached out, shackled her wrist with his meaty fingers, and pulled her behind them.
Ryuu fought the urge to growl. With three men, whom he suspected were dragons between himself and his mate, Ryuu knew he must trod carefully or these men would fight him to the death for the woman. He knew why
would fight to the death. Jasmine was his long-awaited mate He still wondered at the others’ intentions.
“What are your intentions with her?” Ryuu demanded to know. No one had the right to take a female from her rightful mate. Jasmine could walk away and, according to their ancient laws, he must let her. However, no one ever said he must allow three dragons to remove his mate from his presence.
“We might ask you the same.” The blond puffed up his chest in an effort to appear larger. It was an old trick of man
beast in an attempt to intimidate.
The man’s companions followed their leader’s example by taking a similar stance next to him, complete with nearly identical glowers. “What do you think, Landon? Jasmine didn’t want to go with him. Is he another of her animated corpses that we must incapacitate before she will find peace here?”
“No!” Jasmine pushed her way through the males and turned to look up at them. “He insists that I’m mistaken and that he’s not dead. I think we should just leave him here. If he’s really not dead like he says, he can go on his way. If he is…” She paused to look back at him. “He’ll fall not too long after I leave this place.” She turned her attention back to the men who stared down at her skeptically. “I don’t want to be responsible for the death of an innocent if he’s telling the truth. Let’s just go.”
With a shrug, the men turned as a unit and followed Jasmine from the clearing.
It was all Ryuu could do to stand and watch her leave with the other males. His dragon wanted nothing more than to claim her. It urged him to steal her away from her guardians and fly away to another of his lairs.
What stopped him from doing so was the knowledge that if the others were also dragons, as he suspected, they could follow him easily. He needed to find her away from them again. If he could manage to find her after she escaped their watchful eyes, he could steal her away to one of his lairs and keep her until she either accepted him or rejected him outright.
Sighing, he decided to follow the quartet at a distance. First, he needed to know where she resided, then he could plan his courtship and/or kidnapping of her accordingly.
Ryuu nearly laughed with glee when he discovered she was residing in no other than his own manor house. He’d purchased it some time ago to keep a safe place for his lair. He set his internal clock to awaken him every so often to kill off his aging self and will his property to his nonexistent offspring. Jasmine’s presence had awakened him early. If he wasn’t mistaken, he wasn’t due to wake for another ten years.
Leaning against an old oak, he watched as the woman entered his home through the front door, leaving the men outside to stand watch—no doubt in case he decided to follow.
Ryuu backed away. It would be easy to find his way through his own home and into the master bedroom to see his mate. He would need to do nothing but wait until darkness fell, then enter through the secret passage the old owner had used to smuggle French wines and brandy to avoid taxes.
That very practice allowed Ryuu to purchase the property. After all, kings did not take kindly to men who refused to give up their hard-earned gold to their ruler.
He thought about his beautiful mate behind those closed doors and wondered what she was doing. Was she painting, or engaged in some other womanly pursuit or did she go up to her room to rest? After all, she had had a very eventful afternoon.
He could almost imagine her laying on his large bed, her dark hair spread on the pillow looking like black, silken threads glistening in the waning sunlight. His stomach contracted as he thought about his mate…
With a smile, Ryuu decided to wait right where he was until the sun set. He settled down in the brush where he could watch his home, and wait.
Jasmine shut the door behind her, and relaxed against it. Leaning back, she rested her head on the thick oak, wondering if she’d made a mistake. What if the man wandered into town and someone recognized him?
Should she go tell Drake’s men to go after him? She chewed on her lip for a minute, trying to make up her mind. Jasmine closed her eyes with a sigh when she realized that she couldn’t send her brother-in-law’s men after him. Something about Ryuu struck a chord deep within her. What could she do other than leave him there? She definitely couldn’t bring him
. It was only a matter of time before his body demanded nourishment and he attacked someone.
She could see herself trying to explain now.
She shook her head and wondered, not for the first time, what the owner’s name was. She hated referring him to him as Mr. Whosit. It made her feel ungrateful.
Looking up the wide staircase to the second floor, Jasmine wondered if she had enough energy to make it all the way up to the large master bedroom the others insisted she occupy. For some reason, she felt depressed. Maybe it was the fact that for the first time ever, she had met a man she was attracted to and he was a fricking zombie.
“Oh, hello, miss,” the maid said as she hurried out of the library with the corner of a dust rag sticking out of her pocket. “I didn’t hear ya return. Is there anything I can do for ya, then?” Smiling, she gave a small curtsy.
“No thank you, Molly.” Jasmine straightened and headed for the stairs. “I think I’ll just have a bite to eat in the kitchen and go to bed. I’m still a bit jet lagged.”
“Oh, please do that, miss. The cook has a nice stew bubbling on the stove and fresh biscuits in the oven.”
“That sounds lovely.”
The maid clasped her hands in front of her chest, a dreamy look on her face. “It
lovely. Our cook is the best in Scotland.”
That was good to know. As long as the cook didn’t try to push haggis on her, they’d get along fine. As far as Jasmine was concerned, she could go the rest of her life without eating something cooked in sheep’s innards.
“Thank you for letting me know. I’ll be sure to tell her that you said so.”
With a small wave, Molly headed into another room that Jasmine thought was the study, presumably to dust.
With her stomach grumbling, Jasmine headed into the kitchen to get her snack. She
was exhausted and needed to take a nap more than anything else. With luck, perhaps she would feel better after she ate. Then again, she doubted it. For some reason, she just couldn’t get that man out of her head.
“Hello, miss.” The cook smiled at Jasmine as she walked through the door. “I have a nice dinner planned out if you don’t mind waiting a few hours.”
“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.” Jasmine moved to the stove hoping to get a whiff of the stew Molly told her about. “That smells heavenly. Would you mind if I had a bowl of it now? I’m rather tired and would like to go to bed early.” She gave the cook a wan smile. “Jet lag.”
The cook’s eyes widened as though none of the manor’s other guests ate her stew. “If that’s what you’d like, miss. It’s just that most of the people who stay here have an idea about what I should serve them.” She laughed. “And stew is not on that list. The stew and biscuits were for the staff and me. I had a nice rib roast, kidney pie and roasted potatoes planned for you.”
“All that, just for me?” Jasmine held up her hand and shook her head. “Please don’t go to the trouble to make kidney pie for me. I’m not sure I could stomach it. The rib roast sounds heavenly for tomorrow, if it will keep another day. I’m just so tired, I can barely think straight. The stew is perfectly fine. It smells delicious.”
The cook beamed at her as though she’d just given her the world, and gestured toward the large wooden table in the center of the room. “Just you sit down right there, miss. I’ll get you some stew and the biscuits should be done in five minutes.”
Turning, the woman waddled over to the cabinets and pulled out a bowl and a glass. “What would you like to drink with your supper, miss?”
Jasmine sat down and rested her chin in her hand as she watched the large woman bustle around the kitchen. She smiled as the older woman move around the room. She knew where everything was and pulled it from the cabinets with the confidence of a woman who had worked in the same place for a long, long time.
“What do you have besides water?” She didn’t want to try drinking the water today. She felt bad enough already. She didn’t need
Turning, the cook paused and looked at Jasmine. “You look like you could use a good stiff drink. Since I don’t have liquor here, I’ll pour you a nice glass of red wine. It’ll help you sleep.”
Jasmine wasn’t sure she needed anything to help her sleep. She was just about ready to fall over already. “That sounds good,” she replied stifling a yawn. “I hope I don’t fall asleep and end up with my face in my stew.”
The cook chuckled and Jasmine realized she had no idea what the woman’s name was. “I’m Jasmine, by the way.”
“I’m Hannah Burns. You can call me Hannah.” The woman grinned. “I like you, miss. You’re not like most others who come here acting all uppity.”
“Thank you, Hannah. I’ll take that as a compliment.” Jasmine could imagine the type of people the house staff had to put up with on occasion. Usually, people who rented places like this had loads of money. They were people like her brothers-in-law. She supposed she could add some of her sisters to that list now, though Jasmine knew that no one could ever describe any of her married sisters as uppity.
“As it was meant to be, miss.” Hannah opened the small wine cooler, reached in and pulled out an expensive-looking bottle of red wine. She poured a generous amount into a wine glass and brought both the glass and the bottle to Jasmine. “Just in case you decide you want a bit more.” The older woman smiled and winked.
Accepting the glass with a smile, Jasmine decided she liked Hannah and if she had money of her own, she would steal this wonderful woman from her employer. It was probably a good thing she didn’t have the money. If the aroma coming from the stove was any indication, Hannah’s cooking would most likely make her fat.
After dinner, Jasmine dragged herself up the stairs and to her room to watch the sunset through her window. She blamed her utter exhaustion on the copious amount of wine Hannah kept dumping into her glass when she wasn’t looking. Tired and tipsy, Jasmine wanted nothing more than to get some sleep.
In her room, she looked out over the gardens and watched the sun disappear beyond the horizon, wondering what became of Ryuu. She shouldn’t care, but found that she did. Wasn’t it just her luck that the first time in ages that she found a man attractive, he’d be a zombie?
“Stop it, Jaz. You need sleep. Your interest in him will flag after a good night’s rest.” She turned with a yawn, hoping she was right.
Stumbling to the bed, she flopped down onto it face first and groaned. “No. More. Wine. You obviously don’t know when to stop drinking.”
“Then I shall consider myself lucky. Do you think you’ll pass out soon?”
“Huh?” Lifting her head, Jasmine peered out at Ryuu through one bleary eye. “What are you doing here?” Frowning, she tried to sit up, but failed miserably.
“I am here to claim you, woman.” Ryuu glanced toward the door as though expecting it to open on its own.
“Claim me? Pfft!” Jasmine waved her hand. “You’re a zombie. You’re probably here to eat my brains.”
“How many times must I tell you that I am not dead and I do not plan to crack your head open like a walnut and eat your brains?” He ran his fingers through his dark hair, shook his head, and sighed. “The idea makes me shudder,” he added, making a face.
“Then how do you explain walking out of the woods out here in the middle of nowhere?” She started to sober up a bit—that was a good sign, wasn’t it? “There’s nothing within miles of this manor. Nothing but family owned cemeteries, at any rate. Face it, bub, you’re a zombie.”
He moved closer, his eyes practically glittering as the silvery depths filled with a strange unearthly glow. “No, love, I am not a zombie. I am the Spirit Dragon and you, my dear, are my mate.”