Kayden called Angie from the sky. It was mid afternoon and Sam needed his exercise also. Keeping the two apart was hard especially when they both wanted to be together. Angie hung near the barn when she was out, knowing that’s where the only adult male was, and when Sam was outside, he tried to get back inside to Angie. If Collin’s friend didn’t come soon….
She glanced toward the eastern sky one more time. “It’s about time, Angie.” Kayden released her halter, and Angie leapt into the air, seeing the male wingdeer coming toward them. “Oh, bother. I should have kept hold of her until Dannel dismounted and unsaddled him.” Kayden tried calling her back, but gave up. “Collin,” she whispered, knowing Jake would relay her words to him. “Male wingdeer arriving, and it appears he is fighting his rider in eagerness.”
A few seconds later Collin rushed from the house and called Angie. She started toward Collin and then turned back. Collin called again, and reluctantly Angie landed before him. Collin grabbed her halter and led her back to Kayden, grinning. “There will be plenty of time for fun, Angie girl. Just let your new boyfriend lose his saddle first.” He winked at Kayden. “Spring. Don’t you love it?”
Kayden did love spring, not because of wingdeer in heat, but because the whole world seemed to blossom. The air held the scent of earth and flowers, and the breeze wafted gently with warmth, but not the oppressive heat of summer.
Dannel landed beside them. Kayden had never met him before, and she liked his friendly grin on his freckled and tanned face. His hair was slightly darker than Michael’s underneath, but the top was bleached white by constant hours in the sun, and he wore it hanging straight but short, as if someone had taken a salad bowl, set it on his head, and trimmed away any hair that remained showing.
“I take it this fine lady is the one you mentioned,” he called to Collin. “Hold on, Skyler. Let me unload.” He swung off his back and then began unbuckling the bundles between Skyler’s wings.
“May I help,” Kayden asked. She waited until Dannel shot her a grin and nodded toward the bridle before she did. Collin had his hands full with Angie.
As soon as he was unburdened, both Collin and Dannel released their wingdeer at the same time, and they took off toward the Reese River to the west, Skyler chasing Angie.
Dannel studied Collin. “You’re still smiling. Flash is still alive.”
Collin clapped his hand on Dannel shoulder. “Alive, and I believe healing nicely. Let’s set your things inside. Will you be staying a few days?”
“Just tonight.” He grabbed the small bundle. “This is for Rock. The other is my shipment to Shade.”
“Ah, valuable dragon-hide products. Let’s secure these in your room, and then I’ll take you out to the barns. By the way,” Kayden heard him say as they disappeared inside. “Kayden’s the one who has been caring for your baby….”
Kayden walked back to the barn. As suspected, Shanika had her toy pegasus collection on the bench in the small pasture, but she was caressing Flash’s head. She sighed. She knew the child had been praying that Dannel would never come for Flash.
Michael was with Quinn on house calls so she decided not to have Jake contact him. He still wasn’t completely comfortable with the implant, afraid that Jake or Cee would abuse the link at any time. But she’d been right to take him away for a while. When they stopped by the river for a light snack on their way to Capitol that day, she had told him they were out of range.
At first he’d remained silent, but she promised him that he could speak freely to her. She’d never betray his confidence, and she loved him too much to be separated this way. He’d cursed Jake and Cee for putting the distance between them, and they’d made love right on the bank of the river. Then as they rested together, he told her how frustrated he was with the whole situation, bringing up point after point of how dangerous this could become.
Kayden had been prepared for his anger, and she’d vowed before hand that the most important thing was their marriage. She wouldn’t change his attitude toward Jake or Cee, but she could show him that she’d hold his trust as well as she’d guarded Collin’s secrets from him. And somehow his words didn’t upset her like they had that night in loft. Without agreeing with him, she was able to support his need to vent his frustration, and with it, his anger.
During the rest of the trip they’d become even closer. He introduced her to Governor Hollis and then took her to a jeweler’s where he bought her a diamond and emerald necklace and matching bracelet. He claimed he was fairly rich now with the money Hollis gave him for the dragon heads, the money he received for working as a tech repairman several days a month in Alexandria, and his allowance as Collin’s apprentice.
After that they’d taken two small trips just beyond the river out of range to talk. It seemed he needed to know they were completely alone once in a while, even if they talked of nothing important.
Collin and Dannel joined her at the fence. Flash was prancing beside the mare with the new foal. He dipped his head to join in the filly’s lunch. The mare brought her head around and sniffed Flash. She’d accepted him as her own the first time she’d taken her own foal outside.
“Hey. He’s got a new mama,” Dannel said. “And you’re right. He looks great, except for that bulky wing.”
“Kayden has been exercising it three times a day, and the muscles appear to be healing together.”
Shanika ran to them. “Unca Collin. I named Flash’s sister. She’s Fairy cause she prances around like a fairy in a story.”
“Sounds like the perfect name,” Collin said, crouching down to meet Shanika’s gaze.
“Wow, she must be Rock’s. Looks just like her.”
“Rock? Oh, Quinn,” Kayden said.
Dannel shot a nervous glance at Collin. “Yeah. I mean Quinn. Stone, Rock, just got it mixed up, you know.”
Kayden laughed. “Yeah. Guess that’s why he chose Rock.” She called to the mare.
“I have a daughter now. Just born last week. Heather Tole. My fiancée named her,” he said with a shrug.
“Great, Dannel,” Collin said. “So everything is well with mother and daughter?”
“Yeah. Didn’t need me a bit. I could have been here all along.”
Kayden rolled her eyes. “You didn’t tell her that, did you? Mr. Romance himself, you are. Letting her think you loved a little pegasus more than her.”
Collin grinned, but said nothing, watching the mare and foals trot to them.
“That pegasus is priceless.”
“And your fiancée isn’t?”
“Quit twisting things, Woman. You don’t even know me.”
“No!” Shanika shrieked. “You can’t take Flash.” She ran to the pegasus and wrapped her arms around its neck. The mare trotted away from them, startled by the girl.
Flash waited patiently, and when Shanika loosened her grip, he licked her cheek.
Collin walked to her and lifted Shanika into his arms.
She kicked and screamed. “No. He can’t take my pegasus.”
“Enough!” Collin said fiercely, startling both Kayden and Shanika. “You don’t kick me and scream. We told you Flash didn’t belong to us. You are lucky you could play with him as long as you have.” He set her down. “Now go into the house with Aunt Gwen until I come for you.”
Shanika hesitated. “But you can buy him.”
“Must I take you inside myself?”
Shanika ran to the house.
Collin shook his head and sighed. “I’ll have to talk to her later. Right now she wants to be a breeder or a veterinarian. Either one of those professions she’ll have to accept that she can’t keep all her charges.”
Dannel ran his hands over the colt. “He looks so much better. How can I ever thank you? How much do I owe you?”
Collin rattled off an amount, then deducted Skyler’s stud fee. “That’s if you take him tomorrow. But if you don’t have time to exercise that wing as much as Kayden does, you might be better off waiting until the little guy can fly on his own. He’s getting too big to ride on Skyler’s back with you.”
Dannel hesitated, asked how much more he’d owe, and then nodded. “Yeah. Guess you’re right. You certainly know your stuff.”
Kayden left them to go talk to Shanika to help instill Collin’s point that she not shout and kick to get her way, and then about veterinary and breeder work, and finally telling her that Flash would be with them for at least another month.
Dannel left the next afternoon for Shade.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Geoff struggled out of bed and dressed for dinner. He’d barely met these people and here he was the invalid. He’d even met the village mayor as an invalid. It was definitely not the way he wished to start a new life. And now he knew why he had felt so weak at times in the last few months. He thought it was depression over Lenora’s illness and death. He had guessed he was having heart problems, but not that the leukemia had returned.
Geoff made his way to the dinner table and tried not to let them see what an effort it was. Quinn and Collin sat on one side of the table, and Michael and Kayden were across from them. The little girl sat on the end between Kayden and Quinn. Geoff slipped into the seat on the opposite end. A roasted waterfowl sat in the middle of the table.
Collin gripped his arm a second and then passed him a bowl of fresh beans. “Quinn and I are invited to Dannel’s wedding.”
Kayden gave a shake of her head. “He won’t make a good husband.”
Collin gave a slight chuckle. “Perhaps she understands his soul and loves him anyway. He’s like you in a way, Sweetheart. He can’t stand to be indoors. Only in his case, he craves travel and adventure. Did I tell you he wanted to be a dragon-slayer in his youth?”
“Probably still does,” Kayden said. She leaned over and hugged Michael. “I’m sure Michael loves me better than some horse with wings.”
“I don’t think Dannel places his relationships on a priority ladder. In fact he probably thinks very little about it. Irisha is the woman his parents wish him to marry, and he obviously has gotten along well with her at one point at least.”
“An arranged marriage? How can Irisha put up with it?”
“How indeed? She’ll officially be a member of one of the richest working families in Alexandria, and Dannel is not a cruel man at all.” Collin gave her a soft smile. “Very few people are as lucky in love as you and Michael are.”
Michael laughed. “You’re right, Collin. I am lucky.” He drew Kayden into his arms and kissed her lips, almost upsetting his dinner plate with his elbow.
“Geoff, you rest after dinner, and then we’ll take a walk later so I can introduce you to the fastest and smoothest mode of transportation.”
“So all here have met your mode of transportation?” Geoff asked, wishing he knew just who knew what.
“What’s a mode of transportation?” Shanika asked.
“A wingdeer or horse.”
“Or a pegasus?”
“Yeah. A pegasus could be.” Collin focused on Shanika. “Shan, sweetheart, you must behave, and I’m sure that someday we’ll have our own pegasus. But we can’t do it until you’re more grown up.”
“I’m grown up,” she insisted.
“You proved to me yesterday that you weren’t. You’re not quite six. Maybe by the time you’re twelve we’ll be able to find our own pegasus.”
Shanika’s mouth opened in dismay. “That’s forever!”
“No. It gives you time to learn your lessons well before we take on such a sensitive animal. You study as much as you can so you’ll be ready.”
“I know everything already.”
“Kayden, show her the books you study. You have to know what’s in Kayden’s books before you’re ready for a pegasus.” Collin smiled at Geoff. “Almost everyone at this table. Niles and Marta only know about Hans Trapper and his amazing friend. These here….” He motioned to Michael, Kayden, and Quinn. “These are my children, Geoff. Just like you are.”
No. Not just like him. They were all young and healthy, and he’d told them all the secrets he’d kept from him. Maybe he should just go back to Shade and live with his son Vince until he died.
He only ate a few bites of the duck meat and a few beans, but he wasn’t hungry anymore. He wished he wasn’t so weak.
“We’ll go north next week after the town meeting. It’ll give you a few more days to recover before the trip. If you’re not up to it, there’s no need to go outside tonight.”
Geoff lifted himself from the table. “Yeah. Whenever.” He really didn’t care anymore. He just wanted to sleep.
Quinn sat with him that night, but he didn’t speak after he’d settled into Hans’ – Collin’s chair, apparently reading a book.
Geoff dozed on and off. Once when he woke he knew Quinn had settled into the other bed, but he never let Quinn know when he was awake. He hated being an invalid. The man would despise him sooner or later. Hans’ new family wouldn’t want him hanging around. He’d be treated like a child or a hired hand.
That’s why he hadn’t wanted to go to Vince’s house. After Lenora’s funeral, Vince had made it clear that as Vince had to follow Geoff’s rules when he lived at home, so Geoff would have to follow Vince’s rules if he lived in his home. Geoff resented being treated like a child at 61, and he knew it would be worse now because he was so ill. And now he wouldn’t even consider burdening either of his daughters with him. His youngest had run away and gotten married too quickly because of Lenora’s illness, and Misti’s marriage had become strained while helping him during that final year.
No, he wouldn’t subject any of his children to the illness. But Hans…Hans would take care of him just as he had 50 years ago, except now Geoff was no longer a child, and it stung that he couldn’t approach Hans as an adult who could take care of himself and perhaps be a valuable addition to his staff. He should at least write to the children, though, and let them know he was dying. He owed them that courtesy.
“Quinn,” came a woman’s voice. Geoff opened his eyes a crack to see Marta who worked in the stables. “The door to the loft is locked.”
“Yeah. Probably is. He does that when he’s out.”
“But I’ve waited all night. It’s almost morning, and I’m sure they’re up there.”
“Collin and Jake.”
Quinn shrugged and glanced at Geoff. “They probably want to be alone. Business, you know.”
“It’s nobody’s business but Collin’s what he does all night long.” Quinn sounded irritated. “Don’t you need to get the horses out in an hour?”
“It’s my day off.” She watched him a moment more and then shook her head. “I won’t bother you again.” Then she rushed out.
Quinn rolled on his back and let out a noise of exasperation. “I know,” he whispered. “I should apologize, but we can’t do anything anymore. You can’t speak out loud at all.”
“Yeah, I guess. But I wish she’d never found out.”
“Jake likes everybody. Jake… I guess I just miss you. Collin… Yeah, multitasking. Asleep? Is he okay? Oh. How’s it coming?”
Geoff stared openly now as the man continued to hold an imaginary conversation. Perhaps that was another secret. Quinn was insane. If he confronted Hans – Collin – would he be enough of the family to be trusted? Apparently Marta was just an annoyance to Quinn. Geoff would probably be seen the same way.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Collin awoke as the sun filtered through the dragonhide curtain. It was the third night in a row in which he’d come up to debate design strategies with Jake and had fallen asleep against his soft hide, his wing gently keeping him from any draft. He had to admit, if only to himself, that he enjoyed the cocoon of soft fur surrounding him. He hadn’t felt so safe and loved as he slept in a long time. Sleeping with his wives had a different feel. There was contentment, but he had been the protector. With Jake he was a child again, and surprisingly he rose completely refreshed after only a few hours of sleep. He’d been able to completely relax, knowing Jake would warn him and protect him from any danger.
Collin gave Jake a final hug. Then he unbolted the door and climbed down the ladder, Jake sealing the door behind him.
Marta rushed to him. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. What’s wrong?”
“You never sleep. You’re always up there.”
Collin focused on her. “Marta, I’m not sure I understand the problem.”
Marta blushed. “I just miss seeing him, that’s all.”
Collin sighed. “He’s only one dragon, and he does have a job to do. He’ll take you and Niles on his first rounds tonight, but then you aren’t to linger.”
He didn’t wait for her reply. Instead he made his way back to the house in time for breakfast. Geoff made it to the breakfast table, but he still looked extremely weak. A touch of guilt struck Collin. He should be sleeping in the chair instead of in the loft. He’d tried to spend time during the day with Geoff, but they couldn’t speak freely with Par and Gwen and Wilma and patients and the builders all running in and out of the house. But by the time they made it back from the lab, Par, Gwen, Niles and Marta would be in their own home.
Geoff didn’t help his guilt. He watched Collin, and maybe it was just the way the illness made his eyes seem sunken and bruised, but it felt like Geoff was accusing him. He needed to get him to the lab where he could actually do the man some good. The town meeting was tomorrow evening between five and dusk. Hopefully all would go well, and they could leave the next day. That meant tonight he should make sure Geoff met Jake.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.